I signed up for IM Florida on December 5, 2015, exactly 11 months before race day. It was a month after Rocketman, my first half-Iron distance race. I always swore I'd never a) do an Ironman, and b) do an Ironman while living in Iraq and having to train primarily indoors, yet there I was clicking on the blue Confirm Registration button on active.com, watching $650 fly out the window. My prior protestations aside, after discussion with Heather, Holly, and Mary, we all agreed Erbil provided a fairly ideal training environment. Sure, having to bike in my living room and run on a treadmill or around a parking lot would be taxing, but I had no outside distractions to get in the way of my training. When you're not living with your wife and aren't allowed outside of the hotel grounds, there's not much to do other than work and workout. I missed less than five workouts while in Kurdistan in 11 months, whereas I probably missed that many during my first business trip of the year to Houston in February alone. Like I said, tough training conditions but a lifestyle well suited to getting the training accomplished.
With the exception of the last two weeks of workouts in mid-October (we got evacuated to Dubai in advance of the Mosul offensive), I did all of my swimming in the Divan's 20m pool. It's designed for fat Kurdish men to bob around in but works well for lap swimming anytime before noon. After lunch, all bets are off as you spend more time dodging the hairy guys using the orange life guard rings as floaties than working on your stroke.
My key to surviving the cycling on the trainer for so many hours on end came in late December when someone on the Ironman Florida Facebook group mentioned trying Zwift, a new online bike training software environment. Zwift is basically a multiplayer game like World of Warcraft, only for cycling. The designers have created virtual roads and routes to ride, and your little avatar is one of dozens or hundreds on the course at any given time, giving you other people to ride with and talk to while you're on your trainer. Like any game, there are increasing levels to attain, different kits to unlock, and achievements to conquer. I did all of my long rides on Friday mornings and got to know the other regulars on course at the same time pretty well.
My running was like choosing whom to vote for in the election - two really bad options (Gary Johnson not withstanding). I could watch movies and TV shows on my iPad in the gym, but treadmill. I could run outside and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air, but parking lot. I ended up outside as often as possible when the weather and traffic in the lot cooperated. I'll take making a turn every 20-30 feet over feeling like a hamster any day. Plus, the Kurdish security guards patrolling the hotel grounds were pretty entertaining. I've never seen so many men trying to project an air of machismo while lying in the grass posing for selfies or smoking cigarettes twice as slim as Virginia Slims. They are decent guys, though, who would move their vehicles to give me more room to run a straight line before having to make a turn.
I left Dubai for Orlando on October 23rd to head home for the race. I was exhausted from the last few weeks of training and the stress of having to evacuate out of Erbil at the last minute. Let's hear it for tapering! While I didn't feel like I was tapering for another five days, it was nice to have less taxing workouts to get through. Even nicer was being with Heather again. The presence of your spouse is always calming, at least until you drive her nuts with race talk. I spent the week relaxing as much as possible, getting my bike tuned up and my new race wheels installed, and also managed to fit in a great dinner with Heather at Victoria & Albert's too. Finally, November came and it was time to go. I did my last real workout and made the long drive to Panama City Beach.
Wednesday was my race registration day.
I opted to go early to avoid the lines and crowds said to arrive later that afternoon. This turned out to be a wise choice. When I arrived at 930, there was no line. I filled out all the paperwork, thanked all the volunteers, and tried not to freak out. I was fairly successful at this until I reached the last step and was assigned my timing chip. Seeing my name and number on the screen was a huge "holy shit, I'm racing an Ironman" moment, a moment which quickly passed because the next step in the process was the merchandise tent. I don't care who you are, you can't stress over a race while shopping for goodies. I bought the two things I knew I wanted - the shirt with all the names of the competitors on the back and the event backpack - and skipped the IM-branded pot holders and a zillion other tchotchkes. I wonder who feels their race experience is not complete without an oven mitt covered with the M-dot logo.
Holly flew in late on Wednesday afternoon and promptly helped me deal with the first pre-race crisis. Heather sent me a text saying she was having problems checking into her Thursday morning flight, and things escalated quickly from there. Silver Airways had cancelled her flight back in July but Priceline, through whom she purchased her ticket, never bothered to notify her. The three of us spent close to 2 hours on Facetime together researching flights, schedules, and options to get Heather to the race. We finally found a workable option to get her in on Friday morning and out on Sunday morning. Not ideal, but as Holly told me, you will regret not having her here if she doesn't come. Holly was right. Seeing Heather around the course on race day was a much needed boost of the spirit.
