All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. Walt Disney
And my dream of becoming an Ironman is being pursued. I stood in line this morning with the other volunteers and registered for Ironman Florida 2010.
In June of 2005, I ran my first marathon (26.2 miles of running). Exactly one week later, I completed my first sprint triathlon (500m swim, 12 mile bike and 3.1 mile run). At that point, something inside me was born. I enjoyed the challenge of endurance racing and knew there would be more marathons and triathlons in my future. What I didn’t know at that point was how far I would take it.
In the spring of 2006, I did my first Olympic distance tri (.9 mile swim, 24 mile bike and 6.2 mile run). I wondered if I could do a longer one. The next step was a half ironman (otherwise known as 70.3). It involves a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. I did my first half ironman in the fall of 2007. At that point I began to question whether I could accomplish the “big one” – a full Ironman distance. An Ironman triathlon is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run – all in one day with a time limit of 17 hours.
I began reading the beginnertriathlete forum and read any thread I could that had to do with Ironman. I read lots of race reports, and I began to think that maybe I could do it. I did my second half Ironman in the fall of 2008 and knocked my time down. The dream of a full Ironman was growing.
I researched the different Ironman races and decided if I did one, I would do Ironman Florida. I had also read that it’s best to go to the Ironman race the year before to volunteer and experience Ironman and then get in line the day after to sign up for the following year. So, this is how I came to my decision to volunteer at Ironman Florida for 2009 and sign up for 2010.
Ironman Florida from a Volunteer Standpoint
On Thursday afternoon I caught a flight to Florida. I landed in Pensacola, hooked up with another BTer and made the drive to Panama City Beach, Florida. Got to the condo and headed for bed. Friday morning I was up early and heading down to the Gatorade swim. Several of us BTers met to do a practice swim in the ocean. And I am glad I did. In Florida, the 2.4 mile swim consists of 2 loops of 1.2 miles. No problem, right? So I head out and felt great at first. The salt water and wetsuit had me floating on top of the water. I wasn’t worried about time, so I just enjoyed the swim. My son had joked about there being sharks in the ocean. I didn’t see any sharks, but what I saw is something I hadn’t thought about – jellyfish. Luckily most of them close the surface were small and I did not get stung. A few things I learned from the swim:
1. The water isn’t as cold as I thought, but the wetsuit is good.
2. Salt water doesn’t taste so good and the taste stays in your mouth most of the day
3. If you tend to get seasick, an ocean swim is not for you (at times my body felt like it was in a washing machine)
4. 1.2 miles in the ocean feels like a lot further than 1.2 miles in the lake
5. It’s hard to spot the buoys when the waves get in the way
6. It’s nice when your feet hit the beach again
And I have to do two loops? I’ve got a lot of work to do.
After cleaning up from the swim, a couple of us headed out to drive the bike course. I had heard it was flat, but wanted to see for myself. And for the most part, it IS flat. Especially compared to what I’m use to riding on. But, there is one overpass that creates a fairly steep hill early on that is also toward the very end of the course. Will need to save some legs for that. And one of the long stretches has quite a few rollers and false flats. But, as far as Ironman bike courses go, it’s the flattest there is.
After that, it was off to the volunteer meeting and then to a pizza joint for a dinner with a few other BTers. It was nice to meet them, especially since most of them will be signing up for next year as well.
Ironman Florida 2009 Race Day Observations
Race day morning I got up early. I wanted to be at the swim start to see everyone hit the water. And wow!!!! What an experience that is. The water at the shore is quite shallow, so there is a lot of “walking into the water” at the first part of the swim. And in most races, everyone is going as fast as they can. Not here. In fact, some were purposefully holding back so they wouldn’t get caught up in the washing machine effect of waves and 2400 swimmers. The pros finished their first lap in just under 30 minutes. Simply amazing.
As the lead pro got close to finishing his second lap, I moved over to the swim exit. It was fun watching them come out of the water and even more fun to watch the wet suit strippers do their job. I stayed here for a bit before heading up to watch the transition area. From where I was standing, I could see the swimmers head into T1 and then saw them again as they headed out to get their bikes. I saw a couple of BT racers and cheered for them. I also stayed until the last swimmer came out of the water. Some of the last ones looked pretty beat up from the rough water.
It was interesting to watch the people though. All shapes and sizes of bodies, and all ages, too. A couple of athletes had prosthetic legs. It was also interesting to see what people were wearing. I was taking notes for next year. I definitely think arm warmers will be in my T1 bag. And I may have to get a bright colored outfit so my spectators can find me easier.
From there, it was back to the room for some food and rest before heading back out in the afternoon to watch the cyclists come in off the bikes.
About 3:00 we went out right in front of the condo to watch the cyclists come in. Our condo was less than half a mile from the finish, so when we saw the cyclists, they were pretty much done with that part of the race. I saw a couple of BTers and cheered them on. Some cyclists were taking their feet out of their shoes already, but most were just stretching things out and getting ready for the run.
After a quick bite to eat, I headed down to the finish line. I stood at the run turnaround and run finish area for a while. Most runners looked strong. Only a few were walking. Then just a little before 5pm, I headed over to check in for my volunteer duty as a finish line catcher. I got my shirt and wristband (which I needed this morning to get in the volunteer line to sign up), put some gloves on and went to work.
As each runner came across the finish line, a catcher would walk to the athlete and ask them if they were ok. Most were, but a few nearly collapsed and had to really be caught. Then we would walk them through the chute to get their mylar blanket, medal, finisher shirt and hat, and have their chip removed from their leg. If they were still ok at this point, we let them go on their own. If not, we walked them to the medical tent or massage tent or wherever they needed us to walk with them.
I did have to “catch” a couple of people and I did have to take a couple to medical. One guy just wanted an IV so he wouldn’t be so bad off today. I also caught an 18 year old who finished his first Ironman (and probably in less time than I will), a guy who crashed on his bike at mile 56 but still completed the race, a guy who said this was his first triathlon (not just first Ironman, but first triathlon), and a guy from beginnertriathlete. Let me just say that if you ever “catch” at the finish line, make sure to wear rubbers gloves and a long sleeve shirt. Trust me on that one. After 140.6 miles, some people are pretty darn sweaty.
I was only signed up to catch from 6-9, but ended up staying until 10:30 because at times there didn’t seem to be enough catchers. From there I headed to the bleachers (so I could at least sit for a bit) and watched the finishers come in until the clock hit 17 hours at midnight. The last official finisher came in with about 35 seconds left on the clock. What an amazing finish.
Then, after a short night of sleep, I was up early this morning to go stand in line to register for next year’s race. Registration was posted as starting at 9am. I got there a little before 7am and was probably 200-250 people back. I’d be curious to see what time the first person in line got there. Luckily, they opened registration early and I was in and out before 9.
And so it begins. I won’t officially start Ironman training until sometime in April, but I will start swimming and biking again as soon as the San Antonio marathon is over next weekend. I’ll work on my base over the winter before getting into specific training in the spring. Should be a fun year!