Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Ironman race report - Part 2
KA - BOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!
The canon goes off and my race has started. I run into the cold water with 2200 other people, off to swim a 1.2 mile rectangular loop out in the Gulf of Mexico - twice. We run out the first 30 yards or so in knee deep water, then lunge forward to try to start swimming. After swimming a few minutes with cold water seeping in through the seams of my wetsuit, I hit another shallow area and walk through chest deep water. Then the water really deepens and warms up.
Everyone is swimming toward the same series of buoys set out to mark the course. It is very crowded, with little room to try to swim normally. I have a very chaotic, anxious, claustrophic kind of feeling, with so many people packed in together in water. The only thing I see is snapshot views to my left side as I take breaths. I see blurs of wetsuits, swim caps, elbows, feet, and splashing. Occasionally I actually see someone else's goggled face as they take a breath to the right. I try to keep an arm in front of me all the time to avoid being kicked or elbowed in the face. The sun is just starting to peek up over the horizon over the beach resorts in the distance.
I reach the buoy farthest out and make a left turn. There is major traffic at these turn buoys, as everyone cuts in close to swim the shortest distance. Everyone switches to a breast stroke to maneuver the turn, then back to freestyle to the next turn buoy, where we turn left back toward the beach. By this time, I've really had enough of the crowd, so I try to shift to the left where the water's more open. I'm finally able to actually swim with a normal stroke without hitting anyone else. Unfortunately, I swim off course into the center of the rectangle. A kayaker catches me and redirects me back on course. Crap - lost time. I aim for the last buoy where everyone is getting out of the water.
The swim is a two loop course, so we get out of the water, run across the beach over a timing mat, and get back in the water for lap 2. By now the water is a lot less crowded, and it's much easier to swim. Lap 2 is much less eventful and actually very enjoyable. I was careful to spot more closely on the return leg so I didn't end up in BFE again.
Swim split 1:24.
I run through transition from swim to bike gear. My family members have volunteered to be wet suit peelers, and all 7 of them grab my wetsuit and pull it off of me in no time. I go into the transition tent and put on my biking gear. I have a sore backside from a training injury, so I wear 2XU tri shorts with 2XU bike shorts on top for extra padding. Out of the tent to the volunteers with sunblock for some coverage on my face, neck and legs, then to my bike.
The bike is a 112 mile, single loop course. I start out going west along the beach past all of the resorts, then cut north. The wind is from the northeast, so the first few hours of the bike has the wind in my face. At this point, I'm trying to settle in to a rhythm and get comfortable. I know that I'm going to be on the bike for a while, and that I have a full marathon to run when the bike's over. It's very tempting to get caught in all the excitement and bike hard, but knowing all that I have ahead, I constantly have to pull back. My CycleOps power meter is great for pacing myself, and I try to maintain a relatively constant power output level, regardless of the wind, the incline, or what other bikers are doing.
I'm trying to eat a lot while I'm on the bike. I've packed PB&J sandwiches, some Clif bars, and some gels. I drink water to stay hydrated - there are aid stations every 10 miles or so that offer water, gator aid, gels, and fruit. My family meets me at mile 45 and cheers me on - it's so great to have supporters along the way.
Drafting behind another biker is illegal, so I have to stay at least 4 bike lengths behind the person in front of me, which gets a little tricky when the course gets congested. I end up playing leap frog with other riders, passing each other back and forth. No one talks much on the bike because you're not allowed to ride side by side. The only exchanges are occasional words of encouragement as you're passing.
Miles 60-75 are especially difficult because the course turns back into the wind. By mile 80 or so, I'm really tired of being on the bike - my feet hurt in my bike shoes, my backside hurts on the seat, and my neck hurts from riding crouched down in aero position. At mile 80 I still have 32 miles to go - another 2 hours !!
There's one bridge on the course that I have to go over twice - once on the way out, and once on the way in. As hard as it is to pedal up that bridge, I'm so happy to see it - I'm back into familiar territory, and I know what I have left ahead of me. I try not to spend too much getting back in - other riders are really gunning for the bike finish. But I follow Coach Dan's advice and spin back in, stretching my legs and trying to let them replenish somewhat for the run start. I have never been so happy to get off my bike.
Bike split 6:34.
Next, I transition to the run. The run is a two loop course totalling 26.2 miles. Before I start, I eat a big hunk of peanut butter rice krispie treats - a really good start. It is somewhat overwhelming to think about running an entire marathon at this point, so I think instead about just getting to the turn-around at mile 6.5. I start slowly, just trying to find a pace/rhythm that I can maintain.
There are crowds of people lining the streets, all cheering us on. Some are playing great music, some are grilling and drinking beer, and some are just sitting and cheering us on. The course takes us east along the beach through neighborhoods to a state park, where we turn around and head back in along the same route. I make it through the first half of the marathon and have to turn around just shy of the finish line to make another loop. My family is there to cheer me on as I head back out.
Miles 13-20 are tough. I start getting behind on my nutrition - I can feel myself getting hungry. I start eating more at the aid stations, which are every mile. I try pretzels, cookies, gels, but nothing is as good as big, green grapes. After eating them at several consecutive aid stations, I start feeling much better.
At mile 20 I make my last turn toward the finish line. I decide that all I really need to do is make it to mile 25 - the last mile or so would take care of itself. I go mile to mile - just get me to the next aid station - 21...22...23...24.
At mile 24 I realize that I can hear the finish line announcer and the crowd. I decide to run it in without aid at mile 25. I see the finish line in the distance and family members lining the chute, cheering me on. I cross the finish line and throw my arms in the air - I've never been so happy to stop. A volunteer grabs my arm and guides/supports me to have my chip removed and receive my finisher's medal. I'm wrapped in a foil blanket to stay warm, as it has cooled considerably when the sun went down.
Run split 4:10.
Total time 12:28.
I hobble back to our condo with my family to eat supper. I rest, drink water, and eat. Later, we all get in the hot tub - pure heaven.
I've learned a lot about myself and life through my Ironman journey. I'll share some of these thoughts on my next post.