On Sunday the Hubs and I hopped in the car and headed off to Madison for the 2013 Ironman Wisconsin. Why, you ask? Well, the Hubs is a two time Ironman finisher for starters (yes, I'm bragging on him). Secondly, for our first anniversary with a "paper" theme (seriously, who thought those things up?!), I thought long and hard on what I could give him that would be meaningful and yet, made of paper. And thus came Ironman Wisconsin. I knew I could print off our registration confirmation as volunteer Course Marshals as part of his gift, and as someone (myself) who highly values time spent together doing something the other person loves, I thought this would be a neat component of his gift.
Let me preface all of this with my mindset going into Sunday's volunteer experience. I did not get it. Not at all. Not even an ounce, even though I thought I did. I've always been proud of Tim and his multiple marathon and Ironman achievements. I even surprised him with an Ironman groom's cake at our rehearsal dinner, but I never really understood what it means to be an "Ironman". Well, I was served an Ironman sandwich on Sunday and it tasted amazing!
Once we arrived, checked in, put on our XXL volunteer shirts, the Hubs got to show me around a little bit. At this point, I'm still thinking this is a really cool event and neat race, but not much more, yet. I was just glad to be there with him in his element. As we began making our way to our Course Marshal location, I think I started to see a bit more of what had been "unseen" to me over the last few years. What caught my eye pretty early on was the sidewalk chalk messages along the course. I asked if next year I could volunteer as a "chalker" (y'all know I love some DIY and chalk!), and Tim explained that those messages on the course were from the families of the participants as encouragement for their athletes. Very cool. These people must be proud of their athletes, I thought to myself.
Fast forward to the actual run component where Tim and I would stand for 4 hours and make sure that the Univ. of Wisconsin students and spectators didn't interfere with the course, etc. We had the pleasure of standing at a corner where we'd see the runners pass by 4 times. 4 times?! AND, by the time they got to us at mile 1, they had already swam 2.4 miles AND biked 112! Um, you. people. are. crazy. CRAZY!
Everything finally hit me when the first runner passed by us at mile 1 with his police and bike escort, and there was no one else in sight. For 15 minutes he was the ONLY runner. I was humbled, shocked, encouraged and in awe. Oh, you know, just your typical Sunday afternoon feelings.
As runner after runner passed, I became more engaged and more aware of what I was watching. Suddenly I wanted 1,000 pieces of chalk. I wanted every one of those 2,500 participants to have an encouraging note to pass by when they wanted to quit or felt like this mile, or every mile, could be their last. I clapped and cheered those runners on to the point that I was irritating myself. I'm not sure "Way to go, guys" or "Keep it up, ladies" was annoying them or not, but I couldn't stop. At one point Tim had been chatting with another volunteer for a bit and I frantically motioned for him to stop the chatter and start clapping. These people looked exhausted and we needed to cheer for them! I had become some weird Ironman super fan, calling the runners by name if I could read their bib in time. Obnoxius? Maybe. But I was 100% on-board at this point and they had my full attention.
I could go on and on, which I have done to my supportive husband who is allowing me the time to process all of this even though he's fully aware of everything I'm saying, questioning, etc... But here are just a highlights and final thoughts that I cannot close without sharing:
- Watching someone when they've been going full throttle for 5.5 to upwards of 9 hours before they get to your point on the course is humbling. I have no other word for it. These people are true athletes and dwarf almost everything I've ever thought an athlete looks like.
- Seeing someone walking on mile 1 when you both know they have over 25 more to go, but then hearing a bystander say to them as they pass "Come on #1204, don't give up, don't give in, you've got this" makes your eyes sting a bit when they nod and then start running again, even if ever so slowly again. It makes you want to run with them for a minute or two.
- Seeing 2 amputees running in their prosthetics, as well as two wheelchair duos, makes you feel 110% inadequate. I should never complain about ANYTHING. Ever. I know nothing of true challenges.
- Standing at the finish line of an Ironman is what truly drives home the awesomeness of this event. Seeing someone's face as they round the corner and enter the shoot is like watching a dream lived out over and over again, only with different faces, body types, ages, and stories, etc... I could've stood there ALL day (and we did for a good while). I was enamored by watching the different areas of the finish. I wanted to see them in the shoot, I wanted to see them as they crossed under the finish line arch, I wanted to see them as they were greeting their families at the end.
- High-fiving 2 of the finishers as they ran the last few yards makes me giddy.
- It's amazing to me that someone can go 140 miles and then completely collapse once they stop. Like literally, fall to the ground. I now know what beyond exhaustion looks like and I now know, I've never felt it myself. They had pushed their bodies to the limit and theirs legs were going to carry them to the last possible second.
- Hearing the announcer say "____, YOU ARE AN Ironman!" as each person crossed the line is something I'll never forget. It's verbal validation that they are strong, worthy, and dedicated to their dreams. Only the toughest of tough will ever hear those words. Some that start and fight for 17 hours, will never hear those words if they time out. I, personally, will never hear those words with my name attached. I could've cried each time I heard those words, but I was trying to be tough in front of the Hubs;) Although, I'm pretty sure he knows full and well that he's married to a softy.
- These athletes are SO polite and respectful. Countless runners ran by me and as I cheered them on, they took precious seconds to say "thanks for being out here and volunteering." Me? Are you kidding?! I wanted to yell back "Noooo, save your breath, you need that air in your lungs! It's my pleasure, really!" Ironman=sportsmanship.
- Lastly, I'm so incredibly proud to be married to a two time Ironman. There really are no words. I'd give anything to have been there to see him complete such an amazing goal. I'm always proud of him, but to now have witnessed his accomplishment up close, I'm amazed. And in all honesty, the actual event itself is just the culmination, I'm guessing. It's the "end" and where the true amazement lies is in the "means" it must have taken him to get to that moment. I'm sure there were days that he wanted to give up or have an easy day of only 50-75 miles on the bike while other people were relaxing and watching football. If he ever does one again, I'll be there bright and early with my chalk, my signs, and my t-shirt. And if he doesn't feel called to that challenge again, well, I'll gladly volunteer next to my Ironman with pride. For him and for everyone on that road (and lake). They're stinkin' made of steal!
Ironman Wisconsin 2013
Our Iroman, Tim (aka...Hubs)
Biking for 112 miles. No big deal.
Completing a full marathon (26.2 mi) after biking and swimming.
His great looking support team.
Three cheers for Uncle Timmy!
It's a long day for the dedicated fans and spectators.
Tim, you are an Ironman...
And an incredibly handsome one at that. 140.6 miles looks fantastic on you!