Monday, November 24, 2008

Notes From The Other Side

Monday was our last day in Phoenix.

Yesterday we met up mid-morning with Jennifer, her children, Elizabeth R. and the St. Louis Boys. After some bad coffee (please don't ask), we headed over to watch Ironman. At this point the pros and top age groupers were making their way to the run course. We watched them enter the bike dismount area – it’s amazing how many will fly into that chute as if the seconds they save will somehow justify the risk of taking out a volunteer or flying head over handlebars across the line when you go from 25 mph to stopping in about 10 feet. From there, they grabbed their special needs bags. Then they headed to the changing tent and on to the run course.

The race played out with much surprise and change along the way. It’s Ironman, it’s a long day, anything can happen and often does. We cheered loudly around the bridge by mile 7. To the participant that ran up to me, pointed and said you’re hot…

I love you. Can I call you up to hear that on really low days?

One thing I have noticed now in watching three Ironmans this year is how serious everyone looks. I’m not sure if they are that focused on the task at hand, that pained or just that wrapped up in their own thoughts. You can barely get a smile from the competitors let alone eye contact. It just seems so serious. I don’t know. Does it have to be that way? Do you think people are really working that hard or just didn’t realize how hard it would be? I don’t know. In any case, next time you do Ironman remember to breathe and smile - it can be hard but it's got to be fun. Or else why do it?

As the day wore on I wanted to give Jen’s kids get the Iron Sherpa award. Morgan busied herself by telling us everything she didn’t want to do while Graham hunted for roadside treasures. He picked up everything. EVERYTHING. Even the 10 foot of piping that Thomas picked up as a joke to see if Graham would go after it. He did. Graham should probably get a tetanus shot just to be safe. Seriously, though, these kids were hard core and very well behaved. They just sort of accepted that they were at the race and did their best to play anywhere they could. Chris also got in touch with his inner 6 year old by tossing acorns with Graham and helping him to hang from street scaffolding.

We didn’t do too much cheering because Jen’s kids got in their heads that they wanted to climb "A Mountain". It’s a short steep climb right near the race course. I think it ascends 1000 feet in a quarter mile? Maybe Jen and I said we wanted to climb it and maybe her kids overhead it and maybe Graham liked the idea while Morgan couldn’t stop talking about why she shouldn’t have to climb it. In any case we all went up and all enjoyed it. Even Morgan. She couldn’t stop talking about the rock that was painted pink near the top as we walked down.

Like any good kid we were promised cookies and ice cream after the climb. Chris bought six cookies. Jen and I ate the six cookies because it looked like Chris needed help. He didn’t. We just really wanted the cookies. I tantrummed about wearing uncomfortable shoes. And then we went back to Ironman.

At this point everyone in Ironman was on the run course somewhere in the middle of the 400 loops they had to run. We found a seat by the finish line and watched the competitors roll in around the 8:30 to 10:15 range. Typical Ironman finish stuff. People walking, sprinting, shuffling. You see it all. Doesn’t matter if you are a pro or age grouper – 8+ hours is a long day to do anything. And it shows.

Once Jerome crossed the line, Jen and Elizabeth left while Chris, Thomas and I headed out to find Cat and Molly. I got a cryptic text from Cat saying “we’re under the bridge” which made me laugh. There had to be over ten bridges near the lake! Before we found out which bridge, we watched the meat of Ironman run by for awhile right at the junction where they were handing out glow necklaces. What was interesting was that with some athletes as soon as they were handed the glow necklace they started to walk. It almost seemed like a symbol or permission for them to start shutting down. Things were really mixed up on the course at this point – you couldn’t tell who was on loop 70 or just starting. Some were hauling ass, some were walking, others were still in the race but stopped alongside the course talking to their family.

Anything goes.

Watch a few Ironmans and no matter where you are or who you are watching you start to see a lot of the same things. There is a look to the eyes at Ironman. It is an empty, vacant look that reflects back at you what is probably a mix of horror, pain and survivalism wherever they are on the course. In other words, you get a lot of blank stares. You call out their names and it’s like they don’t remember who they are. It’s the vacuous look of Ironman. I’ve seen it three times this year and each time is looks as hollow and lost as the next time.

