One year after my frantic extravaganza to register for the Florida IRONMAN, race day was finally here. Months of preparation, planning and growing excitement/anxiety. November 7, 2015: Race Day.
3:00A.M. – Bells sound from my phone. It was early, the transition area opened up in an hour, and I felt surprisingly calm. Packed what I needed in my white ‘Morning Clothes’ bag, had some oatmeal with a bagel and my mom dropped me off in front of the IRONMAN village where I would join the other 3,000 Athletes set up and make final arrangements for their race.
4:00A.M. – Body markings to enter transition area. Age on left Calf, Bib Number on Shoulders. The blue IRONMAN wristband allowed me access to my bags and bike where I placed the bagels I made in both my T1 (Swim to Bike) and T2 (Bike to Run) transition bags, along with any Cliff Bars or GU’s I had brought with me to Panama City.
IRONMAN Wetsuit policy is as follows (from the IRONMAN website):
- Wet suits are prohibited with temperatures over 76.1 degrees Fahrenheit (24.5 degrees Celsius).
- Athletes who choose to wear a wetsuit in water temperatures above 76.1 degrees Fahrenheit (24.5 degrees Celsius) will not be eligible for awards, including World Championship slots.
- Full wetsuits are permitted (arms and legs covered).
In my 3 years of Triathlon, I have never used a wetsuit, nor did I ever buy one.. Until the Wednesday night before I left San Francisco! Although it is a HUGE ‘no-no’ to buy a wetsuit and use it for a race, I knew it would be better to have the option, trying to be safe than sorry. Plus, a wetsuit typically helps keep the body more buoyant allowing a faster swim time – which is nice.. That said, I did break it in a little bit during my swim the day before.
Official Water Temperature: 77.1 degrees Fahrenheit (one degree above a ‘wetsuit legal’ temperature)
Now a Game-time Decision had to be made.. Do I man up and race without a wetsuit in hopes of placing in my age group and/or qualifying for Kona (IRONMAN World Championships)? Or do I suck it up, wear my wetsuit and take the opportunity to help myself out on the swim while hoping not to create any rashes/blisters wearing the new suit for what I estimated could be around 2+ hours.
I sucked it up.. After much delineation and discussion with other athletes I figured wearing a wetsuit could only help, and although it would be nice to place in my age group or even qualify for Kona, my goal was to finish, not necessarily to come in first. (For now)
6:00A.M. – Transition area already closed, and we are Fifteen minutes away from the official race start, plus an additional 15 until the athletes wearing wetsuits start.
As I make my final adjustments to my wetsuit, I decide to go to the bathroom and pee/poop out whatever I could before I waste time for bathroom breaks during the race, or potentially even worse: in my wetsuit! Once the zipper is pulled up the back of the wetsuit and I am in the water, I’ll pretty much be swimming in a body condom, and whatever is released on the inside pretty much stays there until you take it off or shake it around a lot.. This was my second time peeing before the race – I had a feeling I would be needing a port-o-potty during the bike to ’empty my colon’ since it was not cooperating prior to the swim start.
6:25A.M. – Made my way to the swim start. It was a rolling start where you grouped yourself with swimmers who planned on finishing around the same time as you. I purposely was in the back on the right.
Pro Tip: Back right is the best spot for beginner swimmers as races typically turn left and fast swimmers hug the inside left of the start for the shortest distance swim
6:30A.M. – 3…2…1…GO!!!
As I walked through the IRONMAN swim start walkway, I saw my new friend David’s family from the day before waving good luck. My 17 Hours started as soon as my left ankle moved over the sensor and my swim was underway!
The excitement and nervousness about the race as a whole quickly subsided, and my eyes looked about half a mile into the distance at the farthest buoy – the first turn. Took one step after the next into the Gulf of Mexico, the waves fighting each and every one.
Once it was reasonable, I dove into the next wave and began swimming as efficiently as possible. My wetsuit was definitely helping as my legs were essentially floating at the surface with little effort. Each stroke was smooth and I found a rhythm pretty quick. The contact between other athletes in the water was expected and however annoying it got, as long as my goggles stayed on and my timing ship remained on my ankle secured under my wetsuit I would be OK.
The use of my legs for the swim was very minimal as I conserve any energy for the bike and run where my arms do not have to be nearly as involved in the action.
The first lap went ‘swimmingly’… Felt like the current helped push me back to the beach on the turnaround. Once the waves started breaking, I tried standing back up and after a few tries I finally stabilized and ran around for my second lap.
