Ironman Florida 2004
My first exposure to the triathlon was watching on TV the epic struggle of Julie Moss in 1982 as she (literally) crawled across the finish line in Hawaii to finish 2nd in the 5th version of the Hawaii Ironman. At that time, I was a young(er) marathoner, and while it was hard for me to fathom doing this strange event, I did vow to myself to do it by the time I was 40. Alas (or thankfully), family and career intervened and my tri-sport dream was put on the back burner.
I did finally complete my first triathlon in July of 2000 when a friend, Scott Gregorchuck, challenged me to race with him at the Stone Harbor Sprint Triathlon. I did relatively poorly, but caught the bug. I have since spent the last three years seriously training and racing a variety (25) of triathlons from Sprint to Half-Ironman in distance. Last November, while checking on the performance of a local Wilmington triathlete (Mike Clark) in Ironman Florida (IMFL) 2003, I impulsively signed up for IMFL 2004. I did (at that time) think that it was too early to pursue this dream (I was worried that I had not trained hard enough, long enough to go for it), but it almost seemed ordained that November Sunday when I saw that registration was still open.
Although I got off to a slow start (broken ankle in January), I had a good triathlon year in 2004. I raced in 10 triathlons of various lengths with some modest success. I also logged about 10,000 miles on my bike, 750 miles on the road, and over 100 miles in various pools, lakes and seas.
I had five goals for the 2004 IMFL:
1. Finish the race while enjoying the experienceâ€”avoiding a â€œdeath marchâ€? on the run.
2. Execute a technically strong race with intelligent pacing, good technique, efficient transitions, sound nutrition/electrolyte management, and flexible on-the-fly decision-making.
3. Stay in the moment and focused on the task at hand at all times.
4. Stay aware of surroundings and acknowledge support of family, other triathletes and volunteers.
5. Finish in less than 12 hours.
The last goal, while listed 5th, was actually of higher significance. I was not approaching this race just to finish (although I definitely wanted that to happen) but rather wanted to race the Ironman with integrity from front to back. In fact, I had set two overall goals for the 2004 season: 1. Finish IMFL in less than 12 hours; and 2. Make the US Long-Course National Triathlon Team (which I was lucky enough to achieve in August down in Arkansas at the National Championships).
I arrived Wednesday 11/3 in Panama City, Florida to find oppressive heat (87 degrees) and humidity (70%) and 25mph wind. (oh-oh!). The three prep days were a whirlwind of activity (unpacking and building my bike, laying out my stuff, etc.), registering, driving the course, visiting the expo, talking to other athletes, physically preparing (light work-outs), eating lots of carbs, dropping bike and transition bags at the transition area, and (some) sleep, among other things.
I had a growing feeling of anxiety due to the unexplained and continuing aches and pains in my body that culminated in a fever (101 plus degrees) ridden, sweat and shiver filled Wednesday night. I awoke Thursday with the fever broken and my aches and pains miraculously gone. I was weak, but hopeful I would be ready come Saturday.
Further contributing to my growing nervousness, were the continuing winds, heat, and massive (5-7 foot), current driven surf. Everyone was intimidated by these potential conditions.
I was amazed at the physical condition of the other triathletes I saw and wondered if I really belonged here. I also couldnâ€™t believe how much people were still trainingâ€”donâ€™t these people believe in tapering?
My family arrived on Friday and my spirits greatly improved. Thereâ€™s nothing like having a support group that unconditionally pulls for you to help you get through a challenging experience like this. Further, there was a concurrent meteorlogical improvement and it looked like we would have a great day for racing on Saturday.
Race Morning (11/6/4)
A (completely) sleepless night led to a 4am alarm. Up to eat my slice of cheese pizza (my traditional pre-race meal), a peanut crunch Cliff Bar, 6 Enduralytes (sodium, potassium and magnesium electrolyte supplements) as well as a number of other supplements. Lots of fluids as well. Packed up my stuff and Judy drove me off at 5am to the race transition area.
Electricity in the air. Cool psyche-up music. Determined, grim, relaxed, and ebulent triathletes busy with their respective preparations. Check T1 and T2 bagsâ€”they are ok; drop off run special needs bag, check bike, give residual stuff back to Judy and she heads off to the hotel to get the rest of the gang. Starting to get light out now. More music and lots of instructions. 2100+ bikes in a massive transition zone. Go inside to find internal quiet and stay warm (50 degrees outside). Try to relax (and succeed in doing so).
6:30am. Time to get my game face on. Into wetsuit. Out to beach. So many people! Time to test my goggles. Jump in the Gulf, which is miraculously mirror flat. Warm and clear water. The 25 yards I swim feel great! Meet up with my family. Lots of pictures and encouragement. I love these guys. Sing the National Anthem (poorly). Watch the pros go with their 10-minute head start. Why do they get a head start? Iâ€™m the one that could use it! Move to the right--away from the buoy line and hang out with all the other timid people. Getting close now! Helicopter buzzes 100 feet over head. Hugs and kisses with family. Well-wishes (really heart-felt!) with other triathletes around me. Stretch again. 1 minute to go. Relax. Focus. Mind is clear. I have a job to do. I can do it. No, I will definitely do itâ€”no doubt now! Positive thoughts are the rule now. I am so blessed to be here and have this opportunity to compete in this event. Itâ€™s truly great to be alive. Letâ€™s get this thing done. 5-4-3-2-1â€¦.
Boom! The start cannon is not as loud as I thought it would be. Hit chrono and wade into water. Probably go 20 yards before deep enough to swim. Sand bar and walking again. Now the swim begins. I find clear water right away. This is important as my plan for the swim is to avoid the â€œwashing machineâ€? and swim an easy, conservative pace. Iâ€™ve set a target of 85 minutes for the 2.4 miles, but hope to swim faster if the opportunity presents itself.
I canâ€™t believe my good fortune! Havenâ€™t bumped into anyone and am swimming with a comfortable, efficient (for me) stroke. All of a sudden the pack to my left starts to get closer. Whatâ€™s going on? The kayak guys are pointing left. Theyâ€™re pointing at me! Oh, itâ€™s the 750-meter buoy and the first turn. Already! Awesome! A little more traffic now. Directly into the sun. Waves created by the other swimmers. Using short accelerations to swim out of trouble and stay right. 1000 metersâ€”glance at watch--20 minutesâ€”I think thatâ€™s good! Settle down and find a great rhythm. Iâ€™m swimming just 10-15 feet to the right of a big dense pack of swimmers. Kung-fu fighting in there! Heads pop-up, breaststroking, kicking, pushing. Looks bad in there! Me? Peace and harmonyâ€”why donâ€™t these people move over by me where itâ€™s calm and smooth. Glad they donâ€™t. Hit the beach in 38:45 for the first lap. Hi to family and right back in.
Lap 2 is more of the same. Swimming well below thresholdâ€”pulse about 140. Clear water. Great rhythm. Happy RC thoughts. 4 strokes per breath!! Consider picking it up but decide that Iâ€™m very happy with the way things are going. Focus on staying smooth. At last, there it isâ€”the end of the swim. Walk over the sand bar. Back in for a few more strokes. Walk again. Say hi to Dad and then rest of family, who seem surprised to see me. 77:26 says the clockâ€”Iâ€™m thrilled! (negative splits as the second lap is 38:41 and slightly longer in length than the first). Iâ€™m ahead of pace and swam real easy. The announcer says that 1300 people are out of the waterâ€”wow! Iâ€™m in the bottom half. These people are good. The game is on!