Saturday, November 9, 2013

2013 Ironman Florida Race Report

Before I get started I have to add a disclaimer so, here it goes.  This blog is a bunch of self absorbed blather.  It's all about me, I this and I that.  I recommended that you stop reading now because it's not likely that you'll be any smarter afterwards.  If you do decide to proceed don't say that I didn't warn you.

It's difficult to describe how I feel after the year long process of registering, training, and then competing in the 2013 Ironman Florida triathlon.  It has definitely been more about the journey than the actual event.  The journey is what consumes you, the event is merely a footnote.  I suppose that I might feel differently had I gained a Kona slot.  For me the adventure of my second Ironman Florida race started on Saturday evening on November 3rd, 2012 during the Southern Crescent Cycling club End of Season party.  That just happened to be the same day as the 2012 Ironman Florida race.  Two club members, Kimberly and Tommy, were competing.  We installed a laptop and a big monitor at the party to watch the race video streaming live online.  People gathered around the monitor as we watched both of them cross the finish line.  Four of us made a pact to register for the 2013 race as soon as on-line registration opened on Sunday.  All four of us got in.  Another friend, Leslie also registered as did two more friends from Peachtree City (PTC), Chad and Jared.   That made seven of us, Stephanie Critchfield, Jason Reeves, Carlos Talbott, my local friend Leslie Momper, Chad Daniel and Jared Hanson from PTC, and me.

Our plan was to train together and use each other for motivation.  That didn't happen.  We did train together a few times but, for the most part, we each did our own thing.  I had a few good weekday rides with Chad and Jared, and their friend John, that I know I wouldn't have done had it not been for them.  I also had a few early Saturday morning long rides with Jason and his brother Josh.  We never did swim together even after several attempts.  Over the course of the year Leslie pulled out of the race due to a bad BMX racing accident.  That left six of us meeting in Panama City Beach to compete on November 2nd.  So, without any further ado, lets get this party started.

Big Busted mannequin 
Two Big Busted mannequins
I had to add the mannequin pictures because I thought they were so funny.

Susan and I drove to Panama City Beach (PCB), Florida via Peachtree City (PTC), Georgia on Halloween, Thursday, October 31st.  The car was so packed that our poor little dog Max didn't have any place to lie down.  Max weighs 112-lbs. We left Big Max at Puppy Tubs in PTC. The 6 hour trip to the beach was an easy drive for the 2013 Ironman Florida triathlon.

Susan and Max before we pulled out of the garage
Max says "I sure do enjoy a good road trip"
Max looking dejected says "It sure would be nice to have a place to lie down"
"Maybe you could get rid of some of this junk"
We arrived at our one bedroom condo at Laketown Wharf at around 3pm local time.  Panama City Beach is one hour behind Atlanta time.  To confuse things even more Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday, November 3rd.  I wanted to get to the event expo across the street to pickup my free Ironman Foundation t-shirt right away.  I had to get there before 4pm.  I made it just in time.

Laketown Wharf
Ironman Foundation t-shirt
While I was at the expo Susan unpacked our luggage.  At the expo I went ahead and completed the required sign your life away race waivers, picked up my race packet and schwag.  The schwag included a lightweight backpack, car tag frame and poster.  That's about it.  The backpack contained my gear bags, race numbers, and swim cap.

Race backpack
We stayed in the same condo complex during the 2011 Ironman Florida race.  Even though it's not on the water, the location is perfect and the units are almost new.  They were newer 2 years ago.  The elevators were as much a pain this year as they were in 2011.  There was always one elevator that wasn't working. We spent our fair share of time waiting for a ride from our 12th floor unit.  At least the rooms are nice.

Condo living-room
Susan in the kitchen
The hall bunk beds loaded with my tri gear
The second bathroom
The bedroom
The master bathroom
On Thursday night Susan and I ate at Scampy's on Thomas Drive.  It wasn't anything to write home about.

On Friday the weather turned nasty.  It rained on and off almost all day and the wind was terrible.  Jason, Carlos, Stephanie and I got in a short practice swim that morning.  Carlos, Stephanie and I followed that with a very short bike ride and run.  It was very windy and I was afraid that one of us might wreck.  We followed that with an even shorter run.

Jason, Carlos, Stephanie and me
After our practice swim
Me, Carlos, and Stephanie in the elevator after our short ride
Carlos and Stephanie posing after our short run
After our quick brick workout my family and I walked over to the expo.  We saw up to 13 black Cadillac Escalade and Land Rover SUV's parked on Thomas Drive.  There was also 1 white Ford SUV.  These were part of a security detail assigned to protect the sons of the Crown Prince of Bahrain.  Both sons, Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa and Sheikh Khalid bin Hamid al-Khalifa, were competing.  Facebook and Slowtwitch were fired up about the princes being there.  I later heard that they had an escort through much of the race.  That seemed to upset some of  the participants.  I thought it was cool but I didn't really see any intrusion from the security folks.

