Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Navigating Pink Meanies, the penalty box, and losing my jelly beans!

Well, it was about 5 1/2 months in the making but Saturday morning at Ironman Florida finally arrived! I made it down in time Wednesday evening to check in before the big rush on Thursday morning. It wasn't much different checking in for an Ironman than other shorter triathlons around the region except that I noticed on Thursday the lines were huge. Glad I got down Wednesday evening.

A friend of mine (he completed 2 previous IM's) who talked me into this, but later bailed decided to come and provide support which was huge! He and I went out Friday for a short practice swim as I had just purchased some new goggles. A weather system had passed through Thursday night and the surf was rocking and rolling! So much so that I eventually got slammed into a sandbar, up-ended, and lost my newly purchased goggles to the Gulf. I guess it was my sacrifice to the Gulf for what I hoped would be calmer conditions on Saturday morning.

Saturday morning began at 4:30 with the alarm. I quickly gathered my special needs bags (bike and transition gear were checked in on Friday) and dropped them off, put my bike computer and bottles on the bike, checked tire pressure, then went back to the condo to eat breakfast. This was huge as a lot of the athletes have to mill around the transition area waiting because they were staying outside of reasonable walking distance; it was dark and cold, so not ideal in preparation for a 10+ hour day. At 6:30 we walked down the beach toward the start area.

The pros went off 10 minutes prior to us so it got everyone pumped up and ready. I eased my way toward the wide side of the pack on the beach and about 4 rows back. The cannon went off and 3000 people merged into the Gulf. As an acquaintance of mine who's been age group XTERRA world champ multiple times says, it was asses and elbows everywhere! Even though I was attempting to stay wide and out of the middle, the first of the two loops was action packed with people everywhere. The swim is a 1.2 mile out and back loop, run on the beach and do it again. The 2nd loop thins out some, but turning around the buoys is an activity in self preservation in the water to say the least! 

By the 2nd loop, the sun was fully up, the water clear, and we could then see the plethora of Pink Meanie jelly fish all over place. At first the thought of, why are all of these plastic bags floating around out here came to mind until you almost swam into one to only realize they weren't plastic bags. I was fortunate to not have gotten stung, plenty of people did.

After an hour and 10 minutes in the gulf it was off to the bike. Getting your legs under you, grabbing the transition bag, and putting on gear in the scrum of men in the change area was a close body contact activity for 5 or so minutes for sure. Volunteers handed me my bike at the end of the rack and off we went. Overall the bike was good, albeit extremely windy for for the first 3/4 of race. So much so that the first 20 miles saw a ton of drafting penalties handed out because you simply couldn't get away from each other for fighting the wind. I was one of the unfortunate ones to get flagged and had to go to the penalty tent just after the 20 mile mark. There were so many people there the timers couldn't keep up and were having to time 3 and 4 riders at the same time to keep up. Fortunately the timers let use the time as a potty break and head off into the bushes so all wasn't lost by being put in the penalty box. It was a bit silly actually, especially when late in the race officials seemed to have disappeared and huge packs would roar past me like it was a weekend group ride with no consequences to be had. Oh well... 

Fighting the wind was tiring but with 3000 other cyclist out there you could shield yourself a decent amount, even if you were the legal 7 meters from someone and not incurring a penalty. Upon turning onto the infamous bumpity bumpity HY388 I was thinking it wasn't as bad as everyone had made it out to be. This positive mental outlook lasted for about 10 minutes before I was finally cursing under my breath and wondering what wanna be road engineer paved this road. Perhaps it was one of those orange clad prison crews and done on the cheap. It was a rhythmic jarring for miles upon miles! Our bike special needs stop was on this road which provided a welcome few minute break. I made a new drink mix for 2nd three hours of ride, scarfed a PB & J, made a quick break adjustment, threw my bag of jelly beans in my tri suit back pocket. I was set and ready to go for the next 60'sh miles with some well deserved sweet calories awaiting me. But alas, HY388 had other ideas. Not long after leaving the special needs area, the constant jarring of the road tossed my bag of jelly beans out! I was already into a full head of steam and didn't want to cause a pile up behind me by abruptly stopping and attempting to double back for candy so I had to reluctantly let my well planned out "treat" go by the side of the road. HY388 claimed another victim, arggghhh.

Just over 6 hours later I handed my bike to another wonderful volunteer and was off to put on run gear. The run was as expected for me, tough as I am a terrible runner. The first loop of 13.1 wasn't too bad for me, sub 11 minute pace. The second loop of course was considerably slower. At mile 17 I thought for sure I was done until I finally decided to grab a cup of chicken broth and almost instantly I had a burst of energy. I did a run/walk pattern for the whole 26.2 miles taking chicken broth every other mile from mile 17 in. My run/walk pattern paid off for me as I was able to continue this all the way to the finish, passing many who had finally packed it in to walk the remainder. Usually a 2 loop marathon can be a bit mind numbing, but given the time of day and my snail like pace, it got dark and much of the 2nd loop took on a totally different feel and perspective in the dark so it wasn't too mentally exhausting. Not to mention that at some point on the bike my right eye fogged over. No, not my sunglasses, but my actuall eye. I've never had that happen before so had all sorts of bizarre scenarios running through my head as to what was going to happen upon finishing and telling someone my right eye had totally fogged over. So needless to say I was a bit on high alert once it got dark and attempting to see out of 1 eye. Oh, and for those of you that don't know me that well, I wear glasses to see but don't exercise in them so you can imagine what a 1 eyed half blind guy might look like attempting to see straight 17 miles into a marathon. (I must have gotten sunscreen, salt, sweat in my eye because it was finally back to normal the next morning).

Coming into the shoot 13 hours later was exhilarating to say the least. It was well into the darkness by this point, but the last part of the finish is lit up like a runway with the entire route lined with screaming supporters on all sides. Always fun to give out high fives to kids sticking their arms through the barriers that you don't even know, but you can tell they are excited for you none the less! My longtime friend was in the chute screaming for me and I hit the banner with a huge smile and sense of accomplishment.

It was a great day!

Knowing that several people joined me in the journey and we were able to raise $1500+ for orphan care in the process is simply icing on the cake. Thanks to those folks for their support and willingness to partner with me and Lifesong for Orphans in this adventure.

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