Wednesday, 9 November 2011

IM Florida - The Race!

Ok, this is a long one, a VERY long one!! You've been warned!! So for anybody who can’t be arsed to read through the whole guff here’s the facts and figures :-

61st of 2439 finishers overall, 4th of 419 in Male 40-44 Age Group

Swim - 55:19, T1 - 3:56, Bike - 5:01:40, T2 - 2:43, Run - 3:40:25 = 9:44:03

So now for the ‘War and Peace’ edition.

Everything on Friday went pretty normally. Of course if you know me then you’ll know that doesn’t mean I sat with my feet up all day like you’re supposed to. I went for a swim, went for the traditional Ironman Florida Pancake Breakfast that the church put on. I strolled around the Iron Village one more time (that didn’t take long), went to see the good folks from because after days of test riding, deliberating and pondering the purchase of a last minute ‘go faster’ item my head/wallet had ruled and it would be one purchase too far for this non cyclist. Then it was time to pack my transition bags and rack my bike before heading over the Mellow Mushroom for a ‘last meal’. It was quite a busy day really. All I needed now was a few hours sleep and it would be time to roll.
By the time I woke up on Saturday morning many folks would have already been buzzing around the Transition area. After breakfast I finally left the apartment around 5:45am and strolled down to the Transition area to get body marked and put my drinks bottles (and my glasses) on my bike. Then all I needed to do was get my wetsuit on and drop off my dry clothes back before winding my way down to the beach. Easy really isn’t it.
Soon I was following the crowd down to the beach and into the start area. I worked my way down to the edge of the water and looked for an appropriate spot that wasn’t too busy and waited for the off. The Pro’s were already swimming and the swim officials were shouting at people warming up to get back to shore so I knew the race start wasn’t far away. Just a little goggle/hat adjustment before I was ready for the off. I set my Garmin running and within a minute we were away.
As my open water swims go this one was pretty uneventful. The start cannon went off and I hit the water with over 2500 other people. There was a little jostling around as people sprinted past and over me in the early stampede, but soon I was in my own water in my own rhythm and going past them again. From that point on it was just a case of trying to swim in a straight(ish) line. On the first lap this was easy as there were enough people around me to keep an eye on in the hope none of them were using me in the same way. Somehow I found myself hitting the beach at the head of my pack though and I opened a small gap on them as we hit the water for the second time. With my notorious navigation issues the last thing I wanted was to be stuck out there on my own, so seeing a couple of people around 10m ahead I put in a concerted effort to catch them up. The stretch out from the beach was pretty easy and once I’d caught my targets I just swam with them comfortably. Then we turned directly into the sun and I really had no idea where we were heading, several times I’d get lost and have to search around under the water for bubbles or a glimpse of wetsuited arm/leg – it was easier than trying to spot a bouy. On the final leg into the beach there were just two of us swimming side by side, I’m not sure but I think the current pushed us well wide at one point as suddenly the group I’d left starting the lap seemed to make massive inroads into our lead over them. I was just praying my swim companion had better navigation skills than me or we could have been heading in any direction.
We hit the beach pretty much together and you just got a sense off the commentators voice that it was a pretty good swim. Turned out that we were 3rd & 4th Age Groupers out of the water (missing a $2k prize by just a minute) although I wouldn’t know that until much later. I had a real battle with my wetsuit as for some reason I just couldn’t get it off my right arm, it felt like I was stood there for ages losing time before the ‘strippers’ could do their work on me. Then I grabbed my T1 bag and ran to the change area, threw on my bike shoes, helmet and number belt (with my tracker attached) before heading out to grab my bike. Somehow I seemed to have a pretty quick transition time compared to those around me, even with my wetsuit issues. Maybe they were dressing up as it was a cold morning – I wasn’t!!
I ran out onto the bike course having seemingly made up a couple of places in T1 and rolled out along the beach road. It was here that I noticed the multisport mode on my Garmin hadn’t got my heart rate showing for the bike. No worries, my heart rate never gets very high when I’m cycling, so long as I don’t go out like it’s a 10mile TT it’ll be fine. I got overtaken pretty quickly but it was ok although I’d rather he hadn’t been in my Age Group, then as I got to Pier Park (around 5miles) I got passed again before catching and passing a Pro woman (who’d started 10mins before me). Then it went quiet and I just chugged along at my own pace with nobody in sight for a while.
