11 November 2009

Ironman Florida Race Report Part 2: THE RACE!

I was awake an hour before my alarm went off on race morning - the world is a quiet place at 3am. I just spent some time thinking about how I wanted my day to go and what I would need to do to make it happen. I heard Bryan start stirring around 3:45 and knew it was about time to get up. Had the usual breakfast of a bagel with butter, coupled with some friendly banter with Bryan, Mel and Iwan. Iwan amused us all with his a cappella version of Eye of the Tiger - if that doesn't get you pumped up, I don't know what would! We left the house on time (shocker!), the car stuffed with the five of us, two skateboards, four special needs bags and two dry clothes bags. Fortunately, it was a quick ride to the transition area - we even got some prime parking next to the finish area. We dropped off our special needs bags, got body marked, and walked into transition. I got a big smile on my face when the music playing in transition suddenly turned to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin." I had been hoping I'd hear that song before the race. I did all the usual pre-race stuff, check bike tires, strap on the nutrition, get the wetsuit on. And I didn't have to rush because I actually got to transition early (another shocker). Team Z had a tent set up on the beach so after my special needs bags had been dropped off, my gear bags updated, and bike fully prepared for the race, Mark and I headed to the tent. The sunrise was gorgeous, the water was beautiful, and it was a little chilly, but you could tell it would be a perfect day weather-wise. After some pictures with the team, Mark walked me over to the swim start. I wasn't terribly nervous, just hopeful that the day would go the way I hoped and that I would enjoy myself. I luckily ran into Sinead and Emily as we were going into the swim corral area and then saw Kate and Joanna. My initial plan was to go really far right so I could avoid getting beat up by the 2600+ people who were going to be running into the water all at once, but at the last minute I decided to stick with Kate and Joanna and stay in the middle of the pack, just to the right of the buoys. It was a beach start and the anticipation was palpable in the air in the minutes before the start cannon went off. And then, I was plunging into the Gulf with 2600 of my closest friends!

THE SWIM: 1:17:12 (2:02/100m pace, 32nd place in AG)
The beginning of the swim was less violent than I thought. Perhaps it helped that it was a beach start or because there was ALOT of space for people to spread out, but I didn't get kicked in the face or punched right away, in fact, you could almost call the swim... pleasant. And then it got crowded. And a little less pleasant. People started to crowd the buoys, especially around the turn, so you had to swim a little defensively. Here and there I would try to draft off some feet, but inevitably would be interrupted by an errant swimmer. But the water was warm, the jellyfish were staying far below the surface, and I didn't have any encounters with sharks, so it was a successful venture! And there were waves, oh boy were there waves. It was kind of like a ride and you had to time your sighting just right so you could actually see the buoys, not the wave that was about to throw you around. I enjoyed my new goggles (TYR Nest, with a smoky lens to keep out the sun). I finished the first loop in about 37 minutes. The second loop was a little less crowded, but I could feel myself getting tired at the end. It took me about 40 minutes to complete that loop. And with that, I was out of the water!

T1: 7:53
Not as fast as I wanted, but at least it doesn't look like I sat down and had a picnic lunch in transition. The wetsuit strippers were great and the freshwater shower felt great, I took my time passing through it because I wasn't going to be changing my clothes. I went into the correct changing tent (room) and got ready for the bike - helmet, sunglasses, headband, food (of course!) and ran out of the changing area. A volunteer smeared sunblock on me as I ran to get my bike (note to self: make sure the get sunblock on my lower back or else I will have a sunburn "tramp stamp" forever marking me). With that, I grabbed my bike from one of the wonderful volunteers and exited under the Bike Out banner.