Prince of Bahrain motorcade (on Saturday)
Another view of the motorcade (on Saturday)
I returned to the condo where Susan had been waiting for my brother Keith and his wife Diane to arrive.   They were driving over from Jacksonville.  After they arrived we left the condo to take a quick look through the expo.  I was looking for some yellow Yanks elastic shoe laces for my running shoes to match my kit.  I found some blue ones instead.  I elected to run in my Asics Cumulus running shoes instead of my Nike Pegasus'.  The Nike's had given me a blister 5 weeks ago at the Augusta 70.3 and it had yet to heal.  I was going for comfort over lightweight.

New blue Yanks shoelaces
I waited to put my bike in the transition area until just before the 4pm deadline but I still got soaked from  the rain.  I turned in my bike and run gear bags at the same time.  I didn't plan to stop and use any special needs items or morning clothes, other than sandals, so my gear bags were almost empty.  My bike bag had my helmet, socks, and arm warmers.  My run bag had my running shoes, race belt with my bib number attached, hat, sunglasses, and 2 small towels.  I should have put them in my bike bag so I could clean the sand off my feet better before I put on my socks.  That was a big fail on my part!  In 2011 there were white hotel towels all over the place in the T-1 men's changing room but this year there were none.

Rain on Friday
The volunteers had us put our bikes on the racks by the brake levers because of the wind.  That was good for me because my small bike swings in the winds like a pendulum.  They were moved to the seats by morning.

My bike racked in the transition area on Friday
Run bags on Friday
A wet transition area on Friday
We ate a late lunch at Dee's Hang-Out.  Located walking distance from our condo, Dee's was a great find.   The food was good.  So was the service.  We liked it so much that we also ate there on Saturday night after the race.

Dee's Hang-Out

We watched the weather all day.

A view of the clouds from our room on Friday before the race
Another angle of our view
The lake behind the condo
Back at the condo with Keith, Diane, my niece Kristen, her husband John and their new baby Samuel, Susan made us dinner.  She made her own spaghetti sauce for our dinner before we left home.  She froze it and put in a cooler so that it would be fresh for Friday evening.  The Farmer's don't travel light.  In addition to a large cooler, Susan brought a lot of her cooking stuff.  I had my tri stuff.  Past experience has made us well aware of the long lines at local restaurants for pasta before a big race.  We would be eating in so I could go to bed early.  Susan made us chicken Parmesan and pasta.  It was delicious.  I ate as much as I could knowing that the more pasta I could take in on Friday night the better race I'd have on Saturday.  I was in bed by 8pm.

Susan presents her chicken Parmesan
For breakfast on Saturday morning I had a smoothie.  I always have one before a race to help get me going, so to speak.  I also had some coffee but not too much.  Just one cup.  Susan made me her version of an egg, ham, and cheese McMuffin.  I had some orange juice too.  I tried to eat early and eat big keeping in mind that I didn't want to throw-up during the swim.  I had 2 Gu gel packs set aside for 15 minutes before the swim start.

Eating breakfast as I check the weather
As I ate I checked the wave swell height on and the forecast on  The race day weather was almost perfect.  It was even better than in 2011.  The low temperature was around 61-degrees.  In 2011 the low was closer to 47-degrees.

The race day weather forecast

The race day ocean swell forecast
Since I had elected not use any special needs bags my morning routine was simplified.  I had no plans to stop during either the bike or the run segments anyway.  I also didn't want to feel compelled to collect any unused item on Sunday morning.  I setup my bike nutrition (3 water bottles and a Clif Bar), clipped my bike shoes onto my bike, and did my body marking at around 5:30am.  My shoes had toe covers because I knew it was still going to be cool.  I have a pair of old tri-shoes but elected to use the road shoes because they were a better fit.  The last thing I did was velco my riding gloves to my aero bars.  I'd put the gloves on after I pedaled down the road for a few minutes.

Road shoes on the left and worn-out tri-shoes on the right
My family was there to watch the swim start.  We also got to meet my niece's husband John and their new baby Samuel for the first time.

John and Kristen with Samuel
Susan had some t-shirts made for the family - "We Are Farmers..."

I got to the swim start just in time to see the pro's start at 6:50am.  I wore a full wetsuit to the beach.  The beach wasn't cold and neither was the water.  It wasn't hot either.  Probably the only thing that someone, not me, might have complained about was the rough water.  Compared to the day before the water on race day was smooth as glass.