We turned off the beach road to head inland after around 7miles and the wind that had been around all week suddenly became very apparent. Looking back and seeing nobody behind me it was on this section that I had a little chat with myself and decided how my race was going to go. I knew I was obviously in a pretty good position (although I had no idea just how good), I’ve been racing/riding well this year AND I’ve always said that it I ‘raced’ this particular Ironman properly I’d got a good chance of winning my Age Group. It was time to put up or shut up, it was shit or bust time! It’s going to be my last big race, so head down, no messing around, let’s just see what I can do. I might blow to pieces, but then I might do that anyway. If you don’t buy a ticket etc etc etc.
I pushed on into the wind for the next 50miles losing just one more place while passing another Pro woman AND a Pro man(what’s going on there?). At 50miles there was a truly awful out and back section of around 10miles, the road surface is shocking and it leaves a bad feeling about what is otherwise a very good course, there are so many other roads the organisers could possibly use it seems a shame. At the turnaround of this horrible section I had the chance to see what was going on around me. Ahead of me I saw plenty of bikes but I couldn’t tell who were Pro’s and had started 10mins ahead and who were Age Groupers. The bad news was behind me where I could see people chasing me down. Lots of people!! In 60miles I’d only been passed 3 times and now it seemed like the whole field were waiting to pounce, then it started as at 62miles a small pace line (NOT a pack!) of 3 cruised past. Damn!!
We’d now had more favourable winds and the pace picked up and I tried to hang with the last man of the trio. Then came the urge I’d been dreading all ride – I needed to pee!! Here lies a big problem, I CAN NOT pee on the move! It’s really not something I care to practice on a cold UK Sunday morning when I’m all dressed up and it’s not something I’ve ever been able to do in 7 previous Ironman races. Normally it’s not a big problem, by now I’m generally in amongst the masses trying my best to ride legally while the infamous Ironman Florida peletons swarm around me, I’ll pick my time and stop when I feel it’s just too much. Today though I was riding well and they hadn’t caught me, the last thing I needed was to lose a couple of minutes doing an ‘Austin Powers’. By now the pace line had split but I was still with the last man of the trio, we were on I-98 which is a succession of rollers and strangely I seemed to be the stronger rider on the climbs. I tried so many times to freewheel and relax on the downhill sections then make up any lost time when we climbed again but it wasn’t to be and at the 80mile feed station I just had to stop.
A volunteer held my bike for me while I went into the portaloo where I peed and peed and peed for what seemed like forever, listening out as I heard the sound of at least three disc wheels go by. I wasn’t happy, what a waste of a solid mornings riding. I climbed back on my bike and sure enough there was nobody in sight, I was an angry man and pretty much time trialled the next 6-7 miles until I could see someone ahead. By now we were on I-79, the road back towards the beach and the only time we had a true tailwind all day. I was flying along but so was everybody else. At just over 90miles we had another out and back section and along here I finally caught my target, this was certainly no easy paced Ironman ride. We turned again into the headwind and it was killing me just to stay close to him but I wasn’t letting go after the work I’d put in to catch up. Then we were back onto I-79 again, we rode up and over the lagoon bridge again (the biggest hill on the course). Just after the bridge somebody came flying past me, he was only the 7th person to pass me (while I was moving) all morning. Then as he rode past the rider ahead I saw the tell tale swerve to the left and he disappeared up the road with a new companion sitting right on his back wheel, I wasn’t riding close enough to respond and just had to let them go.
Then came the nastiest part of the bike leg, the final 7 miles along the beach road with the huge condos funnelling the headwind right at you. Stuck in no-mans land as I had been for most of the ride I just kept turning the pedals hoping that some huge group of 30 weren’t going to swallow me up in the final miles. The last mile was the toughest, I knew I’d put a good shift in and was actually feeling emotionally drained. Strangely I actually felt myself welling up a few times as people cheered me in towards the transition area. I knew that although it wasn’t a bike PB I’d put in as good a ride as I was ever likely too. Now the question was just how badly was it going to affect my running?
I hit T2, handed my bike to the marshals, grabbed my back and ran to the change area. It was good to see a few folks still sat in there changing so my last miles hadn’t lost me too much time. Just socks and shoes to put on, I was out of the door quickly and immediately making up a place. Game On!!! This was the challenge, now I was into the unknown, could I run after working that hard on the bike? I saw Shelly inside the first mile and warned her that the run could potentially turn ugly before heading off again.
In my rush to make up time in transition I’d forgotten something. Once again I needed to hit the toilet, but this wasn’t as simple as a pee in the bushes. Hmmmm! Then just after a mile I came to the first feed station and was straight into the porta-loo, race belt off, trisuit unzipped, trisuit down……….. just bloody wind damn it!!! ………. Trisuit back on, number belt back on, another minute wasted. Grrrrrrr!!

