This was a typical conversation with my wife over the summer:
Me: “I have to go for another long bike ride on Saturday.”
Her: “Of course you do. How long?”
Me: “My coach wants me to do 100 miles again.”
Her: “That’s just plain stupid. So, how many hours will it take you?”
Me: “Five and a half, maybe? We’ll probably stop a couple times for water and bathroom breaks, though, so it could be six. And then I have to run 7 miles.”
Her: “Great! I want a divorce.”
It all started last September, when I forked over $689 – enough to feed a village in a third-world country for at least a month – for the privilege of participating in my first Ironman triathlon.
An Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run; simple math will reveal a total of 140.6 miles. It’s a distance most people never want to cover in anything but a motor vehicle. A distance that has a high likelihood of causing temporary pain, a medium likelihood of causing temporary insanity, and a small likelihood of causing permanent injury or death.
I will start on a riverbank in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Sunday morning, around the time you’re having breakfast. I will finish (hopefully) in the city’s downtown area on Sunday evening, long after you’ve filed your dinner plates in the dishwasher.
But the race itself is the easy part, I’m told. It’s a victory lap!
A celebration of months of rigorous training. Of going to bed earlier than my parents and waking up before the Dunkin Donuts guy; of days spent hitting the pool for a pre-dawn swim, squeezing in a 99-degree run at lunch, dodging texting drivers on my bike after work; and of regarding immediate family members as vaguely familiar strangers.
I mean, who’s got time for family when you’re training to finish 648th in a race that basically serves no purpose except to feed a middle-aged ego?
Me: “Remember, I’m swimming across Lake Norman tomorrow and then riding to Greensboro and back.”
Her: “I guess we’ll see you for dinner.”
Me: “What are we having?”
Her: “I was thinking of roasting a whole pig.”
Me: “Oh. Just one?”
That’s another thing about all of this: If you spend 15 to 20 hours a week torching calories, you tend to get a little hungry.
Most of the time, I would drive to meet training partners on the weekends, so after particularly long workouts, I’d stop on the way home for a big stack of pancakes. Then I’d go a few more blocks before pulling over again for a double cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake. Then I’d walk in the front door and make spaghetti.
On weeknights, I developed this habit of wolfing down my meal, poaching parts of our daughter’s, then announcing, “That was great. What’s for dinner?” No one else ever seemed to enjoy the joke.
They also failed to see the humor in things like my car always smelling like a locker room, or our dining room always looking like a bike shop, or the kitchen sink always serving as a dumping ground for large quantities of dirty squeeze water bottles.
But someday, I keep telling them, we’ll all look back on this and laugh.
We’ll snicker about the time my wedding band slipped off my finger during an open-water swim and sank to the bottom of Lake Norman. We’ll chuckle about the day I almost broke my neck when I hit a loose dog that ran in front of me on a ride through Gaston County, causing me to take a painful dive onto a ragged patch of asphalt.
And we’ll roar as we recall the instance in which I capped off a hard run by accidentally leaving a $400 GPS watch at the Dowd YMCA, never to be seen again.
I can picture it now. We’re in a romantic restaurant, celebrating an anniversary. We lock eyes.
Me: “So, I’ve been thinking about Australia.”
Her (gasping): “You’re kidding. That would be amazing! When?”
Me: “Well ... in May. There’s an Ironman there next May.”
She will laugh. I promise you. She will laugh.