Monday, April 24, 2017

Thoughts on Ironman Texas

This past Saturday I traveled to The Woodlands to spectate and volunteer Ironman Texas. It was my second Ironman to attend, and it didn't disappoint. Emotional, inspiring, exhausting!

Three of my Georgetown Triathletes teammates competed, two of them in their first full Ironman and one competing in his fourth. We speculated beforehand in what order they would finish since they are all similar abilities, but in the end I think we all realized it was a crapshoot...we knew they would all do great. Three talented triathletes with more guts than I could ever imagine.

Kat, Christine and I ready for the day

My volunteer gig was as a Finish Line catcher from about 5pm to 9pm, along with a few other teammates, so in all likelihood we would get the chance to see the three #wonderboys finish, hoping one of us would get to be the one to "catch" them. But first things first....we got to spectate!

We didn't see the swim start or finish, and except for seeing the cyclists on the course as we made our way into The Woodlands, we didn't watch the bike leg. We camped out in a couple spots at T2 and anxiously awaited our teammates' arrivals. Of course the tracker didn't work at that time so we had to just be patient as we waited for them to come through. They all looked great when they entered T2 and were within about 25 minutes of each other (just like we thought!). Once we knew our guys were out on the run, we could breathe a big sigh of relief. The hardest parts were done (arguably) and all they needed to do was keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other (not so easy, of course).

Camping out for a bit on the run course was especially fun. The spectators are just awesome, and it's a 3 loop course along a waterway...lots of opportunities to see your runners. We got to see all three, plus I saw a couple other friends out there kicking butt, and we were getting more and more eager to get to the finish line and wait for the big moments to happen.

Favorite signs... especially "Run like her dad walked in"
Untrustworthy bunch

Being a Finish Line Catcher is a busy and rewarding job. It's not just about greeting each runner as they finish and making sure they are okay, but rather we were their personal assistant through the entire finish chute. Wrapping them in a thermal blanket, giving them water, getting them their medal, shirt, and hat, getting their chip removed, getting them a recovery drink, guiding them to get a photo, and paging medical should they need extra assistance. We didn't take our hand off of them until they exited the finish and could meet their loved ones...and then we went back up the finish line to catch another athlete.

Overall winner

Female winner

Above photos courtesy of teammate Amanda Shannon

I knew I would encounter so many emotional moments and I was pumped to watch the excitement these athletes experienced as they crossed that finish line. I think I maybe underestimated exactly how many times I would be brought to tears.

Jayson was our first athlete to cross the finish line and it was his very first Ironman. He's our young one and I knew he would have a great race. Luckily one of our teammates was right there to catch him, and as soon as Jayson saw him, he burst into tears. I was walking back to the line after letting one of my athletes go, and it was such a glorious sight to see Jayson's face and the emotion he was releasing. As I'm typing this, I'm getting emotional again! I immediately went right up to him to hug him and congratulate him. He was feeing great and had totally owned that Ironman course, right down to his 3:40 marathon and his 11:29 finish. Absolutely brilliant performance!

Photo cred: Amanda

Since Jayson and Drew (our other first timer) were racing almost identical races, we knew it was Drew's turn next and could be at any moment. I was right up at the front with teammate and club leader Christine when we saw him, and she grabbed him as soon as he crossed. I took the next athlete and trailed right behind Drew and Christine while I took care of my athlete until I had the opportunity to congratulate Drew myself, with a great butt slap thrown in because Drew is all about the butt slaps. He, too, had a brilliant race, capping off his 11:41 finish with a 3:53 marathon.

So sweet of me to look like I'm going to kill Drew
Wonderboys and Wonderwives
(photo cred: Amanda)

Our third teammate, Justin, was still out there but on his last few miles of the run, and his wife Kat stayed after her finish line shift to wait for him so she could personally give him his medal and greet him. Once again, we were in the right place at the right time and a teammate, plus Kat, got to catch him and help him through the finish chute. He had another great Ironman, finishing in 12:18.

I think he's done (photo cred: Amanda)

As emotional as watching my teammates finish was, the other athletes I had the privilege of helping will leave a lasting impression on me as well.

A first timer, age 25, who was completely overcome with emotion about halfway through the chute. He had to stop walking, his face took on all his emotion, he started crying, and he told me he was a St. Jude's baby. We shared a very special hug. I wish I had remembered his name. And I hope he keeps competing.
A middle aged gentleman who told me he had a rough day and wasn't sure he would finish because he's diabetic. He had trouble all day keeping his blood sugar regulated, but he pushed through and was able to still have a brilliant race. I walked him through slowly to be sure he was okay without medical assistance. His strength was astounding to me and I didn't hesitate to tell him how inspiring he was. 
The older gentleman who had just completed his 64th Ironman and wondered when someone would convince him to stop torturing himself. And the older woman that completely owned that finish chute after completing her 22nd Ironman and looked like she could get out there and do it again.
The young foreign gentleman who spoke little English but kept telling me he felt like new and wanted to do it again. I had a hard time walking as fast as him. 
The first timer young woman who could not stop crying and telling me thank you, who saw her husband along the fence and didn't want to let go of him, and probably took the most beautiful finish photo I've ever seen after such a grueling race.
The married couple who had no intention of finishing together, but it worked out that way. They found each other on the run and were each other's rocks to get to that finish line strong.  
And then there was Craig Tippit's family. Craig was a local athlete who was killed by a hit-and-run driver last month while on a training ride. His family was at the Ironman anyway, and his best friend, Bryan Ford, competed in his honor, carrying his bib and Craig's so Craig could still become an Ironman. Thousands of athletes, spectators, and volunteers wore bracelets in his honor. When we saw Craig's wife and family come to the finish line waiting for Bryan, we all had a lot of trouble keeping our tears in check. Bryan crossing that finish line was the most emotional finish I've ever seen. The strength displayed by Craig's loved ones was unmatched. The absolute best moment of the day. Hands down (sorry, #wonderboys). And once again, the tears are welling up just reliving it.

There were moments when I thought there's no way I would ever want to put in the time and effort to compete in something like this, there were moments when I wanted to say "screw it, let's do it," and there were moments when I thought being a volunteer was the coolest job ever. At the end of the day, it just cemented what I already knew.

I have the best team.

I have the best teammates. I love them all beyond measure.

I am so fortunate to know these people, and I am so fortunate to train and compete alongside them, to learn all I can from them, and help them when they need it.

Their successes sometimes come secondary to my own. I soak up so much pride and inspiration watching them chase their dreams, find strength they didn't know they had, slay their demons, and become better people. It's so freaking corny, but it's true.

If you want to experience an infinite amount of positive emotions, go watch an Ironman. Volunteer. Cheer. Whatever. Just go.


  1. Absolutely beautiful.
    So much love and emotion!

  2. Such a great day!!! Although you made me cry again after reading your blog.