If many of you have read my race reports before you know that as I always end up hearing a song just prior to an important race that sticks in my mind and sort of becomes my theme for the event. Well, in less than shocking fashion the same occurred during my long drive out to Ironman Florida 2013(IMF13). ”Best Day of My Life” by American Authors became the theme that was going to roll around in my head for countless hours of swim/bike/run. The opening sort of sums up the Ironman journey anyway to me:
I had a dream so big and loud
I jumped so high I touched the clouds
I stretched my hands out to the sky
We danced with monsters through the night
I’m never gonna look back
Woah, never gonna give it up
No, please dont wake me now
This is gonna be the best day of my life
IMF13 was a day that was in the planning for over a year. I had to register November 4th 2012 just to get into the race. Sitting at home pressing reload on my browser, fingers shaking in anticipation of getting one of the few slots available online. Despite having some very modest success racing the Ironman 70.3 distance the last two years, I had raced only one 140.6 distance race before, Ironman St George May 2012. St George was an amazing accomplishment but the actual results that day left a very bitter taste in my mouth and an unsettling mental impression upon me. Once I received the final confirmation that I was in I set about figuring out how to get the type of results that I would be happy with. This road saw me smash my PRs at the marathon (3:35), 1/2 marathon (1:33) and even 70.3 (4:42) distances along the way. However, 140.6 is on a whole different level and I had that caution in my head in the days leading up to IMF13. As I laid my head down to sleep Friday night it was filled with many reservations but also with a strange calm that “it is what it is” and to try to live in the moment. Surprisingly, I actually slept well that night.
The alarm I had set for 4 am didn’t need to go off….I was up naturally at 3:30 am, time to get ready. I could still hear the surf crashing outside my hotel room. The previous days beach activity had been very worrisome as the surf was up and the conditions were really unswimmable (IMFl13 is a two loop course totaling 2.4 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico) The surf conditions the day before were crazy as you can see in the picture.
It was very dark as I heading down to transition at 4:30 to take care of my bike and finish setting up my transition bags but I could still hear the waves had calmed a bit but not nearly what many had hoped. The buzz around transition was intoxicating. The nervous anticipation silently shared between athletes is nectar. The excitement almost pierced the dark Florida morning. After going over and over in my head all the nuances of transition and roaming around like a lost puppy worried that I was forgetting something I ventured back to the room for some attempted down time to relax and mentally rehearse the days pending events.
Eventually it was time to go, light was creeping over the horizon and the crowds was building on the beach. I decided to wear my Base Performance kit for this race. I have been using Base Performance nutrition products for over 3 years now and honestly wouldn’t be here today without them. More important than the quality, natural products they produce are the actions that the people behind the company display in giving back to people and communities.
The last thing just prior to leaving the room that I did was mark my hands with the first letters of the names of my girls (Grace and Kayla) Knowing that this race would see me be in the aero position on my bike for many many hours I wanted to be reminded of why it is so important to fight the good fight and keep going. My two daughters mean the world to me and hopefully they see my racing as an example of trying to get the most out of life, leaving the tank empty and holding nothing back in the quest to be the best I can be. They would be on this journey with me in spirit since they couldn’t make the trip to Florida.
Back in July I had made the decision to change my overall nutrition plans for racing to be more “fat adapted”. This concept essentially revolves around the idea that we are made to burn our own stored fat more efficiently and with better results than to process the simple sugars of today’s sports nutrition products. Even the leanest person carries with them enough fuel stored as fat to do multiple Ironman competitions. I worked with this and came up with a formula that seems to work for me and IMF13 was the ultimate proving ground. I had put my formula to a brief test just two weeks prior at the IronBaby event where I swam 2.4 mile, rode 112 and ran just 9 with great account. However, I knew that today would be much harder physically than the test. My “concoction” was (per hour of intended racing) 1 scoop of UCAN, 1 tblsp MCT Oil, 1 scoop of Base Performance Amino acid, 1 serving of Base Performance Electrolyte salt, and about 13 grams of Infinit Napalm (this was added for the caffeine and the simple sugars to feed my brain, not my body as even being “fat adapted” the brain requires just a hit of glucose to stay sharp) All of this was combined with Coconut Water. I felt strongly that this strategy of “trickle carbs” in combination with the little bit of simple sugars would enable me to feed the body, feed the mind and get the job done. My strategy was 20 oz just after I woke up, 2 bottles on the bike (@48 oz) and then 4 small bottles on the run (about 32 oz)
The swim start at IMFL13 is a mass beach start so 2891 of my closest friends and I waited on the dimly lit beach for the cannon to go off and the days events to unfold. We watched intently as the Pro Men went off at 6:50 and at 6:55 the Pro Women followed right behind. Over a 100 professionals had struggled somewhat to clear the breaks on the beach that morning and that was noticed by the rest of us. The new swim initiative being tried here was a self policed, corral start where we were supposed to group ourselves together based upon estimate swim time for the 2.4 mile swim……not sure that was a good idea to ask a bunch of people that have a different sense of reality than most to be realistic about their swim time……and as we found out shortly, in my opinion, not a good idea.
