In case you’re interested in reading about my experience racing in Ironman Florida this past Saturday, here’s an account of this grueling event!
Ironman Florida is a triathlon held in Panama City (on the Florida panhandle).Â The race consists of a 2.4 mile ocean swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run.Â I dedicated the race to Tom Nabarro, who was paralyzed earlier this year in a snow boarding accident.Â Tom’s brother goes to school with my son, and when I heard about the accident, I started following his progress. Tom is still in the hospital, and his determination to face this devastating challenge has been inspiring — check out his blog at www.tomnabarro.com260.Â Tom completed a degree in engineering and was an intern at Intel last year, prior to the accident. His family is raising funds to build a customized work space for him to continue his engineering projects. If you would like to make a donation, please use the following link: http://tomnabarrofundraiser.chipin.com/tom-nabarro261 (this will be live through the end of November).
My family and I flew from NYC to Panama City on Thursday morning, groggy from waking up at 4:30am the day after a fun-filled Halloween.Â Florida was warmer than New York by a good 20 degrees or so.Â I wore plenty of sunscreen and made up my mind to wear a hat and sunglasses during the race.Â The few days leading up to an Ironman are a spectacle, as the host city swarms with thousands of very fit, anxious people taking care of final race prep.Â There is an “Ironman Village,” which exudes a carnival atmosphere, with vendors selling all manner of triathlon-related paraphernalia.Â It is easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and wear out your legs wandering around, if you’re not careful.
I was able to fall asleep at 9:30pm the night before the race, but I woke up a number of times before the alarm clock went off at 4am.Â I had several anxiety dreams, including one in which I overslept and rushed out of the hotel only to find that the race had already started.Â In another nightmare, I found myself sleeping on the beach as a hurricane blew in, whipping up huge waves that nearly dragged me into the boiling ocean.Â When I finally did wake up, the pre-dawn sky was gorgeous, the ocean calm and inviting.Â It was around 60 degrees and would eventually climb to the mid-70’s by the afternoon with low humidity — the kind of conditions that can lead to a fast race, as long as you don’t make any major mistakes.Â I ate a hearty breakfast and made my way down to the starting area at 5:15, leaving plenty of time to pump up bike tires, put food and drink on my bike, put on a wetsuit and hang out with my sister, Becky, who was volunteering as a body marker.Â She was in high spirits and joked with many of the athletes as she wrote the race number on their arms and legs.
It’s hard to describe the mix of emotions that come with the anticipation of waiting on a beach with 2000+ athletes ready to start an Ironman.Â It was a perfect morning, the pre-dawn sky just starting to brighten over the calm, inviting water of the Gulf of Mexico, the soft sand gently squeaking under foot.Â I had a brief flashback to family vacations I took to Destin and Panama City as a child, playing on this same stretch of beach.Â But it was hard to hold on to that sense of serenity in light of what was to come.Â The swim course consisted of 2 laps of 1.2 miles each around a perpendicular set of buoys, and it is pretty much guaranteed that you will get knocked around in the mass of athletes.Â Over the course of the swim, I was kicked in the goggles, elbowed in the lip, felt hands tugging at my calfs, and even got stung by a jelly fish on my cheek.Â At one point, I thought that I glimpsed the outline of a shark in the deep below, and had a brief, disturbing image of a school of sharks deciding to start a feeding frenzy in the midst of the swimmers.Â Despite being generally roughed up and the irrational shark fears, I felt great and thoroughly enjoyed this part of the race.Â Early on, the sun started to rise over the water, and I switched from breathing on my right side to breathing on my left to keep from being blinded.Â I completed the course in 1:08:35, faster than my goal time of 1:10.Â Upon emerging from the water, I immediately sat down on the sand so that a volunteer could quickly yank off my wetsuit, then ran through a shower to remove some of the sand, and jogged into the transition tent.Â I asked a volunteer (these people are awesome) to put on extra sunblock while I dried off my feet, applied lubricant to my toes, put on my bike shoes & socks, jersey (w/ extra food stuffed in the back pockets), helmet, and sunglasses.Â I had brought along arm warmers and a shell in case it was cold, but it was already warm enough to do without them.Â
