Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ironman Recap

We've had a busy week driving home and getting started with a new school year. It's been a bit crazy (for instance, I got rear-ended while stopped at a red light Friday...oy vey!), but I want to recap the Ironman experience before I forget all the details.

First of all, Mont Tremblant knows how to put on an Ironman. Let this be a hint for Madison, Wisconsin, and other Ironman need to open the weekend with a live rock concert and fireworks. Mont Tremblant did. And it was amazing.


Second, the people of Mont Tremblant truly understand customer service. We were so impressed. Yes, it's a resort village and must have good customer service to keep drawing the crowds, but almost everyone we interacted with, from housekeeping in the hotel to servers at restaurants to the falconer who took us on a hike, was warm, kind, helpful, and friendly. This speaks well not only of the workers but of their management. Thank you, Mont Tremblant and Canada, for making our trip so pleasant!

Third, almost everyone in Mont Tremblant spoke English, even though French is the official language. What a gift to a whole province that most of its people are bilingual! Culturally and practically, this makes Quebec accessible and fun to visit for we mono-lingual Americans. After a while, we started making up a patois of French and English phrases just for fun, but I really, truly wish I spoke French now.

Fourth, we thoroughly enjoyed spending this time with George's sister, Angela, and her husband, Mike. Spending time with them is easy and relaxing and comfortable. They clearly love Nick and Jack, and they understand and appreciate Jack's quirks. How I wish we all lived closer together. Every time I make toast du mort*, I'll think of them and giggle!

Fifth, people who do Ironman races are both crazy and amazing. Athletes included a pair of identical twins, several married couples, a blind woman, a 74-year-old man, several people with lower-body paralysis (imagine doing an entire 140.6 miles using only your arms for propulsion!), a woman who had lost over 100 pounds, and the list goes on. We watched athletes cross the finish missing swaths of skin to road rash from bike wrecks, and a guy with his arm in a sling finished the race. I'm still trying to figure out how he did the swim.

[To see a 12-minute, professional video of the race, click HERE.]

Sixth, Ironman events offer extreme displays of sportsmanship. Racers help each other along the way with words of encouragement, a spare salt tablet, a CO2 cartridges to fill flat tires. Many people who finish earlier in the day come back near midnight to cheer on the last people to cross the line. We stayed up and witnessed an amazing sight. Mike Reilly, known as the Voice of Ironman, called out the final finisher's name and said, "You are an Ironman!" as he'd done for every other finisher that day.

Then, Reilly got word that another runner was just a few minutes out, and even though it was past the deadline for officially finishing, Reilly asked everyone wait for that athlete. A group of about twenty spectators joined the athlete for his last quarter mile and ran him across the finish line while Mike shouted words of encouragement. Mike congratulated him and got the entire crowd to shout, "You are an Ironman!"

So what if it wasn't an official finish? That man went 140.6 miles in one day, swim-bike-run. Of course he's an Ironman. And Mike Reilly was as enthusiastic and excited for him as he'd been for the first place winner of the whole race.

That's what Ironman is about: gutting it out and doing your best. Out of nine attempts at Ironman races, George didn't finish three. But he always came back and tried again. As crazy as all these athletes are, I've got nothing but respect for them, taking on such a huge challenge, pushing themselves as hard as they can.

At the T2 area, while retrieving George's bike, I saw an athlete in a wheelchair roll into the tent. He knew he'd not made the cut-off and wouldn't be allowed to start the run, but he was surrounded by people cheering him on. Now, I imagine his disappointment was acute in the moment, but seriously? All of us watching were inspired. How can we gripe about our petty challenges when this man, using just his arms for propulsion, just tried to do something most able-bodied individuals can't do?

He'll be back. And he'll finish. I just know it.

George's finish was 18 minutes faster than last year's finish in Madison, Wisconsin, at 13:57. He set a personal record for the swim...1:11, four minutes faster than ever before. Not bad for a 50-year-old, eh?


He's already talking about signing up to do Wisconsin again next year, possibly with several of his crazy friends. And I'll be there to cheer him on, carry his bike pump, and retrieve his sticky, sweaty bike. I'll gladly be his Iron Sherpa...again.

George Raihala, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!


Sunday, August 16, 2015

He Finished!

I'm wiped out, and George is starving, so this will be quick.

George finished in 13:57 after a painful marathon. He was unsteady on his feet but sensible (sort of), has showered, and now wants to eat. He told his sister that if he tries to register for Ironman Wisconsin next year, she has permission to taze him.

Typical post-race negativity. By next weekend, he'll think an IM next year is a great idea. IMs are like childbirth, I think, although I never had amnesia myself...I remember every pain my children put me through. But I did it twice. Voluntarily.

Ironman Mont Tremblant is George's sixth Ironman.

Nine tries.

Six finishes.

That's a special kind of crazy.

We're off to feed the beast. He's limping, but we're going.

I'll wrap up our Ironman weekend when we get home. Thanks for all the support and encouragement and prayers today!

For Narnia!!!

Another video, this time of the start of George's second lap of the marathon.

For Narnia!

George seemed in good spirits but says his knee is bothering him. He's steadily increased his pace on each of the run splits, though, so YAY!!!!

Mike had a trip to the medical tent following his bike and will not start the run. He's going to be fine, but muscle cramps ended his race this year.

T2 Video

If you want to see a video of George's transition from bike to run, a.k.a. T2, check out this link. He looks so much better than last year, and he's hauling the mail!

T2 Video

Tri to Understand

This is the second race-day post. Scroll down for the first race-day post!

Years ago in Madison, I saw a woman wearing a shirt that said, "Just Tri-ing to Understand." After attending my seventh start of an Ironman race, I feel like I'm starting to get it.


Just a bit.

It seems to make more sense at the finish line, though.

