So here’s how long an Ironman triathlon can take for a normal mortal. I went to bed last night, a couple hours after Craig Alexander set the Kona course record at 8:03:56 (that’s 8 hours, 3 minutes, 56 seconds, breaking it by 12 seconds), and after Chrissie Wellington won her fourth Kona title, beating the insanely good runner and 2010 champ Miranda Carfrae.
I got a decent amount of sleep. Then my alarm woke me in time to go back to the live webcam and watch the last five minutes of the finish line. It was nearly 6am here, midnight in Hawaii.
Just as I got the feed, the oldest female competitor was crossing. Harriet Anderson (I think I heard that right), 76 years old. Less than four minutes until the 17 hour cutoff. The street is still lined with cheering fans, probably cheering more now than at the pro finish. Craig and Chrissie are at the line, greeting the finishers. Four or five more competitors finish with fewer than three minutes to go.
As the clock turns 16:59:00, with one minute to go, there is one more competitor within reach of the finish. The announcer gets everyone cheering louder, and she heads down the chute. As she passes the finish, her time is 17:00:04.
She is four seconds over the time limit. FOUR SECONDS. Regardless of the pain and sacrifice of the day, and the countless training hours to get to that day, none of which anyone could take away from her, today she is not an ironman finisher. She won’t get a finisher’s medal, and will be officially listed as a DNF. The crowd knows this, but doesn’t react with a sigh, instead continues to cheer her as the announcer says “you’re still an ironman in our hearts.”
In the same race, 12 seconds broke the record, and 4 seconds broke hearts.
I still have a chip on my shoulder about team sports and the idolatrous level they have achieved in our society. I don’t wear a jersey with the name of any multi-million dollar contract player. I don’t talk about a win from a team like “we did it.” I sort of root for the Steelers, but I don’t even know who they’re playing this week.
I don’t weep for the Phillies like half of my facebook friends. But I got teary-eyed for 17:00:04. I want to know her name. I’d trade for her rookie card. I’d wear Harriet Anderson’s jersey.
These are the people that inspire me. I can still watch a game and enjoy the technical awesomeness of it, and be amazed by Troy Polamalu’s ability to read minds and know where to be. I respect talent. But inspiration, for me, comes from the people who dig deep and push the limits of what “ordinary” looks like. I’m inspired by the 350 pound guy who ran/walked beside me at Annapolis TriRock. I’m inspired by Team Hoyt. I’m inspired by Sister Madonna Buder.
The beauty of the sport of triathlon, especially at the Ironman level, is that on the same course, you can see the Crowies and the Chrissies, the elite stars, and the 16:55:00 finishers. All are Ironmen.