Monday, September 28, 2009

The Other Side

This past weekend we packed up and headed west to glorious…Iowa.

You know how I feel about Iowa. Literally the heart of the country has a very special place in my heart. Especially in the summer. But Iowa in fall is even prettier. The trees sit on the edge of a spectacular change that they hint at in fresh yellows and warm reds. The corn still waves with crisp edges. The fields still roll with green. It’s fall in the Midwest and there’s nothing like it.

It was race time. Not for me – but for Chris. Yet again I am playing the role of triathlon Sherpa extraordinaire, on the sidelines with not exactly a better view, a different view with a stirring hunger for being on the other side but knowing that sometimes it’s better to wait.


The race was situated at a state park and it was beautiful. We arrived in the evening to pick up Chris’ packet. I had to laugh when I was getting out of the car and a guy said my name. I looked at him, he looked at me and said my name again. It finally registered with me who they were – Ben and Patrick – two local athletes who had just done Ironman Wisconsin. I asked if they were racing and I believe in a post-car-trip-nap haze I said something to this effect:

That's the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a long time!

I realize now that may have sounded a bit crass. But I’ve never been one to hold back on my words. They both chuckled at me while I told them both to go home, eat some donuts and take naps. I swear, after I did Ironman all I wanted to do was wash my body of triathlon for 3 weeks, eat chocolate and glue my eyes to trashy television. I think I would have thrown up if I tried to race two weeks later – not from the effort but from the very idea of sitting in a saddle or wearing a race belt.

Not only did those two guys race, but they did quite well!


We went into Cedar Falls for dinner to a swanky little Italian restaurant that didn’t know it was sitting on main street in Cedar Falls. I felt like we were in Soho. Except it was Iowa. And someone walked in wearing a Hawkeyes sweatshirt. Set against the white tablecloths and the push to buy a bottle of sparkling mineral water I had to laugh. Oh stop taking yourselves so seriously….it’s Iowa! I want my buttered corn!

The next morning we were up at 4 am. Or, I was. I was up at 12 am, 3:30 am and finally when I couldn’t sleep anymore (sleep, where art thou lately?) I just woke up. Chris ate a delectable breakfast of instant oatmeal made with water warmed through the hotel coffee pot and hotel coffee which he admitted tasted like brown ass (ah, pre-race hotel room coffee).

We parked at the race site at 5 am. For the first time I was happy that I wasn’t racing. It was 50 degrees! Even though I know in just a few weeks it will be 5 degrees, 50 felt much colder than it sounded. I wrapped myself in a towel in the front seat and went back to sleep while Chris went to set up transition. I was so cold!


Around 6:50 when the sun was coming up, I woke up and made a quick trip to Panera for some bagel and amen some warm coffee! By the time I got back, it was go time. I headed up to the swim start just in time to see Chris emerge 4th from the water. It was actually a competitive race with another pro – Daniel Bretscher – in the game as well. I knew Chris would make up some ground on the bike even with a deficit in the swim. I also made a few notes about how he could gain some time in transition. There’s a lot of little things that eat up time and add up.

There’s something about watching a triathlon that just makes me smile. There’s always action and always something that you wish you had caught on video. Like the person who went the wrong way out of transition while trying to put their feet into their shoes already clipped to the pedals and when called back the right way they turned too tight, toppled over and lost their damn shoe anyway. So much for having those shoes clipped in – yikes! I am still not convinced that anyone can put their feet in their shoes quickly enough to make it matter. I’ve seen enough people lose shoes, crash into another rider and my favorite from one of my athletes two weeks ago – put the wrong shoe on the wrong pedal

Ah, Paul :)

After watching, I sat in the car and it was about 40 minutes later when the guys came back from the bike and started running.

I was tipped off by the sound of a stereo that a man was hauling behind his bike. This – my friends – is classic Ragbrai. I didn’t even need to ask him if he had gone on Ragbrai, I just knew. This guy was riding up and down the bike course with loud music blaring and ringing a cowbell. Hilarious - and only in Iowa.

Daniel was first back from the bike and a few minutes later Chris came bolting down the road. It was good to see him finding his form in the run again. A bit too much running for Kona last year left with a bum knee and injured for the better part of this year too. He just got back into running about 8 weeks ago and with a slow build up has remained – knock on a carbon frame – pain free and making progress.