Thursday morning I drove over to the race beach to get in a practice swim. I planned on meeting up with a bunch of people from the Facebook group, but as I was walking over from my car, I struck up a conversation with a guy heading that way too. His name was Mike and he invited me to join his group instead. There were ten or so of them, mostly from North Carolina, and hanging out with them was a blast. Lots of joking, laughing, and words of encouragement from the veterans to the two of us rookies. A few of them practiced both with and without a wet suit in case the swim wasn't wet suit legal, but I kept mine on the whole time. With no chance of apodium placement, there was no point in me not wearing it. The water during our swim was perfect - flat, calm, and clear - and allowed me to thoroughly test my suit for chafing, swim with both pairs of goggles, and practice sighting the finish line. A great morning of confidence building two days before the race.
Following a short ride and run, and a trip to the grocery store for supplies, the time had arrived to begin packing my race bags. Good thing Holly was there. She helped checked things off my list as the piles in each bag kept growing, made sure I mentally walked through the race and didn't overlook anything, and provided a calm voice of experience to lower my stress level. We agreed it ended up for the best Heather wasn't there. She's not a fan of race talk in general, and would not have enjoyed the hour or more of watching us discuss the merits of each and every item as I moved it from one bag to another.The final bags were loaded like this:
Swim: wet suit, cap, goggles (2), Body Glide, Tri Slide, Clif gel.Bike: chamois towel, bib shorts, bike jersey, chamois cream, sunglasses, 1/2 Clif bar, Tailwind packets (3), bike shoes, bike socks.Run: Body Glide, compression shorts, run shirt, shoes, socks, race belt & number, SPI belt loaded with Sport Beans and Base salt, hat, sparkle skirt.
Bike Special Needs: Coke Zero, gum, spare CO2 cartridges, spare tube, single-use chamois cream packages (3), Sport Beans, Tums.
Run Special Needs: Coke Zero, gum, Tums, spare socks.
Holly cooked a tasty pasta dinner on Thursday night, after which we hung out watching the World Series and relaxing. I knew this was my most important night of sleep before the race so I turned in early and missed the end of the game. I also didn't set an alarm and hoped I'd be able to sleep in a little the next morning.
The agenda for Friday was pretty simple: easy ride for 10 minutes to confirm the bike is working perfectly, big pancake breakfast, drop bike and bags off at transition, pick up Heather from the airport, sit on butt until bedtime. I was not the only athlete out riding, but I sure seemed to be the only one taking it easy. Most of the other riders were flying up and down the beach road, though given my cycling ability relative to most people, they might really have been taking it easy.
For breakfast, Holly and I made our second visit to Another Broken Egg cafe. Lots of neon green Ironman wristbands visible on the other diners and plenty of bikes on cars in the parking lot.
I ordered the three pancake breakfast with a side of eggs & bacon. Half an hour later, I felt like I was in an episode of Man vs. Food as I struggled to consume the last of the pancakes. During a break to snack on the bacon and gather myself for the last third of the last one, I sent a text to Mary asking for help. She had no mercy or pity.
With a stomach beyond full, we made our way over to transition to drop off my bike and transition bags. As suggested by both Mary and Holly, I walked around many times and spoke with many volunteers to learn the flow we'd be following the next day.
I felt like I was in the middle of an agility course walk-through - swim exit, turn left, grab bag, into changing room, exit, turn right, etc. - as I paced out exactly where I needed to be. Having the layout and movements implanted in my brain on Friday would help overcome the adrenaline-induced brain fog on Saturday. Holly and I also scoped out a good place to meet on Saturday morning after she dropped me off before the swim.
Racked and ready to go
Lunch on Friday after getting Heather from the airport was at Red Robin. I know, not exactly what most people would choose, but their bottomless potato wedges provide an excellent source of carbs and salt. I ate at least a full basket, along with some mac and cheese too, surprising considering how huge my breakfast had been only a few hours earlier. Can't go wrong with more carbs before race day, right?
