THE GREAT FLORIDIAN - A RACE REPORT
October 19, 2002
2.4 mile swim, 112+ mile bike, 26.2 mile run:
SWIM TO BIKE TRANSITION: 11:56
BIKE TO RUN TRANSITION: 9:09
OVERALL TIME: 17:15:13
I finally get to say it!! I AM AN IRONMAN. The trip hasn't quite sunk in. The best parts: the blazing orange sunset at the beginning of the run, the volunteers at every aid station, hanging out with some amazing people - Ironman Larry Guerin and his friend Ironman Jerry, Ironman Johanna, and Ironman Beth, seeing my Boston Triathlon Teammates on the course and at the pre-race events, the panoramic view atop Sugarloaf, marking the course with inspirational messages in chalk the day before the race, biking the run course with The Tribe who are Great Floridian veterans, looking at the buoys in the water, trying to figure out what to put in all my different bags, seeing the searchlights from the finish line in the darkness, wearing a glowlight on my head like a halo during the run, setting up my bike in the transition area, meeting many many ironmen and not asking "have you done an Ironman" but "how many Ironmans have you done" and thinking that was a normal question, and sharing the whole experience with my wonderfully supportive boyfriend Mike.
Larry arranged for a group of us to stay at Vacation Village which worked out perfectly. We had a nice place to stay which included a full kitchen. Touched up my bike Indiana "Thunder" Jones with blue nailpolish to cover the scratch marks acquired from the trip. Ate a lot. Spent a lot of time going from one gathering to another. Saw Keith Haroutunian at the pre-race meeting. Checked out the race course. Prepared my bags (warm-up, transition 1, bike special needs, transition 2, run special needs). Ironman prerace was quieter and mellower than I imagined, a bunch of very low key folks trying not to get too nervous and definately trying not to get their heart rates over 90 in the days before the race. Nonetheless, I didn't sleep much.
Up at 3. Denny's for breakfast. At transition at 5am for bodymarking. Dark skies and a calm mellow excitement in the air.
Hugs all around, emotional, quiet. Someone sang the national anthem and I looked for the doves I had read about in other race reports. Saw the doves in the sky. No gun, just a quiet "go". Hung out in the back. Finally started swimming. The buoys went by quickly. I probably hit more people than hit me. Couldn't believe how fast the first lap went by. Saw Ironwoman Johanna out of the water, we chatted on our way back into the second lap. Went slower the second lap, took it a bit too easy, less worried about time. At the beach, took off the top part of my wetsuit. Lay on the sand and a wetsuit stripper pulled the wetsuit off my legs. Stopped for a picture and a kiss from Mike. Got T1 bag and made my way into the changing tent. Took way too long. Wasn't worried about time, couldn't believe how quickly that swim went! It had to have been short. Chatted with Johanna in the tent. Linae and Michelle were wonderfully supportive transition goddesses. Thank you also to Leyli for volunteering. I was happy for all of the volunteer support out there, thanks to all the awesome volunteers!
Get this - Florida has HILLS! No really, I'm not delirious! These hills even have names. Hospital Hill, Sugarloaf. They stick out, exposed, like skyscrapers in the desert. A woman in front of me wisely said, "Don't look at the top". I focused on the faded chalk messages on the road, trying to remember what we wrote the day before, which kept me distracted. The other thing about this course - for most of the downhills, there was an immediate sharp turn at the bottom. So much for gaining speed! The course was a figure-eight shape. IronPenguin (Mike Tennant) had told us that people who hammered on the first loop usually paid for it in the second, so to hold back (good advice). He also told us that the second loop was flat (he-must-have-been-delirious advice). I ran out of salt tabs in the first loop, it was a hot day and used up what I thought would be a full day's supply within the first half of the ride. Threw up three times during the second loop. Sour stomach. I didn't want to eat or drink but knew I needed to. Dumped my Amino (a carb/protein drink that ultramarathoners use & I trained with all summer) which was making me nauseous. Sipped on water and hoped that whatever calories I was managing to take in would be enough. Rachel Saks whizzed by me on the bike course, she looked strong. Kept passing and getting passed by a guy wearing a Michelin Man jersey and a really nice woman who ended up taking home an award in her age group. Kept riding what seemed like forever. My mileage was past 112 and I was still riding. I thought, that would be terrible to get a flat AFTER biking the 112 miles before making it into transition! Luckily, my bike Indiana did great. The last few miles are shared with the run course. There, I saw a morbid sight: incredibly fit people, muscular and tanned, walking like zombies, everywhere. It brought me to tears. People who look like they are the fittest people on earth hardly able to walk. I saw one guy on the bridge sitting curled in a ball, with his hat covering his head, and soon after I saw the med van zooming along, I assume on its way to revive him. Tears started to well in my eyes. I had *almost* completed 2 legs of my first Ironman and I couldn't believe it. And I was about to start a marathon and become one of those zombies. Almost at transition, a racer passes me on my right and crashes into a tree on his bike. He somersaults and stands up. He looks OK and the police are right there to check on him so I keep going. I have about 20 minutes before the bike cutoff. More help from Linae the transition goddess at the end of the ride. Tried to spend as little time in transition as possible; IronPenguin had warned us that this transition would tempt us into wanting to linger longer than we should. We would be lulled to hang out in the tent and wait until feeling better to start the run, which of course wouldn't happen after biking 112 miles and swimming 2.4 miles. So I moved quickly through and made a deal with myself that I'd take a break and use the porta-potty out on the run course instead of in transition.
