||Saturday, November 5, 2005
||Panama City Beach, FL
||Triathlon - Ironman
||Male 40 - 44
||1865 / 1935
|Age Group Place:
||290 / 297
||I am and Ironman! (A view from the back of the pack.)
2005 Ironman Florida
AG Place: 290/297
OV Place: 1865/1935
[WARNING! -- After rereading this, I realized that I rambled on in a
number of places. If you choose to read, you might want to get some
I started flirting with the idea of doing an Ironman in September of
2004 (after completing my first 1/2 iron distance race) and by
November had decided to sign up for Ironman Florida as a 40th birthday
present to myself. I chose this race for two main reasons: 1) the
spectacle (as this was to be a celebration of my turning 40) and 2)
the FLAT course. I'm not (yet) very strong on hills and I thought
that it would be asking too much to sign up for a hilly course as my
first Ironman (anyone who remembers the discussions about Diamong in
the Rough before I signed up knows that the prospect of a hilly course
is not comforting to me).
I started my drive to Florida for this race around noon on Wednesday.
I drove to just past Jacksonville, Florida and arrived in Panama City
Beach around 10AM on Thursday (with a 1 hour move to CT).
I found a parking spot around 4 blocks from the host hotel and started
my normal "watch for people with registration bags coming from the
host hotel and go the opposite way" method of locating registration.
Unfotunately, I missed 1 turn because I didn't see anyone with a
registration bag at that moment. As soon as I saw I was going the
same direction as people with bags (less than 1/4 of a block), I
turned around and found my way into the zoo of registration.
Registration was interesting: get in a really long line to get a stamp
on your hand so that you could get into another really long line to
get into the registration tent.
After successfully registering, I looked around the village for about
30 minutes and headed back to my car for a drive of the bike course.
It took about 2.5-3 hours to drive the course, as I went fairly slowly
and tried to make sure that I knew the corners and a few landmarks
near certain distances to help keep me focused. Most of the course
appeared to be in really good condition from the comfort of my van
(more to come on this late in the bike ride).
[Ever since my first Olympic distance triathlon, I refuse to drive a
run course. I drove that course and completely phyched myself out, as
I never thought of myself as a runner and after driving 10k I didn't
believe that I could go that far. I now rely on the run profiles I
produce on my computer.]
After riding the course, I checked into the condo my family and I
rented. By the time I had gotten settled, it was time to go to the
host hotel for the pre-race dinner and athlete meeting. I decided to
walk to the dinner and meeting to stretch my legs after a couple of
days spent mostly in the car (it turned out to be 2.3 miles each way).
After returning from dinner, I assembled my transition bags and spent
a couple of hours giving my bike a checkup and cleaning it up a bit.
This gave me time to reflect on my preparation and goals for the race.
As with all of my events, I had only three goals for this race:
1) Be healthy.
2) Be happy.
3) Finish with an official time. (...and become and Ironman!)
I thought through the months of training I had done and realized that
other than the month leading up to the race, I had completed over 85%
of the training I had planned. The month leading to the race was
another matter though. I accepted a new postition at work that
dramatically increased my responsibility. The kicker is that I needed
to continue with the duties of my old position until my replacement
was up to speed. (Neither of which have yet occurred.) This meant
that all weekday training went to zero in the month leading to the
race and that I was only able to get my long ride or brick and one other
weekend session in per week. A month long taper is definitely longer
than I had planned, but I decided that I wouldn't let this negatively
affect my mental state.
One thing that did affect my mental state, though was that in
preparing my estimated times for my wife (which I always do when she
will be attending one of my races), one of my estimates did not put me
crossing the finish by midnight. This was the first race where my
slow estimate did not put me across the line in time to meet my third
goal and that had me quite worried. I decided that the amount over
was small enough that as long as I didn't have a bad day in at least
one of the disciplines, I'd make it across the line. My main worry
was completing the bike course by the cutoff. My time estimates did
not give me much time to spare.
Friday morning, I woke up and decided to go for a short ride and run
to boost my confidence. I went on a 30 mile bike ride followed by a 3
mile run and did feel significantly more confident after the workout.
I went to the race site, turned in my bike and transition bags and
headed to the airport to pick up my family.
I woke up at about 4:30 the morning of the race, after a relatively
restless night of sleep. I ate a Balance bar and had my morning Diet
Coke and did my final preparations. My family and I arrived at the
race site around 5:30, turned in my special needs bags, put the final
items in my transition bags, took a couple of pictures with my family,
ate another Balance bar, gave my family hugs and joined the other
athletes in the transition area to put on my wetsuit.
