Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ironman Florida 2009

As I did two years ago when writing about IM Wisconsin I'm starting this race report with the end at the beginning.  This time around I'm minus two kids and 18 minutes shy of two hours better than in 2007.  It was a good day!

It was a good day for everyone in our 'All In' group.  Everyone PR'd.  



One of the nice things about the race this year was that we stayed at the host hotel.  It was a beautiful thing and made race morning much less stressful.  Everything was right there!  The swim start was in our backyard, transition was on the side of the house as was the run start and the race finish was a block down the road!  It spoiled me and I'm not sure If I'll be able to stay off-site again!  We didn't have to worry about travel logistics, we got to sleep later (well, with whatever amount of actual sleep we got!), we got home-field advantage with the pre-race bathroom visit (incredibly important!),  we didn't have to stand outside before the race and we stayed in our room until the last possible minute. 

We took care of the essentials first thing.  And no, none of these particular essentials had anything to do with bodily functions.  We took our special needs bags to the appropriate places, got body marked (dang, look at the guns on 1560!), checked our transition bags one last time, made sure our bike tires had the appropriate air pressure and then headed back upstairs.

Joining us in our condo race morning was Colin and Kirsten.  Colin (The good doctor - doing his residency in Rochester, NY) is a sports enthusiast, cyclist and Iowa Hawkeye fan ~ don't hold that against him.  In the photo above he and I are discussing the fine art of looking calm pre-race when you really feel like hurling. 

Kirsten was a first time Ironman participant.  Dang, look at the guns on 2416!  I should probably delete my photo!  She is now an Ironman and caught the bug in a bad way already signing up for Ironman Louisville 2010.

It's incredibly difficult to eat race morning but it is essential.  I woke up at 4:41 a.m. give or take 2 or 3 seconds.  I set my alarm for 5.  Anyway, after waking I immediately began hydrating with GU2O and ate a Cliff Bar.  After getting back to the room from checking things out in transition I drank more GU2O.  And, more importantly, I had my first cup of caffinated coffee in two weeks!  It was nice.

Then it was time to start gearing up with the wetsuit.  I wouldn't say I put my "game-face" on at that point, but I made sure I knew where it was.  I'll show you what that game-face looked like a little bit further down in the post.


It's not that you can't put your wetsuit on by yourself it's just that if someone can help I let them.  10-minutes before an olympic distance race a couple of years ago I was tugging on the string that's attached to the zipper that helps you zip your wetsuit.  It wouldn't budge.  I pulled harder and still no luck.  Then I pulled even harder and the zipper broke by pulling away from the teeth at the base of the zipper.  I couldn't fix it before the race!  I was panicked.  I swam without my wetsuit that day.  I did it, but the anxiety that event created taught me something......get help with your wetsuit!  Even if it's by a total stranger, get help.  They'll help you.  I promise.  They, too, probably want help.  This day help didn't come from a total stranger but from my brother-in-law, Trey.  He's multi-talented because he also provided some comic relief, as he frequently does, as is exhibited in the photo below....

                             took a lot of work to get his stomach out that far.

The time had come to head down to the water, me, Kirsten and Trey...

...and put my game-face on.

~The SWIM~

The start of the swim in an Ironman event is an incredible thing for both the participant and spectator.  It looks and feels like a school of pirana going after this unfortunate critter that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  For the spectator it's really amazing to watch.  For the participant?  Well, it kind of feels like being that unfortunate critter!

The gulf water felt a little rougher than 2 days earlier when we swam a practice lap.  But I'm not sure if it was actually rougher or if all the elbows, fists and feet that were churning up the water made it seem that way. 

My single thought standing on the beach before the gun sounded was....breath.  I'm not talking about the anxiety ridden short, shallow breathes you might take in stressful situations.  I'm talking about making sure that I don't hold my breath at the start of the swim.  There are so many things going on at the start of the swim that you forget to breath.  It sounds ridiculous, I know.  The gun sounds, you're running to the water with 2500 other people, knocking into each other, some tripping in front of you as they lose their step making their way to water deep enough to swim.  When you get to that deeper water and begin making your strokes you try to find one that doesn't involve hitting another person....or being hit by another person....or being kicked by another person.  Ultimately you do get kicked, in the face, your goggles shift and begin leaking water.  You think, "how dare you kick me!" before you realize they're thinking the same thing about someone else who kicked them.  Everyone's just trying to survive and move forward.  You have to tread water and re-adjust.  Then get back to swimming.  And breath.  Because if you don't you'll have that feeling of always having to catch your breath.  It's exhausting.  It's exhausting because you're muscles aren't getting the oxygen they need.  Your heart rate will soar.  So, my single thought while standing on the beach before the gun sounded was....breath.