You also see the frustration and discomfort of Ironman. I watched a woman grab a glow necklace, try to put it around her neck, failed, try to put it around her waist then realizing she had to hold the necklace but needed to rip something ANYTHING off at that point she threw her Fuel Belt and shouted “this thing is so damn uncomfortable!” Right after this Chris discovered his own Graham Harrison Roadside Treasure along the course - a different Fuel Belt. He was like - look at what I found! And Thomas and I were like - dude, DUDE! Put that thing down! Have you any idea what that Fuel Belt has seen or where it has been!?


After Chris abandoned his treasure (reluctantly), we watched more of Ironman go by. Some people were cruising while others looked trapped in their worst day. I believe someone that Molly saw said it best when he ran by and said “THIS IS HARD!” Yes! It is hard. I’m not sure what people think but Ironman is fucking hard. It’s not just a swim bike and run. It’s an entire day doing something. When was the last time you spent 12+ hours sweating and moving? Or the last time you ate all of your meals for a day out of a package or in liquid form. Or pooped your pants. Or the last time you found yourself trapped in your own head 16 more miles to run. You find yourself stripped away. You find out what you really think about yourself.

Shortly before we found Cat I had a freak out. Chris had been ringing the cowbell for about a day and finally I ripped it out of his hands and threw it in the grass. The bell laid sadly there and upon closer inspection the ringer had broken off the bell. We all had a good laugh about that. But too soon because once we found Cat she was ringing another cowbell, singing and dancing. I can’t believe the crowd around her was still there – several hours of that would have made me gone mad long ago.

Around 8 pm when we could no longer listen to cowbell we called it a day.

We woke up this morning for some coffee and once again looked up at a blue sky and sun. Thomas said they see 340 days a year of sunshine. Imagine that! After coffee, we sat around for a bit before deciding to climb Camelback. It’s not a long climb but you can get working up it. At the top it rewards with view of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and overlooks an area appropriately named Paradise Valley. You need only be a multi millionaire to live there in your massive home.

And now it is back to Chicago. Of course I am a little sad. I like the concept of home, it just needs to happen in another place. Maybe one day. Until then I’ll face the cold and flip through Arizona pictures to warm me.

Until my next trip. Which is in a little more than a week. Where in the world will e.l.f. go next? I'll give you a few hints: it's not as cold as Chicago but I might not see the sun yet in exchange I will be surrounded by lots and lots of coffee.

I can't wait!


Anonymous said...

After yesterday I now have two goals for New Zealand. One is from Chris "do not squeeze sponge anywhere near your face, especially NOT in your mouth!" and the other from you - I will try my hardest to wear a smile on my face, give out high-fives and enjoy my day that I will have worked so hard for! It was great to meet you and I hope your travels go smoothly :-)

D said...

Whoever that guy was that told you that you're hot is awesome. That would have been it for me - I would have packed up and called it a day at that haha.

Anonymous said...

Seattle. You are headed to Seattle. If you are, have a cup of Joe for me.
You certainly do know how to paint the picture of an Ironman. I've never done one, never watched one in real life and yet you make me think I've been to a few now! Maybe someday I'll be able to say I've done one for real!
Kristin M.

Courtenay said...

are you going to seattle?! if so let me know. i'll be there from thanksgiving till dec. 7! we can go swimming!!!!

Kim said...

Oooh... Seattle??

Wes said...

I was going to say Starbucks! I guess that IS a piece fo Seattle :-) Ditching my Fuel Belt (to Dee Dee) was the happiest part of my run at IM Florida :-D

Jennifer Harrison said...

thanks for entertaining the kids and I on Sunday! The kids asked about Thomas, chris and you yesterday! I will send them to your place when we get home.... If we come home! Hey, did u see John Good went 10.50???!! Woo!

TriGirl Kate O said...

I guessed Seattle too. good riddle.

Whenever I see you cheering me on in IM I will smile as I say "this is hard." You are so right, you do find out what you really think of yourself.

Chris Menjou said...

I was the one that said "this is hard" to Molly, Cat, Jeff and Wendy. Cat may have told you I was the one that got pulled out of the swim with vertigo in April. It was, I think, mile 4 of the run. I knew IM would be hard, just not that hard, that early, with 22 miles left to go, more than I had ever run in training, and I had been moving for almost 8 hours already. That took some real work, convincing myself that I could even finish with that far left to go. Then you stop thinking about it and just do it, and eventually it comes around.