I watched this year. I saw the first trucks full of gear -- ice chests, tshirts, kerosene stoves, can openers, pallets of water - pull into the dusty lots near Tempe Beach park one week before race day. The Aid Station rental rigs were lined up in organized rows and filled with everything necessary to accommodate an IM athlete throughout the day and night of November 18th.
I saw the "site" build up. The gates, the tents, the scaffolding, the finish lines. I witnessed Tempe Beach come alive for Ironman week. The ant hill stirred on Thursday morning with athletes anxiously arriving to register and realize their dream. Friday was a repeat of Thursday: registration continued and the village grew. Saturday: bike drop off, excitement grew, and no one slept.
Sunday: Race Day. My day started at 4a.m. Athletes began arriving soon after. The light towers illuminated the transition areas. I could hear generators, the snap of bike pumps, but voices were hush and tensions were high.
At 6:45 a.m. first the cannon boomed-- pros swimming away in the sunrise. Then, the age groupers tentatively hopped into Tempe Town Lake. No one ducked their head underwater at first. Too cold. Too nervous.
A second cannon blasted at exactly 7a.m. Overhead the whirl of a helicopter announced itself to all the spectators -- something big was happening. Ironman Arizona 2012 was underway....and so it began.
Through the next 22 hours I witnessed the best of human spirit. The joy of completing the swim. The agony of missing cut off times. The fatigue of riding and running in full sun, then twilight, then darkness. In my ear, the radio kept me up to date with the action on the bike
and run course: "Comm, I have athlete number 1012, a DNF" as
participants recognized their limits and passed their chips to staff
members. Others were injured, and some, spent. But most carried
A few of us waited at the run cut off point at 10:15p.m. "Sorry, you may not start your third loop". There were tears of defeat, but also of accomplishment. You've come so far... be proud of this much now.
As thousands of athletes crossed the finish line, Mike Reilly never wavered with joy and elation, announcing to the victors: "You are an Ironman!" The crowds swelled in the early evening, then waned in the later hours. Amazingly, they grew again at midnight as the last participants made their way across the finish line -- each with their own story of how and why they got to this place.
And then, as loud as it had been for an entire 17 hour day, the hush fell once again. And lone athletes crossed unannounced and unrecognized. For any who made it after midnight, the staff dropped what they were doing an applauded.
From 12:30a.m. on, it was all torn down and cleaned up as quickly as it was built up the week before. Mylar blankets were gathered, food was collected, participants picked up their belongings, others braved the serpentine lines of 2013 registration. And Tempe Beach was back to normal.
Witnessing an Ironman start-to-finish is a life-changing experience. It is a testament to the kindness of strangers. It is the the realization of dreaming big. It is the accomplishment of a goal thanks to personal determination and guidance from the race directors, volunteers, family and friends.
And just like that, the circus packs up and moves on. It will happen again in 364 days for 3,000 more people who need to hear that cry..."You are an Ironman". And those of us who are athlete junkies will be back again for more.
I can't wait.
Dreams That Have Come True
- ► 2015 (16)
- ► 2014 (35)
- ► 2013 (54)
- ▼ Nov (5)
- ► 2011 (144)
- ► 2010 (199)