August 1, 2011

Ironman Changes Everything

written by Runner's Edge Teammate Tony Sforza

On July 20, 2011, Jen and I left a balmy Northport LI, and traveled to an even hotter Lake Placid NY. The Northeastern part of the United States was having a heat wave. Well it was certainly a lot different than the 37 degree temperature of Panama City for Ironman Florida in November 2010. Thankfully, the weather gods were on our side because on the morning of July 24, we woke to a cool 60 degree temperature and clear skies. But because of the recent heat, the water temperature was still very warm. Race officials measured a water temperature of 77 degrees on race day morning and that caused them to declare wet suits optional. This meant that if you wore a wet suit, you would not qualify for an age group award or a KONA World Championship spot. After hearing this news I simply smiled and proudly put my wet suit on.
To complete a full iron distance race is probably one of the most rewarding individual athletic accomplishments that there is. A reward that offers a state of being so powerful which words cannot describe, it changes everything. It changes the way you think feel and look at life. It allows you to see the good in people and the positive aspects of life when a lot of what surrounds us is the bad and the negative. There are so many good people in this world, unfortunately our attention is sometimes drawn to those who hurt others or have negative attitudes. Everyone who crosses that finish line has a more noteworthy story to tell, but those stories will never make the headlines. They should. Completing this task makes you realize that if you want to, and if you choose to, you can do anything. Where there is a will, you will find the way. If for some reason or in most cases multiple reasons you did not find your way to the finish line, I can’t imagine the cascade of emotions that must occur and it causes me to think of a quote from Coach Donna McMahon’s Retroverse, - “a step back must be viewed as an opportunity to spring forward again.”, and also of The V Foundations motto, “Don’t give up… Don’t ever give up”.
Two hours worth of time on race day morning goes by like minutes. From last bike check to inflating tires, body marking, special needs bags, and of course the line for “nature calling” As we stood in line with our teammates we watched as the pro athletes took off at 6:50am. There was not much time to think about anything now. We headed under the Start archway and quickly into the water to begin the 2.4 mile swim. Last second high fives and a kiss from Jen, and before we knew it, the sound of the canon blast echoed across Mirror Lake. In May, just a couple of months back, we had attended the Fireman Ironman training camp so we became somewhat familiar with the bike and run courses. The bike had an initial and deceiving first climb followed by screamer, a 7 mile rapid descent. Then there was a relatively flat alley way to Route 9 N. The course continued into a steady upgrade on Route 9 towards Jay, up further through Jay into a 5.6 mile out and back towards Ausable Forks. A right turn onto 86 took you into a series of hills towards Wilmington. There was the short out and back on Haselton Road, followed by the challenging switch backs of 86 leading up to the “Three Bears” and finishing back at the Olympic Village. The loop was 56 miles. After finishing the first loop, you circled the outer perimeter of the oval and headed back out again, another 56 miles totaling 112 miles.
The run course is 13.1 miles, out and back and also done twice totaling 26.2 miles. I found myself thinking a little different about completing my second Iron distance race, especially during the run. I knew I had to go from the Olympic village oval down a significant drop in altitude to the depths of River Road and back, and then do it a second time, so I found myself visualizing where I had to go as opposed to what mile marker I was actually at.
Team Runner's Edge was well represented and along with Long Island Tri Coach athletes, we stood almost forty strong. The support from our team was amazing. As I was running along River Road, I waved across at an oncoming teammate. The guy running next to me said, "…Hey who are you guys? There sure are a lot of you ! Did you come up here in a bus or something?..." At the moment my body was hurting, but I managed to muster up a grin and proudly say that we were Team Runner's Edge.
I think one comment from this race I will always remember was from Jose Lopez at our Team prayer prior to the start of the swim. And to paraphrase he said “…when you are out there give love and you will get it back in return”. Those words rang so true because the support from the general volunteers and the Runner's Edge team was amazing. The last hill of the bike course is called Papa Bear. On the first loop, I felt as if I was in the Tour de France climbing Alp d’Huez, because the road was packed with spectators on both sides and there was colored chalk writing all over the road, and cow bells were ringing all around us. For most of the run course there were people cheering us on, people you didn't even know. They didn’t know you but would do anything to help because they could see in your eyes how important it was for you to finish.
My legs ached so much as I picked up my pace in the last mile. My adrenaline level was soaring as I passed the Runner’s edge tent on Mirror Lake Drive. I was so focused at that moment that I almost ran past Jen without even noticing she was there. She shouted out to me “Go Tony”. Running into the oval at the finish, a place beaming with Olympic history where so many athletes made an impact in the 1980 Olympics was a surreal experience. As I entered the oval I made my traditional sprint to the finish. For less than a minute I experienced a state of “flow” where my mind and body worked together effortlessly leaving me with a feeling as I crossed the finish line that something special had just occurred. A moment in time I will always remember.
I wish to thank all of my Runner's Edge mates both on and off the course. I would like to thank my step-son Frank Pitti, who spent the entire day watching the event and waiting to see us. If you know Frankie he has the true Ironman spirit. Most importantly I want to thank my wife and soul mate Jen, for without her I would not have completed this journey.
We finished this time in Lake Placid with friends who all judged each other not by the times on the results page but by the joy of the journey we all shared.
Shortly before his death Jimmy Valvano spoke at the ESPY awards in March of 1993. One particularly poignant section of Valvano’s speech is as follows:
“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special”.
Completing an Ironman race is one heck of a day!
It is something special and it changes everything.

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