My parents arrived late afternoon and came over to join us for dinner after stopping by the race village to learn more details about their volunteer jobs on Saturday. They signed up to slather sunscreen on people from 1030-230, giving them something to do while I was out on the bike course. We ordered pizza from Papa John's for dinner. It's something I frequently have the night before a long run, and I know it will not cause me any stomach issues the following morning. I often had Indian before my long rides while in Erbil during our customary Curry & Darts nights on Thursdays, but that's a lot easier to deal with when the bathroom is a few steps away from your living room. And when you're not going to be out on a race course for 140.6 miles.
I was in bed by 830 and fell asleep around 9. Melatonin and 1/2 of an Ambien for the win!
My alarm went off at 430am, but I was already awake. Mary gave me these instructions in my pre-race brief: 'You won't want to eat. Tough. Eat anyway." She knows me too well. I reluctantly ate half a Clif bar and opened a bottle of Powerade. The next 50 minutes were spent sitting on the couch trying to wrap my mind around what I was about to do, sipping on my drink, and running to the bathroom. Holly and I left the condo at 525 to drive to the race. She dropped me off at the run turnaround point where they were collecting the special needs bags for the bike and the run. I handed mine over and walked over to transition. I pumped up my tires, filled my aero bottle with water and put my Tailwind bottle and extra water bottle into their cages, hit the porta-potty (surprisingly short line), and went to find Holly. Our meeting point was at the first trash can to the right of the walkway exit onto the beach, and she was there waiting for me.
Rather than try to get into my wet suit on the beach and end up covering myself in sand, we squeezed our way through the crowd on the walkway and found a convenient corner to stand in. I covered my neck, arms, and shoulders with Body Glide and Tri Slide, and put my wet suit on about 15 minutes before the start. There was a slight moment of panic when I got the sleeves on and realized I hadn't started the zipper first. My Huub suit has a two-piece zipper like on a jacket which needs to be fed into itself before it gets zipped up from the lower back, and it's very tough to do get it started while wearing the suit. Thankfully, Holly got it zipped after a few minutes of struggling, and my heart rate returned to normal.
Stuffed in and zipped up
Keels had found us by this time, and after my pre-race gel, the three of us walked down to the beach. Holly helped get my cap situated over my goggles (I know, nothing new on race day, but it was a better option than being kicked in the face and losing them) and gave me a big hug. I shed a few tears, upon which Keels said there's no crying today, and then I knew I was ready.
I lined up in the 1:31-1:45 area for the start. Based on my swim times at Abu Dhabi and Galveston, I thought this was a good place to be. I chatted with the people around me, borrowed a splash of water to rinse the anti-fog drops out of my goggles, and waited for the cannon to fire for our start. The wind was whipping (turns out there was a small craft advisory in effect until 7am), and I could see the swells, the chop, and the whitecaps waiting for me as I walked into the water.
Lots of nervous energy
My plan was to relax and swim with smooth and easy strokes, just like Charlotte and Paul advised when I met them on Cape Cod this summer. I wanted to avoid as many people as I could in order to keep a straight line and focus on swimming, not battling for space. I saw a pair of goggles float by underneath me about halfway out to the first turn, making me even more determined to find my own water. The swells and chop got larger and worse the father out we went. To keep me focused and breath under control, I told myself "catch, pull, breathe" over and over again with each stroke.
Off we go!
After what seemed like forever but was really only 800 meters or so, I made it to the first turn, went left, and was swimming right into the wind and waves. This made it very hard to sight the next turn buoy. Finding a rhythm was tough with all the large swell and wind-blown chop on top, but I did. Growing up on the water taught me to feel the timing of waves, and I would take two strokes, glide through the wave, and repeat. Sure wasn't easy, but better than fighting back. Once I made the turn, I switched to breathing on my left to keep the sun out of my eyes and waves out of my face. If you could only breathe off one side, you had a really tough swim.
I drafted off a few people heading back to the beach to save some energy and relax a little bit. I knew from the practice swim on Thursday which building marked the exit, and although I kept a good eye on it, I still had to correct a little for the wind, waves, and current. Pretty soon, I was close enough to shore to be able to body surf in to the beach, riding the waves like when I was a kid at Jordan's Beach. With a few steps in the surf and up onto the sand, I reached the fence to make the turn back to the start of the second loop. I glanced at my watch and 35:xx was staring back at me. I was elated and worried at the same time. This was faster than I swam at Galveston back in April, and I still had to do it all over again. I vowed to walk to the start of the second loop and try to be even more relaxed than I was the first time around. I didn't want to ruin the rest of the day by blowing myself up on the swim. A volunteer gave me a small cup of water as I passed the aid station on the beach. I drank a few sips and back into the water I went.
