“I want to divorce you,” Chris said last night before bed.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you wouldn’t let me quit.”
Yesterday was a day about getting it done. About putting together months of hard work, facing the conditions and responding to the race day. And in Kona – more so than any other Ironman – you never know what race day will bring.
After watching Chris head out on to the Queen K for the bike, I knew we had about 5 hours before we needed to be out on Alii Drive. Around 12 pm, the entire Waterstraat clan settled in chairs along Alii and waited for the pros to arrive. In the meantime, we tatooed the street with GO WATERSTRAAT and other names. Somewhere out there I did finally write RACHEL ROSS IS BOSS. Because she is.
The pros starting running towards us a little after 12:15 pm. It’s amazing how the same level of competitor can bring about so many different appearances; tall, skinny, large, thick, muscly, wispy – they were all out there each suffering in their own way. I knew Craig Alexander had it in the bag when I saw him. He looked completely under control running with his typical tall, smooth stride and focus in his eyes.
Next the women pros started coming along. Chrissie Wellington was running like a woman possessed. There was fire in her eyes and her pace was maddening. Turnover, turnvoer, arms churning away like she was in a 10K not a marathon. Cait Snow ran by with the fastest turnover I have ever seen. When I cheered for her saying “this is your thing, Cait, run!” she almost seemed giddy and drunk with Ironman. She was giggling and smiling so wide.
Jenni Keil and I were cheering while she anxiously awaited her husband, Jeff. Jeff was having the race of his life. He looked incredible. Kerrie joined us for awhile and as competitors ran by she said of one wearing all white “that is just not a good look.” We agreed. All those wearing all white outfits this year – really, it leaves way too much visible folks!
I sensed the time Chris would arrive and when he was a little late I got a bit worried. Chris is a strong cyclist and honestly his split seemed slow when Thomas checked online. When I finally saw him coming up Alii Drive the Waterstraat clan started ringing cowbells, jumping and shouting. He stopped and started talking.
That was it.
I started screaming like a mad woman. GET MOVING! GET GOING! WHAT ARE YOU DOING! YOU DID NOT COME TO KONA TO GO FOR A LONG WALK! He said something about being trashed, not feeling well. Tired.
I know, IT’S IRONMAN!
As he started running again, I grabbed his arm and I said “I BELIEVE IN YOU.” He just groaned. At that point, I sensed that my spectathlete duties would increase exponentially – from cheering on the side of the road to going for a 26.2 mile ride. I told Thomas to get my bike, my helmet, it was time for Plan B.
Plan B involved me doing what I legally could mile to mile to coax, convince, persuade and demand Chris to keep moving forward. I would ride ahead, stop, shout. Do it again. Meanwhile, Rachel Ross goes by on her way to a strong run! Chris however was falling apart. I was giving him all sorts of ideas – try coke, drink more, water, salt, broth, do whatever it takes to keep moving forward!
He wanted to hear none of it.
Around mile 6 he shouted “I DON’T WANT YOU TALKING TO ME.” The spectators around him looked at me and found it hilarious. I told them it was the miles talking. He was fine.
At mile 7, he threw his heart rate monitor in the middle of the road.
At mile 8 he stopped to walk. This infuriated me because I just wanted to push him along. What could I do?! I called Jennifer crying and said help! My husband wants to quit Kona, Jen. KONA! People want so badly to be here and he wants to lay down in the road! We came up with some things to say, quit now and you have to deal with a DNF in Kona for the rest of your life, you have worked so hard, and finally what I knew from my own second time Ironman experience – this is all in your head.
Because it is. The second time around in Ironman is all in your head. Your body knows pain, distance, endurance. The hard part is what happens between your ears. You have expectations of your time and performance and when Ironman just starts happening to you (ie., fatigue, stomach upset) you think – what have I done wrong? I should have this nailed. I should be going faster this time. Not so. It’s Ironman. Anything can and will happen and you have to treat each one like it’s your first.
The rest of Alii Drive he kept moving. When he was moving he looked great. I told him that. He was holding an 8:48 pace with walking through aid stations and stopping to gather himself! He looked better than half the others completely falling apart in the heat. Once he reached the end of Alii I hightailed it up Palani through the crowds knowing the hardest part was to come – the Queen K.
