June 26, 2011: It's about 11:30 on this beautiful Sunday night in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Stores and restaurants are long closed, but the resort town is pulsing with music, cheering and an enthusiastic man with a microphone loudly telling people what they want to hear. I'm walking and have forced myself to keep moving forward almost nonstop for 140-plus miles since 7 a.m. I convince my exhausted and aching body to resume jogging as I turn onto Sherman Avenue. I smile knowing that my wife, my three children, friends and the finish line await me at the end of this street.
A year ago, I challenged myself to accomplish a lofty goal that admittedly seemed somewhere between impossible and insane for a lazy guy who packed around an extra hundred pounds and used to tip the scales at 371.
But hoping for a midlife reboot, I willingly signed up (and paid money!) to tackle a triathlon that included a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon. Back-to-back-to-back. In one day.
Late Sunday night, I lived that sweet dream.
Move over, Ozzy Osbourne. And excuse me, Robert Downey Jr.
I AM IRONMAN.
OK, I don't actually have my own heavy metal song — or a decked-out costume.
But I swam, biked and walked, waddled and slowly jogged for 140.6 miles to beat the 17-hour midnight deadline with 23 minutes and 56 seconds to spare.
And, yes, my body — especially the bottom half — still feels like it exercised for a consecutive 16 hours, 36 minutes and four seconds.
I was anything but calm race morning. Amazingly, I actually slept for five hours after dealing with internal issues Saturday (mostly butterflies from the enormous task ahead, and perhaps partly from the big beef and salami sandwich I inhaled). Dealing with an 11th-hour bike problem didn't help.
Being with my wife's witty and wise uncle, four-time Ironman Chris, and chatting with amazing friends from my triathlon club, the Desert Sharks, helped ease some race-morning jitters. But as the time to toe the starting line on the beach approached, I couldn't help but thinking: Did I train enough? Can I finish my first marathon after doing the longest bike ride and open-water swim of my life? Will I even make it out of the bitter-cold lake alive? Am I completely nuts?!
Before I knew it, a cannon exploded and I was swimming, churning and trading accidental blows in a school of 2,350 wetsuit-clad fish. Until mid-May, my average swim time was dangerously close to putting me at peril of not making the cutoff. But my friends Steve and Bill gave me some excellent pointers, and my stroke improved almost overnight. The water was frigid (mid-50s) and elbows flew in the washing-machine-like environment, but I felt great in that lake. Early on, I smiled while thinking, "I'm competing in an Ironman."
My second 1.2-mile lap was slower than my first, but I was elated when I finally exited the water — alive and 41 minutes before the two hour and 20 minute cutoff. As I headed to the transition tent to change into my cycling gear, I had a feeling I was in for a special day.
Utah isn't exactly a flat spot, so I've done my share of riding up and down hills, including up to the top of Emigration Canyon a couple of times. I even knew the Coeur d'Alene course had 5,000 feet of elevation over 112 miles, but the hills were surprisingly relentless and fairly steep.
We had to do the 56-mile loop twice, and I felt great on the first lap. I haul around about 230 pounds, so it's not easy getting me uphill but I survived without too much leg pain in Round 1. Coming back into town, though, I joked with another participant that I'd like to take the Half-Ironman option and be done with the bike. Wishful thinking.
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