Sunday, October 12, 2008

Plan B

"I want to divorce you," Chris said last night before bed.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you wouldn't let me quit."

Yesterday was a day about getting it done. About putting together months of hard work, facing the conditions and responding to the race day. And in Kona - more so than any other Ironman - you never know what race day will bring.

After watching Chris head out on to the Queen K for the bike, I knew we had about 5 hours before we needed to be out on Alii Drive. Around 12 pm, the entire Waterstraat clan settled in chairs along Alii and waited for the pros to arrive. In the meantime, we tatooed the street with GO WATERSTRAAT and other names. Somewhere out there I did finally write RACHEL ROSS IS BOSS. Because she is.

The pros starting running towards us a little after 12:15 pm. It's amazing how the same level of competitor can bring about so many different appearances; tall, skinny, large, thick, muscly, wispy - they were all out there each suffering in their own way. I knew Craig Alexander had it in the bag when I saw him. He looked completely under control running with his typical tall, smooth stride and focus in his eyes.

Next the women pros started coming along. Chrissie Wellington was running like a woman possessed. There was fire in her eyes and her pace was maddening. Turnover, turnvoer, arms churning away like she was in a 10K not a marathon. Cait Snow ran by with the fastest turnover I have ever seen. When I cheered for her saying "this is your thing, Cait, run!" she almost seemed giddy and drunk with Ironman. She was giggling and smiling so wide.

Jenni Keil and I were cheering while she anxiously awaited her husband, Jeff. Jeff was having the race of his life. He looked incredible. Kerrie joined us for awhile and as competitors ran by she said of one wearing all white "that is just not a good look." We agreed. All those wearing all white outfits this year - really, it leaves way too much visible folks!

I sensed the time Chris would arrive and when he was a little late I got a bit worried. Chris is a strong cyclist and honestly his split seemed slow when Thomas checked online. When I finally saw him coming up Alii Drive the Waterstraat clan started ringing cowbells, jumping and shouting. He stopped and started talking.

That was it.

I started screaming like a mad woman. GET MOVING! GET GOING! WHAT ARE YOU DOING! YOU DID NOT COME TO KONA TO GO FOR A LONG WALK! He said something about being trashed, not feeling well. Tired.


As he started running again, I grabbed his arm and I said "I BELIEVE IN YOU." He just groaned. At that point, I sensed that my spectathlete duties would increase exponentially - from cheering on the side of the road to going for a 26.2 mile ride. I told Thomas to get my bike, my helmet, it was time for Plan B.

Plan B involved me doing what I legally could mile to mile to coax, convince, persuade and demand Chris to keep moving forward. I would ride ahead, stop, shout. Do it again. Meanwhile, Rachel Ross goes by on her way to a strong run! Chris however was falling apart. I was giving him all sorts of ideas - try coke, drink more, water, salt, broth, do whatever it takes to keep moving forward!

He wanted to hear none of it.

Around mile 6 he shouted "I DON'T WANT YOU TALKING TO ME." The spectators around him looked at me and found it hilarious. I told them it was the miles talking. He was fine.

At mile 7, he threw his heart rate monitor in the middle of the road.

At mile 8 he stopped to walk. This infuriated me because I just wanted to push him along. What could I do?! I called Jennifer crying and said help! My husband wants to quit Kona, Jen. KONA! People want so badly to be here and he wants to lay down in the road! We came up with some things to say, quit now and you have to deal with a DNF in Kona for the rest of your life, you have worked so hard, and finally what I knew from my own second time Ironman experience - this is all in your head.

Because it is. The second time around in Ironman is all in your head. Your body knows pain, distance, endurance. The hard part is what happens between your ears. You have expectations of your time and performance and when Ironman just starts happening to you (ie., fatigue, stomach upset) you think - what have I done wrong? I should have this nailed. I should be going faster this time. Not so. It's Ironman. Anything can and will happen and you have to treat each one like it's your first.

The rest of Alii Drive he kept moving. When he was moving he looked great. I told him that. He was holding an 8:48 pace with walking through aid stations and stopping to gather himself! He looked better than half the others completely falling apart in the heat. Once he reached the end of Alii I hightailed it up Palani through the crowds knowing the hardest part was to come - the Queen K.

Along the Queen K he said that coke was helping. But he didn't want to do it anymore. I told him to stay tough. To just finish it up. He has nothing to prove out here but to himself that he can do this. Around mile 11 he told me he never wanted to do this again. I told him he didn't have to - just finish it!

