Shacking Up with a Stranger 48 Hours Before an Ironman

Shacking Up with a Stranger 48 Hours Before an Ironman 
by Team Member: Lindsay Dibona

They say you shouldn’t do anything new on race week…

My coach made a last minute request: would I want to share my hotel room?  My roommate would be a good friend of hers, a former pro making last minute preparations to cheer on his coached athletes.

I spent months worried that I wouldn’t actually be able to put my bike together and up until now always ventured to races solo.  Child care was hard enough to secure from family and close friends.  I hadn’t dared ask for a sherpa, too.  But, this seemed like a reasonable, symbiotic solution—he’d have a place to sleep, and I’d actually have a bike that was put together correctly and someone to give that darn after-race bike tag too (I had a seared memory of walking my bike a mile from the Lake Placid med tent back to my hotel).

If long-distance triathlons are all about choices, I decided to embrace this opportunity.  And, like most race-time decisions, I used what little info I had and hoped for the best: he wasn’t a murderer, and he might even have helpful course intel.  What could possibly go awry (said no one before an Ironman)? 

My sacred, post-divorce triathlon bike was quickly assembled, though admittedly required help from my built-in bike mechanic.  Shake-out workouts were completed, and grocery store trips were made (of note for future IM Texas racers: HEB is a grocery chain with everything you need and something you don't--bored Woodland Cops threatening to ticket spandex-donning parkers making a b-line for the transition area).  Salty snacks and carb-dense meals were eaten.  Sports drinks were concocted and consumed in abundance as the predicted heat index seemed to increase by the hour and the foreboding flagpole outside our window shook in the wind.

The thing about the two days before an Ironman is that they demand you do, basically, nothing.  A single mom working 6 days a week while training for triathlons, I hadn’t had that kind of prerogative in a very long time.  I hadn’t shared a hotel room with a hot man in a very long time either.  

Mostly, besides emails and some online coaching on his part, we binged terrible reality television.  We critiqued dysfunctional love stories about face tattoos and controlling sperm donors and debated the injustices of incarcerating traumatized juveniles as adults.  The storylines of these real people revealed desperate desires for both connection and self-protection.  These freaks were my people--fellow amateurs just longing to be loved while also being deathly afraid to be truly known. 

I learned more about my roommate's heartbreak and what sounded like his reluctant decision to get divorced from a woman he might still love and was certainly connected to.  We talked about our very different lives—single mom and age-grouper compared to nomadic pro-triathlete transitioning into the elite trail running scene.  He tolerated my folky music and belted out a few sad 80s love ballads which cracked me up when race nerves got the best of me.  It felt kind of like a very weird, never-ending first date.  He was supportive, kind, and made me feel cared about.  He had interesting tattoos, a depth about him, and looked way too tempting without his shirt. 

At 3:30 am on race-day morning, the original mission of this trip became clear.  This crush, which was becoming obvious to me, was not going to get me through the day’s menu: 140.6 miles in the heat, humidity, and windy concrete jungle of the Woodlands.  I had trained for this monstrous thing getting up well before sunrise for months, spending hours logging stand-still miles in my basement while my little boy slept, making countless wintery trips to our local YMCA.  Now, it was time to do what I set out to do, on my own.

There is this thing that happens to me on the race course. I become the very best version of myself, and, for a moment (or just under 10 hours of strung together moments), I don't hide—not at all:

I was unafraid of thrashing my way through a gross canal of age-group men. I did not sink into despair when I couldn’t find my T1 bag.  I shouted for assistance with assertiveness and kindness quickly came my way.  I did not cower against the head winds of the Hardy highway.  I tucked myself in and believed in the quads I had built in that cold New England basement.  I allowed the tail wind to bring me unabashed joy that a second loop would not take away.  I was not daunted by drafters or draftees.  That was their life, and this was mine.  And, I knew the difference.  I fueled my strong body and loved it, for once.  I put on my running shoes and set out to conquer the marathon gauntlet.  I took care of cooling myself at every aid station.  I checked my pace with authority and not fear.  This was a race of steadiness.  I was built for this.  I smiled for well over a hundred of these self-propelled miles.  I hit that damn drum in the cheering section known as Hippie Hollow every single lap.  I danced while still striding forward.  I did not give up as my hands went numb in the final electrolyte-depleted miles.  I reached the end.  It was good enough for a top five amongst the everyday women.

My crush greeted me at the finish line.  Covered in gels, gatorade, salt, spit, and exhaustion, he gave me a hug and shoved a banana and slice of pizza in my face.  “Replenish,” he said.  I was utterly gross, proud, and delirious, no doubt, and also just me.  

Later that night, chaffed all over and finally not nauseous (the sexiest of combos), I had hoped he might want to kiss me.  Though, when I gently inquired, he said I was the kind of person he was looking for...which we both knew meant I was not the person he wanted to actually kiss. 

I cried at the airport after he dropped me off the next morning.  I was alone again.  I waddled with my borrowed bike bag in tow amongst the other survivors heading home that day.  We nodded at one another in our finishing shirts and knew that sometimes regular people can do extraordinary things.  

Somehow, I felt different boarding my flight—to my son, to my cherished pain cave, to my favorite people on the sandy peninsula I call home.  It turns out that when you shack up with a stranger before an Ironman, you may get rejected (exhibit A), but you may find that you actually can love your very real, flawed self more than he, and every guy that came before him, did.  And, maybe, most of all, you come away knowing that a hard-fought PB is yours to keep forever.  

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