We got up at 4:15 am central time, I grabbed a quick shower, ate some breakfast, ate some more, then drove the 45 minutes into Panama City Beach. We parked at the Wal-Mart near the resort and took the shuttle to the race location. Found the body markers on our way in. Since I had checked the bike and gear bags in on Friday all I had to carry with me was the wetsuit and one bag of incidentals.
I got to the transition area about 15 minutes before it closed, which is cutting it way too short. Still, I stuffed an extra shirt into the T2 bag, added the bottles and bags to the bike, taped some gel's to the top bar and still had enough time to get out of there.
I got the wetsuit on, and we had to walk through a timing arch to checkin. This is when it really started getting real.
The starters area was incredibly cold. The sand was freezing. I got the swim cap and goggles on, and was pacing around trying to find Kelley. She was back taking pictures. I was not the only person openly crying out there. It was a very emotional time for everyone. All the training has been logged, all the fuel has been eaten and all of the preparations have been made. It's go time!
The pros started first, 10 minutes before us age groupers. They sang the national anthem, gave us a 10 second count down, and shot off the canon to get things underway. This is it, here we go. A years worth of training and a lifetime's worth of preparation has been leading up to right now.
Swim 2.4 miles
When 3000 people are sitting on a small beach area and decide to start swimming all at the same time it can get a little hectic. Frantic is putting it mildly. I wanted no part of that since I was just trying to finish, so when the cannon went off I stood on the beach humming the Jeopardy theme song to give the field a 30 second head start. Of course, the competitive juices started flowing so I only made it about 20 seconds in, but I was still one of the last people into the water.
Speaking of flowing.... I didn't get the chance to hit the port-a-potty line before getting to the starting area. Not enough time. But as soon as my feet hit the water I was able to pee in the wetsuit freely. Such a relief. And it was the warmest I felt all day.
The water was crystal clear (now with a slight yellow tint?) and you could see all the way to the bottom. It got deep fast, then we hit a sand bar and got to stand up and walk again. So the second time it got deep I could still see all the way to the bottom. That white rippled sand was such a strange sight compared to the murky lake water we're usually swimming in. I saw a stingray swimming along below me! That was really cool. Then I caught up to the people.
Now the whole reason I stayed on the beach was to avoid the washing machine. So to now have a delayed start time and still get caught in what I was trying to avoid was double pissing me off. People were stacked up 10 deep in every direction around me. Everyone was trying to swim, but few were doing it and fewer still were doing it right. When it's that crowded I stop kicking and take my head out of the water. I don't want to kick someone else and I want to sight the open water nearby so I can get there. This time there was no open water nearby. I started pushing my way through people and eventually got to put my face down again. I took an elbow in the eyeball (well, the goggles first), got kicked in the shoulder and chest, may have kicked somebody else, and had a generally tough time getting into a rhythm. I never even saw any of the sighting buoys on the first lap, just the orange turn buoy. Another washing machine immediately commenced at the turn. Don't hard kick in the washing machine! It will only get you punched in the face.
Half a mile out, turn left. 0.2 miles then another left turn to go back to shore. I finally got outside of the main pack (right into shark territory), made the second left turn and headed back into shore still trying to stay outside to the right. Might have gotten a little bit too outside. This time I can look down and see a pink blob floating very close to me in the water. Jellyfish! I scream like a girl into the water I was so surprised. At least nobody heard me. I ended up seeing a lot of jellyfish in that return lap.
Made it back across the sandbar and onto shore, there was a bottleneck going over the sand. They had an aide station setup so I got a cup of water to drink, then headed back out for lap #2. This time I was much closer to the sighting buoys and the crowd was starting to thin out. That means the people were only 5 deep instead of 10. Still a washing machine for the most part.
This time there were plenty of jellyfish on the way out as well as on the way back in. Eventually I did get far enough to the right to avoid most of the other people, and settled into a basic stroke. I thought the second lap felt much faster than the first lap.
Lap 1: 37:29
Lap 2: 40:31
Total: 1:18:00, 2:03 / 100m pace
1338/2439 overall, 235/356 age group M35-39
My target time was to break 1:20, so that's a huge success! 2:03 is the exact same pace I've kept at my last 3 open water swim races. Eventually I will have to learn how to get faster.
