Someone at the race said it best, "The Great Floridian is like box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get." And I'd say I got one of those pieces with a big, hard Brazil nut on the inside. A few weeks ago, I thought of putting it back in the box when I discovered there was a new, much tougher bike course. Instead, I decided to keep it and figured it'd just take longer to chew on. Then at the athletes meeting the day before the race, the race director said to add an extra hour to your expected finishing time. He wasn't kidding!
Ironically, the thing I was worried about the most, the swim, turned out to be the easiest part of the race for me. Thanks to a recent cold front, water temps dropped from 85 degs to 74 degs in a week and wetsuits were allowed. Winds were low making for calm water conditions at the start. It really doesn't get much better than this and I looked forward to a great day.
The swim course was 2 laps around an inverted triangle. Knowing that I have a tendency to veer left, I lined up on the right side of the pack, which also meant I'd also swim a slightly shorter distance than those who started further left. This is not cheating, just lining up smart! And with only a few hundred friends swimming with me, as opposed to 2000 in an Ironman brand race, I knew the contact would be minimal. While I have a second degree black belt in karate, sparring in water is not my thing.
Off we went and this time I was happy to have no problemos with my wetsuit choking me and no worries about losing my timing chip (last race, someone grabbed my foot and almost ripped off the ankle strap so I safety-pinned the velcro strap down). Very early on, though, I almost ran into one female swimmer who was doing the backstroke but going totally the wrong way, like almost back to shore. Strange... By the first buoy turn, the only thing annoying me was my swim cap. It kept creeping up my forehead and I had to periodically use both hands to wrestle that sucka back down. Probably freaked out a kayaker or two as I momentarily just floated face down to do that.
Still, I got done with the first lap in around 45 min, which was right on target for me. I strolled out of the water, tried to fix my swim cap again, grabbed a cup of Gatorade and headed back in for lap two. I have no idea what that guy in back of me is doing in the above photo. Maybe some sort of lap dance? Sorry, that was bad ...
Anyway, on the second lap, more swimming with occasional swim cap dealings and, get this, I, little ol' ShirleyPerly, actually clobbered and almost swam over one guy who had slowed down. Oops, sorry Dude! I've got to stop thinking I have the water all to myself late on swims. All the lessons, hard work and open water swimming practice have put me squarely at the back of the middle of the pack so I am no longer the slowest swimmer out there. YAY!!
Swim time: 1:33:01 (2:12/100 yds), 5/5 F45-49, 26/39 Female. Unofficially, a 53 minute 2.4 mile swim PR!! (I finished the IMFL 2006 swim in 2:26 but since I did not make the 2:20 swim cut-off, the time wasn't recorded.)
Over to the wetsuit strippers and then to grab my bike gear bag from some kind volunteers who'd retrieved it from the rack. For some reason, the women's side of the changing tent was nearly the same size as the men's side even though there were only 39(!) women doing the race vs. over 200 men. HEE! I had my choice of chairs to sit on, plenty of room to spread out my bike stuff and my own iron maiden to help me put my bike jersey on, put away my swim stuff, apply sunscreen on my back/shoulders, etc. A royal treatment in what seemed like a white palace!
So perhaps I enjoyed things in there a bit too long ... T1: 8:09, 4/5 F45-49, 22/39 Female. After all, this is a race, you know.
Time to see if my new bike shoe cleats work. Usually nothing new on race day is the rule but mine were so worn out that I was not sure if my bike shoes would be able to stay clipped in, especially on a hilly ride, so we switched them out for new ones. (And, of course, I did not notice how worn out they were until I went to check my bike in so we had to pay nearly double to get them last minute at the expo. Doh! At least they had the right ones ...)
About a quarter of the way through the ride and not a cloud in the sky. The weather forecast for record high temps seemed to be correct. DRATS!!
At least the new cleats were working fine. Dave took the above photo from the top of Sugarloaf, a well known climb in the area but just one many short steep climbs on the bike course. Interestingly, it seemed that a few guys were always dismounting their bikes and walking up the steep hills rather than even trying to ride up them. I was never quite sure what to say when passing them so I just huffed and puffed extra hard so they'd think I was working too hard to talk.
But, is it wrong to smile while doing so?