THE BIKE: 6:03:00 (18.5mph, 28th place in AG)
I was moooooooving during the first 20 miles of the bike. I don't know if it was the adrenaline or the tailwind, but 22mph never felt so effortless. I was passing people, heart rate was still pretty low, and I felt like I could go forever (granted, this was still at like mile 7 - I still HAD forever left to go). As I settled into a rhythm, so did others around me, and I was passed by people, including girls, who I had a) passed at the beginning or b) were crummier swimmers than me but MUCH better bikers. I tried not to let it get to me, even when a few pelatons flew by me like I was on a tricycle. I was there to do my own race, at my own pace, and if I put the smack down while out on the bike, it was likely I would have nothing left for the run. I told myself that I would see those bikers later on the run, and hopefully I'd be blowing by them like they were standing still. Around mile 22/24, we took a right hand turn - right into the wind. That headwind stayed with us for about 30 miles, until mile 50. I wanted to cry. I watched my average pace dwindle down, 21.5... 20.2... 19.8.... until the low point of 18.2 was reached. I was talking to myself, trying to make my legs go faster because I didn't want to drop below the 18 mph mark.

But misery loves company and IM is a big race, so I was never really by myself on the bike course, which was rather nice. I saw some Z'rs out there in the race, which was great. Even more awesome were the signs that all of our spectathletes had put out along the bike course, in remote areas, for us to see - they were so obviously Team Z signs on bright green cardboard, with sayings such as "are you staying in Zone 2?" And during the headwind portion of the bike (which also had some hills - nothing like Savageman, but a little up-and-down) an SUV crammed with Team Z'rs went by me, hooting and hollering, it was great.

Once I turned the corner at mile 50, just a bit after the special needs pick-up (where a biker who didn't know the rules of the road almost ran me over), I got a bit of a tailwind, picking up both my speed and my spirits. This went on until just before mile 70 where two things happened - the good: I saw the Team Z tent with lots of people cheering; the bad: another headwind. Fortunately, the headwind only lasted 5ish miles, and then we turned around for another tailwind. I saw the Team Z tent again, going much faster this time around. A little further on, I saw a group of girls in bikinis, a guy with no shirt, all holding red solo cups and making a ruckus. "awww" I thought, "those college students look like they are having so much fun." And, for a bit, I fought the urge to just pull over my bike and join them - they clearly looked like they were having a good time. This was in the middle of nowhere on the course, no college campus ANYWHERE nearby, and why would a bunch of random college kids be out cheering on an Ironman on a Saturday morning anyways? Then, as I got closer, they recognized me - these weren't college kids, it was Annie, Amanda, Amber, Jenny, and others who were out cheering everyone on. Awesome!

By mile 80 I was still feeling pretty good on the bike. I had eaten my weight in Clif MoJo bars, PowerBars, and drank a bit (but really, not enough). I had the urge to pee early on in the bike, but that had subsided by this point, which is kind of a tip-off that I wasn't drinking enough. I had been cramming down 300+ calories an hour for the first three hours of the bike, knowing that I wouldn't be in the mood to eat later (which was untrue this time). 260 calories/hour is what I should be aiming for. I did become really full and for the next two hours, really cut back on how much I ate, simply because I was no longer hungry, definitely not reaching the 260 calorie quota for those two hours, a bit of a mistake. During the last hour of the bike, I. Was. Hungry. I started eating fritos and pita chips like it was my job, I was having a buffet on the bike at mile 110, trying to make up for that deficit. I was torn, knowing that eating so close to transition is a bad idea, but I Was Hungry, so I threw that logic out the window and down the hatch went the pita chips and fritos.

The last 30 miles of the bike was surprisingly pleasant for the most part. Many of the roads that we were riding on had been newly paved, making the ride really smooth and fast. It wasn't too hot and I was still around alot of people so it wasn't lonely. My average speed was gradually going up, at one point reaching 18.7, before dropping to 18.5 at the end. I had hoped to do the bike faster than last year's 6:37, preferably with a sub-6:15. I had a secret hope of getting under 6, but I didn't want to be disappointed if I didn't do it. As I closed in on the last few miles, I knew that it was going to be really close to the 6 hour mark. I ended up missing it by just under three minutes, but I'm still overjoyed with my time. I kept a very consistent speed throughout the bike, going much faster than I truly thought was possible, and I didn't feel completely fried. Success!