It was a 2-loop swim.  You can see in the photo above it's a rectangular swim and if you look close enough you can see most of the age-groupers are at the top of the rectangle.  At the end of the first loop you had to exit the water, cross the timing mat that's underneath the white arch at the bottom of the picture and head back out for loop number 2. 

I swam my first loop in 37-minutes-and-change.  I was pleased with that.  Upon exiting the water after loop 1 and crossing the mat I heard my name shouted.  I looked over and it was my wife Ashley and Colin.  Ah, a little surge of adrenaline.  I needed that.  Thanks!  Now, back out for loop 2.

I felt good.  You had to travel a little farther starting the second loop to get to water deep enough to swim.  My time wasn't as good on the second loop but I was incredibly pleased with my overall time.  1:18:23.  That's 10-minutes off my swim time from Ironman Wisconsin.


Controlled chaos continues once you exit the water.  After being horizontal for a good bit of time it takes a minute for the blood in your body to redistribute appropriately.  I always have a sense of accomplishment and relief upon exiting the water.  The part I struggle with the most is complete.

Trudging up the sand to the Peeler's area I made eye contact with a volunteer and pointed at him.  He pointed at me in return as if to signal, "you and me, right here, right now".  No, we weren't bowing up for a fight...he was going to help me get my wetsuit off.  The wetsuit peeling area is much like the pit area at a NASCAR race,  there's a lot of activity and what would normally take you a lot longer to accomplish on your own is done in a fraction of the time.  While approaching him I pulled my suit down to my waist.  Then I laid down on my backside and he yanked, stripping my wetsuit off.  It actually took him a couple of yanks, but it's not his fault.  I have these protruding heels that act like hooks in situations like this making it difficult to accomplish the task.  It's the same with socks or long johns or baseball pants, not to mention duck waders.  It's the family heel.  My daughter, Lilly Kate, and son, Will have the same heel.  Hey, even with the heel I PR'd, so we got past it.

Running up the sand to T1 we passed under these showers to get as much sand off as possible as well as rinse off some of the salt water.  I will say though that you don't really get all the sand off.  I think I still had sand on me when I crossed the finish line, much later in the day!

T1 is great for a couple of reasons.  You're out of the water and you know you're going to see your people.  By that I mean your support people who are going to shout your name and give you encouragement.  It may take you a little time to see them, but you can hear them from the instant they shout your name.  And you can hear their shouts over all the other shouts being given to other athletes.  I look forward to those shouts.  I need those shouts (I know, I know, "you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall!" - indeed I do).  

I grabbed my T1 bag and headed to the tent where you see a lot of bodies (and body parts, some unmentionable) but you don't really see any faces.  It's all kind of a blur.

Out of the tent.  On to the bike.  Out on the road!

 That's me in front (yeah, that's what it is....I'm leading the whole race, yeah).


Once I get on my bike I feel like I can settle in a bit.  I'm confident once I get on those two wheels.  It's the strongest of the three disciplines for me.  Although I will say that my run has improved and is catching up.  This portion is about the bike, though.

I'm putting a picture of the bike route on here to give you an idea of what I'm describing.  On race day the wind was from the east at about 10 - 15 mph.  So, heading out we had a tail wind to start off.  That was nice.  It gave me a chance to keep my heart rate in check, gather my senses, find a good cadence and rythym and not have to work too hard.

I felt strong and my HR was in the mid to low 130's.  Perfect.

My nutrition plan for the bike was much the same as it was for IM Wisconsin because it worked well then so why change it.  I had 5 bottles on my bike filled with GU Brew (great stuff).  A lot of people would consider that adding too much weight but I prefer to have what I know works well for me rather than taking hand-ups at the aid station of something I'm unsure about.  I also had 6 GU gel packets, one Cliff Bar and 6 hours worth of Endurolytes in my bento box.  My plan was to drink one bottle of GU Brew, take one GU gel and 2 Endurolyte capsules each hour and eat my Cliff Bar at the midway point.  For the most part, mission accomplished.

After a nice stretch heading west we turned north into a cross wind.  It wasn't bad though and was actually a nice transition to what we had to look forward to as we prepared to turn right again to head east and into the wind.

I clicked off the first 20-miles in 1 hour which would turn out to be a consistent theme throughout the bike.  My cadence was good and where I wanted it to be hovering in the mid-90's.  My average cadence on the day turned out to be 99. 