I love watching the fast runners run. There is a clear distinction between the form of the fast runners and everyone else. It’s called biomechanical efficiency. Faster turnover with purpose; not just turning the feet over but pushing off strong. A high knee lift that propels the runner forward combined with a strong push off midfoot. That’s fast run form. The more the race goes on, the more run form deteriorates. It’s worth having your coach observe your run form or spending one day a week this fall on run drills to make small differences in your efficiency. It’s those differences – and not any amount of interval work – that will lead to speed.

Chris maintained his second place position through mile 5 when he passed me and I started cheering. It was at that moment that a man in a golf cart pulled up and said “want to take some pictures of him?” Thus began my short-lived career in photo journalism as I was in a cart in front of Chris snapping pictures nonstop. Also shouting at him to keep it up. To which he replied:

This really hurts!


OF COURSE IT HURTS! That’s what happens when you push your limits. And, for the record, I would give my left ovary to be out there hurting right now. So buck up camper and keep hurting. THIS IS THE GOOD STUFF!

Chris neared the finish line when my golf cart escort asked if I wanted to get a picture of him at the finish line. I mistakenly – or unknowingly – said sure and the driver floored it, sent the golf cart up to what I would call a very unsafe speed and took a turn so tight that I shouted PLEASE DO NOT TIP US as we came to an abrupt halt by the finish line.

Chris finished 2nd in the elite division and brought home $500! And, putting him contention for husband of the year, he promptly handed the cash over to me as a thank you for taking the weekend to support him. I like to think of it as back payment for all the toilets I’ve cleaned and laundry I’ve done over the years.

But who’s keeping track.

We walked back to the car and right by the guy carting around the stereo on his bike. “Ragbrai?” I asked, I couldn’t help myself. Of course he said yes. When we asked what team he rode with, he said Team WASP. When he asked me if I knew what that stood for I said – it doesn’t matter, it’s Ragbrai. He told me it stood for We’re All Sexual Perverts. Exactly, I said, it’s Ragbrai!

On the way home, we drove along Route 20 passing through towns of Ragbrais past.

Do you remember Maquoketa? I asked Chris as we passed by its highway sign. It was the town where we borrowed the lawn jockey and The Timmers placed it in a body bag by the van. Operation Echo November. The town where we danced in the beer garden. The town where the entire team was a bit tipsy and singing to Piano Man for whatever reason you sing to Piano Man – the same reason we played it as the last song at my wedding and sang to it in the same way.

We continued along 20 toward Galena. The roads start to roll in the familiar hills of eastern Iowa. I thought about Ragbrai. I thought about watching the race today. I thought about Daniel asking me if it was hard not to race. And I finally admitted to myself….yes. Yes, it’s hard to be on the other side. If you've ever been out, injured or otherwise on break from the sport you know what I mean.


But at the same time, it’s enlightening. I see it from a different side and appreciate it a lot more. I see my own athletes enjoying the race and reaching their goals. I see my husband doing what he loves to do and getting good at it again. I see how hard the volunteers work to pull the race together. I see them directing traffic to keep everyone safe. I see the race director posting the results every 10 minutes to keep the athletes happy and wonder how long she’s been up today. I see a different side, the side that I took for granted maybe and the side that maybe every needs to spend watching for a year.

When I get back to the other side, it will be good. I’ll enjoy every damn minute of it – no matter how bad it hurts. Promise.

5 comments:

ADC said...

Oh it is totally hard being on the other side but you are doing well. Plus you get shopping money from Chris - so life is good, right!

Dave Jewell said...

Hang Tuff! Chris is now among the top of the second tier Pro Athletes. $500 is a good pay day.

Jennifer Cunnane said...

Sounds like a great event and totally worth the sherpa effort! I can definitely appreciate what you mean by watching from the other side... it not only makes you grateful for when you do get to compete but also anxious to even **gasp** revisit the hurt box!

Jennifer Harrison said...

yes, Initially when I was on the other side "watching" I was like, "HO HUM" but then I kinda got into it and then I was in AWE at how poorly Triathlon events (in general) are run and I was always worried someone was going to get hurt. It is funny, you see everything in SLOOOW motion when you watch the IM and it is so different. Congrats to Chris!

Ron said...

Hello from the other side..of the Mississippi that is.

If you would have gotten farther down the run course, you would have seen the "anatomically correct" chalk drawings left by Mr Boom Box...now that's Ragbrai :-)