Well I actually had to run! My bike took 2 hours longer than I anticipated, leaving me no time to take the marathon casually. I realized that I had to keep going at a decent clip with no walking to insure a 1am finish. So I totally revised my strategy. My initial plan was to carry a bottle of Amino and refuel at special needs which we passed twice, and to run a few miles, walk a few, run a few. I certainly had no intentions of running the whole marathon. Instead, I dumped the Amino and got rid of the fanny pack after the first loop of the run, and only carried salt tabs in my reflective vest. I also skipped my special needs bag both times because I was so worried about time. After the first aid station, I decided to walk only at aid stations and force myself to run immediately after passing them. I knew it would hurt a lot, but if I started walking I'd never want to run again and then I'd be toast. The first loop of the run was in a residential neighborhood. The aid stations were chatty and welcoming but I didn't stay to chat. I heard the music from the Good Humor Ice Cream truck on the street trying to tempt children over and thought it odd that I was in my own little world trying to complete a race while kids and adults outside were carrying about their normal routine, playing in the yard and eating ice cream. I started running up Hospital Hill but my run was so slow I figured that was the only section where it made more sense to walk, so that is the only part of the marathon course that I did walk (other than the aid stations and the first 1/2 mile or so out of transition). The sun was setting and I took in the view, telling myself to let it energize me for the run, to soak it up and enjoy the moment as much as possible. Darkness fell rapidly. I ran through a nightmare, where I ran in total darkness on a path with trees on either side and nobody either in front of me or behind me. I ran scared and was so happy to finally see the lake with the Iron zombies. Humanity! Ironman Jerry was on one of his laps around the lake and told me to KEEP GOING!! First though I had to run away from them up a little hill to the turnaround, which was very confusing and deserted. The aid station was deserted but stocked; I grabbed some gatorade and water from the table, followed the turnaround arrows, and made my way back towards the people. I saw Ironwoman Beth making her way out of the dark nightmare section - hurray! - we exchanged a slimy sweaty hug and I pointed where to go for the turnaround. Since she is an ultra runner I kept waiting for her to catch up to me and pass me on the run. I was so happy to finally be at the lake! The run is 3 laps around the lake after the residential loop. That road has the steepest canter I've ever seen, like an upside-down U shape. My right leg must have been a few inches higher than my left the whole time because we had to stay on the left side of the road. I was momentarily confused at an intersection and asked repeatedly "which way?", "which way?". Finally, someone answered me, one of the Ironmen running around the lake. His name was Tim and it turned out he was from The Tribe. We started running together. He was on his second lap. I told him I was on my first and I was running scared because I really wanted to get in before 1am, and that it was my first IM. He ended up running with me. At first I thought that he was feeling sorry for me, but then I found out that I was actually helping him too. He said that he was about to start walking when we met up, and that my running kept him going too. So we ran and he told me about his other IM experiences. He assured me that if I could hold my pace I'd make it to the finish in time. We ran by Mike who cheered us on. I blasted through the special needs section and decided that I didn't have time to stop there. I was running on water and gatorade, and had a few animal crackers with peanut butter the entire run. I'd stop at a porta-potty and tell Tim not to wait, and then I'd get out and he was there waiting for me. He said that he had nothing left in his legs, that he was totally running on empty. So we psyched each other up to keep going and keep running no matter how much it hurt. At the Mad Dogs aid station a woman gave me my first cup of chicken broth. I had heard and read about the chicken broth at IMs, now it was my turn. I sipped it cautiously and conservatively and then kept going. Santa Claus was at Mad Dogs waving us on. Tim turned right to go up the hill and cross the finish line and I had one lap to go. I had spent the first two laps knowing that this last lap would be the biggest challenge, that my body would pull out every trick to convince me to stop and I'd have to overcome it. Mike was cheering me on. I saw Ironwoman Johanna and wanted so badly to stop and talk with her, to do the last lap at whatever pace she was going, to do a walk run kind of thing like she and others had planned. But I knew that if I stopped running for any other reason than an aid station, I'd be toast. I was on auto pilot and had a rhythm going. Johanna looked strong. I avoided asking, "How do you feel?" which is a question I learned