“I had as many doubts as anyone else. Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.” Alberto Alazar
The short summary – I am an Ironman!!!
My time was 13:56:00.
Swim Time: 1:24:27
Bike Time: 7:01:43
Run Time: 5:04:13
Now, if you want to read the long version, grab a cup of coffee or something and get comfy.
After basically training for a year for this, race day was finally here. My alarm went off at 3:30 am. I got up and started getting ready. Heat the water for the oatmeal, get dressed, take my medicine, eat breakfast, drink my shake. Patrick called at 3:45 like I asked him to make sure I was awake. I made sure all of my jewelry was off, made sure I had my chip around my ankle, put on my warm clothes and grabbed the rest of the stuff.
Patrick came to get me about 4:40. We grabbed the special need bags and my morning clothes bag and drove toward the starting point. With all the roads blocked off, Patrick pulled up just where the run special needs drop off point was. I got out with all my gear and was alone again for a little bit while he went back to park the truck at the house and walk back to meet me. In the meantime, I dropped off the run special needs bag, went across the street to drop off the bike special needs bag, and then made the short trek to transition.
When I got to transition, I found someone to body mark me. I had to take my warm clothes off to get marked. Brrrrr! But once I had my numbers on I entered transition. I headed straight for my bike and put my nutrition on. I remembered to get my computer out of the zip lock bag, put it on the bike and reset it. I found a nice volunteer who was checking tire pressure and made sure mine was where it needed to be. I had also rented a GPS tracking unit, so I turned it on, put it in its pouch and placed it in my swim-to-bike bag so I could put it on in T1. I ran into a Kathy G and got a quick picture and then stood there for just a bit to soak it all in. The atmosphere was amazing. There was nothing left to do in transition. I called Patrick and he was almost back, so I headed out of transition and met him so I wouldn’t be alone.
We walked to the beach side where the swim start was and sat there for a little bit, but it was in the low 40s and I was getting cold. I would be out in this all day, so no reason to be out in it now. We found the lobby of the hotel and went inside to get warm. During the time we were in there I used the bathroom several times (just to be sure) and ate my second breakfast.
As the time approached 6:30 I figured it was time to start putting on the wetsuit. That’s always fun and today was no different. Pull here, squeeze here, pull some more. I made sure to put body glide on areas I thought might chafe, but especially on the neck area. I got my arms in but didn’t zip up yet. I put the sweatshirt back on over the wetsuit and we headed down to the start.
After being here to volunteer last year I knew the sand would be cold, so I had worn some mammoth crocs to the start. This worked perfectly. I handed everything to Patrick except my phone (so I could make sure to find him), my swim cap and my goggles. I entered the arch that said “swim start” and crossed the timing mat. There was no turning back.
I walked to the right along the barrier between the athletes and spectators and found Patrick again. I wasn’t planning on leaving until I saw my family and it was almost time to start the race. As I was waiting, I checked my goggles and realized that when I put the defogger in, they didn’t get rinsed well enough and they were streaked. I couldn’t see clear through them. I had been smart and put a second pair in my morning bag, so we got those out and I went through the process again making sure to rinse them well. I took my sweatshirt off and handed my phone to Patrick. Still no family. They had called and I knew they were heading my way, but it was time for the pros to start and almost time for me to walk to the water.
Finally I saw my kids. I got some great hugs from the family and teared up thinking about what I was getting ready to do. It was time to go. I took my crocs off to hand them to the family and when I did, the sand got on my goggles. Which were wet. Crap. Grabbed the water bottle and rinsed them again and then took off to the water. I saw Kathy G right before the swim start and that was nice. It helped calm me down a bit. With one minute to go, I hit start on my watch and tucked it into my wetsuit sleeve. I put the goggles on and enjoyed the moment. The next thing I know, the cannon had gone off and we were moving forward. I was doing an Ironman.