Conditions were much harder for the second lap. The wind was building, the waves were now at 4-5', and the chop was steep and nasty. Heading out was okay. I swam inside the buoys and let the wind push me to the right to the turning mark. Much less effort and a whole lot less people around me. I could see a long line of caps and arms to my right who were in for a tough push back to the left to get around the buoy. The short leg across to the final turn back to the beach was awful, directly into the wind, waves, chop and sun, which had risen above the horizon and was exactly in line with the buoy. Made it fairly easy to stay on course, though, since if you weren't swimming right into it, you were off to one side or the other. Again I used my feel for the water to swim down the back of a wave, breathe, stroke into the face of the next one, glide over the top, and repeat for 200 meters. Very very tough. There were lots of people around me on their backs, breaststroking, and/or panicking. "Pull, glide, pull, glide, don't fight, pull, glide," I kept telling myself over and over.
Finally I made the turn and was on my way home. I tried to resist the temptation to pick up the pace and focused on staying relaxed and drafting off anyone I could. I got blown off the side once or twice but otherwise stayed right along the buoys. A few minutes of body surfing later, I was done. I glanced down at my watch as I made my way up the beach to the arch and was shocked to see 1:15 staring back at me. Here I was, barely into my first IM, and I just knew I had blown my race with a time like that, much faster than I thought possible. But wait, I said to myself, you're not out of breath and your heart isn't racing. I couldn't get my head around how I felt (great) vs. how I thought I should feel (less than great), so I decided to walk briskly to the changing tent just to be safe.
Cap off, goggles off, and go find the wet suit strippers. I lay down on the sand and two very enthusiastic volunteers whipped my suit right off. I took it back from them, made my way to the PVC showers, and took time at each shower head to get as much sand off as possible. The last thing I wanted was to have sand chafing me during 112 miles of cycling. I heard Holly and Keels cheering for me and waved at them as I rounded the corner into transition where my bike gear bag would be waiting for me.
Heading into T1
"I'm number 2540! Where's my bag?" I shouted to the volunteers, who seemed to be confused and not sure of what to do. Having to track my bag down myself wasn't fun. Easy enough, but mentally distracting given everything else I had to think about.
Once in the changing tent (a conference room in the hotel), I found a chair, sat down, and pulled my gear out very carefully and slowly. Using Holly's chamois towel (definitely on my list of gear to get for next time), I wiped off all the sand I could before lubing up with Betwixt and putting on my bike bibs. My Allagash bike jersey went on, and off, and back on again due to a twist in the sleeve. I dried and brushed off my feet, put my socks and bike shoes on, and stuffed a piece of Clif bar into my mouth. There were no volunteers around to help, so I crammed my swim gear back into the bag, picked up the Tailwind packet which had fallen out of my pocket during the jersey donning debacle, put on my helmet and sunglasses, washed down the Clif bar with some water, and was on my way to my bike. A volunteer asked for my number, and by the time the ladies slathered sunscreen all over my arms and neck, he had it off my rack and out in the main aisle ready and waiting for me. A nice touch which made me feel important and put a smile on my face as I went out under the arch to the mount line. I got to see and wave to my parents, Holly, and Keels heading out on the bike too.
Mary's plan called for me to wait until my heart rate settled into zone 2 before ramping up to my IM power (135 watts). Looking down at my computer as I left transition, I was already in the middle of Z2. That's good, I thought, now I can pedal easy for the first five miles to get my legs going and pick it up after that. Conveniently, the five mile mark came when I got to see Heather outside the Starbucks across from our condo. Then it was time to get to work. I slowly began to focus on my power output and my nutrition, taking my first sips of Tailwind 20 minutes into the leg. My Tailwind bottle held 600-700 calories, enough for me to take two good sips every 5 miles until special needs, where a frozen bottle of 800 calories would be waiting for me. My aero bottle had only water and I refilled it at every aid station (~11 miles apart) to keep fully hydrated.