I ran out of the water up the beach and onto a very sandy spot for wetsuit stripping. Found a big guy who yanked that thing off of me and I ran up through the hotel to the parking lot to grab my T1 bag. Then we had to run through the other side of the parking lot to get to the changing room.
Let me tell you about the changing room. I shave a lot. I shave a large part of my body because I just don't want hairy parts, for the most part. I was nowhere near the most shaved man in there. I saw things that cannot be erased from my brain. Things I will not mention again.
it may have affected me emotionally
I found a chair and took my time in there, taking off the bathing suit I had on under the wetsuit, and putting on my bike gear including the bib shorts, jersey, arm warmers, etc. The volunteers in the changing room were fantastic. The guy helped me get my gear all straightened out and put on, bagged up my swim gear, and got me out the door as fast as possible.
I grabbed Roberta, she was the last bike left on the rack. Ran out of transition ready to mount up and ride.
Normally my T1 time is less than 2 minutes, but I wanted to take my time here. Turns out, I forgot to pack a towel in the bag, or to apply butt butter before putting the shorts on. These two factors would work together to create a very unpleasant time on the bike.
Bike 112 miles
It sounds so straightforward. Get on a bike, ride 112 miles. It's not really that much longer than a century ride, is it? Really is it??
I apparently ran well past the mount line without knowing it. So somewhere in what looked like a starting corral I clipped in, sat down, and waded my way through a crowd of bikers. Seriously, when 3000 people get out in steady progression in a non-drafting race, it gets crowded very quickly. Too quickly. Took me 3 miles to get the required 20 feet of clearance to avoid drafting.
The coolest thing about the swim was that I started in the back and finished in 1338th place. So I passed almost 1300 people in the water. In the water! I'd estimate on the bike course, about 1000 of them got their revenge. I started out with an effort that was stupid easy; that was the plan. The course was flat, the wind was strong but I rode totally on perceived effort without worrying about my actual speed or heart rate or wattage etc. It was pretty disheartening to get passed that much.
The plan was to take a gel at every aide station, so the first station I needed to get a gel and a bottle of water. Instead, I grabbed a bottle of Perform, chugged it and tossed it before clearing the station. That's what you would call a poorly executed plan. They have aide stations every 10 miles, that first one was at mile 13.
By mile 18 I was ready for the bike leg to be over. I was done. Remember how I didn't really wash off that salt water after the swim like I should have? then forgot the towel and chamois cream in the changing room? That plus the sand where the wetsuit strippers were created a salt/sand rub that had already begun chafing. And before the race even started? Port-a-let lines were long and I had no time to get in them anyway, so I was still waiting on that first morning poo. If you combine those two qualities it can make for a very uncomfortable morning. Then you have to sit on a bike seat for 7 hours.
Mile 23 I hit the second aide station, and actually did get a gel and water bottle this time. I also had two bottles of Accelerade that I premixed and stored on the bike, and plenty of my own gels taped to the top bar. But the point was to execute the water bottle grab properly. So now I was getting regular calories in finally, and it was time to upgrade my efforts from "stupid easy" to just "easy" and roll out the next 89 miles.
The third aide station had port-a-potties with a very short line so I took the opportunity to jump in there. Finally I got to knock off some of that salt/sand rub and empty the bowels. I know you were very concerned about that. It was the most comfortable I would be all day... almost.
The middle miles were pretty uneventful. The course has an out and back spur, where you hit the halfway point and get your Special Needs bag. I threw a PB&J in the special needs bag, and was quite happy to have some real food to ride with. I did stop again to open the bag and get the sandwich. Who was out there cheering at the turnaround? Wes and Dee Dee! I was really looking and feeling bad then, the out part of that road had a stiff headwind and bad pavement, so seeing them out there cheering for me really made me feel a lot better. She snapped these pics:
The first half of this course took me an entire 40 minutes longer to complete than the entire 56 mile course at the OBX half in september. That's almost 1 minute per mile slower, or 15.6 mph instead of 19.4 mph at OBX. And I thought OBX had bad winds. These were brutal! Absolutely killer. Now, of course, that meant the second half had more of a tailwind. Wasn't as effective as I had hoped, but it was still nice.
