It was 5:00am, and, while on most fall days in Madison the Wisconsin Capital building waits in silence for the morning sun to peak over Lake Monona, today the unmistakable dome marked the central hub for thousands of athletes filing towards the start line for Ironman Wisconsin in bustling, ant-like fashion. I made my way from my uncle’s house with my mother and siblings to meet an Ironman veteran that would guide my family on their first experience as Ironman Sherpas – the title bestowed to family and friends making the day-long journey around the 140.6 mile course to cheer: a marathon by itself.
Breaking the eager silence, I had to set the record straight; should I not finish the race, the qualifying effort for the Family Ironman Challenge would be set by total distance, not time. It was important to clarify because I knew that at some point my endurance enthusiast siblings would surely make their own attempt at Ironman…and it would be competitive. As we set the stakes for any future efforts, it became clear to me that I would have to set the bar high, as the mental gymnastics about timing and pace, weight and gender left no potential technicality for one of us to eke out the victory. It needed to be definite.
Well, the first challenge came a lot sooner than I expected, as this week my brother came down to Tulsa for the first time to visit me…oh and pick up my second bike so that he can have a ride for Ironman Santa Rosa in May. He recently accepted a job that does not start until later this spring, so rather than travel or take time to himself, he will dedicate himself to training full-time for a head to head showdown in one of the most physically challenging events on the planet – talk about a love for pain.
When Peter returns home next week, it will mark the start of a sixteen-week journey to California; I will share my workouts and updates on training progress ahead of the race. Despite pretty good fitness for my race in September, I have been hampered by a nagging calf strain the last few months that is just now getting better. Peter, however, clipped into bike pedals for the first time ever at the local bike shop we used to at least get him a good fit. He is a pretty accomplished runner, so he at least has that going for him, and a decent level of baseline fitness after a final football season marching in the University of Wisconsin marching band. We will spend this week going over some basic swimming fundamentals and talking about some nutrition before his first long ride this Saturday.
And of course, I have to end with a little bit of reflection that doubles as some trash talk. My favorite memory of my first race in September came around mile 19 in the marathon. I had just walked for two miles, and while I did not feel great, knew that I would finish the race without an issue, even if I had to walk the remaining distance. That all changed When I came around a corner to see my sister waiting on a bike. She had followed me closely and took many pictures during the day, even at one point climbing onto my brother’s back to get a good angle – she was a great Sherpa. The pain on my face was obvious, but she cheered me on as if I were running the 100 meter dash at the Olympics: “You can do it, George! You are so close! You are going to be an Ironman!” I think I started running again just so that she didn’t see the tears start welling up in my eyes; I kept the momentum for the final seven miles to the finish line.
And so to Peter: don’t let me see you cry when I come back to find you after I finish first to cheer you on! Know that I am both your biggest competitor and supporter come race day and that I am so excited for the next sixteen weeks. You can do it!