(Half) Iron or (Half) Man?

10 Jul

“So,” he’d say, leaning casually against the door frame, “how does this half Ironman thing work? Are you Iron or man after you finish it? Or half iron and half man on half your body?”  It was his never-ending tease, the boy who loved to do full Ironmans.

Memories of him have become frequent lately. Unbidden but not entirely unwelcome.

I hang a new race metal on my rack and think of the metal that isn’t there – the half Ironman metal from a horrific 90-degree day and a race that lost its license shortly after for letting us compete in such hot conditions. The metal that is tucked in a casket, nestled in a graveyard in Philly.

I swim my laps, 1.2 miles of them, and concentrate on a different aspect of the stroke each time. I laugh to recall the only time I beat him in a training swim – pulling myself up on the edge afterwards, drinking water and basking in my apparent speed while he finished his laps…only to watch him stagger out of the pool and vomit in the trash can when he finished. I can win things…when all of my opponents have the flu!

I remember him while cruising up and down NH roads on my bike – each uphill producing a downhill, or another uphill, never anything straight and flat. He would have loved this. In fact, he did love this. I recall now his stories of when we lived in Portland, Maine and the biking he did there. I regret not having a racing bike then…not joining in on these roller coaster rides.

He would have grinned at this: the girl who hated hills now running Summit Ave and Harvard stadium steps and signing up for challenging hilly races. He would be excited that this weekend, I will finally run a race in Portland, the place where we met and I got serious about endurance sports.

And he’d talk me off the ledge when I start getting frustrated about Crossfit.  3 months in and I still cannot do hand stand pushups or good double-unders or walk on my hands or do 5 strict pull-ups or muscle-ups or lift the prescribed weights during the Olympic lifts. When I read an article that stated that “your first 2 years at Crossfit, you should expect to PR every single day” and I realized that I’m not sure I PR at something even once a week, he would have reasoned with me: maybe the article is referring to individuals who come in with no athletic background? Either way, he would have told me I’m being silly. To keep doing my best and things will fall into place. Anything worth conquering takes longer than 3 months to conquer…

When I rub against my side, and remember the stitches that were there, nearly a year ago, this he would have loved the best: his best friend suturing me up on the side of a road race without any pain meds just so I could finish a half marathon. And then immediately biking from Providence to the Cape…where I was forced into the ocean water to clean my wound and freeze my sore bones. And me, after running + biking nearly 100 miles, asking “Do you guys think I could have some ibuprofen now?”  He would have retold that story over and over again sometimes making me look heroic, other times foolish.

And he would have cried with me about the Boston Marathon. About how I finally read some articles about it in my running magazine and found myself choking up…in the jury herding pen…particularly when other runner authors voiced my same feelings: if you wanted to bomb a race, couldn’t you at least have gone after the runners?  Not innocent bystanders cheering us on? I can’t think about that day without remembering watching Henry V as a child…and then reading it as a teenager…when the French sneak behind English lines and kill all the innocent page boys, waiting with the baggage in the English camp. There is bad and wrong and evil but then there is also vile and despicable and cowardly.

I’m certainly not half-man. And I don’t feel half-Iron, either. I feel very painfully human and not just when I’m biking uphill and my legs scream to stop. But since an IronMan can’t possibly experience pain and sadness and grief, or hope and joy and satisfaction, quite like a frail human can, today I’m glad to just be me.

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