||Saturday, November 1, 2008
||Panama City Beach, FL
||Triathlon - Ironman
||613 / 2237
|Age Group Place:
||98 / 236
||(long report) My First, definitely not my last IRONMAN with M-dot Tat to end the week.
This was my first Ironman. I signed up the year prior (as did everyone) not anticipating the many changes the upcoming year would bring… We bought a new house, I changed jobs, and we found out we were expecting our 3rd child. I also had mixed race results over the season. I had a very disappointing Eagleman, with a time that increased 30+ minutes over last year and a great Make-A-Wish so I was totally unsure what to expect during my race. All I knew is that I felt I could have trained longer, harder and more frequently had life not gotten in the way. While my frequency of training had been good my long runs (20 Mile Max) and long rides (100 Mile Max) were just not as frequent or as long as I had hoped. I had to focus on several 2 hour training session to hope I had enough training in.
After much debating with my wife (7 months pregnant at race time), we decided to make IMFL a “race vacation” for us and our 2 kids (3&4). Our main concern on was the fact that the race the day after Halloween, it was my first IM, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend my night prior chasing two kids around trick or treating (assuming we could find a place to trick or treat – as I only knew Panama City as a spring break college town). This was compounded by the fact we didn’t know how my wife would feel in the car for 17 odd hours each way. We ended up renting a condo at Shores of Panama based only on the internet photos hoping that everything would workout and not be too far of a walk for my wife and the kids on race day.
We left Tuesday night after work. We drove till about 1AM, waking up early on Wednesday driving the rest of the way. We arrived around 2 PM, checked into the Hotel (which was beautiful and just a few blocks from the host hotel – I absolutely recommend for anyone doing the race) and walked down to check in for the race as I had heard nightmare stories about the lines on Thursday.
The race “village” was very impressive. Eagleman was the largest race I had done to date, and I was taken back by the shear size of what was ahead of me. I registered and hit the race store to buy some M-dot gear to get myself psyched up for the event, although I would not wear it until after the race.
We drove over to the massive Wal-Mart to buy some groceries for the week at the condo as was certain that I saw more fit bodies than had ever been in a Wal-Mart at one time. Seeing all of those fit bodies was starting to intimidate me. It was almost humorous how the pasta, fruit, juice aisles were mobbed by people in synthetic clothing with sponsors on the back of their T-shirts.
Thursday morning we enjoyed some time on the beach and headed down to the Janus tent to make some signs with the kids, meet up with my parents, and do the pasta dinner. The dinner, while definitely overpriced for the family to attend, was an amazing experience. I wish they would have shown a few more Ironman videos rather than just flashing sponsor logos but it was a great mood setting event none the less. Probably of the most value of the night was gaining the knowledge that there were 1000+ first timers (the most of any single race ever) doing the race. This was comforting as I was in the mindset that everyone else was an experienced Ironman Stud up till that point and I was feeling completely psyched out.
Friday morning I woke at 6 AM local with nerves like never before so I decided to head out to find a Starbucks and neighborhood for the kids to trick or treat. That helped a little.
I did make a last minute purchase of an aero helmet (gift from my parents) as it seemed I was the only one without a “sperm helmet” and I had heard the winds were fierce. I know you are not supposed to add last minute gear but it was a helmet so I figured I was safe. I taped my 14 GU packs to my bike and headed down to the race area. I checked my bike and T1 & T2 bags and generally spent the day relaxing on the beach (out of the sun) drinking an excess of water with Carbs all day long. We had a nice pasta dinner at Pineapple Willies pier bar and we headed out early for Halloween.
We returned to the hotel, I sent out an email to friends and family with my race number and tracking info and my stated goal of finishing sub 12 hours. My Parents kept the kids in their room so that I could go to sleep early and get up without waking the kids. I was in bed by 8 and asleep by 8:30 feeling good about the day ahead for the first time.
I woke at 4:00AM with plans of leaving the hotel at 5 to walk to transition. I was able to enjoy a cup of coffee and bagel with Peanut Butter prior to a shower and heading down to transition. I had a slightly nervous stomach but was able to address what I hoped would be all of my morning bathroom needs prior to heading to first transition. I quickly realized that arriving at transition at 5:15 with no transition area to set up as everything was in special needs and transition bags provided a tremendous amount of extra time. I was glad I had my IPOD to sit on the grass an block everything out. I sipped water and had a granola bar (my routine), finally getting my wet suit on around 6AM. As it was quite cool I decided to leave my sock on thinking I would just ditch them near the start area.