Since Florida is a beach start, there is some walking to start with. After being in the cold with the feet on the cold sand, it felt good to be in the water. The water was warmer than the air temp. It felt good. And then it was time to start swimming.
I was in the middle left to right and probably somewhat toward the middle front to back as well, but still in the mix of a bunch of folks. I just looked for an empty spot and went horizontal. It was crazy, but exciting. I was doing fine for a while. Sure, I’d bump people here and there or they would bump me, but nothing bad. I could feel that I was in the whole draft of the hundreds of folks before me and thought I should try to stay there as long as possible. And then, about the first buoy, it was like we hit a brick wall. Everyone stopped. I don’t know why, but there was no way to swim forward for a split second. With my head out of the water, I looked around and took it all in.
Back to swimming we went. I got into a rhythm with the waves and tried to use them to my advantage when I could. And I also started swimming more toward the buoys and ended up swimming the buoy line.
The next thing I knew we were at the first turn. And wow was that crazy. People everywhere. I just wanted to get around the buoy and try to find an open spot again. And then I just tried to follow the people in front of me. At this point, we were swimming directly into the rising sun and I could not see anything. Finally I caught a glimpse of the next turn buoy and just kept swimming. It didn’t take long to get there and turn to swim back toward shore.
At this point it was thinning out a little, but I was still in the middle of a lot of swimmers. That made me feel really good because I am not a super fast swimmer and am sometimes lonely at the back of the pack. As long as I could see people around me I would not panic that I was at the back. As I got closer to shore I could hear the announcer and the music and got excited that I was almost halfway through the swim. I swam until the shallow water again before standing up and heading in.
I ran up the beach glancing along the sides to see if I could see my family. I had no idea where they would be. I crossed the timing mat, grabbed a cup of water to rinse out my mouth and continued on my way. As I was going diagonal in the water to start the second lap, I spotted Brandi. I figured someone else was there with her and started waving my hands in the air, hoping they would figure it was me. And then it was time to start the second lap.
It wasn’t as crowded anymore, but I still got bumped and even got kicked in the jaw at one point. Good thing the water was clear. I started watching for feet and protecting my face. I had checked my watch at the turnaround point and knew I was having a good swim, so I just kept doing what I had been and enjoying the moment. As I turned around the second turn buoy to head back to shore I was excited. It was a little harder at that point, though, because the waves kept pushing me out to the right and I kept having to swim back in to the buoys. I didn’t swim as close to them on this lap as I did on the first, but that was fine. I just kept focusing on the swim finish.
I couldn’t believe it when I got to the shallow water and stood up again. I still had to cross the timing mat, but I had just finished my swim. I was VERY happy. I finished faster than I thought I would and that meant even if I had a bad bike, I still had time in the bank.
As I exited the water I unzipped my wetsuit and got my arms out. Because of the cold temps I wasn’t sure if I wanted to use the wetsuit strippers or if I wanted to wait to get out of the wetsuit in T1, but I made a quick decision to use the strippers. I found an available male, laid on the ground and stuck my feet in the air. He ripped that wetsuit off in no time and grabbed my hand to help me up. I was on my way. The only bad thing is that so many people were in the wetsuit stripping area that I was pretty much on sand, so I stopped under the showers to rinse off the sand. I probably stayed there longer than I should have, but I wanted to make sure the sand was off as much as possible.
After going through the showers, I ran up the path and through the archway to the T1 bag area. I knew where my bag was and ran that way. Then I was running to T1.
And my feet were cold. And numb. And they hurt. But I kept going. I was doing an Ironman!! Just before entering the changing area, I heard someone yelling for me and looked to see my family. That was awesome.
I had used the changing tent during the Redman aquabike to get a feel for the experience, but this was nothing like that. I turned the corner to enter the tent and was amazed. It was packed! I wasn’t sure where to go so I just kept walking to the back hoping to find a place. There was not a free chair anywhere. I finally found a somewhat open spot and dropped my wetsuit and bag and started getting out of the wet clothes. Since the temps were so low I had decided to change into dry clothes before starting the bike.
