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I have a lot of friends that are competing in the Florida Ironman this weekend. This is the granddaddy of endurance competitions right in the heart of the panhandle Florida at Panama City Beach.
I want to wish you all the best of luck and I know you will all be an Ironman at the end. Of course, a couple of them already are, but that doesn’t change the challenge any.
As I did this last year I want to give you the lessons I learned while taking on this challenge. Take them or leave them, but hopefully, you will take something out of it and if not another reader might find a helpful hint to take on their journey to the Ironman Triathlon in their future.
|Left to right: Eve, Kat, Marai, Summer, Mary-Ellen & Iron Rick, Anne, Carola (Not pictured: Rick Jansik and David Nardoski)
- Double check your gear on Thursday when you arrive. Most likely you will know someone coming up on Friday, so they can bring an item you may have left behind.
- Go to Athlete Check-In early Thursday or when you arrive on Wednesday. Get it over with so you have all of your gear bags and as you unpack you can start to pack them.
- Buy all of the SWAG and stuff you want early. They run out fast and if you follow #2 then you will not have to wait in line. For some reason, Ironman does not hire the fastest cashiers in the world and the line seems to take forever.
- Swim a portion of the course early on Thursday morning as close to race time as possible. Notice the current, the temperature, how long it took you to warm up, and any wildlife in the water. Double check to make sure your wetsuit is fitting correctly and any adjustments you needed to make to feel comfortable.
- Write these ideas and any other adjustments down. Then the excitement of the race does not bode too well for memory cells. It is best to be able to look over a checklist on Saturday Morning.
- If you do not have the experience do not feel invincible enough to rent race wheels or if you do, rent them at home and bring your training wheels with you. The weather may say 5-7 mph wind gusts on Friday, but that can change to 20 mph in a heartbeat and a lot of miles are spent in the crosswind.
- Ride on Thursday as well. Ride a few minutes in each of the major gears and in the low chainring to spin your legs and get some blood moving. This will also check your bike for any adjustments you may need. There is always a bike maintenance tent at the expo. Ride after you swim in case you need to get some maintenance done.
- Keep eating and keep hydrating especially on Thursday. Thursday is actually more important than Friday as far as nutrition and rest are concerned.
- Do not run on Thursday. Save the pounding for Saturday.
- Plan for a long, long sleep on Thursday. The excitement is building but not enough to hinder your sleep on Thursday vs Friday. Friday will be a completely anxious day and that night will be hard to sleep. Get it on Thursday. No alarms, no loud roommates, just sleep as long as you can. Once your up, you’re awake and it will be hard to get back to sleep.
- Walk through your transitions and even legs and make a checklist for your gear bags. This works. (ex. I get out of the water, strip my wetsuit, go to the tent and I put on my shoes, helmet, glasses..etc…then write down “shoes, helmet, glasses, and anything else”) Make sure you walk through your nutrition plan as well, to make sure you have enough nutrition on the bike. If you are putting the powder in bottles, do that at this time as well. It is your choice if you want to add the water today or tomorrow, but put the powder in the bottles. (Personally I put my bottles completely together and put them in the freezer. By the time you get on the bike they will be almost thawed and you will have ice cold hydration)
- Put your gear bags together on Thursday night, when you are calmer. You are more likely not to forget anything. You will still have a few things to put in them but the bulk will be there.
- Plan for a special needs bag for the run, but ride with what you will need for the full 112 miles. The stopping for the special needs bag is not worth the time. Have what you need, and if you do come into a situation there are aid stations every 10 miles, they will help.
- Do put a special needs bag aside for the run. This is just for some warmer clothes just in case the temp drops. You probably will not need it, but at least it will be there. Do not trust the forecast in Panama City.
- Do a 15/15/15 workout on Friday. 15 min swim, bike and then run to clear all the excess and get your legs feeling like they need to for the next morning. It sounds weird for the day before such a hard day, but trust me this will make you feel much more confident.
- After you return and shower after your little workout check your gear bags one last time. Empty each of them out and run through your checklist one last time. You can turn these in, pretty early on Friday, and you will want to so you can just relax the rest of the day.
- Relax as much as possible on Friday. Put your feet up, watch TV, play some cards, but relax.
- Do not forget to eat and drink. Follow your nutrition plan which should include your meals on Friday.
- Lay down and try to sleep no later than 8:30. 3:30 am comes awfully quick.
- Get up at 3:30a and take a shower. This will awaken you and start your day.
- Have a nice breakfast by 4:30. This will make sure you have all the nutrients in your body by the 7 am start time.
- If you train with a gel, have one in each sleeve of your wetsuit. It is always a little chilly on Saturday morning, so even if it is uncomfortable, your wetsuit provides warmth. If you have a sleeveless put the gels in your pant legs. I also put a couple of Imodium as well, but that works for me. I suggest it if you know it does not cause side effects for you.
- Find your friends and have them near you at the start. This helps. It provides some comfort because the rest of the day…you will be most likely alone.
- Have one of those gels 10 minutes before the start of the race and the second one while you are running back into the water on your second loop.
- Put a smile on your face. If you are terrified then fake it. Most of the time faking it will make it true.
- Trust your training it got you here now it is time to have confidence in it.
- Do not eat or drink anything but water for the first 15-20 minutes of your bike. Your body is making a switch. Allow it to settle before you put anything in your stomach.
- Ride your own race. Do not worry if others are passing you. You have a plan stick to it. Enjoy the scenery and get lost in it.
- If you have a watch with a timer use it. I personally had my alarm go off every 15 minutes so I knew to make sure I was drinking and eating. I knew that I had to take in a quarter of bottle every 15 minutes and a gu every 45. In the Ironman if you get behind on your nutrition it is a hard fight back.
