The woman who just crossed the line is a flood of tears and sweat, her mouth wide open in a beaming grin. You can see the relief for just a minute before her mind, silenced for the past eight hours, finally takes back over and begins to shut down her tortured muscles. The volunteers catch her, one places a medal over her neck, and she is hustled to the medical tent out the back, away from the frenetic, seizure-inducing, celebratory furor of the finish line.
One man stops and drops to his knees to propose, another woman holds up a sign that announces her pregnancy to her husband, who literally falls off the raised finishing dais in response. One woman screams “I love you” to a man as he crosses the line. He promptly pukes in a potted plant – we all hope she doesn’t take it personally. They don’t share a kiss. Many others do, sweaty, sobbing embraces.
Earlier in the day it had been a little less jubilant. Sure, the winners were greeted heartily by the crowd and their friends, but that was nothing compared to the Subaru Hour of Power. This is the final hour before cut off; everyone who is crossing the line now has done it hard. Some look like they’re in peak physical condition, some look like me after Christmas, but all of them have dragged their protesting bodies through 4 km of swim, 180 km of bike ride and 42 km of run. Why? Insanity, perhaps.
Some, like local hero Lionel Sanders are fighting enormous demons. Sanders was nearly dead just a few years ago. The ravages of drug addiction had whittled his body and his humanity down to a nub. Running is his coping mechanism, his recovery and probably his lifesaver. After a puncture on the bike leg cost him seven minutes, the winner of the Mont Tremblant half-ironman (70.3) had a crack at making up the time early in the run, but only injured himself. He crossed the line in fifth, clearly in physical pain but with the hearts of several thousand supporters with him.
The winners were Jordan Rapp and Mary Beth Ellis, and both were on deck during the Subaru Hour of Power. I quizzed Tod Sullivan, Director of Sponsorship at Subaru Canada, about it. “You pay them to come back for this?”
Nope, they’re there of their own accord.
Ironman is more than a sporting event, it’s a religion. The uppermost echelons of the sport have as much respect for the amateurs battling deep into the night as the amateurs do for the professionals – perhaps even more so. That’s why, says Subaru, the company sponsors the final hour, and not the winning hour. Well, that’s half true. Subaru sponsors the whole deal. From go-to-woah. And Tod Sullivan was there holding the finishing banner when both Jordan and Mary crossed the line.
At first glance, it’s a bit of an odd marketing tie-in.
There’s a Subaru XV Crosstrek parked on the beach in the morning, one wheel in the water as if it wants to join the several hundred competitors as they take off in waves. There are 2,000 people split across nine categories, all taking the 7 am plunge into icy waters, kicking, thrashing, struggling to breathe.
Nutcases, the lot of them. The sort of nutcases who drive up mountain trails with a Thule box and a bike rack bolted to their Subaru, just so they can ride a pushbike down and then up and then down and then up and then into a tree and then home.