I am not sure if anyone will ever read this, or if it will get published some time, but I wanted to get my thoughts on paper. This is sort of like a race report, but it is more like a way for me to tell the story about how proud I am of my wife as she embarked upon, and completed, the journey to become an Ironman. First, some background is in order. She is the one to blame for starting all of this triathlon stuff in our house to begin with. In the spring of 2002, we were living in Santa Cruz County, California. My wife and I had spent nine years in the military, and by “normal” American standards we were always in decent shape. After three children and six family moves, she felt out of shape and not very happy with herself in general. In an effort to get back in shape, she signed up for the Pacific Grove Triathlon. It is an Olympic distance race, and she signed on with Team in Training. She was dedicated and had great support from her team, and in September of 2002 she became a “triathlete.” Being the obsessive compulsive type, I had to try it too. I took a slightly more insane path and did a sprint distance, the Wildflower Long Course, and then Ironman Wisconsin over a period of about 10 months. Since then I have been fortunate to stay healthy enough to complete three more Ironman races. My wife and kids have always been totally supportive of my habit.After a couple more years of trying to juggle running the house and training for triathlon, my wife was still not quite happy with herself. It is my opinion that even though everyone else considered her a triathlete, she did not consider herself one. After moving to Colorado in December of 2004, I think she still felt like she had no fitness direction and had pretty much given up on triathlon. After a lot of thought, she finally decided she just needed to get in shape, feel good about herself, and not worry about triathlon. She got a personal trainer and hit it hard. She gained cardio fitness and muscle tone, and also shed a bunch of weight. She looked and felt great. This is where the fun begins.Seeds of an Ironman
Some time in the late summer or early fall of 2006, her best friend called and told her that she and another friend of ours were planning to race Ironman Arizona in April 2007. Remember, this is my wife’s best friend and, oh by the way, a Boston Marathon qualifier and finisher. No pressure! This friend is also someone who, while she is also a triathlete, swore she would never try Ironman. She likes to work from what we like to call the hard taper: a little base, panic-stricken long stuff, then lots of rest, all packed into like a month and a half! I don’t think she ever came out and asked my wife to do it with them, but the seed was planted. We talked about it a lot over the next two weeks. From my perspective, the emotions she was going through were excitement at the thought of doing this race with her best friend, doubt that she could actually complete the distance, fear that training for this would turn our home life upside down (and hurt a lot!), and likely a few others that I didn’t notice. I tried hard to stay out of it (and those of you that may know me know how hard that is). I made sure to tell her that I didn’t want her to do it to prove something to me or anyone else. I explained (and tried not to be too melodramatic about it), that although there would be people around her, she would be all by herself on race day with only her thoughts to keep her company. It is a long day, and there is really no place to hide at mile 19 on the run. With a lot of soul searching she made the decision and sent in the check. The next order of business was coaching. I have had a great experience working with my coach at D3 Multisport. I have also had the pleasure and good fortune of becoming friends with the company’s owner and his wife. He has become someone I could bounce ideas off of, many of them not even related to triathlon. My wife called him, and he agreed to coach her. We shopped for and bought her a new bike (this is a whole other four-page story!), got the trainer dialed in, began the journey.
You're a beast
My wife comes from a competitive high school swimming background, and it was great to see her get her form back to see how excited she was when she started cranking out 100s in under 1:29. We had a weird winter here this year, and she spent tons of time on the treadmill and the bike trainer. She will tell you she hates running, but over time I think she started to at least enjoy the improvement she saw. Weekend workouts entailed many bike-run-bike-run-bike workouts. My kids have a term for someone who is extremely tough athletically.
If you get called a “Beast” in my house, it is a term of endearment. We would often come down into the basement while she was cranking out a 1.5-hour trainer ride, to be followed by a 30-minute run, to be followed by another 1.5-bike, to be followed by...well, you get the picture. To hear, “Mom, you’re a Beast!” became a weekly occurrence. She sucked up every bit of the pain, and if she missed four workouts over the entire course of her training I think it would be a lot.As race day came closer, the anxiety began to increase. This is the part where I actually got a little evil. For some reason I thought it would be cool to put the race countdown clock from Ironman Wisconsin on my desk top at work when I was preparing for my first Ironman in 2003. I remember it being cool until the clock started reading 28 days and counting down. Then it wasn’t so cool anymore, as I pretty much had a small panic attack about it a couple of times a week. I told her she should do that too. I’m not sure if she actually did it, but I could tell the stress was going up. I’m sure it didn’t help when I would bust out with, “Hey, sweet, less than three weeks until race day”. Coming into taper
The last few weeks were actually fun for me. The weather finally cooperated on the two days of her longest rides, and I thought I would go with her for moral support. We had some mechanical issues on both of those rides. I caused the first one by over-inflating her tires on a 5.5-hour ride, and exacerbated a drive train problem on the six-hour ride by adjusting every screw on her derailleur incorrectly. Thankfully, a nice guy stopped and asked if we needed help and I suppressed my male ego and said yes. He fixed the derailleur, but it turns out the chain had a bad link and the skipping had nothing to do with the derailleur—duh. Where is Hebeler when we need him? All the bad luck aside, I really enjoyed those two rides a lot. We spent a lot of time in the last three weeks talking about nutrition, and I was kind of overbearing about it on those two long rides. I give her credit for not ripping my head off. Race week
Race week was great as we were reunited with our best friends. We are blessed to have become friends with two very special families while we lived in California. Somehow it just clicked. The two guys from these families are the ones that dragged me up and down the coast with my lungs hanging out of my mouth when I was new to triathlon. These two guys would become two of my very best friends in the world. The ladies also became extremely close. At least two of the three families have spent Thanksgiving together for that past five years. With our third friend that was racing, her family, and entourage (sorry Heidi!), it was no less than 15 adults and at least eight kids. I tried to keep the pressure off of her and let her enjoy the whole first Ironman experience.
