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On Being an “Ironwidow”

IM70.3

Andy finishing the Syracuse Ironman 70.3

I would imagine that most of you who know me know Andy and the crazy athlete he is. He’s done 4 marathons (including Boston twice) and countless other races… he doesn’t just love to run, it’s his passion and he’s fast too!

A while back he started getting bouts of Achilles’ Tendinitis and had to take some time off of running. It made me sad to see him have to be idle, because I knew he missed his nightly runs, and for him that was his outlet… to let off steam, unwind after a day’s work, relax and de-stress. Since he wasn’t able to focus solely on running without being in pain and aggravating his injury, he decided to add biking and swimming to his repertoire. Little did he know the monster he was creating. His Achilles’ eventually healed enough so he could run consistently, but by then he was already a budding triathlete.

Once he got bit by the bug, he was swimming, biking and running on a consistent basis. We went up to Lake Placid in 2009 to volunteer for the Lake Placid Ironman and Andy had the intention of signing up for the next year’s race. However, right before we went he got injured again and knew that he wouldn’t be able to train in time. We went and volunteered anyway — and it was such a special experience for both of us. I always admired the effort it takes to be an endurance athlete, but to do an Ironman takes a special kind of crazy. 🙂  Our volunteer shift was the very last time slot of the day (8pm – midnight) at the very last aid station on the course. We chose this specifically because we knew we’d be part of cheering on and encouraging those people who were struggling to finish, those who needed it the most. We saw average looking people trudging along, at the end of their rope, struggling to make it to the finish. We saw Matt Long, the NYC Firefighter who got hit by a bus while riding his bike to work, pushing forward with his team of supporters, completing his race after spending 5 months in the hospital and enduring 40 surgeries. We saw a man walking with minutes left before the time cut off (you have 17 hours to finish the race or you are technically not considered a finisher), and seriously doubted that he could make it. Some of our aid station took off running along side him, spurring him on and we heard the crowd a half mile away as he crossed the finish line in exactly 17:00:00. It was really a special time. I knew at that moment that even if Andy couldn’t compete in the following year’s race, he would compete some day and it would be one of the most memorable days of both of our lives. (You can see both Matt Long and the 17 hour finisher here.)

In 2010 we volunteered at IMLP again at the same aid station (though at an earlier time slot so we could go watch some of the late finishers cross the line.) Thankfully, Andy was injury free that year and without having ever competed in a triathlon, he signed up to do Ironman Lake Placid in 2011. His first competitive triathlon was the Syracuse Half Ironman last year. It’s a 70.3 mile race broken down as follows: 1.2 miles of swimming, followed by a 56 mile bike ride, followed by a half-marathon (13.1 mile). Not only did he finish injury-free, he exceeded his personal goal and had a GREAT time. And remember, that was a half Ironman. The full Ironman distance is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a full marathon (26.2 miles). We are now only 7 weeks and 3 days out from Andy’s race and he has been training regularly since November. Neither of us really knew exactly what we were signing up for. 🙂

During Ironman weekend, Lake Placid is overtaken by triathletes and their families. Every where you look, there are groups of people congregating in coordinating t-shirts, like family reunions at Disney World. Some shirts are sentimental and serious, like the group supporting Matt Long’s I WILL foundation, some are funny (“I don’t do triathlons, I do a triathlete.”)… even babies get in on the deal (“Cryathlete: Sleep, Eat, Poop”). There were more than a few spouses and significant others wearing “Ironwidow” shirts like a badge of honor and I now know why.

Someone cleverly coined the term “Ironwidow” for those companions who are in a relationship with someone who is training for an Ironman. I’ve also heard the term “Bag Bitch” (yes, we are the ones who get stuck lugging around all the gear and keeping track of stuff on race days), but I don’t really care for that one as much. I didn’t really know what being in a relationship with someone who was training for such a hardcore athletic event would mean, but I know now that it’s not easy. You get accustomed to being alone for hours on end (which is even harder for me, since I work at home alone all day… and it does get lonely). You learn that most of your conversations will have the words “swim”, “bike” or “run” in it (and hey, I’ve learned a lot — I feel like I know all the lingo now!) You know that you’re either eating dinner at 8 pm or you’re eating by yourself (oh, and you’re probably cooking every day now too, if you weren’t already). You learn to be your partner’s partner and to support him (or her) in whatever way you can for their training… date nights might be grocery shopping at Walmart on a Friday night instead of going out to eat. If you’re lucky, you might get a trip to the bike store thrown in there as well. (Kidding). Triathlon is an expensive sport, so you know for sure that you’re not getting any fancy diamond jewelry this year. 🙂 Racing bikes, wetsuit, gear, clothes, supplements, entry fees, hotels… it really adds up fast!

