Stripping mid-stride is no small feat after 140.something miles, and it kept my mind occupied long enough to totally miss the bleachers flanking the home-stretch I was about to turn onto. Successfully dislodging myself from the long sleeved disqualification trap (note: nothing would have happened except me looking harder for my finisher photos, piece of shit volunteer) I round the last turn.
I've been taken aback by a crowd only once before, my very last collegiate swimming event. The 4 x 100 freestyle relay my senior year at Patriot League Championships at Navy. It is the last event of the last day, and often the final places of most of the 8 teams hinges on the outcome. The spectators sit above the pool deck at both ends, and every swimmer and diver and coach line the sides of the pool, and the resulting noise is deafening and oh-so-beautiful. The last race of my college career and the culmination of 15 years of competitive swimming surrounded by teammates and family members and coaches and strangers and opponents all screaming their brains out took me a second to adjust to. This felt greater than that.
You round the last turn onto a flood-lit stretch of 50 yards or so flanked by hundreds of wildly enthusiastic supporters, who don't care who you are, they just care that you are about to be an Ironman. Pain is erased, footsteps don't touch the ground, everything is almost over, and there is only one thought.
I am an Ironman, a year of sacrifice (kinda), structure (sorta), serious work-outs (you betcha), and pain boiled down to One. Final. Step.