Are all Ironman finishers alike? Of course not. In fact, I think you can break them down into at least four main categories (imho)… none better or more important than the other.
There is the “Uber Triathlete” who probably races in more than one Ironman a year. They can tell you how many calories are in a bagel with cream cheese, how much wattage they can output on a 5% grade at 22 mph in the big chain ring and can run an Ironman marathon consistently under 3:30.
The “Been There, Done That” athlete may have characteristics of the Uber Triathlete, too. But, they do the Ironman, probably excel at it, but then go on to something else like climbing Mt. Everest, exploring the Amazon or doing some other thrill-seeking activity. Ironman is a once in a lifetime thing.
“I Did It… Can You Believe It?” people are often our favorite people to watch when crossing the finish line. They lost a bunch a weight, or are recovering from some illness, perhaps had a baby and wanted to get back in shape, an idea that spun out of control and ended at an Ironman finish line. They did it, and then they move on.
Then, there is the “Ironman Disciple”. There is something in that Ironman finish line that lures the disciple but they can’t quite put their finger on why. They keep coming back, year after year… or every other year. But, they need to have it… like an addict needs a drug. But, it is more than the finish line… it’s the time spent preparing with the people pursuing the same goal. It reminds me of the people who were all seeking Devil’s Tower in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
I am a disciple. I am a follower of this sport and I take it where it leads me. I’d sign up for an Ironman again next year if no one was looking. I would let it dominate my life and interests outside of work and family. My sleep, eating, drinking and bathroom patterns would be centered around getting to that finish line. You’d find me on vacation at the local running store trying to tag along on a workout. I’d know the lifeguards at the beach by name but wouldn’t be able to tell you how much my hotel room cost. My friends would all be fellow participants in an upcoming Ironman or 70.3 race. There wouldn’t be time for anyone else, and besides… what would we talk about?
See, that is what it takes for a normal person to do this on a consistent basis. This isn’t a “I want to finish before midnight” quest. It is also not a “sub-10 hour” effort. There are too many other commitments in the disciple’s life to do that. But, we can hit the finish line shortly after dark. More importantly, we have lived that previous 12 months like we think life ought be lived. In bed by 9 pm. Up at 4 am. Eating to train… not training to eat. Consistent workouts that would leave other fit people in our age group gasping for breathe. This isn’t a sport or a hobby… it’s the way we live our lives. It is as organic to us as the seasons of the year.
So, I knew when I finished Ironman Florida 2006 that I would do another one in 2008. On November 4, 2007, I signed up for Ironman Florida 2008. I set a goal to finish the race in 12:15, a 36 minute improvement on my previous Ironman Florida finish in 2006. Here is how I not only matched my goal, but actually surpassed it and finished in 12:05:00.
2008 was my fifth “season” in triathlon. I’ve been a DC Tri Club member every season and appreciate the friends I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned by being a member. I participated in the June training triathlon in preparation for the season that was to consist of three races: New Jersey Triathlon (Olympic Distance), Patriots Half (a Half Ironman distance) and then Ironman Florida.
