Caveat: this is long, and not very dramatic.
On Thursday, I went for a great swim, bike and run. I then flipped my bike over into race mode. This basically means I put on the helmet stickers, bike number and race wheels, and then made sure everything worked the way it is supposed to. This process is also the first step in the emergence of my game face. It is instinctual and automatic: change the bike, change the attitude. I also get to be about as exciting as watching paint dry.
On Friday, I woke up, went for a short swim in the Gulf of Mexico, then a 30min ride to make sure everything on the bike, and more importantly my legs, was still working properly. It was, and they were.
I went back to the room, prepped my transition bags and dropped them and my bike off. This is one of the final steps that, for me, get the nerves flittering just the way I like them to. I am nervous, but relaxed and under control. I walked around the t-zone and, always impressed with the extent some people will go to protect their bike, happened upon one that was essentially shrink-wrapped to avoid tampering and/or moisture, or something. I would have to guess that the owner of this bike does not live somewhere that it rains, or has ever ridden in the rain. Here we are in Florida, and there was no rain in the forecast, but if it makes him/her feel comfortable, so be it.
And then I did almost nothing for the rest of the afternoon. I lazed around watching TV and relaxing.
The alarm went off at 4 AM. I had a great night sleep and felt good. Our hotel room is 100m from the start of the race, so I put my stuff in the T-zone, pumped my tires then went back to the room to relax some more.
The professional start was at 6:50 and the field was deep, as well as large. There were over 110 pros and this made it one of the biggest ever. It also made for a good and fairly relaxed start, as compared to the 2000 person washing machine that would start 10min later.
I swam in a pack for the first kilometer, weaving my way through the fast starters and finding myself at the front of the second pack. I lead this pack the rest of the way. My swim was my best so far at 54min, so I was pretty happy with my start to the day, knowing the swim was the least of what I needed for a good day.
Once out on the bike, I felt pretty good, and worked my legs into race mode. The wind conditions were very favourable for a fast day (almost no wind at all), and my legs were responding nicely so I started to wind things up. Unfortunately, I also get caught up in the race and got carried away a bit. I did not have a bike computer, so I went by feel for the day, keying off others. I thought I was riding rather expediently, but in control. Even so, people were passing me quite regularly and I was not passing people very often at all. Eventually, a line of 5 riders, all legally spaced formed and rocked right along. I hung off the back, feeding of the energy of the group. It seems, though, this was a bit too hard for my legs and at half way, I started to falter. There was not a 56 mile sign, but there was a 60 mile sign, which I passed in 2:28. I did some mental math and figured a sub-4:50 ride was easily possible and was quite happy with that prospect. There is an out and back section along the ride route, and at the turnaround, I counted the number of people in front of me, and had a chance to seem the gang behind. There were several very large groups, one of which looked to be close to 50 riders. I fully expected them to catch me, unless the race marshals did some pack busting. I pedaled along at my own effort and started to struggle a bit more with 30 miles to go. I kept going and finished up the ride being passed by Katja Schumacher and re-caught by Nina Kraft, whom I had passed earlier in the ride. My eventual ride time was 4:54, so these two ladies rode like demons—well under 5hrs for sure—and I had lost a lot of time on the guys I was following through half way. I was disappointed by the ride time considering the fine conditions compared to everything that happened to me in Montreal where I managed to ride 2min faster. Still, I was happy to be done and have a good shot at my time goal for the day.
The bike to run transition was smooth enough and off I went. My feet went numb early on, and it took a few lace adjustments to get the blood flow right. I was running close to Nina and when I passed her, she asked how fast I wanted to run the marathon. My reply was simple, “3:01-3:02 would be awesome, 3:05 is likely.” She replied that she would try to run with me and I said, “Sure”, thinking this was my chance to get in some pictures running with the lead woman. I confess to not feeling comfortable with her using me as a pacer, but guys to it to guys all the time so I figured it was okay. She hung on for about a mile, and then drifted backwards a bit. At the end of the first lap, my split was 1:31 and it felt quite easy, so I was really optimistic this was finally the day I would break 9hrs on an actual Ironman North America course. I continued on, steadily I thought, but noticed tightness in my glutes, then hamstrings, then my hips. The ease with which I was passing people started to shift backwards as well. Basically, my legs were starting to shut down on me.
I struggled the rest of the way, watching more than a few runners go by. There really was nothing I could do about it. I was drinking Gatorade, Coke, gels and water, but my legs were not loosening up. I could not stretch out and actually run. I could only manage the cramping that was threatening to end my day. Along the way, I saw pretty much the whole Ottawa gang with Marie Danais not very far behind me at 9:40, Barry Dmitruk on his way to a fantastic 9:44, then Kevin Becker, Mike Dybala, Katherine Calder-Becker, Nicola Johnson, Denis Morel and my roommate for the week, Caroline Boisselle (okay, so some are from Montreal or St. Jerome, or Hartington). They all looked better than I felt, of that I am certain.
In the end, I lost a painful 15min on the second half of the run and notched a 3:16 run time.
My final time of 9:09:46 is my fastest at an MDOT event. It’s my third iron distance event under 9:10 since Sept 1st. I honestly gave it everything I had on the day, maybe not doing things quite right, but close, and I risked it all even though my training in the last 6 weeks was less than ideal. I am happy with my day, but there are always the “if only’s” or “what if’s”.
From a race organization and local atmosphere standpoint, Ironman Florida is great. The swim was most excellent with a wee bit of an anti-current on the way back into shore. The bike course is a stationary bike rider’s dream—sit and pedal for hours. The run is a double out and back route with lots of community support. The aid stations are all well stocked and positioned as well as enthusiastically staffed. It was actually fun on the first loop and would have been lots of fun on the second loop if I was more coherent. There was no Ottawa Corner, but there was a group of scantily clad women in leather and/or school girl outfits and an aid station of cheerleaders that almost made you want to run a third lap.
The Awards Banquet was a bit cramped, but excellent with different food than what was served at the pre-race banquet (not always the case).
The post race party at Spinnakers, a very large beach club, was fantastic: it was reserved for the triathletes and staff. We hob knobbed with some pretty good company including Mike Reilly, Graham and Sue Fraser, Roch Frey, Vukovic, Kraft and many, many others. The scantily clad crew was there as well, adding much to the atmosphere. It was a very good time and a great way to end the season.
I have to thank my clients for their support. If it were not for them, I would likely not be doing what I do.
I absolutely have to thank Nancy for her undying support of my racing and travelling. She has been awesome over the last while and very understanding of what I have been trying to do.