I arrived on Wednesday, intent to soak in my twelfth triathlon and very first Ironman. I am blessed with the luxury of living in Tallahassee which is a couple of hours from Panama City Beach. I checked in to the condo and went down to the village to walk around and pick up a few last minute things like some full fingered cycling gloves and some extra Chamois Butter. I bought some schwag for my wife and then went out for a 20 mile ride to get acquainted with the road. I almost got blown off the bike trying to stay aero between the condos along Front Street on a couple of occasions. I knew then that the wind was going to be an issue. I must admit I was a bit upset, having been a spectator here last year, that the construction along Thomas Drive in front of the host hotel (at the finish line, mind you) was still in progress and actually looked worse than it did last year. Panama City Beach isn’t a bad place, really, but it just doesn’t seem to be up to what an Ironman venue should be ‘right now’.
Race morning was simply perfect. It was a bit cold (mid 40’s) but the water was nearly perfect-about 72 degrees with just an ever-so-slight chop and the current moving west to east. I decided I was going to start wide and let the current pull me into the buoys—a pointer I learned talking to Charles, one of the Ironman Captains who was one of several of the nicest people I met during the week. 7AM came and the horn sounded…off I was with 2700 or so of my closest friends. The swim was pretty uneventful except that it was just a great swim for me. I went out about mid-way with the crowd and pretty much drafted the entire first lap. I couldn’t figure out how to manipulate the new Timex GPS watch I had just bought so I had to rely on the actual watch time at the end of the first lap—7:35AM. 35 minutes or so, faster than I am used to in training. Lap two went nearly as well, except that the full faced goggles I used had a suction hold on my head that was starting to cause a major headache. Ah, this was Ironman for God sakes, I tuned it out and soldiered on. The only other issue I had was the traffic jam at the turn buoys trying to head back around. I never did get kicked, elbowed, or much more than a foot fondle here and there when the crowd got thick. There’s something almost comforting, though, about the mass start swim knowing that my chances of an encounter with Jaws were nearly 2700 to 1! I never pushed it hard and I just swam. Out of the water in 1:17:03--3 minutes less than what I had hoped for and much faster than training pace.
T-1 was apparently the time I spent pulled up to the bar, sipping an umbrella drink, and grabbing a bite to eat because it took me 15:23 to get out of there and for the life of me, I don’t know how. I guess it took that long to put on the shirt, arm warmers, and compression socks or something. Maybe it was fussing with the stupid Timex that didn’t want to work right.
The bike was a great ride. Really, it was about in line with most of my training rides over the middle part of my training. I had started building more bike fitness in the last month or so before IM and hoped that, if the wind stayed away, I could put down close to a 20mph split--that wasn’t going to happen. The first half of the bike was windy city with either a head wind or an unfavorable cross wind weighing sort of heavily. It wasn’t absolutely horrible, but enough to make you want to curse a bit here and there because you know your legs could do better. Oh well, such is the trade-off for the pretty much flat course. There was one spot, several miles long, where the road was crap and we got bounced around pretty badly. At least that was one of the spots were the cross wind was a bit more favorable. Otherwise, there were two slight rollers to speak of and a bridge that wasn’t really that bad. The first half took me 3:05 and the bike ended up being 6:00:42. About an 18.6 split which was nothing I couldn’t live with all things considered. I decided early not to blow myself up because I am a better runner than I am a swimmer or cyclist. I mixed my own Infinit Ride throughout the bike and took in a gel every hour with one snickers bar at the half way point as sort of a reward. I had little electronic support throughout the ride because the stupid GPS watch still wouldn’t cooperate and shut off on me where I couldn’t even see HR and speed at least. I finally got it started on the last 10 miles of the ride.
T-2 was much better than T-1—5:16 in an out and off to the run.
I had (yeah, the best laid plans) to put down a solid 3:20 – 3:30 marathon and finish somewhere around sunset at around 11 hours and a few minutes---that wasn’t meant to be and it’s where I learned about that 4th part of the race-nutrition. I came out of T-2 feeling really good and toting an Amphipod pack planning on keeping with the Infinit Ride nutrition. After about ¾ of a mile, I realized the thing was going to aggravate the heck out of me so I dropped it at the first aid station and kept rolling. At about mile 2.5, a stomach cramp set in that pretty much defined my marathon from mile 3 through mile 21. I just couldn’t get rid of it and I’m not really sure what the cause was yet. My legs felt great, I was full of energy and I could barely run! I’d run, then walk and walk, and walk, and then try to run again. I hit the flat soda and Perform hard, at every aid station, hoping that I could pass the damn cramp. It would fade a bit and then come right back! I started hitting the chicken broth (later on) which, by the way, you guys have all been right about—damn that stuff is good even when it’s not a cold day at all! The first 13.1 ended in a painful 1:58:15 and out for round 2. The second half was much of the same until around mile 21 when I finally started to feel better. I’d run hard, and then have to back off due to stomach cramps—just madder than anything because I knew I had fresh legs wanting to go all out but I just couldn’t do it. Anyway, kept on rolling and met some great folks along the run who I ran with for a while and both encouraged and were encouraged by-this is one of the best parts of the Ironman experience. Once I hit mile 22, I started to feel really strong and the cramp had completely subsided. I cranked up the pace and pushed the rest of the race, stopping only to keep the fuel coming. I heard a lot of folks shouting out that I was looking really strong and that was enough to carry me through the chute at about mach-5. Heck, I forgot all about the slow-down and savor the moment stuff and looked like I was headed for a rugby scrum in the only finisher photo they managed to shoot. I hit the chute at 6:43PM with a salvaged and respectable 4:04:54 marathon and an Ironman finish in 11:43:17!
I’m stoked, I’m happy, and I will be returning for more of this happy pain (as I like to call it) as this will go down as one of the best days I’ve ever experienced. I had trained through tendonitis and plantar fasciitis, hit the start healthy, did the best I could with what I got and finished my first IM sub-12. What more could I ask for on my first ultra-distance? With all of the excess time I can find looking at my stats, I am savoring the moment, resisting the urge to get frustrated by the run, and believing that I can continue to improve on this next phase of my life-BEING an Ironman triathlete!