So on Saturday November 6, I found myself on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico with about 2500 of my crazy friends getting ready to embark on a king sized journey. The air temperature is high thirties or low forties and we are about to go for a swim. See I told you they were crazy. But first a little background on the trip.
Debbie and I arrived in The Sunshine State on Wednesday with rain, scattered thunderstorms, wind, low temperatures and forecasts of more to come. My plan on Wednesday was to drive the bike course, get through athlete check in and do a quick ride to be sure all was in order. It rained all day on Wednesday including the time I waited outside in a reasonable line to take care of athlete check in, I correctly thought the lines would be much longer on Thursday as those lines would include new arrivals and those folks who had sense enough to stay out of the rain, i got checked in, picked up my bike also in the rain and made a quick pass through the expo deciding to save the ride for Thursday.
Thursday dawned, okay you couldn't see the sun due to the cloud cover but I just know it was there, with some light rain. My bike was dry and ready for a check ride. Deb drove out a few miles ahead of me and I rode about three miles before it started to rain pretty hard. I really had wanted to ride a bit more of the course but it just was not to be at that time. Did I mention it was windy and cool? About noon on Thursday I saw blue sky for the first time. There wasn't much but it was there. So on went the wetsuit and out to the Gulf I went for a swim. There were about a half dozen or so people in the water and it felt really good. The water was in the low 70s so warmer than the air by a bit. I got out of the water and went for a very easy run and then my onsite prep work was complete.
I took Friday completely off. Friday morning the cold front had arrived complete with "angry ocean", big wind, and cold. Hmmmm, uh, Sunshine State? I looked out the window and saw several folks headed out to swim - I am sure just to get a feel for it and get their minds right in case that was the hand we were dealt. I decided to deal with it Saturday if necessary. The talk on Friday was swimming was tough with big current and waves. The weather guys were predicting the coldest day in Panama City this year for Saturday and the locals were worried about plants and trees. I went to bed early.
I woke up at 2am to eat and had actually slept pretty well. After eating I stared at the ceiling a bit but also got a bit more sleep before I was up for good about 4:15. Left to walk to transition at about 5 and breezed right through body marking. The volunteers were great here, I had two working on me at once. Shoulders marked, thighs marked, calf aged and "Believe" on one forearm and "Execute" on the other. I then rolled my bike over for air. There were three people ahead of me so as I got closer I loosened my valves. The rear core flew off at about 100 miles an hour. Of course there was zero chance of finding it in the dark so I moved to the bike tech tent for a new valve extension. No waiting, valve core replaced, tire aired, disaster averted. I went into the hotel to find somewhere warm to sit down. That was such great idea over the next several minutes the entire population of the United States wandered in with me. There was no one by the swim start and no one seemed to be in a hurry to get down there. We finally had to suit up and go. I stopped by the VIP viewing area to tell Debbie and Taylour bye and stubbed my toe going up the stairs - great - a stubbed frozen digit. I said my goodbyes and was actually one of the early ones across the swim mat. I stood in the water to keep my feet warmer until they made us get out. During the National Anthem i looked around to take in the whole scene, tons of people, spectators and athletes, anxious faces, music, nervous adjusting of goggles, shouts of encouragement. Then BOOM - it was time to go. A whole bunch of people moving into the water at once, deeper, deeper, a bit further, now swim. I ran aground on bodies, okay, slide off and swim again. Big right to left current, stay to the right and let the current carry you over to the buoys. Big kick to the left side of the face, no blood, no foul, swim on. Arms flailing, legs flying, multiple body blocks, there have been less physical UFC fights. It was a tough start to the first lap - but as always, it clears up and you can get in a rhythm and get your swim on. Beautiful clear water and some interesting wildlife to look at, oh that's the orange turn buoy. Make a left turn and let the current help you, now turn back to shore and stay inside as much as you can so the current doesn't carry you down the beach. The last few yards of the swim loop were really much colder water, noticeably so. Out of the water, across the mat, look, there's Debbie and Taylour, halfway done, a quick drink and then follow the line back into the water. Much less contact on the second loop. I have heard the water on the second loop is usually rougher but I didn't really notice a difference. Make the turns and bring it home. A pretty even split and an okay swim overall for me. Wetsuit stripped and then through the hanging hoses for a rinse. Could it be colder?
