Okay, I can cross that off the goal list. I just completed the 2009 Florida Ironman. Ironman Triathlon is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run. [Yes, on the same day. I know.] Going into it my goals were survival, avoidance of the medical tent and if I managed those 2, to finish in under 14 hours.
In running around setting things up, I found out a few things. If you use a plastic bag to slide your arms and legs into your wetsuit you slip right in. If you put brightly colored ribbons or tape on your transition bags, you can quickly find them during and after the race. And really, seriously, do not try anything new on race day.
There were vendors at the expo selling everything. You could literally show up at the event naked with a credit card and be completely outfitted with all the clothing, gear and equipment you would ever need. I bought a water-bottle system for my aerobars, the kind that clips in front of you with a straw easily in reach. Yes, ignoring the ‘nothing new on race day’ rule but I figured if I didn’t like it, I could toss it. [which I did.]
I did a quick pre-race swim and was surprised at how warm and clear the water was. I must have had visibility to 20 or 30 ft. and saw the most beautiful sea turtle paddling along. I hopped on my bike for a quick spin and short pre-race run and spent the rest of the day relaxing, away from the expo and the sun.
There were about 2800 of us in the race and 50 Pros who started at 6:50. At 7am, the mass start began. I chose a spot not too close to the buoys and toward the middle of the group so I wouldn’t get trampled. Regardless, the first leg of the swim was a combination of a feeding frenzy and a mosh pit. There were about 2799 other choices for the sharks to snack on so I wasn’t too worried about starring in an episode of shark week but I was definately worried about my head.
My swim pretty much felt like this for the first leg. Every time I lifted my head to sight the markers I got a smack. I finally just kept my head down as much as possible and used my arms as a shield while still swimming. Whatever technique I had went right out the window. As soon as I thought I was in the clear, I took a nice smack to my face and thankfully kept my goggles.
As the swim went on, the group evened out and I was able to get into somewhat of a groove. I was looking down through the clear water at starfish, a stingray, schools of fish and beautiful white jellyfish. The course was set in a rectangle and was two loops. As I cornered the first leg, the swells began to pick up. I felt the current pulling me away from the markers as I pushed on through the waves. I made my way back to the beach, saw Andrew and gave him the sloppiest kiss ever and went back into the water for the 2nd lap. I rounded the marks, the waves now picking up even more but before I knew it I was back at the swim finish.
When I hit the sand at waist high water I began taking off my cap, goggles and the top half of my wetsuit. I had a splitting headache from the smack down. I ran up the chute to a peeler who ripped off my wetsuit as I entered transition. A volunteer handed me my gear bag. With 112 miles ahead of me I changed completely into dry clothes in the changing tent. I ran out, grabbed my bike and off I went.
I hopped on my bike and my bike computer was completely out of whack. We headed out of town and I tried pressing every button combination to reset it. Nothing worked. Suddenly, about 20 minutes into the ride it came back to life partially–enough to show me MPH and time.
Monarch butterflies were flying around, continuing their migration. I rode along, loving my aerobar water bottle for about the first 2 hours. The road was flat and smooth and I was in my aerobars and sipping away as I was riding. I was happily snacking on the bits of Cliff Bars, Balance Bars and Cliff Shots I had in my feed bag as I went on into a constant headwind.
About 2:15 hours into the ride, the yellow spongy thing that keeps the top of the water bottle plugged came flying out when I hit a bump in the road. No big deal until the road got really bumpy and the water, now mixed with Accelerade, kept splashing me. My legs were so sticky that the backs of my knees were sticking together as pedaled. Unintended baths in sugar water really started to bum me out so I pitched it.
I made it to mile 56 and picked up my special needs bag, added more snacks and went on to finish the last leg. The headwind was pretty steady on the way out and it was not as flat of a course as I thought. There were no real hills but some false flats, combined with a headwind that really slowed me down.
There was one amazing section of a really flat smooth road with a somewhat consistent tail wind that had me cruising along but that seemed like a very small portion of the ride.
There was not much to look at in the way of scenery, mostly trees and highway but I was happy to see a few hawks flying overhead. Most of the ride I was focusing on keeping a steady pace, eating and drinking.
My neck was a little stiff from being in the aerobars for so long but my legs felt okay until about 10 minutes later when I started the run.
I dropped off the bike, changed into running shoes and shorts and started to run out of transition. The first few steps my legs felt like lead weights. I was committed to ‘run’ as much as I could even if that meant shuffling. I started out slowly and my pace degraded as time went on. I walked through most rest stops for water and Gatorade. Over time I was really over all the sticky sweet stuff. My stomach held up pretty well all day but hearing the word ‘Gatorade’ was making me nauseous.
Most of the rest stops on the run had themes, one of my favorites being M*A*S*H, with dangling I.V’s filled with Gatorade. The residential area of the run was a giant block party with music and people cheering, a coupla’ drunk guys in bikinis telling everyone that passed that they were “already an Ironman” and kids with hands out for high fives.
The run through the park was beautiful. There were sugar white sand dunes covered with green brush and yellow flowers. A fawn ran across the road right in front of me and there was a sweet campfire smell of a recent planned burn. I watched the remains of a fallen tree continue to smolder.
I ran back toward the residential area and my legs really started to hurt. I tried walking a bit and then running but realized it hurt more to start up again so I just kept shuffling. I came around the corner into the spectators and saw Andrew, stopped to give him a kiss and told him it might be a while before I was back again.
The second lap was a little bit slower but exciting at the same time to know I was slowly chipping off the last of the 140 miles. I stopped for Cola at the rest stops and pretzels and a bit of chicken broth. I kept shuffling, walked through the rest stops and pulled over for a few quick downward dogs.
I passed by the ‘special needs’ area of the run around mile 13, grabbed a fistful of candy corns and a long sleeve shirt. People were really rocking out in the residential area now with Christmas lights, music and glow sticks. One woman in particular should get a medal AND a hat for dancing ALL night in front of her house for hours and cheering on every single runner that passed.
I had that song ”Just put one foot in front of the other” from the Christmas Special, ”Santa Clause is Coming to Town,” firmly planted in my head. That was on mental auto-repeat along with the 70s song “Do the Hustle.”
The second lap through the state park was dark with plenty of stars and the lingering campfire smell. Soon I only had five miles to go. At this point, what’s five miles? With 2 miles left I got a bit of a second wind and as soon as I passed the Mile 25 sign I picked it right back up to a run. I was so excited to get it over with. I passed Andrew for the last time and yelled “Can’t stop now!” and went for the finish line. I ran through the gates and clocked in at 13:49. 66th out of 110 women in my age group.
I was walking around like a penguin for a day or two after the event but my legs feel much better. The natural question seems to be whether or not I would do another one. If you had asked me around say, Mile 20, with my quads feeling like they were filled with shards of glass, I would have probably let out with a flying expletive. Now that I’ve stretched way beyond what I thought were my limits, well–we’ll see what happens.
Thank you to everyone who were so amazingly supportive during the training and the event. I appreciate all of the well wishes and positive energy that was sent, it worked! Thank you Marty for being such a great coach! And a huge thank you to Andrew for being such an amazing Ironmate, patiently waiting for hours on end with love, support and an “I love my Ironwife” sign.