The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing – Henry Ford
Ironman Florida has come and gone and like most races, there has been a lot to process.
On the whole, the day was pretty good. There were no real mechanical problems, my nutrition was perfect for the most, and my training left me feeling more than capable throughout the event.
However, there are ALWAYS issues and the longer the race, the more ones (errr…my) weaknesses tend to effect the overall outcome. My biggest problem, during any race, is moving through the course with a sense of urgency. This, once again, proved to be my nemesis and left me crossing the finish line feeling very frustrated with myself.
Here’s how it all shook out….
We headed out, for Panama City Beach, on Wednesday afternoon. The drive down proved uneventful and that evening we hooked up with a friend, had dinner, and hit the grocery store.
Thursday we slept in and eventually made our way down to registration. I spent some time at the expo and then it was back to the condo to pack up our race bags. Our support crew was heading in that afternoon and I didn’t want any distractions as I got everything in its proper place.
Bags packed and bowed for easy identification along the course
We woke Friday to an approaching cold front and along with it some very nasty wind, torrential rain, and high surf advisories. Any notions I had of a quick little swim and/or ride were quickly abandoned as the risk simply didn’t outweigh the benefit. Eventually we decided the rain was not going to stop anytime soon, so we braved the elements to check our bikes and drop off our transition bags.
This is NOT your sunny Florida!
Oh what fun!
With the bikes and bags taken care of we settled in for the rest of the afternoon/evening. We kept one eye on the weather and the other on whatever movie my husband could find….
My mom and dad had arrived the day before armed with our 16 yr old and a enough food to feed an army. It was so nice to not worry about what to eat and to also KNOW exactly what we were eating. There are not enough thank you’s for their hard work in keeping us all fed, hydrated, and relaxed….no easy task for sure!
Just around sunset the weather broke and we finally had a shred of hope for the following day….
sunset the night prior…water still choppy
I headed to bed around 9 pm feeling calm, confident, and ready to finally work out again. All week I’d been feeling very good. I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t have any anxiety. But the extra rest was leaving me stiff and achy. I was ready to MOVE!
I woke up at 3:30 am….10 minuted before my alarm. I had slept the entire night. This is very unusual for me. I still can’t decide if maybe a little bit of nervous energy might have been a good thing….
We got breakfast, headed down to drop our special needs bags, load our bikes, pump tires, and then went back to the condo. The seas were still somewhat rough and my husband has an awful time with seasickness. He threw up throughout the entire 1.2 mile swim in May, in these very waters, and they were not NEAR as turbulent. He becomes violently ill when he scuba dives, participates in OWS events, and goes deep-sea fishing if conditions are not 100% ideal, so we knew today was definitely going to be an issue. So at approximately 6 am, an hour before we were to get in the water, I was giving him an IV dose of Zofran (anti-nausea drug used after surgery, during chemotherapy treatments, etc..) in hopes of making a bad situation tolerable. He has tried everything else, over the years, so this was our very last resort.
On a wing and a prayer…
side note: this actually helped reduce, but not eliminate the nausea and vomiting attributed to his seasickness. He had 2 minor episodes throughout the entire 2.4 miles but no residual problems once he got on the bike. He still managed a 1:15 swim.
IV meds in, wetsuits on, and we were off to the beach. I was still feeling good, not nervous or anxious. I was actually a little tired. It was a very weird.
Once we got to the beach, we made our way to the water’s edge. The waves that SOUNDED large from the road, were enormous up close. So much for the winds flipping to the north and laying the water down. It seems Mother Nature didn’t get the memo. We did get in for a few minutes to simply get wet and acclimated to the water temperature. There was no way you could do a warm up “swim” in those conditions.
The 1st loop, of this swim, was the most terrifyingly insane thing I’ve ever been through in my entire life.
I knew I wasn’t going to swim my predicted 1:10 because it was going to take forever to make my way thought the breakers. I elected to place myself in the back of the 1:10-1:20 group. Once we got into the water, I realized this had been a very bad decision.
This was a self-seed mass start. I honestly believe a straight up mass start would’ve been a better option. It would’ve allowed people to place themselves in a more strategic position, along the beach, and as a result made for an overall safer swim. I originally wanted to start to the far right of the buoys and let the current pull me into position, but I was unable to do so since that was where they placed the slower groups. Then there was the fact that the self-seeding process was a nightmare in and of itself. It seemed no one took into account WHERE they were swimming (the Gulf of Mexico is NOT a lake!), the conditions they were facing, and how that would affect their ability/swim time.
