If you can’t be an athlete…: Scenes from Ironman Florida 2013

It was over a year ago that I started telling Brian that I thought he’d be into doing an Ironman one day.  He says I put the idea in his head, but I maintain that I was merely identifying a latent desire before he’d even been aware of it, but either way, he ended up signing up for Ironman Florida 2013, which was held this past Sunday in Panama City Beach.

Brian had spent five months training for IMFL, which not only encompassed hours on each discipline but also reading his copy of “Going Long” by Joe Friel until it was dog-eared and testing out every permutation of sports drink, meal replacement shake and granola bar known to cheerleading and mankind.  I gotta admit, it was really inspiring to have a front-row seat to such an intense level of focus and dedication. It really made me want to step up my own game, which, as I enter week 7 of training for my January marathon, I realize is exactly what has happened.  More about that for another post, though.

A few days before the race, I teased him a bit, saying that I really hoped he had a good race because otherwise he’d blame me for the worst day of his life and I’d return from PCB not with an Ironhusband but with an Irondivorce, but the truth is that if I really thought he’d have a terrible time, I would have never suggested he sign up for IMFL and then allow the event to dictate the contents of our weekends and our joint bank account for nearly half a year of my life.

Fortunately my wifely intuition did not let me down, and Brian had a brilliant day at IMFL, finishing his first iron distance triathlon in a respectable 11:47, and best of all, looking happy and energetic each time he passed us on the race course.  He had nothing but glowing things to say about the whole experience: the volunteers, the course, the camaraderie, all of it. He loved every second of it.

If you can't be an athlete...

If you can’t be an athlete…

My role over the weekend had been that of cheer-squad coordinator, which was something I’d never done before but I took to as naturally as the proverbial fish in water.  I made t-shirts with iron-on decals for myself, Brian’s parents and his siblings. (The back of my shirt, in accordance with my role and my somewhat juvenile sense of humor, read “Athletic Supporter.”  See the above photo.) I bought bendy glow-sticks for us to wear after dark.  I made posters for us to hold, my favorites being “Toenails are Overrated” and “You’re never too old to cry for your mommy,” which Brian’s mom held.  It was like all of my dormant LDS-girl genes sprang back to life for just this one event.


But the truth is that pretty much the entire time – from packet pick-up to the swim start to the finish line – I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was on the wrong side of the race barrier.  I knew there was no way I could have been ready for this year’s IMFL, not even if I had started training with Brian from the very beginning. My body simply wouldn’t have been able to accommodate the volume, and I don’t have any experience at a half-iron distance that would prepare me for such a undertaking.

That self-awareness wasn’t enough to keep me from experiencing a piercing mix of longing and envy every time I saw triathletes with their blue wristbands.  I tried to sate it somewhat by doing marathon training runs in the midst of triathletes doing pre-race shake-out runs and then on Saturday by running ten miles of the actual run course, but it only made the feeling more acute.  I had already thought that maybe I’d like to target an iron-distance triathlon in 2015, but this past weekend solidified it for me.  I’m going to do one.  Not next year, but definitely the year after that.  Plans are in the works, yo.

None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy the hell out of spectating.  I did, very much so. It’s just that…well…any other athlete who watches other athletes compete in their sport knows that feeling of displacement, especially when you are so passionate about your sport.  It’s hard to watch other people doing this thing you love when you are unable to do that thing yourself.

There are other things I noticed or experienced that I think might be of interest to the readers of this blog, but because I’m feeling a bit worn-out from traveling I’m going to take the lazy way out and list them with bullet points instead of trying to craft a coherent narrative.

