Last weekend, my husband Jason completed his first-ever Ironman triathlon competition! Not only was I lucky enough to be his cheerleader through the entire race, I was also inspired and amazed by the athleticism, confidence and sheer mental and physical power displayed by all 82 of the participants.
I've never been at a race with Jason where I wasn't competing. I thought I would have time on my hands to knit and read... not a chance! From the moment I saw Jason in the water, I could feel my heart in my throat and my nervous energy rising. I was sweating and my heartrate was up because I had an inkling of the thoughts that were racing through his head at the start line. My hubby is a cool cucumber, it takes quite a lot to ruffle his feathers. But I think this race might have gotten under his skin just a little!
It all started the night before, when we pulled into Grand Coulee, WA. We passed the giant dam - which Jason would ride over at the completion of the bike course - and took in the topography. Mesas loomed up high over the Columbia River. The first part of the bike course was a climb up to a mesa summit... we're talking 7% and 14% grades - a 900ft elevation gain - in a matter of kilometers. Hairpin turns, newly sealed black concrete... if you stopped for any reason, you would probably have to get off your bike and walk since even the granniest of gears would fail you. Seeing this was a bit intimidating to say the least!
Soon after we dropped Jason's bike off at T1, and went to our homestay, Dawn and Alan. They had left their doors unlocked (!) for us, with a room all made up and instructions to "make ourselves at home". Fantastic and very interesting people. We had no trouble eating a high-carb dinner and heading to bed.
5:00am wakeup and off to T1. It's dark out still and the air is cool. Jason puts his transition and special needs bags in the allocated space and then goes for body marking. Contemplation of the swim course begins while the race volunteers are suiting up for their kayaks...
Pre-race jitters - suiting up!
As the athletes line up for the swim, I am struck by the amount of older people in the race. There is a single 19yr-old, with everyone else between 30-60ish. So impressive. Seasoned vets and first-timers together, milling about. Talking about the course, getting through the last-minute jitters. They are lining up as the sun is rising over the mesas - so gorgeous!
Iron-wave in the Sunrise
And they're off! I struggle to see the grey of Jason's inner sleeve in the sea of black wetsuits and white caps. It's not until the finish of the first 1.9km loop that I spot him. Only because he stood up at the turn-buoy and yells out his number "32" with his hands cupped around his mouth (race officials said they had to, although Jason was the only one to do it! So cute!)
As he exits the water, I can see the smile on his face and a relaxed pace to his breathing, yay!! That was exactly how he had hoped to feel. As a joke, he kneels down on the sand to kiss the ground - the crowd laughs. Steve King, the announcer, talks about Jason's other races and even says my name as Jason comes up to kiss me (a la sand-face).
Sand-face (which he soon bestowed on me with a kiss)
T1 goes smoothly with a full clothing change and a kiss goodbye. He is all smiles and looking strong!
All Smiles in T1
I realize that I have 7 hours to kill, so stay to watch the rest of the Iron distance swim. One woman comes in at 2:17, 3 minutes before the 2:20 cutoff. People are screaming and cheering and going berserk! The Half-Iron starts and I am a little sad that I'm not doing the race... but then I rub my tummy and think about the little monkey inside and all is well. After cheering all the athletes out of T1, I head back to the homestay to chart out where I could meet up with the cyclists.
Zipping off in the car backwards along the bike course, I come across the most amazing scenery - a feast for the eyes! So I snap a few shots... okay, maybe more like 50. But who's counting? I know Jason will be happy to see them later.
Cheerleader Scenery Shot #1 on the Bike Course
#4 - Talk about deserted bike course!
Finally I see the first cyclist coming in and I realize how deserted the road is, so I slow the car right down, roll down the window and yell my little head off! The cyclist gives me a big smile and wave, I think he needed a little company! So I continue to cheer as I drive and pass other cyclists. My throat is getting raw and my heart rate is racing, not to mention my driving skill suffering! So I see Jason and loop around him, then race ahead and get out. As he's coming up the road, I whip my shirt up and flash my pregnant-lady boobs at him! Big smile! I snap a shot as he passes.
Jason on the bike course...
I continue to follow along for a bit, rolling down the window and telling him about upcoming hills and whatnot. He seems pretty relaxed and full of energy! Eventually I leave him and continue to hoot and holler at cyclists close to T2. I can see their names on their race bibs now and make sure to use them. Some are mystified as to how I know their names! Fun!
Getting back to T2, I recognize other cheerleaders who have loved ones in the race. We swap stories and help cheer for other moms, dads and kids in the race. So fun! I meet one woman, Margaret, who's husband Jerry has completed 13 Ironman races! In the last race, he had a heart attack in the water... this was his first race since, at 62! I had just found out that Jerry was the person that wiped out in front of Jason on the bike course, but I knew he was okay and so kept the info to myself, as not to worry Margaret.
Jason sailed into T2 and took off after a ham sandwich and a kiss. Still smiling and strong, if not a little salty! I ask him if it feels like a 4hr marathon and he laughs and says, "MMMmm, no. More like a 5".
Exit from T2 - Look at those Pipes!
Much much later, when it's dark and cold and quiet, Margaret and I and a few others are on a bridge, shining a spotlight down to the riverside where the athletes are completing their marathon. I can't see Jason and have NO idea where he is or how he is doing. It's been 13 hours and I'm getting keyed up. I know the women in the first aid tent by now and know he is okay, but my heart is still racing.
Finally I see a pair of blue shorts. We had been asking everyone their names and numbers to cheer them on. I hear "32" and I yell "IS THAT MY HUSBAND??????" as I race down the hillside to meet him. It's been over 5 hours and he is TIRED. He's got blinders on, a bit of small talk but not much of a conversationalist!
Tail-end of the Run - can you see the salt on his shirt?
After 14:47, Jason has completed his first Ironman! I am so proud of him, I could cry (and almost do). He's covered in white salt, a little glazed over and crampy, but mostly okay. No blisters, no scrapes or broken parts... amazing!
He insists on going down to talk to Margaret to tell her about Jerry, and that he has seen him completing the run course! You can see the relief in Margaret's face and she thanks him profusely. I'm so happy to be married to this thoughtful man!