As I expected the swim start to be hectic, and we had a great view from our hotel of the swim start my family and parents had decided to watch the start from the balcony and come down to see the first run out of the water and T1. I was thrilled to see that my Dad decided to come down and watch from the beach. I am not an emotional person but I cannot overstate the value of having family at the race. I talked with Dad for a few minutes which helped to calm me down before heading into the starting area.
420/2237 Overall. 67/236 AG
I decided to swim out for warm-up before the pros went off. I did this for 3 reasons. First I was cold and the ocean was much warmer. Second I was nervous as all and hoped this would take my mind off the upcoming 12 hours or so. Thirdly, I needed to pee. Returning to the beach I found a few friendly strangers to chat with and waited for the start.
I stood back about 10 people deep or so with no real clue what the start would be like. My largest mass start to date had been only a few hundred age groupers. I tucked my goggle strap under my cap and put my chip under my wetsuit. They announced that you were free to go on either side of the buoys as long as you went around the two end buoys. I assumed this would make sighting much easier but people continued to line up far left to my bewilderment. With that said I decided to line up strait with the buoy as I knew there was little to no current.
The cannon went off with what seemed to be no warning. The start was helped by the fact that it was shallow for the first few hundred feet so you weren’t immediately getting kicked. The start was every bit as crazy as I had been told to expect. I just hoped that I was in the right part of the pack. The first lap wasn’t too bad. I was able to get in some relatively clear water by the 2nd buoy and start a draft. One major change from Eagleman was I decided to breath every 2 strokes opposed to 3 stroke alternate breathing. I had read an article that this would help keep you heart rate under control and based upon the pool work I had done it seemed to work.
It was very crowded at the turns at the far end of the rectangle buy I was able to jump the pack (at least I hoped so) catching a new draft at every turn. Coming out of the water from the first loop I looked at my watch to see 00:00. I had forgotten to hit start!!!! I started my watch and ran over the mat and heard the starter announce that there were approximately 400 people out of the water at 33 minutes. I was ahead of projected pace of 1:15 and feeling great. I got back in the water for the second loop knowing I could kick it up a very little.
I found it harder to get a good draft on the second loop and actually had much more traffic. Specifically I had one swimmer that was not only hitting my legs but actually grabbed them with his hands. He did this 3 time before I finally kicked him away. He did it again and I kicked harder. I think he got the message. I honestly believe he was trying to pull himself over me as an advantage for himself.
At the final 3 buoys I picked the pace up a little but realized the extra push would not gain much in regards to time. Swimming is determined by form and the time in the pool and I knew I should be good on this based upon the first turn. I read that you should visualize the move to stand up as well as slow down the last few hundred yard to prepare for the bike and did so as much as I could.
I immediately realized how thirsty I was upon exiting the water and grabbed a drink and started running to the transition. The stripping station was a mess for me. I have always removed my own wetsuit without any problems and should have done so here. I was able to get the suit off to the waist while running in the water but decided to use the “strippers” as the were there. The immediately had me lay down on the sand and started to pull on my wetsuit. The wetsuit folded over itself and got stuck on my timing chip (right leg). The kept pulling and pulling for what seemed like eternity before I had them stop and did it myself. I am positive this cost me time opposed to doing it myself.
I was amazed at the chaos grabbing you transition bag. As I was with the first big wave of swimmers out of the water there were way too many athletes for the volunteers grabbing bags. I had walked the transition area but was still caught up in the chaos while the volunteers and athletes all looked for the bags. I found my bag and went into the tent.
I have done several Tri’s but never with out everything pre positioned in the transition area. This definitely slowed me down. For the next Ironman I will practice getting ready from a bag to help prepare for this process. Additional delays were that I did not wear my jersey under my wetsuit as I typically do as I was concerned about temperature. Also the arm warmers were difficult getting on with wet arms. Finally I miscalculated a turn in the transition area looking for my bike and ended up totally confused as to where I was and where my bike was before a volunteer pointed me into the right section…Onto my bike and off I went.
Pace: 20.3 MPH
646/2237 Overall. 89/236 AG
My last long race had been Eagleman. I had a 23.5MPH avg through the first 45 miles before cramping up and having no legs for the run. While I am unsure if this was due to the heat or the speed, I decided to dramatically change my “power through the ride strategy”. My training for IMFL was focused on maintaining a cadence of 90 regardless of my speed. I had hoped this would translate into roughly a 20MPH average for IMFL with legs left for the run.