I got out of the wet clothes and dried off as best I could before putting on my tri jersey for the rest of the race. I did tap the volunteer next to me on the shoulder and get her help in pulling down the back of my jersey. Other than that, I did everything myself. My transition time was slow, but I wanted to make sure I did everything I needed to and that I had everything I needed for the bike. Once I was sure that was done, I stuffed my swim stuff in the bag, gave it to a volunteer and headed out of the tent.
I had to run back down the long chute, but saw my family again on the way. I did stop at the port-a-potty and then found the volunteer who had my bike ready and waiting. I grabbed it from her and headed to the bike exit.
As I was heading down the bike chute to the mount line, I saw my friend Brandi on the phone and heard her say “she is wearing her green jacket.” I assumed she was talking to my family who was probably further down, but at that point I had to concentrate to get on my bike and get clipped in without hitting or getting hit by anyone. There were lots of people in the chute at the same time as me and I was just ready to get out on the road.
After watching weather forecasts all week, I knew the bike was going to be tough for me. Winds were forecasted to be 10mph or more with gusts of 20-25. And the direction they were forecast to be blowing meant a headwind or crosswind for much of the ride. The forecast was not wrong.
I told myself to do my ride and not worry about anyone else. And it was a good thing I did. As I was heading out past the hotels, I got passed by a LOT of folks. That’s ok. I just let them go. This was going to be a long day and I wasn’t going to use all my energy the first 10 miles. I got settled in and just pedaled at a speed that felt comfortable to me.
As I got to Hwy 79 and turned to head north, I knew it would get tougher. We would be in an almost direct headwind for that stretch of the road. I didn’t want to worry about what speed I was going. Again, I knew I just needed to do my ride, even if that meant riding slow. I would try to make it up on the parts of the course where we might have a tailwind. And I was hoping I’d get that chance as we turned to head east on Highway 20. I did pick up some speed here, but not as much as I hoped. Regardless of which way I was riding, I felt like I had a headwind. It was still cool and I still had my jacket on.
Normally in a long ride, I am known for having to stop and use the restroom about mile 20 or around an hour into the ride. I had planned on this and knew I might have to stop at the second aid station, but I didn’t. I made it to mile 30 or 40 (can’t remember) before I had to stop for the first time. There was a little bit of a wait, but I knew if I didn’t stop it would hurt me in the ride. I did my thing and got back on the bike.
Since I stopped so late for me, I pretty much decided at this point that I would not stop at mile 56 where the special needs bags were. The only thing I had in mine anyway was extra CO2 (and I hadn’t had a flat), extra nutrition (and I had four extra bags in my pocket), and peanut M&Ms (which I could do without). I did not need to stop.
The out and back section that contained the special needs stop was interesting. Most of the course was on very smooth, great roads (especially compared to what I normally ride on). The first out and back section was a section of road that had some bumps on it. It almost felt like when you cross a bridge and you cross the expansion joints between pavement if that makes sense. A lot of people thought that road was horrible, but it was still better than the roads I train on. Even though it wasn’t that bad, it was nice to be done with that part. Well, except that I knew the next part of the course would have some long rollers with a headwind or crosswind. Onward I went.
The section of 20 coming back to 79 had some long rollers and it seemed that everyone was getting beat up through here. It was tough to get a good pace going if you were following the rules correctly and staying 4 bike lengths back from the bike in front of you. And when they were slower than me, I knew I didn’t have the energy to pass them in the required 20 seconds. Occasionally I’d get up out of the saddle and get it done, but then I’d have to recover again. There was definitely some leap-frogging going on. And some illegal drafting by others. I didn’t realize how much until I saw pictures.
Around mile 70 I stopped again to use the restroom and to refill my bottles with more nutrition. And as I was getting ready to leave the aid station I hear my name being called. My friend Patrick had taken his motorcycle and had ridden out to find me with my daughter on the back. They were there taking pictures. That was a nice surprise to see them at that point.
