Friday, July 25, 2008

my second ironman

ironman USA

Update: Amanda posted her race report

My second Ironman. Well, first one watching, but second ironman I've been around. I'm not sure but it might actually be harder to spectate than to participate. At least when you are in the race, you have some control over what happens. Watching and cheering you just have to hope that they keep going.

It all starts around 4am, we all roll out into the car and try to keep Amanda calm. We were staying about 20 minutes from Lake Placid and make it in just before the roads are closed. We drop Amanda off at the transition area and then go to park. We make a bad decision to park in the first lot we come to, really close to the race site. Only a few hours later would I realise that the car was stuck there until midnight when the race finished! We dropped off Amanda's special needs bags and walked over to the swim start. Getting to the site early meant that Amanda breezed through the transition setup and body marking and was ready to go by about 5:30am. Only 90 minutes to go and the weather looks good. I set up camp right by the swim out, up against the barriers, hoping to get some good photos. Amanda suits up to get into the water and we share a last pre-race hug and I wish her good luck. Everyone streams passed me into the water and I get to feel the nerves of an Ironman swim, second-hand.

ironman USA

It is still a pretty darn emotional sight and experience, even at a distance. The canon fires and they are off. About then the rain starts to fall. I huddle over my camera, thinking the rain will probably blow through really quickly. I'd think that for another 13 hours until it did. We all yell and cheer as the first pros scream past us, then the age groupers start to arrive. I see Amanda getting her wetsuit stripped off in front of me and cheer myself hoarse. All the photos are blurry because I forgot to adjust the ISO as the rain fell and the sky darkened. You'd think I'd know better by now. Then she's off and Andy, Kate & I duck out of the rain in a garage forecourt and decide what to do for the next 3.5 hours until Amanda finishes her first bike loop. We find a restaurant serving breakfast and try to dry out a bit. Luckily enough after a few hours and a couple of pots of coffee we are warmed up and realise the bike course is right outside the window. We watch the first, super fast and crazy bikers coming through in the pouring rain and then move out to cheer on Amanda. In the rain (have I mentioned the rain enough yet?)

Then there she is, looking wet but happy, right on schedule. We cheer, Kate is louder than her Mum would be and Amanda is off again on the next loop. I manage to take a couple of blurry pictures and some sharp shots of the back of Amanda and then she is away. Between trying to keep the camera out of the rain and hanging over the barrier to catch a glimpse I'm just not ready and then she's gone.

The rain keeps falling.

Next stop, the Ironman North America merchandise tent, buying warmer clothes and a towel. I'm drenched and it's only about 11am. We get changed under the hatch of the car and walk up to the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery to try out some of the local wheat beer. (Hey, I said this spectating was hard work, right?) We watch Greg Norman trying to win the Open and have fish and chips. Almost dry again - must be time to head out and see Amanda finishing the bike! This time it was a bit drier - still raining, but not quite so heavy and we walk a bit further out along Mirror Lake Drive to see Amanda heading back in to the run start. Some of the faster bikers are already out on the run course and I cheer for a few of the Austin pros that I recognise. None of them look happy - not the usual 100F and sunny weather they are used to (and most of them would suffer in the end as a result).

ironman USA

Then Amanda is passing us. Not looking happy. In fact, looking less happy than I've ever seen her in a race. Glum. Demoralised. It was hard to see. We cheered, and cheered and yelled again, but she looked defeated. We walked towards the transition area and I left Andy and Kate to look for Amanda, almost certain that I wouldn't see her running out of transition. I walked out along the run course, heading further out from town, hoping to see Amanda somewhere out there, but still really not expecting to, after how she looked at the end of the bike course. I check the athlete tracker on my phone and see that Amanda blew through the second transition in 8 minutes. I must have missed her somewhere! I keep walking further out onto the run course and get a couple of miles from town before it really starts raining even more heavily. I beg some spectators to take pity on me and let me stand under their tent for a few minutes until this latest storm clears.

I start talking to the people under the tent and we all join in cheering for the athletes suffering away in the rain. I get a chance to shoot the leading women and eventual winner of the race from there. Still no sign of Amanda though and I'm worried again that the tracker had screwed up or was reporting a false transition time. Then I see a T3 jersey in the distance and Amanda is running along the road, passing people. I get all my new friends in the tent to cheer for her and I run out and trot along beside her for a few minutes. She looked pleased to see me and a bit happier running in the rain, rather than riding in it. Then the rain gets heavier again. I'm back under the tent, wondering how I'm going to get my camera back to town, dry. I hardly even bother taking pictures now, thinking that cheering people on is more important.