you NEVER ask someone during an IM, because of course they don't feel well and you don't want to be the one to remind them!! I didn't want to leave her. I kept going. I kept telling myself, "don't look at the lake, don't look at the searchlights" because the lake looked huge and the searchlights (the finish) looked so far away, I didn't want to get discouraged. I focused on going from one shadow in the road to the next shadow, from one glow stick to the next, from one tree or mailbox to the next, looking forward, ignoring the pain. I didn't realize that the mosquitos were having a banquet on my legs and ankles. (Mike and Tim had mentioned getting bitten by bugs, and I kept saying that I wasn't. Little did I know!! Those bites still itch as I write this. I had packed repellent in my special needs bag but I never got around to using it!) My mantra was, "I want that finisher's medal. I want that medal." I kept saying that around the lake. I wanted it so bad. The last 2 miles were the best and the worst. I was running on empty, my stomach hurt like it had never hurt before, I was tired and still running scared. I kept looking at my watch. I had about 1/2 hour til 1am. I kept thinking about Karen Smyers saying how she told herself to "dig really deep" when she won at Kona. I had never run a marathon before, and I didn't know if at some magic mile marker I'd suddenly blow up and hit the wall. I just kept going and hoping that it wouldn't happen. It didn't. In those last couple of miles, I fought off tears. Tears of emotion, tears of pain, tears of disbelief. I thought, I'm so close, this is it, almost done, keep going, ignore the pain. I passed the aid station where Ironwoman Beth's son was volunteering. He was so great to have worked all day for all of us. Finally I got to Mad Dogs, the last aid station before the finish. I had run that last lap faster than the first two. Mike was screaming for me to bring it home. I started running even faster. I passed someone in the darkness and blasted up the hill. I saw the chute, I heard the cheering, and suddenly everything was in slow motion. I tried to absorb the moment with everything I had, to look at the arch and sprint into the finish with a huge smile on my face. I had my arms spread wide, they were wings sailing me into the finish home. They held up the tape, I crossed the mats and felt the tape. I wanted to stop moving but couldn't. I got the FINISHER'S MEDAL, that thing I had worked so hard for. I got a finisher's t-shirt. I wasn't sure what do to next. It wasn't like I expected. Nobody really checked on me to ask me if I was OK (as far as I could tell). Most of the area was closed up, with only a few people left. I saw some huge barrels of ice and reached in for a bottle of water. I still didn't know what to do. A spectator saw me standing there all dazed and grabbed a shiny blanket for me to wear. I made my way towards the massage tent but they didn't want to give me a massage, they were closing up shop. There was no food. Another spectator, I assume somebody's mom, took pity on me and told me to sit in the chair. I was afraid to stop moving but finally sat in the chair. I started crying, tears of emotion and disbelief. I asked if there was a medical tent, I wasn't sure if I should get an IV, I felt OK but I heard that people did this. The sweet mom went to find someone from medical. The medical person said that there was no medical tent left and if I needed anything I'd have to go to the hospital. I told her I was fine and forced myself to stop the tears flowing, because I didn't want them to think I needed to go to the hospital. I asked the sweet mom if she could possibly walk the few yards to get my warm-up bag, I was stuck in the chair unable to walk and wanted my Endurox since there was nothing to eat. She sweetly got it for me. I grabbed the other chair next to me and put my legs on it. I was stuck there for a while. Mike came to check on me and then we saw Johanna in the finisher's chute!!! He ran off to take pictures. She looked great. We hung out for a while wondering when Beth would be coming in. Mike checked with the staff who said that she had pulled out. We really wanted to see her. Then, suddenly, there was Beth in the finisher's chute!!! What a glorious moment, we were all there, we were all done, we had all done it. I reluctantly made my way to the car, and then somehow made it up the spiral staircase where we were staying to go to sleep.
At the awards ceremony, I got to meet Kate Paulson for a split second as we received our awards. She won our Athena group, and Beth and I also got to take home nice plaques! I took home a 6th, Beth 7th. I enjoyed hanging out with friendly folks at the awards ceremony. Jerry placed in his age group and qualified for World's in Spain! We were so proud of him.
The top of my right foot is killing me as I write this. All other body parts are OK. I actually have felt better after this race than my first Olympic distance tri, my first half-marathon, and my first half-ironman. I've been able to walk straight!
Thank you to everyone. I'm so lucky to have met the greatest people along the journey.