As mentioned in a previous installment, I've been up in the Pacific Northwest (broadly defined) to see my friend Pete do the Ironman Coeur d'Alene triathlon. Pete started into this swim-bike-run business about six and a half years ago, the year he turned 40. He went into it as a strong cyclist and runner (though not a distance specialist) and a non-swimmer. After a few months, it became apparent to him that a) he found the sport not only challenging but intriguing and fun and b) that it would take far longer than the half year or so he and another turning-40 friend had allotted themselves to adequately prepare for a race that consists of a 2.4-mile open-water swim, 112-mile bike ride, and full-distance marathon (26.2 miles, if you don't have that distance tattooed on you somewhere). So he shelved the full Ironman plan for the time being and did "half Iron" events where each event is half the total length of the full version. Somewhere along there, he started running marathons, too (last year he qualified for the Boston Marathon, and this year he ran that event). Since the only thing harder than finishing an Ironman is getting into one--each even admits about 2,200 racers, and each seems to be fully subscribed, at 500 bucks or more a head, within hours or days of opening for registration--he signed up for Coeur d'Alene last June. Yesterday was the day.
Short of a disaster--something possible but unlikely such as a bike crash or something like a debilitating injury during the run--I didn't have any real question that Pete would finish. The question for me was more about what the full day, and especially the long, long concluding run, would take out of him. The one thing I have noticed from seeing shorter triathlons is that many very strong athletes whom I imagine look imperturbably graceful running under normal conditions are reduced to a painful-looking shuffle in the tri marathon. And it's a shuffle that goes on and on and on.
I saw some of that yesterday. Pete hit the (60-degree F., wetsuits required) water at 7 a.m. with 2,000 other swimmers. The scene was beautiful mayhem. I saw him in the wild scrum in the swim-to-bike transition area, where volunteers helped peel wetsuits off the athletes, and then as he headed out on the bike. I saw him come in and out of town on the two 56-mile cycling laps, and then early on his run. In the long periods between sightings, I was walking back and forth to a Coeur d'Alene cafe and cheering on every triathlete I saw. When I first saw him on the run, I told Pete that he was looking great. He said he felt pretty good. I saw him coming back in from his first of two running laps. He smiled, but said, "The pace has slowed considerably." He was out long enough on the second lap that I started to wonder if everything was OK. It was--I was simply stuck in spectator time, while he was slowing but moving forward in competitor time. Finally, I spotted him less than a mile from the finish, ran ahead to snap one last picture, and then watched him run the long, downhill and beautifully sunlit finishing stretch down Sherman Avenue to the lakeshore where the whole thing began.
To repeat what I said yesterday to hundreds of people I didn't know: great job, Pete. (And yeah, he did well: 12:26:07 total time, 73rd of 209 starters in his age group.)
(Pictures: Top: The field finishes first of two swimming laps. Bottom: Pete, on the second-to-last turn before the finish. Click for larger versions.)
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