I continued on 20 and saw the next intersection. For some reason I forgot that was 77 and not 79, so mentally I was preparing to turn and hopefully enjoy a tailwind. Wrong. I still had a way to go. I just kept pedaling. Despite the fact that I was slower than I wanted to be, I wasn’t doing too bad and I knew I was not in danger of missing any cutoffs.
When I finally got to 79 to turn to head back to town I was happy. I knew there wasn’t a lot of course left and I knew I’d have a little bit of a tailwind at least. I was able to pick up speed at this point, but not as much as I hoped. Somewhere along this stretch, though, the toll of the wind caught up to me. I have issues with the wind drying my contacts out and not being able to see. It has happened in other rides and it was along this point that I realized I really couldn’t see all that clearly. I kept trying to blink my eyes to wet them and hoped that it would go away. It was also along this stretch where I saw Patrick again, but this time he had my son on the back of the motorcycle. I was glad they both found me.
When I got to the turn for the second out and back, my family and Brandi were there with signs and were yelling like crazy. One of the riders told me I had a huge fan club. That was a nice surprise as I had told them before the race that I didn’t expect to see them on the bike course. And with them being there, that meant that after I did the out and back, I saw them again. Well, I would have seen them if I could see. My contacts were getting really bad at that point.
After stopping at mile 70 I had decided I didn’t want to stop again unless I absolutely had to. But after turning onto 79 to head in, I saw some port-a-potties and decided to stop one last time. But the main reason I stopped was to put drops in my eyes to see if it would help. After a quick stop I was off. I knew I only had about 15 miles to go.
Crossing the “big” hill on the way back was challenging because coming down the back side I got caught by a huge crosswind and felt like I was going to be knocked over. It made me slow down and lose some momentum in speed. The drops were not helping my eyes. It was hard to see and the winds were still beating me down. But I kept pedaling. The faster I pedaled, the sooner I’d be done. And it was nice when I got back to Thomas Drive and the stretch by the hotels. It was even nicer when I made that last turn and headed down that last little stretch before entering the chute again. I rode all the way to the dismount line and got off.
As soon as I crossed that line, an awesome volunteer grabbed my bike and I ran to get my T2 bag. Before I got in the tent, I had my helmet and gloves off. This time, the change tent was not so crowded. A volunteer asked if I needed help. I don’t do a lot in T2 except get rid of the cycling stuff and change shoes so I didn’t need help, but I still couldn’t see. From listening to the girl next to me, I wans’t the only one.
When I had all I needed for the run, I left the tent and headed for the run exit. In the meantime, I turned on the garmin (I wore one on the bike and a different on the run to make sure the battery lasted the whole time) and hoped it would find a satellite quickly. It wasn’t. I needed to set it to the interval training so I would have my “beeps” for my run and walk segments, but I had a hard time seeing the screen. It was very frustrating. Once I got it ready, I left transition and began my run.
As I started the run, my legs felt a little heavy but really not bad at all. I’ve trained for this. I knew they would get better. I told myself to just stick to my 4/1 and go. It worked great. After a couple of walk breaks my legs felt great. I passed Kathy G and she told me I looked strong. I felt great. The only problem was that I still couldn’t see. At least it was still daylight. For now.
Run/walk, run/walk, run/walk. My plan was working like a charm. Soon I was in the state park turning around to head back. I knew I was averaging just over 10 minute miles and I was very pleased with that. It was great being out on the course with so many people. And for a large part of the run I was close to Jack Chen (the inspirational hero who was blind) and his running partner. It was amazing to watch them run together, only connected by a short rope. The guide would warn Jack when they were coming to a speed bump or when they would be turning. He would let Jack know when they were coming to an aid station and help him get water. Truly amazing.
