I felt much better after my three hour nap. I did worry that next year I won't get that luxury, but I appreciated it this year. I drove down to the site, and was able to park in the nice Airline parking lot right behind the finish line. I met up with T3ers and we watched the last of our people finishing. They had staked out a good spot in the finish chute, and it was cool to watch. Athletes came across the line as Mike Reilly said "So and so, you are an Ironman" and then a catcher volunteer picked them up and escorted them down the line to pick up their medal, finisher T shirt and hat, wrap them in a foil blanket, and then hand them off to their family or friends. It was a really good setup. They had medical volunteers there too to move people to the medical tent if needed.
There was a complete range of emotion in the finishers. Most were ecstatic about finishing- smiling and hugging everyone. Some were crying. Some just thrilled to be done with it. Others were more workman like about it, or maybe they were not as happy about their finish time. A couple of people had trouble right after finishing strong- either cramping, or needing to sit, or feeling dizzy. But the heroic feeling about it was back, and so were the tears.
After the last of the T3ers finished, everyone who had been up since 4 am with me without naps were done and headed back to their hotels. I was ready to complete the night at midnight with the last finishers. My people. I needed to see them finish. I got a sandwich for dinner- being a college town, there were quite a few places still open. I cheered the finishers in the stands for a little while, and then walked up the last half mile with my cowbell and plastic IM branded clapper. These are really useful, because your hands get tired, and you lose your voice if you keep yelling. But the cowbell and clapper make a lot of noise with minimal effort.
And it was so amazing, that most of the athletes finishing at the 10pm and after time frame are just as excited for you to be cheering them as you are to be cheering. I got a lot of thank yous and comments when I walked out to a quieter section about a half mile from the finish. At that point, they know they will finish and finish in time. But the same heroic feeling is still there, maybe even more so in the dark, quiet sections.
I didn't come home with the right picture, the one I have in my mind of the turn into the finish chute. And maybe that's for the best. The one I have in my head is much more vivid than a photograph. And as it got closer to midnight, the crowd at the finish line surged and got louder. The signs for sponsors lining the gates make a loud noise when the spectators bang on them, plus the music, and Mike Reilly working the crowd. It was electric. And the finishers were coming across individually, rather than in packs like it was for the 12-14 hour finishers. So each athlete got their own spotlight coming down.
Some were so focused on the finish line, they did not stop to acknowledge the spectators. The ones that slowed, raised their arms, pumped their fists, and slapped hands got a much bigger reaction. And really, if it's not yet midnight, time doesn't matter. It's much better to stop and savor the moment. And I was crying with each one of them as they were coming down the finish chute.
I was in particular looking for the larger women, thinking "that could be me next year." And there were more than a couple slightly overweight women that were making it to the finish line of an Ironman. Some older men, one of whom Mike Reilly said: "here's a leaner coming down the line, let's cheer the leaner on home!" And then some ideal weight people too. At this point, you have to be a slow plodder like I will be, or have had a medical or mechanical issue to be finishing at 11:30. But they were finishing. The tears were just a constant thing at this point. But it was so overwhelming and amazing, I couldn't turn away.
One really cool thing was that Jordan Rapp, the men's winner, and Samantha McGlone, the women's winner, both came back at about 11:30 to hand out medals to the last finishers. I'm sure they showered and napped and ate first, but for them to come down and cheer on the last athletes is really cool.
As the time clicked down, the crowd got more urgent. They had 2399 finishers, out of about 2450 starters, which is the most in Ironman history. The perfect weather and flat course probably really helped with them. One woman came down the finish chute with about 5 minutes to go and slowed to a walk at the first timing mat that flashes your name on the computer for Mike Reilly's assistant to read out. Mike Reilly himself was down in the finish chute jazzing up the crowd. So when she stopped before the real finish line, the whole crowd jumped up and said "no, keep going" and really scared her. But she jumped and started running again and finished.
The last finisher, number 2399 for the day, came across with about 3 minutes to spare, and that was it. We all counted down the last 10 seconds, waiting to see if there was anyone else coming, but I think the handlers and volunteers keep pretty close tabs on the last finishers to get them across in time, or they are way far back. I heard of at least one woman that finished at 17:30, but I had already left. By 12:05 pm, most of the crowd was out of the stands, and the event staff were already started the tear down process.
In a word, spectacular. I want it to stay fresh in my mind, and I am excited to get back there next year as a finisher.
Next up: sign up day...