WE DID IT!!!
Fresh off the heels of my first full distance race at IRONMAN Florida, my husband keeps telling me that I did such a great job, but in reality there was no I in it. It was all we.
In the lead up to the race, I was hoping that we would have cooler weather. Thankfully, God gave us the most perfect, bright, and sunshiny day to kick things off. 50 degrees at the race start. Oddly enough, when I woke up at 3:50 am on race morning, I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t anxious as we walked hand in hand to transition, nor when I put on my wetsuit to go into the start corral. I think it was for a few reasons.
First, I knew I was completely prepared. I’m a great swimmer and can knock out a century on the bike, no problem. The only unknown variable was the marathon, because my longest training run prior to the race was 20 miles. However, that workout went so well that I knew, without a doubt, that I could run 26. I was just hoping that my stomach would agree since I did get sick during both of my 70.3 races this year, something that had never happened before and was surprising and frustrating to say the least.
Second, I’m made for this type of all-day, zone 2 type of racing. Although I might not be the fastest in a sprint, or able to hold high power on the bike, I can swim, bike, and run all day long, which is exactly what I needed to do at IRONMAN Florida. One of husband’s nicknames for me is Diesel, because it takes me a while to get warmed up.
This is my fifth year of doing triathlon (crazy!) and I’ve done six 70.3 races (also crazy!) As soon as you finish your first 70.3, even before you have time to celebrate, the first question some (mostly) well-meaning person will ask is, “So, when are you going to do an IRONMAN?” My answer has always been, “When I decide I want to do one.”
The thing is, you don’t have to do an IRONMAN to be a triathlete. I have plenty of friends who focus on sprints, because that’s what they’re good at and what they enjoy. I always knew I wanted to do an IRONMAN at some point, not for the title, but for the challenge of the distance. But, my plan was always to become skilled at racing the 70.3 distance before stepping up to tackle a new challenge.
IM FL: The Swim
The day before the race, Matt and I did an open water practice where we swam from the swim exit to the turn buoy and back. Once we got past the pier, the current whipped around the corner pretty strong and the waves slapped us in the face quite a bit. I was glad to have practiced in those conditions the day before, so I was prepared that we might encounter something similar on race day. However, when one of our fellow athletes (also a surfer) told us the wind report called for a fairly calm ocean on Saturday morning, I knew the swim would be amazing.
I lined up in the 1:00-1:20 group, not particularly knowing how fast I was going to swim 2.4 miles. But, having done a 3-mile swim in 1:55 a few months ago, I figured that would be pretty close.
The gentleman who was sending athletes into the water two at a time said, “big smile!” and off I went, jogging into the waves. The swim was one of my favorite parts of the race! The water was so cool and refreshing. During every stroke, I could see the sunrise. I love that the water in Panama City is so turquoise and clear, so I could see the sandy bottom all the way out to the end of the pier. Near the start of the first lap, I swam through a small herd of adorable, pinkish jellyfish and tried not to swallow any.
The pro men in their blue swim caps caught us on their second lap right at the turn buoy and it sounded like a freight train coming through. One thing I observed during this swim, and most others, is that you have to watch the male swimmers a bit more than the women. Typically, the men are more likely to swim over top of you, or kick you in the ribs, whereas if you bump a woman, she tends to move off and start swimming a different line. I tried to be mindful of that fact, because I didn’t need any broken ribs or nose during this race.
Honestly, the swim went by pretty fast and, before I knew it, we were out at the Australian swim exit, which involves walking on the beach to start a second lap. I saw Matt and blew him a kiss. I was very glad he’d talked to my coach about the importance of walking the exit, instead of jogging like I normally would. The sand is so deep that if you run, it just saps your strength and spikes your heart rate, for little gain.
During the second lap, I noticed that my wetsuit was chafing my neck a bit. Just part of swimming in saltwater, unfortunately. Once I got out of the swim, I headed over to the wetsuit strippers and jogged to transition. I was so excited to see my coaches and so many of friends who were spectating!
