I signed up for Placid in hopes of achieving a lifetime goal, complete an Ironman. This had been a goal of mine since I completed my first Half Iron in 2005 with the help of Rich Veres. Rich introduced me to the longer distance triathlons and to the Cyclonaut club as well, and for that I am immeasurably grateful, so thank you Rich.
The road began in the winter for me and was made up of Saturday spin classes with Kara followed by the Forest Park 5k/10k race series on Saturday morning. Both of these workouts kept the fun in winter training, which to me was rumored to be composed of numerous hours on the stationary bike/trainer and/or the treadmill.
As the warmer weather began to show my plan slowly started to develop: swim when I can, bike whenever Jimmy posts a bike ride, and run after every bike ride. The plan went well for most of the spring and early months, and after a decent amount of smaller races I was feeling good. Enough about the training leading up to the big day, time for the big day.
My day began around 4:15 or 4:30 am with 2 poptarts and a bagel with peanut butter. My transition bags and bike were already in the transition area and my morning bag was packed and ready to go. Kara said she would drive me into town as close as she could and I would walk the rest of the way. The weather seemed nice when we headed up into town and my adrenaline was pumping more than ever. I walked into town with Pete (teammate) and the first thing we took care of was special needs bags. This required a walk up past the start. I didn’t pack any special needs bags (risky move for a newbie, but luckily it worked out just fine) but I decided to keep Pete company on the walk. As we got just past the start I heard a voice from near the water, “Hey Paul! Someone took my spot already!” My younger brother Jake (and spectator extraordinaire) had waken up at the same time as me and run the 1.5 miles into town without me knowing it and managed to get there before me! He was upset because he scoped out a nice spot on a rock in the water the day before, and apparently he wasn't the only one. That was just the beginning of truly amazing day of support from friends and family.
After exchanging a few words with Jake, Pete and I headed back to the Oval to get body marked and set up our transitions. Once we were down there we saw many more of our teammates including a worried Pookie as he had forgotten all his nutrition at the hotel! I also found swimming buddy and teammate Mike Gay in transition. My plan for the swim was to stick with Mike for as long as I could, so once I spotted him that morning I didn’t leave his side, and he can attest to that. Body Glide on, numbers marked, wetsuit, goggles, and cap in hand….what am I forgetting?? Oh yea gotta find the Sani-can. If there is one thing that blows my mind about race prep at triathlons it’s the length of the lines for the bathrooms, it never ceases to amaze me. After taking care of business, I headed up to the spectator area to find the rest of my family before heading into the water. The surprise of support from my family and friends hit me again as my immediate support crew are all wearing T-shirts with my name, race number, picture, and big brother’s mantra “Whatever It Takes.”
At this point I need to get in the water and get this race started. I am overflowing with excitement and nerves. Once again I find Mike Gay and we head down to the water. What an amazing feeling; being on the start line and turning around and panning 180 degrees to see over 2300 athletes and over 15,000 spectators. Fall Out Boy is playing, and as it ends Mike Reilly says his final words before the canon goes off, “Go have your day!” With that I follow Mike’s lead through clear water to the first turn. It got a little more crowded as we turned the 2nd buoy and headed back towards the start. I lost Mike at that point, but was in a good rhythm and knew Mike would be just fine. I finished lap 1 in good time and headed out for the second go-around. At this point the rain had picked up quite a bit, however it was not enough to ruin my day even a little.
As I exited the water I heard Mike Reilly again, “…number 171, Paul McCloskey…” I found a pair of wetsuit strippers, and after having a few issues with getting my wetsuit off, I was off and running up past the playground where I saw many friends and family and a sea of yellow and black. As I ran into transition, I grabbed my bag and a seat in the Men’s tent. No sooner did I sit down, then Mike sits right down next to me. We exchanged a few words and I headed out for the bike just a little while before Mike. I would have waited for him but I knew he would catch me on the bike. I run through T1 trying desperately to wipe off my glasses before I get on the bike. It doesn’t happen and off I go in the rain without them. I kept a nice easy cadence while keeping my heart rate down as I went through town. After a decent climb out of town and an absolutely incredible decent (40+mph, pouring rain, sweeping turns, no glasses), I hit the back stretch of the course still smiling and feeling good.
Now some people know of my “friendly rivalry” with fellow age grouper Patrick Wheeler. I knew he was racing that day and I felt he would most likely beat me, but it did not matter. The goal of the day was to finish the race. While on the flat stretch, I was yo-yoing back and forth with this 25 year old named Forestall. As he passes me and slows down while he is next to me and says, “That swim put quite a dent in Wheeler.” I looked over at him in shock and replied, “How’d you know about that?” He explained that his trains with him and I replied by saying its just a “friendly rivalry.” The fact that Wheeler is gunning for me pumps me up even more and I pick up the cadence just a little bit.
