I couldn’t be more grateful to have had my husband play the role of Sherpa/spectator at Ironman Louisville this year. Because this is the first time that we have not been racing the same Ironman, I asked him to write about his experiences being Sherpa/spectator extraordinaire at Ironman Louisville. Here is his account of the day:
As guest writer this week, I am going to give my perspective on the day at IMLOU as Sherpa and spectator. If possible, I will try and not repeat any account of the day already documented by Kecia, other than the obvious features such as the weather, which was the theme of the day.
I considered omitting this first topic, but after some thought, really felt that it was important to share. When Kecia was checking in for the race on Thursday, I walked with her through the line that we both know too well, the check-in line at the IRONMAN. As we neared the end of the line, a volunteer handed Kecia a bag of items. She asked if I was racing and I said no. Then she openly exclaims, “I knew you weren’t an IRONMAN.” OH BOY! I have no problem letting it slide off my back. The volunteer does not know me, and I certainly do not need any validation from her about my abilities and accomplishments.
Immediately, my wife, the great protector says to the volunteer, “He’s actually a 5-time IRONMAN finisher.” Kecia, for the win! I suppose in a way, I do not look the part. I am 6’4” and 240 pounds. I have long, flowing curly hair. Others have noted that I look like I should play hockey or be a surfer dude. The whole interaction made me laugh and was only awkward for a brief moment, more for the volunteer than for me.
The IRONMAN community is not that large. I recognized the volunteer. She is a multiple IRONMAN finisher and present on certain electronic and social media platforms. I felt that her comment to me was not offensive, but clearly did not create an open and positive community. We are all ambassadors for the sport. Endurance sport is hard; do not make it harder by isolating others! Enough on that.
In preparation for race day, Kecia and I already had discussed how the day was going to be a mental challenge. She had the fitness and ability to conquer the day. There was no sense in dwelling on the obvious conditions that lie ahead, cold and wet. I was optimistic in her attitude the day before the race, she never once complained.
During the night before race day, I woke occasionally to monitor the radar. Light rain had passed through most of the night and into the waking hours of 4 a.m. Kecia’s father and sister shared a house with Kecia and me for the weekend. When we woke, her dad made a comment of how he was cold already. Kecia was not present at the time. I looked right at him, with her sister present and said that there was absolutely no room for comments like that around the athletes. All the talk needed to be positive, end of discussion.
Before the race, we had done all we needed to get Kecia ready and stayed dry when we could. I walked with Kecia to the staging area for the swim start. I was pleased with how calm the athletes were, given the very poor racing conditions. Triathletes as a whole are very type-A personality, wound tight with their plans and strategy, and any conditions that are not ideal can create great anxiety and frustration. I almost sensed a feeling of community among the participants. Quite often, it’s the opposite; triathlon tends to be a solo sport, togetherness gets put to the side in the interest of personal competition, but I witness this on race morning.
As the swim started, I walked back to the finish area of the swim. By this time, I had already known that the swim was shortened. I was in position to take pictures of Kecia in Transition 1, both entering and exiting the transition area.
At this point, Kecia’s sister, Abbie, and her father, Gary, and I headed for the car. We were going to join a mutual friend, Camila and drive out to a viewing point in La Grange. We all had the appropriate gear loaded in to the car and we were off! When we arrived, bikes were already screaming through town. The viewing area was on a flat piece of road, fans lined the barricades on both sides. I immediately made the decision to go down on the far end, where bikes enter into town.
I am glad I went there, as the road made a slight incline, where some riders sat up and slowed down, making a good opportunity to cheer and take pictures. I knew this is where I wanted to be for the duration of our stay in La Grange.
We were to the meeting area before our athletes approached. I found an awning at a service station to make camp-put down my bag, keep some of my items dry. At this point, it was a heavy dew or mist. The rain showers appeared to be taking a break.
I went out to the middle of the road, right on the double yellow line. The athletes were riding right; a few of the faster ones were passing left, as they should. The rules state that spectators are not to be on the course. There were no course officials around me, so I stayed where I was. When I saw a motorcycle course official coming, I cleared out of the way.
I did my best to ring a cowbell in one hand and cheer for athletes with the other. Gary had printed shirts for the event, and they were a huge hit. Racers complimented with “Love your shirts!”