I was just hitting the aide stations with consistency, taking in calories and watching the miles roll down. 40, 50, sandwich, 60, 70, 80, it was going pretty smooth by then. I stopped at the mile 83 aide station to use the bathroom again when a funny thing happened. I unclipped the left shoe from the pedal, but couldn't get the right shoe out in time. So of course then my balance went to the right and I fell over on my side in the grass next to the road. As far as falls on the bike go, this one was pretty tame. I was at a complete stop already, landed in grass, and kind of rolled into the fall. But still, taking a spill on the bike 83 miles into a 112 mile ride is no picnic. When you're supposed to follow said ride with a marathon run there are farther reaching implications. This was actually just funny to me. I wasn't hurt at all. They say everybody does it, but it's never happened to me before. Usually it happens at a stop sign, not a port-a-shitter. But it happened. I dropped a nice deuce, clipped in again and rolled on down the road. Me and Roberta were both ok. And the half a second that I was lying down in the grass was the most comfortable part of the bike leg.
Around mile 90 is when my stomach started to turn. Nausea set in, and I didn't think I would be able to eat any more. I stuck with water and Perform to keep some calories going in, but the Perform started tasting really nasty. I just couldn't take that anymore. I was well past ready to be done with the bike. Eventually I convinced myself that the nausea was masking hunger, and I stuffed down one more gel.
Around mile 95 I saw Kelley! She made it out onto the course and got a few pics:
She said she also saw a guy ride through that section of street standing up in his pedals, whip "it" out and pee while he was riding down the street! I cannot believe she saw cocks-a-flopping in PCB. I mean it is PCB and all, but wow that's unexpected. I thought she was going to get a pic of me puking, but I managed to keep everything in.
The last 10 miles are all straight into a headwind. Something about the tall huge hotel/condo buildings just creates a wind tunnel that puts a nasty headwind out there. When you're over 100 miles into the ride you don't want a headwind. I thought I was going to have to walk the bike in. There was a sign for 100 miles, but I didn't see a sign for 110, and I really wanted to. The farthest I've ever ridden is 105 before, so that would have been nice.
All I really wanted to do at that point was get to the run. I knew everything was going to be ok once I could start running and be off of that damn bike. Ready to run.
Bike split 1: 55 miles 3:31:10 15.63 mph
Bike split 2: 40 miles 2:21:16 16.99 mph = some tailwind?
Bike split 3: 17 miles 1:03:59 15.94 mph
Total bike: 112 miles 6:56:25 16.14 mph
1921/2439 overall, 315/356 age group
Goal time was 6:30, or 6 hours flat would be even better. Total fail.
yea, that's really slow. and I got passed a lot. It really sucked. I'm still just glad it is over. Flat and fast my ass, that course was tough. For the most part, the road conditions were pretty good. The aide stations were great, volunteers were wonderful. I survived, and I don't have to get on the bike again until after the winter is over and done with. I've been on the hate side of the love/hate relationship I have with cycling for about a month now, and this bitch certainly didn't change my mind.
A volunteer took my bike at the dismount line and I didn't want to touch it again. I found and grabbed my T2 bag and headed back into the changing room with my head down this time. Off went the bike gear, and my ass was so incredibly grateful to be in running shorts instead of cycling shorts. I tied a long sleeve shirt around my waist just in case it got cold enough out there to need it and got the hell out of there.
On my way out I turned down more sunscreen because I knew it was about to get dark, but someone did have Vaseline. I would like to thank them now. I may have gotten a bit too excited to take a couple of large finger-fulls of Vaseline and shove my hand down my shorts only to start screaming "oh that's nice yes fucking sweet fantastic holy wow" right in front of that poor woman. Fortunately all of the nearby volunteers started laughing with me. I might not have been the first badly chafed guy to come by there, but I may have been the most vocal.
Again, my T2 times are usually under 90 seconds but I don't care. That puts my total transition times over 26 minutes, when the goal was to stay under 20 minutes. Again, I don't care. Well worth it to get to sit down in a chair for that time.