As I left the transition area I saw my parents, wife, and Kids decked out in “Go Matt” shirts with “Go Daddy Go” signs. All of this added a little extra boost. I focused on getting comfortable on the bike, getting in some fluids and getting my first GU down.
My nutrition strategy was a GU every 30 minutes and I had my bento box full of cliff bars cut into 6ths. I estimated the Cliff bar at about 40 calories per bite. With the an alternation of water and Gatorade Endurance I would be taking in approximately 400 calories per hour which was consistent with my training.
Around mile 40 I had to pee which I thought I was thought was a good sign as to my overall fluids. My strategy was to ensure that I was drank at least 1 bottle of fluid every 10 mile aid station. The first few stations I stuck to Gatorade, going to 50/50 Gatorade/H20 around mile 40 as the Gatorade started getting too sweet for my stomach.
I felt very strong through the first 50 miles staying exactly on my nutrition. I was taken back by the amount of drafting taking place on the course. While it would have been very easy to join in, I wanted the race to be mine alone. I was very disappointed to see only a few individuals in the penalty tent despite the dozens passing by. Mile 60 was a milestone as the bike was more than half over. Around mile 65 my front tire got stuck in a rut between the road and shoulder. This nearly made me crash and got my nerves going.
As we got to mile 70 it occurred to me that I still had 2 hours left on the bike (not to mention a marathon to go). With a sore back and a tremendously bumpy road, mile 70-80 was mentally very tough. Strong head winds, pain in my back, pain in my forearms, and pain in my legs the ten miles seemed to last fore ever. I decided to ride for a few minutes alternating out of Aero and then out of the saddle. Finally around mile 80 we reached a freshly paved road, got a tailwind and thing seemed to get much better.
Around mile 90, I knew the bile ride was “mentally over” and I was going to make it through the ride and through the race. I had no idea how my legs would feel but knew I was well on track for a sub 12 hour race. I dropped my chain going over the bridge as I double shifted while pedaling hard. I quickly fixed the chain and jumped back on the bike. I was amazed at the headwind as I made the final turn along the beach for the last few miles. My main concern at this point was keeping my cadence as high as possible (95+) and getting mentally prepared for the run.
With approximately a mile to go, I took my feet out of my shoes to allow them to get full circulation back into them. While I didn’t have any numbness in my feet for this ride, I often had on long rides. I wasn’t sure how they would feel. I am sure this slowed me down somewhat but it felt great and I will likely do it again in future races.
T2 was uneventful. I left the shoes on the bike. I grabbed my T2 bag, slid on my shoes, hat and got some sunscreen and was off. Just before exiting transition I decided to hit the Porta Jon. I didn’t want to stop the run once I began. I heard it was very important to get through the first 3 miles without stopping. So after a quick stop I was out of T2.
Pace: 10:15 mile
837/2237 Overall. 112/236 AG
I had put a few GU’s in my jersey, but knew I did not have enough to continue with the every 30 minute strategy. I sucked down a GU and quickly realized it would be my last. After 13 GU’s my stomach said NO MAS! I had no idea what to expect from my legs or body on the run. Leaving the transition I saw my family. It seemed as the race went on my emotions went up. It was a great boost to see them there and cheering for me. This with the fact that my legs felt “good” had me on an emotional high my first mile plus.
I grabbed a Gatorade at the first aid station but didn’t walk the station. My heart rate was very much in control as I came into the second aid station. My plan was to walk all of the aid stations but no walking in between. I came into the second station grabbed some water and a banana and started running again. A quick look at my watch and some rough math and I realized I was running around a 9 min mile (4hour marathon pace) and that 11 hours was a realistic finish time. Never once in my goal setting or training had I set this as a target. My mind was still set on just making sure I was sub 12 hours.
I continued strong through the first 6.55 miles. I was a little warm and grabbed a few sponges to cool off had some jelly belly energy beans, a banana here and there and convinced myself not to look at my watch till the turn. As I crossed over the mat at the turn I realized I was just shy of a 9M mile (58 minutes). I decided to stick with the same strategy only glancing at my watch for HR checks and not time for the next 6.55 miles. My major disappointment for the first half marathon was that the Ford sign did not post a message for me and I could not pick out the sign my family had done on the Janis inspirational mile.
I started to get a bit cold around mile 10 and wished I hadn’t been so liberal with the wet sponges on the first few miles. I debated if I would need to grab a long sleeve at the special needs turn. Around mile 12 my legs started getting very heavy and the pain was starting to set in. The race was quickly becoming a mile to mile run with the start of reach run following the aid station walk becoming harder and harder.