As I was waiting to step through the timing mat (with about 15 minutes
to race start), I asked another competitor to help me with my
wetsuit. As he pulled my zipper, I thought detected the same over-pull that
happened at the beginning of Columbia earlier in the year. I decided
to double check with a couple of shoulder rolls and the zipper did
come apart. I explained to my helper what happened and he helpfully
rezipped my zipper without pulling up too much.
I placed myself near the back of the pack and way out to the right of
the start area. I was in place and ready to go with about 7 minutes
to collect my thoughts.
- Here I am at the start line of an Ironman to celebrate turning 40
earlier in the year.
- The race is entirely between me, the course and the clock.
- I CAN DO THIS.
The cannon goes off and the race is under way. It takes only 15
seconds for me to reach the waters edge. I turn to a competitor on my
left who is entering the water at a fast walk as I was and say "Good
Luck today." A few seconds later, the water level gets to my waist
and I start my swim. About half way to the first turn, my right
shoulder starts to act tired. I say to myself that this is not a
great sign, but remember that this happened a few times during
training and that each time the shoulder loosened up after a few
minutes and everything would be OK. Sure enough, my shoulder was fine
by the first turn. The rest of the first loop went exactly as
planned. I hit the first turn about 10 feet outside and stayed a few
feet outside of each bouy the rest of the loop. I hit the beach,
looked up at the clock and knew that everything was going on plan. I
took a cup of water and continued on to the second loop.
The second loop continued as the first until I hit the turn back
toward the beach. Shortly after I took the turn back toward the
beach, I realized that I was not keeping on course very well. I reset
my direction and started thinking even more about form to try to
minimize my drift. A few strokes later I lift my eyes only to
discover that I was already drifting significantly. I reset my
direction carefully and switched my sighting pattern. I am now
checking my direction every 4th stroke. I don't drift too much the
rest of the way in, though with lifting my head so much, my time over
the second loop was significantly slower than the first loop.
I come out of the water, unzip my wetsuit and pull it down to my
waist. I hit the chute and discover what people have meant in other
race reports by "awesome wetsuit strippers." Lay down on the astro
turf and before I could think, the wetsuite was off.
My total swim time was only about 7 minutes slower than my medium
speed estimate. As I am under the shower to get the salt water off,
I'm happy that after the first leg I have an extra couple of minutes
to complete the bike.
Transition in an Ironman is pretty different from every other race
I've been in. Inside the transition tent is chaos. The volunteers
were excellent. One kept saying "My name is Ray, just call me if you
need anything" as he went from athlete to athlete helping out. The
floor was too wet to dump the bag and sort as has been suggested by
others, so I resorted to digging through my bag. I put on my bike
clothes without incident and slathered sunscreen on myself. As I was
leaving the transition tent, there were a couple of pairs of
volunteers putting sunscreen on everyone that went by. I accepted the
second layer of sunscreen and headed to my bike.
My plan for the bike was fairly simple.
Nutrition Plan: Take a drink of Gatorade Endurance every 10 minutes
(I'd been using this during training for the past few months to make
sure that this works for me) and a hit of Hammer Gel every 10 miles.
Total intake should be about 350 cal/hr with this plan. While
approaching each aid station, make sure that I'm not thirsty by taking
a final swig of Gatorade just before dropping the old bottle.
Effort Plan: As long as speed stays above 14.5mph, keep heart rate
under 150. If my speed is below 14.5mph, I can push up to a heart
rate of 160 for a short period to keep speed (if longer effort is
necessary, then the limit is 155). If my speed is over 17mph, then
only keep effort high enough for a heart rate of 135.
I head out of transition ready to have a great ride. Based on my
drive on Thursday, I know that the only climb is about 10 miles out
(and again at about 100 miles). I start out easy and carefully try to
cycle with good form (I think "circles, move in circles"). As I hit
the bridge with the only climb, I see another competitor having a bad
start to the race throwing up half way up the bridge. I knew that a
support vehicle was only about a mile back, as I saw it helping out a
cyclest who apparently lost a tire, so I just kept going. I hit the
first aid station, follow my nutrition plan and keep going. My speed
at this point is averaging a little over 15.5mph. Right on schedule.