5 minutes before the swim start
I entered the corral where the all other swimmers had gathered and worked my way into the ankle deep water.   Ironman Florida had implemented some sort of self-seeding for the start.  I have no idea how well that worked.  There I stood waiting for the cannon to fire signaling the race was on.  Boom!  I tolerated rough surf and the even rougher treatment of my 3000 new swimming partners to finish the 2 loop course and exit the water between Chad (1:20:06) and Jason (1:20:57).  Jason was 15' behind me at the water's edge as I ran through the gate toward T-1.  As I grabbed my bike gear bag handed to me by a volunteer, my buddy Junior saw me and called out my name.  That's when Chad, not 10' in front of me, turned around and saw me.  It was deja vu all over again.  Just like in 2011 Chad and I were in the race.  Chad came out of the water in 1334th place overall.  Jason was in 1444 place overall.  Since my timing chip didn't register I figure that I was somewhere around the 1400th person out of the water.

Swim start
The swim
With my bike gear bag in hand I ran into the crowded Boardwalk Hotel changing room.  It was standing room only.  I raced almost to the exit door before sitting on the floor and changing into my bike gear.  I wiped as much of the sticky sand as I could from my wet feet before putting on my socks.  I knew that I hadn't gotten it all.  I stuffed my swim cap, goggles, and wetsuit into the bag and ran toward the exit grabbing a cup of water as I ran out of the building to my bike.  I wouldn't see Chad again until well into the run.  There were a few participants that elected to don their bike gear outside of the changing room in the parking lot, they were the smart ones.  I wish I had put a big towel inside my bike gear bag.

My T-1 time didn't register either.  It was all lumped into my swim time.  Combined they were 1:27:16.

My bike was located on the northern most set of racks.  It was a straight shot for me from the rack to the bike exit.  It was a really good location.  Earlier that morning I had filled my bento box with Endurolyte tablets and Gu gel packets.  I had 3 water bottles, 2 behind the seat and 1 on a bottle cage tie-wrapped between my aerobars.  I ran to the mount line and hopped on my bike.  Sliding my feet into my clipped in road bike shoes was easy.  Not as easy as my triathlon bike shoes but the better fit would prove beneficial over the next 5 hours.  The more snug fit of my road shoes would provide a good transfer energy from my leg to my bike.  I had clipped my shoes to my pedals that morning when I setup my bike.  Two of my water bottles had a heavy dose of Perpetuim and the third was water and Gatorade.  I also had a Clif Bar which I placed on my bike that morning but stuffed into my jersey pocket as I exited T-1.  Everything was going as planned except, I could feel the sand stick to my socks as I ran to the mount line.  I would worry about it all day.

On the bike course I saw some drafting and a few packs.  I came up on one group of about 20 riders just as the referee rode up on a motorcycle behind me.  This was the one point in the race where I actually got mad.  I yelled out "ON YOUR LEFT" and the pack of riders gave me some room to pass.   There was a double yellow line where I eventually passed the group.  I received a brief scolding from the referee.  Sadly, at around the 71 mile mark I saw a terrible accident just after an aide station.  Three riders went down hard.  I was too far away to know what happened but I'm pretty sure that the riders were hurt.

I had planned to have my bike's loose back brake lever fixed before the race.  It had been an annoyance during my recent training rides.  After seeing the accident and bunched up groups I was glad that I didn't have it fixed.  The chatter would be a signal that I was coming as it rattled when I passed other riders.   I finished the 112 mile bike course in 4 hours, 59 minutes, and 55 seconds.  I figure that I passed about 1000 riders in those 5 hours.  I entered T-2 in 406th place overall.
The start of the bike segment
The run was a different story all together.  I exited T-2 at a pretty good pace.  The first few miles went well and that's all I can say.  My wheels fell off somewhere around the 3-mile point.  I started walking and found it hard to start running again.  I walked much of the first 13.1 miles.  During those 2 slow lonely hours Chad galloped passed me, so did a lot of people.

The run
One of the princes from Bahrain
I walked a good bit of the run segment.  I also watched several pro's run by me as I slogged on.  I even ran behind pro triathlete and 5th place 2013 Kona finisher Tim O'Donnell for several minutes as he finished his second run loop and I finished my first.  As I started my second loop I had the opportunity to walk with and talk to famed Ironman Lew Hollander for several minutes.  What a neat guy!

My second 13.1 miles was much faster than the first.  I'd recovered some of my energy and the temperature which had climbed to near 80-degrees was now much cooler.  Passing by my friends and family near the finish line was a real push to keep moving.  As the sun went down I was within 2 miles of the finish.  I started to move faster as the finish line neared.  I could hear the crowd get louder.  As I made the turn from Joan Avenue onto Thomas Drive I felt like I was moving pretty fast.  As I turned onto S. Thomas Drive I was in an all out sprint to the finish.  I hate to be the guy who passes anyone in the chute.  I figure I've made my bed (my placement in the finishing results) I should lie in it (be a gentleman and wait your turn to cross the line).  I couldn't be so polite on that day.  I had plenty of kick left and I used it.

