John Dahlz was the overall winner of the 2012 Vineman Ironman on Saturday, July 28. He swam 2.4 miles in the Russian River (half against the current and half with) in less than 49 minutes. I took exactly an hour longer. He biked 112 miles on the hilly roads of Napa Valley in 4 hours and 57 minutes. I rode the same course in 8 hours. He ran the 26.2 mile three loops through the back roads of Windsor, California in 3 hours and 52 minutes. I ran – walked much of it – in a painful 6 ½ hours. Most of us would agree that John Dahlz is a hardcore athlete… I was way too sick to have begun this race, but had trained too long and too hard to walk away from the start line. Four days before the race I contracted…a sore throat…that turned into a chest cold…that – by race day – had gone full blown head cold. Amazingly, I was able to cough and spit and blow my way through the swim and bike legs with little discomfort. But by mile three of the run, the sickness overwhelmed me. It was like having the flu…times ten! Determined to finish, I trudged on. By mile fifteen, my pace had slowed to the point that I knew I would not make the ‘time cutoff’ required to begin loop three. The thought of quitting entered my mind…but I walked on. When I actually missed the cutoff – and knew that I would be ‘officially’ listed as DNF (did not finish) – the embryonic thought of ‘giving up’ grew. A friend, who had accompanied me to the race, simply asked me, “Do you want to finish?” And then offered to walk the last eight miles with me. My only sane thought seemed to be, ‘who quits a 140.6 mile race with only 8 miles to go’. Coughing, straining and puking…I dragged myself through the final miles. To my surprise, the finish area was not empty when I arrived. I crossed the finish line and a volunteer draped a medal around my neck…handed me a finisher’s t-shirt…gave me a hug and said, “You are an ironman.” John Dahlz finished his race in 9 hours and 29 minutes. It took me almost 17 ½ hours.
This was not the way I’d dreamed the day would go. In some ways it was an uglier finish than I had imagined. I am a runner. I worried for weeks about the swim and the bike. I knew, however, that once I got to the run I was in my element. I had envisioned – over and over again – sprinting across the finish. In other ways, however, it was a beautiful finish. A long walk with a friend and fellow warriors, the grace and true understanding of finish line volunteers, and the knowledge that even when the world – or at least the race officials – tell you you’re beat…you can keep going. It has been said that when you’ve finished an Ironman, you have the strength to tell the rest of the world to ‘go to hell.’ It’s true. Reflecting on my journey – months of training, hours in the pool, miles on the bike, step after step after step of running, and 17 plus hours facing down every demon I have – I really don’t give a damn that the ‘Results Page’ of a website labels me as DNF. I finished. Even when it seemed I had no legitimate reason to finish…I finished. I am an Ironman.
I wasn’t the only athlete waging war in the darkness. Keeping pace with me was a lady…carrying an inhaler…fighting asthma for the last 8 miles. Others were on the course limping – impaired along the way by injury or cramps. Others had missed time cutoffs for other reasons, but were pressing on…silent, slow, steady, determined…to be Ironmen and Ironwomen. Suddenly, it was an honor to be among such a crowd. John Dalhz won the Vineman Ironman, July 28, 2012 in 9 hours and 29 minutes. A lot of people would say he is a hardcore athlete – and he is. But the unknown ‘hardcore athletes’ were the ones who pushed their bodies into the late hours of a cold night…and finished the course…not for prize money, but for the pride of knowing we could finish – Ironmen and Ironwomen.
I like that God persistently pursues lost sheep and lost coins and lonely runners at the back of the pack…