I intentionally kept my power in the 120-125 range for the first 20 miles. I wanted to be careful and easy until I felt I was settled into a groove and could ride at my IM power. That plan fell apart a mile later when the course turned east and hit the wind. It blew from the east/northeast all day long and was a headwind most of the time. I switched to a strategy of keeping my heart rate in zone 2 instead of my power at 135 and fell into a nice routine. Refill water at every aid station, sips of Tailwind when the computer beeped at me, cadence in the 85-95 range, smooth and steady. I would power up until my HR went to 2.9, then ease up until it went back to 2.6 or 2.7, then start over again. Battling the wind really pissed me off so I focused on small goals like seeing Heather, Holly, and Keels at mile 40. They were right at the turn as promised, screaming and yelling and cheering. Having Heather run alongside and tell me how good I looked me gave me a huge mental boost and took my mind of the wind for a little while.
Passing the crew at mile 40
Sticking with the focus on short goals, my next one was the special needs bag area at mile 53. As you might expect of me, I fell over while stopped with my bag. The very helpful volunteer was polite enough not to laugh. I took time to put my cold-but-not-frozen 800 calorie bottle into its cage, mix a Tailwind packet into my spare third bottle, had a few sips of Coke Zero, popped in some gum, and was on my way. OMG, gum! The best idea ever, thanks to Holly. Getting the sticky feeling out of my mouth felt so refreshing and picked me right up.
The rest of the bike leg was about the same as the first part. I stared at my computer, drank water, sipped my Tailwind on schedule, and cursed at the wind. It never appeared to be anything but a headwind. I know there were portions where it was behind us, but they seemed to be few and far between. The running joke between all of us as we were riding was "do you think this next turn will be a tailwind?" as we grimaced and shook our heads. I also stopped at every other aid station to pee. Okay, maybe I didn't have to stop as often as I did, but it gave me comfort to ride empty rather than full. Tailwind is great stuff, but it sure makes you have to go.
The worst part of the bike course came around mile 74 when we turned right for an out-and-back section which began into the wind, again, with some long uphill stretches. Nothing too steep (it is Florida after all), but fairly soul-crushing anyway. I'm not a strong cyclist, so I dropped into a very low gear, tried to keep my cadence up, and waited and waited for the turn-around to come. Finally, it did, and I was able to relax for a few miles. From there, I had two simple goals left: 20 miles to the bridge and then 12 miles home. The closer I got to the end, the more people I saw on the side of the road with flat or other mechanical issues. I heard there was some broken glass shortly after coming down off the bridge, but I never saw it. Good thing too, or else I would've totally freaked out because ability to change a flat is limited in a race environment.
I made the last turn back onto the beach road with six miles left, and found myself once more pedaling right into a 15-20 mph wind. I dialed back my effort to bring my HR down even more, chatted with some folks around me, and began to plan for T2. I kept telling myself not to think about the run while out on the bike, but I was close enough now to know I'd finish the longest ride I'd ever done.
To my surprise, I felt great the entire bike leg. I was never depressed, tired, or sad. I never felt like I wanted to quit. I focused hard on my heart rate and cadence numbers and on not looking ahead to the run. It was really really tough because of the wind, but my fueling (yay Tailwind!) kept me from getting down and losing focus. Watching people in front of me get blown off the road and crash was extremely disconcerting, especially given my bike handling skills, and there were a few 30 mph gusts that blew me around too. Thankfully I was smart enough to sit up to get through them. I didn't ride the way Mary and I had planned, and I'm fine with that. I did what I knew I had to do in order to get to the run.
I got to see and wave at everyone heading into transition, which is always a good thing. I hopped off my bike (no falling this time), gave it to a volunteer, and had my bag handed to me without having to go search for it. My legs felt strangely un-wobbly as I walked to the changing room. I used my bib shorts and my jersey to wipe off the sand which I hadn't gotten entirely off in T1 and could feel chafing during the last 30-40 miles on the bike. I layered on lots and lots of Body Glide, and then put on some more. I had no intention of stopping during the run to reapply. Compression shorts on. Race top on. I noticed one of my Band-Aids had fallen off and tried not to think about how uncomfortable the run could turn out to be if I needed Vaseline two hours from now and couldn’t find any. Socks and shoes on. Breathe. Stuff bike gear into bag. SPI belt on. Number belt on. Sparkle skirt on. Breathe. Sunglasses on. Sunscreen on. Across the parking lot, under the arch, and 26.2 to go. Everyone was waiting for me right out of transition. I gave some quick high fives, a kiss to Heather, and told them I'd be back in a few hours.