Miles 12, 13, 14.....on the way to the Energy Lab the conversations continued of I don't want to vs. but you can. Meanwhile, the pros were on their way to finish. The women looked strong. My favorite conversation was with Bella Comerford around mile 20. She was about 30 seconds down from another woman and I told her to go, chase her! She looked at me across the highway and said "But what about from behind?" and I shouted "You're clear - take a risk Bella, TAKE A RISK!"

Around mile 15 Chris was nearing the Energy Lab. Kerrie Wlad rides up and talks about her husband who was also struggling a bit. I think it was hard for both of us to watch our husbands struggling for reason undetermined. I mean, I know how damn hard it is to pound away the miles on the lonely pavement of the Queen K after 8 hours of steady work. I know it's rough. But man I would have loved the opportunity to overcome myself out there and keep pushing on. It's a unique place you reach in your body and mind that nothing else comes close to in racing.

I waited at the edge of the energy lab and finally Chris emerged. He stopped. He told me he was tired. I almost lost it. So we had a talk. The funny thing was the volunteer directing traffic was standing there with us and listening...There are people out there racing with no legs. People twice your age. People that have overcome illlness, disease and they are doing it. You have no excuse but yourself. And right now, here at mile 19.8 with a little over 10K to go - that excuse is not good enough. You need to finish this. The volunteer said "Listen to her! Get going!"

Around mile 21, Thomas and I left him to get to the finish line. Whatever demons he was fighting he needed to face alone. Nothing I said anymore at this point would help him get there. It was so frustrating because there was nothing left I could do. I was so proud of him but I knew that for him he wanted something more. I knew that after watching him training for months - hard work, sacrifice. I knew this wasn't the race he wanted but there was nothing I could do. I wish I had a rope to pull him along and out of whatever dark place he was in but that would not be. This was Chris' run to finish now. This was really hard for me to let him go. To know that no matter how much fire I shouted at him it wouldn't help.

He arrived in what honestly is a great finish time - 11:21. That is so fast for Ironman and I am so proud of him! But of course he wanted a faster time for himself. And what happened out there I'm not sure. You never know what your body or mind will do until race day. You can train and train but never simulate the thoughts that fill your head at mile 18. The pain in your feet at mile 21. It's a unique race, Ironman. You learn things about yourself - your strengths, your weaknesses, it all gets unveiled out there like it or not.

A quick visit to the med tent for a precautionary IV. Then a slow walk back to the car. Chris told us something just got off at mile 80. A friend of mine says if you make it to mile 80 of the bike and you don't have a good day from there, you don't talk about it. I see what he is saying now - because if you can get that far it's more than just physical let down. Something else happens in your head and this is something you cannot necessarily train. It's something you just have to be prepared for through years of confident conditioning of yourself. And even with that you leave a lot up to chance at that point. The chance that you can draw upon that confidence in your lowest of lows. Ironman has so many chances you have to take.

Any time you finish Kona is special. Chris knows that. All things aside, he had a great day. A long day for him but great nonetheless. Even in his eyes if he completely fell apart he still went under 11:30. That is so fast! Thomas and I were talking about how humbling the race can be. And how it's a matter of perspective. How many 14 hour finishes does Macca have? A few. And how many DNF's? Probably more. It says nothing about who you are but just what happened on that day.

This morning Chris woke up hungry. Not sore. He is the best recovered Ironman I have ever seen. No blisters, no pain. He told me that he will never do Ironman again and next time he will sherpa. I told him to be careful what he asks for. Sherpa-ing is NOT easy. And let me tell you - there are NO aid stations for spectators. But after yesterday I really think there should be.

Today I am going to run and relax. Go for a swim. I learned a lot out there yesterday in preparation for my own Ironman ahead. I know what it takes. I could see it out there. I'm getting ready. Actually, I can't wait...


Anonymous said...

I am so proud of you. How many people out there can say they actually finished an Ironman. What you did was outstanding. I watched you cross the finish line and still cried for what you accomplished even though I could tell by your face that you were not happy with your results.
Mom Janet

Danni said...

Oh man...
I am at a loss for words now. This was a great post Liz. I can't talk from experience, as I have never done an IM before; but I do know about setting my hopes up and seeing my goals slip down the slippery slide. It is not easy.
Chris, what you did out there was AMAZING. Whatever your demons were, you faced them; you overcame them. You did not let them get the best of you. You fought the battle within yourself and you came out victorious. The finish line was your victory. There are so many people that are proud of you; and people that aspire to be as tough as you are. As I embark on my first IM journey; I hope that come race day; if my very own demons get in my head, I will have the mental fortitude you showed yesterday on the race course; and cross that finish line NO MATTER WHAT. In my little world, you rock.


