Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2011 Ironman Florida - Race Report

The 2011 Ironman Florida is in the books.  I added the bike and run courses to mapmyride and mapmyrun so I could better see the courses in detail.  I heard somewhere that the run course was changed somewhere but it looked the same as when I ran the Gulf Coast Triathlon half marathon course.  The race packet included maps of the courses but who has time to look at those.  You'll at least get an idea of the bike and run courses from the maps below.  The full marathon is two laps on the half marathon course.

On race morning I got up early, as you'd expect.  Fortunately I'd gotten about 7 hours sleep.  I'd need it!  I checked the weather on-line as I drank some coffee while Susan made me a smoothie and some breakfast.  I finished off a half-bottle of Gatorade I'd been working on the night before as well.

Breakfast on race morning
After breakfast I donned my headlamp and wandered down to the transition area with my nutrition.  Later on I'd go to the Special Needs Bag drop off point near Alvin's Island.  I loaded my bike's Bontrager Aero Pack with protein powder and Perpetuem powder and water that I'd mixed that morning and two additional throw-away water bottles.  One water bottle contained Gatorade and the other had plain water.  I also had several packets of Shot Bloks, twelve Endurolyte tablets and two Clif bars already on my bike.  My special needs bags had more nutrition and warm clothes that I wouldn't end up using.

Run Special Needs Bags boxes
Bike Special Needs Bag boxes
After a shower and taking care of some other "important business" I put on my tri shorts, spread on the BodyGlide, and pulled my wetsuit on to my waist.  I'd heard how cold the sand felt as athletes wait on the beach before the swim start, so I put on some socks and sandals that Susan bought me on Thursday.  Some folks wore other footwear to keep their feet warm.

Bag shoes
I met up with Richard and Chip on the beach.  Chad and Ken were there somewhere too.

Richard, Chip, and Neil
Before the swim start I ate a Gu energy gel and headed toward the waterline.  I waited for the swim start with my feet in the water.  I was standing up front as the cannon went off, but I was not eager to dive right in.  During the three days since we arrived the water had been pretty choppy.  Friday was the worst day with strong winds and cold temperatures.  Saturday morning was the best of conditions.  The gulf was calm and smooth and the wind had died down.

The swim start
The swim course was marked with yellow and red buoys.  The red buoys marked the two turns.  They were difficult to see while in the water so I resolved myself to follow the masses and sight when I could.  I also made a conscious decision to not kick anyone.  I could only hope that I'd made it through the next 1+ hours without it getting too physical.  This was a two lap swim course.  I exited the water after my first lap, ran over the timing mat and grabbed two cups of water.  I swished one cup of water around in my mouth and spit it out to expel some of the salt water I'd taken in.  I drank down the second cup as I ran back to the water for my second lap.  I should have also eaten another gel packet before hitting the water again.  I saw Chad and gave him a pat on the back.  He'd beaten me out of the water by just a few seconds.  I re-entered the water to the left of the yellow buoys.  It's a longer swim to the red buoy but I was hoping that cutting the corner, which is legal, would improve my time.  I don't think it did.

Athletes exit the water
The second lap was less physical and it seemed as though I was swimming faster, although my time was slower.  I saw Chad again after I exited the water.  As I ran up the boardwalk to T1 several people had stopped to have the strippers/peelers help them remove their wetsuits.  I saw that the area was a sandy mess and decided to forgo the help and ran right on through the shower.  I called out my bib # 2479 as I exited the hotel corridor and entered the bike gear bag staging area.  A volunteer handed me my bag and I ran off to the converted hotel ballroom dressing area.  I had exited the water with the masses, the MOP (middle-of-the pack) swimmers.  As I entered the men's dressing area in The Boardwalk Resort ballroom this thought was solidified.  There was no room.  I found a 12" by 12" area next to some trashcans to remove my wetsuit and put on my bike gear as quickly as possible.  I elected not to wear the new warmer gloves and leg warmers I had packed and hoped I wasn't making a mistake.  Chip had fretted all week about the swim.  My demon was the cold.  The air temperature was at least 5 degrees colder than I'd typically ride in when I was dry and bundled up.  Now I was wet and wearing only spandex except for my arm warmers.  I'm not totally crazy!  I stuffed my wetsuit, goggles and swim cap into the bag and exited the dressing area running through the chute that wound right past my bike rack.  Again, I called out my bib # 2479.  A volunteer was waiting for me with my bike as I ran up.  I said thank you and headed for the bike mounting point.

