After I crossed the finish line, I was immediately greeted by a small army of race volunteers. A finisher’s medal was placed around my neck and someone asked, “Are you okay?” My answer would determine where I would end up: on a stretcher in the medical tent or a seat in the recovery tent. I said I was fine. They draped a towel over my shoulders and then a young man grabbed my arm and led me to the recovery tent. I took a seat at a table and the volunteer asked if I wanted some pizza. “Sure," I mumbled. In truth, I didn’t know what I wanted. The young man returned with a slice of cold pizza. I took one bite and thought I would vomit.
I was feeling nauseous. I looked over at the port-a-potties and thought maybe I should just throw up and get it over with. But that would involve walking and I didn’t have the energy for that. I pulled the towel tight around my body and laid my head on the table. I slipped into a slumber that wasn’t quite sleep and wasn’t quite awake. After about 20 minutes I recognized the voice of my friend Heather who had just finished, “Nathan, are you okay?” I opened my eyes and looked at her. “Let’s get our picture taken.” She suggested. I stood up, put a smile on my face and got my finisher photo.
My legs were incredibly sore. Movement was slow and deliberate, but I was feeling better. The nausea had dissipated. I made my way out of the recovery tent and found my support crew at Endurance Sports Travel. I dropped off my gear and picked up a bag of clean, dry, warm clothes. I changed and resurrected, a new man. I connected with my other friends from the Disney Triathlon team. We did a roll-call: who’s in and who’s still out on the course? Where did you last see them? How did they look?
Local restaurants were serving meals to athletes, so we took a table at a Mexican/Italian restaurant and waited for a couple of friends to finish. I ordered the lasagna. When my food came, I ate about a third of the dish and couldn’t eat anymore. When you burn close to 10,000 calories on a liquid diet, the body is not ready to accept a heavy meal.
Three stairs led down to the dining area. When we finished eating, I hobbled over to the stairs and paused. Climbing three stairs or summiting Mount Everest, it was all the same to my weary legs. The hostess took pity on me and offered her hand. I took it and she helped up the stairs. I would have married her on the spot. That was the kindest thing anyone could have done for me at that moment.
Once everyone in our crew was accounted for, we loaded into a van and headed back to the resort. I took a hot shower and let the ocean, the grime, and the sweat wash off my body. I crawled into bed just before midnight. I was so tired I thought I would sleep for the next 15 hours.
I woke up at 3 am with a hunger so ravenous it was borderline painful. I found a Cliff Bar and consumed it in two bites. I woke up again 3 hours later with the same ferocious appetite. Breakfast was served at 7 am. I was up and waiting outside the dining room at 6:45 am. I wasn’t alone. The caloric deprivation of the all-day race makes the body crave fuel. There was a small crowd of athletes waiting for the doors to open. Food was more important than sleep.
I spent the next three days on the island moving from one beach chair to the next. My friends and I went out for dinner each night; we swapped stories and sang karaoke. After nine months of being focused, it was nice to finally allow myself to be unfocused.
It’s been three years and one month since I crossed the finish line. It’s only now that I have distance from the training, from the race, from the lifestyle of Ironman that I see how important that day was to me.
I’ve been in LA for eleven years. Like so many, I arrived with a head full of dreams and ideas for what I wanted my life to be. After a decade of NOs, I learned that a portion of my aspiration was dependent on other people’s YESes. Every artist in LA faces this struggle. As the years marched on the assault of the NOs takes a toll. You begin to take it personally.
Ironman was something I could do that no one could say NO to. I didn’t need anyone’s permission, affirmation, or connection to get my butt out of bed in the morning and train. I didn’t need anyone to discover me or introduce me to the finish line. I could get there myself. It was up to me. My question was: do I have the commitment, endurance, and focus to do something, which for me, was quite extraordinary? Training and finishing the Ironman was my way of telling myself YES.
On the days when I’m discouraged, when the self-doubt whispers bitter denials in my ear, I remember that voice I heard one night years ago. “You are an Ironman.”
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A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES