Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Silent Treatment

My first triathlon was the Nautica Malibu Tri and I was so excited to be there as part of a team. Every time I saw someone in a Disney uniform during the race I'd yell "Go Disney!" The problem is that the bike and run are out-and-back courses, and we had several hundred people on our team. And I learned the hard way just how tiring it can be using up your breath cheering/talking while racing.

I was especially worried about saving my breath in Kona. Of course I was wearing my Disney uniform, and the truth is crowds love cheering for Disney. And I milk it a bit, so I get some good support from people I don't know. I am very grateful to them and I like to acknowledge their support, but I can't holler back every time. During the bike, it was easy; when people cheered for me I would squeeze my Killer Whale Squeaky Horn and they loved it. During the run, I would flash them the "hang loose" sign which seemed appropriate for Hawaii. And that got me through most of the race.

Around mile 23 of the marathon, I was hurting a bit. It was dark, I was alone in the middle of nowhere, and running up hill. A lone woman was out there cheering telling me "good job! You're almost finished!" I didn't have the strength to give her a hang-loose but I lifted my hand a few inches as a sort of half-wave.

But then, God bless her little heart, she asked me "what's your name?" Crap. Now I had to respond and I told her "Michael". But it didn't come out too strong. Imagine asking a four-year-kid who is lost in a store what his name is, and hearing him shyly whisper "mic...hael". That's what I sounded like. She said something like "good job Michael!" but I didn't care. I was just so mad that she made me actually speak.

Things were worse about two miles later. I had a mile to go and I saw Steve. He seemed downright giddy to see me. He could not have been more enthusiastic and supportive: he ran alongside me for a bit screaming "you're almost there! You're finished!" And then, God bless his big heart, he asked me "How are you feeling?"

139 miles into the Ironman World Championships, how could I possibly answer that? I was excited and relieved and hurting and tired and feeling a dozen other things. Somehow just answering "fine" didn't seem appropriate. But more importantly, I didn't think I had the strength to reply. It sounds crazy, but I was actually afraid to say anything, that speaking a single word might make me collapse.

So I just kept quiet. And what did my good buddy Steve do? He called me on it. He yelled out "oh what, so you're just going to ignore me?" Boy, now I was in trouble. I probably coulda/shoulda just given him a quick "feel fine" message but I was still terrified to give up a single breath. So I just figured I would ask for forgiveness later. I think a part of me was laughing inside (DEEP inside) that I just ignored him, but another part of me was thinking "ouch, I'm gonna pay for this later!"

Fifteen minutes later I did see Steve again, this time on the better side of the finish line. I did try ask forgiveness but he said I didn't need it. Which is a good thing because I didn't have much breath to plead my case anyway.


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