As I started the 112-mile bike course, I saw my wife Eiko, my 6-year old son Sho and my 1-year old daughter Saya cheering for me beside the road, which was like getting an instant energy boost.Â I could tell that it was going to be a fast course today: sunny & warm, but not too windy.Â There was a fairly strong headwind in the last hour of the ride, but otherwise, the conditions turned out great.Â I felt comfortable on the bike and settled into a pace around 21 MPH for the first 75 miles or so, keeping my heart rate aerobic and taking in calories & salt tablets every 20 minutes.Â I drank about 24 ounces of either Accelerade or Gatorade Endurance each hour in addition to water.Â I also ate Gu packets and Cliff Shot Bloks, but after the fourth hour or so, I started to get sick of consuming anything but water.Â There was a fairly strong head wind for the final ~20 miles of the ride, and I slowed down in order to keep some strength in my legs for the marathon.Â I finished the course in 5:28:32, well ahead of my goal time of 5:45.Â When I entered the transition area, my sister Becky was waiting for me with my bike-to-run bag already picked out — great to have friends in high places! 🙂
It had long-since turned into a warm, sunny day by the time I started the marathon around 1:45pm, so I did my best to stay hydrated.Â Although my stomach wasn’t feeling great, my legs felt strong throughout the marathon, and I appreciated the many 3-hour training runs leading up to the race.Â The stomach pain made it hard to push the pace, and I walked through most of the aid stations, making sure to drink plenty of Gatorade and water.Â I also ate a couple of oranges, which tasted great.Â The course consisted of 2 x 13.1 mile loops, and at the half-way point, I saw my wife and kids.Â I stopped briefly to give them a kiss, and Saya gave me a big smile and tried to climb into my arms.Â She seemed to say, “there you are, Daddy!Â I’ve been wondering where you’ve been all day!”Â I decided against carrying her for the second half of the race, however, and promised to be back as soon as I could.Â Becky ran along side me for a minute or two, but I didn’t feel like talking — this was when the race was really starting to hurt, and I needed all of my energy to focus on continuing to run.Â There were many spectators along the course, some wearing funny Halloween costumes, which helped keep my spirits up.Â Â I also found myself thinking of Tom a lot as I struggled to keep pushing through the pain.Â His ability to stay positive despite his accident and honestly confront the reality of being paralyzed reminded me of how some people have the ability to rise to meet even the cruelest of challenges.Â I ended up completing the marathon in 3:53:54, a bit slower than my goal time of 3:45.Â Â
As I neared the end of the race, Sho joined me for the final stretch, and we ran across the finish line hand-in-hand.Â I completed the race in 10:43:16, which Sho reminded me was long enough to ensure that we couldn’t do anything fun that day.Â He took pity on me, and promised that the next day would be filled with “nothing but fun.”Â I was happy to oblige.Â I was exhausted and dehydrated (despite my attempts to avoid it), and needed to rest.Â Eiko took care of the kids, while Becky used her official status as a volunteer to stay with me in the medical tent, where I got an intravenous drip.Â After 30 minutes or so, I was feeling much better, and went back to our hotel room.Â The IV clearly did the trick, because Eiko and I came back out later that night to cheer on the finishers in the last 2 hours of the race (from 10pm to midnight).Â It is inspiring to see people who have been out on the course for 16 or 17 hours who refuse to give up.Â We got to watch the oldest finisher in the race, a 78 year-old man, come across the line with only a few minutes to spare before the midnight deadline.Â Â
I would like to make special mention of the effort that my wife, Eiko, and my children, Sho and Saya, put into this race.Â They not only put up with the amount of training that preparing for an Ironman requires, as I disappeared for numerous 7+ hour workouts on the weekends leading up to the event; they spent the entire race day starting at 7am waiting and cheering for me.Â I think that managing a couple of young children while supporting a loved one in an Ironman is nearly as exhausting as doing the race itself, but Eiko made it look easy.Â Not every spouse would put up with the amount of additional stress that I inflicted on Eiko in preparing for this race, and I truly appreciate her willingness to support such a demanding hobby.Â My son Sho dubbed the day after the race as “daddy’s fun day,” since we didn’t get to spend much time enjoying Panama City together before the race.Â Although I wasn’t particularly full of energy, he cheerfully treated me to a round of putt putt golf, shell collecting on the beach, and a trip to the arcade.Â I did have fun, and appreciated the kick in the butt to get off the couch!Â
Finally, my sister Becky drove 8 hours from Nashville, Tennessee to both cheer me on and serve as a volunteer for the race.Â She drove me around the course before hand, helped with last-minute preparations, marked the numbers on my arms and legs before the race, had my transition bag out and ready for me after the bike section, and helped take care of me in the medical tent after the race.Â As I lay curled up in the fetal position with chills on a cot in the medical tent, she rubbed my feet and told me jokes until I was back to normal.Â How awesome is it to have your sister looking out for you in an event like this?Â It sure did feel good.