I was thrilled to see my family again just shy of the turn. My only regret was they were so close to the finish line I knew it would be another 13 miles before I got another emotional boost from them. I made the turn and looked at my split 1:04! Just over a 9 min pace. My legs hurt. My back hurt. I was cold and had made the decision not to stop for the long sleeve as I was pretty sure my jersey would dry. I did half wish I would have stopped for the Advil in my bag.
The next 4 miles (13-17) were tremendously tough. I felt my pace slow substantially. The fans that were humorous on the first loop were mostly just drunk on the second and annoyed me. At the mile 17 aid station I looked at my watch. I realized that it was going to take an amazing push to reach the 11 hour mark now. With that realization my legs seemed to stop!
As I mentioned, not once did 11 hours cross my mind while training. I firmly believe that had 11 hours been my goal I would have been able to continue my push and likely make (or come tremendously close) to 11 hours. Everyone says that Ironman is a mental race as much as it is physical. I hate to quit. I hate the word quit. But my legs and more importantly my mind quit on my when I realized that 12 hours was a sure thing and 11 hours was sure pain.
I walked about ¾ a mile between 17 and 18 and was complete disappointed in me. In addition to my legs hurting my stomach was in tremendous pain. I forced myself to start running again just before mile 18 as I saw the Janus signs my family had made. I continued on a very slow run into the park. At the last station in the park before the turn I could not get my legs going again. For the first time in 10+ hours I had a horrible cramp in both quads. I walked again from the aid station at mile 19th though the turn around.
I could not accept that I was walking at the turn and forced myself to start running again. I crossed the Ford inspirational sign with “GO DADDY” next to my name and was thrilled, although running very slow. With leg cramps and stomach cramps I decided to use the bathroom at the 20 mile mark. This was my best decision of the race!
In addition to feeling so much better, it put me right next to a runner name Christine. We ran a few hundred yards together before I made a comment about how much stronger she looked than me at that point in the race. She informed me that she felt terrible. She had been running with a guy for the past 17 of 20 miles who suddenly stopped to walk. She said she wasn’t sure if she could keep going without someone to push her. For the next 4 + miles we kept each other running with a stop only at each of the aid stations to walk. We didn’t talk more than a few words but kept each other going.
Ultimately at mile 24, she was stronger than me and I needed to slow as she continued on. Then seemingly like that I was looking at my family and across the finish. 11:14:17 I was an IRONMAN. I screamed as I crossed the finish line throwing my arms in the air! I honestly have no words for the emotion of those few minutes. Months of training and time away from the family did seem all worth it at that point. The ups and downs of the race were over and it was a pure high! I took a few pictures with the family and we headed back to the hotel to have a beer and relax!
I showered, talked with the family and took a quick nap. All I knew was I didn’t want the day to be over. Around 10:00PM I got dressed and decided to head back down to the finish for the last two hours. Like so many, I have watched the Ironman coverage on TV and wanted to experience the watching the final finishers become Ironman. While there was no single remarkable part of the last two hours the whole scene was surreal and wonderful. Note: While the final finisher missed the midnight cutoff by 6 minutes I think he got the largest ovation of all.
Sunday we wandered down to the race area around 10AM on Sunday. THIS WAS A HUGE MISTAKE. The lines were ridiculously long, there was plenty of merchandise left but only if you were a size small or XL so I ended up with no official finisher gear other than my shirt and hat.
We stayed till Wednesday and enjoyed the beach, pool, sun and sand before heading back home on Thursday morning.
The TAT: Yes – M-Dot in black. Back of right calf. First and last.
• You can never train enough, but you must balance life with training
• Maintaining Heart Rate on the swim is more important than how fast or slow you go.
• If you are experienced at getting your wetsuit off quickly on your own, don’t use the strippers.
• Practice your transition from a bag as opposed to the traditional transition area change.
• If you’re not a High Cadence rider, it is something that needs to be practiced but definitely pays off on events of this length.
• Spend the last few minutes of each event visualizing the next.
• You get really sick of your nutrition over 11 hours. Practice with the nutrition on the course so that you can mix it up especially in the run. I did and it helped.
• Peeing on the bike does not come natural
• If you need to use the bathroom, stop and do so. You will feel so much better for it.
• Try to find someone to pace with on the run. It will help you both
• Family and or friends are tremendously valuable on an IRONMAN event for motivation.
• Get in line for the merchandise tent early if you want to get any finisher gear.
• All the time and training, aches and pains are worth it!
• Tattoos hurt.