Wednesday, 6 November 2013

November 2nd 2013 Ironman Florida, Panama City USA - All Ironed Out

Those of you that have completed a long distance race will be familiar with the promises you make in order to trick yourself into getting to the finish line. Of course I made myself the hollow promise that this race would be my last, I was definitely all ironed out.

3.8km Swim 180km Bike 42km Run - Temperature 86oF
Swim 1:04:21 - T1 04:34 - Bike 04:54:18 - T2 03:17 – Run 03:37:45 Total Time 9:44:15
15th 45-49 Age Group, 149th overall
From a triathlon perspective this year had been a shocker, having bagged nearly a full year of Did Not Starts. Attempting to squeeze the required training into my shrinking leisure time was a recipe for consecutive injuries as my limbs took it in turns to fold under the inadequate preparation for the training load they were being asked to endure. I set off for Florida accompanied by my good friends Steven Lord and Dave Allsop, armed with a suitcase bulging with excuses to quit when it inevitably got ugly.
Standing on the start line of the swim I normally reassure myself I have done the work and it’s just a question of executing the plan but this time I hadn’t; I stood there striped of the confidence that brings, knowing I would fold, my only doubt being precisely when the moment would come.
The final notes of the Star-Spangled Banner rang out as the waves crashed onto the beach, boy was this going to be the best swim start ever. The gun fired and we ran headlong into the oncoming waves, hopping, jumping, stumbling (no elegant dolphin dives) into the waves, it was 100m before you could dive and link one stroke to another. The one consolation of the big sea was that it split the swimmers up instantly, 3000 souls floundering in the waves allowed the field to quickly spread out and find space to swim relatively freely. It was a two lap course and for the first time in an IM I found myself relaxed and actually enjoying the swim, amusing myself by timing my sighting with the cresting of each wave. In the last 200m of each lap, the entertainment was further heightened by the ability to body surf each surging wave to the shore - I momentarily forgot I was meant to be racing. I exited the water relaxed, bypassing the strippers (the wetsuit kind) on the way to the changing tent.
Through transition and unbelievably the volunteers by the bike racking handed my bike to me without me needing to go hunting it out. Over the mount line, hopped on and straight into the TT position, I was off, mashing the pedals as I started to pass the other athletes. Bugger, ten miles in and my saddle bag rather frustratingly fell off, I had no choice but to stop and reattach it, with 100m miles ahead it was not a risk worth taking - whoosh, all the people I had passed just flew by. Back on the bike and ten miles later I had reeled them all back in and was putting time into them.
IM Florida is a one lap bike course and the only hill is a bridge over an estuary; total elevation gain over the entire bike course is 400 meters. The consequence of a pan flat course and a start list of 3000 athletes is a draft fest. Things started off fairly sensibly as I was moving through the field but the packs of riders started to grow as they latched onto a wheel to suck, sheltering out of the wind. At first I would ride hard to get ahead of perhaps a bunch of ten riders but as the pelotons grew to thirty or forty you were taking on an all-out TT of perhaps three of four minutes, only to be repassed as they worked together, leaving you with the option of going again or falling back. There was no hint of shame shown by those involved, no gaps of 5m instead of 7m, they were sitting in hard at a distance you rarely see on a good club ride! I must confess that out of sheer frustration and anger, I perhaps too frequently offered them my advice on the merits of their interpretations of the rules. Of course, nobody cheating actually cares.
The bike course is boring, actually it’s really boring. No towns or scenery to speak of, few supporters and you are either riding on your own or watching another pack blow by. I watched the minutes tick by and tried to fill my thoughts with running and rerunning the maths on my expected bike split, it didn’t vary much though J. About 40k from the end I caught sight of Steven, now I had a target and a tail wind, trouble was Steven had a target and the same tail wind. The ride back to T2 was fantastic, I was riding at 45kph and I was nearly done, yippee!!
I had been cramming my running in the last 12 weeks (having had nearly 3 months of no running due to a calf injury) and had got back into some sort of run form, but, two weeks out from the race, I had torn my hamstring. As I approached T2 I had planned to pull out of the race and not risk re-injuring myself, I had a good day so far; BUT I hadn’t caught Steven so I figured on running until I caught up with him then stopping. And so the mind games began.
Out onto the run course and I settled into a very comfortable pace with a shortened stride so as not to aggravate the hamstring. After a couple of miles I noticed I was sitting at 7 minute miles and feeling pretty good, ok, let’s see how long this will last. It was a very flat two loop out and back run course and in fairness there was some support but little in the way of scenery to stimulate the mind. It wasn’t until the turnaround that I saw Steven and didn’t eventually catch him until mile 8, and I was running well. We chatted then I pushed on whilst I had the legs to but by the time I approached the end of the first lap I was in trouble. I was getting very hot and the lack of training in my legs was finally coming home to roost. I promised to continue to jog to the next aid station then walk the remainder of the race or as long as my limbs cooperated. I arrived at said aid station, took in a lot of fluids to cool and rehydrate then set off on my walk. It didn’t take long for me to calculate that I would be out on the course for a further three hours so I reluctantly set off on a slow jog. After a couple more aid stations I felt better and whilst I would not describe myself as breaking into a run it certainly was a respectable jog. The pact I made with myself was to slow if I started to breath heavily – that would be running and I had promised myself I wouldn’t run. Sub 10 was still on the cards so I cast that as my target to help get through, adding to my list of hollow promises as I headed to the finish line.
It was about as uneventful, unemotional finish as I have ever experienced. I didn’t discover who the hell I was, no looking deep inside or floods of tears. Just a job finished and I could now enjoy a beer with my friends. I did learn that I now have a level of basic fitness and mental stubbornness that can get me to the end no matter what.
In previous events I have concluded that a critical component of the sport for me is competing with friends and I certainly had that with Steven and Dave but I discovered there are two other important ingredients. The course must be something special and if I am to truly enjoy racing I must have done the required work, there are no short cuts.
Am I all ironed out? Am I ‘eck as like, I am now scouring the 2014 schedule looking for a race that ticks my three boxes, I think I have the outline of a cunning plan….

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