We tromped out into the surf, hooping and hollering, trying to quell the butterflies we all had with some sort of vocalize exuberance. Some had no problems cutting the waves, others were tossed around like rag dolls (probably the only time having some extra weight paid off during an Ironman) The first outward part of the race was a mosh pit, the slam dancing of swimming to put it another way. Kicking, punching, and grabbing were par for the course…oh yea, don’t forget that you are in the water and need to breath as well. Outside the breaks the swells weren’t that bad relatively speaking but sighting was key. I felt that the racers finally settled in and found their space around the second red buoy as we turned back towards the shore to finish our first of two loops. The swells made it rough to sight the inward buoys but the hotel was on the horizon and we could use that as a reference. According to my Garmin, when I stumbled out of the pounding surf to end Lap 1 I was at just under 30 minutes…..great time since I had planned a 1:10 overall or under swim. At IMFL13 you have to get out of the water and run up and then down the beach to re-enter the water to begin your second lap. They had allowed the crowd down close to the waters edge and the possibility of going further up the beach to maybe catch a little of the current back out to the first turn buoy wasn’t an option. When we went back in I saw the lifeguards pulling a small lady out of the water…little reminder that safety is and always should be paramount. The group I was with when we started our second loop got congested again and the mosh pit was once again upon us. As we made the inside red buoy and headed back out it did seem to subside though. It was at this point that I made a real conscious decision to slow my pace, I was inside my target and not being a really strong swimmer knew that trying to go hard was only going to haunt me in the end. I exited the water at just under 1:05 on my watch with my official time including the beach running of 1:06:25……I was still on target and the 65th person out of 500 in my age group out of the water.
Here is my Swim File
We ran up the beach to the wetsuit strippers. Unfortunately, the volunteers were standing in the sand so when we hit the ground and stuck our feet up for them to pull our suits off we were covered in the beautiful sugar sand of the Florida Panhandle. This wouldn’t have been much of a problem had they had more fresh water showers or given us more time to wash off but such luxuries were not afforded on this day. I sped off to transition happy with the first leg of the day…now on to my favorite part, the 112 mile bike ride.
Once on the Bike it was time to settle in a bit, I was sticking with my target of @230 watt average as I had a little fear in the back of my head that I would go too hard and burn out. 112 miles is a long way and has to be managed a bit. Riding for 112 miles isn’t daunting to me but this day included a little thing afterwards of running 26.2 miles too. Heading out the wind felt like it was into us a bit so cadence in the mid 90s with power around the high 220s. Ironman racing is supposed to be non drafting, but Ironman Florida is legendary for the packs of riders that form and draft all day. Today was no different. The first real pack that I saw form was around mile 10. This pack was about 100 yards in front of me. I contemplated reaching them but about then an official pulled up along side them on a motorcycle and started watching. Not long after that was when the reason for the not drafting became painfully obvious to one of the riders in that pack. Two riders touched wheels and one guy went down hard. Rider, bike, bottles and such were all over the road. I raised my arm to alert the car that was right behind me know to slow down as we were racing on roads that were open to traffic.
As the day unfolded on the bike I actually ended up lowering the watts that I had targeted. The speed was there so there was no need to push the edge with so much still in front of me. I did have two instances where packs came up on me from behind. My fear of getting boxed in and either penalized for drafting or even just riding in close proximity with people I was not familiar with made me stand up out of the saddle and ride off instead both times. We really had great conditions to ride in that day. The breeze was up but manageable and I knew that once we made that last turn back towards Panama City Beach it would be behind us for most of the last hour of racing. I ended up with an official time for the bike of 4:49:06 Nominal Power of 227 Watts on average cadence of 91 RPM.
If you are into numbers you are more than free to take a look at my TrainingPeaks file for the ride
Once off the bike, the marathon lay in front of me….something my brain was trying to block out to be honest!!!!!
