I believe if you ask the universe big questions, it will give you the big answers. My questions are ones like “What are we here for? What is the point of life? What is the point of relationships? Where should I focus my energy?”
Each time I ask, I tend to find a deeper understanding in the answer. So last week I was yet again asking myself, God, and the Universe at large these questions… and my answer came in watching three men undergo their own version of an Ironman.
As the soon to be legend goes, there were once three long-time friends: Brian, Jim and Pete. Jim had the bright idea of doing the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Virtual Triathlon – a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. The challenge was to complete this mileage in the whole month of October. Jim wanted to do it in one day and call it Riverman 140.
None of the men had done a full ironman distance before, or even a half as far as I am aware. (Legend also has it that Pete had not biked more than 60 miles, or ran more than 10, even on the day of the event. #badass)
So Jim announced the idea to his friends. Brian said yes, thinking Pete would back out and the idea would be no more… But as all wonderful stories go, Pete said yes and the men set out on the challenge and to do something incredible.
To understand what it means to train for an Ironman, most athletes train for 5-7 months and toward the end they spend up to 20 hours a week swimming, biking and running. These men didn’t have that kind of time. They came up with the idea less than fouIronmans ago and had other things to do… Like kayak and mountain bike and socialize while drinking beer – because they were all Rivermen at heart.
So the big day came. October 22. Six of us arrive at the swim start at 6:30 am. Three athletes. Three crew members/paparazzi. They played the national anthem. Brian called out the countdown jokingly. And before 7 am, 3 minutes to go, Jim poignantly said “While we are still friends…”
I was the safety kayaker. Debra, whom I lovingly call Debs, pushed me into the water and I thought to myself, “Damn, it’s really dark and really cold.” And without much fanfare, we were off.
The men swam under the bridge and a few minutes later, were treated to the most spectacular sunrise. This was not a race. There would be no winner. The men agreed to stay together – which made my job in this moment a lot easier.
It was peaceful to watch them swim. Everyone looked great in the water. The most eventful moments above the water was redirecting a pontoon boat and a few row boats, and having a giggle as Brian almost swam into the dock.
Debs and Dave had everything ready for the men at the picnic table and were snapping pictures as we arrived. Wetsuits off, cycle gear on, the men walked up a short path, grabbed their bikes off the van, ate a few cold McDonalds cheese burgers as advice they got from an ironman they met at the Lake Lure triathlon, and were on their way.
Behind the scenes the crew shuttled cars, set up their aid station at the brewery, ate Chick fil a and started watching the clock to see if they were going to stick to schedule.
The plan was to ride four 27 mile loops with a little extra from the swim exit to the course, making up 112 miles. Everything went to plan. No flat tires and the men consistently came in on schedule. After lap one and two, everyone looked great. Lap three we started to see it on their faces but no one complained. They took a few minutes between each lap to eat and drink a variety of health foods (Coke, Mc Donald’s, Snickers, Pickles, Sugar Cookies, GU, Gaterade, Water) and then they were off.
For the run, they planned 5 laps that were 5 miles each. After the final lap the men would do an extra mile to make up the full 26.2. Awaiting them at the brewery were running friends who were there to pace and cheer them on.
Debs and Katie were planning two laps. I hadn’t run more than 6 miles in over five years but thought I had two laps in me, knowing my suffering would be minuscule compared to theirs at this point. And so the last leg of their adventure began.
What I love about endurance sport is that it breaks you down to who you are at the core. Who are you when you are in pain? Who are you when you are up against a big challenge? What I saw from each of the men was beautiful.
Jim continued to laugh, joke and socialize – never a complaint – and enjoying every moment. Pete was his fiery self, but touched and moved by the experience. I overheard him say he needed a snickers bar, so I grabbed one, unwrapped it and handed it to him. In that tiny moment I could tell he was amazed and grateful. Brian got focused, not wanting to stop between the laps. Feeling the need to keep moving and keep going, even if it was just to walk. There was a moment going up a hill where he was jokingly cussing the hill. I replied, “Is that all you’ve got to say to this hill?” Trying to get him fired up. He said, “Yeah, I’m not the angry type.”
Shortly after 10 pm, around 15.5 hours after they had started, all three of the men finished the Riverman 140 together, with their last set of pacers behind them. There was a bonfire, beers, cake, pizza and a crowd to welcome them home.
To much of my amazement, all of them were walking around fine and soaking up their accomplishment and their celebration party. It was a beautiful day they created themselves. From an idea, to an event that so many of us got to enjoy as spectators.
And so when I ask the universe, what’s the point, the message I hear from days like this is clear: The point is to create experiences. To make moments. And to bring people together in a way that celebrates the human spirit and our magnificence – just because.
Much love and congrats to Brian, Jim, Pete, Debs and Katie. It was a honor to spend the day with you.