T2: 7:45
Again, no picnic lunch, but no drive-thru either. First things first, port-a-potty. It. Was. Great. The porta-potty was even pretty clean. I had some very helpful volunteers and it felt so nice to sit still and not move at all, I may have dawdled in transition just a bit. I got my visor out, sunglasses came off, grabbed whatever food I wanted to take with me, and I left the changing area, I got some more sunblock smeared on me, and was on my way.

THE RUN: 4:07:54 (9:28/mile, 13th place in AG)
I started off the run in Zone 2 with the plan to stay in Zone 2 no matter what. An Ironman marathon is a whole different beast than a stand-alone marathon, but I like to think of an IM marathon as being a gentler beast. You don't have the pressure to go super fast because, hey, you've already been racing for 7+ hours. You can walk through the aid stations because, hey, you just biked 112 miles and need more than water and gu to get you through the race. You can shuffle and that's perfectly acceptable - as long as you are moving forward, you are looking good! So, with that in mind, off I went. I passed by the Team Z tent right at the very beginning, it was great to see everyone out there cheering. It was still warm out, the sun was shining, and I was feeling pretty good. I was determined not to bonk on the run, at least not bonk as a result of not eating/drinking enough, so I made an effort to start eating right away, about 15 minutes after I started running. I figured I would drink water at every other aid station and eat a few Honey Stingers chewies at about that same time too. My legs felt surprisingly fresh, I enjoyed seeing the various cheering stations ["You Are Now Entering the Girl Zone" - cue scantily clad, busty women, some carrying whips to cheer the competitors on - keep in mind, the ratio of men to women in IM is 4-to-1, so I am sure the majority of competitors really enjoyed passing through this station 4 times, I myself found it rather amusing. Some of the men looked like they might just stop there and throw in the towel on the rest of the race]. The run wound through a really pretty state park and then back into town. The sun was definitely lower as I was heading back into town on the first loop. My stomach was also feeling uncomfortably full, I couldn't tell if it was food/drink not being absorbed or if I was also drinking in alot of air every time I drank water. Turned out to be the latter, so I started walking through the aid stations in which I was taking in liquids. But once I started walking, it became a little bit more difficult to stay running - walking was just so... easy. Anyways, it was great motivation to pass by the Team Z tent at the halfway point in the run and I went off to start the second loop still feeling pretty good, and definitely uplifted.

