November 30, 2018
Once upon a time, not so long ago, Todd did the craziest thing ever. On Sunday of last week, after fifteen months of training, he swam for 2.4 miles, biked for 112 miles, and ran for 26.2 miles, and at 10:02 p.m. — after over fourteen hours of constant exertion — he crossed the finish line amid exuberant cheers and he heard those coveted words over the loudspeaker: “Todd Watson, you are an IRONMAN!!” And then he laid down in the grass and refused to eat and all our friends thought maybe he was dying, but then he did get up and he did eat and he didn’t die and here we are a week and a half later looking back on it and it still seems just as crazy. Todd shared about the experience in his own post, but if you’re interested in hearing about it from a spectator’s point of view, here are my top ten takeaways:
1) Todd is, without a doubt, the coolest IRONMAN ever. The whole thing sucks (don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise), but every time we saw him he had smiles and high fives and hugs for all of us. During the bike he wore a skeleton shirt his mom gave him. During the run he wore a shirt boasting a sloth-riding-a-t-rex-shooting-lasers-out-of-its-eyes (in space), and we all wore sweatshirts to match. Many IRONMEN take themselves very seriously (and for good reason!), but Todd chose to have fun even when things were very very un-fun.
2) Speaking of very very un-fun, we saw many swimmers getting pulled from the frigid water. Some simply couldn’t go on and had to be brought to shore by waiting boats, others became hypothermic and had to be legit rescued. It was awful. We saw athletes coming in just past their time cut-offs along the way, thus being disqualified, which is a disappointment almost too hard to bear. We saw people fall down. We saw people crying. Todd saw a terrible bike crash involving three cyclists right in front of him, a crash that probably took all three athletes out. Did I mention that this race sucks? It does. It’s hard and it’s horrible (and inspiring!), and Todd and the 2,200 other athletes who finished didn’t just have to overcome physical hurdles but psychological ones as well.
3) I will never be an IRONMAN.
4) Todd and I often encourage our boys to Do Hard Things, and Todd just spent the last fifteen months showing them how to do exactly that with perseverance, joy, and integrity. Right now they may shrug and tell you that their dad did this crazy, impressive thing, but I know that his example impressed important lessons on their hearts — to keep going even when things are difficult, to persevere when they want to give up, to set their sights on something higher than the everyday things they’re used to. He showed them how to be thankful for the bodies God has given them, and then how to push those bodies towards health and strength. He showed them how to prioritize their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being over simple comforts. He showed them how to make empowered choices rather than being victims of circumstance. He showed them how to acknowledge weakness and then how to work hard to overcome weakness where possible.
In any case, if the boys complain about doing their chores now I can just say “You know, your father did an IRONMAN…”
5) My friend Jen was keeping track of how much we walked that day, and it totaled 10 miles. We got up at 5 a.m. and went to bed at 1 a.m. We kept a horde of children entertained and fed for many, many hours. IRONMAN spectating is its own sport.
6) Speaking of which, we had more than 30 people show up to cheer Todd on that day, and I feel overwhelmed with gratitude every time I think about that. They sacrificed a lot to be there, and they did it joyfully, and I know that it made a huge impact on Todd’s morale. (Mine too.)
7) Another person who made a huge impact on Todd’s morale was his coach Gabe, who encouraged him not just physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well. If any of you out there are ever crazy enough to think you might do an IRONMAN, don’t do it without a coach. In fact, don’t do it without THIS coach.
8) Tempe is a pretty great place to be a spectator at an IRONMAN. The weather is (mostly) lovely, and Mill Avenue is just a hop, skip, and leap away. This means that both food and Starbucks are easily accessible, which doesn’t help the IRONMEN, but it sure keeps their support crews happy.
9) I may never be an IRONMAN, but I am super inspired by Todd’s example, and by the way his training shaped not just his body but his mind and his character as well. He often told people that the thing that appealed to him most about the IRONMAN wasn’t the physical challenge but the mental one. He knew how hard the mental game would be, and so he spent those fifteen months exercising not just his muscles but his mind as well, training himself to push through pain and to keep going when he felt he had to give up. He also listened to over 70 books during those months of training, just to make doubly sure that he was sharpening his mind and using the time well. He came out of this thing not just stronger but wiser, smarter, and even kinder too. I may think an IRONMAN is a crazy thing, but I love the things I saw God develop in Todd through the IRONMAN.
10) My overwhelming feeling after the IRONMAN is one of gratitude — for Todd, for his example, for the health God granted him, and for the friends and family who loved and supported us so well. That race is a terrible, impressive, beautiful, refining thing, and I’m thankful for the whole crazy experience.
Now let’s please never do it again.