Going back out was much harder than it seemed the first time. Bigger waves, stronger current. The swimming became much easier beyond where the waves were breaking. The new challenge was trying to swim straight.. I must have added an extra quarter mile to my swim (exaggerating) just based on all the adjustments needed during my second lap. Once I got to the turnaround to head back, it seemed as if I was swimming in place due to such a heavy current. Considering I urinated twice in my wetsuit (once per lap), I’d like to think that all the moving and shaking was probably a good thing. (Total Pee count: 4)
In the words of a wise fish, I just kept swimming.
Concerned about time, I tried getting out of the water as fast as possible and into transition. Since I was wearing the wetsuit, I took advantage of the volunteers who ripped the suit off for me. Then I ran up some stairs to the showers conveniently located on the way to the transition area.
Unlike most triathlons, the IRONMAN has the transition bags, and volunteers hand you your bag as you are running from the swim into the gender specific changing room, which is the first time I have ever seen/used one at a race before.. Volunteers are there handing out waters, helping athletes change to a comfortable extent, and helping clean up if needed. Even on the way to my bike, there were some Alabama fans who were volunteering that helped lather sunscreen on my arms and neck! (#GoGators) More volunteers got my bike for me to make sure I was on my way to the bike course!
If I focused on any area of training particularly well, my bike was not exactly it.. Although I knew the bike would take close to half of my race time and the overwhelming majority of miles in the IRONMAN, I only averaged Maybe 2/3 rides a week until the month before the race.. This was partially a result of shipping and waiting for my bike to come from Florida to California, a week with my brother in LA, and working 40+ Hours at Intel.
My goal on the bike was to finish in less than 8 Hours, keeping at least a 14 mph pace at a bare minimum. This would then give me around 7 hours for the run where I could comfortably run a small portion and walk when necessary to at least finish the race in the 17 Hours. The fact that I finished the swim in around 1:40 gave me an extra ~20 minutes just in case.
Leaving the transition area for the bike is always fun and refreshing. Drying off from the swim, feeling fast on the bike, and riding past random strangers cheering you on – I simply love it.
Started strong, trying to pace myself with other riders keeping my goal pace without working too hard too early. I began making friends with some neighbors who traded places with me a few times that kept between a 16-18mph average pace. This was above my goal, but I felt comfortable – Mile Marker 10 came up relatively fast. 102 miles left.
Soon after Mile 10 was the largest climb of the race.. a Bridge! (#Florida) My training in California’s hills had definitely paid off tremendously. The struggle was real for some people, but I glided past at least 20/30 people on my ascent and another
5/10 coming back down the bridge. Compared to the steep hills of Mt. Hamilton in Milpitas, California, this was cake.
As Mile Marker 20 approached, I finally felt that my colon was about ready to be emptied. I saw some port-o-potties on the opposite side of the road (this was an out-and-back and I would be passing these on my way back, whenever that would be), however I figured at this pace I could wait another 10 miles and use it then to make sure I was as efficient as possible with my time.
10 miles later.. No port-o-potties in sight!! In the athletes meeting earlier in the week it was mentioned how around every 10 miles there would be some drinks, GU’s, bananas, and port-o-potties, but apparently it was not EVERY 10 miles! It was then
when I realized the shitty decision I made. For the subsequent 10 miles, the poop jokes were unreal. I was imagining HIMYM’s Alyson Hannigan (Lily Aldrin) asking me, ‘Where’s the Poop?‘ while having flashbacks about my first Half Marathon. But that’s another story..
Finally I found the answer to Lily Aldrin’s question: Mile 40. Twenty miles of discomfort (approximately 1+ hours) later, and I could not have been more excited. Had a nice conversation with a volunteer who happened to be a FSU
Seminole while waiting in line, and when I came out of that port-o-potty, I felt like a new man! The next few miles felt as if
I was riding on cloud 9, and enjoying every minute of it! (Total Pee count: 5)
Then begun the musical portion of the ride. No amplified sound or headphones are allowed for the race, so I made a concert of my own.. Directly following my poopy predicament, I was jamming out to James Brown – I Feel Good! Once I was passing mile 56, I could not help but to start singing Bon Jovi.. Oh, We’re Half Way There!! Even a neighbor start singing with me for the chorus
Over the next 20 miles, I caught up with my friend David at another Pee stop (Total Pee count: 6), and another rider came up next to me said he appreciated my mental attitude and positivity! He continued to say he was really feeling his muscles getting to him, but when I passed him a few miles back, he said to himself that he needed to emulate my mindset. This guy told me I was making this look easy! Really made me feel great! 😀
Side Note: When I pass people, I always make it a point to compliment and/or encourage them somehow – even a simple ‘keep it up, you got this’ can go a long way for some racers
Then came Mile 80. Secretly I had been looking forward to this as it had been compared to ‘the wall’ runners get when closing in on the end of a marathon. When riding the 112 miles and you reach 80, it is easy to think you are almost there when the reality is you still have over 30 solid miles left. Interestingly enough, the most difficult stretch of the ride for me mentally was not caused by the mile number, but an obnoxious out-and-back loop between miles 80 and 90 (Both of which I stopped for the restroom.. Total Pee count: 8).
