It’s easy to overthink an Ironman race and almost impossible not to.
It’s 7 AM on Thursday morning before Ironman Wisconsin and I’m sorting through just about everything, including my life. I’ve been getting up very early (for me) the last couple days in effort to acclimate my body to the start. And the one thought I keep having is . . . why don’t I just get up early all the time?
In exactly three days I will be in the middle of a chaotic swim with 2700 other people in Lake Monona. Quite a contrast to the ticking clock on my mother’s kitchen wall.
Mike Reilly will have done everything in his power to fire us up, but keep us relaxed in the same breath. It’s swimming into the abyss with friends and family awaiting your return.
I’ve thought about this swim no less than a million times.
I’ve walked barefoot down the helix on the cool concrete trying to convince myself I’ve put everything I need in transition bags. I’ve talked briefly with friends. I’ve felt the lake splash my feet, then the trickle of cool water in the back of my wetsuit. I’ve floated next to strangers trying to read their eyes through tinted goggles. I’ve gazed back at the shore and seen thousands of spectators hanging from Monona Terrace. I’ve looked into the distance at a buoy so far you can barely see it. I’ve recounted my swim training and wondered if I’m ready.
I’ve heard the blast of a cannon.
I’ve felt the chaos of flailing arms and kicking feet. I’ve sighted too many times at the start. I’ve made contact with other swimmers. I’ve recovered. I’ve found a free space in the water and settled in. I’ve found my breath and watched the spectators trail off into the distance. I’ve even “moo’d” at the first buoy.
I’ve pictured smoother water this time as we make our first left turn and swim 200 yards to corner buoy two. I’ve imagined myself feeling stronger as I begin the long back-stretch of the swim course, nearly a mile on its own. I’ve promised myself to go straight with the buoy line. The traffic will be thinner, but there will still be contact, and I’ve expected it when I least expect it. I’ve stayed calm in my own space and relaxed.
I’ve made turn three and swam two hundred more yards to the final turn. I’ve felt the smile on my face knowing it’s almost over.
I’ve made the final turn and looked straight into the eyes of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace. It even more beautiful from 500 yards away in the water. The path is wide open now and I do everything in my power to keep a solid stroke. To stay focused and relaxed. I force myself to slow down because it’s natural to over churn the pace. It’s a long day and don’t want to start my bike gasping for air.
I’ve heard the music and cheers as I get closer to shore. I’ve felt my hand hit the bottom of the lake and nothing compares to that feeling. The simple comfort of ground beneath you. I’ve taken two more strokes and pulled my feet forward to run under the arch. I’ve unzipped my wetsuit and given a thumbs up to friends and family. I’ve made my way to the winding helix.
I’ve done it all, so many times. Now, I just have to do it. But I can’t help thinking that all of this thinking is fruitless. What’s really important is that I embrace the moment. The feeling of being in the middle of an unbelievable event with so many other positive and growing people. I never really used to think of competition this way. It’s always been about gritting teeth, muscling up, and kicking ass. Certainly that will and must happen throughout the day. But the privilege to be able to do something like Ironman ultimately means we have one responsibility – enjoy the day as a celebration of how far we’ve come.
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“You think about it at some point during the day, almost every day . . . if not every day.” – Daniel