Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cheering for the Iron Cheerleader

On Sunday, September 8th I had the privilege of spending 11 hours watching 2000 or so men and women attempt something truly remarkable - they were attempting to become Ironmen. For some it was the first time. For others, it was a rematch with the 140.6 mile monster.  Whether they came in first, last, somewhere in the middle, or didn't finish at all; they were all amazing.

I didn't leave for Madison until 7:45am (45 minutes after the 2.4 mile swim was under way), but a few of my friends/teammates were there to witness the washing machine of humanity churning up the water in Lake Monona.

I arrived while the Iron Cheerleader was out on the bike course, so I walked the 2 1/2 miles (along the marathon course) from where I parked to State Street to meet the girls at a coffee shop.
Lake Mendota with the Capitol building in the distance.
I downed another cup of coffee and the four of us retraced the route I'd just taken back to my car (so they could drop of their stuff) before we spent the next 4 1/2 hours volunteering at Aid Station #6 - passing out water, Perform, flat cola, ice, GU, Bonk Breakers, Chomps, orange slices, bananas, and a variety of other things to the athletes as they ran by.  To make it even more interesting, our aid station was themed 'Superheroes of Aid" and we were encouraged to wear costumes.
Superheros of Aid!
One of the girls, A, started her shift as Wonder Woman and ended it as Lube-rWoman!
When our shift was over, we checked out the Iron Cheerleader's split times and realized that he would be running by in the next half hour, so we staked out some real estate next to the course and settled in to wait and cheer.  When the Iron Cheerleader appeared, he looked pretty good for a guy who was 8 miles into a marathon after having swam 2.4 miles and biked 112 miles.
122.4 miles into the day - and still smiling!
After our Iron Cheerleader sighting, we hiked the 2 or 3 miles to Observatory Drive to join the TriWI cheering zone - located at the top of the nastiest hill on the run course, which comes just past the 18 mile mark.  They had someone's phone attached to an amplifier and blasting 80's music and the athlete's were greeted by cheers, Papa Smurf, and a hot dog wearing a fedora and busting Michael Jackson moves!  The 2 hours we spent singing, dancing, clapping, cheering, and belting out 80's tunes were totally worth it as we watched athlete after athlete break into a smile when they came upon us.  Some of them even sang along or stopped to dance!

After the Iron Cheerleader passed us, we made our way back to State Street for a quick Starbucks/bathroom stop before continuing up State Street to the finish line.  As we were walking, we saw Fireman Rob just past the 14 mile mark.

 Once we arrived at Capitol Square, we met up with a very special surprise for the Iron Cheerleader. If you'll recall, he told us that he's never had family/friends waiting for him at the finish of any of his 3 previous Ironmans. That was about to change.It turns out that his daughter knew one of the girls in our group, T, from grad school and when she saw all the pictures of him being tagged on Facebook she got in touch and made arrangements to meet up with us and surprise him!

The crowd on Capitol Square was INSANE! People were stacked 4 or 5 deep along the barriers and as much as we would have liked to be able to watch the Iron Cheerleader cross the finish line, there were just too many people in the way, so we settled for watching it on a giant monitor suspended high over the crowd.
Beautiful backdrop for a finish photo
I'm happy to say that when the Iron Cheerleader crossed the finish line (for what he claims is the last time) in 13:14:29, he did it with his arms raised jubilantly over his head and a smile on his face.
Iron Cheerleader: You. Are. An. Ironman!
Our group worked their way along the finishing chute and finally had to give up on being polite as we pushed our way up the barriers to let him know we were there.  The smile on his face got even bigger when he caught sight of us and when he saw who we had with us...he cried.

After he made his way through the finishing chute we all hung around for a bit; talking, laughing, and listening to his recap of the race.  It wasn't the finish he wanted, but none the less, he became an Ironman for the fourth time!  Does that make him four times as crazy as someone who was doing their first Ironman?

I bid the crew goodnight and set off to hike the 3 miles (still along the marathon course) back to my car.  That path took on a very different feeling at night. It's almost pitch black except for 2 aid stations lit by flood lights and almost completely devoid of spectators. The athletes remaining on the course were mostly walking - their bodies completely exhausted and moving forward by sheer force of will.  I talked to a couple of guys and walked for about a mile and half with one girl who had been sobbing in the dark because she was convinced that she wasn't going to make the midnight cut off (she had 2 1/2 hours to run/walk/crawl about 5 miles).  As much as I love watching the pros and the middle of the pack, I respect the hell out of the back of the pack because they're on the course for so long.

I'm already formulating a plan for next year that involves being able to watch the swim start without having to get up at Stupid O'Clock, volunteering, and then parking myself on that lonely gravel path to cheer late into the night as some ordinary people attempt to achieve something extraordinary.

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