The water was rough, but these people were out of freaking control. The didn’t know their asses from a hole in the ground once the first breaker slammed them to the sand. It was downhill from there.
The contact was brutal. I was punched, jabbed, dunked, elbowed, shoved, pushed, sat on (yes someone sat on me like a surfboard!), and kicked the entire first 1.2 miles.
I was about 300 yards in when someone grabbed the back of my head and forced it under water. As soon as I came up for air, someone grabbed my legs and pulled me under again. I got a few strokes under me before I was punched in the left eye socket. I had an excruciating headache until I was able to run across the beach and re-adjust my goggles before the 2nd loop.
When I could find space to swim, I felt great. But those moments were few and far between during that 1st lap. During this time, I was having serious doubts. I’m a fairly capable swimmer and I have no open water issues, but that morning I was scared for my life. I questioned whether or not I’d be able to do another 1.2 miles like this. As I was spiraling deeper into worry and despair, I thought back to the words of my coach…..
“there will be ups and downs along the way and the bad patches will pass. The key is to just keep moving forward….”
So as the mayhem continued, so did I. And I found it particularly ridiculous that I was having such a bad “patch” 15 minutes into a very long day!! All I could think was, “Great, wonder what’s next??!!”
hmm, I wonder….
As I made my way to shore, wishing I was doing a 70.3 so the swim would be over, I was able to find sand and stand. I thanked GOD that I was still alive, ripped off my goggles, and my headache was gone….just like that!
I had a gel flask in my wetsuit so I pulled it out, chugged it, and then pitched it as I ran across shore. Then I remembered my watch….
35 minutes for the 1st 1.2miles….Not bad considering I just swam through hell and back.
I rinsed my eyes with water (from the aid station) since I’d been swimming with a google full of salt, rinsed my mouth, said a prayer, and got back in for the 2nd loop.
It was like a totally different course. The water was still rough, but I wasn’t having the shit kicked out me and fighting for my life. It made for a MUCH more pleasant and relaxing swim. So much so, that I had to remind myself at the turn to stop lolly-gagging and get a move on.
Made it to shore once again and was feeling SPECTACULAR! I headed up the sand to the wetsuit strippers and then off to transition.
Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
I grabbed my bag and ran into the changing tent. I didn’t sit, but I did a full change….which I will not do again. Trying to get a tri-top on while wet is a time-consuming task.
Helmet on, shoes on, sunscreen on, sunglasses in back pocket, crap back in bag, and out the door!
How this takes me so long, I have no idea. I have a really bad concept of time though because I swore I was only in here 5-6 minutes at the most. Not quite!
Ohh the bike! It’s where Ironman dreams flourish or crumble. And folks, I’m here to tell you, it’s not always about what happens on the bike! Sometimes things go quite wrong when you’re not even physically peddling!
I had a GREAT plan (by a great coach!) and I followed it to the letter.
Easy first hour, cruising like a granny going to church. I focused on hydration and eventually on nutrition. I let everyone who came out of the water AFTER me, pass me like I wasn’t even part of this event. No worries, it was going to be a long day. All I was thinking about was the 26.2 miles of unchartered territory to follow. As time clicked on, I finally hit the magical point where I could increase my speed a little and settle into my IM pace.
Not long after, I saw a group of people slowing, pointing and swerving to avoid something. As I got closer I spotted another racer on the ground. He was pretty skinned up, his bike had lost a few parts and pieces, but no one has stopped to check on him. So I did.
He was able to talk. I knew we were close to an aid station so I asked someone to let them know a racer was down and I went through the process of making sure this guy didn’t whack his head. He was still a little out of it from just the shock of crashing. His entire right side was fairly torn up and full of road debris, but that seemed to be the main complaint. Somehow his aerobar pads were dislodged when he hit the pavement so I retrieved those, his nutrition that had spilled, and made sure his bike was functional. The important stuff!! Race marshals eventually arrived with a radio and called for medical assistance. At that point, the downed racer thanked me and sent me on my way. I never thought to get his bib number or name, but I really hope he was able to continue and finish his day.
