Ironman Florida Race Report – The Run

Continued from bike report

As I stride under the “Run Out” banner with renewed focus and determination, I look down at my right hand with the initials of my wife and kids written on it. I was ready.

I make the turn East on South Thomas Drive and let out a quiet, barely audible “Let’s get it ON!”

The time had finally come.

As I begin the run portion of the race, my main thought focused on the countless  times I have told myself and others who inevitably asked “so, which part of a triathlon is your strength? The swim, the bike or the run?” My answer was always the same. The run. It’s kinda “my thing,” I would say.

Like so many others, I began my triathlon journey as a runner. That in itself is odd for me to say, considering I didn’t run in my first official race until 2009, at age 38. In truth, I’m a hockey player masquerading as a triathlete… kind of like Happy Gilmore: “I’m not a golfer! I’m a hockey player!”

Since that first 10K two years ago, I had run four marathons and qualified for the 2012 Boston Marathon with a PR of 3:16:14. So, by default, I guess I had morphed into a “runner.”

My other thought revolved around my pace. Two months earlier, at the Augusta 70.3 half Ironman, I made the mistake of going out too fast and paid for it over the second half of the run. I was hurting as I ran a mediocre 1:44 and ended up in the medical tent.  The last thing I wanted was a repeat of that ugly performance. There is no better feeling when running a marathon than finishing strong, as I did at the 2010 Georgia Marathon.

With that in mind, I had two goals as I ran onto the course:

1. Save enough energy for the back half so I could really RUN the last 5 miles.

2. Beat my 3:46 time from the 2009 NYC Marathon, the first marathon I ever ran.

I was confident in my running ability and had tried to set myself up for this moment. Per coach Chance‘s advice, I spent a LOT of time on the bike while training for this day. The thought is, he told me… the stronger I was on the bike, the less beat up I would be by the time I got around to putting my running shoes on. Needless to say, he was right.

I exited T2 and quickly realized that my legs felt pretty good. Not great, but pretty darn good with all things considered. With spectators lining the exit and the first 2 miles, it was hard to pull back on the reins. Finally, by the time I reached Mile 3, I slowed myself down from an 8:07/mile pace to 8:30/mile trot.

Here are the splits.

At this rate, I felt I would be able  to conserve enough in the tank in anticipation of letting it all pour out over the closing miles.

As I make my way down South Thomas Drive and make the first turn onto JoAn Ave., I get a sense of what the next 4 hours (or less) will be like. There’s a group of Dynamo cheerers on one corner and Coach Chance on the other. I take in the cheers and Vuvuzela horn-blowing from Team GREEN and get some quick words of wisdom from coach.

Betty blowin' her horn! (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

“Relax your shoulders,” he says.
(Yessir,  I nod.)

I press on. For those who have never done IMFL, this next section along Surf Drive is GREAT. The local residents come out in full force to support the runners. There’s a “Santa’s workshop” section, compete with elves and “Santa” himself!

Santa's helpers (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

Every time I ran through this section, this is ALL I could think of…

There’s also a “girl’s section” complete with corsets, lace and leather whips. I’m not going to lie, I liked this section more than “Santa’s workshop.”

Along the next stretch, I pass a friend — Todd Neville —  who is heading back to the transition area to complete his first lap. He was flying and went on to finish his first IM in 9:24 and punch his ticket to Kona. Impressive.

I trudge along through some winding streets until I reach St. Andrews State Park. I’ve been warned about this park. It’s a pretty desolate stretch and can suck the life out of you if you aren’t mentally prepared for it. Using some reverse psychology, I was prepared to make this park my “biatch” all day long. I embraced it as my “favorite” part of the run. “Look at those lovely sand dunes? Oh wow, there’s some driftwood. Isn’t this lovely?!,” I thought as I ran through.

WooHooo! I love this park! (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

As I exited, I realized that there was a guy around me running about the same pace I was. At Mile 8 (or so) he ran alongside me and said “what’s your goal?”

“I’m looking to break 10:30,” I told him.

“Me, too.” he responded.

This is perfect, I thought. The two of us will “work” together and drive this run train to the finish! I recognize him as a guy also swapped places with a couple of times along the bike course.

As I approach the turnaround of Lap 1 and run past Team GREEN again, I’m all smiles and give them a “thumbs up.”

When I round the next corner back onto Thomas Drive, I spot my wife for the first time on the run. I had no idea where she would be, but somehow I managed to find her in the crowd.

She shot this little clip as I stopped to pick up my special needs bag.

In the bag, I had two new bottles for my Fuel Belt. Each one was filled with Carbo-Pro and a NUUN tablet, just as I had on the bike. I also had a banana and a Peanut Butter Crunch Clif bar. I grabbed the bottles and the banana, but left the Clif bar behind.

