Sunday, May 4, 2014

What Heaven Feels Like

People may think that completing an Ironman is solely an individual achievement. But the thing is, it's really not.

It's much more than that.

For full effect, download "Dirty Paws" by Of Monsters and Men and play at maximum volume throughout the duration of this post.

You see kids it's not about the 800+miles I've logged over the last three months on my bike, on my shoes, or in the pool that makes a difference. It's not about sneaking into the fitness center after hours to swim laps, or doing a set of 2-mile stadiums after they shut the lights off. You want me to tell you that all of the slow motion black and white B-roll footage they shove into a motivational 60-second Nike commercial is what helps you become an Ironman. Well, that's not it at all.

Nor is it the dietary restrictions you place on yourself that turn you into practically a Vegan for a quarter of the year, relying solely on protein shakes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as your nourishment. When your friends ask where everyone is getting grub this Friday night, you politely decline because you have a hefty bowl of strawberry yogurt mixed with coconut granola waiting patiently back at home. No, those 15 pounds you unload off your belly and thighs to shave a few extra minutes off your bike splits, those aren't what make you complete an Ironman either.

A blue-blooded snoot would say the key to being an Ironman is the money you are willing to burn for the sake of better gear. You want a 2014 2XU Men’s G:2 TR Compression Wetsuit? Or what about a Cervelo P5 Six Dura Ace 9000 triathlon road bike with carbon wheels? Surely the $249.99 you are willing to spend on Zoot Ali’i 6.0 running shoes will get you from the opening gun to the finish line that much quicker.

The thing is, it’s really none of that stuff at all.

When you are out swimming and biking and running around for six plus hours you play mental battles with yourself. You think. About yourself, about your life, about the direction everyone is headed, about deep junk that normally gets published in philosophy 101 textbooks. You think about the meaning of life, true story. And yesterday after wandering around St. George like a drunken lunatic on wheels the one thing I came to understand in between aid stations full of Powerade, pretzels, and pissboxes is that being an Ironman is not an individual accomplishment. Rather, being an Ironman is something shared by everyone.

Now I know that not everyone has the chance to get accidentally fondled in a lake by a 61-year old woman mid stroke, or scream obscenities to the sky at the creator of the known universe for making the “Hill from Hell” in Snow Canyon so bloody steep, or look funny as they run down Diagonal with their toes up only to keep their calves from cramping mid-stride. I know everyone does not have the chance to cross the finish line in spectacular glory with some unknown broadcaster blasting their name into the air proclaiming their athletic achievement. But the reason people put themselves through all of this physical torture is because they are surrounded by people who love them. People who care for them. People who cheer them on. And that is what makes them become an Ironman.

I discovered this yesterday as I came out of the water and saw a college roommate I haven’t talked to in over a decade yelling for me. Or when I biked up Highland Parkway and heard a buddy and his girlfriend screaming their guts out with homemade Ninja Turtle posters. Or how about when I came in to the second transition about to take off on a 13-mile run and four generations of women and a throng of my closest friends are chanting my name from the sidelines? You think nutrition, gear, or after hours workouts are the difference makers at that point?

Those are the moments where your switch from the bike to the run goes a little bit longer than normal because after gulping down GU packets and tying your shoes, all you can do at Transition 2 is sit on the grass for three minutes and wipe tears from your eyes.

I am lucky to have these people. You are lucky to have these people. We are all so freaking lucky to have good people placed in our lives. People that cheer for us. Lift us up. Motivate us to be better. People who sit out in the sun for six hours just to scream our names for a whopping 20 seconds. As stated earlier, being an Ironman is not an individual honor and accomplishment. It is something that is shared and earned by the hundreds and thousands of fans who work just as hard supporting each other.   

Running around for six hours does some crazy things to your head, believe me. And as I came to the end of the road yesterday I don’t know if it was because I was delirious or euphoric, but all I could do was cry. Mentally, physically, emotionally drained, surrounded by people who I love more than my own life itself welcoming me back home after a long and tumultuous journey, standing there in one of the most surreal moments in my entire adult life I held my face in my hands and wept like a child.

This, I thought to myself, this must be what heaven feels like.

What do you think?

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