IMC 98, Part 10

"You put in, you take out; it's a rate of exchange that everyone here understands, and the finish line is where you cash your checks."
----Commentary from NBC's 1995 Ironman Hawaii broadcast

Life isn't fair; it's full of disappointments and inequities over which we have no control. We grow up and grow older and resign ourselves to the fact that investments of time, energy, and passion don't always return a profit----or even break even. When hard work yields no rewards we sigh in frustration but move on with our lives.

In stunning contrast to this general principle there is Ironman.

Now, Ironman training constitutes an enormous investment of all sorts of resources: time, money, energy, passion, and faith. Not only do we commit our own capital to this endeavor, we take out loans from family and friends over the course of a year's worth of training and preparation. What is the return on all of this? Why do we do it?

I suppose it boils down to a few simple ideas like challenge, self-realization, personal growth, and transcendence, but these feeble words fall far short of a true explanation of Ironman's rewards. For those with eyes to see and hearts to understand, the opportunities of a day spent traversing the legendary 140.6 render the experience uniquely magical. Every moment of the day presents an opportunity, to learn, to give, to take, to suffer, to overcome, to exceed, to share, to laugh, to cry, to feel joy, levity, pain, pride, elation, despair, discomfort, gratitude, courage. It is life distilled and taken neat. Even the piercing disappointment of a DNF on such a day constitutes an experience of such vivid sensation as to be worthwhile, and, in its own way, fulfilling.

There may be those who fail to see this as any sort of adequate return on the investment; the loss is entirely theirs. You put in, you take out. What you get out is proportional to what you put in, but it is up to each individual to perceive the opportunities of the day and seize them. Thus, for the odyssey that is Ironman, the old Latin expression proves particularly apt: Carpe diem!


Four-thirty in the afternoon. The sun, still broiling hot, grins sadistically down upon us from the western sky. Triathletes walk, jog, slog their way along the road beside Skaha Lake.

Rebecca and I walk and occasionally jog. We're gradually realizing just how difficult this day has been for most of the field. Certainly Rebecca is suffering. I offer cheerful chit chat to boost her spirits, and speculate on how the rest of the RST crew is fairing. We stop at an aid station and grab cold wet sponges by the handful. I jam a couple very stylishly into my jogbra, then grab some ice and dump it into my hat. Ah! I unzip the back of Rebecca's skinsuit and squeeze a sponge over her back and neck, then direct her to perform the ice-in-hat trick. Greatly refreshed, we continue on our way.

I'm expecting the next familiar face across the road to belong to Iron Pete, intent upon his Kona quest. Instead, Art Hutchinson and Wade Blomgren appear, just a few strides apart and both looking quite strong.

"Wade, Art, you guys look great! Have you seen Pete? I expected to see him by now."
"Pete's not far behind us, but he's not looking so good; he's walking. See if you can perk him up. David's a bit further ahead of you, and he's really not looking too good."
"Ok, we'll look for them; you guys are awesome!"

Poor Pete! Sounds like the wind and the heat have beaten him up today, as they have the rest of the field. Sure enough, within a few minutes a lone figure in a neon green sleeveless jersey approaches at a walk, hugging the shade on our side of the road. He doesn't look good; he wobbles, his stride a little unsteady.

"Pete!" I run up and immediately give him a hug. He smiles weakly and assures us that he's basically ok.
"You want some water?" I inquire anxiously, pulling out my bottle.
"Naw, I'm ok."
"Well, here, take my ice." I hand him the cup of ice I'd been nursing since the aid station. I've never seen a guy this strong look this wobbly, it's unsettling.
"Don't worry, I'll make it in, it's just a long walk. But David's not too far up there, you'd better see if you can do something for him, he's not looking too good."
"OK, well, hang in there. We'll see you in a few hours, eh?"

Pete heads for town; I turn to look after him with concern. "That," I remark to Rebecca, "is scary." And if Pete says David's in even worse shape, what on earth awaits us up the road?

We're getting into the heart of the marathon now, and it's become very clear that this is no ordinary Ironman day. This is epic. We're seeing more and more people stopped at the side of the road. We walk for a time with a fit looking gal named Heather who tells us that she's done Hawaii a few times, and also did IMC in '96, the hot year. "This is worse than '96," she assures us. "In '96 it was hotter, but we didn't have that killer wind. This year is almost as hot, but that wind is incredible. This has been much harder." In light of the fact that she's back here walking with us, I willingly believe her.

