Archive for November, 2008

Temps were in the high 60’s and dropping slowly as I started my 8 – midnight shift last night as a Finish Line Catcher for the 2008 Ironman in Tempe, AZ. I chose the last shift for a couple of reasons. First, I know the people who come in after 8 pm have been on the course a long time and need lots of encouragement to get across the line. Second, I wanted to be part of the magic that is an Ironman and make a contribution in some way.

As I donned my latex gloves and cherished t-shirt, I took my place in line behind the other volunteers. Our captain, Claudia, had provided an orientation and information session the previous day, so I had some idea of what to expect. A very organized assembly line had been set up for the main purpose of moving the athletes from the finish line through the medal station, t-shirt and hat station, chip removal station, and photo-op location in a supportive yet timely manner. For those that needed extra assistance, a crack medical staff was standing by to provide an escort to the medical aid tent.

The bulk of the finishers crossed the line between 8 and 10 pm. As each one appeared at the start of the finish line chute, the announcer and crowd in the bleachers went wild. Reading the name of each person and where they were from Mike Reilly, known as the Voice of Ironman, would end with the four words every participant waited 140.6 miles to hear: “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. Each person experienced the thrill of crossing, arms raised, through the tape and across the last line as the Finish Line Tape Holders worked furiously to restring the tape for every runner.

Once they crossed the finish line, the job of the Finish Line Catcher began. There were two of us, one on each side, to support them as they moved through the different stations. As soon as they crossed the line we were right there throwing a space blanket around their shoulders. As we walked with them, holding them tightly in case their legs buckled, the conversations would go something like this….

” So and so…where are you from? Is this your first race? Yes? Well, Congratulations! YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”


“So and so…where are you from? Is this your first race? No? Well, Congratulations! YOU ARE AN IRONMAN AGAIN!”

Over and over and over this sequence was repeated as over 1000 finishers crossed the line during my shift. Specific details of the night are already starting to fade (chalk that up to staying up to late…), but here are some things that stick in my mind:

  • The 76-year old man who, after having open-heart surgery in January, finished his third Ironman of the year. His comment? “Just steer me to my wife. She is waiting for me.”
  • The man who just completed his 106th Ironman and his seventh this year.
  • The runners who came determinedly across the line and then passed out as soon as they reached our arms
  • The 50+ woman from Japan who finished in fine form
  • The smiles, the tears, the jubilation, and the relief of those who just completed probably the most difficult event of their lives…

And, as the clock wound down to the official cutoff time of 17 hours, we all waited anxiously in anticipation. Craning our necks to see down the chute we held our breaths and watched for the outline of an approaching runner. Five minutes to go, four minutes to go, then…at three minutes to go we see her. She appears at the far end of our vision and shuffles slowly toward the finish line. The crowd in the bleachers goes crazy with shouts and cheers and cow bells clanging. “Go, go, go! You can make it!” And slowly, step by step, she inches closer with the clock counting down. With just two minutes to go, she crossed the line. I am in place to grab her. Her eyes rimmed with tears and her face held in a position of exhaustion, relief, and disbelief she is so shocked that no words can come. Friends of hers gathered at the finish line huddle around with hugs and support as they move her through her medal, t-shirt, and photo station. She had DNF’d a couple of times before, but this time she made it! SHE IS AN IRONMAN!

As the clock wound down to 17 hours and no other runners approached, the volunteers began to disperse. Shaking hands and giving hugs we promised to be back to support again next year. As we turned to go we looked back and saw one more runner coming down the chute. She would not make the cutoff, but we ran up to escort her just the same. In our minds, she was an Ironman as well.


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Over the weekend, my sister-in-law Peggy competed in the Javelina Jundred Ultra Marathon. In this crazy event, participants ran laps around a 15.33 mile course in McDowell Mountain Park near Fountain Hills. To reach 100 miles, they needed 6 full laps and one partial.

Lots of people try and do the event in 24 hours or less, but the cutoff is 30 hours. If you finish in 30 hours, you are an official finisher and get a belt buckle or some other prize.

Well over 150 people registered but by my last count (around 6 am on Sunday) at least 70 had dropped out early. As Peggy ran throughout the morning and afternoon on Saturday, I could monitor her progress via the web. Being scheduled to pace her on the last lap, I wanted to be rested and fresh in order to be of most use to her during the final push.