They say that Triathlon is not a team sport — and I understand what they mean by that, obviously. But in my experience, it takes a lot of support to make someone a triathlete. It’s a sacrifice on the part of the athlete of course. Andy trains 6 days a week. His workouts can be as short as 45 minutes for a “short ride” during an easy week or as long as 7-8 hours for a “long bike” during the peak of his traning. (Yes, that’s true — he rode 100 miles last weekend, then raced in a sprint triathlon the following day). A big part of me wants to (and sometimes does) complain about never seeing him, about having to plan weekend activities around long bike rides and long runs, about having to drop what I’m doing on a Saturday and drive 40 miles to pick him up when he gets a flat tire. Yes, that is all part of my life right now. But the symbolism behind all the practical things is what’s more important. Andy knows that I support him and that he has someone who is here for him, no matter what. I support him in the best way I know how – and that is by letting him do the things that he loves.

Last weekend, while I was waiting for Andy to finish his race, I read an article by Lee Gruenfeld that really touched me. The article, called A Word to the Triathlon Widow(er), really hit home and provided some much needed perspective. After Andy was done with the race and we were in the car getting ready to drive home, I read it to him and we both sat there when I was done, tears in our eyes and just reflected on the words we had just heard.

Here is a snippet from the article, though I’d really encourage you to read the whole thing. (You can right-click on the link below and save the word document.)

“The answer to the question of triathlon widowhood doesn’t lie in logistics. It isn’t about scheduling appointments with each other or apportioning the household tasks or ensuring parity or fairness or equality. It’s about first realizing that, if your loved one aspires to be a triathlete, and
especially one of the long-distance variety, you are linked to someone extraordinary and
should be mindful of the privilege you’ve been afforded. You need to trust me on this one: when you see his face as he crosses the line, your life will change forever…”
A Word to the Triathlon Widow(er) by Lee Gruenfeld

I’ve always admired Andy’s dedication, perseverance and motivation. I wish I had his energy, his willpower, his passion. But so often, I get caught up in how this experience has affected me negatively that I forget to see the forest for the trees. The man I love is going to be an Ironman. That is SO SPECIAL and I’m insanely proud of him. I find myself trying to work Ironman into conversations with people all the time, just so I can brag about him. He is going to experience something that only .01% of the population can say that they have experienced. And you know what?? That means, I’M going to experience something that only .01% of the population has experienced. I’m going to be right there when he finishes and it’s going to be a special moment for me too. Truth be told, it’s hard to explain the magic of Lake Placid during Ironman. It sounds silly, but there is really something special about being in that place at that time for that event. We felt it when we were there volunteering and I can only imagine what it will feel like for us to be there when Andy is competing, the culmination of nine months of hard work and sacrifice. I’m excited. Has it been hard? Yes, at times. But even the hard times aren’t that bad and it’ll all be worth it when he crosses that finish line on July 24 and he hears the announcer yell “You… ARE… An….IRONMAN!!!!!!!!!” And I’ll be there front and center.

(With all that said, I still think a puppy and/or some sparkly diamond jewelry would be a nice “thank you” gift. :))
PUPPY!

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4 responses »

  1. I really enjoyed your post. My husband will also be doing IMLP next month on the 24th. It will be his 5th Ironman. The training is getting extra intense right now and I was feeling a little lonely and negative, and your post was a nice, positive pick-me-up. I agree that the energy at these events is incredible. There really is nothing like seeing them cross the finish line. You’ve inspired me to get back to my blog that I started last year, ironwife.wordpress.com.

    We have never been to Lake Placid. Do you have any tips or recommendations about the area? We are driving there from Michigan and staying in Saranac Lake. If you’re interested in chatting about Ironman you are welcome to email me at sue@callsue.com

    Fellow IronWife,

    Sue

    Reply
    • Hi Sue, thanks so much for your nice words! I myself haven’t been really feeling like writing much lately, so I understand that sentiment — I will definitely check out your blog, I can’t wait!

      Lake Placid is such a wonderful place, we have been there many times, both during Ironman and not. I’d be glad to share some tips with you. If you have any specific questions or want any recommendations on anything, please shoot me a line at bungalow29@gmail.com.

      Nice to meet you and hope we can keep in touch!
      Candice

      Reply
  2. I am just entering this world, my husband will be competing in Lake Placid this Summer, I am having a hard time dealing with his complete obsession with his sport and often feel like I am at the bottom of his list. Your article helped me look at things in a different light. Thanks ^_^

    Reply
    • Hi Anabel! Glad my post was able to help you a bit. All the stuff you’re feeling now is totally normal … and will be in the back of your mind when you see your man cross the finish line after all your sacrifices and his hard work!!! You will be so proud!!!! Enjoy your time in LP! If you ever need to chat or have any questions about LP feel free to contact me. Holacandita at Gmail dot com . Take care!!

      Reply

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