Diary of a Sherpa

October 15, 2010: My old friend and training partner Michelle’s husband is not going to be able to support her at Ironman Arizona. She isn’t sure if her sister is going to be able to fly out and her mom definitely can’t. I think it would be good if I went. I can’t stand to think of her walking over to the transition area all by her lonesome to start the race before sunrise, and walking over to no one in particular after she finishes sometime after dark. That just is not cool. She would do it for me if the tables were turned. I wonder if Dan will mind if I spend the weekend in Arizona. It shouldn’t be expensive to fly from Denver to Phoenix.

October 19th, 2010: I booked my ticket! I am going to be an ironsherpa! I am going to start collecting data on how best to prepare for a long day of spectating. I have never done this before.

October 21st, 2010: Dan says to bring a book. Lizzy said it is best to grill out, make a tailgate party out of it and people watch. I will at least bring snacks and maybe a magazine. I will definitely bring a cowbell.

October 22nd, 2010: It turns out Michelle’s sister will be able to come after all. I think we are really going to get to know each other. I hope we like each other.

November 18th, 2010: I was on the way out for drinks to celebrate my birthday. I took my bike because it would have been bad to walk in my cute yet uncomfortable boots. They were really bad to bike in also:( The soles were so slippery I could barely keep my feet on the pedals. I got a little overconfident right when I was in the parking lot and when my phone rang I went to fish it out of my backpack. Then I lost my balance and I totally bit the pavement. Luckily my phone is fine and my jeggings weren’t ripped at all but I have a cut on my left thumb and I broke a nail, which hurt. I have some major bruising on my left thigh as well. I hope this doesn’t interfere with my stamina for Sunday. I want to be in top form for the race.

November 19th, 2010: I am a little hung over today but I think I will be ready to manage whatever the big day brings. My flight was uneventful, and I met Michelle, and her sister and some other gals at a restaurant in Tempe. I can tell they are a good group of ladies and we are going to have fun. Yolanda, the shuttle driver was awesome for dropping me off straight to the restaurant and taking my bag to the hotel for me. I gave her a nice tip because I was a little nervous about what if she messed up and my bag didn’t get to the front desk of the hotel after all. It did though. We went to the athlete information meeting straight from dinner. I listened but I also daydreamed and people watched. After all, I was not the one doing the ironman. What a relief. Dan said I better not sign up for Ironman Arizona 2011 on Monday. I said I wouldn’t. Probably.

November 20th, 2010: Michelle is nervous, but not any more than I probably would be if it were my ironman. Her sister and I made signs at the Inspiration Station. It is nice that Ironman gives the athletes’ friends and family all the supplies for make encouraging signs to hold and to post on the course. Then again, for an entry fee of $550 I think they should should also give you filet mignon at the aid stations, or at least not recruit volunteers (read: slaves) to hand out sports drinks and rack the bike that you probably peed, snotted, and spat on, considering WTC (World Triathlon Corporation) is a multi-million dollar for profit company, but no one asked me. My sign had Michelle’s full name and bib number in the colors of her race outfit (yellow and green), the web address of her coaching business (why not give her some free advertising?), and the words “Move your pig butt faster!” I believe in tough love. Michelle’s sister and I went for a run while Michelle was at another race meeting. We would not have had another chance to run if we’d waited, because the rest of the day was spent running around, dropping off bikes, bags, making lists, checking them twice, and basically getting every detail totally nailed down before dinner, which we had a 5 pm reservation for. In addition to all the race-specific stuff Michelle needed to do, I knew it was important that I also be prepared for race day. At the drugstore, her sister and I stocked up on fuel, like Sun Chips, and little six packs of wine. I even got some pink wine (White Zinfandel). My good friend Alyssa told me back in college when I didn’t really know anything about wine except that I liked Manischevitz (not much has changed, actually) that white zin “is not really wine” which was not only a dig on the wine but also on the giver of the wine, which was my boyfriend at the time, who was I guess not that sophisticated but then again, he was only like 22, so it wasn’t his fault. Anyway, I always think of Alyssa’s voice saying pink wine is “not really wine” whenever I see it, so I thought it was the perfect thing to be drinking if in case I ended up opening it before noon. Except for the very occasional mimosa I don’t drink before noon. Anyway, we also got a cheap-o styrofoam cooler, and at the last minute I picked out a Nivea chapstick, a copy of People magazine and a Hershey’s special dark for just in case. For my pre-race dinner I ordered a glass of red wine and lobster and shrimp tacos. Yum.

