I’m finally getting around to documenting my Ironman Florida adventures. There were a few obstacles along the way as is usually the case when you schedule a race a year in advance. I completed my first Boston Marathon this last April, and if not for the horrific action of a couple (at least) fanatics, I would be overjoyed by this accomplishment. The first few months of 2013 were thus devoted to this endeavor. As a result, my swim and bike volume suffered. I competed in the Gulf Coast Half Triathlon in May, but was not terribly prepared. Nevertheless, I wanted to race as the course shares parts of Ironman Florida.
So, I finally started my Ironman build-up in June. Soon afterward I developed a mild pneumonia. I was not terribly sick but had a bad cough and pleuritic chest pain which made breathing painful. Lesson to self: respect the immune system. My training was poorly effective for a couple of weeks, but I recovered quickly and had a solid July. Fortunately, I have a few years of endurance in my legs to rely on.
The next couple of months were uneventful until my powermeter crapped out. The Quarq SRAM Red PM started dropping cadence/power a little initially, then completely. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to cooperate even after changing batteries, reattaching the magnet, and trying a different head unit. This, of course, gave me no objective data regarding my bike training. Hard to know you’re hitting your training zones if you can’t see them. It will be sent back to SRAM soon.
Training and especially racing with a powermeter is very important to me. Knowing my zones helped me train more effectively and race smarter, especially longer distances. As you know, it’s all about the run. “Bike for show, Run for dough”; to use a golf adage. I was in a small panic at this point. I don’t have the Ironman distance experience to race by feel yet. So I decided to pony up my year-end bonus towards the new Garmin vector pedal-based powermeter.
I won’t bore you with a product review at this time but needless to say, this system requires some fine tuning and calibration to work accurately. I discovered quite early that I was not going to get the same power numbers as my Quarq. Even after setting up and torquing the pedals to spec., the numbers still seemed to be off by +/-5%. Imagine hitting 200watts for a ride, then having to watch the numbers hover around 180/190 for the same effort. I lost the benchmarks that I trusted for the last 16 months. Now, try to absorb that in the 8 weeks prior to an Ironman.
Most of the family had other committments when Ironman week came around. My two boys had sports-related Tourneys and that left my wife as the taxi service. It ended up fine as I was able to take my college-applying daughter to visit Troy University on our way to the beach. My Number #1 cheerleading big Sis was also coming from Arizona to support!
We got to the beach, picked up my registration packet, and unpacked into the condo. Wednesday was a good day to arrive at the race site. The packet-pickup took only 10 quick minutes to sign all the waivers and pick-up my prized official IM Florida Backpack. The backpack is cheaply made but it’s cool nonetheless.
View from our 8th floor condo was not bad either. We stayed at the Shores of Panama. The 2 bedroom condo was nice, although the mattresses were a tad too soft for my taste. We booked through vrbo.com and Emerald Destinations was our go-between. It was very smooth without any hiccups.
It was cloudy and windy Thursday as got up early for a practice swim. There were 4-5 ft swells with moderate breakers out 40 yards. I wetsuit-up and managed a meandering 15 min swim against the current before turning around and body surfing back to shore. I figured race day couldn’t be any worse than that. Got back to the condo and my daughter and I drove down the coast to pick up my sister.
Thursday afternoon, I took the Black Mamba down to tech services. I was having trouble getting the front and rear derailleur finely adjusted. Thank-you to Inside-Out Sports bike mechanics. They had me shifting well by Friday morning. I went out for a shake-out ride to enjoy the 30mph gusty winds. It was quite entertaining. Going out east towards the state park, I was hammering at 15mph and trying not to fall off my bike. Turned around west, I ran out of gears going 35mph. But the main concern was the bike mechanicals. Everything seemed to be shifting well. Somehow they accomplished in 10mins what I couldn’t in 3 days. I definitely need a professional bike mechanics course.
I gathered up my T1/T2 bags + bike and set off to bike check-in about 1pm. There was rain in the forecast so I wanted to avoid the deluge. Quite a few bikes were already there, but it would be packed like sardines by the morning.
They had the T1(Bike) bags in the traditional location at back of the east parking lot of Boardwalk Hotel. As you can see, Transition, with all the bikes and porta-johns, takes up much of the east parking lot.
They moved the T2(Run) bags outside this year. They were inside a ballroom last year when I volunteered. Outside seemed a less congested place to spread out all the bags. I double-bagged my T1/T2 bags given the rain in the forecast. Hoping everything would stay dry.