  • Celebrity sighting #1: Mirinda Carfrae was pretty much the marquee pro at the event, coming off her amazing win at Kona last month, where she ran a 2:50 marathon and made it look like she was out for an easy jog around the neighborhood.  I saw her three times – once in the parking garage of the condo building we were staying in, once when she spoke during the athlete dinner the night before, and once during warm-up before swim start.  We wished her and her fiance, Tim O’Donnell – who is now high-profile by association of his engagement to one of the world’s most famous triathletes – good luck, then left them alone while they zipped each other into their wetsuits and used resistance bands to warm their shoulders up.  Rinny was gracious and friendly to everyone who talked to her, and for reals, everyone wanted to talk to her.  Who can blame us? She’s awesome!
  • Celebrity sighting #2: I’ve been reading and lurking at Shut Up and Run for a while now, and I took particular interest in Beth’s training for IMFL because it was fascinating to compare her approach with Brian’s.  I knew she’d be at the event but I wasn’t sure if I’d recognize her, because let’s be real, forty-something blonde women with zero percent body fat comprised, like, a full tenth of the race field, and I am not even exaggerating about that.  But then I saw one of those forty-something blonde women at the expo with a visor that read “Shut Up and Run” and like the huge dork I am, I shouted “Shut up and run!”  Beth, to her credit, was not put off by the goofy tall lady randomly shouting the name of her blog, and she stopped and chatted with us for a few minutes.  I dig SUAR so it was cool to meet her in person.  I’m just sorry I cannot find it in me to not be a dork all the time.
  • Celebrity sighting #3: So I guess two sons of the Crown Prince of Bahrain were competing at IMFL, and they brought along with them an entourage of 30 dudes and 10 black SUVs and who knows how many serious-faced men in suits.  The Bahraini royals’ presence was an endless source of speculation and gossip.  My favorite, however, came courtesy of the cashier at the nearby gas station, who Brian said was swearing up and down that she had heard President Obama was partying over at the Spinnaker Beach Resort (where they held the athlete afterparty).  Brian was, like, No, I’m pretty sure that was the prince of Bahrain, but she was adamant that it was Obama.  Obama, Khalifa, it’s all the same, right?
  • I don’t know if it’s just the two Ironmans I’ve seen but this Ironman? TOTAL SAUSAGE FEST.  I think this time the gender split was something like three men to every woman.  The biggest age groups were the 40-44 and the 45-49, and so as a result I referred to the Ironman as “a gigantic midlife crisis” more than a few times. I say this with great affection, by the way, as my beloved husband is in the 50-54 age group, and thus I have permission to make jokes about these things.  And hey, you know what?  I think it’s far better to work through your midlife crisis with endurance sports than with a tiny red sports car, awkward hair plugs and a barely legal girlfriend.  I’m just sayin.
  • I wrote a few weeks back about how Brian was heckled for running behind me at a race, and a bunch of women commented to share their experiences with guys who panic over being “chicked” (UGH THAT WORD) even while out on a training ride.  Well, this came up again during the athlete briefing.  See, in triathlons where drafting is not allowed, triathletes are required to fall back when they are being overtaken by another rider or run the risk of incurring a penalty.  The announcer then said, “So guys, if you are riding and a woman comes up to pass you, don’t try to ride faster to beat her. Let her go.  She’s probably going to beat you by four hours anyway.”  Everyone laughed at his joke, and it occurred to me that there are very few endurance athletes who would mock a guy for being overtaken in a race by a woman, but there are evidently a whole lot of us who will laugh at a guy who pedals frantically to avoid the fate of being – omg! – passed by a woman.  Hear that, guys?  We’re all laughing at you, but not for the reasons you think!
  • We met so many incredibly nice people over the course of the weekend, but my favorite had to be Brenan and Jamie, two twentysomething ladies from the DC area who stood in line behind us while we waited for an hour-plus to buy finisher’s swag.  They were hilarious, sharing stories about sticking their hands down their tri shorts so they could apply chamois cream while apologizing to the changing tent volunteers.  They also gave me tips about which saddles they liked best for the long rides and how I could use a clamp from the hardware store to modify it to my liking and which online retailers have good return policies.  They pointed out that there aren’t a lot of women who do iron-distance triathlon (see bullet point 4) so they’ve sort of been trying to figure this stuff out on their own. I appreciated that they were passing on this information to me, sort of like an underground network for lady triathletes.

