This past weekend I went to Lake Placid for my fourth consecutive year to spectate the IRONMAN event. When I witnessed this event back in 2010 for the first time, it rocked me like no other event ever has. I have always been emotional when it comes to races, but THIS event….forget it. As the athletes bobbed in the water, waiting for the gun to go off to signify the race start, “The Voice” Mike Reilly had me in tears within minutes. “Only YOU know what it took to get here. The early mornings…etc”. I lost it. The rest of the day was no different. It was a day I will never forget, and one that keeps me coming back every year.
This year I was able to experience the weekend with a first timer. A client of mine who is just starting to get into triathlons and wanted to see what this IRONMAN was all about. it took just 4 hours in the car for her to start to realize what the hype was about. The Adirondack’s serving as a backdrop as they surround the lakes and rivers of this picturesque town. So majestic that they can literally veer you off the road as you are mesmerized by their overwhelming beauty. The thousands of athletes that migrate to this small town, filling the streets of downtown making even the most fit feel out of shape. The inaugural “bike loop” that we do every year, the Saturday before the event. The feeling of camaraderie you feel as you interact with strangers who quickly feel like friends. Then….race day.
I will admit, that while the race start was much safer for the athletes, having them start in waves rather than a mass start made it a lot less dramatic for the spectators. Selfish, I know. However, the drama of the swim was still to come. We decided to stay for the end of the swim, watching the athletes chase down the 2:20 cut-off. Mike does an awesome job of rallying up the crowd to cheer for the swimmers who are going to cut it CLOSE. There were 2 athletes who JUST made it, literally within 10 seconds of the cut-off. Then came the woman who finished about 20 seconds after the cut-off. She was pulled from the race, and immediately embraced a family member, both of them crying. The 5 of us girls lost it. Near sobbed. Ugly tears. Welcome to IRONMAN. It was only 9am.
As the day went on, so did our emotional roller coaster. Cheering for the handicap athletes, the 76-year-old, the 18-year-old, the first timers, the 106th timers. The elite professionals, finishing under 9 hours. The “weekend warriors” finishing in 16 hours. The married couples, crossing the finish line holding hands. The Dads that would stop and hug their children before they finish. The husbands who would kiss their wives at the oval finish. The father/daughter who we are friends with who crossed the finish line holding each others hands high in the air, finishing a day that they will never forget. The RAW emotion as the athletes finished. Some pumping their fists, screaming with joy. Others overcome with tears of joy. Some doing cartwheels, while others LITERALLY collapsed over the finish line. The one man who crossed the line and went right to the side fence, where is wife stood, both of them sobbing as they held each other for no less than 3 minutes.
As I type these words, tears stream down my face. This event is the platform for what athletics and racing is all about. Sacrificing and working for months, and even years for this one event, this one day. An event that has no room for anyone who is just going to “wing it”. Every single person who dips their toes into that water at 630am has their own journey of how they got there. While each one is different, the common factor is EVERYONE gave it THEIR best. The literal BLOOD, SWEAT and TEARS that go into training is all for this one race. Therefore, this day and this event strips every one of their emotions. When these athletes hit that oval, whether in 9, 12, or 17 hours…they enter it with their hearts on their sleeve. And they deserve that. They OWN that oval because they have put the time and effort in to have that privilege. Us spectators can only cheer and scream, but we wish we could do so much more. At least I do. Those tears I cry…they are for you and all you did to hear Mike Reilly say, “YOU are an IRONMAN”
If you have done an IRONMAN, be proud. If you have no desire to do one, at least do yourself the favor of attending this event. If anything, you will see what dedication, hard work, and pure emotion looks like. And if you want to see what a hot mess looks like, come to IMLP next year, I will be the girl with the ugly tears as I watch my brother compete in his first IRONMAN event!