Into T1, just methodically got dressed and moved on out. I went with a compression top, jersey and arm warmers and kept them all on the entire bike ride. Many wore more, many wore less, but I think I was dressed just right for me. I had taken in some salt water on the swim so I went with just water to try to dilute that and the possible effects for the first 15 miles or so before I started hitting the calories. I didn't feel sick but I didn't feel great either so I just took it easy on the ride and tried to get in some water. Out 79 to 20 was uneventful but the calories were just not going down and I was getting further and further behind on my eating plan. I hear Rich in my head sayIng less is better so I am okay with it, just aware. Look at that sign, i think it is indicating bears in the are, that's interesting. About mile 30-35 the leader goes by at mile 80-85, now in a word, that kinda sucks..I have a long way to go. By the way the wind is picking up and it seems to have been on my nose in both directions. I make the turn to go south and it is not only a nice road, it is downwind...ahhhh...speed. And then it ends, we turn again onto 388 and there's the wind - really how can it be in my face again? Taking it past =================, the road turns to crap. There are cracks every where and your junk is bouncing. There are water bottles, tubes, CO2 cartridges, a Thanksgiving turkey, all manner of fodder scattered on the road. Pay attention here, dodge the stuff, try to find a smooth spot and it is about here that it feels i have slowed to a crawl and the distance isn't moving on my power meter. Just ride through it, the feeling will subside, moods oscillate all day, let's ride. There's the turnaround. Head back, bumps continue. Wind in my face out, wind in my face back, perfect. Turn right onto ======. Guess what, yep, wind in my face. Three miles and then back onto 20. Now this is interesting, not only is the wind in my face but those look like hills.....NO......NO.......NO.......Florida is pancake flat. Folks, if your pancakes look like that, don't call me for breakfast. Shut Up And Ride, you baby. Mmmmmm, my left Achilles seems to be tightening up - monitor that. Stop at the aid station and stretch at mile 70 or so, mount up and let's get this done. Feeling pretty good at this point. Make the turn at highway 79 expecting a tailwind, nope. But it is not too bad, just no help either. Turn to the Steelfield Dump, wind across me, turnaround, wind across on the way back too. Drop back onto 79, take it back into town, turn on the Beach Road and get blown around as the wind channels through the buildings, be alert here, almost done, don't let anything bad happen now. Look at the calm water in the Gulf, and the breeze in onshore now instead of offshore as it was this morning. At least that explains some of the bike course wind. Bear to the right on Thomas and woohoo there's the dismount line. Thank you, marvelous people for taking my bike. I head to transition.
I feel okay now but I am concerned about my lack of calories. I have taken in less than half of what I expected. I stretch a bit, change into dry comfortable clothes and prepare for what I know will be a long marathon. As I come out of T2 i ask a volunteer to tell Debbie (who was volunteering at the finish line) that I was heading out on the run. This was the only volunteer to let me down - he didn't get word to Debbie - but I believe he tried and was just unable to find her. I worked my run/walk strategy through the first few miles keeping my pace in check and monitoring my Achilles and other ever-present-by-this-point aches, but nothing seemed critical. I got to the park before dark so I got to see the park in the daylight which was good as I had heard it was dark and lonely later in the evening. I was intrigued by the Don't Feed The Wildlife sign until I came upon the alligator sign. A guy beside me said, "don't worry, they move really slow in the cold". HELLO, have you checked my pace. I am moving really slow too. Out of the park and back toward the turnaround I go. Happy to see lights and a few people. Back onto Surf drive - this is a party - and then veer onto Thomas to get down to the turnaround. I would really like to go to the right but i have another lap So out I go, less runners, oh yeah, it's getting late, keep up the pace - you are fine. I can tell I am slowing but only minimally at this point, Achilles is not happy, stomach is not happy, head and heart team up to tell them to Shut Up. I am struggling at the entrance to the park, there are not many other runners, I am wondering just how fast IS a cold alligator, but I keep moving, running a bit, walking more. There's the Ford Inspiration Station - look, there's my name, Debbie says, "hurry up". I laugh and run a bit. About 6.5 miles to go. Let's get this done. You know the next 6 miles, they hurt, period. It hurts to walk, it hurts to run, it just hurts. I run as I can, my Achilles screams, I walk - over and over. Then I see the turn to Surf. This will be over soon. I stop to get a rock out of my shoe that I have enjoyed for about 12 miles. Don't ask why I waited until now. I couldn't tell you, but I am thinking I don't want that rock in my shoe at the finish line. It made sense at the time. I make the two little curves onto Thomas and can see the Alvin's Island that leads to the finish chute. I am beginning to run a bit. Hey, nothing really hurts. There's the finish. Listen to the crowd. High fives on both sides of the chute. I hear I am an Ironman for the second time. Wow, this finish line is heavEN.
Debbie and Taylour catch me. A great moment to share with my wife and daughter. Debbie puts my medal around my neck. An unforgettable moment. Off to food and massage. What a day.
Retrospectively, I had a tough day, no excuses. Just a tough day. Some things didn't work out the way I planned. Having an execution plan is important. Being able to adapt and improvise intelligently is critical.