My first surprise on the bike came at the aid station at 45 miles. By
the time I hit the station, they were out of Gu. I had just run out
of my Hammer Gel and was expecting about 11 miles to special needs
(with a replacement Hammer Gel flask). I took a half of a Power Bar
which reminded me why I don't really like them (its something about
the texture). As I'm about to leave the aid station, I hear that
special needs is actually only about 5 miles out and I know that
everything is going well.
I stop at special needs to switch my empty flask for a full one and
continue on. Luckily I didn't need any of the spare bike stuff that I
had placed in the bag.
At about mile 55, I see two ambulances and three state troopers in the
median of the road. When I pull up to their location, I see a mangled
bike in the median between the police cars and ambulances. I hope
that the cyclist is OK, but there is nothing else to see and nothing I
can do, so I just continue on.
At about mile 60 I turned a corner that I had expected to find my
family waiting for me at. I was a little disappointed not to find
them there. Everything is still going on plan. My hear rate has
only hit 150 once and my average speed is still about 15.5mph.
At around mile 80, there are a pair of tight turns with lots of
construction (one of my mental land marks from the drive of the
course). I check my average speed and time and think that I will most
likely meet the 5:15 bike cutoff. I get a great surprise at the
second of the turns: my family is there yelling for me. It was
wonderful to see and hear them out there.
From mile 80 to mile 99 I received my second big surpriseof the race.
Much of the road is filled with spider cracks. In my van with 35psi
tires, shocks and comfy seats, I didn't notice these. On my bike with
120psi tires, a hard seat and only carbon as a shock absorber, I found
my body continually absorbing small shocks. I carefully adjusted my
position to attempt to make the shock absorption be as efficient as
possible. About mile 90, my feet started getting numb and I got a
blister on my little toe from all of the vibrations. I was not happy
on this section of the bike.
At the final aid station, I stopped to use the restroom (as much to
get some feeling in my feet as to empty my bladder). As I exited the
restroom, I again checked the time and though "I'm going to make it
with time to spare!"
I take the turn to head back to cross the bridge at mile 10 and head
back. As I cross the top of the bridge, I'm hit by a direct headwind.
I start cutting through the wind, but find my speed lowing to about
12.8mph and my heart rate climbing. I decide that I have enough time
to not push too hard and keep my heart rate between 150 and 155 for
the next 5 miles (when the course turns to follow the coast for the
final 6 miles). I make the turn and am ready for a good finish.
Between each of the high rise condo buildings, I'm hit with a cross
wind that makes my wheels sing (at 15mph on the bike, this takes a
gust of over 10mph). The first one takes me by surprise, but after
that I'm ready for them and have no troubles all of the way in.
I hit the transition area well before the cutoff. I'm happy and ready
to go cross a marathon.
The transition tent this time was nearly empty. My slow bike time
meant that I was one of only about five competitors in the tent. I
change and very carefully lace my shoes (an absolute must for me when
going over 10 miles, unless I want to lose some toe nails). Put on my
running hat and head out.
My run plan is even more simple than my bike plan: Just keep moving
forward. At each aid station get some Gatorade and keep moving. Walk
the first mile or so to make sure that I don't get back cramps as I
did in the half earlier this fall.
I start out with a 10 run/2 walk programmed into my watch, but quickly
realize that is not in the cards this day. After about 2 miles, I
start having trouble with my lungs. They feel really dry. I realize
that I have been breathing through my mouth for about 8 hours and that
I felt this over the summer while doing long rides in the heat. I
drop back to a 3 run/2 walk pattern and concentrate on breathing
through my nose the entire time.
[Part of my training for this race was preparing for when I got tired.
One thing I did was memorize a passage to focus on and help me keep
going: "Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and
fall; but thost who hope in [or trust in or lean on] the LORD will
soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow tired; they will
walk and not be faint" Isa 40:30-31. This is a passage that struck my
fancy when I was a child and when starting my mental preparation for
this event in July, I remembered it and chose to use it as my focus.]
As I hit the first turn around on the run, I need to start using the
passage "Even youths..." I keep going.
I continue on with a 3/2 pattern (mostly) for the rest of the first
half of the run. At the half way point, I see my family cheering
wildly for me and am heartened. They are sure I'm going to make it,
tell me so and keep cheering wildly. It was music to my ears as I
head back out on the course.
About a mile or two after the half way point, I start having serious
blister problems on the bottom of my feet. I stop being able to run
because the jarring is just too painful. I switch to only walking and
turn up my mental focus on keeping up a fast walk. I want to cross
the finish line in time. Every mile marker I check my watch and do
the mental math to make sure that I'll be at the finish in time.