I start to eat the banana, but then decide I would hold off on eating the entire thing until I turned the corner and saw Team GREEN again.

While nobody caught a picture of the moment, Scotty Runyan — a fellow “Lane 2” swimmer with me at Dynamo — captured it in words.

Things are going smoothly at this point. However, I’m starting to feel some cramping and bloating in my stomach.  I try to ignore it. I didn’t want to think that this could be the moment I was dreading the most. Was I going to suffer GI distress? It’s the kind of “issue” that has derailed so many others (Sorry Jill! #sadface). It’s something non-runners/triathletes don’t think much about. However, it remains the main thing that can quickly put an end to a good day.

I honestly have no idea what to expect. I’ve suffered from muscle cramping in other marathons, but my stomach and “insides” have always remained intact. I’m now just praying for the best. My pace is slowing to about 8:45/mile. This isn’t a good development. I need to do something about it. And I need to do it NOW!

As I run along, I get passed by several members of Team GREEN, who have now taken their bikes out on the course to cheer everybody on. The infamous Haley Chura let’s out a … “Go MIKE! How are you feeling?”

Haley taking a picture of my ass! (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

How do I tell her — in a gentlemanly way — that I feel like I need go #2?

She gets the idea when she sees me stop at a port-a-potty up ahead.

“Yeah! Go MIKE! Stop at that port-a-potty! GO MIKE!” (Those were her actual words. Nothing like getting a cheer for stopping to poop.)

Darn, it’s LOCKED!

Rather than waiting,  I continue on. Then I spot coach Chance on the side of the road. “How you doin’?” I tell him that I think I need to stop. The bloating in my stomach was getting painful and was slowing my pace.

“If you feel like you need to go, then go. Just make it quick.”
(Yessir, I nod.)

There’s a place to stop just as you enter the park, but it’s on the “exit” side of the park. Hmmm… what to do? I have to backtrack about 50 feet along a dirt path to get to the port-a-potty. A volunteer yells “Hey! You’re going the wrong way!” All I can think of is the John Candy line from “Plains, Trains and Automobiles.”  How would she know where I’m going?

These little thoughts keep me amused on long runs.

Speaking of amusing: Chance caught the moment on “film” as I exit the port-a-potty.

(Photo: Chance Regina)

(NOTE: Not to get into too much detail, but the odd part of it all was the fact that I didn’t even have to “go.” I simply had a giant buildup of intestinal gas that needed to “escape.” I’m not sure what caused this, but I wonder if it was from the NUUN tablets or the amount of salt tabs I was taking throughout the day. I suspect that it was more of the former than the latter.)

As I pull up my Lycra and adjust my Fuel Belt and run out, coach’s final words of wisdom were clear. “I want to see you run a minute faster per mile now!”
(Yessir, I nod.)

As I suspected, I felt MUCH better after my brief pit stop. My stomach and insides no longer hurt. I was finally free to run again.

Soon, I meet up again with my running friend from the first lap.  We’re now a team. And we’re going to do this thing together.

“What’s the overall time?” I ask him.

“9:36,” he says.

By my calculation, we have about 8 miles to go.  We’ve got it. No problem.

If we’re going to do this together, I might as well get to know this guy a little.

Me: “What’s your name?”

“Saul,”  he says.

“Where ya from?”

Saul: “Miami, but I’m from Peru.”

“Got any kids?”

Saul: “Yeah, three.”

“Is this your first IM?”

Saul: “Yes. How about you?”

Me: “Yes. My first.”

We run alongside each other through the park. We cross the 20-mile mark.

“10K to go,” I say to nobody in particular.

Saul begins to pick up the pace.

“We got this,” he says. “Come on. We’re going to sprint the last three miles.”

I pause and let out a little laugh. “We are?”

He wasn’t kidding. He starts to move quicker as we exit the park. I see Chance a couple more times. He can tell I’ve got a good running partner with me. To me, Saul has taken the place of Chance on the many long runs we have done together. As a former collegiate runner at Ole Miss (I will keep my comments about the University to myself), coach had a habit of slowly “dropping the hammer” over the closing miles of our runs. We NEVER finished slowly. Many times, our closing miles were run at sub-7 mins/mile, if not faster.

I was familiar with what I was facing. Did I have that burst of energy in me now… after a 2.4-mile swim? … after 112 miles on the bike? … after 20 miles of an Ironman marathon?

Saul starts to pull away a little. I reel him back in. We’re running together again. I see Chance again.

Saul trying to run away from me! (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

“Don’t let him get away.”
(Yessir, I nod.)

We reach an aid station. I walk for a few steps to grab some water and coke. Saul keeps running.  He’s now 50 feet ahead. Darn it! There’s Chance again, sitting on his bike at a corner. He stares at me with a puzzled look. I know what he’s thinking. “WTF?!”