I was able to train consistently on my long bike this year with KDOG and Chad. We had some great Sunday’s together. The Sunday after their wedding stands out… a day when I did a 12 mile run up a mountain in the Berkshires. In fact, that whole weekend (Memorial Day Weekend 2008) was a blast... a wedding in the middle of a marathon training weekend. We also had a training weekend up at Deep Creek Lake in early August. It was the first weekend of the Olympics and I had a great time... like cycling over the Continental Divide two days in a row is something everyone thinks is fun. I’m grinning ear to ear thinking about it. Our last Sunday ride from Capitol Hill to Sugarloaf Mountain and back together in October was another great day. I was not as consistent with my swimming throughout the year although I did have a regular Friday morning swim at the Silver Spring YMCA with Colette. Colette and I also did a long run on Wednesday mornings and I ran most of the rest of the year by myself. The last month of training, my speed run workouts were with Seth, a co-worker who is trying to run a 4 minute mile. The dude is fast. I did a four day training weekend over 4th of July down at the beach. The weather was gorgeous and I got to do it all… open water swim, cycling for hours on end and long runs through the ocean breeze. Good times…
My training schedule basically broke down like this:
Sunday: Long Bike and Moderate Swim Monday: Lift Weights Tuesday: Rest Wednesday: Long Run Thursday: Tempo Bike and Lift Weights Friday: Long Swim and Tempo Run Saturday: Brick – Moderate Bike and Short Run
Things were cruising along throughout the year. I did the Total 200 in July, riding a bike 200 miles in 10 hours of ride time. At the New Jersey Triathlon, I placed 3rd in the Clydesdale division and PRed an Olympic triathlon by 14 minutes. After a great training build up in early August, I was fully prepared to ramp up training to Ironman-levels. Then, “IT” happened. On Tuesday, August 19, after some problems with my vision, it was determined that I had a detached retina in my right eye and tears in the retina in both eyes. I underwent immediate surgery and was unable to train as the surgery resulted in a gas bubble being frozen in place in my right eye. I was down for the count. In fact, I couldn’t work for a week. I was relegated to the couch as I had to sit upright so the bubble did not get disturbed. I couldn’t drive a car. I took three full weeks off of cycling and running. I was unable to swim for eight weeks. The Patriots Half was taken off my schedule (but was cancelled anyway because of a tropical storm). I was concerned I would not be able to do the Ironman and my doctor, Dr. Vu, initially forbid me from even thinking about it.
However, I did get back on the bike after three weeks and I was able to start running again after the bubble in my eye went away. On October 6, Dr. Vu advised me that the eyes had responded to the surgery and were healed. I asked him if I could do the Ironman as it was up in the air at this point if I would actually do it. He said he’d leave it up to me and asked, “would you regret it if you did and your retina detached?” I thought about it a minute and replied that “If I didn’t do it and the retina’s didn’t detach, then I would regret it.” So, at that point, it was on.
So, after August 3, I was only able to get in one hundred mile ride. I swam five times after August 16 and it was over the last two weeks of October. And, because of the interruption to my run schedule, I was able to get in only one LONG run of 17.5 miles… on October 15. Fear set in as race week approached… would I be able to hit my goal?
Race Week Work had been REALLY busy, my daughter was in her first couple months of middle school and everything was chaos heading into my time off for the race. Then, travel day morning, there was a problem with my flight reservations. US Airways had me going to Charlotte on the 29th… and then back to Baltimore on the 3rd. No flight from Charlotte down to Panama City Beach. After two hours on the phone, they were able to straighten it out but it required a re-route to Pensacola. After renting a car at PNS, I made it into Panama City Beach around dinner time. I headed over to Wal-Mart to load up on provisions. It was humorous seeing all the other endurance athletes pushing carts filled with peanut butter, bananas, high fiber bread, oatmeal and water up towards the checkout line.
As I was alone, it was a little lonely but nice and quiet in my room. I ate out each night having some pasta and greens at various local dining establishments. I drank a lot of water and slept a lot. I did a practice loop in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday and my 36 minutes time gave me lots of encouragement as I was worried about the swim. We racked up the bikes on Friday and I packed my various bags. I was ready to go. I was in bed by 8:30 pm and drifted off to sleep pretty quickly.
Swim Ironman Florida swim is in the Gulf of Mexico. The tide was very gentle on race morning and the sun was just coming up as the professionals went off. My room overlooked the beach. I was able to stroll down after the pros went off in time to hop in with the age groupers. My favorite band is Van Halen (David Lee Roth-era) and they started playing “Panama” over the PA as our cannon went off. I stayed on the inside of the bouys thinking this would keep me away from the blender of arms and legs. But, it didn’t. It was so crowded. As we got out to the turn buoy, you really could only tread water and wait your turn to get around the bouy. Then, the sun was right in your eyes and made it hard to site the two yellow bouys on the way to the next turn buoy. I made it in on the first loop in 35:27. I drank a sip of water and headed back out. Things were still not thinned out and I was always near another swimmer throughout the rest of the swim. But, I just kept cruising along and very comfortably handled the course. Second loop took 38:38.
