I've been thinking about Diana Nyad who, at age 64, is the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.
After four failed attempts, her successful swim says something about the triumph of the mind over the body. "You are never too old to chase your dream," Nyad said regarding her dogged pursuit of conquering the Cuba-to-Florida 110-mile swim.
I thought about that sentiment on Sunday as a spectator at the Ironman Wisconsin, traveling to Madison to cheer on some Oak Parkers.
I arrived in Madison as the pro triathletes were exiting Lake Monona after their 2.4 mile swim, trailed by 3000 amateurs. The wind was up, which meant swimmers – for one or two hours - had to deal with waves, currents and, for some, unfortunately vomiting.
Once out of the water, they tore off wet suits and ran up a parking garage helix as they transitioned to the bike.
With some friends, I intended to ride much of the 112 mile course. We rode to the "bike out" to cheer the athletes. The racers - on time trial bikes - were fidgety. Hyped up, they swooped this way and that while taking in nutrition or fiddling with their gears.
The ride then settled into work (most would take more than six hours to finish the bike) as the cyclists headed to the hills around Mt. Horeb and Verona.
Disappointment can strike early in an Ironman, and this year was no exception. Fifteen miles from Madison, I heard an ambulance siren and then saw a woman sitting on a stone ledge, her bike akimbo and her arm dangled in the "broken collar bone" position. She was sobbing. Her day was done.
Later, I heard that a friend from Oak Park suffered a similar fate near the same place. Crash. Day over. A year of training gone.
For the remaining athletes, the grueling part of the bike starts at mile 40 with a series of steep climbs. Supportive spectators line the road. Drums beat rhythmically. Cow bells ring (this is Wisconsin after all). Cyclists grind it out.
Supportive signs dotted the roadside such as, "one day you won't be able to do this - today is not that day."
Some signs were scatological: "Wave if you peed yourself" or "never trust a fart during an Ironman."
Others amusingly focused on the absurdity of the distance: "140.6 miles - because 140.7 would be crazy."
Still others detailed the toll Ironman takes on the body: "toenails for sale - Cheap." Some downplayed the suffering: "Pain is temporary - Ironman results on the Internet are forever."
One benefit of spectating instead of competing is stopping for lunch at Dairy Queen. Then I high-tailed it back to the marathon course in Madison to watch the runners.
At mile two, I saw a friend from Oak Park. "How do you feel?" I asked. "Lousy. Stomach issues."
As an Ironman spectator, there is only one thing to do in this situation: lie. "You look great," I said not quite believingly. "You can do this," and that part was true.
I felt like saying "remember Diana Nyad," but at that point in the Ironman a runner's memory does not work. They would ask "Diana who?" So I said, "keep going." And he did.
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