One year ago today, I arrived in Tempe, Arizona, scared and excited to reach a yearlong quest to become an Ironman. My feelings then are still so vivid now. The unabashed pride entering the Athlete Registration tent and Body Marking tent. I never wanted that paint to wear off my arms and legs. I remember how I knew I belonged in that tent and there was no place else on the planet I'd rather be in that moment.
I'm going back to that moment this weekend though. Except I'll be a volunteer and not a participant at Ironman Arizona. (I'll be at Bike Special Needs Area 2, so say hi as you ride by!)
I have mixed feelings about traveling to Tempe this weekend. I'm ashamed to admit them though. While I can't wait to watch my friends cross the finish line and realize their dreams, I wish I could go back in time and recapture my own moment from last year. Even though I didn't quite hit the time I wanted, finishing the event was the single greatest physical achievement of my life. The sensations I experienced at Ironman Coeur d'Alene seven months later didn't come close, even though I had a fantastic time there as well. Everything in Idaho just felt expected (except losing my watch during the swim!), like it was so "been there, done that" even after just one Ironman. The excitement was there, just not the flat-out giddyness that one can only achieve as a first-timer.
So, the more I think about IMAZ 2011, the more I miss 2010.
Over the course of 12 hours last November, the ground in Tempe became sacred to me. A place where something special happened. I stepped into the unknown of personal willpower and pain, defying my own expectations and persevering on a day fraught with terrible weather. Now, as I return to such a special place, I'll be cheering on my friends and hoping they reach their own goals. Secretly (or not so secretly now) jealous that they'll likely encounter none of the weather issues my friends and I endured and thus more likely to achieve their race goals. I can't help but wonder given my training last year, how well could I have done with near perfect conditions?
Yet when I type those last two sentences above, it doesn't sit well with me. It's not quite accurate. Upon further reflection, here's the real issue: Time marches on. What once was MY MOMENT a year ago simply is last year's race. There's another race happening in Tempe in just a couple days. My accomplishment remains embedded in my mind, but it is long gone in terms of months passed.
So far it feels like being a graduating senior in high school one year and then going back the next year to visit campus, only to realize you're simply last year's news.
Now I know how a retired pro athlete must feel after walking away from the spotlight -- only on a MUCH smaller scale.
Nothing would make me happier than if I could pack my gear tonight, drive to Tempe tomorrow, register for the race, and try again on Sunday. Am I trying to recapture lost glory? Yeah, a little. Do I think I could do better even with less training? Call me crazy, but yeah. I'm a better, smarter triathlete now, as I should be. But none of that matters. I realize I have to "let go" of IMAZ 2010 and remember that while nobody can take that moment in time away from me, that first-timer Ironman experience can never be recaptured again.
In the end analysis though, the true victory is being able to say I'm an Ironman at all. The achievement itself will live forever. Just like a pro athlete's legacy lives on long after he or she leaves the sport. The record books log all the players who ever played the game, no matter how prolific their careers. It's official no matter what.
My friends' achievements will live forever as they triumphantly run down Rio Salado waiting for Mike Reilly to call them an Ironman for the first time. I will be right there for them in the finisher's chute.
I hope they forgive me though if I get a little emotional at the end. Those tears will be for them, and for me.
See, I left a part of my soul on that course. Soon, they will too.