There's likely no greater compliment Carla DeForest could have given her husband, David, after he completed his first Ironman Triathlon last Saturday.
"Afterward, once he sat down, he was saying to me, 'It was terrible. It was a lot of work. It was agony,'" Carla said. "I thought to myself, 'When have I heard that before? Childbirth.' You think about it. It's agony. Why would anyone have four kids, but you forget about that and think about the positive euphoria and the high."
The DeForests' four kids were members of the 22-member support squad that cheered on David, 48, his brother, John, and lifelong friend, Chris, in their first crack at the mother of all endurance events.
Carla drove home the similarities between the greatest athletic event a woman can achieve.
"He even had 9 months of training," Carla said.
"Well, I had 7˝," David interjected, counting them on both hands.
Maybe he was a touch premature. But David DeForest far surpassed his wildest expectations.
Lucky No. 13
Leading up to the event, David and Carla watched a number of Ironman events online. It was about 6 years ago – just 2 years after he'd started running, period – that David watched his brother complete the Chicago Triathlon.
"There's nothing like the race day experience," David said. "I thought, 'Wow, is that neat.'"
So he signed up for the next Chicago Triathlon, and has done several Olympic-distance events since. He completed a few of them with his son, Alex, who graduated from Newman this past spring and, like his older sister, Lizzy, goes to the University of Iowa.
"He's obviously way better than I am," David said. "I always think we can go out and run together. But that only lasts for about 1 minute. Then I'm running by myself."
But David also felt there was no way he could keep up with the elite competitors he watched at a late-August Ironman event in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.
"We saw people coming in at 12 or 13 hours," David said, "and I said, 'My God, how are those guys doing that? Turn it off. I want to see the guys coming in at 16.'
"I had no idea I'd be able to do that."
After descending into Lake Monona in a sea of about 3,000 other wetsuited athletes and swimming 2.4 miles, biking another 112 through the hillier parts of Madison, Wis., and then running 26.2 miles, David crossed the finish line in 12:54:56, good for 115th in his division and 1,002nd overall.
How did he do it?
It would be easy to identify the key to David's success if you only discuss the 5-day event in Wisconsin's capital. He got one of his best nights of sleep to date on Ironman Eve.
"I had a little Ambien," said David, whose brother is a physician. "We knew we needed the rest. The racing thoughts will just keep you up. I told Carla, that's the best I've ever felt at 4 in the morning."
"And that's saying something," she said.
But broaden the scope, and it took 30 weeks of ardent, vigilant training to achieve such greatness. In fact, David is penning a thank you letter to Don Fink, the author of "Be Iron Fit," which laid out every detail of the training schedule.
Having a plan was paramount. David, a dentist and owner of DeForest Dentistry, admits he is a very pragmatic thinker.
"Absolutely, and his entire office staff will say the same thing," Carla said. "That's just the way he thinks. It's very analytical and very structured. I think he had five or six lists just for the day of the event."
"It wasn't just equipment; it was strategy," David said. "I was going to attack it."
Assisting the assault was his, John's and Chris' families, who spent about 2 months game-planning. The night before the race, Carla and their two youngest, Max and Zachary, slept in a separate room from David. In the morning, she strapped on a backpack full of food before spending the next 18 hours on her feet, texting and calling – and charging her phone in between – other members of the support team to make sure a friendly face was at every crucial juncture.
While David focused on nourishment and pacing, his family never truly left his mind.
"They were in my mind often," he said. "And as you're doing the event, you kind of have an idea of where they're going to be moving to and cheering you on. You're always looking forward to getting to that spot where they're going to be. It segments the race, and they really spread out."
"We wanted to make sure, for those three guys, that someone was there at critical points throughout the race," Carla said.
David admits that, going in, the biggest concern was the transition between the bike and the run. He didn't want to be "bonked out" or gassed. So one can only imagine Carla's relief when she scaled six flights of stairs to photograph him before the treacherous final leg.
"To approach 26.2 miles, he looked content," she said. "I was looking at his face to see if he was sad. He told me he felt great, and he looked the part."
His 4:29:33 marathon was more than 6 minutes faster than his first Chicago Marathon about 6 years ago. It followed a 1:26:39 swim and a 6:28:31 bike.
Pride and projection
Tuesday was the first day that David didn't swim immediately after work before arriving home for a late dinner. As he discussed the Ironman at the kitchen table, a young woman entered through the garage.
It was Anja, the family's German foreign exchange student 8 years ago. She visits the states for a couple of weeks each summer, and she cherished being able to see her "dad" tackle an Irongman.
"It was very important to me," she said between cutting peppers, part of her dinner duty. "Obviously, I'm only here a certain number of days. To see him run, and now I have an American dad who is an Ironman, it makes me very, very proud."
Monday night, David had a hard time getting off the phone with his oldest – genetic – daughter, Lizzy.
"She was telling me on the phone last night that she's been bragging to all her friends at school that her dad did an Ironman," David said.
She's considering doing an Ironman of her own next year. As David puts it, there's no better-run race than the Ironman. The family members echo that it's like a celebration of life, Carla calling it "the big wedding." David says there's no better celebration than the one in Madison, which boasts thousands of costumed supporters – 45,000 in all, its website boasts.
That's why David, originally content to say he finished one, was back on the bike for half an hour Wednesday. It's why he was in the pool for an hour Thursday.
Running began as a fitness tool. Now the daily grind is integral. Life isn't the same without it.
Sound familiar, mothers?
"It's like post-partum depression," Carla said.
The jury is out whether another DeForest might ever enter the world. But the smart money says David hasn't completed his last Ironman.