The legs were a bit wobbly running through transition but nothing out of the ordinary after riding 112 miles. I was trying to run a four hour marathon and the first bit was nothing unusual. However, around mile three is when my feet began to essentially cause me problems. Each step hurt yet my feet were sort of numb if that makes sense. This is the point in which I started trying to do math in my head. I will admit that I am the guy with a degree in Russian at Texas A&M so maybe math shouldn’t be discussed…as we shall see later for sure… I began to go down that very dark road of pre-race-expectation disappointment, “dancing with monsters” just like in the song…trying to figure out that magical formula that would get me to the finish line at my intended goal. I thought of all the people that I knew who were watching on-line, following my every split……the weight of my own expectations and of their expectations was immense……yet ultimately weightless. Honestly, no one that really mattered to me cared about the time, plotted a path to 10:30, or even probably understood what 10:30 means in the grand scheme of a race that can last 17 hours, and that was OK The people that really mattered wanted me to give what I had to give, leave it all out there, yet cross the finish line without injuring myself. However, that type of logic doesn’t exist in my brain while during an Ironman………I got very down on myself until I saw Jill at the half way point of the marathon….we made eye contact and I simply shook my head, defeated………………Jill yelled at me “you got this, if I have to go through back surgery in two weeks, you got this”. My initial reaction was was “crap, that was rude” but the more I thought about it the more it made sense….I was in a situation that I paid for and signed up for, my pain was nothing compared to what she was having to deal with and I started to plot a plan. This plan was trying to figure out how to manage the next 13.1 miles despite the foot pain.
I eventually settled on a very strange plan…counting. I would run while counting to 100, knowing full and well that I never actually count straight to 100, I get to certain points and I start over, adding the previous count in at the next starting point. This “plan” essentially was set up for failure because I was banking on the sad fact that while running I usually lose count. Somewhere in this process would probably be some extra time, some unknown-t0-my-brain time spent running and not walking. I set about this yo-yo philosophy while balancing the issues of every step with the steady accumulation of time. Around mile 23 1/2 or so I thought I heard someone travelling in the opposite direction as for the actual time, one of the volunteers responded 5:01….and I freaked! I thought to myself that there is no way that can be accurate. That specific time meant that we had been out there for just over 10 hours….the goal that I thought had been lost was well within sight. I eventually made it to mile 25 and yelled over to one of the Newton Running reps about the fact that I has “squeaky” shoes (something he and I had spoken about a the expo) but that it didn’t matter because I only had one mile to go. Behind me a fellow racer chimed in “thank God”. I turned a bit and we struck up a conversation. We both told each other that we wanted to stop and walk but we agreed that we would keep running together til we got to the finish line, holding each other accountable to finishing strong. His name was Bubba and he was from North Carolina, we were going to do this together. This little conversation spurred us on and the pace quickened, in fact my last mile of the marathon this day ended up being the fastest mile I ran all day. Bubba eventually told me to run on during the last 1/2 of mile because he couldn’t hold the pace that we set. I told him he better not stop and that I would be there for him at the finish line.
As I entered the finisher chute the rush of adrenalin that comes over you running towards the finish line was surging through my veins. I couldn’t believe when I looked up and saw the time, I had smashed my goal despite not having the type of run that I wanted or am capable of. I raised my hands to the sky and thanked my father above. Once again, I had “jumped and touched the clouds”. No, I wasn’t the fastest person there, I didn’t win any awards and they wont remember me after I am gone from this town but I dared to take on this challenge for the second time and today really was one of the “best days of my life”. Once across the finish line two volunteers grabbed me, guess that look of shock on my face made them worried I was in trouble. I let them know I was good, we needed to turn around and find Bubba. My running companion had held his word and he came across the finish line not long after me. I walked over to him and we embraced….essentially two strangers but that very short conversation and bond formed at mile 25 was special. There is a very unique bond between competitors at an extreme endurance event like Ironman, something very special indeed.
I looked around after the finish line and found Jill. I kept asking her what my official time was. I was still struggling to really believe that I had beaten my goal. Euphoria probably isn’t the right word to use to describe how I felt when I actually saw the official time on the tracker. 10:18:03 WOW what a day!
Looking back at the overall stats of the race, I finished 268 out of 2891 participants overall, 47 out of 500 in my age group. I was in 17th spot coming off the bike and had the 2nd worst run of the top 50 in my age group. There is a lot to be happy about and a lot to work on. All that raced this day were very blessed with great weather, amazing spectators and even better volunteers.
I now have a couple of marathons coming up in December and January, Texas 70.3 in April of 2014 and my A race IRONMAN BOULDER in August 2014. I have some lofty goals for those races (3:15 marathon, 4:30 1/2 Iron, and a very lofty 9:30-45 for Ironman Boulder) but I think if I can work to improve my run, those goals are achievable. After all, 4 years a go I never thought I would be able to run a 1/2 marathon either!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!