I was on my bike and ready for the bike course.  It was still cool but my heart was pumping and I didn't feel as cold as I thought I would.  The long line of cyclists pedaled west past the hotels and condos toward the open roads along the pine forests to the north.  The local authorities, race director, and volunteers had traffic all situated so, while vehicle traffic was impacted, I felt safe on the course.  I think I was the only athlete wearing a mirror mounted on my sunglasses.  I've gotten used to wearing it and I know it makes me better aware of what's going on around me.  Chad lead me (that's code for paced me, not drafting) through most of the bike course.  That wasn't my intent when I woke up that morning, but that's what happened.  He's younger and a much stronger cyclist than I.  I was having a good day so I just tried to keep up.  I saw Chip and Richard on the bike course but we didn't get to ride together.

Chad coming in after the bike segment
Neil coming in after the bike segment
Chip coming in after the bike segment
Susan was able to get pictures of Chad, Chip, and I as we came in on our bikes, but not Ken and Richard.  I handed off my bike to the catcher and yelled out my bib # 2479 as I ran by the run gear bag staging area.  With my run gear bag in hand I ran into the dressing area one last time in my socked feet having left my bike shoes attached to my pedals.  The room was much less crowded the second time around.  I removed my running shoes from the bag and put them on loosely and pulled the fastener on my speed laces.  I removed my helmet and arm warmers and stuffed them into the bag.  I had another pair of socks in the bag but elected to go with the pair I was already wearing.  I don't recall what happened to the bag.  One of the volunteers must have taken it from me after I was done.  I exited the dressing area running through the transition area to the exit gate and onto the run course still wearing my cycling gloves.  Chad was gone.

I eased into a descent run pace.  I hadn't eaten much in the past 7 hours and hoped that I hadn't made a big mistake.  The crowd lined the run course for much of the first mile or two.  Occasionally, I'd see a volunteer on a bike escorting a pro triathlete on the course.  I was just getting started with my 4 hour marathon run as they were nearing the end of their day.  I ran pretty well during the first half of the run.  The distance after the turn-around back to park was the hardest.  I stopped running several times to walk through the water stations and ate a gel, an orange slice, drank some Gatorade, water, and flat Coke.  Chad passed me somewhere on the run course.  Later I passed him.  I remember saying to him something like "follow me" thinking that we'd be able to spur each other on.  I ran about another 100 yards to the next water station and started walking again.

As Chad and I made our last loop through St. Andrews park I asked Chad if we were on schedule for a sub-11 hour Ironman.  He didn't know.  He did know that he was having some stomach issues.  Earlier I had one incident where I thought I might throw up.  I had a second incident where I thought I was having stomach cramps.  Both of these incidents passed as quickly as they came.

I ran on toward the finish.  As I passed each mile marker I did some quick math in my foggy head.  Six miles at 10 miles per hour would only take me 60 minutes.  If I could do it at a 9 minute per mile pace then I'd be done in only 54 minutes.  If this was a 10K race it might only take me 40 minutes.  Then I'd reach the next mile marker and start the process all over again.  Five miles at...  Four miles...  Three miles...  Two miles...  As I crossed Thomas Drive onto Surf Drive the crowd started to grow.  I was a mile and a half from the finish line and the street was lined with cheering spectators.  This is the best part of the race.  You know you're gonna finish and the crowd helps lift you up.  I did my best to pick up the pace.  There was plenty of pain but none of it was so great that I wanted to walk.  As I neared Joan Avenue I saw Chad's wife Tamara.  We had only met for the first time on Wednesday morning when Susan and I picked up Chad at their home.  She yelled out some encouraging words.  Tamara and some of my cycling buddies from McDonough had done the same over an hour ago when I was still trying to find my legs near the turn-around.

