Holderness: Raleigh response to Ironman amazing
Sun, Jun. 02 2013, 8PM
I started training for this day eight months ago with my wife, Kim (and it was her idea). And several times a week, when I was bored to death on my third hour of biking, or swimming in ice-cold lake water, I asked the big question, the question anyone asks during a spiritual journey.
Anyone who has done this event asks that question dozens of times, even on race day, when your stomach is in knots, and you see how far away the swim buoys are, and everyone else around you seems to be infinitely more fit, and prepared, for this day.
As we noticed all this, my wife looked at me before we started and said, "Remind me again why we are doing this?"
I gave her a carefully rehearsed answer, one that many of us use as justification: Because humans aren't supposed to be in an air-conditioned room watching 5,253 channels of TV. It's not in our DNA. We were meant to do a lot more with our bodies - even if it means our bodies may end up in the medical tent covered in ice.
That was expected. So was getting punched in the face during the swim (my coach said it happens all the time). So was getting so tired during the run that I had no choice but to walk.
But here's something I didn't expect - I never expected I'd get so much help along the way.
The 56-mile bike ride and the 13.1 mile run were full, at every turn, with some of the most supportive fans I've ever seen. And remember, I was a sports guy for over a decade, so I've seen some great fans. Every subdivision, from Chatham County to Holly Springs to Apex to Cary and on to Raleigh, had its own group at the gates brandishing cowbells and cheering on every person who passed. Remember there were more than 2,000 of us, but they made every one of us feel special when we passed, shouting things like: "You got this" and "You are amazing!"
The race was a nightmare for people who needed to get somewhere by car. On Highway 55, for example, I saw a one-mile line of standstill traffic. But the motorists put their cars in park, rolled down their windows and started cheering. I guarantee you every one of us who saw that started pedaling harder, realizing we weren't the only ones sacrificing today.
The fans were also creative - no surprise, considering we come from the land of the Cameron Crazies and the Caniacs. There were even two guys in women's pink shorts brandishing an American Flag. One family made a giant fathead of their beloved Labrador to give their dad an extra boost. I got a chuckle from the guy on Hillsborough Street with the sign "WORST PARADE EVER." And my wife, Kim, loved the woman in the orange dress at about the 11-mile point who yelled out, "YOU CAN EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT TONIGHT!! YOU'VE BURNED SOOOOO MANY CALORIES!!"
The volunteers were simply phenomenal, with smiling faces at every water stop. At one water stop, all the volunteers were dressed entirely as pirates. When I looked for a trash can for my orange rinds and empty cups, one guy smiled and shouted, "We got this! Chuck it on the ground, keep going!"
Turning the corner to Fayetteville Street, the last mile was unforgettable. Fans four, five deep in some parts were going nuts! And that was for everyone - not just the winners. The last 200 yards we felt like we were floating on a cloud.
Afterward, Kim and I were exhausted, but also relieved and excited. I finished in 6 hours and 11 minutes, and she finished in 6:41. We rehashed the race, with the good times and the bad (the bad included Kim getting hit so hard during the swim, she saw stars). But the good! We both wanted to talk about the cities and the people. Kim has lived in some pretty cool cities -- New York, West Palm, and Sarasota -- but she said, "I've never seen anything like this. I think I have now officially fallen in love with Raleigh."
She isn't alone. The race winner, Greg Bennett, decided to stay an extra night with his wife (who also won the women's division). He called this one of the most beautiful places he's ever raced - and he's from Colorado!
About midway through the run, I linked up with a guy who drove here eight hours from Pocono to run this. He was gushing about how incredible the experience has been. He told me his hometown had recently done a 70.3. I said, "Wow, that must have been beautiful." He laughed and told me after one year they never did it again.
"The city didn't embrace it," he said. "No one came out to watch, cars were honking at us the entire time, everyone was mad about the traffic, even the cops."
This was the complete opposite. Every police officer, neighbor, volunteer, had a smile on their face. We should all be proud of what we just did. And I hope we do it every year.
So back to the big question, why? Maybe this is the answer: To bring out the best in the Triangle.