Eventually we turned right on HWY 20 and headed into the wind.  It was inevitable.  You just had to take it like an Ironman.  I mentioned above that my single thought standing on the beach before the swim start was to breath.  I also had a single thought to focus on during the bike (I had one for the run, too but I'll get to that later)....take what the wind gives you.  That was my focus.  You're not going to beat the wind.  It's pretty relentless.  And tireless.  You can't wear it down.  But it can sure wear you down.  My goal was to be able to maintain a low to mid-90's cadence without my heart rate shooting through the roof.  That meant that into the wind I had to shift down to the small chain ring and a bigger cog in the back making it easier to peddle.  While traveling with the wind I could hammer the big ring and a smaller cog creating more power and speed.  The other key component for me heading into the wind was to stay in the aero position as much as possible creating less drag.

Another big component of riding into the wind for me, aside from the technical strategy, is mental strategy.  I tried not to mentally complain about the wind.  The wind can't help it.  It's just doing its job.  Mental complaining isn't going to make it easier.  But, it will sure make it tougher and longer.  For the most part I was able to accomplish that....but there were a few times - mailto:$#@%&^&*&^%#$@#.  You get the idea.  One thing is certain, all those monotonous, wind howling, beat-down, long rides we took on the roads heading east out of Little Rock sure paid off! 

For the most part the roads were fabulous.  There was one stretch where it was awful!  Referencing the map above it was the out-and-back stretch after turning right off RD 2301.  First off all the road was old, not smooth at all and it seemed every 50 or so feet there was a crack that stretched from one side of the road to the, ca-thunk, ca-thunk...every 50 feet.  Every 50 feet! No joke.  Add to that the fact it was heading east meaning a nice, stiff wind.  I admit, that's when mailto:&^#$@*%&#@#%$ came into play.  Not knowing exactly I think it was about 8 miles out and back.  Making the out portion especially heinous was the fact that you had to watch people coming back on the other side of the road...with the wind!  It was sure nice when I was one of those people.

Making up for that awful stretch was the long stretch of W HWY 388 past HWY 77.  Without a doubt, it's THE best road I've every ridden my bike on.  It was glorious!  They just finished re-paving it two days before the race.  Did I mention it was glorious.  And there was a tail-wind.  We were flying on two wheels clipping off the miles at an average rate of 25 - 27 per hour.

I felt strong both physically and mentally as I turned left back onto Front Beach Rd. and the homestretch of the bike.  That portion was both encouraging and especially challenging at the same time.  It was encouraging because it was near the end and there were signs of civilization with condos and stores and people.  It was also challenging because you wanted to get off the bike, it was into the wind and you felt like it was over but you still had about 6 or so miles to go.

My bike split was 5:31:05 for an average of 20.3 mph.  I was very pleased to cut an hour off my IM Wisconsin time of 6:31:54.


Happy to be off the bike I handed it off to one of the many wonderful volunteers, trusting him to treat it gently, grabbed my T2 bag and headed back to the tent.  I saw my friend Kevin in transition where he was preparing for a fantastic run.  

In transition a volunteer stayed with me the entire time.  He helped me unload my T2 bag and generally took care of me. Thanks!  Unlike Wisconsin the only thing I changed in T2 this time was my shoes.  I did put a lot of Glide on my feet to help prevent friction and therefore blisters.  I grabbed my hat, my GU and headed out looking forward to more shout outs from my peeps, which I needed greatly.


After drinking in the shout-outs and feeling the adrenaline surge kick in it was off for the start of 26.2 miles.   Looking back on it now I didn't have the same feeling in Florida that I did in Wisconsin.  I remember in Wisconsin feeling that I was never more thrilled to be running a marathon because that meant that I was finally off that bike!  I didn't feel that way on this day.

The biggest disappointment after starting the run was that we had to turn left out of transition.  Why that was such a big deal to me at the time I'm not sure except that in my mind I had rehearsed coming out of transition and turning right.  The entire marathon was right and here we had to turn left out of transition! Oh, the unfairness of it all!  That distance wasn't even a tenth of a mile before we headed in the right direction...inotherwords, no big deal!

My marathon strategy was to run 10-minutes and walk one.  Run 10, walk one, run 10, walk one.....and repeat.  I trained that way based on some research I did stating that people PR'd utilizing that strategy no matter what their PR was.  This strategy was suppossed to keep you fresh for the back half of the run and keep your heart-rate in check for the duration.  My marathon goal was 4:30:00.  My time in Wisconsin was 4:57:50.

Ironman Florida is probably the flatest run course on the Ironman circuit so there were no hills to deal with on this day making it easier to work into a nice stride rate and rythym.  My pace to start was a little more than 9-min/mile, a pace that I wasn't going to be able to maintain, but I think I was running on adrenaline to start.

