Dealing With Your LOOPIE


by Lee Gruenfeld

You know how you think you know someone and then something happens to that person – a lethal disease, bankruptcy, a Nobel Prize, or you play a round of golf with him for the first time -- and only then you discover to your horror what that person is really like?

It’s much the same when that person becomes a LOOPIE (Loved One Out to Participate in an Ironman Event). Ironman has an interesting set of effects on people who do it: They become dedicated, intensely focused and driven, they look deep inside and find out what they’re truly made of, they reach for the stars and discover levels of existence that they only suspected before…

And they completely lose any connection with reality as their brains turn into total mush.

Based on my long experience at dealing with any number of LOOPIEs, and one total whack job in particular, trust me when I tell you that the best thing for you to do is a 180 and run away as fast and as far as you possibly can. An alternative is to simply kill yourself. I’m still undecided on which is preferable.

Unfortunately, advice like that is about as effective as telling your kids they should floss. Later in life they’ll realize that you’re right, but right now they’ll assume you’re over-dramatizing and ignore you until it’s too late (i.e., about the time they start giving the same advice to their own kids). In your case, you’re going to think, “Hey, I get to go to Hawai’i so how bad could it be?” This, of course, ranks right up there with such famous last words as “Doesn’t look like a very big iceberg” or  “Hold my beer and watch this” or “I wonder what happens when I pull this little pin out…”

Therefore, knowing that you’re not likely to run away or kill yourself when you’re suddenly confronted with a LOOPIE in the household, I’ll do the next best thing and tell you how to cope with one after it’s too late.

1- Get a second job. By the time you get to Kona, you’re going to wish you’d invested with Bernie Madoff because it would have been a quicker and much less painful way to go broke. My wife’s bike cost more than my first car. Or my second or third, and the tires cost more than the ones on the car I have now. I mentally banked on having to pony up for a trip to Hawai’i, which was fine, but what I didn’t anticipate was something called…

2- Qualifying. This one is kind of hard to explain, but it turns out that you actually have to fight for the privilege of driving yourself to the brink of brain damage on the Big Island. The way you qualify is to compete in races that you think you can win. Unless you’re Mark Allen or Paula Newby Fraser or a top age grouper, races you can win are typically not in places that are close to you. They’re in places like Port Macquarie, Klagenfurt, Pembrokeshire and Busselton. I swear to God, I don’t even know what continent those places are on, but what I do know is that it’s going to take three flights, two days and enough money to bail out Detroit to get there.

3- Your LOOPIE is going to become clinically deranged. Ironman athletes tend to reside on the higher end of socioeconomic, intelligence and educational scales but, like golfers and body builders, they become utterly irrational when it comes to finding an edge. Smart people who won’t even believe that a park bench has just been painted unless they touch it will now believe the most ludicrous claims imaginable if they’re printed in a triathlon magazine. Hundreds of snake oil hucksters know that your LOOPIE will buy unpronounceable but absurdly expensive chemicals and magnetic doodads justified solely on the premise that “It can’t hurt and it might work, right?” So what do you do when confronted with these challenges to your cherished world view, not to mention the invoices? Simple: Fight the urge to choke the living crap out of the vendors and treat the situation like you would a nuisance lawsuit, by just paying the bills and moving on with your life. You can’t win the argument so why invite the stress?

4- Learn everything you can about the sport. This is what psychologists call a “coping mechanism.” Where you and your loved one used to talk about the Middle East, global warming, and the pros and cons of supply-side economics, you’re now going to be hotly debating Shimano vs. Campy, whether it’s fair for ex-pros to race as age groupers, and which brand of juicer you should buy. (Note that the question is not if you’re going to buy a juicer.) If you don’t read every tri publication cover to cover as soon as it arrives and spend at least two hours a day doing Google searches on “ironman latest newest recent today,” you’re going to end up feeling like a janitor who accidentally wandered into a symposium on quantum mechanics. Here’s a little test to see how you’re doing: “Q: What’s better on the St. Croix Beast, a 27-12 or a 29-9?” (The answer doesn’t matter. What matters is whether you understand the question.)

5- Going to Hawai’i to support your loved one and thinking it’s going to be fun is like going to Everest to be a Sherpa and thinking you’re going to get a little skiing in. You’d be a lot better off if Ironman was in Syria, because at least then you wouldn’t feel bad that you missed out on some great sightseeing. Think of Cinderella sweeping out the fireplace while her sisters are getting dressed for the ball, except there’s no fairy godmother or Prince Charming. Your job in Kona is to see to it that your LOOPIE has the experience of his or her lifetime, and your LOOPIE’s expectation is that making sure that happens will be the experience of your lifetime. That nobody ever asked you if you thought this was a good plan is not a factor in the “If you really love me…” equation.

6- Your sex life will be affected. Here’s another little quiz: Your loved one gets up at 4:00 am, drives for an hour down a snow-covered mountain road to get in a two-hour swim, hops on a bike for eighty miles, then tops it off with a ten-mile run before driving back up the mountain just as the sun is going down. Q: What’s on her mind right now?

a- Cooking dinner.

b- Going bowling.

c- Nooky.

d- A hot bath.

Here’s a hint: I never got past “Am I only supposed to pick one?” before I was nearly decapitated by a bicycle pump.

7- Remember how you used to like restaurants? Well, it’s over. Think “When Harry Met Sally” meets “Godzilla.” Waiters in and around Ironman venues have been known to check into mental rehab clinics the week after the event. Remember how your man used to look forward to his one night out for some steak and fries with the boys and a little poker afterwards? You’re going to look back wistfully on those days now that nearly everything he used to love has been re-categorized as poison on a par with the kind of toxic sludge that emerges from waste treatment plants. “I’ll have a salad” has been replaced by a ten-minute lecture on precisely what should be in it and precisely how much of it and if the waiter isn’t diligently taking notes and asking follow-up questions, be prepared to step back smartly from the blast zone. Your LOOPIE  used to do wine pairings (“a south coast Zin goes nicely with boeuf bourguignon”) but now it’s “What in the name of all that’s…did you just serve sour cream with my baked potato? Where did you go to waiter school, Abu Ghraib? Get me some ****ing flax seed oil and if they don’t have it in the kitchen go down the street and buy some!”

8- And, finally: “I just want to do one and then I’ll be satisfied.” I know what you’re thinking: I can put up with anything as long as I know there’s a finite time frame. I don’t often quote Attila the Hun, but “Just let me have the Balkans and I’ll go away” kind of popped into my head. My wife, who is far and away the loopiest LOOPIE in this galactic quadrant, once told me that she wanted to take off a year to try an Ironman and then she’d go back to work. For some reason comprehensible not even to Talmudic scholars, I believed her. Twenty years and forty trips to Hawai’i later (I’m counting 70.3s in there), it’s starting to dawn on me that maybe my enthusiastic acquiescence was a tad hasty.

Have I mentioned my second job yet?

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