I got back to riding and just before the 30 mile point my stomach started to bother me. This NEVER happens (ok rarely) and it has really never happened on the bike. But then I don’t normally ingest a gallon of salt water prior to riding either. Honestly, I was grateful I just needed a porta-potty and wasn’t barfing my guts up like some folks riding along the course. Salt water is wicked!
I get to an aid station, pop in, take care of business, and I’m off again. I’m thinking to myself, “hey that didn’t take too long….not bad at all.”
And this is where it all went wrong. My piss poor concept of time allowed me to justify stopping. I convinced myself it would be faster to stop and do what needed to be done instead of multi-tasking…..working on the move.
I proceeded to stop at 3 more port-a-pottys, along the course, AND at bike special needs. I didn’t have any more stomach issues I just had to pee, wanted to re-apply chamois cream, or needed to mix a bottle. Sometimes stopping was more important than others, but the thing is, it AWAYS took longer than I thought. In my case….about 6 minutes longer per stop than I “thought” it was taking.
I went from planning on making bike special needs my only stop of the day, to stopping at 5 different points throughout the course. All totaled, it added up to just over 30 minutes of non-moving time that day.
When I set up my head unit, I elected to remove time from the display. I knew my wattage parameters, I had mph up on display, and felt that was enough. I didn’t want to be frustrated by how long it was taking me to move through the course and push for an overall bike split that would come back to bite me in the ass during the run. A fine and dandy idea, until I decided to stop half a dozen times.
The ride itself was pretty uneventful. My nutrition was perfect. My pacing was spot-on (minus the stop and go nonsense). The weather was beautiful.
It was typical Florida cycling with some rollers, a bridge or two and a lot of wind in every direction, but nothing unusually difficult. I felt great until some stomach/gas pain popped up during the last 20 miles and I was able to deal with that fairly effectively.
As I made the turn down Thomas Drive I was feeling pretty good about things, but still had no idea what my cumulative race time was at that point.
I slipped out of my shoes, rolled up to the line, and dismounted. A very nice gentleman took my bike from me the same moment I glanced at the race clock and saw 8:22. I said something along the lines of, “Well, that’s just fucking fantastic!”
I’m sure he was a tad shocked….
or maybe not…
I thanked him for taking my ride and trotted off to grab my run bag in a less than stellar mood.
I ran into the changing tent trying to figure out WHAT exactly happened out on the bike course. Obviously, I didn’t know THEN all that I know now and I was very confused. I expected to ride 6:10-6:20…6:30 if things weren’t going my way, but 6:48? WTF???
I was rational enough,however; to know that the middle of T2 was not the place nor time to dissect my Ironman bike split. I needed to get going. I changed shorts, grabbed my visor, race belt, gel flask, put on my socks and shoes, then ran out for the first marathon of my life.
I headed out feeling pretty good. My legs felt nice, my back felt good, and my stomach pains were gone. As I made my way past the crowds, I looked at my watch at saw I was running a 9:00 min/mi and knew I needed to slow down.
1st and last mile was full of spectators
My goal was to pace the run as evenly as I could. I was so focused on that pacing that I didn’t recognize friends on course, my husband until he screamed my name, or even what mile I was on until I would ask an aid station volunteer. I never had the cumulative time or distance pulled up on my Garmin. I ran with only the current lap/mile time and pace, nothing else mattered.
I was not a fan of this run course. It was 2 loops, out and back. It went into a residential area and then peeled off into the a state park. There was very little crowd support with the exception of the 1st and last miles. That wasn’t as much of an issue as the condition of the roads. I ran the HIM version in May and had similar thoughts, but it was raining and I felt maybe I just got a bad impression. Nope. This day only solidified my opinion. The roads were full of gravel and potholes. There were numerous portions where we had to run over very wide speed bumps (no going around…only up and over) and through sandy patches with makeshift plywood bridges. There was one section where we actually ran through a sandy/grassy patch of an outdoor restaurant. Bizarre and I didn’t like it, but that’s just me.
I was told I would feel pretty good for the first 10 miles and this proved to be spot on. The first 6 miles ticked off fast. I couldn’t believe how easy it felt. It seemed like my watch was chiming mile alerts one after another. I remember thinking, “only 10 will seem easy???…pfft, this is gonna be a piece of cake!” yeah, right!