Her first laps went well and she was in fine form. Lap 4 was her first paced lap and brother-in-law Paul stepped in to assist. Lap 5 seemed to be the most difficult taking her almost 7 hours to complete. Peggy or sister-in-law Jenny will have to provide input on that segment as I only heard about it second hand. The last full lap was paced by Mary.

When I arrived (around 7:00 am), Peggy and Mary were over halfway through the last full lap. Jenny was resting and awoke around 8 to get ready for Peggy’s return. While we were waiting at the main aid station, we readied the supplies requested by Peggy: some chicken broth, a coke, water, protein drink, some chips, oreos, etc…

Around 9:00 we were starting to get worried. Participants who were not headed out on the last lap by 10 am would not be allowed to continue. At about 9:20, we looked up to see Peggy and Mary approaching the timing area. Peggy headed full steam (as much as possible) to the aid station, quickly restocked, and she was on her way. Jenny and Mary decided to go along to pace as well, so the three of us set out.

The desert is beautiful this time of year (November) and today was no exception. As we headed up the only hill on the 8+ mile segment, the surrounding views of the McDowell mountains and 4-peaks provided a source of inspiration (for us pacers, anyway…) Not sure if anything could have inspired Peggy at that point other than a direct transport to the finish line. She was tired and her body was hurting beyond belief. I was amazed to see her still chugging along and putting one foot in front of the other. Time was of the essence as she had only 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete the race. So, we pushed her as much as we could. One of us walked behind her (and pushed when necessary) and the other two walked in front. Her goal was to get to the last aid station as quickly as possible leaving extra time to complete the last segment (about 3 miles).

One step at a time she motored along. By that point in the race she had covered over 90 miles and was feeling every bump and every incline or decline in the trail. It took us about an hour and 50 minutes to get to the aid station (which, we were convinced, had been removed as it never seemed to get any closer). Thinking we were home free and only 3 miles to go, the aid worker reported that we had 53 minutes to cover 3.7 miles. Yowza! Given that it had just taken Peggy almost 2 hours to cover 4+ miles, we were all thinking she wouldn’t make it.

Peggy, however, had other ideas. Before we knew it she had downed a drink and a snack and took off RUNNING down the trail. Mary and I looked at each other and took off after her leaving Jenny to fill water bottles and catch up. We literally had to run Peggy down on the trail and still had a hard time catching her. She seemed to have saved a little cache of energy for the last push and was using it to full advantage. We finally caught her and pushed ahead (seeing as how WE were supposed to be pacing HER. Or, as Mary kept reminding me, it was supposed to be MY pacing shift).

We ran with Peggy for probably 3 miles and headed into the last mile section with about 20 minutes to go. Mary and I pushed out in front to lead the way and Jenny, who had caught up, helped push Peggy from behind. The whole last mile we were yelling and encouraging her and commenting on how close she was. When we saw the road crossing leading into the last segment of trail, I knew we were close. As we rounded the corner into the campground, I could see the time clock with plenty of time. Peggy crossed the line at 29 hours, 53 minutes, and some seconds to the hoots and hollers of the small crowd that was gathered.

WHAT an accomplishment for her. There are many people who do not understand the draw and obsession of competing in an endurance event. I have never done 100 miles, but I have done almost 50 and I can imagine a tiny bit of what she was feeling. I know that I was feeling great joy for her having finished and for the opportunity to help push her along for the last little bit. Getting her through the last 10 miles (well, the last 40, really) was a team effort and the pacing work paid off in spades. She did it! Wow.

Congratulations, Peggy! I will pace you anytime (although she did say to try and discourage her from future long distance events). You can pay me back for Ironman Tempe 2010!


Photo Credits: Will LaFollette

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Thirty spokes meet at the hub
But the void within them creates the essence of the wheel,

Clay forms pots,
But the void within creates the essence of the pot.

Walls, with windows and doors make the house.

The material contains utility,
The immaterial contains essence.


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Distance: 5.6 miles
Time: 60 minutes

My goal was to run for 60 minutes without stopping today, but I made it 40. Well, that is better than past attempts. I walked/ran the next 20 and still did 5.6 miles in 60 minutes. That time puts me ahead of the 2.5 hour pace for 13.1 miles. So, I just need to run for 40 and walk for 20 then run for 40 and walk for 20 then run for 20 and walk for 10 and I’ll be done! Maybe I’ll try that next week and see how I do.

