A lot has been going on here during the last month, from our 8-day road trip to the fair and sheep adventures. The most recent event was yesterday. Chris had competed in his first Ironman three years ago in Texas and I shared photos and the story here. This was his second Ironman although we were all at the Tahoe Ironman two years ago when it was cancelled at the last minute due to the smoke from the huge arson-caused King Fire.
The Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon (26.2 miles) all one after the other. The training is intense (understatement) and the event infrastructure is mind boggling. Athletes pick up packets and leave off gear, including bikes, the day before. This event was local (Sonoma County, CA) although it was not local enough to sleep in our own beds and still be there for a 5 a.m. check-in on Saturday. We left our motel at 3:30 a.m. to make sure that we would avoid the anticipated traffic jam of all 2000 athletes descending on the small town of Guerneville at the same time.
As the athletes arrive volunteers write numbers on their arms.
Chris’ support crew at the river included my husband (who took this photo) and me, daughter Katie, daughter-in-law Meryl, brother-in-law & sister-in-law Rob & Renee. Rob was also competing this time. Can you tell it was cold at 5 a.m.? Sonoma County is known for morning fog, especially this near the coast. I haven’t been that cold in a long time.
Morning preparation includes checking air in the bike tires,
…securing the chip that marks times throughout the course,
…and donning wetsuits….and lots of standing around for the support crew. Once the event begins the support crew can only support by finding places along the course to cheer on their athlete. No physical support is allowed.
The pros started at 6:30 and the rest of the 2000 +/- athletes started at 6:45.
Athletes are pensive. Many have put a year’s worth of training into preparing for this day.
My brother-in-law came from Colorado to compete with Chris.
They both anticipated about a one-hour swim time and lined up near the front of the pack.
It is daylight now but still cold. The rest of us just wait. The national anthem is sung and the athletes are off.
There was a fairly small beach area where the athletes entered the water so they were funneled through a narrow gate to avoid crowding at the beginning of the swim. (It was impossible to get photos of that or to pick out our swimmers.) I am so glad that our guys were at the front, because it took a half hour before all of the competitors were actually in the water and swimming. By that time the pros were almost finished with the swim portion. Our guys weren’t far behind.
The athletes pack transition bags prior to the event and they are all put in place the day before. Everyone has a bag for the swim/bike and bike/run transitions. As the athletes come out of the water they strip wetsuits with the help of volunteers. Most are already wearing their cycling/running clothes under the wetsuit. Wetsuits and goggles go into the bag and they take out cycling shoes, helmet, socks, and anything else they need while on the bike.
For competitive athletes (or those who are aiming for the best PR) the transitions become an important part of the whole event where time can be made up or lost.This is Chris (in white and navy) leaving the transition tent to get his bike…
…and running with his bike to the beginning of the bike route. I must say here that we were all worried (OK, it was us, Mom and Dad, who were mostly worried) about Chris’ ankle that he sprained badly about six weeks ago and then sprained again just three weeks ago while out in the bumpy pasture with my sheep. We saw him twist that ankle again while running here in cycling shoes and continue running with a limp to the bike course.
Rob left the river not long after Chris…
and got his bike. Rob has done these events for many years and was smiling at this point.
After the guys got on the bikes (well in front of most of the other competitors, giving us an edge on getting out of town) we got to our car and drove to Windsor where the bike/run transition and the finish would be.
Depending on the configuration of the course the Ironman can be a difficult spectator sport. At this point we had picked up another two support crew members (my cousin, Carol, and another family member, Barb, who both live in the area). We found a spot where we would see the cyclists come by in the first of their two loops of the bike course. We saw Chris who looked strong at this point.
As Rob saw us he slowed down and stopped. His bike had a broken spoke on the back wheel at about Mile 25. That meant he was out of the event because his wheel was getting more and more wobbly and there was nothing to do about it without a replacement spoke or wheel. It would be frustrating to train for this event and spend all the time and money on it and then have a mechanical issue end your day. But Rob has competed in many of these and he put his bike in the car, got something to eat, and spent the rest of the day enthusiastically cheering on everyone else.
We saw Chris get off the bike, pick up his bike/run bag and run through the transition area. He emerged with cap and running shoes. The run portion is a marathon and this one was three times over the same 8+ mile course. We found a place where we could watch runners coming and going as they made a loop around our grassy, shady area to enter the turn around and then see them come out again. This gave us four views for each lap.
Chris on the first lap. The athletes’ first names are on their tags and spectators’ cheers help buoy the runners’ spirits.
Part of the support crew waiting for the next sighting.
On the second lap Chris was picking up cups of ice chips at the aid stations to eat and cool his back. After seeing him on the second lap we went to the finish where we could position ourselves for cheering and photos. We didn’t know what time to expect him but he seemed to be ahead of scheduled, sprained ankle and all.
This is after coming around the last turn to the finish…
…at well under 12 hours. The official clock counts the time from the start of the pro racers but Chris’ actual time was an impressive 11 hours 37 minutes.
We were all so thrilled and proud of him.