Sunday, November 21st: The alarm went off and I kept sleeping! I got up at about 4:50 am. At 5:06 I went down for breakfast at the hotel. By 5:20 we were en route to the transition area, with all our food, camp chairs, and beverages in hand. By 6:20 I knew I would not be able to make it through the day without coffee, STAT. I booked it to Starbucks and ordered pumpkin spice lattes for both myself and Michelle’s sister. The day was starting feel manageable. I got back just before the gun went off for the amateur start at 7am. They played some Coldplay song just before the start and I got a little choked up, I am not sure why. I used to think I just got emotional before races because I was excited or nervous or happy or just vehrklempt but now I think maybe I am just a crybaby. Anyway, it was interesting to find I don’t actually have to do an ironman myself to feel this way. Even so, I was kind of thinking maybe I would do another one someday. Michelle came out of the water right around the time she said she would and we were cheering like crazy. Then we booked it over to the “Bike Out” area and got to see her start her bike ride. She looked happy. We had about 2 hours and ten minutes until we would see her again, because each of the three bike loops was about 37 miles long. We hung out for a while, and met up with some other friends, and spent a good chunk of the morning brainstorming ideas for a new game show, because one of the guys we were hanging out with is in the game show host profession. When he gave me his business card, all I could think was “Zoolander!” because of the picture he put on it but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings in case he didn’t think that was funny. But then he said “Blue Steel, right?” and I knew he was cool. The game show ideas flowed with increasing ease once we got into the alcohol. My cheering also grew more enthusiastic as I sipped my pink wine from a styrofoam cup. Let me tell you, its not easy to cheer for a person on bike while they whiz by at 16-25 miles per hour. My strategy was to isolate an identifying feature and emphasize it. ie) “Go BEARD!!!! Guy with a BEARD!!!! YEAH!!!” Some athletes got a kick out of this. Most did not notice or did not care. Anyway, the bike went along basically like that, and there were a few false alarms which got us all cheering like crazy for someone who wasn’t Michelle, but that was kind of like a fire drill; it just prepared us better for when it was actually her. After a late lunch, we were at it again. I fell down on the job a little when I went over to the finish area to see some of the pros finish, which unfortunately caused me to miss Michelle on her final loop of the bike. We repositioned ourselves and our cooler on the run course. By now it was close to 4pm. I was getting cold and my feet really hurt. I introduced a Diet Coke into my fuel plan, which definitely helped. I tried to stay positive, cheering for nearly every runner that went past. I held out my generic “Go, Slacker! (yeah, you!)” and “Go Hot Stuff (yeah, you!)” signs but no one seemed to find them nearly as entertaining as I did. Also they were hard to manage with all the wind. I switched to my “If it were easy everyone would be doing it” sign which was only marginally more appealing to the runners, who looked more like zombies for the most part. I am not kidding you, this was the most miserable group of people I’d ever seen. Only about 1 out of every 10 people even looked up or gave me so much as a half wave or smile when I directed a cheer or an encouraging word at them. I have to say, I know what its like to feel that bad, I really do, but I always would at least give a mini-wave or try and smile at someone who said something nice to me at this point in the ironman. Why were these people not trying to utilize the free energy I was trying to give them? And ps why were they not the least bit excited about being just hours or minutes from realizing what I am assuming was their dream/goal? Anyway, our Michelle looked strong and smiled every time she ran past us, and she was right on top of her goal pace. She was doing awesome!! At about the 12 hour mark, we headed over to the finish chute. Here I found a vortex of positive energy. Perhaps there are only so many good vibes to go around on an ironman course and 99.5% of them were concentrated right here in this 30 meter area flanked by bleachers? Because people were going absolutely nuts! The cowbell ringing was non-stop, the high fives were slapping, husbands and wives were kissing, fists were in the air, and the atmosphere felt literally electrified. I had a stupid grin on my face for an hour straight. My face had not hurt that much from smiling since our wedding. Now I remembered why after watching Ironman Lake Placid in 2006 I had to sign up. I still don’t need to do another ironman, though. Anyway, Michelle ran through in just a hair over 13 hours, and she was elated! And so was I, for soon I would have an opportunity to sit down. Seriously, it was very exciting to watch her finish so strong and so happy, having executed her race PERFECTLY. After we found her near the finish line, she gave us a the full scoop, then we eventually went back to the hotel and ordered a pizza which came 2 hours later, don’t even get me started on that. How hard is it to deliver a pizza? Anyway, as I said, I am not getting started with that. It ended up being free. Seriously, I am not discussing the pizza anymore. It was actually pretty good. Enough on the pizza. Anyway, I was so tired, I didn’t even read any of my Ann Rule novel before bed, which is saying a lot, because I am pretty much addicted to it right now.

Monday, November 22nd: It’s all over. I got up at 8:30, having declined the chance to head over the the finisher merchandise tent at 6am. After breakfast, we dropped off the bike with Tri Bike Transport, I found Michelle’s special needs bags… we talked some more about the race, and about all kinds of different stuff… Dan is always wanting to know what women talk about so much and I guess I don’t really know but there was a lot of chatting about one thing or another. I barely got on my flight even though I thought I had plenty of time… Now I know that checking in on Southwest is not simply a matter of making sure you are not in the C group, it lets them know you’re coming so they don’t give your seat to someone else. Having forgotten to check in until 20 minutes before we left for the airport, I figured there was no point to checking in, but I realized I was wrong at the ticketing counter… Thankfully someone was willing to get bumped so I was able to make my flight after all. Anyway, I have a new appreciation for my family and for Dan for being my ironsherpas in the past. Not that I ever took them for granted but still, its an eye opener. I was happy to do it, though. I’m not going to lie, its good to feel needed. Doesn’t everyone feel that way? And it was really fun to see my friend, to watch her have the race of her life, and to make some new friends.

2 thoughts on “Diary of a Sherpa

  1. Kim says:

    i was in the finishers shoot the same time you were – in the bleachers! the energy was AMAZING!and did you get pizza from Slices – that place is ridiculous!way to be a great sherpa!

  2. Pam says:

    It was Hungry Herbie’s or something. Something Hungry, whatever it was called. How funny we were in the finisher area at the same time!

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