I completed my second Ironman triathlon on Saturday. I really was feeling great in the days coming up to the race. I was actually starting to get a little nervous because I was not nervous about the race at all, isn't that odd?
We drove down 4 hours from Virginia to Wilmington, NC on Friday morning. My wife, 2 year old daughter and my father came with me. They dropped me off at packet pick up and drove around while I dashed inside.
Since this event is a Setup Events and not an official Ironman branded event, even costing more than $200 less than an official Ironman, I was expecting a little less extravagance than an Ironman event. Upon entering the convention center I was amazed. Definitely not quite as big as an Ironman but definitely not as small as I had expected either. I grabbed my race packet and dashed outside.
Since most of these big events you have to drop your stuff off the day before I had some work to do getting my stuff separated , marked and into the provided bags. There was an additional logistical challenge that the transition to the bike was 9 miles away from the transition to the run.
We drove to the bike transition and I started putting the labels onto my bike, helmet, race belt bags, etc and separating them into the event in which they were needed. I included a couple throw away shirts in case I felt chilled along the way. Digress for a second a throw away shirt is just what it sounds like and just is to be worn then trashed when it out lives it's usefullness.
Bags separated I dropped off my bike at the transition and my bike bag. I would be going back to the convention center later to drop off my run bag. I also had 2 special needs bags to be dropped off the next morning before the race too. In both special needs bags I opted to put throw away shirts in case it was colder after the halfway points of both events. In my run special needs I also had 2 gel flasks filled with frozen nutrition concentrate for the second half of the run.
Now my family and I hit the park for my daughter could run and play after being cooped up in our Jeep for 5 hours. We must have spent about an hour at the park then went to get a late lunch or early dinner near the convention center and our hotel.
Dinner was a carb rich slice and a half of pizza. I mainly stick to mac & cheese before races because it is high in carbs but quite literally I felt like I had mac & cheese coming out of my ears at this point. Dinner was awesome and relaxing. It was good to enjoy some quality family time knowing what was coming.
My dad drove us back to the convention center and my wife accompanied me inside while grandpa and my daughter drove around outside. My wife, also a triathlete, was impressed with the expo. I picked up a few items I needed and a new pair of tri shorts for my wife (we found out last night at home they are too small for her).
Now off to the hotel to prepare for Saturday. We were staying at the Hilton and I was completely blown away they did not have a refrigerator nor a microwave. Ok, thank God I brought a Tupperware of mac & cheese but it would be a cold breakfast the following morning. The next step was to get my pre/race gear together for the next day. I went to sleep about 8ish but woke up about 10 then back to sleep at 11.
4 am, my alarm went off. I still wanted to sleep more but knew it was time. I got up groggy and wanted a cup of coffee but knew I would have no caffeine until about mile 85ish in the ride about 1 pm when the fatigue was slowly starting to set in. I ate a coldish Tupperware of mac & cheese from our cooler then started getting dressed for the race. I added my sweats and sat back to relax while the rest of the family got ready for the day too, we're all in this together.
We left the hotel about 5:15 and went to the transition point. I got my body marked and added my liquid nutrition to my bike. I went back to the car and kissed my family goodbye, no vehicular traffic was allowed at the swim start 2.4 miles away so they were going to wait for me to get out of the water.
I gave them several predicted times about when to expect me at the transitions and finish line. The race boasted that they had a following current so expect fast swim times. I've heard that before but never saw their "following" current making my swim more than a minute or two faster. In this case I didn't factor in any current into my predictions. I told my family that absolute fastest time I was expecting to finish my swim was 1 hour 20 minutes. I hoped to see them at the transition and along the run course which went by our hotel.
I hopped onto the trolley that took us to the swim start location and waited for the race. As usual you started conversations with other racers waiting for the race to start. We talked about this and that regarding other races and the horrible cold conditions this race had last year with a race start air temp in the 30s and a high of the day being in the 50s. This year we were blessed with temps in the upper 40s and a high of the day at 75. As the start loomed closer we moved as a group towards the start.
The national anthem was sang, a prayer was said and we were ready to go. They were playing some song but it was a little too mellow for my tastes. I would have preferred some heavy metal or hard rock for psych up music but I had to deal with what was at hand.
The race was off. Normally I count to 30 and go but today I really started in the mosh pit and went out full force. By about 10 minutes into the swim I was out of the mosh pit, mostly, and into clean water. I am really amazed that either I zig zag in my open water swimming or a great many people make their 2.4 mile swim a 3.5 mile swim from zig zagging on the course so much. Normally I do not track my swim on my GPS, or at least monitor the pace but this time I did. At the halfway point I was 15 minutes faster than I have ever swam a 1.2 miles. Like many triathletes I run numbers in my head for a lot of the time while doing my exercise sessions. At this pace I will be at X but Y time, or if I want to be at X by Y I need to go faster, etc… At this pace I was going to be 30 minutes faster than my fastest prediction for the swim.
I kept chugging trough the water one stroke at a time trying to keep as much smooth water as I possibly could. I started seeing the finish point as I sighted every 4-6 cycles. It loomed closer and closer. It’s a ladder that’s about 20 feet wide made from 2x4’s. I saw the near side was really congested so I backed off a few strokes and aimed for the far side where no one was heading. I got out of the water.