1:14:05 Avg HR 143
T1 My transitions suck. It took the strippers five or six tugs to get my wet suit off and then I took my time in the shower to get the sand off. You’d think I was going to ask for some soap and shampoo it took so long. I had to get my T1 bag myself and since I had to pee, I headed overto the porta potties. The one I went into was clean so I figured I could just change in there instead of heading into the tent. I did and was ready to go. I looked for my sunglasses but couldn’t find them. I checked the bag. Checked my jersey. Checked the ground. Went back into the porta potty. Asked a volunteer to help me. No sign of them. So, I just headed over to get my bike. I had to unrack my bike by myself, too. And off I went. I remember thinking, this is so retarded… the ONE PIECE OF EQUIPMENT a person who just recovered from a detached retina should have on a 112 mile bike ride is some sort of eyewear. And I was… heading out with nothing covering my eyes… on a sunny day.
Bike There was hardly any wind and the sun was warm. The day was perfect. The Ironman Florida bike course is very flat and is basically a big lollipop… you go out and back on Front Beach Road and there is a big loop of about 95 miles through pine forests on flat roads. I passed dozens of people on my way out Front Beach Road. When we got out on 79 I really was flying. I was going over 20 mph the whole time. When we turned on 20, the wind picked up a little in our face and this is where I started seeing some of the drafting. In fact, as I was cruising along and as I give a good draft (ask KDOG), some people filed up behind me. One girl, Jamie 25 years old, really rode my wheel. As I was passing riders, she tucked up right behind me and followed along for the ride. She was cute so I didn’t say anything to her. I was averaging over 20 mph going into special needs. I stopped to get my bag. I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then peed. I had a plastic bag with ibuprofen and endurolytes in it. When I opened the baggie, all the capsules fell in the grass. I couldn’t find them and actually asked a volunteer to help me find them. She helped half- heartedly and just when I gave up to pick up my bike and start riding again, I found them. I washed them down with water and then was on my way. There is a right turn after special needs and on this stretch of road, the speed was over 25 mph… really pushing it. However, I was light on water and stopped at the water station to refill. Again, I took too long as I was dicking around with water bottles and filling all three bottles. I finally got going again. After you get off this stretch of road, there is the part of the ride where it is real bumpy. They should either repave this road or take it out of the ride. Bike gear was all over the highway although I didn’t lose anything. However, I was losing my spirit and this part of the ride was definitely the slowest part of the whole day.
There is a stretch of road where you ride out a little then turnaround and ride back. It is where the timing mat is. I averaged 19.34 mph on that first 73 miles. Seeing the other riders on the out and back incentivized me to pick the pace back up and I was flying again until I got to the bridge back into town. I was 2/3 of the way up the bridge when my legs cramped. Cramped as in “stop riding and get off the bike, jackass”. I was kind of stretching it out and another rider asked if I wanted any salt tabs. I accepted and then he sped off. I washed down three tabs with water and walked the bike up to the crest of the bridge. Then I got on as the cramps loosened up and I coasted down the bridge. Then I started churning away again. As we got back on Front Beach Road, the wind was back in our face but I was cruising. I passed the salt tab guy and noticed that he had a Steeltown Tri Club jersey on. I asked him if he was as Steelers fan and he said yes. I then shouted, I’m a Redskins fan (the Redskins were scheduled to play the Steelers on Monday Night Football two days after the race). He sarcastically asked to have his salt tabs back and I shouted "you'll have to catch me first!" as I dropped him. Over the final 39 miles, I averaged 20.34 mph and that includes getting off the bike for the leg cramps.