I actually took some advil before getting very far out of the transition zone.
Run 26.2 miles
I started running this two loop course and saw Kelley at the very start of it. I was so glad that I was able to find her and stop to tell her how much I appreciated her, and get a kiss before really taking off on the marathon. That's why I'm smiling so much in that picture above.
I had a plan for the marathon. Run at a 9 minute pace and walk the aide stations. Take 2 cups of liquid, plenty of gels, get some solid food when I could. Look for the chicken broth, everyone says it's a life saver. That's exactly what I did.
The course is a lollipop, with an out and back section that tops out with a loop around a state park. We run it twice, so maybe 5 miles of the course is two way traffic on the same roads. Once you get into the park all bets are off. The crowd support is amazing. The roads outside of the park are filled with spectators Tour de France style. They are all cheering and giving out high fives, plenty of fun costumes. One woman told me she bought that house specifically because it was on the run course so she could sit in her driveway and cheer every year. Of course, she was also drinking beer from a can and smoking a cigarette at the time she was telling me this.
One aide station was setup with a Hawaii theme with everyone in grass skirts. Another was a christmas village, with a really thin guy in a santa claus costume and compression socks giving out high fives. They did have a few slutty elves. But my favorite one, hands down, has to be the Girl Zone. Girls in stripper costumes (is there such a thing? burlesque costumes?) were dispensing pleasure and pain to the runners. The girl with the cat-of-9-tails style whip hit me in the butt 3 of the 4 times I ran past her. It was wonderful.
In the first loop the roads got out of the residential areas before hitting the state park, and there was Wes and Dee Dee again! How incredible is it to have friends like that. I saw them coming and going on the first loop. Wes was screaming at me pretty good.
Inside the state park was a timing mat for the first split. It came around a full circle, and I noticed there were no street lamps. My goal was to get through the first loop before dark so I would know where I was going more on the second loop. The officials said we should run with a head lamp, but I didn't bring one. The park seemed like the worst part to be dark in. I was just holding my 9 minute pace.
Actually it was kind of hard to keep that pace, I wanted to go faster. All of my long training runs have been done at an 8 minute pace or faster, so I knew that sticking to 9 minute miles would keep my heart rate low, prevent me from ever hitting the wall really hard on the run, and keep me feeling alive the whole time. So I had to stick with it. Again running on percieved effort, don't let my heart rate get too high or I'll crash at the end.
Coming out of the state park there were Wes and Dee Dee again. I had to ask about the Snail, and they told me he broke 4 hours for the first time in the RnR Savannah marathon, but missed his 3:30 target time. I was wondering about my friend the whole day, so that was good to know. We were joking about taking a bet on marathon finish times but I couldn't nail down a handicap for the swim/bike warmup that I had to do. Still, as good as I was feeling at that point I thought maybe I could break 4 hours as well. but I knew better than to push it. And Wes was screaming at me again "You've got this CJ - you're going to become an Ironman today!" and that's when I knew I had this one in the bag.
Coming all the way back towards the finish line and hitting the turn around spot I got started on lap #2. I checked the garmin and sure enough there was the 8:00 pace again. I decided to save enough for the finish so I could charge that chute after finishing the second lap with a nice strong kick. So I had to be more careful about my pace for the second lap. Nothing too fast. I did make the target of finishing up the first lap before it got dark, but the sun set about 2 miles into this second lap. It got really dark out there really fast.
The second loop was a little less crowded. At mile 16 I chose to stop and walk for the first time not at an aide station. Still feeling pretty good, it just felt like a good time to give it a rest. I ran through the residential areas again and into the state park, but Frayed Laces had warned me that everyone walks the second loop in the state park. It was really dark in there, and I found a nice lady to talk to from south Florida who was on her first lap and hoping to beat the midnight cutoff. We talked the entire way through the state park, and I gave her some advil at the end of it then took off running again. That was about mile 19, and I knew all I had left to do was get back home to the finish line.
It's important not to abandon the nutrition plan for the last 10k. I still had to stop and take gels and chicken broth, several aide stations had pretzels and chocolate chip cookies which I jumped on. 2 cups of liquid and a solid at every aide station, every mile. Keep it going in so that I'll have enough to keep going forward. Charge the finish line.
