The swim start of an Ironman is ridiculous, chaotic, and terrifying. You hold your breath for too long, feel like you’re drowning, and then panic and fall off the wall on which you are sitting to watch the actual real life athletes who are actually in the water actually participating in the swim start. Actually.
In the swimsanity, we had no idea which green neoprene’d cap belonged to iWill, so iSister and I spent the entire first 40 minutes of the swim talking about how cold the water must be, how fast the pros were going, and also comparing our snack arsenals. Priorities. We knew iWill was shooting for 45:00 for his first split, so we kept our eyes on the lap/finish line and had this conversation 3700 times:
Me: That’s him!
Me: No. Wait. That guy is 60 years old.
iSister: Let’s not tell him about this.
Me: Deal. OH THAT’S HIM FOR REAL!
iSister: YAY FOR REAL!
Me: Oops, nope. Shit.
Despite my distractions, iSister spotted the Actual iWill and we all went crazy, ringing cowbells and screaming and somehow he heard us and waved and then his fans all fainted because it was just like how American girls felt when the Beatles landed in the US to play the Sullivan show, I’m sure.
The swimmers were swimming to the red buoys. iWill kindly drew arrows. Please to see:
The wind picked up in the second lap and iSister and I had this conversation:
iSister: It is COLD.
Me: I know! And WINDY!
iSister: I’m so glad I’m not in the water.
Me: OMG same/same. It would be so awful to be wet right now.
iSister and Me, amazingly in perfect unison: OH SHIT iWILL IS IN THE WATER.
He survived the 2nd lap and soon was running up the beach. He did not see us this time because he was focused on heading into transition (and also making his legs move through hypothermia, as we found out from him later) and also because iSister and I had moved spots so we could see better. Here is what he looked like post-swim:
iFamily and I had devised a plan to split up so we could double our chances at seeing him on the bike. iParents headed to stake out our pre-arranged spot on the grass (prepared to use violent force if necessary/possible). iSister and I sprinted through the expo and staked out spots along the mount path (which sounds dirty but isn’t; it’s just where the athletes jump on their bikes and take off). We rang our bells for every person we saw, while freaking out about seeing iWill. A cameraman saw us and came over to ask if we’d mind answering a few questions after our athlete came through. We agreed, distractedly. Finally we saw iWill and he flashed us the rock horns as he jumped on his Bike Without a Name and took off for the second leg of the crazy race. iSister and I went crazy, screaming and ringing bells until we could no longer see him (but for 30 more seconds just in case). The cameraman came back over to see if he could interview one of us and iSister kindly shoved me in front of the camera. (She’s crafty, that one.)
Side note: One thing you should know about me is that I hold all of my emotions in my hair. If I’m sad, it gets flat. If I’m happy, it’s shiny. And if I’m so mother-fucking goddamn excited? It’s HUGE. iWill laughed when I told him this a few months ago but while we were in Idaho and the excitement for the race was mounting, he got to see it for the first time. The morning of the race, I finished getting dressed and he looked at me and was all, “WOW YOUR HAIR IS HUGE. THANK YOU FOR BEING THIS EXCITED FOR ME.”
Cameraman: Who are you guys cheering for?
Cameraman: Who is he to you guys?
Me: He’s her brother and my running coach.
Cameraman: Are you excited to see him race today?
Me: Well, you tell me. HOW BIG IS MY HAIR?
Me: Um, yes. My hair is big which means yes. Sorry. I don’t know why. Yes we are excited.
I still have no idea why we were being interviewed or where that video ended up. I’m just glad I had a chance to bring my awkwardness to a larger audience.
iSister and I made our way to the rest of iFamily and settled in to wait for iWill to come by on the bike. We had a good 2 hours to wait, so I decided to run back to the hotel (2 miles away) to grab the poster board I’d purchased (but forgotten at the hotel that morning) so we could make signs. Also I wanted to grab snacks and put the big pump back in the hotel room. When I got back (almost an hour and a half later because I was rerouted a mile and a half out of my way), iWill had not passed yet. I passed the time by making signs for us to hold up during the run. Soon, iWill passed us, looking strong and grinning the sound of our cowbells and shrieking. This happened twice more and then it was time to gather our gear and move to a better location for the run.
iFamily: You are really good at making signs.
Me: I know. I was Spirit Coordinator in high school. AND Football Sweetheart.
iFather: Football Sweetheart?
Me: The football team’s favorite.
iFather: Huh. We had a different name for that when I was in high school.
Me: YOU SHUT YOUR FACE, SIR.
The sun was making me forget my manners, apparently.
We headed to the run start to stake out spots so we could wave to iWill as he started the final leg of the race. iSister and I had this conversation 4798 times:
Me: There he is!
Me: Oh wait, no. That’s a lady.
iSister: Whoa, it is. I really thought that was him.
Me: SO DID I! OH WAIT NO BECAUSE THERE HE IS REALLY.
iSister: YES! YAY!
Me: No. Wait. Lady again.
iSister: WE REALLY CANNOT TELL HIM ABOUT THIS.
Finally we saw actual iWill and not just his lady doppelgängers (Willas, as we began to call them because it happened A LOT). We screamed and hollered and rang our bells and he grinned and high-fived us all and said, “Great day to go for a run!” And then he did and it was time for us to wait until he came around again at mile 13. As we waited, we lounged in the sun and talked and maybe also I was awkward.
iFather: How did you and Will meet?
Awkward Sherpa: Oh, we met at a friend’s wedding reception a couple years ago.
iAunt: And you’ve been friends ever since?
Awkward Sherpa: No, I think we became friends a few months after that. OH I REMEMBER. I organized a group outing to Hump!, the annual amateur porn film festival and iWill came to that and then we were actually FB friends which I think is what counts maybe.
iFamily: Amateur what festival?