Tri-ing with Twins said...

What a wonderful and inspiring post. Congrats to Chris! He and you should be soooo proud. I was proud of both of you just reading this. Take care!
Raina :)

Cat said...

i'll be holding on to this line: "It says nothing about who you are but just what happened on that day."

thanks for sharing this,liz. and thanks, chris, for having the courage to stay. it teaches me more than you know.

love, cat

Anonymous said...

Liz way to support and help get Chris through a tough day. Chris that was awesome and you are an inspiration to those of us who can only hope to do this race someday. Have a good recovery and like any addict Im sure you will be back again next year :).

Muppetdog said...

Just amazing! He's a superstar in my book! I tracked him all day, even from my blackberry at an NHL game, and think he did fantastic! Have a good recovery day :)

Beth said...

Awesome racing Chris...and awesome spectating Liz!! You two make a great team. It's "easy" to finish when you are having a great day and about to PR...but so much harder to do what Chris did - huge congrats for getting through. 11 hours sounds millions times better than DNF! Hope you can both relax and enjoy HI now! :)

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Way to go CHRIS!!! Liz - when I read this I teared up. I can't imagine what it was like for Chris AND for you yesterday! You both are amazing, incredible. Thanks for putting this into words -

I hope that Chris has lots of good food today and that you have a great run and swim!

CAMI said...

Great post, Liz! When you aren't making me laugh, you make me cry. I was "watching" the results on line and I knew that Chris was having a rough day even without knowing his goals. I'm glad you were there to support him (and I'm sure he'll come around to that way of thinking eventually :) I'm completely in awe of his and everyone else's accomplishments out there. There are so few people who can even make it there and fewer still who can say they've crossed the finish line. Way to go Chris!

Stef said...

Aw heck yeah! Great work, both of you.

Congratulations to Chris. I for one can really identify with feelings that go with doing something like throwing the HRM in the road. Just damn!

Chris, I hope that you feel good about how things turned out. I feel good for you for how brave and tough you were to go all the way.

However you did it within yourself you stayed in the game.

That is SO IMPORTANT! Such an accomplishment! Congratulations!

P.S. I hope you write about it on your blog.


Wes said...

Awesome job, Chris!!! Big congrats! You are a super speedy Ironman!

Will you come chase me on the run at Florida :-) I'd take 10% of that!! LOL...

(actually, I have a full contigent of spectathletes coming )

Jessi said...

This is kind of sick and I can't believe I'm putting it in writing, but your post made me want to do another IM... sooner rather than later... MAYBE.

Kellye Mills said...

I'm sorry that Chris didn't have the day he was hoping for. But remember, it's days like that when you learn the most about the sport and yourself. I'm glad he's already feeling back to himself. I like Bree's 48hr rule and then he'll be thinking of which Ironman he wants to do next :). Congratulations on an EXCELLENT finish on a very tough day!

triEVielon said...

Chris, I followed your race online having become addicted to your wife's blogs.

I could see you were having a hard day but was so encouraged to see how you stuck it out. I know it wasn't the day you wanted but your race was an inspiration to those of us who were watching from afar.

Kona in under 12 hours is something to be proud of to be sure! My guess is that you'll be back and you'll have the race you were hoping for.

ELF, what a wonderful partner you are! Sometimes it's the support of someone who loves you that finally gets you through.

Andrea said...

I was tearing up too!

Powerful stuff.

Congratulations to Chris!

Liz, make sure you save this post for IMAZ, or any other day that YOU are feeling down.

Javier said...

Awesome support job! And great job to Chriss for allowing himself to be encouraged to push when he wanted to stop.

Melissa said...

Hi Elizabeth, I just enjoyed reading your report about your husbands IM. THAT is amazing. I linked to your site from Mary, IronMatron. Jen Harrison is my coach. Thanks for sharing that story.


TriGirl 40 (okay - 41) said...

Liz, I've been a lurker for awhile, but wanted to send my congrats to Chris for sticking it out - and an amazing race! And to you for being his iron sherpa! Much to be proud of and celebrate!

Rebecca DeWire said...

I have been reading your blog for a couple months now and I wanted to tell you what an awesome post this was. I actually got teary reading it. You captured very well the pain and emotional lows of ironman racing. I will be doing my 2nd ironman in only a couple weeks and reading this was very good mental preparation on my plan for dealing with the pain and the mental demons that I am about to face. Thanks for blogging and please tell your husband congrats.