When it was all said and done, I think I did an okay job. Together, we got her gear bags packed, bike squared away, and nutrition dialed in. After bike check, I think the reality started to sink in. Flashing back to IM Wisconsin in 2003, at the pasta dinner the night before the race I leaned over to my wife and said, “Huh, I’ve never run a marathon before. I have to do that tomorrow after being on my bike for 6 hours….Huh.” I think her response was “You’re an idiot, you just thought of that now?” She is way smarter than me and had figured this out for her race long before that, but I think the pressure was starting to build. Race day arrival
Race day was clear and not too windy or hot early in the day. We walked the ladies down to transition, dropped off bags, pumped up tires, took some pictures, gave some last minute words of encouragement and they were off to the swim start. The kids rolled out of bed and joined us on the bridge in their IRONMONICA, and LARA’S ARMY shirts. Watching the swim start from the bridge was cool. We got some great pictures of my wife and her best friend from up on the bridge on the return leg. She had a great swim, even with leaky goggles. I had to give her crap afterwards for breaking one of the cardinal rules of triathlon by using brand new gear on race day.
She was out of the swim, through transition, and on the bike in less than an hour and a half. The bike is three loops, and we were in a spot where we could see her six times. She looked great after loop one. Rolled through, down on her aerobars and smiling. Then it got ugly. The wind picked up, and loops two and three got progressively harder and slower. We found out later that there were gusts up to 40 MPH. When I asked how she was doing on the way out to loop three, the response was, “OK.” The bike took an hour longer than she had hoped or expected, but she looked good coming into T2. We found a good spot near the lake to watch the run. It was a spot where we could see athletes leave transition and then loop back after five miles, then repeat two more times. She looked strong and determined when we first saw her. She stopped to kiss the kids and I gave her a hug, told her she was doing great.
We took the kids up to get dinner and got back just as our friends passed us starting loop three looking strong. After a bit of panic on my part because of the wait, my wife came out of the turnaround to start loop three. She was starting to unravel a little, and was upset that she missed us on her second loop. I tried to explain to her that we had to go eat, but she still seemed pretty upset. Ultimately, I knew it was because she needed the boost and we weren’t there. At that point she had three hours to walk/run 8 miles. I knew she could do it, but I wasn’t sure she did. I decided to try to help a little. You can be penalized for having a loved one run or walk beside you during an Ironman. The theory is that the athlete would be getting “outside assistance” or a motivational boost not available to all athletes, so it is deemed unfair. While I didn’t think there would be marshals worrying about 16-hour finishers, I wanted to be safe. I ran out to the next mile marker and waited until she came by. Clapped a lot, talked some smack, and when she went by, repeated the process until she passed all of our friends with three miles, and an hour and half left to finish. She had it locked.
I dropped the kids off on the corner near the finish so they could wait and run down the chute with her. I have had the joy of having them run down the chute with me three times, and I hoped she would enjoy it as much as I do. I found our friends who had finished a while earlier, and there were hugs all around. They did a great job. I found a place in the stands to get some pictures but I suck as family photographer. I saw her turn the corner with the kids and everyone was smiling. She got in with more than a half hour to spare. Monica O’Connor, you are an Ironman!This is way longer and maybe more sappy than I expected, but I think I got it all, and I don’t care. At some point she may write something down so I can’t speak for her emotions. As for me, I get a little choked up every time I think about it. The house was insane for five months. We had a few family dinners at home, but we are on first name basis with the servers at Malone’s now. This is not all bad, as I walk in and they hand me a Fat Tire.
We worked our way through a hockey season, Thanksgiving, Christmas, a trip to Europe, and the first part of lacrosse season (all three kids play on different teams). I was able to fit my training in and coach lacrosse, and somehow we made it work. I would argue that for all the insanity, it was actually calmer in our house during this period. Maybe it is the structure. Maybe everyone was asleep! Words can’t describe how proud I am of her, and so are the kids. To go from Olympic distance to Ironman with no stops in between is amazing; especially for someone who “hates” running. She didn’t whine once, didn’t make excuses, just worked her butt off.
My hope is that I didn’t meddle too much, and that the advice I gave her was valuable. I tried hard not be her “other coach.” She keeps thanking me, and while I appreciate it, I think once was enough. I say that because I feel like I still owe her for putting up with me and my obsessive compulsiveness about getting better at this, and all the time I am away training. I hope she feels like a triathlete now. In my mind she always has been, but now she is an Ironman, and nobody can take that away from her. Or Lara. Or Heidi. Good job ladies.
Thanks for reading.