Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ironman Florida

I have watched 4 of the last 6 Ironman Florida and competed in one other, so you could say I have a system for what to do. That system was tested- er, strained- by having Margit back in the race (which is awesome) and by having Ian spend large amounts of time on my back (uh, less awesome, but the best alternative).

Still, it would be a weird day for me. Better me than the people in the race.

I can't say I like being that close to an Ironman and not being in it. There's a certain calming factor in knowing you'd have had to sign up for the race a year ago and it's not like your gear is in the car and you just couldn't bring yourself to register. Still, at two of seven, with the music blaring and the athletes ready to go, well, that's emotional. There's probably something seriously wrong with that. I'm psyched for everyone else, and yet...

I was on the far right of the corral, standing just about in the water. It was a frigid cold day for IM Florida. The sand is usually cold because the sun is still coming up, but it was colder than usual and the water out to about 150 feet was also cold. As a result, a lot of athletes wore socks or flops into the corral. The tide was coming in and after the race started there was a litter of shoes, socks, food wrappers, and bottles on the beach, most of it right near the water. I decided, with nothing else to do, to start heaving or carrying stuff back up onto the beach, as some of it was getting caught in the tide almost immediately. This was kind of fun. I was tossing water bottles to the back of the coral. Only two other people came into the corral to help which kind of- well there were two hundred people or more standing behind the corral, so, well...

Since the pros started early, I was barely done when they got back off the first loop. I took my usual position in the water, on the right, just out of the way of the athletes as they run past and back into the water.

Margit got to see Ian, and I saw Marty, Ed and Jay Carney, Kathy Salvo, Scott (but not Ann). Sometimes you yell encouragement to the athletes, sometimes you slap an outstretched hand, sometimes you cover your camera up as someone reaches into the water and sprays you with a two-handed scoop. There's a delicate dance you do- you stay in the water as long as you can watching people finish their first loop, then you head up to the transition area, around the old host hotel rooms to the area by the gazebo, so that you can see people come in out of the swim. That trip takes five minutes, or ten with a baby on your back.

I got up there just in time to see Marty, then waited for Margit.

Margit had a good swim- but Steve maybe had an even better one and was maybe 10 seconds behind Margit. I bolted when I saw him and scrambled to get to the area opposite the bike arch behind the barrier.

I caught this image of Steve, in evening gloves. No, seriously, those are Wal-Mart tube socks. After Steve and Margit, more people I knew came out, including Ann, who had fallen in transition (what is it with that transition area ?) Her front break was rubbing, so I suggesting opening the break up (I guess most people don't ride with them wide open) and she was off. Then a first-time athlete got a flat right in front of me. I resisted the urge to help him, but I did fold up his puncture for him and tuck in my backpack so he wouldn't have to carry it or abandon it on the course.

That done, I went back to watch the end of the swim. This is something I've done with Margit he last two years. This time was different. First, around two hours, a man came out of the water and dropped to the sand right in front of me. He started throwing up seawater, so I started yelling for medical help. Two of the Ironcrew came over and kneeled by him, but after about a minute, he was able to get up, and I think he did finish. Then I started talking to the rescue crew. I later found out 27 people were plucked from the water, an abnormally high number. From what I know, two were critical and at least one died. There's not much you can say about that, it's- well, you almost wish you didn't here things like that.

At about two hours fifteen, I found myself out in the water, as far as I could get without drenching Ian, off to the right, trying to wave a seriously off-course woman in the right direction. Her husband or boyfriend was standing about 20 yards behind me, also trying to help. She made it.

At least five people missed the cut off. This is the cruel reality of the Ironman. They take people off the course- after the swim, after the bike, and even after the first loop of the run. They close ranks so that these people can't even see the arch, and everyone, including the announcer, is there to great them, cheer, and take their chip from them.

Once this ritual was over and the last person staggered out of the water, I went back in front of the host hotel, put down a sleeping Ian, and then did half an hour of research for a paper online. Ian and I spent some time watching Elmo after that, went for a run together, and then headed for the bridge. If you know the course, there's a bridge at about 100 miles- the worst hill on the course. I usually go there, stand near the apex, and snap pictures of the cyclists. Ian had other ideas about the camera this year, but I got a few shots, none great.

Ian was a real trooper out here. He did get ansy and make me switch from the stroller back to the backpack and he was relentless about the camera, but, he also cheered and clapped and made the experience memorable for me, and the athletes. I can't remember how many people came up to me after the race and said 'You were all over the place', or just 'Thanks for being there.' I know I'm not that memorable, but Ian is. I caught Marty, Steve, Angela, Peter, and margit. When Margit went by, i jumped in the car and raced back to the apartment.

I saw Angela go by where we were staying at about 7/10th of a mile, so I thought I have five minutes to get Ian a diaper and apple juice and myself two beers before Margit came by- so I missed Margit. I evaluated my options, spent a while cheering people on, grabbed more beers, and headed out about 3 miles onto the run course because I wanted Margit to see Ian as soon as possible. I was out there on the run course in one place or another until Margit finished, except for a diaper change and quick feeding.

I got into the arc below the finish are to cheer some of the people I knew there on, including Peter and Steve. At about 11:10 I headed up to the Family Exchange Coral, signed a waiver, and when Margit came by, I miscalculated her look and handed Ian to her instead of running with the two of them. While she was carrying a screaming Ian across the line, another woman in her age group passed her- fortunately a Hawaii spot was not quite at stake.

Margit had a great race, and there's not much more you can say about it. but when you see her let her know how awesome that 11:25:26 PR was.

I took her home, came back with Steve and her and collected their gear and dropped it at the truck, then Steve and I watched finishers until just after 16 hours, when we both decided to head home.

It was a great day to watch a race, Ian was a real trooper, and it was also an honour to see a lot of great performances by committed athletes.

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