What about the sand I had been worrying about since T-1.  Well, my Asics shoes were the were the right choice.  I had no blisters at all.  The sand however did a bit of exfoliating on my feet.  When I took my shoes off my feet were red and tender with a few areas that had worn down to a scab.  After a day or so they were fine.  My toenails were no worse for wear.  All ten made the trip unharmed.

I finished the run segment in a disappointing 4:57:57.  It was not my finest hour.  I had plenty of juice left but it was all over.

My finish time was 11:28:50.  I was 743rd overall and 51st in my age-group.  Unlike when I finished the race in 2011 I was still able to walk and hang around the finish area for a minutes.  In 2011 I headed straight to the medical tent.

Finisher's t-shirt
Finisher's cap
Finisher's medal
Me and Susan after the race
All my friends had good races, except for Carlos, Jared and Jason.  Okay, that means only Chad and Stephanie had good races.  Lets say that Carlos, Jared and Jason all had good races and Chad and Stephanie had great races.  Carlos finished the race but an accident on the bike course chipped a bone in his foot.  Carlos is a better swimmer than he is a runner and the damage done to his foot must have really made him suffer.  Jared also finished the race.  A bike accident on the Tuesday before the race really messed up his ankle.  I'm sure that his usually strong run was affected.  Jason fought the good fight by he started throwing up at mile 90 on the bike and could not recover.  He eventually pulled out of the race 16.5 miles into the run.  He was given 5 pints of fluid at the hospital that evening.

After the race I took a shower before returning to the race finish and transition area to recover my bike and gear bags.  I took two pictures of my bike computer a proof of my awesome ride.

111.65 Miles
5:02:11 time (includes racking time in T-2)
Below are the results for each of the races I mentioned earlier including myself in order by time.  The screen captures were taken two or three days after the race so they might not reflect the final race result placement in some cases.  The times should all be accurate however.  Chad was the man of the hour.  He completed the race with a sub-11 hours finish time meeting his goal.  I think his goal was just to beat me.  Mission accomplished!

Chad (10:55:02)
Neil (11:28:50)
Stephanie (11:41:51)
Jared (11:54:18)
Carlos (13:18:39)
Jason (DNF)
I have to say that even though I didn't have the race that I wanted the fact that I was able to complete the race rests on the love and respect that Susan and I have for each other.  We didn't always agree that a 4 hour ride in the rain was the course of action leading up to race day but...  What couple agrees to everything all the time?  I love you honey!

Susan in front of Laketown Wharf
A small part of our huge and enthusiastic cheering section
The family eating breakfast at The Egg and I on Sunday morning
My great-nephew and future Ironman Samuel
So, what are my future plans for racing and blogging?  I've promised Susan that I will not do any full Ironman races for a while.  That means no 140.6 races in 2014 and probably none in 2015 either.  2016 bring some promise.  That is the year that I move from the M50-54 age-group to the M55-59 age-group.  This adds renewed possibilities for a Kona bid.  We'll just have to see but I'm interested in seeing folks race in Chattanooga next year.

Thanks for reading.

See the rest of our pictures here.

Update 11/22/13:  After being home in Georgia for about 12 days I started to get the inkling that I had misplaced my bike club's GoPro.  I brought it to PCB to record our adventure but as always I didn't use it.  The GoPro and all its accessories were safely packed in a plastic shoe box sized container that went from the car, to the condo and, on Monday when we left, back to the car, sort of.  It got put on the elevator and that's where it stayed as we drove away.  Now 2 week since IMFL I know the GoPro was gone.  Susan and I looked all over the house.  Susan contacted the condo owner.  I called the folks who kept Max.  Nothing!  Susan said "lets call the condo front desk".  She did that weekend and lo and behold they knew exactly what we were talking about.  One of the maintenance men at Laketown Wharf found it in the elevator and turned it in to the front office.  That's where it sat until Susan called.

The condo referred Susan to a service who packed up the camera and mailed it to us for about $28.  What a deal.  The club got their GoPro back.  I didn't have to replace the camera and all the accessories which I expect would cost just about what we paid when they were new earlier this year - $600.

Thank you Laketown Wharf maintenance man!

I have to ask though, since the club's website and Facebook page were printed on a business card located inside the box and visible from outside the box, why didn't anyone from the front desk contact the club? The club's website even has a video page with a complete list including a picture of all the GoPro items in the box.