The second half of the second part of the run is where it got ugly. I realized that I was really hungry and thirsty - at aid stations, I couldn't get enough of the chicken broth and gatorade (I had given up on solid food, my stomach was hating me and only accepting liquids at this point). The chicken broth was great, it tasted so good, and I would feel an immediate pick-up whenever I had it. Mentally, I just kept talking to myself, just putting one foot in front of the other. To tell you the truth, I wasn't all that plugged into the mileage of the race - the miles kept ticking by, but I wasn't really keeping track. At this point, it was also dark, extremely dark in the State Park. But I knew I only had six miles left and, really, ANYONE can run six miles. So I just kept plugging away. I saw some more Z'rs as the course looped back and I crossed paths with those headed out to the State Park as I was headed away from it. I kept telling myself that I needed to run between aid stations, and, as a reward, I could walk the aid stations when I got to them. This strategy worked pretty well, but I was tired. After the race, my teammates who saw me out there said that it was obvious both on my face and in my demeanor that the last six miles were tough - I wasn't cheerfully saying hello to any of them - I would maybe wave my fingers at them, and that was it. When I passed by the Team Z cheering station at mile 24 (which was also THE HOUSE I WAS STAYING IN - I would've given anything for a quick nap in my bed, but I resisted the urge...), Melody saw me and texted Mark, saying "Caroline just ran by and she does not look happy." I kept plodding along - it was great to have Damon and Iwan out there cheering and walking alongside me for a few minutes during those dark, lonely last miles. I finally got to mile 25 and told myself, "Anyone can run one mile, that's all you have left." And then I promptly ignored that silly voice and started walking. Walking like a drunk person apparently because Amber and Amanda saw me and asked if I wanted them to walk with me. I must've looked bad. I told them I was fine and continued plodding on my way. I was just so... tired. I've never felt so completely tired before. And not physically in a way where you feel like your whole body hurts, this was more like, I just need a nap for an hour or two. But in a way, this was good because it let me know that I had left it all out on the race course and I probably couldn't have gone much faster. It was a good feeling. Once I crossed the street and was basically in the homestretch, with less than a mile left, I picked up the pace and began jogging again. It was pure adrenaline, coupled with my wild desire to eat real food, that got me going. A buffet of food was less than a mile away and the faster I could run, the faster I could eat. I was so focused on the food, I sort of forgot that this was supposed to be a magical moment, a moment that I should relish and revel in. But all I could do was grit my teeth and make a run for the food. I did acknowledge everyone at the Team Z tent as I rounded the corner, and the whole way down the finisher's chute, I wasn't thinking "Hey, I'm an Ironman." No, I was thinking, "I wonder which tent is the food tent." I did pay enough attention to hear Mike Reilly announce my name and tell me that I was an Ironman. And the smile on my face as I crossed the finish line, it's there because I know that I'm going to have a large slice of pizza in hand within about 35.6 seconds, not because I was an Ironman. Priorities, it's all about priorities...

FINAL: Overall time of 11:43:42, 18th in my division, 766 overall.

POST RACE - Well, I made it to the food tent in record time. Grabbed so much of it, I could barely hold it all, but I solved that problem by quickly eating about half of it. I signed up and got a free massage (awesome). The masseuse tried to take my grapes from me as I got on the table, but I literally pulled and turned away and said "no" like a petulant five-year-old. I did end up giving him the grapes because I needed both hands to get up on the table, but only under the condition that he return the grapes to me immediately. Not that it really mattered because as soon as I got on that table, I was practically asleep and didn't eat any grapes at all. After the massage, I found Mark, changed into warm, dry clothes, and went to the Team Z tent to cheer everyone else on. Turns out I was the third Team Z'r to finish and the first girl, with Kate Green only 8 minutes behind me. I was really happy with my time, slightly disappointed that I didn't break four hours and instead slowed down significantly in the last few miles, but I really had nothing left. After getting some more food in me, Mark and I headed back to the house so I could take a shower before coming back to watch the last hour of the race. I felt human again after the shower, and actually quite awake. I got dressed in warm clothes and headed back to the race site.

The last hour of the race was so emotional and amazing - words cannot adequately describe the electricity and feeling in the air. It was packed, the music was pumping, and the finishers were looking so thrilled to be running down that finisher's chute. I will watch the last hour of every single Ironman race that I go to from here on out. I'd have to say that was my favorite part of the whole day (aside from eating mass quantities of food immediately after I finished).

Well, there is is, the race report. I will likely have some reflections in a later post, but overall I am really happy with how the race went. I exceeded all of my expectations and had a faster split on everything (except the swim, but that's to be expected seeing as I had a 59 minute swim split last year thanks to the incoming tide at Beach2Battleship), I felt good through most of the race, and I think that if I work hard, I can improve even more during next season.

It's the off-season now and guess what... I miss triathlon already. Counting down until next year!


Tricia said...

Congrats again Caroline! What an awesome recap.

Jerry said...

Great race report Caroline!! Congrats again!

Caroline said...

Thanks guys! It was awesome to see you out there on the course Jerry - you had a fantastic race as well! And Tricia - I can bet that you'll be out there doing an Ironman one of these days!