When the pros race, it can be a sight to see.
As many cyclists were just getting on the bike course, Ben Hoffman and Maik Twelsie were running side-by-side, starting their marathon. Hoffman was the stronger runner on the day winning his first Ironman title.
Amy Marsh was first out of the water and led the entire way, holding off a charging Caitlin Snow on the run. Marsh was seventh overall at one point during the race, ending up finishing 10th in the field, while Snow had a smile on her face the entire run.
The pros are amazing athletes yet sometimes the most inspirational moments of the day in Lake Placid come from those much deeper in the field.
Head to the swim start at Mirror Lake the beach and surrounding area are packed with spectators trying to cheer on their family and friends in the sea of nearly 3,000 competitors. Return to the swim around an hour and 20 minutes later and there still will be a few hundred people around, cheering the final swimmers to come out of the water.
There were two swimming in, trying to beat the clock. They were surrounded by kayaks ushering them to shore. They made it. The crowd roared. And I started to tear up.
Behind them was a woman who didn’t make the cutoff. She missed by three minutes. The crowd cheered heartily for her as well. And I started to cry again.
It’s an emotional day for athletes and can be for spectators as well. Or maybe it’s just me, considering I’m attempting my first Iron Distance in less than two months.
One of my best friends, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, finished her first Ironman. Walker and I raced together in Texas earlier this year. She was all smiles at the start of the run, looking not so pleased at the end of the first loop, but strong and smiling by the time she passed me again, just two miles from the finish.
I first met Sarah and Amy in Lake Placid two years ago as part of a training camp and we’ve been friends ever since. Sarah had one of her best races. Amy finally finished this Ironman after two years of recovering from injury.
The strength of these women amazes me. Because it’s not just about what you do during the race. It’s about the road which takes you to the race, about how you arrived on the starting line and how you find your finish line.
Ironman Lake Placid was filled with other amazing moments: Running (almost literally) into an old friend who was in town to watch his brother. A member of the Buffalo Triathlon Club proposing to his girlfriend at the finish line. (She said “yes.”) Watching the smiles and grimaces and thumbs up from people who made their way up the hill into town, with two to three triathlon clubs cheering and shouting for them as if they were rock stars.
For that moment, they were rock stars. In my book, they will always be rock stars.
They say the Ironman changes the athlete who races it. But trust me, it can change things for the spectator, too.
The day is both a celebration of community and intensely personal. The emotions of joy and pain, the great bike split followed by the struggle to walk half the marathon, challenges those of us watching, too. It brings us face to face with our own deepest dreams and forces us to make the decision to follow them, regardless of the fear that tries to hold us back.
Popular words of encouragement to Ironman athletes (or any distance endurance athletes for that matter) is to tell them to just keep moving forward.
It’s a mantra worth remember long after we’ve all left the race course.