- Salt – Make sure you have enough salt. I took 250 mg every hour and I had no cramping at all.
- Do not deviate from your plan. You spent a lot of time putting this plan together do not deviate even if you feel great. You never know what the course will bring.
- HAVE FUN! This may feel like the longest day of your life while you are competing, but after you cross the finish line it will feel like it went by in a blink of an eye. Enjoy it! You spent a lot of time training for this, have some fun.
- Last but not least. Watch when you are coming into the finish shoot. If there are people around you, either slow a little or speed up and make sure you are alone as possible coming across the finish line. This is going to be your moment. It should be one of the few times in your life you should be selfish. Savor it. You swam, cycled and ran the whole thing alone, cross the finish line alone. Trust me here, you will thank me for it when you see the video later.
I am so proud of all of you. I am so lucky to be able to call you my friends and I know you will all be amazing. I will be there volunteering and I really hope I get to see everyone.
Kick some booty. Ironmen and women.
I made it to the front of the dock where handlers had signs up with our ages and waves on them. I found my wave with ease and merged in the rest of the 40-44 males whom had last names that started with the letters I – Q. Now is when the nerves started to build up in my stomach and all the insecurities started to show their pretty little selves. “Did I train enough?” “Why didn’t I do more swim workouts?” “Why can’t I use a pull buoy?” “Should I really use a wet suit?” and the most famous insecurity that comes up before a race; “What makes you think you belong here with all these athletes?” I never can shake that one. (Read my “About” page to find out why.)
|Starting out on the bike
|Starting the run
Before I knew it I was at mile 3 wondering where the miles went, especially when my watch had me doing under 9 minute miles. Of course I expected that to change as my body became a little more tired and I started to walk through the aid stations. The run in Augusta is two loops around the center of town around Broad street. It was loaded with spectators and I enjoy it. Sometimes there is even some great signs that people make. I have seen some funny ones, like “Toe Nails are for sissies” and “Chuck Norris never did an Ironman”, but my favorite to this day is still “If triathlon was easy they would call it football.” That one always cracks me up. Not that it is true. Take it from someone who has attempted both American football the other football we call soccer, they both have there different definitions of tough. Triathlon is just the endurance tough because it doesn’t stop for numerous hours, where in the other kinds of football they usually only last 2-3 hours and they have these things called “timeouts”. In triathlon we don’t have timeouts, the clock doesn’t stop because you have a foul or a penalty. It just keeps going.
|The last mile
(took off my hat and
sunglasses for the picture…LOL)
The crowds seemed to have grown on my second loop and I kept my eye out for Jessica who was sporting her bright yellow tank top and green hair. It was supposed to be yellow as well, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. I never did see her the whole run, but nevertheless the crowd cheered everyone on. A couple of little kids were on the side holding their hands out and cheering hoping we would run by and give them a high five. There were families out just hoping to get a glimpse of their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers or fathers. As I was running, my photographer’s eye kept seeing Norman Rockwell, paintings. This really was a very clean, forthright city with an old soul. I couldn’t help but smile a lot of the time, at least until mile nine. I couldn’t believe it, the plan was working just fine but at that point, cramp, side stretch…ouch. I forced myself to run until the mile 10 aid station where I walked and grabbed water and a cup of coke while breathing as deep as I could. When the pain subsided a little, I started to run only to be struck down again by the pain. I grabbed a gel packet and a salt tab hoping they would help and they did, for a short while until I arrived at the mile eleven aid station and ate an orange. At this point, I didn’t care. I had 2.1 miles left and I wasn’t stopping. If I had to leave my intestines on the sidewalk and pick them up later that’s what I was going to to. I picked up my pace, blocked out everything and headed for the finish line. I didn’t even see the mile twelve marker, but I felt the vibration of my watch which told me now I had just a little over a mile to go. I kept looking down at my watch, 12.1, 12.24, 12.35. I felt like this was the longest mile of my life, but I was wrong. I finally made it to the split. Left for the first lap and right to the finish and I was going right. Here is what turned out to be the longest stretch of the run. I had no idea that a quarter mile could feel like an eternity and when I finally did see the finish, I felt like I was in the movie; “The Shining”, when the little kid is looking down the hall and it keeps getting longer and longer? That exactly what it felt like. I looked down at my watch and noticed what it said 19:54. Crud! I wasn’t going to make it. I lifted my legs and increased my cadence just hoping I could get one little ounce of speed and I got it, but just a little too late.
|Best race of my life!
After receiving my medal, taking a couple of pictures and having my timing chipped removed from my ankle I headed over to the refreshment tent a can of coke from this pool of ice and ran in to Russ. He told me that he finished around 4:28. This kid is a machine and that just proved it. We congratulated each other and I went over and got a massage, but not before disposing of the first coke and grabbing a second. While waiting I finished that can and by the time I finished up with Caroline, the LMT who took care of me, I felt like a million dollars. With exception of a twinge in my back, which for me is normal due to my injury, I really felt good. No pain, no soreness and due to the adrenaline still pumping from having such an awesome performance I felt like a rockstar, and I never really felt that way before.
|Beth and I
As it turned out we all had a good race. Celeste PR’d, Chris finished under 6 hours, Bruce beat me by one second, and as it turned out Russ actually took first place in his age group and was on his way to Las Vegas, but the story of the weekend was Beth. Beth had gone through a lot just to get to the race. Besides this being her first 70.3, she never biked really prior to this year, she had an injury that kept her from running for over 3 months, so she was very freaked coming into this. Wouldn’t you know it, after having a goal of just finishing under 6:30:00, her official time was 5:47:16. We were all really proud of her. You can read all about her experiences on her blog Discom-BOB-ulated Running.