Bags and bike tucked in, I proceed to the couch to do nothing. One regret I have is that I didn’t research places to eat more thoroughly before this trip. We settled on Carrabba’s Itailian Grill and got there around 4:30pm. Apparently, every other race participant had the same idea. After 30 minutes of waiting, we left and hit up Zaxby’s nearer the condo. Noone in line; Noone in the restaurant except for one other Ironman guy. He seemed to have a tattoo for every race he’d done covering most of his legs. I carbed up on texas toast and fries. Nutritional benefit poor, Mood enhancing excellent.
I set my alarm for 3:30am but my eyes popped open at 3:20am. Early start to the day. Some coffee, oatmeal, and an Ensure later, I was satisfied. My sister got up early to walk with me down to transition. Thanks Sis!!! I got body-marked, dropped my special needs bags off, and went to tidy up my bike. Nutrition bottles on bike, tires aired up, and Vector pedals calibrated (maybe?!). I revisited my T1 and T2 bags to un-double-bag them. It worked well. Everything was dry though it had rained a fair amount. Next was a few trips to Porta-John, and I declared myself ready to race. A recommendation to participants: Enter the beach via the transition area. I walked around to the other side with my sister and it was a madhouse getting to the beach. I got into my wetsuit and eventually the water to stretch a little; then out to watch the men and women pro waves start.
The new SwimSmart Initiative that WTC instituted is a step in the right direction. For example, the Ironman Florida swim start was still a mass start but the field was spread west down the beach based on self-seeded swim finish times. The fastest swimmers (<60mins) were straight at the buoy line, then the next 10min interval to the right of them, and so on. But basically it turned out the same way every Ironman Florida swims were with a wide line of swimmers starting at once. Most slower swimmers or those wishing to avoid heavy contact usually start wide right of the buoy line anyway.
I seeded myself in the 1:10-1:15 group, 3-4 rows back. My time prediction based on previous oceans swims here was in the 1:13-1:17 range. Would be happy with something faster, but I had accepted my history. Sadly, my open water ocean swim times are poor compared to open water lake swims. I haven’t quite figured out why but I have some thoughts.
It didn’t take too long for the gun to sound and off we went. Mass swim start with 2800+ people: quite an experience. It reminded me of the Marine Corp Marathon I ran a few years back. Due to the sheer number of people, it took about a mile to run faster than a slow jog. Anyway, we basically all walked through several of the breakers before there was room to swim. There was lots of contact through the entire first loop. I got kicked at some point, flipped over to adjust my goggles, and kept swimming. Didn’t realize the small bruise above my eyebrow until the next day. The contact was not an issue for me. Growing up playing soccer, gets you immune to a little pushing and tugging. There was a strong west-east current that pushed us towards and inside the buoy line going out. We had to redirect towards the red turn buoy. The first loop seemed to take a while but I exited in 35 mins. Nice draft effect, because my perceived effort was low.
I made my way back into the water after the short beach run, but could tell it was already spread out. So much for the draft effect. In retrospect, I realize that I avoided the draft lanes too much during the second loop. I relish clean water, but with the ocean currents, it really benefits you to draft as much as possible. It was a good lesson to re-learn. I’ll be looking to grab some feet at all of my future triathlons. The second loop took a pedestrian 40+mins. Pretty poor, IMO. I hit the timing mat over 1:16. Overall, the time was Ok,and perhaps I saved a little energy for the rest of the day.
I skipped the wetsuit strippers, as I can do this quicker, and you get sand-coated lying down on those mats. The bad thing about my swim time is that it’s a common swim time. There were tons of people exiting the swim and trying to get there T1 bags at the same time. Despite yelling my bib # multiple times, I had no volunteer help. Trying to keep my cool, I filtered through the rows of bags until I found mine and ran off to changing room. Standing room only again. IM Lousville was a ghost town compared to this race.
My T1 time was slow due to all these delays: 8 mins. Same thing happened as I was calling out for my bike. Had to grab it myself even though there appeared to be 3-4 volunteers just standing around. No worries, I was obviously not going to qualify for Kona. Note to self: Swim faster next time and T1 will be less crowded.
I was excited getting on the bike. Since I swam so slow, there would be tons of cyclists to sling-shot around. Nope….I stopped about 10mins in because my right shifter wasn’t working. It is a SRAM RTC-aero shifter and for the last few months it’s been balky. I have to repeatedly depress the lever until it finally engages. A quick look at the front and rear derailleur didn’t show any issues. I quickly did some calculations in my head. Could I ride the entire course in the 53 x 14 gear? Of course, I could! It’s Ironman Florida, not IM Wisconsin. It was certainly better than a DNF. A kind spectator asked if I needed help but I could just imagine the befuddled look on her face if I launched into a diatribe about SRAM mechanicals. I settled for, “No Thanks, I’ll work it out.” Luckily, after I got riding again, the shifters clicked in and everything was good.