Heading out on the first loop of the run, I couldn't believe how awful a lot of the people around me looked. Many of them were already shuffling or walking, setting them up for a very long afternoon and evening. I, on the other hand, felt great. I was finally back in my element and ready to chase down all the people who passed me on the bike. The first mile or so of the run was populated by tri club tents and lots of local residents out partying. They loved my red sparkle skirt, hooting and hollering and naming me Skirt Guy as I ran past. I was having a great time already, and I hadn't even really gotten started yet.
Rather than try to hit a certain pace, mainly because I had no idea what my pace should be, I ran by feel and by heart rate. I quickly found that a 9:45-10:00 pace kept my HR around 1.6 or 1.7 and felt good. Curiously, 9:15 felt really good too, but I was pretty sure that was not sustainable. I took in my first water and Gatorade at the mile 2 aid station. Gatorade was a mistake as I felt my stomach get nauseous less than five minutes later. I opted to use coke, potato chips, and water instead after that. Without much else to do, I tried chatting with my fellow runners but most of them weren't interested. Too lost in their suffering, I guess, though I think talking helps take your mind off how you feel. On the plus side, the spectators in the neighborhood were more than happy to chat and engage with people. One group had a huge white board listing all of the college football games being played that afternoon and a sign about 40-50' up the road reading "college scores ahead." If you yelled out a game as you passed the sign, they'd shout the score back to you as you reached the board. They told me Michigan was up 21-0. A few miles later, it was time to eat. I took only two Clif bloks because I didn't think my stomach could handle three thanks to the Gatorade, and then two more every 45 minutes until the sleeve of six was gone.
Around mile five, the course runs through the parking lot of a bar. The bar places a flier in the race packets playing up their location on the course (come see your runner four times!) and offering a free beer to the competitors if they show up with a race bib or wristband. The advertising certainly works because the place was packed, porch and patio filled with people cheering, ringing cowbells, and giving us lots of encouragement. Definitely one of the more fun sections of a run course I've been on. Good thing too, because the next three miles were nearly devoid of people as we finished the out portion of the loop in a state park. Beautiful park with great scenery, but not much in the way of action except the party station being manned by BASE salt and their crew. I didn't mind this stretch as much as some of the people around me who grumbled about how boring it was. I like having a quiet part of a race during which I can focus inward instead of outward and enjoy the serenity for a little while.
With 6.5 miles down, I made the u-turn still feeling great and keeping a smooth and steady pace. I waved at the crowd in the bar, drank my coke and water at the aid stations, munched on potato chips every so often, passed lots of people, and before I knew it, lap one was coming to an end. I heard and saw Keels yelling for me on the corner before the special needs area/turn-around point. Since I didn't see anyone else, I figured she was the advance party, and sure enough, thanks to the wonders of text messaging, Holly and Heather popped out of the crowd to run me into and out of special needs a few hundred meters later. I chewed some more gum (glorious!), left everything else in the bag, and set off on lap number two.
Heather and Holly running me out to loop 2
The second loop was pretty much the same as the first. I ran the whole way except at the aid stations. I took on chicken broth when they began offering it to get a break from the coke and potato chips. I was sad to see the people partying under the LSU pop-up tent had disappeared indoors to watch by the time I went by on my way out to the turn-around. I had hoped to get some Mardi Gras beads as a souvenir.
The second trip into the state park was a little scary. There were no lights once past the BASE salt crew, making it very hard to see people around me. I ran in the middle of the road to avoid the camber on the side which bothered my knee and was extremely cautious to avoid colliding with someone coming back at me in the other direction. My pace dropped in this section by about a minute per mile, which was fine with me. I didn't really pay much attention to my time until I made the last turn around and began my way back. Even then, I told myself that six miles is a long way and anything can happen. I found a few people to talk to, one of whom was on her first lap, which explains the awkwardness when I told her "we're doing great. We've got this!" as we ran along. The perils of a two-lap course, I suppose.
