I had an amazing time being one-half of James Ford’s support team for his first Ironman distance triathlon. The other half was our oldest son Jacob who graciously celebrated turning 14 by opening a few presents in our hotel room the morning after the race.
To finally be present at the race day, something James had dreamed of and planned for and trained for was surreal. On race day, observing the moon over Lake Hefner highlighting the kayakers in the pre-dawn light, to finally hearing the blast to start the race, then to seeing that same moon rise during the final hours of James’ run, to hearing his name called as he crossed the finish line, it was an adventurous and memorable weekend for all of us.
Some highlights for me were catching a photo of James getting a fist-bump from Jacob as he went down the ramp and hanging out with just Jacob while we killed time during the bike portion of the race.
Once we got back to the race site, we were thrilled to see Stella racked. I have never been so happy to see that bike. (I have a love/mostly hate relationship with that bike which will be explored in another post).Yes! That meant James was already on the run and it was around 4 p.m. Wow, things were going well.
Jacob and I started along the run path seeking him out.
One of the things I thought about while we were waiting was that I didn’t really have any idea what doing this type of physical challenge was like. I mean, I have a few indoor triathlons under my belt, but I haven’t ever done a “real” one. But then I thought that there was something I had endured that could be comparable – natural childbirth. Thus the following list began to form in my mind:
Top 10 Ways an Ironman is Like Natural Childbirth
1) Both will hurt – we’re talking pain of Biblical proportions. Now, if you have a high tolerance for pain, these might not be as bad for you. However, either is going to cause agony. There’s just no way around it.
2) No matter what kind of preparation you do, and no matter how many horror stories “veterans” of either have told you, nothing can really prepare you for it. You just don’t know until you are in the trenches how your body is going to handle it. That’s part of the motivation for doing it in the first place, really. Can I handle it? It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time.
3) When you tell people your plans, someone will inevitably ask, “Why are you doing that?” Let’s face it; you are going to encounter some people who just do not get it. Whether it’s because they are not fans of physical pain or just don’t see the point in pushing yourself in this manner, you are going to get some incredulous looks when you tell someone: “Yes, I am going to swim 2.4 miles, then bike 112 miles, and then finish it all off with a marathon . . . on the same day.” (Okay, wait, that does sound crazy when you say it out loud.) Or: “Yes, I am going to push a 6 pound baby out of my body with no medication . . . on purpose.” Expect eye-rolling. I loved hearing James explain his plans to the uninitiated.
4) At some point during the event, you yourself will ask, “Why am I doing this?” Somewhere along the way, you too, may question your sanity.
5) At some point during the event, you’ll also say, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I remember well hitting the proverbial “wall” during childbirth. I was done; the only problem was there is no DNF in childbirth. One way or the other, the baby is going to be born. So, thanks to the encouragement of my loving husband whose fingers I was crushing into deformity with every contraction, I pushed my way through it, literally. Encountering James on the run, I was afraid he was going to run smack into “the wall” and just be done. I felt like that was where Jacob and I came in. We were there to cheer and encourage and not let him give up. And, accordingly to him, it did help to see us there. Although he says he never really hit “the wall,” there were times on the run that were dark and lonely and just tough.
6) You really have no idea how long it’s going to take. Note to spouses: for your own safety do not in any way express your desire for your triathlete or child bearer to speed up the process. Not helpful.
7) Forever after, you can use this the rest of your life as in: “Of course, I can handle getting an Ironman tattoo, I am an Ironman.” Or, “of course I can take 3 kids to an amusement park, I survived natural childbirth.”
8) Both have three stages and seem to get increasingly more difficult as the day goes on. I was very glad to see that James seemed to really enjoy a lot of moments along this journey. He came under his time goals in both the swim and the bike, and was able to take in the thrill of being in an Ironman distance triathlon as it was happening. Then came the run, and it got a lot less fun. Likewise, there are several stages of labor and not all are bad. But, with each of mine, there came a time where I couldn’t chat or read a book or just hang out with family anymore. There was serious work to be done, as in – “I’m trying to bring another human being into the world, people! Will you all just shut up!”
9) Both will earn you the respect of others, especially your spouse. I could not be more proud of my husband for dreaming big – his first Ironman distance triathlon at the age of 42 – and then putting in the long hours and hard work to achieve that dream. I don’t really know how to explain the phenomenon of being so happy for someone else upon achieving something he really, really wanted, but I know that it is sweetest when it happens for the love of your life. Watching James’ darkened figure come in to view down the finish shoot and being able to tell by his stride that it was indeed James and he was indeed finishing this monumental race is a moment I will treasure. It seemed so appropriate that he crossed to Philip Philips’ song “Home.” “You know you’re not alone” – I didn’t feel alone all day; knowing that many people out there cared for him and were praying for him and rooting him on really sustained us. In the same way, I know my husband is enormously proud of our kids and of me for bringing them into the world. And, I know I would not have wanted to go through that experience without him by my side.
10) In both cases, you will walk funny for a few days afterward. Not to get too graphic, but both are pretty traumatic experiences for the human body to endure. You will not come away from either unscathed.
One final note: there are definitely differences. Some I was glad of: a) I was not high-fived by a random dude when it was over; b) no one was ringing a cowbell; and c) I was never in labor as long as James’ race took. You’d have to add up all three of mine to surpass 15 hours. Whew!