I hurried through the aid station keen to make up some time while not pushing too hard and came to the infamous ‘Girl Zone’ which was hosted by the Renn Multisport crew and their friends. After the disc purchasing dilemma then knew to look out for me and I’d promised them I’d be animated when I ran through there. I was very animated, especially when my left hamstring cramped and turned into a lump of concrete. Damn that hurt, another minute lost in agony as I waited for the cramp to go and tried to massage my leg out a little. No more animated feed stops for me. More time lost, were these daft avoidable things going to come back to haunt me?
I set off running again, keeping my stride short and my heart rate low. I was moving along quite nicely but it was obvious that this pace was pretty much all that I had in the tank, it wasn’t going to be a quick run but I knew another 3:30 Marathon split would give me a nice PB to go home with. The first lap wasn’t too bad, it was tougher and slower than I’d have liked, partly because of my first mile issues, but I wasn’t feeling too bad. The second lap was more of a chore as my body started to suffer from the days fun and games, it wasn’t helped by my Special Needs bag treat either. One of my pre-race specials when I race an Ironman is a bottle Ensure+ for a few extra calories. I’d got a bottle in both of my Special Needs bags too but I had chosen to ignore my bike collection. How I wished I’d ignored my run bag too when I spent the next three miles with a grumbling stomach before spending a couple of minutes leaning against the 16mile marker while throwing up the entire contents of my stomach. From then on my stomach was all good although unfortunately it didn’t rejuvenate my legs. By the time I got to St Andrews Park for the 2nd time my fingers were starting to cramp up which is never a good sign. I walked the next feed station grabbing hold of grapes, cookies, water, sponges and several cups of coke before deciding to continue walking until the 19mile mark to give my feast a little time to settle. I knew it would cost me a lot of places but if it helped avoid the risk of a total blow up then it would be worth it. From now on it would be run (ok, jog) all the way home.
I slowly but surely made my way back around the course, knowing the sub 9:30 target was well out of my reach I was in no rush and just enjoyed it the best that I could. With a mile to go I saw Shelly and collected the Devon flag off her. There were a couple of people just ahead of me but nobody close behind, I debated the Sprint Finish approach but we all need a good finish picture right? (damn, that cost me 3rd place!!!).
So that’s about it, the long drawn out tale of my race at Ironman Florida is finally over. I was going to go further into the mistakes I made and things I learnt but they’ll have to wait because this has dragged on far too much already and if you’re still reading I’m amazed. Looks like the Iron retirement is on hold for a while, I’ve got a rematch with Hawaii lined up now.


Alain said...

Despite the throwing up and the other information that only triathlete share in are a true inspiration Iain. Huge Congrats for this Kona Qualifier. Alain

SSB said...

Nice job on the race. thanks for posting the slot list too. I love that the older I get the more slots move into my new AG. The entire time I was in W35-39 it was usually the largest. Next year I age up and it looks like my new AG is going to be large. (I know that's this years list...but trends continue)

Simon said...

Brilliant. Cant believe you threw up! Also- next time- perhaps a flap on your shorts?! Great account of your day- a true legend!!

Tim Donell said...

Congratulations - incredible work as always

Iain said...

Thanks all :-)

Simon/Alain, it could have been worse. I could have emulated this guy -

SSB if you're looking to Florida the list will be smaller next year. There's only 50 slots for Kona, this year there were 65 & in 2009 there were 75. It seems they're cutting down everywhere to supply slots for the new races like NYC.

Michael said...

Great job out there and way to battle against everything! Thanks for sharing your experience through your blog and congrats on your well deserved kona spot!