Until this point, I had been keeping myself super hydrated (to say the least), but when it came to food, I had the oatmeal and bagel in the morning, but when I tried having another bagel in my transition, I simply could not eat it.. It was very difficult to get down two bites for some reason. On my ride I did have Cliff Bars stocked up and tried having one around mile 10, but it was not until almost mile 90 where I finished it! GU’s and the occasional banana had been my primary source of ‘solids’.
The rain came and went between mile 90 and 100 for around 3 miles. Cold and fast, each droplet smacked me all over the place. While the rain was coming down, I had a full conversation with a guy named John. He had signed up for this race with his wife as they were going to bond over the training a year ago, which they thought was a great idea at the time.. Turns out they are now divorced and until a month before the race, John was unsure if he was even going to compete anymore. Once his friends, family and trainer convinced him to do it, he then had to book another room at a hotel and
now coordinate a whole bunch of other logistics now that he had already moved to another state! PLUS his (now ex) wife was still racing too! Listening to this guy open up to me definitely took my mind off the race and the rain coming down. Conversations with other athletes do tend to be very interesting!
As mile 100 was approaching, my confidence was rising. One guy told me he was drafting me and hoped I didn’t mind. He said it would be worth the penalty as long as it helped him finish the bike! I took it more as a compliment and really didn’t care – him drafting me wouldn’t affect my race/pace at all anyways. This drafter kept with me until mile 100. It just so happened that mile 100 was coordinated perfectly with the peak of the tall bridge on our way back to the transition area!
This time it was definitely more challenging to climb up the bridge, but still felt easy when compared to California mountains.. That said, I saw one guy who was stopped on the side of the road seeking medical attention – There was an ambulance assisting another athlete around mile 80 too. I hoped they were OK and also was thankful that I had been doing so well up to this point.
The adrenaline of passing mile 100 was surreal as it had only been my second time riding anywhere close to 100 miles (1st time was a month before the race)!
I must have been averaging around 17-19mph for most of those miles near the end – I severely underestimated the length of those last 10 miles but was just too excited to complete the bike. I figured going fast here would make more time for the run and I would feel more satisfied that I pushed myself as hard as possible on the bike. It felt awesome. As I rode past some people cheering, I remember screaming “I’m finishing this shit!!” Once I heard I was pulling into the end of my ride around 3:30pm, I knew I had almost enough time to WALK the marathon if I had to. Without getting too far ahead of myself, the realization of the goal being accomplished was incredible.
Riding towards the IRONMAN Village into the transition was fantastic. People were cheering and screaming at me, I was screaming and cheering back at them. My mom was there too! Plus I found out the Gators beat Vanderbilt in the Homecoming game, which was nice.
Dismounted my bike well, and a volunteer took it from me and ran it back to the place with my bib number, while another volunteer handed me my T2 Transition Bag which had all my running gear (shoes, new socks), another bagel, Cliff Bars, GU’s and ‘The Stick’ which I have had since High School. That stick has become my lifeline and I bring to every race.
In the changing room, I saw many new friends who were neighbors on the bike ride and everyone was talking about their best and worst parts of the ride. The bridge, the rain, the turnaround.. it was a cool environment since we were all still in the race and it was not over yet!
114.4 miles down, 26.2 more – Only a marathon left!
Since 2011, I’ve run 4 Half Marathons, and 2 Full Marathons. I’ve had more experience running than biking or swimming combined. With one Marathon/26.2 miles left between me and the finish line, I was determined and confident that I was going to finish.. The question, (dramatic pause) was when?
As I was about to begin my run, I calculated how much time I had and what the minimum number of miles I needed to run/jog before I was able to walk the rest comfortably to finish – if it came down to that. I figured it takes the average person around 20 minutes to walk a mile (thanks Google), and I had somewhere between 7 and 8 hours left of my 17 hour cutoff. So if I rounded to 8 hours, I should be able to walk 24 miles, but I would not finish. If it were 7 hours, I’d be able to walk 21 miles, but still would not finish.
Knowing I was closer to the 8 hour limit, my initial goals were to either run a 5K (3.1 Miles) and judge how I was doing from there, or do a run/walk each mile however long I could.
