Monday, September 3, 2012

Raleigh Ironman 70.3 - The Beginning

On Friday August 31st a handful of friends decided to undertake a new challenge. The Raleigh Ironman 70.3.

Let's paint the picture. Race day in Raleigh dawns on a gorgeous June morning in far away 2013 (i.e. plenty of time to train! Sign up and join us now as an individual or with a relay team! ) , starting with a 1.2 mile swim in the serene waters of Jordan Lake. The normally calm Jordan is a raging rapid on this day as 2250 racers churn through the Baptismal waters of the inaugural Ironman Series race in Raleigh.

More than any other portion of the race, the swim is a time of solitude. Sure, you might be shoulder to shoulder with a competitor, or bump another swimmer as you pass each other, but the swim is about isolation. Your eyes and ears, mouth and nose and their associated senses are distorted and blurred by the water. There is only the feel of the water as you focus on your form, the constant search for breath, and between strokes looking to make sure you're still on course. Any other thoughts are superfluous.

Shoulders, arms, and lungs aching, we stride triumphantly up the boat launch. The first (and for at least one of us, worst) of three challenges is behind us. Our bikes await in the biggest field of bike racks you've ever seen. Through the disorientation of still finding our land legs, we claim our bikes from where they've been carefully holstered the night prior. Helmets, gloves, glasses, shoes. Check. We hit the transition line and start sawing. Jordan Lake disappears behind us, though we'll still be dripping for a mile or two.

Jordan Lake
The bike course takes us through 56 scenic miles in and around western Raleigh. The route criss-crosses through such towns as Apex, Holly Springs, and Cary, up hills and past lakes great and small. Our bike tires eat away at the miles and terrain. The climbs are long and torturous, but the descents make it all worth it.

The sun is out now and we cast long shadows into farm fields, subdivisions, and still sleeping commerce. People have begun taking to the streets in front of their houses. They clap and cheer, holding signs and whistling encouragement. We see friends who've come out to cheer from the roadside before they can pick us from the crowd. After all, we're just another masked face of suffering in a long line of riders in mismatched helmets and jerseys.

The crowds are getting denser. There's now a police car at every intersection, stopping a growing number of backed up motorists wondering what is this madness that's stopping them from getting to Krispy Kreme and Wal Mart. Those sky scrapers are getting closer. The last mile is the most dodgey. Right-angle turns beneath the shadows of buildings. Our legs and arms are ready to be off these bikes, but mostly our asses are sick of these saddles.

We hit the second transition zone. Volunteers and race workers help riders by holding our bikes steady as wobbly legs unclip from our pedals and dismount. Another field of bike racks await. We find our station, holster our bicycles (maybe with a curse, or with a vow never to put butt to bike seat again), and pull on our running shoes.

The Approach Up To Raleigh
For some, the run starts slow. Cramping muscles and aching joints force some to stop and stretch. Our body tries to tell the mind we can't do this, submit, quit.

We tell our body to shut up.

Our feet find their rhythm and our stride evens out. The course takes us through the heart of downtown Raleigh. Stories and songs, memories both clear and hazy, fill our heads as we pass bars and restaurants that have served as post-workout incentive and reward for a training session well done.

Family, friends, co-workers, and complete strangers cheer us on from the sidelines. Our bib numbers are each printed with our first names so everyone can be considered your cheering section. The route takes us into the thick of NC State's campus. Blurry eyed students have “started the day early” and their cheers are some of the loudest. We smile, shake our heads, and remember those days. Hell, we may have re-enacted those days just a weekend or two before.

It's a steady climb as we put our backs to downtown. We call out thanks to volunteers manning aid stations, handing out water and bananas.

Finally it's time to turn. The run is half over, and we start to feel the surge of adrenaline as every stride brings us one step closer to the finish line. And now it's mostly downhill.

We cross the pedestrian bridge over I-440. We find our way back to Hillsborough Street. We shout or clap encouragement to runners still on their way out that may not be feeling as good as us. They'll make it.

The last few miles are a blur. We remember thinking “only a 5k left? I could do this in my sleep”, and we surge toward the finish line. Glory gets closer with each step.

And there it is. The banner announcing the finish. The culmination of 9 months worth of training. We prove to ourselves one more time that it's truly our minds that hold us back as we summon the strength to kick, pulling energy from reserves we didn't know we had.

Head and fists held high, we cross the finish line. It takes a moment for the for it all to sink in, to turn off the fight-or-flight part of the brain that's been activated since before the sun came up. The swim almost feels like it took place on a different day, it's so long ago.

A medal is put around our necks and a Finsher's shirt is pushed into our hands. We give our loved ones the most disgusting hug they've ever received. As stumble into the corral to collect our bikes. The adrenaline is rapidly wearing off, and we start to feel the extent of the fatigue in our bodies. Some of us (read: The Author) can only think of two things: Taking the most refreshing shower ever, and then eating anything that isn't a banana or energy gel.

And almost immediately, we start to wonder where and when the next challenge will be.

So, having said all that, I have one question...


No comments:

Post a Comment