A Japanese fellow squats in the road ahead of us, his head bowed beneath his arms. I put a hand gently upon his shoulder and pour some water over the back of his neck. He looks up, his eyes a mix of fatigue and gratitude, as I offer him my bottle. "Water?" He nods gratefully, tilts his head back and opens his mouth. Done with his drink, he drops his head again. I pat his shoulder, wish him luck, and we continue on.

This scene is repeated numerous times. At one point my heart skips a beat when the person squatting before us appears to be my friend Deb Melnikoff. It turns out not to be, but I spend a few minutes talking with the gal anyway to be sure she's ok. "I just keep feeling dizzy. I think I'll be ok, I just need to rest a minute or two. Thanks for the water." Her name is Bev, and I get the impression she's a bit disoriented, but mostly has her wits about her.

I can't tell you how many times I was grateful to be carrying a water bottle.

Rebecca doesn't say much as we trudge along. I realize that she's fighting hard to keep going, so I put all my energy into keeping her motivated. I chat up a storm trying to encourage and entertain her. At the aid stations I make sure she eats or drinks, gets ice and sponges, tries to get something salty in once in a while. It really matters to me that she keeps going.

"You're amazing," she tells me. "Thanks for staying with me."

"Well, you know, we're just walking, and that's not gonna beat me up too much for Kona. This is just easy, so I figure, why not? Besides, if I went back now, I wouldn't have anything else to do for the rest of the afternoon, so what the heck!"

Then I laugh.

"You know, right about now Skippy is saying to herself, 'I KNEW it.'"

Comically, I feel a twinge of indignation at this idea. I can just *hear* Skippy mulling that thought in exasperation back at the finish area, where every hour on the hour she is checking the message board at the Peach per our plan to see if I've finally DNF'ed yet.

"On the other hand, I hope she's not worried."

Seeing the carnage of broken bodies and dreams out here, mixed with the occasional ambulance racing past, this is not an irrational thought.

And then we see an RST jersey a little way ahead, walking ever so slowly. It is David.

"Siltboy! Siltboy, I'm coming to get you, I'm gonna eat you up!" I cry.

No reaction.

True to the warnings of Art, Wade, and Pete, David does not look good. In fact, it's alarming how "not good" he looks. Approaching from behind, I wrap him in my arms and he stumbles a bit as he leans into me. "Tricia," he acknowledges weakly.

If you do not know David, you must understand that he is one of the most ebullient and jocular young fellows you could ever hope to meet. To say that he is animated and loquacious would be understatement. Seeing him rendered virtually unable to speak is, to say the least, disturbing.

"David, are you ok?" Stupid question.
"No. I'm walking to the turnaround." Now is this the voice of determination or of irrationality speaking?
"Um, do you want to just stop at the next aid station?"
"No, I'm gonna walk to the turnaround."

Seeing as we're at about the 9-mile mark, somehow I don't find this too likely. I squirt him down with my water bottle, then give him a drink. I take some of the ice I'm carrying and rub it over the back of his neck as we trudge a few more steps forward. Then I spy a couple of lounge chairs in the shade, currently unoccupied by their spectator owners.

"Do you mind if we use one of your chairs?" I ask as we approach.
"Oh, no, not at all!"

David resists a little initially, but how much of a fight can a totally depleted body put up? I ease him into the chair, where his adductor muscles promptly spasm into a painful cramp, and his lower legs tremble as the calf muscles contract and release. The cramps abate in a few seconds and David crumples back into the chair, babbling that he will rest a couple of minutes and then "...walk to the turnaround."

I've seen enough.

"No, you're NOT gonna walk to the turnaround. You're gonna sit here and wait to get some medical attention. Now, we're gonna be off on our way, but don't let me catch you doing anything stupid, or I'll kill you myself on my way back. Understand?"
"Yeah, you go ahead, I'll catch up to you in a minute."
"No, you're gonna stay right here, dammit!"

I glance toward the owners of the lawn chair and implore, "You'll look after him, won't you? Don't let him do anything stupid."

"Don't worry, we'll take care of him," they assure. They look just as concerned as I am.

Turning back to David, I kiss him on the cheek, give him a hug, and tell him goodbye.
"'Bye. Thanks."
This subdued response practically makes me cry. But there's nothing else we can do for him, so Rebecca and I depart.

"That," I remark, "was REALLY scary."

Continue on to Part 11...