When I started the run, I quickly passed this one older guy in his late 50’s who had become my best friend on the bike ride – we must have passed each other a dozen times. He said to me that when he finishes, he is going to tell his wife and kids about how he became friends, but he would have to leave out the fact that I was a Gator.. His whole family is full of Georgia Bulldogs!! It was a good laugh as I figured he must have been thinking that for at least a few hours by now.
The transition between the bike and run is typically the most challenging as the body adjusts from moving the legs in a certain repeated motion for hours, to another similar, but mechanically different motion for another extended period of time. Some studies suggest it takes some people 10-15 minutes to fully adjust from biking to running.
All I knew, was that I felt fantastic. After a few minutes of running, I asked a neighbor if there was a mile marker for each mile, and she said we had already passed the first one a few minutes ago! Surprised I missed it, I continued to set my next goal to run the 5K and see how I am doing at that point.
Most of the race was through neighborhoods, and the Marathon itself was 2 laps. I found it crazy how some people looked so good passing me while on their 2nd lap!
Miles 2-4 (15-16) were definitely the most exciting. With themed sections and decorations by those who lived in the neighborhoods, there were a lot of cool/interesting people out cheering everyone on and having a good time. One of the houses were 70’s themed with a disco ball hanging from a string that was connected to a wire between trees! Another house was Charlie Brown themed, There was an ROTC block, and a ‘Garage Band’ playing inside a garage!
One moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget happened around 2-3 miles in. There was a group of la
dies who were giving alcoholic drinks out to athletes for what seemed to be a few hours by the time I got to them. As it happened, I was in a group
of guys about to pass their table when one lady comes in front of us laughing and saying jokes I was not paying much attention to until.. WHABAM! She flashes all of us for a moment of glory that all of the women couldn’t help but to point out all the smiles on our tired faces! Definitely a fun boost of morale for all parties involved.
Soon after, the 5K mark was ahead. I was definitely surprised that I was still running and even more surprised as to how good I felt! With only a few bathroom stops over the next few miles, the Forrest Gump in me just felt like running. So that’s what I did! (Total Pee count: 12)
With the initial goal of running 1 mile, and a revised goal of running the first 5K, it wasn’t until around 13.5 miles into the Marathon that I thought it would be a good idea to try and walk for a few minutes before continuing my run.. It wasn’t. After just a few minutes of walking, my legs started tightening up and I could feel a small blister forming on the partially numb toes of my right foot. Still 13 miles to go.
Mentally, I was on point. If my Timing was correct, I had just run that Half Marathon in around 2 Hours and 15 minutes (only minutes away from my slowest Half Marathon time)!
On the second lap of the 2-lap Marathon, the sun was setting fast. The later it got, the more rowdy the crowds of people were. That group of ladies who gave me a show earlier were still outside handing out Jello Shots and a few miles later, a group of guys were handing out beers and other alcoholic beverages! Chicken broth, potato/pretzel chips, cliff bars, bananas and amino-acid infused salt were also being handed out to everyone as well.
A friend I caught up to a friend I made on the bike around mile 15. We kept referring to each other as ‘Gator buddy’ (it varied..) so I do not remember her name anymore. Her family was cheering on one of the streets and she had grown up in Panama City so this was more of a homecoming of sorts – Ironic because this was Homecoming Weekend at UF as well. The first year they did the Florida IRONMAN nearly 20 years ago she volunteered, and little did she know she would be racing it as she grew up! During her time at UF, there was no Triathlon club, but she still didn’t get into endurance training until after she graduated.
Around mile 18/19, I met a new friend who shared how this was her third and final IRONMAN. She has a kid now and got into the sport a couple years ago to show her kids (and herself) that anything is possible. My new friend went on to explain how she used to be very unhealthy and out of shape and as a challenge she randomly signed up for an IRONMAN . The rest was history. We ran/walked together for around 5 miles. I shared with her how I was over hydrated and actually used the port-o-potty three times in the 5 miles we were together! (Total Pee count: 15) together! She happened to be carrying salt pills, typically used in endurance sports to replace sodium lost through sweat ( like Gatorade), and gave me one to take since salt is naturally dehydrating.
The longer I was walking, the more I could feel my body aching. By now, the blister on my right foot felt like the size of a golf ball. The scariest feeling was starting to develop in my right knee. I’ve had a history of IT band issues and simply not being flexible so with over 135 miles (2.4 swim, 110 bike and ~23 Miles) on my legs to this point, hamstring felt like a dry tree branch waiting to snap.