The course was a 2-loop out and back with the first couple of miles in town.  From there the map led us though some neighborhoods then a loop through a state park before heading back in for the turn-around/finish.  There were aid stations about every mile.  These stations were stocked with all sorts of goodies: water, sports drink, gels, pretzels, orange slices, bananas, ice, cold/wet sponges (those were so nice to put in your hat, down your shirt or anywhere else you deemed was warm, to me, for the first loop of the run), coke and, later in the day they were stocked with chicken broth.  I know, it sounds weird to drink chicken broth during an event like this but it is so good for many reasons.  First of all it tastes good.  It also provides some quick sodium and it's warm.  I took it at 4 or 5 aid stations on my second loop.

People lined the streets at various points of the run which is always great encouragement because they cheer for you whether they know you or not.  There's also a section during the run where they place all these signs that family and friends created in the days leading up to the race.  So for about a tenth of a mile, on both sides of the sidewalk there are these hundreds of signs sticking in the ground offering encouragement to the athletes.  I couldn't believe it but I actually spotted the one my oldest, Alex, created for me!


The second one was one he created for his Uncle Trey...kind of an inside joke.  They also made one for Kirsten.  Seeing that sign gave me a big lift!

I changed shirts, hit the turnaround and headed back out for loop #2.  The sun started going down and I was on the home stretch!

This sounds a little silly, but once the sun started going down it was dark!  There's probably a little explanation needed.  My comparison for something like this is Wisconsin.  The run in Wisconsin was in the city of Madison.  It went through the downtown area, the campus of the University of Wisconsin and right next to the state capitol building.  There were street lights everywhere and it was well lit.  Not so in Florida.  Of course, there were street lights in the areas we ran through town.  There weren't as many in the neighborhoods and there were none in the state park loop portion of the run.  That place was dark, and lonely.  It was completely dark during that portion of my run on the second loop.  You were doing good to see 10-yards in front of you...It sounds strange, I know.  To try to remedy that situation race organizers put these portable light banks on that part of the course.  You've seen these things at road construction sites that are being worked on at night.  They put off a lot of light but it was almost too much because you ran directly into the light and it was kind of blinding.  I remember pointing my head down trying to cover up the light with the bill of my hat so I could see where I was running.  I noticed a lot of people were doing the same thing.

Getting through that park the second time was a huge mental lift.  I was on the homestretch, I was getting closer and closer to town, civilization and the finish line.  I knew I was going to make it.  And I also realized that I was going to blow away my goal of a sub-12:30:00 Ironman.  As I began to calculate even further I realized that I was going to blow away my stretch goal of sub-12:18:00.

The last 6 miles I began to feel the muscles in my lower back and legs really begin to tighten up so during my 1 minute walk time I spent about 20 seconds or so stretching those areas.  It made a big difference.  So did the chicken broth and soda at the aid stations.

During the months and months of training for this event you envision the day coming down to the last mile.  This time was now for me.  You really don't feel your legs anymore partly because you've covered nearly 140.6 miles and partly because you're running on adrenaline.  There's so much going on around you and in your mind that the hurt gets replaced with excitement.  People line the streets, there's music blaring, you hear shouts of encouragement and you begin to realize that you're going to make're going to be an Ironman, you're going to accomplish your goal!


I crossed the line in 11:36:24.  I cut an hour and 40-minutes off my time from Wisconsin.  I was very pleased and humbled.  It was far better than anything I expected.


So many things made this an experience I'll never forget.  Training with the 'All In' group and seeing everyone perform so well was fantastic!  I was really proud of and for everyone.  Trey, Kevin, Troy, Heather, Ernie, Dean, Jordan, Jeff, Kirsten.  Describing how well everyone did is the subject of another post altogether.  Thanks to you all for the months of training, the commraderie, the encouragement and the accountability! 

A very special thanks to my wife, Ashley, and kids, Alex, Lilly Kate and Will.  Our group was called 'All In' for a reason.  Not only are the athletes all in emotionally, physically and mentally but so are family and friends.  Without that support and understanding this is a much more difficult endeavor.  I'll go so far as to say it couldn't be done.  Thanks for putting up with me, for allowing me to train those many hours and for the time to recover after those long workouts.  Thanks for encouraging me, for being there during those training months and at the race and for being excited with me.  I love you guys!

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

Outstanding post, I loved it. Crazy all these months have passed and I can re-live it like it was yesterday reading your story. So cool to see your perspective and it was great to learn some of your race-day strategy and mentality. I really like your run plan. Awesome job, amazing PR. Congrats again!