    They might have also gotten me to reconsider my previous prohibition against tutus while running, because they said that all the comments they got on their pink sparkly skirts helped make the marathon (which, mind you, is run without headphones) easier.  Brenan ran her marathon in 4:07, and I’ll tell you what, if running in a pink tutu helped make that happen, then pass the motherfucking sparkles, please.

  • Brian had always kind of thought all of the Ironman stickers were a little silly.  That was before Sunday.  It is now Tuesday and I have the following stickers on the back of my Honda Fit: an Ironman Florida sticker, an M-dot sticker and a TRI sticker.  That’s in addition to the USAT sticker we’ve had on there for a few years now. Oh how things change…
  • I had elbowed my way up to the barrier at the finish line with the goal of recording video of Brian as he ran down the finisher’s chute, so he could see it later on.  I had my phone out and everything, but when I saw his white compression sleeves and his black knee brace emerging from the darkness, I started frantically screaming his name. He passed me, then realized what had happened and came back.  It was at this moment that I realized I am not a true millennial, because my instinct for digital documentation abandoned me at that moment so I could hug and kiss my sweaty, tired husband.

    The phone was still recording, though, and I’ve watched it a few times since because it is just so freaking hilarious to hear me freaking out while the video jerks up to the night sky, then back down to the ground.  Self-documentation skills, I most definitely do not have them.  But you know what?  I’m fine with that.  Yeah, it’s great to be able to document things to share with people later on, but there’s also just something to be said for living in the moment as it happens.

So here ends my Ironman post for the year.  The next time I write about Ironman, I’m hoping it’s because I have signed up to do one.


20 responses to “If you can’t be an athlete…: Scenes from Ironman Florida 2013

  1. Your observations about the gender split at Ironman races is about right, and in fact, outside of North America, it’s even more severe. The year I did IM Louisville, the field was 20% women and that was a big deal because it was so high. IM France, on the other hand, is about 7-8% women most years.

      • YES!! It takes SO much stuff. My enormous running stroller AND my bike! Sorry to rave a bit but I am always excited to find other Fit owners!

      • I totally hear you though! We once brought our entire bedroom set from IKEA back to our new house in the Fit. It was incredible, like an actual clown car. I love it.

  2. Congrats Brian!! It was my one and only IM distance and I someday I wish I didn’t have a job and a family and like sleep so much so I could do it again!! And while its been years, my 140.6 sticker will always be with me.

    Sign up so that I can live vicariously through your training!

    • Haha, I will! I love hearing that you had such a great time doing your IM. It gets me all excited for the day when I’ll finally get to do mine.

      • I think IM is bit like crack or heroin…the high that day is freakin’ amazing. You are an unstoppable machine designed to do one thing. And your cross the line and the glory, god, the glory.

        But I suspect you chase that glory the next time and the next time. After many years of Half IM as my chosen distance, and really a lot of success I’ve gone back to sprints and olys. I can do those every weekend, and if one sucks there’s another one ing 7 days. IM and Half IM is months and months of your life.

        Still, to be single and obligation free so that I could throw myself into that training again…god some days I just want to chase that high forever!

      • I love your description of it! It has me all psyched to try my first half-iron and iron distance triathlons. I got a little glimpse of it during my Olympic distance training, and I wanted more!

        I don’t have any kids – just a bunch of animals and a husband who is also an endurance athlete – so I think now is the time to do this stuff, because honestly I do not know how people with kids do all of that training. I follow one blogger who is a SAHM with two little girls and she’s training for an ultra-marathon, and I don’t even know how she does it.

    • Yep, appointment is set for this Saturday. He’s getting an artistic rendering of the sun that incorporates the three disciplines and the numbers 140.6. The guy who is doing it was trained as a fine artist and he has done some of my work, so I’m sure that his design will be gorgeous.

    • Haha. Oh just wait, I’ve got something just as cray in store for the upcoming months. I just haven’t written about it yet. 😉

  3. Pingback: I saw the U.S. women’s national soccer team play, and it was everything I’d dreamed of and more | Fit and Feminist·

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