Do you get goose bumps watching the finish of an Ironman? You know that terrific late night drama of the finishing line as the Everyman competitors funnel in running, walking, stumbling or even crawling across the line to the cheers of the crowd. It is one of the best moments of any triathlon, no matter what the distance. When you can actually witness the human will overcome all obstacles in vivid Technicolor.
But what really gives me goose bumps is the wild crowd of cheering well wishers. Because I know that this crowd is filled with the heroic stories of the Ironsherpa that made the finishers race possible.
Who is your Ironsherpa? All triathletes have one.
An Ironsherpa is the person in your life who carries your load so that you can train and race. It can be your husband or wife. It can be your mother or father, sister or brother or perhaps your best friend.
An Ironsherpa is that person in your life who puts up with all your triathlon talk, who rubs your sore muscles, who cooks your recovery meals, who makes your bed on those early mornings, who takes the kids to school so you can swim, who understands why you prefer a long run to a good movie, who does not mind your constant dress code of workout clothes, who goes to the bike store with you and smiles politely while you discuss the merits of this or that wheel, who gives up his or her vacation plans around your race schedule, who washes your smelly socks, who buys your protein powder, who puts up with your bike lust, who works while you play, who makes your pre-race peanut butter and jelly sandwich, who took up running because you run, who understands why you are too tired, who understands why you really really need to ride today, and who stands in the crowd cheering you on as you cross the finish line.
During my last iron distance race I came face to face with the incredible virtues that really make Ironsherpas so wonderful. The 2005 reat Floridian Triathlon (GFT) was held just about a dozen hours before Hurricane Wilma slammed into the Southwest side of Florida. It was a small miracle that the race was even put on. But the looming hurricane and last minute planning didn’t make for a smooth race. Many of the volunteers who work the aid stations either didn’t show up or left earlier.
Probably the best know feature of the GFT is a substantial climb on the bike course called Sugarloaf Hill. Sugarloaf is no picnic to climb and worse yet it comes toward the end of both bike loops. The summit of Sugarloaf is also a popular place for Ironsherpa to watch and cheer their friends and families. It is also one of the most anticipated, if not the most anticipated, aid stations on the entire 140.6 mile course.
During the 2005 GFT a small group of Ironsherpa showed up at the summit of Sugarloaf a little after the start of the race. To their surprise, the aid station was set-up but nobody was there to work it. The aid station crew never showed-up and thus the station sat partially stocked, but almost completely abandoned. So being true Ironsherpa these fine folks rolled-up their sleeves and worked the aid station for the entire nine plus hours of the bike portion of the race.
What’s more incredible, when the aid station ran out of water, some of the Ironsherpa drove to a nearby quickie mart and purchased a couple of cases of water, and kept handing them out to those of us still on the course.
These words can’t really express how grateful I was to have water at the top of Sugarloaf. Especially after many of the prior aid stations were long abandoned and completely dry.
During my first half iron distance race I had a “bit” (quote unquote) of a problem on the run. It was extremely hot (90 plus) by the time I got to the run course. To make matters wirse there was not a tree or bit of shade.
I had drunk enough on the bike, or so I thought, that I didn’t need that bottle of now warm Gatorade I had left behind at the transition area. In fact I felt fine, so when I started on the run I decided to forgo the first two aid stations.
By the third aid station at mile three I was getting a bit thirsty so I drank two heaping cups of water. The problem was that these cups were those little Dixie cups that we used in grade school. Two cups equaled about 4 ounces of water.
I kept up this “hydration plan” for the next several miles on the scorching run course. By about mile eight I was walking, and by mile ten I was getting tunnel vision. I was extremely dehydrated and worse yet I didn’t know it. But my Ironsherpa knew it. With her help, encouragement, and guidance, I got the immediate medical attention I needed.
Now I realize that I was so far out of it that I was in no way thinking or acting rationally. I was very sick and ready to pass out, but I just wanted to keep going. It took only about 20 minutes in the ambulance before the IV Hydration kicked in, and I was back to normal. Funny thing is that I still wanted to go back out on the course and finish the last three miles of the race. It took a while for me to realize just how close I had come to doing some real damage to my body.
So feeling dejected, foolish, and completely stupid for having been such an idiot to let myself get so dehydrated that I dropped out of my first half Iron distance race, I sulked home to my wonderful Ironsherpa.
Instead of reminding me of how stupid and dangerous my lack of hydration had been, she took me out for a entire family victory celebration ice cream Sundae. As we sat in the local Dairy Queen eating the coldest and best Sundae of my life, she turned my train wreck of a race into a huge family accomplishment. She made the very best lemonade out of my sour basket of lemons.
So that’s why when I watch the finish line of any triathlon I get goose bumps. For I know that behind every great Ironman is a greater Ironsherpa.