READER DISCLAIMER: I am posting this mostly for myself, as it it will let me have a record of what I went though for future races. Feel free to read this if you’re interested!
On November 2nd, 2013, I competed in my second Ironman — Ironman Florida, in Panama City Beach. Last year, I completed Ironman Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Deciding on Florida meant I would have races on two ends of a spectrum. The Coeur d’Alene course was highlighted by frigid water (54° – it required a neoprene cap under the swim cap), a brisk and mountainous bike (quite literally) and a cool and moderately hilly run. It was by far and away the most picturesque race I have done, of any kind. Florida would be an unpredictable ocean swim, a flat and probably-windy bike, and a warm and flat run. The ocean wouldn’t make for bad scenery, but we wouldn’t see it much.
Unlike last year, the race would be within driving distance. And I would be competing with three other friends. With all of our families and a contingent of friends, there would be dozens of people on course to cheer us on.
That made me all kinds of anxious. I’m a worrier by trade, so knowing that I would have all of these people watching made me a ball of nerves. I felt I had to perform. Getting plucked out of the water was my worst nightmare.
The day before the race, our group went out for a quick swim/bike/run. The weather was mean. Heavy winds (easily around 15-20 mph) coming off the ocean made for five to six foot swells and intense gusts on the bike. Getting down to the water with my wetsuit in tow, I was in trouble. I have a very complex relationship with the water. Having learned to swim only a few years ago, there is a part of me that deeply fears crashing waves and the utter smallness created by my presence in it. I broke into snotty, irrational tears. Slowly, I was coaxed into the water by my training buddy, Carlos. I turned and ran into shore dozens of times. Each time, he dragged me back in. I was unclear about how to dive waves and was continuously if not violently turned in summersaults with each crashing wave. Finally, with help from an unwavering Carlos, I mastered it and we got past the breakers. Coming back in though, I lost my racing goggles. My boyfriend remedied this with a quick trip to Sports Authority.
All I could do was hope the weather report held true and the conditions would calm down for race day.
That night, Carlos and I cooked a meal for our friends and family at our rented condo, enjoyed some laughs and headed to bed at 8:00 pm sharp. The 3:30 am wake up came quickly. Some coffee, oatmeal and yogurt and we were on our way for body marking.
My race goal was to beat my Coeur d’Alene time, which was 13:32. It seemed doable for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being that the course in Florida is flat. I was hoping for 13:00, or to break 13:00 if I could.
SWIM (2.4 miles): 1:13:13
Making our way down to the water, it was clear that conditions were in our favor. The wind was blowing toward the ocean, keeping the waves at bay. There were some breakers to get through at the start, but it looked calm on the other side. One of my friends and I headed over to the 1:30 self seed area. My head was spinning. A hug. A quick prayer. The gun went off. I was doing it. It was time.
Nearly 2900 people in a mass start in the ocean is almost comical (see it here). It took several minutes to spread out enough that you could even freestyle. But once I could — despite a few kicks, swats and leg pulling — I settled in. The sun was rising over the ocean, the water was cool and salty. In that moment, I realized how awesome it was to be out there. How lucky. I didn’t panic even once. I felt at perfect harmony. I was…having fun. We looped out of the water and back in for lap two. It had only been 42 minutes. I was on track to crush my predicted finish of 2:05. The water was a little rougher by lap two, but not much. There weren’t as many people to draft at that point, yet I managed to finish the swim in 1:31:13. That was a 2:21/100 pace — exactly what I had been swimming in the pool. I’d love to improve my swim time for my next event.
TRANSITION ONE (T1): 8:45 >> It felt like this took forever. I anticipated a much faster T1, but there was a big run up to the tents and then to the bike.