I kept powering along and hitting the aid stations until I had two miles left. At that point, I knew I would be okay if I stopped stopping for water and broth and picked up the pace. From there, it was simply a matter of running and chatting with the guy next to me, building speed, and thanking all the people in the club tents lining the course who had been cheering for Skirt Guy all day. One last left turn to the finish chute, and it was time to start celebrating. I implored the crowd to make some noise, slapped every hand being stretched out over the barriers, including Heather's who I saw but didn’t remember seeing at the time, and powered my way to the line. No tears across the line, but as you can see in the video, I was pretty damn excited. :)
I was surprised at how well I did on the run. I had no cramping, no exhaustion, no issues at all really. I just ran. If there's one thing I know I can do, it's run and pace a strong marathon. Being able to do so while everyone around me was walking and shuffling helped keep me mentally focused and happy. Nothing like running down people lots who flew by me on the bike.
Swim - 1:15
T1 - 13:21
Bike - 6:57
T2 - 12:20
Run - 4:35
Total - 13:14
Overall, I felt GREAT the entire day. I never had a single moment of doubt. From the time I entered the swim chute to when I crossed the line 13 hours later, I felt strong and knew I'd be able to finish. I was shocked at my time, though. Much much faster than I thought I would do. Had I know I was as good at this as I proved to be, I would've spent less time in transition and at aid stations and come in under 13. Then again, maybe being calm and relaxed and not even thinking about the clock is what made me go as fast as I did. I wasn't even aware of my time until Heather and Holly told me after the finish.
I have to thank Mary for being my friend and my coach and for getting me so well prepared for this race. She deserves a lot of credit for giving me a training plan tough enough to push my limits but not impossible to complete. I had an absolute blast on race day, loved every minute of it, and felt fantastic all day long. Being physically ready had a lot to do with that. I also need to thank Holly for being my super Sherpa and keeping me sane and calm-ish in the days leading up to the race, and Keels for driving over to support me and cheer me on. Finally, thanks to my wonderful wife Heather who puts up with me doing all these crazy endurance events. I'm glad we were able to find a way for her to be there because hearing from her after the finish how proud she was of me really meant a lot.
Here are some fun and maybe interesting stats, pictures, videos, and random thoughts about the race looking back on it four weeks later. Some are information people have asked to see, others are answers to questions I've been asked, and some are here simply because I want them to be. :)
Meters in the pool – 219,329
Longest swim – 5000 meters
Miles ridden on the trainer with Zwift – 2524
Longest Zwift ride – 6.5 hours
Miles on the treadmill – 239
Longest run in the parking lot – 18 miles
Pairs of Asics Kayanos – 3
Toenails lost – 0
Pounds lost – 12
1 Clif bar after waking up
1 Clif gel 10 minutes pre-race
¼ Clif bar in T1
2 700-800 calorie bottles of Tailwind on the bike
1 200 calorie bottle of Tailwind on the bike
1 sleeve Clif bloks on the run
Potato chips, chicken broth, and coke on the run
Water as needed on the bike and run
My video highlights
Answers to Common Questions
Q1: Did you have fun?
A1: I had a blast! My race day went better than I imagined it would, and my execution during the day was just about perfect. I felt great the entire day and never once wanted to quit.
Q2: How was the recovery?
A2: I recovered from this much faster than from Comrades. I was exhausted for several days after the race, but I didn't feel as physically beat up as I did in South Africa. I was able to walk the next day, which wasn't really possible following Comrades.
Q3: When are you getting your M-dot tattoo?
A3: I'm not. If Gabe can work up a swim/bike/run design which fits in with the others on my arms, I might do that, but an M-dot itself is not for me.
Q3: Will you do another one?
A3: Definitely. I've got unfinished business, which I know sounds weird considering I just said my race day execution was nearly perfect. In hindsight, I see places where I can save time (no more 25 minutes in transition, and fewer stops on the bike and run legs) and go faster. Mary said I didn't trust my fitness enough, and she's right. I could have pushed higher power on the bike and brought my time down by 45-50 minutes, and I probably could have done the same thing on the run. Keeping my heart rate in low Z2 instead of high Z1 would have gained me another 5-10 minutes. Add all those bits and pieces up and a 12-hour finish looks possible. Not a given, but definitely possible.