Along the Queen K he said that coke was helping. But he didn’t want to do it anymore. I told him to stay tough. To just finish it up. He has nothing to prove out here but to himself that he can do this. Around mile 11 he told me he never wanted to do this again. I told him he didn’t have to – just finish it!
Miles 12, 13, 14…..on the way to the Energy Lab the conversations continued of I don’t want to vs. but you can. Meanwhile, the pros were on their way to finish. The women looked strong. My favorite conversation was with Bella Comerford around mile 20. She was about 30 seconds down from another woman and I told her to go, chase her! She looked at me across the highway and said “But what about from behind?” and I shouted “You’re clear – take a risk Bella, TAKE A RISK!”
Around mile 15 Chris was nearing the Energy Lab. Kerrie Wlad rides up and talks about her husband who was also struggling a bit. I think it was hard for both of us to watch our husbands struggling for reason undetermined. I mean, I know how damn hard it is to pound away the miles on the lonely pavement of the Queen K after 8 hours of steady work. I know it’s rough. But man I would have loved the opportunity to overcome myself out there and keep pushing on. It’s a unique place you reach in your body and mind that nothing else comes close to in racing.
I waited at the edge of the energy lab and finally Chris emerged. He stopped. He told me he was tired. I almost lost it. So we had a talk. The funny thing was the volunteer directing traffic was standing there with us and listening…There are people out there racing with no legs. People twice your age. People that have overcome illlness, disease and they are doing it. You have no excuse but yourself. And right now, here at mile 19.8 with a little over 10K to go – that excuse is not good enough. You need to finish this. The volunteer said “Listen to her! Get going!”
Around mile 21, Thomas and I left him to get to the finish line. Whatever demons he was fighting he needed to face alone. Nothing I said anymore at this point would help him get there. It was so frustrating because there was nothing left I could do. I was so proud of him but I knew that for him he wanted something more. I knew that after watching him training for months – hard work, sacrifice. I knew this wasn’t the race he wanted but there was nothing I could do. I wish I had a rope to pull him along and out of whatever dark place he was in but that would not be. This was Chris’ run to finish now. This was really hard for me to let him go. To know that no matter how much fire I shouted at him it wouldn’t help.
He arrived in what honestly is a great finish time – 11:21. That is so fast for Ironman and I am so proud of him! But of course he wanted a faster time for himself. And what happened out there I’m not sure. You never know what your body or mind will do until race day. You can train and train but never simulate the thoughts that fill your head at mile 18. The pain in your feet at mile 21. It’s a unique race, Ironman. You learn things about yourself – your strengths, your weaknesses, it all gets unveiled out there like it or not.
A quick visit to the med tent for a precautionary IV. Then a slow walk back to the car. Chris told us something just got off at mile 80. A friend of mine says if you make it to mile 80 of the bike and you don’t have a good day from there, you don’t talk about it. I see what he is saying now – because if you can get that far it’s more than just physical let down. Something else happens in your head and this is something you cannot necessarily train. It’s something you just have to be prepared for through years of confident conditioning of yourself. And even with that you leave a lot up to chance at that point. The chance that you can draw upon that confidence in your lowest of lows. Ironman has so many chances you have to take.
Any time you finish Kona is special. Chris knows that. All things aside, he had a great day. A long day for him but great nonetheless. Even in his eyes if he completely fell apart he still went under 11:30. That is so fast! Thomas and I were talking about how humbling the race can be. And how it’s a matter of perspective. How many 14 hour finishes does Macca have? A few. And how many DNF’s? Probably more. It says nothing about who you are but just what happened on that day.
This morning Chris woke up hungry. Not sore. He is the best recovered Ironman I have ever seen. No blisters, no pain. He told me that he will never do Ironman again and next time he will sherpa. I told him to be careful what he asks for. Sherpa-ing is NOT easy. And let me tell you – there are NO aid stations for spectators. But after yesterday I really think there should be.
Today I am going to run and relax. Go for a swim. I learned a lot out there yesterday in preparation for my own Ironman ahead. I know what it takes. I could see it out there. I’m getting ready. Actually, I can’t wait…