BIKE (112 miles): 5:29:01
Once I was on the bike, I was ready to go! My mouth felt like somebody poured a salt shaker in it. Hydration would be really important. My pace strategy was to ride hard because the bike is my strength. I knew that I’d run slowly no matter what because I struggle with the bike-to-run. I certainly didn’t ride all out, but I pushed the pace. Because I am a slow swimmer and a fast biker there was a lot of passing, and that is pretty fun. I witnessed a lot more drafting than I expected. I’d heard stories about how prevalent it is in Florida. What a shame. I like to think that people who compete in this sport understand the importance of racing honestly.
In any case, I saw my cheering crowd at the halfway point — awesome, really motivating. At mile 95 or so, I passed one of my buddies. Then, I saw the cheering crowd again. My strategy on the bike was to take in a bottle every hour to hour and a half. Starting with two bottles of HEED on the bike, then grabbing water from aide stations. I would use only gels and honey stinger waffles for food. And would stop eating and drinking with about 30 minutes left to ride, aside from small sips of water. That would mean I could start the run without a sloshy belly. I nailed it. (I took Perform on course, which I didn’t want to, but diluted with water it worked out just fine). My pace on the bike leg was 20.42 mph. My goal was 19 mph. With the swim also faster than calculated, it was dawning on me that I was likely to hit my race goal with ease if I could just manage an OK time on the run.
TRANSITION 2 (T2): 5:51>> My legs felt awful coming off the bike. I just had to keep moving. A lot of folks were walking at this point up to the changing tents. I decided to stop and take the shoes off so I could jog it and loosen up. Once in the tent, I had a volunteer spray me with sunscreen while I dressed. I threw the shoes on, left the band aids in the bag because putting them on would be too much work, with too little reward. I also decided to keep the tri shorts on instead of changing into running shorts — to benefit from the compression they would offer on the run.
Dammit. My watch. I hit the lap button twice by accident and screwed up my multi-sport mode. I had to reset the Garmin and start the run separately. Only this time, the data was messed up. The distance was reading short and my pace never read under an 11 minute mile. I was feeling so rough. The sun was hot. My boyfriend told me later it was over 80. Still mild enough, but I felt like I was cooking. The goal was to run through mile six, which would get me into St. Andrews Park, where friends were volunteering. I did my best, but I had to stop to adjust lace tension several times for my jacked up foot. And I walked some.
My nutrition strategy was simple – NO whole foods. Only gels – every 45 minutes to an hour. Avoid Perform if I could. And if I couldn’t, mix it with water. It took willpower to do this. But I stuck to the plan. Nothing would ruin my run quicker than a side ache and stomach pain.
Still, I struggled in the first half. My feet hurt so badly. The blisters formed almost immediately. I saw my cheer crew at mile three or four. That boosted my spirits. And the more the sun went down, the better I felt. But my Achilles started to scream and that caused me to stop several times for stretching. With each stop came the intense urge to keep walking. It was mind over matter. And my brain was kicking my ass. I had to force myself to run again. At mile 14, one of the blisters burst in the shoe. It almost felt good. I saw a fellow Dailymiler at some point on the course. When the sun went down, I hit my stride and was able to run more consistently. The music was going on course. People were cheering like crazy. I felt ON FIYA. With two miles to go, I ended up next to a guy who said, “You’re looking great! You must be shooting for a sub 12:00, huh?” I was in shock. He quickly helped me with the math and I busted out a faster pace to cross the finish line. My run pace was 10:11. I had hoped for a 9:30-9:45 pace. So this fell a little shy. But, hey, how could I possibly complain!?? I need to work on the bike-to-run stuff and get my brain in the right place.
How’d I do? 27th in my age group (out of 123); 136 out of 743 women; and 866 out of 2891 total competitors. If I’m reading correctly, the top age group woman came in at 9:27 (omg). And the top woman in my AG was 10:33. So, I wasn’t THAT fast. But dammit, I was a lot faster than I thought I’d be (an hour and 20 minutes faster!). I cried crossing the finish line. This was absolutely one of the best moments of my entire life.