Matthew and Getting Medieval — Starting with the End
Sunday morning I was with the tribe, sitting in the balcony at St. Mary’s, trying both to focus on mass and to keep them focused. Since the tribe favors the front row of the balcony, I was also doing my best to mask involuntary grimaces as my body adjusted to the aftermath of a race. Going to mass after an Ironman was pretty hard — first were the stairs, then the sitting, standing, kneeling, wooden pews, more stairs to take Tobias to the bathroom, more kneeling. I’m sure you get the picture. Not quite a Medieval torture chamber, but it was seriously uncomfortable.
Josephine’s homework assignment was to write down a few lines explaining the priest’s homily and draw a picture. I could tell she was getting frustrated as he worked his way through the readings and tied them back to our lives, our behaviors and our own attitudes about living well. One of the readings, from Matthew, was about the vineyard owner who paid the same wage to workers who worked a full day as he did to workers who came late in the afternoon. He admonished the grumbling laborers that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.
Which brings me to the Ironman Maryland race report. It will come in phases. I don’t have the time to document everything in one go, and frankly, for this report it is best that we start with the end of the story.
Patrick and I had traveled together to the Eastern Shore. He drove, he took care of the hotel, he knew where to park. All in all, a great deal for me.
Patrick has a fancy new SUV. It is diesel and turbo and probably environmentally friendly in ten ways that I don’t know. He also has a fancy bike rack which we put to good use after racing, after eating and changing clothes, and after visiting with friends who were responsible for the aid station at the top of the only hill on the run course less than a mile from the finish line. As we drove through the night rehashing the day, he made a stray comment about a bump we had just hit. Less than a minute later he asked if my bike was still on the back of the car. In alarm and in no mood for jokes, I looked through the back window and was immediately sickened. Silhouetted through the window was clearly one set of aero bars, the top of one wheel and one saddle. My bike was missing. He immediately looked for a place to pull over on the left, found his way across several lanes of traffic and pulled onto the shoulder on the right a few hundred meters from the beginning of the Bay Bridge.
I jumped out ran to the back and to my shock and total confusion, there was a bike. It was in the wrong position and looked wrecked, but there was a bike. We had clamped down the front wheel very aggressively — which probably saved the bike from total loss. However, we had not tied down the back wheel due to the wheel cover that I used. Instead, the bike simple sat in the tray — same as it had done on the trip to the race Friday morning. There in the windy night chill, I stood in the headlights of ongoing traffic on Route 50 and could see why the bike was not visible through the window — the entire back half had lifted up out of the rack, twisted at the steering tube which was still, like the front tire, perpendicular to the direction of the car, and then laid down on the pavement with the rubber of the back tire resting in the road and the entire frame clear of the concrete.
We couldn’t find any broken bits, the tire was still inflated, the scratches on the crank arm, pedal and spindle may or may not be new. As a result, I stuffed my stomach back down into proper position from where it had come to rest at the back of my throat, we reaffixed the bike, each went pee and were off, once again headed home. Patrick theorized that once the back of the bike went clear of the rack from the bump, the wheel cover acted like a sail and the bike probably “flew” behind the car a foot or two off of the ground not touching until he slowed.
In the moment — the whole episode was probably less than ten minutes long although it involved at least several months worth of colorful explicatives from the two of us — I was sure that I had just finished my last triathlon. I would not be able to replace the bike. I was, as the Biblical folks like to say, despairing.
In retrospect, I’m reminded of how powerful it is to witness someone achieving outrageous goals. Ironman races are full of stories. Some are chronicled on the back of a jersey or written in chalk in the middle of the road. A disease beaten. A loved one lost. A cause advanced. An addiction faced. All of them are carried in our hearts and to the extent you catch a glimpse of someone’s story, that you share or do just a little to make it more likely to have a happy ending, your own experience is enhanced. For some people getting on the course is winning. For others, it is finishing. For a few, victory is found on a podium but even those people have special stories. Whether they earn the victory through a 17 hour day on the course or in less than nine hours, in the end it there is no variance in what is worthy.
When I went charging down the last mile, when my pace miraculously increased. I gave thanks for my friends and teammates at the aid station. I pictured each of my children. I could hear — more clearly than the loudspeaker — Dana’s voice. I was bone tired and no longer anywhere near first in the race, but I would not be last because I was living my story, my own personal victory. Like Josephine came to realize about the homily the following day, there is always another chance to do good things, to be kind, to live the life meant for you full of happiness through grace.
And so as I took my last stride to the finish line, I bent down, planted both hands squarely at shoulder width and tumbled over. What better way to share joy that to summersault like a child. It worked. Dana tells me that on the live feed you can clearly see one of the volunteer catchers start laughing at my inelegant gymnastics.
Next post: Ironman Maryland Swim where I went slower than expected, felt good, won my age-group and finished seventh overall.