Athletes get up early. Really early. They are the people with their alarms set for 5am so they can get their workout in before heading to a full day of work. They are focussed and their determination usually extends beyond the physical ability of their bodies.
A few weeks ago I traveled to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to bear witness to one the greatest tests of mans endurance, the Ironman. 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, followed by a drooling 26.2 mile run. I run, swim, bike, golf, and more, and I can’t fathom the determination and drive that these men and women have.
There I was, early Sunday morning, mingling with thousands of eager family and friends to watch our loved ones, my brother-in-law and a friend, participate in this grueling ordeal. The swim begins on a small stretch of beach that crams all of these people into a very tight area. Looking for a better view, I found my way onto the top of precarious garbage can. It was a little unstable but it afforded my 6’3″ frame a birds-eye view of the whole beach.
I have heard that the start of the Ironman is one of the most spectacular sites to behold. I am here to tell you that they underestimate it. It is the most amazing site! In my mind it is similar to trying to explain how incredible walking the streets of Venice feels. Until you experience it for yourself you really don’t know what I am talking about. But I will do my best to describe it.
Imagine seeing 2,500 men and women, clad in seal like wetsuits, and green and pink caps. Then take those same 2,500 men and women, file them them through a 50 yard stretch of beach as fast as they can go. Here I was, teetering on my perch, and seeing the most amazing site as 2,500 incredible athletes filled the smooth waters of Coeur d’Alene lake. The photos just don’t do it justice. It was a wave of splashing color.
Once the triathletes were on their way, they opened the beach to spectators and I flew off my elevated vantage point and got a prime spot on the front line right next to the exit from the water. I didn’t care that I would be standing there, fighting off encroaching by-standers, for the next hour. This was the place to be to get up close and personal with these amazing athletes.
The pro triathletes left the water at an incredible pace. The fastest coming out in under 50 minutes! My spot was perfect for watching them exit the water and race down the beach as they pealed their wetsuit, goggles and caps from their wet bodies. It was so cool to see my brother-in-law come out of the water. Finishing the swim alone is such a huge accomplishment. There is so much blood in your arms and legs when you exit the water that you actually come out light-headed and disoriented. I saw many an athlete stumble and fall as they tried to get their legs underneath them.
The cycling is exciting to watch. This is the power and speed segment of the Ironman. Some of these athletes reach speeds in excess of 40 mph! Granted, they don’t maintain that speed, but the best do average over 20 mph for the 112 mile ride. If you have ever ridden, you know how incredibly fast that really is.
Riding along with my two sisters and our friends wife, we found a good route where we could see my brother-in-law and friend multiple times during the bike segment.
My favorite part is the run. I have always been a runner, but I still can’t imagine running a marathon after everything that had come before. The run was a two loop out and back, so we were able to see our people four times. Compared to the cycling, the run is a much slower pace, but not really any less invigorating to watch. The end is in site now and all you need to do is keep one foot in front of the other. I know, easier said then done, but they had already come so far.
We moved our cheering support team to a good spot on the top of the fan lined Sherman Street. I can’t imagine the feeling as these athletes turned onto Sherman and saw the finish line in the distance and a tunnel of cheering fans. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.
After spending over twelve hours in the hot Idaho sun, we were tired, but we continued to cheer for every athlete that ran or shuffled past us. It was wonderful to see the families and friends greet their athlete as they raced towards the finish line. After such a grueling day it was time to celebrate their victory and accomplishment.
Wanting to see my brother-in-law and friend come through the finish line, we found spots in the crowded grand stands that lined the finish line chute. There was more energy and excitement on those stands then any other sporting event I have been to. More so than a Real Salt Lake game or Jazz playoffs. All of the fans that lined the chute were high-fiving the triathletes, ringing cow bells, screaming and clapping. On top of that, there was the MC who was calling out each athletes name over the speakers as they came down the finish. There was even more outrageous cheering as a member of the armed forces came past. The support was amazing and it made me so proud.
Just over 13 hours from the time the starting horn blared, my brother-in-law and friend came down the chute together. It was an exhilarating feeling to see them amongst the cheering fans and watch them finish one the most trying sporting events. There was a great deal of emotion when they finished. Lots of hugs, congratulations and smiles.
Looking back, it is hard to comprehend the sheer will these athletes had to finish this race. But the beauty of it is, that they will forever have this honor, and as the announcer called out as every athlete crossed the finish line, “You are an Ironman.”