With less than a 5K left, I knew I was excited to finish and tried to enjoy the last moments of the race as much as possible. Being so close to accomplishing a goal is an interesting feeling – Thoughts of the finish line, and deliciously unhealthy food accompanied by the fear of any unforeseen circumstance get in the way like an Auburn Kickoff return or a bad hop in an Elite Eight March Madness game. All I needed to do was put one step in front of the other and not screw up..
As we were all cheering each other on, I caught up to a man in front of me who turned around and smiled – it was my friend Josh who I had met a few days prior at the IRONMAN Expo and again at the Banquet! He complemented how I was holding up as I was still smiling, jogging for the time being and only a couple miles left before I crossed the finish line for the first time. He was looking great as well, almost in reach of his Personal Record! We tried cheering each other on and said we would be crossing the finish line within seconds of each other. Although continued to feel all the pain in my legs/knees and the obnoxious blister that’s been with me for a few hours now, I could not keep that deal as I needed to go to use the restroom AGAIN and told him not to wait. (Total Pee count: 16)
Mile 25 was approaching and more people lined the sides of the road as I got closer to the finish line. It was approaching the 15 Hour mark since the race began and the first racers entered the water (around 9PM), so these people who stayed outside in the cold, damp Florida night were the real MVP’s to most of the remaining athletes.
With the Finish line just far away where I could barely hear the music, I couldn’t help but to feel an unusual nervous excitement, which then translated to the need to ‘drain the main vein’ for what became the last time during my IRONMAN race! (Total Pee count: 17)
Yes, my excretory system demonstrated that it works very well and proved to my mom that I do stay hydrated. Very hydrated. (During Races..)
Out of all 17 times I urinated in under 15 Hours, this time was the most memorable. I started a conversation with a lady on the side of the road and asked where the closest port-o-potty was, but since there was not another port-o-potty until the finish, she offered to use the one in her condo! Turns out she was waiting for her husband to finish the race and they were renting the condo for the week.
Now it was on.
As I felt the last push of adrenaline and realized I only had around three quarters (.75) of a mile left, I had to give it all I had left. No Excuses. I didn’t want to walk at the end and wish I could have finished faster (not that .75 miles would have made much of a difference, but simply based on principle).
After walking and jogging for the majority of the last two hours, I began to sprint. All the aches, the pain, the fears, all seemed to disappear. I was finishing this race, and I was finishing in style.
The music got louder, The sound of cowbells sang, and the people started yelling ‘Go Gators!’ ‘Finish Strong!’ then finally the bright lights of the finish line were now in sight with the voice of the IRONMAN welcoming every finisher crossing the finish line.
My speed kept picking up. If I recall correctly, I’d say my pace was somewhere around a 7:30/8 minute mile, but in my mind, I remember feeling more like Flash Gordon about to save the Universe. I did hear a few people around one corner comment on my speed too! (Made me feel even better!)
In the last mile, I probably passed around 20+ people.
Getting closer to the shoot fight before the finish line, I slowed down to give space between myself and the person in front and behind me in hopes of getting great finish line photos without anyone else in them.
‘The Shoot’ is essentially the last 30-40 feet leading up to the finish line with a red carpet and bleachers lining the sides.
Going through the shoot was a surreal experience. We see this moment on TV, in YouTube videos, and of course in the pictures. Obviously none of those beat the actual feeling itself.
All the moments from the first steps in the first training run for the first race you ever competed in, to the first Half Marathon, Marathon, Triathlon distances, etc. come rushing in until you realize you haven’t stopped moving for close to 15 Hours and in only a few short steps you aren’t only going to achieve a long term goal you didn’t even think was possible one day 4 years ago in a High School Peer Counseling class, but you can actually sit down and not take another step! (Shoutout to Coach Rountree!)
To all the people who I’ve trained with, who have motivated me to continue racing and have given me advice, tips, and even supplies around the way, I honestly and truly appreciate all the help and guidance you have all individually contributed to my IRONMAN Journey. Form Alex Weinraub inspiring me to sign up for my first race, to my High School coaches (DeCarlo, Kalos, and of course Gineth who actually was racing the Florida IRONMAN that weekend as well!), even to my College coaches, my TriGator Team (even though my training schedule almost never syncs up with theirs) and the Gainesville community members like Boris from Body By Boris who have helped in probably the most beneficial way possible – positive encouragement, legitimate training advice/techniques, and any leftover training supplies :). Thank you all!
I swam 2.4 Miles, biked 112 Miles, and Ran 26.2 Miles.
14 Hours, 43 Minutes and 13 Seconds later…
I AM IRONMAN!!