I made it through the dreaded park (maybe it’s just me…I loathe that park) and was headed back to the turn-around and special needs, a place I need not ever stop…..but on this day, I did.
2nd loop, the effects of fatigue jacking with my form.. even though I didn’t “feel” it
I was feeling pretty good as I got close and had some decisions to make.
I knew I was over the half-marathon point and I was pretty much done with my gels by this point, so I elected to NOT grab my 2nd flask. I had switched to coke at the aid station prior to special needs so I knew that’s how I was fueling from this point forward.
I’d had some ITB issues after my bike crash, a few months back, and ran the 1st loop of the run with my orthotics in hopes of keeping it under control. Now those orthotics were making my feet sore so I elected to switch to my regular insoles. In retrospect, probably not the best idea.
I grabbed a jacket, tied it around my waist because it was supposed to get cold and took my hand-held light to navigate the inevitable darkness.
This took me just around 6 minutes. The magical number for the day!
I headed back out for the 2nd trip and the miles are not ticking off near as fast. I didn’t “feel” tired, but I can’t seem to get my heart rate elevated enough to move any faster and it’s a very uncomfortable feeling. I drank more coke and then more water. For a minute I thought I might be volume depleted, but then I realized that would be near impossible.
At some point my left IT band really started to hurt and my left knee would periodically buckle. I was still able to run, but I’d have to stop and re-set my form every so often. This distracted me and I ended up skipping an aid station, which meant I skipped my dose of coke. This left me dizzy and feeling like crap before I could get to the next one. I made a quick mental note to never do that again….
The rest was pretty much more of the same. I ran until my knee wouldn’t allow it. Then I’d walk for a second because any longer than that and it would be impossible to start running again. And I always remembered the coke!
I never felt “bad” or even unusually tired. I just remember that my knee hurt and I was generally annoyed with the situation. Looking back, that’s probably a pretty good indicator of my overall fatigue.
At about 22 miles I was just “over it”. The run/walk seemed ridiculous and as the minutes ticked on I was growing a strong distaste for the state of Florida….Panama City Beach in general. I really wanted a nice hot shower, a toothbrush, and to ingest something other than coke. I also knew it was almost over.
The last mile was lined with spectators so it passed quickly. I could hear the finish line and was trying to dig deep and pull out a positive attitude. You hear so many stories about people doing cartwheels and crying when the cross the finish line. I was pretty certain I might be the first to throw my hands up and cuss like a sailor when I saw the clock. I still didn’t know my race time.
At that moment I had a short talk with myself. It went something like this….
What’s done is done. There’s no going back, only forward. You were fortunate enough to be here, healthy enough to start, strong enough to make it through the day, and you’re now armed with knowledge to carry forward. The only bad result, at this point, would be a bad finish. And the only way to have a bad finish, is to not take the time to enjoy the moment you’ve earned.
So as I rounded the corner and came down the chute, I promised myself to not be distressed by the number on the clock, but to be grateful for the end of a fantastic journey.
And just like that it was over…
Overall Finish: 13:43
And yea, there was a little bit of, “13:43 are you serious?”
But that’s just who I am; always acutely aware of how I would’ve done things better.
Truth be told, this journey began closer to 5 years ago when my husband asked me what was on my ‘bucket list.” At that point neither of us even owned a bike and certainly had never even thought of entering a triathlon. We both grew up swimming, worked out daily, and ran here and there……but nothing remotely close to what we do now.
The evolution has been fun, exciting, and at times very frustrating….but it’s never boring.
So did I sign up for next year?
I don’t have a great big urge to race IMFL again. And I don’t have a big desire to sit on my bike, for thousands of hours, for months on end quite so soon either.
Next year I’m going to stick to half-ironmans or shorter and work on the “little things” that have a tendency to add up over a long day! I’m fairly certain, my coach will use this opportunity to re-aquaint me with pushing the envelope a little, as well as to remind me that feeling uncomfortable (at times) is an actually good thing.
If there is one thing I DO love about Ironman it’s the pace at which you train and race! And I’ll be ready for that again, armed with the knowledge and experience of Ironman Florida, in 2015….
at Ironman Texas!
Run Happy, My Friends!