Before I knew it I was at the halfway point. As I rounded to corner, volunteers were shouting out numbers for the run special needs bags. I knew I was going to grab mine because the sun was almost down and it was getting colder. I wanted my gloves that I had put in there. And, another nice surprise was that right as I was turning the corner I saw some friends from home that had gone to watch some of their other friends. Seeing people you know on the course always gives you a boost of energy.
I grabbed my special needs bag and attempted to get to my gloves, but my hands were cold so the volunteer asked what I want and got it for me. Awesome! The volunteers were amazing.
I knew that for me, for doing a marathon in an Ironman, I was having a great run. I was excited to head back out on that second loop. I saw my family several times on the run and that was nice and I chatted with other participants along the way. As the sun went down and it got dark, though, it got tougher for me. Not because I was sore or tired, but because I had a harder time seeing where I was going. There are parts of the course, especially the part through the state park, that are really dark. In order to try and help, the race director had gotten extra spotlights to light the course. This was great when the lights were behind you, but when you were running toward them it was as if the sun was right in your eyes as it’s setting and you couldn’t see a thing. So, not only could I not see clearly through my contacts, but now I also couldn’t see anything because of the blinding light in front of me. I ran toward those lights with my hands shielding my eyes a lot of times. And I just hoped there was someone in front of me to follow. I could only imagine at that point how jack Chen felt running the whole thing without being able to see at all.
I think one of the highlights of the run was between mile 21 and mile 22. I was running one of my run segments at that point and there was another female runner next to me. We passed two guys who happened to be walking at that point and I heard one say to the other as we passed, “dude, we are seriously getting chicked”. Getting “chicked” means a female is kicking a guy’s booty. I had to smile and laugh. I also thought to myself, “yeah, you are probably getting chicked because you probably pushed too hard on the bike.”
Toward mile 24 it started getting harder to run again after my walk breaks. I knew I had slowed down but tried to keep running. Since I couldn’t read my watch, I had no idea what my elapsed time was or how well I may be doing, but I knew I would finish. There was no doubt in my mind about that. I walked for a while and just enjoyed being out there. I talked to folks, I told them good job, I thanked the spectators. It was an amazing feeling.
And then I turned toward the finish. There were lots of people lining the finish chute. I still had a ways to go and was still walking at that point. And then I heard someone say “you are almost there, you can run it in”. And so I started to run. And I ran down that chute and I heard people cheering and I could see (kind of) the finish line. Since my eyes were still foggy I didn’t even try to find my family. I just ran. And then I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face.
Patrick had volunteered as a finish line catcher and was waiting for me as I crossed which was great, because I couldn’t see a thing. I wasn’t even able to read the finish line clock to see what my finish time was, so I asked him. He told me just under 14 hours. Really????? I never imagined I would finish in that time. I was excited. It turns out my marathon time was only 20 minutes slower than my stand alone marathon PR. Wow!
I walked around to keep my legs moving while he went to get my morning bag and my warm clothes. I had my medal, my finisher hat and my finisher shirt. I stopped to get my finisher picture taken and then as I was heading to get my massage I ran into my family and Brandi. I was glad I got to see them there because I know how chaotic the finish area can be. They went to get warm while I went to get my massage.
After the massage I put on some more warm clothes and we called my parents to see where their car was. I was not going to walk back to the house. They picked up me and Patrick while Brandi and Joel went to get my bike and transition bags.
Once back at the house I ate a salad and cole slaw from Chick-fil-a and drank a coke. Then we enjoyed some cookies they had made me and toasted with some champagne. What a day it had been.
Once everyone left, I lay on the couch for a while longer and read my facebook messages from the day and also read some posts on the triathlon forum. It is truly amazing to me how many people checked in through the day to see how I was doing. I am truly blessed.
Eventually I got up and took a warm shower and crawled into bed. I’m pretty certain I fell asleep really fast, but I do know that I fell asleep knowing – I AM an Ironman!!