It's seems funny to hear someone you don't know yell out "Go Neil".  I know Tamara or at least I know her husband.  With my name on my bib I heard my name a lot, most of the time from cheering spectators.  Sometimes I heard "Go # 2479", but I know the thought was there!

I ran on to Thomas Drive then made the left turn at Alvin's Island onto S. Thomas Drive.  As I ran down the chute I heard Susan call out my name.  She took a few quick pictures as I passed.

Flyin' High!
I crossed the finish line in 320th overall and 13th in my age-group in a time of 10:49:25.  I was 8 places out of contention to qualify for a Kona slot.  My friend Tracy was volunteering as a "catcher" and she was right there to catch me.  She got me my finishers medal, t-shirt, hat, a thermal blanket, and more importantly, someone to help me to the medical tent.  I needed to ice my knees while I could still walk.  By the time I walked the short 100' to the tent and was seated my body started to shutdown.  Within minutes I was trembling from the cold.  I sat there with my head in my hands fully aware but freezing.  One of the volunteers offered me some chicken broth.  I had declined the broth only a few minutes ago but now that my breathing was more controlled I thought I might be able to drink it.  She handed me a small Styrofoam cup with about 6 ounces of warm broth.  It was like heaven.

2011 Ironman Florida finisher's medal
2011 Ironman Florida finisher's cap
2011 Ironman Florida finisher's t-shirt
Susan made her way to where I was seated and after about 20 minutes she helped me up and we collected my bike and other gear.  I was moving pretty slowly so that took a while.  We finally got back to our condo about an hour later.  My hastened breathing and trembling wouldn't stop for another 30 minutes after I took a warm shower.

I should also report that Chad, Chip, Richard, Ken, and Sean, a firefighter friend, had some great results.  For all of us, except Chip, this was our first Ironman so just finishing would have been quite an achievement.

(Click to Enlarge)
So, how well did I do with my finish time estimates for my teammates?

Chad - Estimated finish time: 11: 06  -  Actual finish time: 11:05:03
Neil - Estimated finish time: 11:26  -  Actual finish time: 10:49:25
Richard - Estimated finish time: 12:25  -  Actual finish time: 12:36:07
Chip - Estimated finish time: 12:26  -  Actual finish time: 12:36:07
Ken - Estimated finish time: 13:33  -  Actual finish time: 15:27:05

Richard and Chip crossed over the finish line together.  I didn't estimate Sean's time.  He finished in 13:39:04.

So, how did I like my first Ironman?  It was tough.  I'm glad I did it and I'm glad it's over.  All the physical training and the mental prep really takes a toll.  I'll have to wait and see if I'll do another one.  I promised Susan that I won't do another full distance triathlon for at least a year.  On the flip side, Susan wants me to help her train for her first sprint triathlon in the spring.  I'll fulfil the duties as chief Sherpa.

Did I finish the race unscathed?  Almost!  I got a nice blister on my right foot and had a slight bout of gross hematuria, blod in the urine.

Do I have any lessons learned or tips to pass on?  Get some sleep.  The sleep I got before the race was probably the primary reason why my results were better than estimated.  Don't over train.  Listen to your body.  If your too tired to put in a good 5 hour long ride then don't do it.  A 5 hour ride with little effort is unlikely to improve your performance and probably a waste of time.  Know your equipment.  I'd used all my gear several times before deciding on exactly what I needed and what I didn't.  Plan for the unexpected.  I wasn't sure what the weather would hold on race morning so I packed extra gear, just in case.

Lastly, I'd like to thank my family and friends for helping me through this journey.  I'd like to also thank my co-workers, my training partners and their families, and all the volunteers that helped keep me safe.  Most of all I'd like to thank my wife Susan for putting up with all my time away from home spent training and all the things that just didn't get done around the house.
2011 Ironman Florida
Thanks for reading.