It has taken me almost a week since Ironman Florida to finally sit down and begin my race report. After reading similar reports from many others, I have decided to break it up into three parts, the swim, bike and run. (It will actually be four parts, but I will get to that later).
Over the past several months, I swam countless miles at Dynamo Swim Club in Chamblee, GA. with Maria Thrash and Matt Rose, arguably two of the best triathlon/masters swim coaches in the country (check the results of superstar Kona-qualifying triathletes like Haley Chura, Betty Janelle and Kathryn Honderd as well as Matt, himself). I can’t put into words what this training meant to my preparation for my Ironman debut.
It was a HUGE mental boost. My main goal when it came to the event’s swim portion can be summed up in one word: Confidence. I was never focused on my overall speed or time. Mostly, I didn’t want to be scared or worried when I stood on the beach staring out into the ocean. Knowing that there was no way to predict what the ocean conditions would be like, I wanted to be ready for whatever I faced.
My wife and I arrived in Panama City Beach on Thursday afternoon, two days before the race. I knew I wanted to get into the water as soon as possible. The waves were BIG and the wind was strong. As I prepared for this day, I leaned HEAVILY on the advice of Chance Regina, a good friend/bike expert/motivator/coach and 2009 Ironman Florida finisher. Basically, I did whatever he told me to do. If he had told me to put my wetsuit on backwards because the current was going in the opposite direction than we expected, I would have done it… without question.
So, two days before race, staring at big swells and a windswept ocean, we dove in and fought the waves for about 20 minutes. It was a TOUGH swim. When we got a moment to catch our breath, I could only think of one thing; “It couldn’t possibly be any worse on race day.” As hard as the practice swim was, I never felt scared or out of my element. This was a good sign and I owe that confidence to folks like Maria and Matt. The next morning, me, Chance and Shanks, another friend from Dynamo, jumped in the ocean again. This time, it was under much calmer conditions. After this swim, I knew I was ready!
Race-Morning FINALLY arrived.
I slept pretty well from 9 pm – 3 am. My plan was to get up at 4:30, eat something and meet Chance at 5:30. So much for that plan. I was wide awake at 3. That was as much sleep as I was going to get. Ignoring my coach’s advice, I walked down to transition soon after it opened to drop my stuff off and get body marked.
Along the way, I saw Haley — who drove down with the DynaMafia — to cheer everybody on. She took this fabulous pic of me dropping off my special needs bags.
I then walked back to meet Chance, who gave me grief for deviating from “the plan” even before I stepped foot onto the beach. What can I say, coach? I was anxious, nervous and ready to get it on!
My wife slept in for a little bit and planned to meet us on the beach at about 6:30. I tried to relax and hung out with other members of the DynaMafia until it was GO time. While waiting, my main goal became trying to go to the bathroom. I needed to clean out the system and was having some issues. Finally, I found an available port-a-potty outside and BOOM! Mission accomplished.
Upon hearing this news, team GREEN was all smiles.
Clearly, they were proud.
After getting my wetsuit on, I was ready to walk out to the beach to meet my wife. Just then, Matt (3rd from the right) grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and leaned in (he’s a handsome man, but I was getting a bit uncomfortable at this point) and quietly said in my ear; “no matter what, I want to see a LOT of smiling out there.” Noted.
His words really relaxed me. It was just what I needed to hear. I was ready, but I was still nervous. I wanted to do well, but I also wanted to have fun. Matt made sure to remind me that Ironman/triathlon is supposed to be fun! Yes, that might sound crazy to non-endurance athletes, but this sport has been a barrel on monkeys (I always loved that expression) since I first got involved in it two years ago.
Moments before the cannon went off, Chance had a few last words of advice. “STICK TO THE PLAN!” was the general theme. He told me to start wide on the left. With the race announcer telling everybody that the current was moving from right to left, I was tempted to go to the right with everybody else. I started to make my way over there when the words echoed in my head. “STICK TO THE PLAN!” Back to the left I went like a good boy. BOOM! The cannon went off.
I actually found myself in this guy’s video: 53 seconds into it, I appear briefly in the lower left part of the video wearing white goggles. (4th guy from the left).
I was in the water with the first wave. Our goal was to keep me clear of the fracas. We wanted open water and I found it. Smart coach. I stayed left until I approached the turn buoy. With about 100 meters to go, I slowly made my way to the right to get around the buoy. It was chaos, but I knew it would be. I remained calm, found my line (we were staring directly into the sun) and continued on. I saw several people cutting the buoy on the inside. LAME. Another turn and we headed for the beach. My sight line was the left side of the condo complex on the beach. No problem. I wasn’t going very hard at all, but I was smooth. Most of all, I was confident.
I continued swimming until my fingers touched the sand. As soon as I got up, I look for my wife. Amazingly, I quickly found her and give her a high-five as I ran by. (NOTE: In 2008, my wife and I had a friend who passed away during the swim leg of the Gulf Coast Tri. This was the EXACT same swim course. I knew my wife would be nervous so I wanted to make sure she knew I was ok. I thought of him while I was in the water. I knew he was at peace.) I then see Masters Coach extraordinaire Maria in the crowd and give her a quick shout out. Lap 1: 34 minutes.
Lap 2: Before getting back in the water, I ran as far down the beach as possible and enter WAY on the right side. Because almost everybody else got back in the water immediately, running clear of them gave me a LOT of open water. That college education was finally paying off!
The second lap was a bit slower for me. I wasn’t concentrating on my stroke as much and found myself wavering all over the course. Maria would be soooo disappointed. Finally, I reached the shore for the second time, stood up and made my way up the beach. I ran past the clock without checking the time. Doh! I make a quick u-turn and see 1:12. My conservative goal was 1:15, so I’m not too upset by this. However, I KNOW I could have gone harder. A sub-1:10 swim is certainly doable. Heck, with a little more effort, a 1:05 is not out of question. My main goal for my first IM swim was to get through it without freaking out. I accomplished that.
I run past the wetsuit strippers, per coach’s advice. (you have to sit down on the beach for this.) If you get some sand in the wrong place, you’re in for a long day on the bike. I find a spot on the boardwalk and yank the suit off.
On my way into the changing room, I run past Shanks, who does his best @ClydeWattsimpression. “COME ON BIG BALLS! GET SOME!” Then it’s Matt. “YEEAAAH! COME ON MIKEY! GO GET IT!” I try to show him my biggest and best smile.
I run in. Shoes on, helmet, glasses, arm warmers, done. I later regret not taking my vest. It was COLD at the start of the bike. I run out.
I have to run all the way down to the FAR end to get my bike. My wife had positioned herself on a hillside nearby. I spot her and give her a shout to make sure she sees me. I grab Linda and we’re off towards the bike exit. I then realize that I didn’t have my race bib on and have to stop to ask a volunteer to get it out of my run bag for me. This coasts me about 10-15 seconds. Rookie mistake.
As I leave the bike exit, I run past Chance. “Good swim. Now stay on top of your nutrition. Ride smart. Every 5 minutes gained on the bike, is 25 minutes lost on the run.” Noted coach. I mount up and ride out. I’m smiling!
To be continued…