Awkward Sherpa: Porn! It’s so much fun. It’s one of my favorite Seattle events. OMG I’M SO AWKWARD PLEASE COVER YOUR EARS AND FORGET THAT I JUST TOLD YOU THAT.
iFamily: (laughter) (forever) (all the laughter)
Awkward Sherpa: Let’s not tell iWill about this. Ever.
After a couple hours, I started getting antsy again so I politely requested iFamily take a stroll with me over to a spot where we could see iWill.
Militant Sherpa: OMG EVERYONE GET UP RIGHT NOW BECAUSE WE ARE GOING TO MISS HIM IF WE DON’T AND THE DAY WILL BE RUINED.
When we saw him the 2nd time, he tossed some green shoelaces my way (a spare pair he’d placed in Special Needs and didn’t actually have a special need for, but he didn’t want to lose them so he gave them to me to put in our backpack). His family could not process what had happened.
iFamily: WHAT WAS THAT? WHAT IS HAPPENING? IS HE OKAY? WAS THAT PART OF THE PLAN?
Sherpa: Shoelaces, y’all.
iFamily: OH OKAY. GOOD. JUST MAKING SURE.
(Emotions run high for the crew of an Ironman, y’all. We were all feeling our feelings a lot.)
Finally, we were down to our last wait before we’d see iWill again. But this time, it would be at the finish line. With only a couple hours left, and thousands of fans in Seattle who were waiting for my FB updates all day, I realized I needed to charge my phone immediately. I headed off to the bathroom and stood there, like the classy lady I am, for an hour, stealing the electricity of Coeur d’Alene. (Thanks, CDA! Your electricity is LOVELY.)
After that was finished, we packed up our stuff and headed over to the finish line stands. We muscled our way through thousands of people, maybe used a shiv here and there, and found a great spot at which to watch iWill become an Ironman.
And he did, y’all. 14 hours 52 minutes and 57 seconds after he started, he came barreling down the finish chute, grin on his face, horns at the ready:
We found him a few minutes later, wrapped in a space blanket, eating all the pizza, exhausted, and the happiest I’ve ever seen him.
Everything is a bit of a blur for me after this. The day of nervous energy caught up with me, so I put my head down and focused on mixing iWill’s recovery shake (again with no euphemism). Then I volunteered to watch our stuff while he went with iFamily to retrieve his bike/bags. I was more than happy to hang behind, mostly because I wanted iFamily to have some time with their Ironman but also because I needed a minute to feel my feelings. Watching iWill train and work over the last few months had been incredibly motivating for me. To see him accomplish this huge goal was beyond anything I’d imagined. He’s rad, essentially.
iFamily had to hit the road (it was after eleven by this time), so we said goodbye and then loaded up the car with the gear/bike. We watched the midnight finishers, the final people to be told they were an Ironman, and then headed back to the hotel. iWill had a surprising amount of energy and was only limping a little bit. He dealt with his gear while I unloaded the car. Finally, after he took the longest shower in the history of the world (I think he kept dozing off), we were able to turn out the lights and hit the bag, after this conversation:
iWill: Did you have fun with my family?
Me: Yeah! I was only awkward once! (ish)
iWill: What happened?
Me: Um, nevermind.
Me: Fine. I might have told them about Hump!
iWill: How did that even come up? You know what. Nevermind. It doesn’t matter. It’s you. It was inevitable.
Me: Please still be my friend.
The next morning, I had one mission: DONUTS. I’d pre-mapped the donut shops of CDA, so I crawled out of bed and went out in search of iWill’s recovery treat. It took a few shops (and a phone book) but eventually I was successful and iWill picked out a dozen ridiculously delicious donuts. Back at the hotel, we lounged in pj’s and opened the victory bourbon:
So things get slightly fuzzy at this point. A good and proper Sherpa matches an Ironman, drink for drink. But it’s possible when the Ironman is also Irish, matching drink for drink is a little tricky. And also dangerous. And also sometimes Sherpa is a lightweight. And also just look:
Drunk FB’ing? Whatever could she mean? OH, RIGHT. Maybe I was updating recovery day in real time. With many typos. And also pictures of the ever-decreasing bottle of bourbon. Because I’m KLASSY. And also I can’t stop texting when I’m drinking. Even my mother isn’t safe from me.
I drunkenly convinced iWill we needed to watch 21 Jump Street because it’s freaking amazing and I have the CC bill to prove we watched it, though I don’t remember watching it really. Then there was a delicious nap. I do remember the nap, y’all. It might have been my favorite nap. Bourbon. When the bourbon was gone and the naps were done, iWill was very responsible and pointed out we needed to eat actual real food because he’d only had 8 donuts and I’d only had 1 and also bourbon and that is why I was in NO SHAPE to drive us to dinner, so iWill (the sore, limping Ironman) had to drive. Also, I was way too nauseated to actually eat dinner, so I just sat there and tried not to fall out of my chair but I did wear a pretty dress because I AM A CLASSY SOUTHERN LADY.
After dinner, iWill drove the run course and showed me the monster hill he had to do FOUR TIMES and I realized he was even more rad than I ever knew.
We woke up the next morning and packed up the car, both smiling because it had been an amazing trip.
Then we stopped at The Nut Factory.
(That IS a euphemism!)
5 hours of driving the lovely scenic route, numerous passionate singalongs to hair metal, and a quick stop in Leavenworth for margaritas later, we were back in Seattle, where the rest of the week included tattoos, hot tubs, champagne, and homemade cookies as big as my FIST.
Thank you for reading my account of this amazing race. It was the perfect trip and I’d be iWill’s sherpa again in a minute. Especially if there were another epic race. Like, maybe with distances longer than an Ironman. Like, maybe a Super Tri. In September.