In my past 2 full marathons I have hit the wall pretty good at mile 23. This time 23 came and went without starting the death march. Yea I walked when I needed to, but never felt like I really hit the wall. Just knocking down miles after miles. This time when I hit the point where they said "first loop turn around, second loop go finish" I picked up the pace and headed for the finish line.
For the first time all day, I kept the effort hard enough to run myself out of breath. I made it into the finishers chute. Why do they make those things so long? It should be maybe 200 yards, max. This one was like half a mile. I wanted to keep the people spaced out and give everyone their moment to cross the line and hear their name, and I wanted my moment too. But these slow people kept getting in my way, so I passed like 5 other people in the chute. A lone female spectator screamed out "Wow this guy looks strong (insert audible gasp here) AND HE'S HOT!" which of course made me look back at her and smile. What a strange place to receive a compliment like that? Still, I'll take it. That's an Ironman memory.
Then right before I hit the finish line There's two people in front of me that just practically stop moving. Hello old people, get the hell out of my way please! I'm trying to charge for the finish here!
Run split 1: 5.75 miles, 55:03, 9:34 pace
Split 2: 7.35 miles, 1:08:01, 9:15 pace - that's 13.1 miles total, half split 2:03:04
Split 3: 5.3 miles, 54:01, 10:11 pace
Split 4: 7.8 miles, 1:28:25, 11:20 pace
Total 26.2 miles, 4:25:30, 10:08 pace and a 6 minute PR over my previous open marathon best time (4:31 at the Tobacco Road marathon in 2010).
What started before dawn ended after sunset. That's a nice long day at the office.
Mike Reilly missed his first Ironman race in years. He knows the cadence and the energy level he puts into the "John Flynn YOU ARE AN IRONMAN" line every time he delivers it. People dream about hearing Mike call out to them at the finish line; I know I did. This guy they had doing it instead had no energy. It was pretty disappointing. But I still got the line, hit the finish and got the title of Ironman. And that's all that counts.
244/356 age group
After the finish line I was overwhelmed with the catcher. This nice guy from Atlanta caught me, then I ran into him again at a gas station driving home on sunday. I couldn't believe I was done. I got the medal, hat and shirt, and I actually turned down the picture in front of the finishing thing that everybody gets because I thought Kelley had gotten a good enough finish line pic. I don't really know why I did that, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Made my way back to the food tent, got some pizza and another bottle of water and finally got to sit down. Then Frayed Laces came up and found me! It was so amazing to see here there! She really congratulated me on a good race and a strong run, and she was tracking me after she finished! I tell you what, with friends like that who needs enemies.
Kelley found me in the finish chute and we strategized a plan to get out of there. I was actually feeling ok. She got my bike and bags, and I walked back to the car.
We made the drive back to Destin and I got to watch the overtime in the LSU/Alabama game. I ate a lot of soft foods, mac & cheese, pudding, nothing too solid. Slept hard that night and woke up ready to get back to NC.
The drive was long, we were supposed to stay in Atlanta overnight on sunday but the Evil Genius had a meltdown so we had to drive straight through the night getting back to Raleigh about 2 am. I still had Monday off from work so I got this taken care of:
And now there's a 140.6 magnet on my car as well.
I really can't say enough good things about this entire experience. The trip was great, Florida was beautiful, all of the people we met and food we got to eat and things that we got to see were just jaw dropping. I couldn't ask for a better trip. Turning iron? That's pretty amazing too. Yea I wish the bike course was better suited for my strengths. But it is what it is. I got through it.
Would I do another Ironman? Absolutely. I doubt that I will do IMFL again and I certainly did not sign up for 2012. Online registrations sold out in 16 minutes on sunday, which is absurd. There are plenty of other non-WTC 140.6 mile races like Beach 2 Battleship that are a lot cheaper and demand less usage of vacation time out there. I also think I would prefer a course with more hills and less wind on the bike course like Cour d'Alene, Lake Placid, or Wisconsin. If I go WTC again it would be one of those, but they are already sold out for 2012.
So what am I doing next? You'll find out soon enough.