"Even youths... they will walk and not be faint."
I hit the 3/4 point, do my mental math and think "OK, I can make it
with 20 minute miles. I can do this." I had been putting the
blisters on the bottom of my feet out of my mind as much as possible.
Focus on my passage, my breathing and walking as fast as I could and
there was no room for anything else.
At the 21 mile aid station, there were volunteer medical people
talking with every competitor looking for signs of dehydration and
hyponatremia. The one that came up to me was clearly looking for
focus and an ability to think when he asked "How are you doing?" I
did see one of the volunteers keep walking with another competitor
after her answer wasn't what they were looking for. (My answer was a
direct look into his eyes followed by "Other than the really bad
blisters on my feet, I'm doing fine.")
I keep walking quickly and alternating position with a guy name Theron
who was alternating walking and running. He ran faster than I walked,
but I was waking fast enough to catch up to him before he started
running again (at least until mile 23 or so). At mile 23, I slowed
down a little to talk with another competitor. It turns out that he
lives in Centreville and this is his second time attempting an IM. He
DNF'ed at his last attempt and wasn't going to let anything stop him
at this point. He had blisters similar to mine. My discussions with
him helped take my mind off my blisters for the last few miles and
helped me finish the race happy.
As we were approaching the 26 mile mark, I told him that I was going
to want to run across the line. He said that I could go first, then.
he didn't plan to run across the line. We walked until the bottom of
the final hill approaching the finish. I started jogging up the hill
and barely heard the announcer or fans through the emotions (and
blister pain) sweeping through me.
I am and Ironman!
Right after I crossed the finish line, a volunteer joined me and asked
how I was doing. My answer to her was the same as the one I gave at
mile 21, except "fine" was replaced by "great." I felt like saying I
would do almost anything to get off my feet. She walked me over to
where the finisher bags were, I got my shirt, had my photo taken and
slowly headed to the food tent. I guess I got there between shifts,
as the food tent had only about half a package of cookies and some a
few bottles of water out. I took two cookies and a bottle of water
and headed back to where I thought I would find my family.
My wonderful wife went to get our van to minimize the amount of
walking I would have to do and my son and I sat and waited and talked
about the final few competitors coming in just before the cutoff. We
also saw the unfortunate people who the medical teams picked up as
they were checking the course.
On the way back to our room, we stopped for some food at a Subway, as
it was the only take out restaurant we seemed to be able to find (and I was
beginning to get somewhat hungry by now). We got back to the room and
I (finally) took off my running shoes. I took a shower, ate, took
some Advil (about two hours after finishing) and headed to bed.
The next morning, I struggled to put weight on my feet with the
blisters. I finally was able to get ready and help pack our van, as
we were leaving for Tallahassee after I picked up my certificate and
bought a shirt I could wear to work. My wife dropped me off just
outside of the village and headed with our children to a mini-golf
course my son wanted to try. The line for certificates was really
short (for those of us near the back, at least). The line to get into
the store looked really long. I found a shirt, payed for it and then
went to look at the photos. I decided that the line looked way too
long to stand in (I wanted to get off my feet). The rest of Sunday
was mostly riding in our van looking at our old haunts - we lived in
Tallahassee for about 7 years and my daughter was born there.
After dinner, we headed to Wakulla Springs (which is where we were
staying for the next couple of nights). We checked in and headed to
bed. The next day we took a boat tour of Wakulla Springs and then my
children and I swam for an hour or so in the spring. After getting
dressed, we headed to the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge (which was one of
our favorite places when we lived in Tallahassee). We walked around
the refuge until our bug repellant started wearing off and headed back
to the van.
From this experience I have a piece of advice for others: If you get
really big blisters on the bottom of your feet, don't (and I repeat
don't) swim for a while and then go for a nice walk on a trail. This
walk was one of the most difficult things I think I have ever done.
When I got back to the van I was sweating from the effort to keep
Tuesday we drove from Florida back home (which meant a nice day
without shoes and mostly off my feet). By Thursday my feet were not
hurting (though walking on them still felt funny).
It took almost a week and a half for it to really sink in that I had
succeeded in my year long goal to complete an Ironman. I spent hours
researching a training plan that worked for me, I largely followed
that plan for months and I persevered through the blisters to cross
the finish line.
Thanks for reading!