As we begin to climb towards the out and back I hear another person behind me, “Paullll, I see you.” Its Mike, he caught me about 20 miles in and is daunting me. As he passes me he gives me some advice about the cheating train that is ahead of us, and to make sure I keep my 4 bike lengths to the person in front of me. As we hit the out and back I keep Mike in my sights and begin daunting him as we continue. Its awesome to have teammates on the course with you to keep a good attitude. The rest of the lap went well, and I was still smiling as I came into town. As you get into town there are barricades on both sides of the road and they are lined with screaming spectators. As I approach an up hill S-turn lined with people my heart is going crazy with adrenaline and seriously feel like I’m in the Tour de France. I immediately jump out of the saddle as I round a turn and ride right next to the barricades, easily the coolest feeling ever!! I rip through town going faster than I should as a mix of adrenaline, and wanting to look cool in front of everyone, comes over me. I cruise through Cyclonaut Central and head out for lap 2 feeling awesome.
Lap 2 was more of the same as I got excited for the out and back. The great thing about the out and back is a chance to see people in front and in back of you. As I reached the turn around I saw Mike R, Franqui, and Mike G all looking strong. As I headed back I saw Pat Wheeler boring holes through my skull with his eyes, followed by Jimmy, Tom, Doug, Pete, Dave, Pookie, Amy, Kevin, Steve, Doug, Jill, Mary, Jen (but not in that order) and most of the Cyclonauts that were racing. Once the out and back was over I was able to experience another first for myself, I managed to pee while still on the bike. Alright maybe it was a little too much information, but I HAD to go, it was pouring so it rinsed off, and I didn’t want to ruin my momentum. A word of advice though, avoid open wounds if you can, I had a blister on the top of my left foot that got it and it KILLED!!!. After getting that out of my system I just wanted to stay consistent through the end of the bike leg.
I went through T2 without a problem while telling the volunteer that was helping me not to pee on open wounds, and soon I was off and running with a dry hat, dry shoes, and dry socks (yes I actually wore socks for the run this time!). Just as everyone had warned me, I had great momentum heading out on the run as I left town and needed to put on the breaks. Thanks to some running tips from a 26 year old named Dale from Florida, I found a steady pace with smaller steps and was feeling good. I got the huge boost from Cyclonaut Central and was off to the out and back.
The run wasn’t all too exciting except for the times I saw my teammates and attempted to encourage Wheeler. He made the catch around mile 9 and I told him, “its about time” and “I thought you would have caught me sooner.” He didn’t seem to acknowledge me and just kept going with his pace. It kind of bothered me how he acted but I got over it on the way out of town on lap 2 when his girlfriend cheered for me!!
I’d have to say that there really wasn’t a moment throughout the entire race where I doubted myself or lost the drive. I did my best to listen to everyone when they said to enjoy my first one ’cause you will remember it forever. That advice kept me smiling throughout the 140.6 miles, that and seeing my teammates, friends and family throughout the day.
As I kept to my pace and eating and/or drinking every stop I got more and more excited to finish. I wanted to charge up the final climb into town without walking, with a smile on my face. Thank God the hill ended when it did because I began to feel “the fists” getting ready to punch out of the back of my legs! (If you have ever been on a longer ride with me when I am not on top of my nutrition you know all about the fists.) I hit the final out and back with an increased tempo, bigger stride, and even bigger grin. As I came down the small hill towards the Oval I made sure there wasn’t anyone close to me, whether it was in front or in back. This was the moment I had trained for, this was the moment I worked all day for and I didn’t want to share it with any other racer (unless it was a Naut). As I entered the Oval I heard my buddy Mike yell my name from the bleachers. Between his yell and the screaming of the fans I was completely overwhelmed. I temporarily fought back tears of joy as I made the turn and headed for the finish. I saw my brothers, my parents, Kara, Mike, and the sea of yellow and black. As I charged towards the finish line through the rain and puddles I remembered the comment that Amy Veres made to me (and I in turn passed on to Cueball), “Make sure you pose for the finish picture.” With that thought in my mind I approached the tape with fists clenched and arms flexed. What I didn’t realize is the picture was taken after I made the pose, and after I had dropped my head into my hands to cry. I guess its more appropriate for a description of how I truly felt.
With all of the emotion and excitement running through my head, I didn’t even hear Mike Reilly say I was an Ironman, but then again with what I was feeling I already knew.
Again I want to thank my parents for all of their encouragement and support, my brothers, Tim for making the long trek in the rain to see the finish, Brian for staying for the finish even when you had to work Monday morning, Jake for having the shirts made, your own body markings, and getting to the start before me, my Aunt D for coming all the way out to Placid just to wish me luck, Kara for putting up with me the entire time leading up to the race and every moment there after, as well as for being a great training partner, Al and the Nauts for being awesome training partners and an incredible support team, Mike for coming to watch even though you had your licensure exam 2 days later, and the entire Cyclonaut Family for keeping my spirits up all day long. The day would not have been possible without all of you.