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We were robbed during the night…well, almost robbed. Some person or persons of nefarious character took it upon themselves to try and steal our truck. After completing a very fast and easy trick which I will NOT reveal here but of which I am now aware, they gained entry into the cab of the vehicle. (Suffice it to say that you should NEVER leave anything inside a truck that you can’t live without. I am sure every criminal knows this trick and can literally gain entry into your truck in less than 15 seconds WITHOUT setting off the alarm).

Once inside, they proceeded to bash in the ignition (after carefully removing the cover) and attempt to start the engine with some foreign object. Now, either they were really BAD thieves or the truck just wouldn’t cooperate, but they did not obtain their objective. They were nice enough to lock the car behind them as they left behind a smashed ignition.

All told the effort probably took them less than 5 minutes. Of course, the dogs in our neighborhood that bark ALL the time at the DROP of a hat did not let out a peep during a real emergency. Little did we know that, as we snuggled cozily in bed, we were a hair’s breadth away from owning a truck (only one payment away) that we no longer possessed.

Given the horror stories I have heard from those whose vehicles have been successfully stolen and driven on rampages through the desert or transported at high speed across the border or used for whatever other illegal purpose, I am extremely thankful that our crooks were thwarted.

However, the event does give one pause to think (as these kinds of things usually do). Being lucky in my life to have only encountered the criminal element of our society a couple of times (all dealing with theft), I have a tendency to live in a mental world in which I believe that such people do not exist. Or, if they do exist, that their world does not intersect with mine. One of my guiding philosophies of life is that people…all people…are basically good and that if they do things that hurt others, the reasons are many and varied but not very often intended to actually hurt the other person. I believe that people do things because of themselves not because of other people. In other words, I try very hard not to take things personally when wronged by someone else because I feel that other person is not out to hurt me but rather to avoid some pain in themselves.

But how does that philosophy transfer to getting robbed? As hubby said this morning, “it happened TO us so hard not to take it personal”. Hard not to agree with that. I mean, we certainly did not do anything to these individuals to prompt such an action as theft (nor do we even know who they are). We just happened to have a vehicle sitting in a convenient location that seemed easy enough to drive away with and use for whatever purpose they intended.

So, while I know they really didn’t do anything to us specifically (they just liked our truck), I am still ticked. I am ticked because a) they damaged our nearly paid off vehicle and caused us to spend $ to get it fixed b) they could have been out there when hubby went out this morning and then what could have happened? c) we have both been inconvenienced by having to wait for the tow truck and pay for the tow truck and wait for our truck and be without the truck for a day or two or three…ARG!!!!!  But, mostly I am ticked because things like this bring fear into our lives. Now I will wonder every time I walk out the door if our vehicles are going to be outside where we left them. I will also think twice about running or biking in the dark not knowing who could be in the area. I will sleep less soundly for many nights wondering who is roaming around our streets looking for their opportunity.

Perhaps I will get to a place of empathy for these folks. Perhaps they are down and out and homeless or broke or needy in some other way that our truck could have helped alleviate. Perhaps they don’t like Ford pickups. Perhaps they just got laid off and needed some money for rent. We will never know.

But for now, we’ll just keep locking our doors (even though it doesn’t help) and maybe invest in a club for the steering wheel. As for not taking it personally, I am going to have to work on that one.

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We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.T.S. Eliot

The quote above is a favorite of my mom so I thought to include it here lest I forget it at some point in the future.

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Distance = 4.4 miles
Time=48 minutes

What better way to spend a glorious Veteran’s Day than running along the side of a two lane country road in western North Carolina? My intent this morning was to run from mom’s house to the local coffee shop in Black Mountain (the Dripolater!) and she would drive down around an hour later (with my step-father) to meet me there. The morning was crisp and cool at around 38 degrees and the steep downhill start gave me a chance to warm up slowly. Very quickly, though, I began to jog as the grade just begged for quickly moving feet. By the time I reached the bottom of the .7 mile hill, I was warmed up and ready to continue.

Not sure if the cool weather invigorated me or if I had recovered well from my long run a few days before, but I felt fantastic! I ran and ran and kept running and running even up a couple of long hills (which I NEVER do). I actually felt great and even my bum hamstring did not bother me.

I ran for about 32 minutes straight (which is GREAT for me) then the last hill into town got me. I finally started walking then ran/walked the rest of the way to finish in about 48 minutes. Coffee and a snack never tasted so good!

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