At one point, I pushed up my sleeves. I was wearing a long-sleeved technical fiber undershirt and my pink shirt over it. I also had on a base layer of pants with wind pants over them. I was just right on temperature. Abbie asked me if I was cold. I said I was a little, but if the racers see me as warm, maybe they will feel warmer too. I am certain that me being out there without a coat did not make them warmer, but I was at least hoping it would make them feel warmer. I used every positive form of affirmation I could when racers went by me.
After Kecia passed through the second time, we loaded up and headed back into the city. This gave me ample time to get back to our car, my home base for the day. Get some food and repack my gear bag for the run. I also had my cross bike, so I was hitting the run course on bike as soon as I could!
I staged myself in the first mile of the run, wearing the same gear I wore in La Grange. Racers recognized me right away. The pink shirt was a great identifier for racers! As they passed me on the run, they called me “middle of the road guy” and “smiley guy.” I consider both of them a huge compliment. The first name might mean that I was in their way some on the ride into La Grange. I am not sure. Maybe it just meant they noticed I was standing in the middle of the road.
Either way, I was happy to be on the bike course cheering for them. The real work of my day started when cheering for them on the run course. It was an out-and-back affair, so I tried to get half way out on the course, with many opportunities to see racers going both directions, and somewhat frequently.
I made it out to the run course, approximately 3-4 miles out from the finish. I really wanted to stand in the middle of the road for the run, but there was less room. Runners were going each direction. I stood on the side and rang my trusty bell, cheering for racers by name when I could see them on their race bibs. I did not pack any lights for my bike, so I headed back to the start/finish area. I saw Kecia make the turn for the second loop.
At that point, it was about 7 p.m. I was able to get her bike and gear bags from transition. She knew that I would not see her on the second loop. I headed to our car, dropped off my bike and cracked open a Coors Light that I had packed for the day. I was tired, cold and wet. I was in no position to complain. I had a great day, beyond disbelief what the athletes were accomplishing.
I wandered down to the transition zone, gathered the bike and gear. As a racer myself, I had full appreciation of having somebody get my gear at some of my races. It was nice to experience it from this side. Sherpa is not glamorous at all, but carries weight beyond understanding.
I made it back to the car, polished off a second brew and packed both bikes and gear from the day in the car. I was finally able to get on a new set of clothes that were dry! It was refreshing to change clothes, get off my feet for a little while. I really enjoyed the serenity of being at the car along the river. The air was heavy with dampness. Airplanes were landing over downtown. They felt so low that I could reach up and grab them, even though I could not see them.
Having all of the gear stowed, I headed to the finish area with a light pack and felt like a new man!
After a quick appetizer at a restaurant, Gary, Abbie and I found our places along the finish chute. They chose a spot up the chute. I chose a spot right next to the arch. I asked two people if I could have their space until my racer came through, then they could have their spot back and they could see their racer finish. They were happy to share and I appreciated it very much.
For the next 20 minutes or so, it was loud and I could not hear much other than the normal sound of an IRONMAN finish line. It was electric! People were banging on the boards, screaming, yelling, the excitement was brilliant!
I have been fortunate to run through and spectate at multiple IRONMAN events. The finish chute at LOU is right there with other races I have attended. After Kecia finished, we all gathered and made sure she was able to recover properly. We were all very tired, but that is the IRONMAN!
I had a wonderful day as spectator and Sherpa. It gave me new respect for those who choose that role over racing. Without a doubt, racing the IRONMAN is easier than spectating. When racing, you have one job- keep moving forward towards the finish.
Until IMLOU, Kecia and I have raced the very same IRONMAN races. We have always had somebody else pick up our gear and be at our aide. I was somewhat nervous about the experience, but it worked out just fine.
At IMLOU, the racers had to be mentally strong, maybe their strongest ever. I have no idea how many of them finished. I have no idea how Kecia finished. In the end, finishing the race is not about the finish time; what we learn along the way shapes us and makes us better.
I regret nothing about not racing the IRONMAN in 2018. After the 2017 season, I committed to not doing one in 2018 and I stuck to it. I am thankful for the off-season that lies ahead, but also optimistic for the training next season. We signed up for IRONMAN Lake Placid on July 28, 2019. We already have our lodging secured in Lake Placid for 2 weeks around the race. See you there!