Swim: 1:16:58, 1:47/100, 4,334 yd
In T1, I grabbed my bag and went into the changing tent. Having worn a swimsuit for the swim, I need to dry off and attempt to put on cycling bibs, a jersey, and socks, before grabbing a spare tube, extra bottle of nutrition, and heading off to my bike. Typically, I’m pretty fast in transition, but I knew this wasn’t the day to rush things, so I took my time and made sure I was comfortable and ready to go. I scoped out transition the day before to find visual markers to locate my bike so I knew exactly where it was.
In the months leading up to the race, something that I’d been hearing on repeat from my coaches and friends who had done an IRONMAN before was something to the effect of “It’s a long day. Things are going to happen. Be prepared for that and be able to adjust and move on.” Well, the first weird thing happened right as I got on the bike. I yellow jacket flew out of the bushes and hit my cheek. Then, he landed on my right quad and stung hard. I’m surprised I didn’t swerve because it was so painful. It was sore and swollen until about mile 50, but there was nothing to do but ignore the feeling and move on.
IM FL: The Bike
Overall, the road conditions were pretty excellent and because I had started the swim early, I didn’t have too much traffic. It was mostly just fast men flying by, the type that rarely say “On your left,” so it was another opportunity to be really careful and pay attention. Also, I had two guys pass me on the right, which was fun…
Honestly, I’m surprised that the bike course didn’t have more hills, although there were plenty of false flats that are easy to override unless you’re paying attention to your power meter. Also, it wasn’t as windy as I thought it would be. There were plenty of sections with a great tailwind. However, the worst part of the bike was the out and back stretch from mile 60-70. It was uphill, into the wind, and pretty brutal. I actually stopped at the aid station turn around to dump water on my head and come back to reality a bit.
In order to stay on top of my nutrition, I taped a post it note to my tope tube that has the time markers for when I need to be done with each bottle of nutrition. My schedule was 1:10, 2:20, 3:30, 4:40, and 5:50. One of the worse parts was what the saltwater does to your mouth after swimming in it for over an hour, so in the future I will definitely keep some mints on my bike.
Although it was the most perfect weather on the bike, the temperature did rise throughout the course of the 112-mile ride. I likely should’ve taken in more water, because I got pretty dizzy from mile 70 on. This messed with my vision a bit, and staring at the white line for hours on end wasn’t helping, so I started singing to myself in order to stay focused. Songs on my inner soundtrack consisted of Comin In Hot/Andy Mineo, Three Little Birds/Bob Marley, Till I Collapse/Eminem, and Don’t Worry Be Happy/Bob McFerrin. An odd mix, I know.
I saw some really weird things on the bike course. There was a Santa with a loudspeaker, a guy with a host of Trump signs encouraging us to “Trump that hill,” and a poodle sitting on the roof of a Jeep.
There was a van following a female athlete around for most of the bike course, and a couple would get out at various intervals to cheer her on. They drove up, said I was doing great too, and asked if I needed anything, which was funny. Once we went over the big bridge for the second time, around mile 90, I was getting excited because I started seeing beach signs and knew I was getting close to T2.
Bike- 6:09:19, 18.4 mph
When I race, I don’t look at the time, mph, or splits. Sure, I keep an eye on metrics like heart rate and power to make sure my effort level is correct, but I don’t look at overall time or mph until after a race. So, I was very surprised to see that I biked 18.4 mph for 112 miles and ended up with a century PR!
IM FL: The Run
Once I got off the bike and handed it to a volunteer, I waddled over to pick up my run bag and headed to the changing tent. I remember really wanting to sit down in the shade for a minute to see if I could get the dizziness to go away. I poured water on my head and chatted with a fellow athlete who looked super composed. Her advice was that I was likely low on calories, but I knew it was probably fluid more than anything else.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to run feeling like this, but I figured I’d start out by walking. I walked onto the run course for about a minute or two and decided to take the Zofran I had packed in my hydration belt to see if that might help. It helped right away and soon I felt great. Matt had to look up the mechanism to see why an anti-nausea medicine might help with dizziness, and he discovered that Zofran can be used to treat vertigo, so it likely just kept me upright long enough to start replacing fluids.
To keep my stomach happy, the plan was to take the first 6 miles very easy and run/walk. I ran 4 minutes and then walked for 30 seconds, and I walked the aid stations as well to get ice and water. Riding a century doesn’t normally affect my run legs, and today they felt great, so it was more about trying to be patient and run easy to keep my heart rate as low as possible.
