Grab a cup of joe or a nice glass of red and have a seat, this may be a little on the longer side, afterall it was a long road of preparation and I wouldn't want to miss anything. I will apologize ahead of time if at times there is more information than you wish to hear. Ladies and Gentlemen, without further adeiu...
My road to the Florida Ironman began on a cold day in November of 2009. After hearing about the success my friends had experienced with Quantitative Triathlon Training Systems (QT2) I decided to attain their services for Florida. My goal was to really dedicate a year of hard word and training and see what was actually possible with me and the Ironman. On the flip side, this single year of dedication to sport would also include dedication to my fiance, building a house, starting a new position at work, and planning (and not messing up) a wedding. Kara and I were both up for the challenge and with her support I knew we would both achieve success across all fronts....SPOILER ALERT!!!!! We achieved success on all fronts (but then again you all knew that already).
Flash forward (everyone says fast forward so I'm switching it up a bit) to race week. My head is a bit of a mess. When you are tapering for your big event you tend to have a ton of pent up energy and your mind goes 1,000,000 miles per hour. Some of the things in my head include my calf injury from Mightyman Half one month ago. Thanks to good friend and dynamite PT, OCS Amy Veres my calf was feeling much better and I hadn't had any flair ups in some time. My knee on the other hand was a different story. I had to ship my racing bike down to FL a week early so I didn't have a road bike to ride for my final 3 hour ride one week before the race (this will become my primary arguement as I try to convince KJ to let me get a road bike...good luck right?) I asked my buddy Seth if he would like to join me in the woods for a ride (yes the ride was my idea and Seth and John Hill don't get to take any responsibility for this, only I do). He agreed and Hillman and Andy showed up to join us on a "mellow" ride at Robinson. 2 hours later my knee began to get sharp shooting pains (patella-femoral like for all you fellow PT geeks reading). Seth noticed my seat post had slipped while we were riding and had lowered a centimeter or 2. We called it a day, but the pain stuck around til arriving in FL.
Calf on the mend, knee is shakey, race plan has been reviewed, now its time to land, get car, go to condo, check-in at race tent etc. We get everything taken care of and a few of us decide to go for a quick bike ride to make sure everything is copesethetic with our bikes (and knees).
We make it 2 miles and WHAM!! (and i dont mean the hit music group either) - Sharp knee pain! Uh oh...don't panic...investigate....what makes it worse...what makes it better....how can I compensate? All of these things were running through my head adding to the panic and what ifs.
Friday arrived and with it came sunny skies, Kara's arrival, and bike check in. All responsibilities were again taken care of, plus a 30 minute massage from Manfred (great guy that worked out all the kinks in my legs while also donning me with some sweet pink and light blue kinesio-tape for my calf and knee and most likely my brain). Nutrition that day was also stellar (I ate everything I was suppossed to and then some).
3:30 alarm goes off, apple sauce time! breakfast went down smoothly and back to bed for a cat nap. I met Ochoa in the lobby for 5:30 and headed down to transition.
I was feeling good. I had my 2 best supporters (Jake and KJ) with me, a scary fast race plan, sunny (but cold) skies, and a ton of energy waiting to be expended. As my college assistant swim coach once told us (in regards to tapering for a big event), "You are like a wind up toy. All season long you put in the time and hard work, this is you being wound up. On race day all you have to do is just let go and let the race take care of itself." Time to be let go!
Body mark check, wetsuit on, que the sunrise. My entourage and I along with Ochoa and his fam (minus his brother who still was puzzled by the idea of waking up before the sun) headed towards the beach for the start. I give KJ and Jake a hug and head down to the water to find my spot on the front line of 2400 people on a straight line to the first buoy. The plan was to take out the first 400yds hard then settle into my rhythm. A blast from Sandstorm comes over the speakers, the is jostling for position, a calm comes over the crowd and......BOOM the canon goes off!! I treat the 400 yards like a 50 and am having an awesome turnover with my kick not missing a beat. I manage to hit the first buoy ahead of everyone (woohoo i won the race....wrong!!) I settle into what I feel is a comfortable pace and people slowly begin coming around me. "uh oh, not good, why can't I pull more water?! Are the seas really this choppy? Stay on those feet!" The stretch out to the first turn buoy was tough. I was getting passed, not finding my rhythm, and trying not to panic.
Across the back stretch I begin to catch a little more water with every pull. The magic happened as I turned the second time. It was similiar to swimming the 1000 freestyle and after 100 yards you feel as though you haven't slowed down and might even be going faster! I am grabbing so much water and starting to pass everyone that passed me! I'm not working overly hard and I am absolutely cruising!! I get out of the water after lap 1 and am looking for a clock...don't see one. Where am I? How am I doing? Do I need to go faster?
I run up the beach, under the arch, make the turn and look ahead to see how many people are in front of me....about 3?! What?!!! Oh man this is awsome, I am killing the swim (too bad there is still a long bike and a hard run ahead of me). I pass on the aid station and run down the beach and back into the water. Bad idea, shouldn't have run so hard, I'm tired, I think I can walk past the breaking point...time to swim again. Lap 2 was pretty much the same (no rhythm, people passing me etc) the only difference was I knew I could count on the back stretch of the swim to be fast and I could make up my time there. That is exactly what I did. I really turned it on with about 200 meters to go to get the legs warmed up for the bike. I run up the beach (still no clock) and find a wetsuit stripper. Grab my wet suit and head for T1.
The benefit of having a strong swim is you get spoiled in T1. I had 5 volunteers helping me get all of my bike gear ready, which for the first time included arm warmers...yikes (thanks Jim for saving me with your extra pair). Time to bike!