This was one during the ride that I borrowed. The resolution is poor, but I can still critique my position. I ride a size L Trek Speed Concept ’13. It’s spec’d with full SRAM Red components. I swapped the Bontrager aerobars ski-bends for an alloy pair of S-bends. They’re more comfortable. I run on Zipp 808 FC carbon clinchers with a rear wheelcover–Continental GP4000s tires. The wheelcover was new this year. I still have the Quarq SRAM Red as my crank and the Garmin Vector PM pedals. A Bell Javelin helmet is on my head with the visor attached. I tape the open tail closed to help aerodynamics… at least in my mind. It’s a very comfortable helmet and the tail lays down well on my back. My position here is for long racing. I could probably get a little lower in front but would lose power without short crankarms. That’s an experiment for the future. I’d love to get in the wind tunnel one day.
Overall, I like this position. I’m a big guy with broad shoulders. Got a lot of frontal drag for the wind. But I still seem to get good speed with lower power numbers. I finished the bike course in 5:25 (actually moving time 5:22), averaging around 20.6mph. My AP=157watts, NP=165watts, VI=1.05, IF=0.62, TSS=204. I’m not sure I believe the power numbers. My race plan was to ride an AP=175-185. My coach thought I could ride safely up to 200 watts. As a rode along, I was making good time, so I stopped looking at the power numbers. The Garmin Vector PM was likely underestimating my true power. My goal anyway was to ride in the 5:20-5:30 range to save my legs for the marathon.
The bike course is flat and fast as advertised. There are a couple of little rollers on the back half but nothing challenging. The challenge is to stay in the aero-position, take in nutrition, and avoid drafting penalties. I seemed to accomplish all these. The temperature was perfect and the wind was not terrible. Only one 4ish mile section of road at special needs was crappy. The rest was smooth. For nutrition, I had 2 one hour bottles on Infinit on my frame from transition and added a gel and salt tablets every hour. I then switched to the on-course Perform and continued the gel/salt combo. I took water when I felt thirsty, but mainly used it to rinse down gels. It worked well, though I think I consumed too much fluid. I had to pee on the bike 5-6 times. But I felt strong on the bike. I never felt out of my comfort zone.
Getting off the bike, my legs were 100% better than IM Lousiville. I still fumbled around in T2 and pee’d one more time. But finally got running.
I took it cautiously for the first few miles but then settled into a 8:30/mile pace. The mile splits were just a little slower as I walked most of the aid stations. Leg cramps started around mile 4. I felt well hydrated but in retrospect was probably slightly hyponatremic. Perform and salt tablets finally kicked in around mile 8 and I had no more cramps for the marathon. I finished the first 13.mi lap in just under 2 hours but could feel the wheels coming off a little. I stopped to walk with my sister at the turn around. I was so glad to see her then. But I think that’s when I mentally shut off. 9 hours into the Ironman and it’s easy to lose focus. I can tell I’m getting closer to that full on race, but it’s still a long day at the office. My nutrition was too sketchy during the second 13.1miles. My legs were dead and I couldn’t fake any freshness to run consistently. The last loop was a run/walk survival. I limped home with a slow 4:51 marathon.
I wanted to finish in the daylight but it was getting dark coming out of the state park and down right black for the last 2 miles. Definitely could have used a light. I was afraid of taking a nose-dive with my marathon-shuffle gait. Carefully with the speed-bumps on Surf Dr on the last 1.5 miles if you’re running at night. Seriously happy to get to the finisher’s chute. I sped up a little to pass two other people so I finished in 900th and something place vs 902nd and something place. Official time was @ 11:51. A little better than IM Louisville but on a much easier course. Lost too much time on the run again.
Had to borrow another pic. I’d order a few if they weren’t as pricey. Another Ironman in the books. Got to celebrate it with my daughter and sister. Thank them for coming along for the ride! It made the weekend more memorable!
And the clock is the countdown to race start. Otherwise, I had a seriously slow Ironman. Next Ironman is in 2015. Hopefully, I’ll get a spot in Arizona. That’s my plan at least. I’ll have to reevaluate if I get shut out. Could still get into IM Texas, Coeur d’Alene, or Chattanooga. Most may still have Foundation/Charity slots open in late November.
Until my next note-worthy race report. Thanks for reading. And if you’re doing IM Florida next year, Good Luck!