You think about a lot of weird things during the marathon. I tried to focus on reading spectator signs and hotel marquees. I looked at spectators, other athletes, and the weird golf carts blaring loud music. I saw a man doing a live painting on the second lap, which was really fun. I started thinking about getting a cucumber lime Gatorade, a grapefruit, and fettuccine alfredo.
I saw my friend, David, and ran with him for a bit. I met Bailey, who was stationed at a nearby military base. She said she’d done her first sprint triathlon 4 weeks ago “to practice transitions” and this was her first full as well. She looked great and we ran together for a bit. I ran into the lady from the changing tent at the turn around, and she said she was so proud of me!
The worst part of the run, for me, wasn’t mile 20, like everyone says. It was mile 13, mostly because I didn’t want to run that long stretch again! I sat down at special needs for a minute to change out my run bottles and collect my thoughts.
During that second lap, I ran by a lot of people who were walking. It felt crazy to be running with people who were just on their first lap, and I felt bad that they had to do that whole long stretch again, so I tried to be encouraging and tell them to stay strong and steady. One guy fell hard on the road when he tripped over a rock, but he was ok and told us to keep going.
My favorite part was running by our club tent, because I got to see all of my friends and family! My husband, Matt, is the most thoughtful, selfless person and the best Sherpa on the planet. Hands down. He took the best photos of our 12 athletes and monitored the tracker ALL day long, so he could let everyone know when we would be coming by, so they could cheer. I ran by the tent on lap 2 and told my coaches I was feeling a 6 out of 10, and I figured that was pretty good at that point. They thought that was funny.
I knew once I got to the turnaround that I was good because I would get to run home to Matt. Then, a golf cart passed me while playing “I’m Coming Home,” and it was perfect.
Throughout the whole run, my form was great and my splits were super consistent. About mile 25, I’d started to run faster and I saw a lady who said, “Oh, you’re almost done aren’t you!” I laughed, said yes, and hit her power up sign. Then, I saw special needs and pretty much sprinted to the finish. I had a lot energy and was very excited. I think I ran 8’00 for the last .25 mile and got up to 6:37. I don’t remember hearing the announcer call my name, but Matt was there to put on my medal, and I saw my mom and sweet friend, Mariah. I mostly just wanted to sit down.
After the 70.3 World Championship in St. George, I had a little exercise-induced asthma and the same thing happened here. Mostly it’s just a lot of coughing that prevents me from being able to eat or drink. My inhaler was back at the hotel, so I went to the medical tent to get a breathing treatment. They were so nice, gave me Albuterol and two cups of chicken broth, checked my vitals, and wrapped me in one of those silver blankets, which weirdly does keep you warm!
I really wanted to go back to the club tent to cheer on my friends that were finishing their second lap, but Matt nixed that idea pretty quickly and sent me back to the hotel. After a shower, I ate an apple with peanut butter, chocolate milk, some orzo pasta and watched the tracker until 11:45 pm. I was so glad when Matt woke me up and told me that all of our friends made the cut off!
Run- 4:55:58, 11:13
IM FL: The finish, or the beginning…
When I started training for this race, it seemed like it was so far away, but this year has really flown by. I discovered that when you’re training for your first Ironman, people like to tell you how hard it’s going to be. They will often say something like, “You just wait until…” Certainly, it is a lot of hard work and takes dedication, but never sell yourself short. Each individual’s experience is unique and only you know what you’re capable of. Surround yourself with those who support you and believe in your abilities and let go of those who don’t.
A weird thing happened as the race got closer. Historically, I’ve always looked ahead to the next thing, but in the last few weeks before the race, it felt like everything slowed down. I was very present and in the moment. Maybe it’s because I was trying to will time to slow down. It seemed kind of surreal that I was going to do this race, surreal even while I was doing the race, and still now after the race! I suppose it will sink in after a couple of days…
Overall, it was the most beautiful, bright, and colorful day full of happiness and positivity. I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to stay calm, strong, and consistent, while troubleshooting issues and learning a lot along the way.
IM FL 2023: 12:46:13, AG- 15th/45
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