Yesterday I watched my first 1/2 Ironman event, really the first triathlon event I've ever attended, Steelhead. It was a pleasant day although I'm sure the wind was hard on those people with disc wheels. And the wind did cause a change in plans... there was no swim due to currents and waves, so my first triathlon was really a duathlon. It was an educational experience none the less.
I watched people of all ages, shapes and sizes, change from runners to riders, back to runners before my eyes. There was excitement, pain, triumph. There were ambulances, potholes, volunteers. Gatorade, water, gels and bars.... It was an amazing experience. As we watched and cheered on the riders we witnessed some people having really good days, smiling, going fast, enjoying the sport. We saw others struggle with flat tires, crashes, and too many cars on the course.
Then we changed our venue and set up camp to cheer them on as they ran loops around town. I've participated in many running events and cheered at one or two, but I've never seen so many runners who looked so beat up, so worn down, struggling to maintain a pace of any kind, shuffling along, barely picking up their feet. It was reminiscent of those back of the packers in a marathon - only there were more of them and fewer people really hitting their stride. It was discouraging and painful to watch. But we cheered and made fools of ourselves to distract, to entertain, to hopefully make their experience just a little less painful.
Then again we changed our venue. We moved to the finish line and watched people coming in who had been on the course for 6 to 7 hours and more. Some of them sprinted to the finish, some of them shuffled, stiff legged and obviously in so much pain they could barely walk. Others grabbed their entire families and jogged across the finish together, triumphant. Winners one and all, absorbed in the moment, the achievement, the accomplishment, the knowledge that all of the training and hard work had paid off, they had crossed the finish line.
And it was at that finish line that I thought, I want to do this. Not forever, probably not even more than once, but just once I want to feel that accomplishment. This is such an amazing feat, such an awe-inspiring moment. These "ordinary people" did extraordinary things (many of them completely out of their comfort zones I have no doubt) to get across that line. They were inspirational!
I've watched my sister train for and complete this event and I have a vague understanding of the level of commitment, of sacrifice, of desire it takes to get to that finish line. I am so proud of her for sticking it out, for running through the pain, for getting across that finish line. Good job!