“Remember when you thought this was a good idea?” – Spectator sign at the race.
I finished Ironman Florida 2013 in 16 hours 29 minutes and 22 seconds! That was way more time that I had hoped, but really I am just pleased to have finished under the 17 hour mark.
Going into this race, I was under trained and overweight – about 20 lbs overweight. I knew the swim would be okay, I was worried about the bike, and the run all but scared the crap out of me.
The day before the race saw double-red flags on the beach. This meant that the water was closed to swimmers due to high rip current risk and waves. The waves were big and the water extremely choppy. The forecast for Saturday was sunny and much less chop. This turned out to be true and it was a beautiful day. Still, the waves were bigger and the water choppier than anything I had seen in the previous 4.5 weeks staying in Panama City Beach.
On race morning, I got out of bed at 4 am. Staying at the race venue has its advantages. One of those is that you don’t have far to go. As it turns out, I could have stayed in bed an extra hour.
It had rained the night before, so there were a lot of huge puddles and wet bicycles in transition, but nothing too worrisome, at least that’s what I thought then.
The 2.4 mile swim used the new wave system, where athletes self-seed themselves based on expected finish time. My thinking was that we would go out in waves, but it was really still a mass start, just that slower people were more to the right of the buoys. I didn’t like that because now I was in a mass of really slow swimmers and I had to swim even farther, just to get close to the buoys. Even funnier is the woman that at the first turn buoy on the first lap announced “Good job everyone!” to resounding cheers. I only had my goggles nearly slapped off my face once during the swim. Other than that and a few waves to deal with, it wasn’t a bad swim. I did talk to one guy that says he got stung on the neck by a jellyfish, but I never saw any wildlife.
My rented wetsuit managed to chafe the crap out of the back of my neck. I have had chafing before, but never in salt water. OUCH! Of course, applying sunscreen later didn’t feel good either.
On swim exit, I was in a rush to get into transition and managed to fall flat on my face while navigating the slower athletes. It was really deep, soft sand on the beach, so it was a nice landing 🙂
Finally, into T1 (transition 1 – swim to bike). This was a breeze (after getting up off the beach) as the volunteers help you with everything. It took me about 10 minutes to get through and start the bike ride.
The 112 mile bike ride started out windy. At least I was very familiar with the first 7 miles of the course, having ridden it for the last month. This allowed me to dodge the potholes. Of course, the bike course was open to traffic, which meant dodging cars too. Some of the cars were having to slow due to bikes in the road and this caused me to not go as fast as I would have liked because I now was stuck waiting for cars to move out of the way.
About 20 minutes into the bike, my timing chip’s ankle strap started rubbing on me every pedal stroke. That was really annoying and I didn’t want to have yet more chafing on another body part. I managed to slide it up where it didn’t move and that problem was fixed.
Not much later, my drive train really started making noises. Despite having lubed it heavily Thursday night in anticipation of the rains on Friday, the lube was all worn off and the chain and sprockets were covered in oxidation. For the most part, I think this was really not going to affect speed, but the sound was grinding away at my patience. Luckily, they did have roving bike techs, and I managed to flag one down at mile 50. She applied lube and everything was quiet and smooth again! I had stopped at an aid station earlier to see if they had lube, but all I was offered was a tampon. Really? That lady must have thought she was funny.
Because my longest bike ride in training was only 3 hours and 45 minutes, I was worried I wouldn’t finish or that I would be in a lot of pain at the end. My plan was to stop at nearly every aid station (10-12 miles apart) and take a minute or two to rest. That seemed to work, though around mile 70 I was getting tired. Finally at mile 80, I remembered my caffeine laden sport beans. Normally, I do not partake in caffeine and it is widely know that restricting its intake up to four weeks before a race, and then taking it during a race, is what’s known as an ergogenic aid (aka legal performance enhancer). I ate the sport beans (the pomegranate flavor was horrible) and then was off. There was a nice tail wind now, but I felt like I could pedal for 30 more miles without stopping and nearly did! I passed people like they were standing still. My plan was working.
Finally into T2 (bike to run) and the race clock was at something like 9 hours plus. Again, transition was made easier by the wonderful volunteers. I applied more sunscreen and lotion to my now horribly chafed neck, and was off running.
Well, sort of. I was running at a 10 min/mile pace, but only for about 20 seconds. I was getting shin splints in my left leg and also just could not seem to run longer than a minute. I had planned on walking the entire 26.2 miles if needed, so I guess this was all part of the plan. Other than not feeling like running, I felt really good. In the end, I decided to run at least a quarter mile for every mile in the 26.2 I had to go. That worked until about mile 15, when my arch nemesis, the giant foot blisters, appeared. This was my third Ironman race, and the third time these have popped up. And right at about mile 20, the blisters popped. Excruciating pain at its best. If you can make it through that and keep walking, then you know you will finish. I had to keep moving no matter what.
Along the run, I talked with many people who were doing their first Ironman. They were all suffering in some form or another, but I’m sure they all finished. Also, the wonderful volunteers, and spectators, made the 26.2 mile run/walk possible. One really does get a blast of energy at the end with everyone high-fiving, and giving lots of encouragement. I think I miss my adoring spectators most about the race. Oh, and that sign – “Remember when you thought this was a good idea?” – that I had to see four times. I kept thinking, “Yeah, I remember. What the heck was I thinking?”
The winner of the race, Victor Del Corral, finished in just under 8 hours. It took me nearly 16 and a half hours to finish. Of the 2700 plus athletes that started the race, only 120 or so didn’t finish for one reason or another. I was lucky that I only had some lube lacking and no flats or major mechanical issues on the bike. I didn’t get stung by jellyfish or bitten by sharks. And I didn’t have major bathroom issues on the run/walk. Once again, I am an IRONMAN!
Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers, spectators, and my personal race support for making this a great race!
Great dissertation, Tom. You should be very proud of yourself. I can’t even imagine doing these races! You ARE the Ironman!