George gets body markings, including
his age (50) on his calf. This way, racers
know when people older than they are
pass them. ;-)

Nick and Angela, Iron Sherpas

The lake in early morning. 

Milling around before the start.

His nose is healing nicely from its
impact with the dock.

Mike, number 2007, looking happy!

Suited up with his Sherpa carrying the bike pump.
So glad I didn't have to carry that thing this year.
Thanks for the help, Nick!

Mike suited up and ready to swim. Sherpa Ang has his backpack.
She's earning her Sherpa gift!

The start was accompanied by fireworks and a canon blast, but the crowds made it impossible for us to see any of the waves leave the beach. We Sherpas went back to the hotel, picked up Jack, and ate a quick breakfast before moseying down to T1, where we saw both guys running from the lake to their bike gear.

Both were VERY happy with their swim times. George may have PRed his swim at 1:11, and Mike significantly improved his time over last year with a 1:33 swim!

It's fascinating to watch athletes in T1. Some have huge smiles on their faces, and others look for all the world like they're thinking, "Thank God I didn't drown!!!" or perhaps, "OMG, I have 138.2 miles left to go!!!!"

Most triathletes have favorite and least favorite events...the three sports are just so very different. George and Mike generally enjoy the swim. George says he zens out. They both prefer the bike (unless they get muscle cramps or bonk, in which case each has claimed to want to give their bike to anyone who will take it, or possibly throw it under a bus so they never have to ride it again).

The run is the weakest event for both guys, so the key is to keep their legs fresh enough to make the 26.2-mile. It's tempting to rage on the bike, thinking you're making up for a slow run, but that never works. All three times George didn't finish, he stopped half-way through the run with horrible cramps and dehydration. We don't want that happening today!

And now we wait. The bike splits are weird lengths. The first is 7km, and both men are over that mat with good times, but the second bike split is 73.5km, which means we won't get an update for quite a while.

In the meantime, we're relaxing. I should be back around 4:00-5:00 with a bike update and hopefully some pictures from the start of their marathons! If you want to track them for the eight different bike splits, go to Ironman Mont Tremblant Athlete Tracker and use 1965 for George and 2007 for Mike.

Ironman Begins

Ironman race day began at 4:00 AM after a night of very little sleep. We'll head off in about ten minutes to meet Ang and Mike and saunter down to the swim start...hopefully with a strong cup of coffee in hand.

Various weather reports are calling for a high of 80, 82, 86, and 88. Wow. That's quite a range. If you're the praying type, please pray for lower temps for all the racers. One-hundred-forty-point-six miles are brutal enough without adding heat to the mix.

George's race number is 1965, and Mike's is 2007. You can follow them at the Athlete Tracker on the Ironman website. Live coverage starts at 6:00 AM here, and finish coverage starts around 3:00 on the same page. That's roughly when George will be starting the marathon and a bit before the winner of the whole race will cross the finish line.

Race safe, men and women of Ironman Mont Tremblant 2015!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Trusty Steed and Pre-Race Preparations

George's favorite event of triathlon is definitely the bike. While I refer to his bike as his Precious (because it is), he prefers the term Trusty Steed.

He has an entire stable of steeds at home of all different kinds. You probably know that mountain bikes and racing bikes are different, but did you know that triathlon bikes and road-racing bikes (like those used in the Tour de France) are completely different? Yeah, well, I used to be blissfully ignorant of that fact, too, but don't you dare confuse the two around a triathlete.

Tri bikes like George's Specialized Shiv have different geometry than road bikes. I have no idea what the difference is, mind you. I just know there is one.

The blue band on George's wrist identifies him as a race participant.
It gets him into the transition areas and bike area, where I am
not allowed to go.

George spent a chunk of this morning readying his Trusty Steed for the tires, fresh lube, and race number stickers added. This afternoon, he took his bike to the bike corral, where it will stay overnight with about 2,500 other bikes. When the bike area is full, there will be millions of dollars worth of bikes there. Needless to say, security is important here.

On race day, after all the racers have gone through T2 and are sweatily running the marathon, I will be able to pick up George's bike because I have a little slip of paper that says I can. (Some races also require picture ID so only the authorized person named by the athlete before the race picks it up.) Otherwise, the racer must retrieve his/her own bike. Volunteers make sure the race number on the bike matches the race number on the rider.

That's the advantage of having an IronMate or IronSherpa to help on race day. We schlep a bunch of stuff around.

The photo can't do justice to the sheer size of this area or the number
of bikes it will house.

T1 is the transition area for swim to bike, and T2 is the transition from bike to run. Here at Mont Tremblant, I'm pretty sure these areas are in giant tents. Both areas are full of bags with race numbers on them, organized in numerical order to help everyone find what they need during the race. Everything a racer needs for the bike ride will be at T1, and everything he or she will need for the run will be at T2. All this gets organized and dropped off the day before the race.

Consider that there are roughly 2,500 racers; you can imagine what a logistical challenge all this gear represents. Yet Ironman has it down to a science, and there are hundreds of volunteers making sure it all gets done correctly.

On race day, if you track athletes online or using a free phone app, you will follow them as their electronic racing chip crosses various mats around the course. You'll see when they leave the water and enter T1, how long they stay in T1, a variety of bike split times, when they finish the bike and enter T2, and various splits for the marathon.

This tracking makes it pretty easy to estimate when your racer will be in one of the transition areas (and thus close enough to hear you cheering them on) and when they will finish the whole long as the technology works properly. Sometimes, there are delays in posting various times, but generally it's a pretty slick system.

George's Trusty Steed is racked and ready to roll. His feet are up and he's in sloth mode.

Until tomorrow morning, when his swim wave starts around 6:50 AM.

Then, he's stay in constant motion for 140.6 miles.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's updates!