“I know! I know.,” I say. “I’ll get him.”

After a quick surge, Saul and I are back together again. I vow not to lose him again.

Now it’s my turn. I put in a little surge and start to pull away from Saul.

I open a small gap. I’m feeling strong. There’s another guy about 100 yards in front of me.

“Go catch HIM now!”
(Yessir, I nod.)

(NOTE: Each time I see Chance, he is in a static position along the side of the road. He is not running or riding alongside me so as to avoid violating rules of “outside assistance”.)

In what seemed like less than 1/4 mile, I catch him. Done. Whose next? I’m now moving through the pack of runners/walkers like Secretariat in spandex. (Maybe not quite like the greatest racehorse of all time, but just indulge me a little here.)

Mile 22 marks my first sub-8 mile (7:58)

“He’s moving like a tremendous machine!”

As I come through Santa’s workshop and the “girls in leather” section again, I start to hear a lot of cheering specifically aimed at ME. Sweet!

“Looking STRONG 1578! GREAT pace!”

Feelin' good! (Photo: Ernie Janelle)

With 4 miles to go, coach appears again on the side of the road.

“Come on! Three miles to go!” I think he’s lost his math skills for a second, I’ve got 4 miles. What’s he talking about?

“That last mile will run itself,” he clarifies.

Oh. Now it makes sense.

I continue on, slowly picking up the pace over the closing miles.  Mile 24 = 7:56. Mile 25 = 7:58.

As I try to lengthen my stride, I start to sense tightness in my right hamstring. This is a familiar feeling. I know what’s coming next… pain. Instinctively, I start to back off the pace a little. I guess somebody else could see me slowing a little, too.

“What are you WAITING for? GO!”
(Yessir, I nod)

My last instruction from coach was simple:

“See that guy up there? He’s in your age group. GO GET HIM!”

ONE MILE TO GO! I’m alone as I run through a tunnel of spectators. This is awesome! Everybody is so close. I can literally FEEL their energy.
I look up ahead at my last victim.

I’m back to the beginning of the run. It has come down to this… Let’s get it ON!

I close in on him. I’m less than 1/2 mile from the line. He’s about 100 yards in front of me. I hit overdrive. I come up behind him and see “44” (his age) written on his calf. I pass him and think to myself. “Man, he’s gonna be pissed that he got passed by somebody in his age group with less than 1/4 mile to go.”

Too bad. So sad.

My wife snaps this pic as I approach the line. All smiles.


I hear the race announcer. I can’t quite make out what he’s saying at first. Then I then hear the words that everybody has told me about. The words you savor the most the FIRST time you cross the finish line.  “Mike Buteau… YOU are an Ironman!”

Final mile pace: 7:13. Take THAT!

That brings me to this musical interlude, which sums up my attitude going into the day. I didn’t want to “just finish” my first Ironman, I wanted to impress myself and others who wondered why I was training so hard. This exact moment was the reason why!

Marathon time: 3:39:10

Goal #1: Break 10:30 total time – DONE. Goal #2: Finish strong- DONE.  Goal #3: Break NYC Marathon time of 3:46 – DONE.

It made me think of this song by The Heavy.

About 2 minutes after I cross the line, Saul gets to enjoy his sub-10:30 moment, too.  He makes it across the line with just 16 SECONDS to spare. Nice work!

After a hug from my wife, I feel a tap on my shoulder. It’s Saul. We exchange high-fives and smiles. He gets his girlfriend to snap a picture.

While we had never met before, Saul and I did something together that was pretty special. As Bill Murray says to Chevy Chase in the “maintenance shed” scene of “Caddyshack” … “Buddies for life, I figure.”

My favorite part of the above picture? (other than the medal around my neck, of course) The smile on the face of the guy in the green shirt.

Thanks coach!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Ironman Florida Race Report – The Run

  1. NIce! I’ve done that to kids in the last stretch too. ‘Never let up’ is said a lot to my athlete. Congrats again Mike

  2. Fabulous run Mike, way to run strong, such a difficult and elusive accomplishment in IM!! so proud of you!!! Way to rock your first IM!! I see sub 10 in your future for certain!!! You were brave and smart on that run!

  3. Saul

    Hello partner !
    Was very nice to read this and remember those miles … Still can listen to your voice saying : water – coke !!! Water-coke !! And the taste of the sugar tablets we were taking …

    This run is the one that we’ll never forget

    Another funny coincidence was that we were both in this Fb group for a long time and we ran together without knowing it .. Just after few day we figure that out ..

    Pleasure to meet you
    Next time under 10

    Saul

  4. Finally read all three of your recaps, back-to-back-to-back. Fabulous recaps. I felt like I was there. You, my friend, are simply amazing. As someone who struggles with OLYS, the fact that you were able to do this and seriously rock it is mind boggling. Huge kudos and congrats.

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