I walked down the slippery dock to the strippers. Get your mind out of the gutter. Strippers are those who strip your wetsuit off really fast for you. Great ones can have it done in about 3 seconds. Not to great will take about 20 seconds. I got a not so great stripper but in the big picture 17 more seconds was not going to impact my finish time that much. Carrying my wetsuit in my arm I jogged to the point to get our transition bags. I had completed the swim in an astounding 54 minutes. I went into the changing tent and saw not a single empty seat so I just plopped down on the ground to rinse my feet, put my socks and cycling shoes, arm warmers, throw away, shirt and racebelt. I stuffed my swim stuff back into the transition bag and headed to my bike. My family missed me at T-1 because I had told them it would be about 20 minutes later at the earliest that I would be in the transition.
I smoked out of transition on my bike. The first mile of the bike is a twisting and turning way through the marina area the swim ends at culminating with a grated bridge before you really get into the good cycling conditions. As I got to the bridge I saw someone down and several paramedics near him. As I got onto the grated portion I understood why. Since we were all still dripping wet we made the grates portion like riding on ice. I can say this is only the second time in my experience where I was cycling like I was in a controlled fall but never really got to the fall portion at all. I later found out the guy had broken his arm in 2 or 3 places in his fall.
Unknown to me at the time, about this same time in the race a 68 year old man had a heart attack and died on the swim. While I pray for his family I will say beyond 100% if given the choice I’d take dying doing something that I love rather than other options, I think my family would understand my desire too.
Back onto great road I throttled up and started passing the barracuda swimmers that needed a little cycling work. I tried to keep my pace about 20.5 mph and I was mostly successful on this. At mile 22ish we hit the first water point. I stripped off my throw away shirt and continued to crank out the miles. We got onto the partly closed interstate and thought it was a novelty to be riding on a road that had speed limit 70 signs, it was a first for me. The miles started clicking on and on.
Remembering the bad experiences of Ironman Florida in 2012 I started getting a little dread about the halfway point where things had started going bad in Florida. Mile 50 I felt strong, 60 still there, 80 my legs were starting to cramp and I combated this with more electrolytes, actually doubling my normal consumption at this point. I also added caffeine into the mix now and that helped. I chewed 2 Tylenol to take the edge off the pain I was feeling. This helped but the cramps continued off and on for the remainder of the ride.
At mile 111 there is another grated bridge that they warned us about but since this is not soaking wet with people just out of the water it was easy going. I made it to T-2 at 5 hours 32 minutes, 10 minutes faster than I had guessed I could ride this at my best pace.
At this point I knew in my heart I was going to hit a personal record but not by how much. I also knew that my legs felt zapped and my run was going to be slower that I wanted. As I grabbed my transition bag and headed to the chairs I put my visor and sunglasses on. I sat down and changed my shoes then smoked out. Immediately the cramps I had been feeling on the ride came back to haunt me. I downed to heavy electrolyte gels and 2 salt tablets. I ran a little but mostly walked this first mile of the run. At the end fo the first mile I saw my family. I gave the baby a kiss, grandpa a hug and kissed my wife. I will say the first part of the out and back twice run is not great conditions but by the 3rd mile the run is pretty beautiful in a park mostly running on a paved running path.
Triathlons are great. Young or old, fast or slow, thick or thin we are all in this together. The entire run everyone is saying motivating things to everyone else. Whether they think the person saying the motivating words needs more motivation and giving they receive more than they give or the person looks like they are ready to bonk we are all brothers and sisters. I saw several fat men on the run that were racing and I told them my motivational story about coming from a 325 pound fat man to an Ironman triathlete.
The miles clicked on and my legs started feeling better and better. I saw my family near the finish line at the end of my first lap. I continued on and my wife ran with me pushing the baby in our running stroller for about a mile or so until I kept going and they stopped. I told hem I’d meet them in about 3 more hours. There was never any doubt about finishing at any point nor was there any doubt in setting a personal record for the race but by how much. I ran/walked most of the run and started up conversations with those going my pace. It’s amazing the camaraderie you experience in these races and the conversations you strike up with others like yourself who refuse to quit no matter what happens.
The miles wore on and on but I kept trucking. I finally finished at 13 hours 7 minutes according to my GPS but I think the race clock showed 13 hours 11 minutes. Regardless this is 1 hour 30 minutes faster than my previous Ironman time. I was stoked! As I was given my finishers medal and my finishers pajama bottoms I felt great. I lost my mother to cancer 3 weeks almost to the minute after completing Ironman Florida in 2012. Now I paused for a minute and spread some of my mother’s ashes just after the finish line.
As I walked to the hotel I felt great. I was not drained nor nauseated as I had been after Florida. I grabbed 2 slices of “finisher’s” cheese pizza and 2 snack bags of Cheetos. I had wolfed down both pieces before I got to the hotel and saved the Cheetos for my daughter.
I didn’t sleep well that night, twice for 2 hours with about a 2 hour break between that. We drove home on Sunday afternoon but Sunday night I slept like a baby all night long. I have a few war wounds, 3 blisters on my feet though only 1 affects the way I walk. I am stoked about doing this race again because in a word it seemed like a perfect race. 2015? Maybe but it’s definitely on the list of another to do race.