IMFL has a reputation of being flat, fast, and a draft fest. With only the pros ahead of me along with a few age groupers (2) I know that the packs will at some point catch up to me. I do my best to keep in check the variables that I have control of (nutrition, HR, fluid intake etc). The main thing on my mind however is the temperature...it is freezing! It honestly took me 30-40 miles before I stopped shivering. With the exception of my temperature, everything was going well; I was even ahead of my fluid intake (little did I know this would come back to bite me in rear).
As the miles went up, so did the pressure in my bladder. The longer I rode without listening to my body the higher my heart rate went up and the more I had to back off the bike pace. Every time I took care of business my heart rate dropped dramatically and I was able to put in a good hard effort (until I had to go to the bathroom again). This happened 3 times over the 112 mile bike ride. Between the pressure in my bladder and my frustration of seeing the pack riders, my hear rate was constantly high. This is the downside of riding according to HR as opposed to power. Had I been using a power meter I most likely would have been able to keep the effort consistent despite my level of frustration with other riders.
Lets just take a moment to really look at how close these riders were. The rule is 4 bike lengths between bikes, most times it was less than 2! At one point a pack was coming by me and I actually pointed to a rider ahead of me as I said to the rider passing me "hurry up, grab his wheel, you dont want a gap forming!" He had some words for me, but all i could think was, "I hope you can run as well as you draft!"
The first out and back is somewhere in the 70-80 mile range. This was where I would be looking for my teammates to exchange encouraging words. I saw them a lot sooner than I expected! Jim first, followed by Andy, and ....OCHOA??!! When you are being chased it seems like they are all right on your tail. In this case they actually were! I knoew Jim would be an absolute monster on the bike, so as he passed me just after the second out and back (about 25 miles to go) it was almost a relief. He thought something was majorly wrong which to both our reliefs was not the case. As we hit T2 I was about 2 minutes down to Jim, and only a few minutes ahead of Andy and Ochoa.
My focus going through T2 was to eat my banana, take my gel, and get moving!! The plan for the run was to take it out at 6:35 min/mile and hold on as long as possible. I grabbed all of my nutrition for the first half of the run and was off....and running. I was so focused on nutrition that I left T2 with my arm warmers still on...not part of my plan. Luckily Jake was on the run course about 1/4 mile into it and after getting my garmin squared away I was able to hand them off. I caught up to Jim and after some positive exchanges...pause.... we both continued at our appropriate paces.
I felt great! The cool thing about IMFL run course is that it takes a lot of turns so you feel like you are covering a lot of ground. Before I knew it I was 6 miles in and averaging just above 6:40s. The trouble came at mile 8. I had taken a gel at T2, another at mile 4 and then I took one just before the mile 8 aid station so I could wash the taste of the gel out of my mouth. Good plan right??? WRONG!! The 3rd gel literally stopped my in my tracks as a wave of nausea came over me. I decided it would be best to take care of business urgently so I made my way to the side of the road, vomitted violently about 4-5 times, rinsed my mouth out and took off like a bat out of hell. I.was.furious. With my bout of sickness my mile time jumped up to 8:39, I then thought it would be a good idea to run on anger. My next mile was 6:31,however my legs were HEAVY. You'd think I would feel lighter after an episode of the caliber, however that was not the case. My pace slowed over the next few miles as I got back to Cyclonaut central. As I came up to Jake I asked him where I was in my division (assuming 5th or 6th). He informed me that I was in 5th and to keep pushing. He relayed a message from coach Pat to stick with the pace as best I could. I made the turn and on the way out of town I said to Jake that I was fading. He ran with me for a little while which gave me a bigger boost than I think he realized (thanks dood!).
The second lap was filled with thinking. My pace kept slipping, however there still wasn't anyone passing me. I kept this in the forefront of my mind and repeated over and over again, "keep clipping off miles, keep moving up" This saying helped keep my head in the game. I had been trailing a guy who I assumed was in my age group for at least 3 miles. At one of the aid stations he went to the bathroom and I hit the gas (not really I just kept running). I hoped that he was in my age group and that I had moved up to 4th (thinking at this point that there would be 3 or 4 Kona slots).
I hit the final turn around and continued to try and pick up the pace. It was difficult but made easier everytime I saw a teammate. It really is what makes this club so special. We are easy to spot and all very supportive of one another. The final 7 miles went something like this: run a mile, walk the aid station, take a sponge, have some coke or water, run again. I repeated this every aid station while still trying to get to the finish as soon as possible.
As I came in for the finish I remembered the advice I had received before my first Ironman in Lake Placid 2 years ago: Don't forget the pose for the finish line! I zipped up my jersey, gave my ring a kiss, and pumped my arms in victory.
Notice the comparison between the finsih in '08 and this years finish...
No longer a clydesdale (less than 200lbs) and I managed to celebrate long enough for them to take the picture before becoming an emotional wreck.
I ended up finishing 4th in my age group and missed Kona by 9 minutes (1 slot). I was thrilled that I reached my goal of making the podium (top 5 at WTC events) in my biggest race of the season.
This years race was an incredible one. I am beyond thrilled with my result and I attribute that to a few key people:
KJ for agreeing to let me get a coach and dedicate a serious amount of time to training. I know that I have been a pain in your rear end during our very busy year and you never let me realize it. You let me continue with my plan and get the result I hoped I could.
Coach Pat and QT2 for providing me with the necessary knowledge to train properly and carry out an effective and successful race.
Jake for being an awesome brother and making the trip down to see me. You were at the swim start at Placid before me in 08 ready to cheer, and you were there whenever and whereever I needed you in Florida this year.
Ochoa for being an awesome training buddy. It was beyond helpful having you for those early morning swims at crystal or those late week night bricks. Congrats on an incredible first Ironman, I think you found your distance.
The cyclonaut family for being the best team on the face of the earth. You are the most incredible and inspirational group of people that make training much more enjoyable.
See you at the races...