I cheer for a few Texas Iron people and start calling out all the names I can see. The racers get two versions of their race number, one with their surname, one with their first name. The people using their first name are a whole lot easier to cheer on. Surnames seem too impersonal when they are suffering so much. People are looking quite shell shocked by now and yelling their name snaps them out of it and occasionally gets a smile. The louder we are, the more happy the runners look so we go all out (and it's a good way to keep warm too!) Amanda comes past again, heading back out on the run and we all cheer and yell for her. I run over and we share a quick kiss and she's off, looking strong and a bit happier.

ironman USA

Finally, the rain clears and I walk back the couple of miles to town in the light drizzle. Back to the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery and surprise, surprise, Kate & Andy are still there! With all the people in Lake Placid, it was surprisingly easy to keep bumping in to people I knew! Another pint and I'm ready to face the rain for the final time, standing on the last hill and bringing Amanda home. Then she's there and Kate & I run (yes run!) up the final hill beside her. I get the impression that Amanda was actually enjoying this crazy Ironman by this point, even though it was about mile 136 by that point. We head over to the Lake Placid speed skating rink (which was the final 200m of the run) and wait to see her bringing it home. Then she's into the home straight and we all high five over the barriers and cheer and then it is all over. The rain had stopped about 20 minutes earlier. 13 hours of rain. 13 hours and 36 minutes of racing. This time Amanda gets to hear Mike Riley announce 'Amanda McGregor - You are an Ironman'.

ironman USA

All that's left is to go find her, tell her how wonderful she did, then mention that we can't leave for another 4 hours! We go back to the pub for a celebratory cold hot dog and cheer the later finishers. I deposit Amanda in the back of the car for a well deserved nap and the rest of us go to watch the people finishing in the last hour of the race. There are a lot of people still there, cheering on the athletes who've worked the longest. There was a real mix of finishers in that last hour. Some who looked to have really struggled. We see the oldest man in the race (71 years old) finishing strong. Others looked like they might have taken a nap for several hours somewhere along the race - far too fresh and fit looking. One unlucky athlete manages to sprint around the final lap, with hundreds of us cheering him on, and cross the line at 17:00.02. 3 seconds past the official finish. A few more finish about 10 seconds after him. A long day to not be considered an official finisher!

Finally, a little more than 20 hours after we all got up, it was over and we could head back to the car and drive home. Quite a day and an amazing effort from Amanda. I am so impressed by her grit and determination, particularly keeping going after such a brutal bike ride and into a wet and cold run. She was awesome! Not the best day for photography but very inspirational all around. I've put more pictures up from the weekend over here.

ironman USA


Paulo Bono said...

Congratulations to Amanda.
Who Dares Wins.

Richard said...

Congratulations Amanda what an amazing accomplishment.

Amanda said...

Wow, that picture of me on the bike is pretty tough to look at! I owe you some big happy smiles during the Longhorn 70.3 in October, I promise!

Marti said...

Hi Gordon,

Thanks for the commentary on the IronMan, and the photos. And, mucho congratulationsn to Amanda -- awesome!! And, for all the ladies out there, thank you for being such a strong support for your lovely wife!!

Anita Jesse said...

Congratulations, Amanda—a woman clearly made of iron. Amanda, looks wonderful. And, thanks, Gordon, for the rousing and informative commentary and photos.

Steve said...

wow, i love this set and it makes me emotional looking at them. love the sign but by far the shot on the bike is "the shot". amanda is clearly fighting through one of the many closed doors that she undoubtedly faced that day. i see it on her face. but the great thing is she found a way to open each and every one. like she said, she was awesome.

lake placid was my toughest ironman. my wife and i still joke about "the hand" that i gave her that day. it was pouring down rain and I was hurting on the run. i came by her and she along with my family started screaming at me. all i could do was give her the hand to say "Stop it please!!!"

Great stuff.

milo said...

awesome, just awesome!!!

Paul said...

Very impressive, Amanda! You are truly made of iron!!! Excellent write up, Gordon. Thanks for cheering her on and for providing us with a great write up to boot!