5:41:32 Avg HR 142
T2 So, the misadventure on this transition was as I put on my tri shorts, the string is out to be tied on one side but is inside the shorts on the other. So, I can’t tie the string. I ask if anyone has scissors and a volunteer produces a safety pin. He’s trying to get the string out the little hole while I’m putting on my other gear. I mean, it’s almost comical. Finally, as it is taking so long, I just pull the string out completely. If I ever can get it together during transitions and also with the special needs stops, I might actually get good at this sport.
Run So, I start off a little gassy and bloated on the run. I think I drank and ate just a little too much on the second half the ride. I probably shouldn’t have made that water stop after special needs. The sun was out and it was pretty warm. The run course goes through a couple of neighborhoods and into a state park for the turn around. Two loops, the run is flat as a pancake. There were a lot more people along the run route than there had been in 2006. I think it was because of the weather. It was a much nicer day than in 2006 and in fact, many veterans had commented about how 2006 was the worst day ever. I stopped at the 2 and 3 mile aid stations to try to get my stomach to settle down and then got into a steady groove. I got the first turnaround after about an hour six minutes. I was hoping I could do 10 minute miles in the first half of the run as I assumed I could do the 12:15 if I did that. When I got into run special needs, I again dropped my ibuprofen and endurolyte pills in the grass. I got another volunteer to help. This time, we were unsuccessful and it was taking so much time I finally just forgot about it and started running again. It was a real party along the run route. Florida was playing Georgia and people had TVs and radios blaring along the road. They had signs posting the score. There were some women dressed in attire meant to arouse the male runners and it was humorous to see them four times on the two loop out and back. I offered encouragment to those I saw walking and when I settled into walks at some of the aid stations, others would return the favor. This year, I thought the Boy Scout aid station was the best and to the other 11 hours+ Ironman finishers reading this, raise your hand if you love chicken broth and flat cola on the run.
After about mile 16, I realized that I was going to beat my goal and that in fact, I may be able to get in under 12 hours. My calf and hamstring would twitch everytime I picked it up, however. A guy named Steve from Ottawa caught up to me and ran on a steady pace with me for a bit, I learned that he had lost 100 lbs. for the race, was 54 years old and had gotten two flats on the bike. But, here he was, on his way to a sub 12 hour first time Ironman. I was impressed. At mile 23, I had to pee again and he said farewell and took off. I got a little choked up at mile 24 and then cruised my way to the finish line. It wasn’t as emotional at the finish line this year as in 2006 but others who have done finished an Ironman probably share this observation… the finish line at an Ironman is a magical place. There are few feelings that match breaking through that ribbon.
4:49:53 Avg HR 130
Conclusion I finished writing this race report after a bout of “Ironman Signup” again earlier this week. I seriously considered registering for a still open Ironman Lousiville 2009. Then, I thought about it some more. Ironman is such a commitment, for a disciple. It dominates your life. I guess that is why the reward is so great. If I was unencumbered by life commitments, I’d already have a $525 charge from North American Sports on my credit card. But, I’ll have to sit out at least one year. I’ll be back, however. You can count on it.
I love triathlon. I really love the ultra distance course. It is hard but easy at the same time. At no point in the race did I think, I’m not going to be able to do this. But, you really are only a moment away from catastrophe. A kick in the face on the swim, a swerve in the wrong direction at an aid station on the bike, a poorly timed consumption of food or water on the run… you never know what can happen during the day. It’s like a lot of other things in life… if you put the time and effort into the preparation, the race itself is just a formality, although you never know what curve balls are going to come your way. And though there is of course a physical component to triathlon… the mental part is very important, too. And, for a zealot like myself, this is what enabled me to get off the couch after surgery and three sedentary weeks of recovery, get back into the routine and then beat that goal that was set 12 months before.
Here are some facts about me:
- I did my first Ironman after my 40th birthday and am now a five time Ironman.
- I have worked in one way or another with the Internet since 1993.
- I once ran for political office.
- I have been president of my citizens association and my local chamber of commerce.
- I have a 17 year old daughter
- I'm a Mac evangelist
- The first time I was in a bar... I was in the band.