Soon enough, though, they'd blow past me on the downhills and Coach had instructed me to only coast to rest my legs. It was like playing leap frog at times with me passing some folks on the uphills, them passing me on the downhills, etc.
On a flatter section, miles 36-48, I'd hoped to pick up some speed but was suddenly transported to Kona and dealing with nasty headwinds much of the way. UGH!! Then I realized I'd made a mistake bypassing the last aid station that was at the bottom of a hill, just before a sharp left turn and then another steep climb (I would've had to make a full stop as I don't have the bike handling skills to grab a bottle, refill, while descending, turning and climbing in a very short distance). The wind on the flats took a lot out of me and when I got to the next aid station, I was dehydrated and completely out of fluids. I ended up having to make a full stop there to refill both my aero bottle and spare bottle. And why not hit the porta-potty too while I'm at it? Yes, you can be dehydrated and still have to pee!
By the time I completed the first lap and got back to the transition area where the bike special needs bags were located (~mile 60, see photo below), I felt like I'd already ridden 100 miles. Not good! My feet were on fire from the constant pressure I was applying to fight the wind (which often happens to me when riding in Kona but seldom anywhere else) and my butt wanted off the bike NOW!
Queue theme music from the Kung Fu TV series.
Me: Coach, the heat, hills and wind are kicking my @ss. What should I do?
Coach: Stay hydrated and fueled, Grasshopper. Race your own race.
Me: But, Coach, how can I possibly get through 52 more miles of torture?
Coach: Release yourself from expectations. Expect only that YOU WILL FINISH.
I really didn't need anything from my special needs bag so I decided not to get off my bike for fear of not getting back on. I cruised past Dave and told him that my bike split was going to be a lot longer than the 7 hours I thought it'd take me, probably somewhere between 7:30 and 8 hours but I will make the cut-off. And just saying that was a huge relief, actually, so I could stop beating myself up for being so slow and just focus on staying in my target HR zone and getting the job done. Besides, I had plenty of company on the second lap compared to my solo training rides, and we all know misery loves company.
To pass the time, I made it my mission to warn folks who did not know the course to save their legs for the last 12 hilliest miles of the course. Some replied despondently that I had to be joking. Sorry, folks, I wish I were! But the funny thing was that I thought those horrible hills were actually easier for me mentally because I knew I'd be going slow there. Being unable to go much faster on the flat sections because of the unseen enemy (wind) was the harder pill to swallow.
Bike time: 7:45:09 (14.4 mph). 4/5 F45-49, 21/39 Female.
OK, I might have been just a little thrilled to be done.
I handed off my bike to another nice volunteer, grabbed my run gear bag and headed back into the white palace. First things first, I had to get my aching feet out of my hard bike shoes and into nice comfy running shoes -- AHHH! I actually had a complete change of clothing in my bag but decided to change only my top and socks. Didn't see any point in changing shorts as the clean pair were just another pair of tri shorts anyway. But since it was going to be a hot & sweaty run for at least the first hour or so until closer to sunset, I wiped off as much sweat and grime from the ride as I could and made sure to apply lots of Body Glide. I did not need any chafing or blisters to make things any more challenging!
Racers were required to have reflective tape or decals on both the front and back of them during the run so I decided to be a little creative :-)
Another stop into a porta-potty and I was out of T2 with a new record long time: 11:31, 4/5 F45-49, 25/39 Female. Holy smokes, did I doze off somewhere in there?!
But once I got on the run course I woke up. The city of Clermont was celebrating its 125th anniversary and there was a little festival going on along part of the lake. Fun! More things to see and it brought out more people. I took a cup of Gatorade at the first aid station right outside the transition area without thinking -- BIG MISTAKE!!!
I totally forgot that Perpeteum, which I consumed late on my bike ride and probably still had in my stomach, and Gatorade lead to explosive consequences for me. Oh sh*t, literally! By mile 3, I knew I was in trouble. Gas pains galore and a dire need to find a porta-potty fast. Sorry if TMI!
Thankfully, they were located nearly every mile and I hit all but one of them on my first of 3 laps on the run course. It was not pretty, my pace, I mean, but I was surely making progress if I was going from porta-potty to porta-potty, right? I mean, who needs mile markers when you have big green boxes?
Luckily, I had experienced this GI issue in training before and actually had brought some stomach meds with me. I just didn't remember I had them until around mile 4 and after I took them it still took a while for things to settle down. I had to take my Fuel Belt off and carry it over my shoulder as any extra pressure on my gut was dangerous. But carrying it was surprisingly easy, even comfortable (like a sling for my right arm to rest on), so when I finally, FINALLY, completed my first lap (~9 miles) about two hours later, I decided to continue carrying it. That way I could still have my gels, other emergency meds, water bottles and my cell phone* with me.
*The cell phone was really important as it allowed Dave to track me using Sprint's Family Locator Service. This race did not have any athlete tracking and even if it did, it wouldn't say where I was, just that I'd passed a certain point at a certain time. With the GPS tracking of my cell phone, Dave pretty much always knew where I was on the bike and run courses, which made it a whole lot easier for him to spectate and take pictures.
Before heading out for lap 2, I stopped at the run special needs station and exchanged visors for the one that I'd attached a Nebo clip-on cap light. I'd thought I'd only need it for my third lap but the longer bike ride and slower first lap meant it was already getting dark. And, man, was I glad I had it. People often talk about going to dark places during ironman races meaning in their minds. This race had lots of them outside simply due to limited light!
We only had a quarter moon that night and although there were some spotlights along the run course it was impossible to light the entire course. Along this one tree canopied trail we ran on, it was virtually pitch black except for glow rings the athletes were given to wear around their necks and near the turnaround where an aid station was located. Eerie! A few folks ran with me for a while because I had a light, but I actually preferred running alone. My GI issues were improving but I was not-so-silently at times releasing a fair amount of gas along the course. Better that no one be near me ...
Around the lake again and back to festival area for the second time and in the darkness it looked even better. The rides were now all lit up and there were lots more people around. A number of them were lined along the path cheering for the athletes going by, which was really nice as there were only a few pockets spectators on the course elsewhere and I'm sure some folks really needed the encouragement. I stopped at the run special needs station again to grab more gels and saw Dave. I happily reported that I was doing much better now and was actually getting faster with each lap :-)
On my last one, temps were now in the 70's with a nice breeze which felt just right, not too cold or hot. Most of the folks I saw were walking and I tried to encourage everyone I passed and only asked those who asked me what lap I was on what lap they were on. Our answers were the same (last) but I suspected many who didn't ask were probably not on their last lap and would not finish by the 17:30 cut-off :-(
I was running well now but continued to stop briefly at the aid stations to eat a few pretzels and down some water. There was no sense in changing the routine that had gotten me thus far and it also gave me a final chance to thank the wonderful volunteers at the aid stations for all their help. The only aid station I didn't stop at was the last one. It was only about a half mile from the finish and I saw a woman and man running ahead who also looked to be on their last lap. Ooh, what have we here, a little spark of racing adrenaline after all?
I took a quick swig from my water bottle instead and just gave a quick thank you to the volunteers before beginning my final kick to the finish. I was amazed to find how much energy I still had left in my legs after being out on the course for so long. It didn't seem much different than running a standalone marathon, actually. Maybe I've practiced finishing strong so many times in the past that it just comes automatically? Who knows, but it made for a pretty nice first-time iron tri finish.
Run time: 5:23:25 (12:21 pace). 2/5 F45-49, 15/39 Female
Final race time: 15:01:13. 3/5 F45-49, 16/39 Female.
WOOHOO, bye-bye iron DNF monkey on my back. And, remarkably, I have very little post-race soreness which should make for a fast recovery for Beach To Battleship, another full iron tri, in 2 weeks. DOUBLE SAH-WEETNESS!!
Other numbers for those who love numbers:
4500 - Approx. feet climbed on the bike course per my Garmin
199 - Entry fee for this race
140.6 - Miles covered during the race
89 - High temp (F) for the day per WeatherUnderground.com
46 - Number of times Dave tracked my cell phone during the race
25 - % folks who DNFd (and this race does not attract many first-timers)
14/16 - Max wind spd/gusts (mph) per WeatherUnderground.com
8 - Number of times I used a porta-potty/restroom during the race
2 - Number of race shirts I got (participant and finisher)
1 - Awesome, supportive hubby
0 - Times I thought about about quitting