So proud of Brad and all his hard work. It all paid off with a stellar performance at Ironman Florida. Beating his goal time by over 30 minutes, Brad rocked his race. Quinn and I enjoyed the beautiful Florida sunshine, powdery white sandy beaches, and cheering on our #1 Ironman.
Race Day 11/5/2011
Jay and I set the alarm for 3:00AM and went to bed just after 9 PM Friday night. Since he had 2 queen beds it made sense for me to not wake-up Maria and Quinn at such an unsightly hour. At 2 AM I was awake in bed and rehearsing the rest of the day in my head. I reviewed my mental checklist of 5 gear bags meticulously packed for the event. I also spent some time seeing myself finish the legs and watching myself transition. Needless to say I wasn’t drifting back to sleep after all the mental exercise.
At last the alarm pronounced 3AM. I arose and started my carefully scripted process…. Body glide, sunscreen, uniform, etc. I started eating soon after I woke and tried to consume 1400 calories by 4AM. With a 33 oz fruit smoothie and 2 pieces of peanut butter/nutella/honey toast, I felt stuffed. This was planned since I don’t have butterflies on race day and I can digest a lot in the next 3 hours. We left the apartment at 4:45 after taking time to relax and triple check our “to-do” lists.
Friday morning had been chilly and windy so we were pleasantly surprised when the temperature was cool with little breeze on race day. We dropped 2 special needs bags off on the way to the transition area. Since the bike and run special needs bags will sit in the sun all day I put in frozen Hammer Sustained Energy and Perpetum
Jay and I entered transition at 5:15. I immediately started to outfit my bike with pre-packed containers and water bottles (see appendix in word version). I then shifted my attention to my tires which, after several attempts, would not inflate. After standing in the tire inflation line, they pumped up the tires to 110#s of pressure. I felt relieved that my bike was ready now when, after about 5 steps, I noticed something was rubbing. I spun the rear wheel – no problems. I picked up the front of the bike and KA-BAM!!! the tube exploded. The announcer had a field day with the blast… “First blowout of the day. Better at 5:30 than 6:30!” – this is true. Bill, on the Ironman staff at the bike tent changed the tube in record time and put me back in business. They were all very friendly which helped put me at ease given I was behind on my mental transition schedule. THANK goodness Jay wanted to get there early.
The transition area was now PACKED full of people. I spent my remaining time putting last minute items in my Bike and Run bags (frozen nutrition, etc). Jay and I donned our wetsuits and passed our “warm clothes” bags to the volunteers. Leaving the transition area was the second most nerve-wracking part of the day. At 6:30 the transition area was closing. Jay, Jake, Tamara, Shawn and I were ready in our wetsuits but there was a traffic jam to get out to the beach. We had gear (air pump, bags with valuables, etc) to give to our friends and family however they wouldn’t let us leave transition area with these. Last minute we were able to hand these across the fence to Jay’s parents Jerry and Sheila and exit. We arrived at the beach at 6:47 only 3 minutes before the pros left. So much for our planned warm-up. L
The excitement and anticipation on the beach was palpable. We watched the pros start and took a quick swim ourselves. Friday the water had been very
choppy with 5 foot waves which zapped a lot of strength to get out to sea. Today was different - the water was calm and smooth! The water felt cold with the cool wind but not unpleasant. After thenational anthem (the first one I’ve done hip deep in water). I re-approached the beach and lined up with the other 2400 athletes. The countdown began with 3 minutes left. I adjusted my swim cap with my Garmin inside, said a few words to Jay, Tamara and Shawn, and waited impatiently. With 1 minute left to go I started my race watch and Garmin (I learned at earlier races that when the gun sounds the roar of the crowd drowns out the beep of my Garmin under my swim cap - best to start it early).
The athletes stretched about 500 meters down the beach to the right of the start. We lined up in the middle ~250 meters to the right of the start and I inched my way to the front of the group to get in a good starting position. The cannon sounded and we tramped into the water. The water felt GREAT!
I kept a fast pace to keep my favorable position. The swim felt good… it wasn’t crowded for the first stretch and time passed quickly. As I moved deeper into the water and started to converge on the first buoy, I met some congestion. Some I swam with, letting them break the ocean. Others had significantly dropped their pace so I swam around them. I started to relax when I could no longer see the bottom. We swam right over the top of a bloom of Jellyfish! It was surreal to be in a race and see these beautiful, albeit dangerous, creatures pulsing underneath us. In attempt to spot jellyfish, I looked ahead of me as I was swimming but all I could see were bubbles from the athlete in front of me. Things were extremely tight as we neared the first turn and someone smacked my goggles. I quickly cleared them as I had done in all the practice drills. I focused on form and the swim seemed to flow past me. I had just turned the corner when I turned it again. Pointing back towards the shore, I stayed wider than I usually do around the buoys to give myself space. Just prior to exiting the water I got into a little skirmish with some fellow swimmers that were allowing people to pass them but it ended relatively quickly. I looked down at my watch 33 minutes… FANTASTIC!
The shore was interesting. I walked quickly over the timing mat and moved into the chute which pointed back towards the water. Trying to keep my HR down I was staying calm amidst the herd of cattle. There was a gentleman crawling on all 4s and I noticed he was an amputee without his leg – AMAZING! I took a cup of water and walked back into the ocean.
Back in the water for the second lap I dolphined though the shallow sections. Starting to the left of the yellow buoys I wasn’t sure if I needed to be on the other side to be on the swim course. In hindsight, I doubt it since we just needed to go around the orange ones at the end of the course – but I wanted to be sure so I steered hard to the right. This time the pack was not in front of me so I drafted off of someone for the first 300 meters but lost her in the crowd. I then resigned myself to long and steady strokes. The salt water and wet suit combo made me so buoyant! Once I made the turn to the left again there wasn’t nearly as much traffic. At one point I thought I was off course since there was nobody around me. I stopped, looked around and realized I on track so I focused ahead. I made the final left hand turn and a few strokes later looked at my watch and made the realization that the swim portion of my Ironman was just about done – hurray! To save time in transition I opted for some in-water relief and let it go. I checked my watch again and it showed 56 minutes – that is FAST.
Getting to the shore I dolphined
the remaining 25 meters and walked up on the beach dazed from the swim. I took to the sand pulling my swim cap and Garmin from my head. It indicated I had a 1:07 swim. I quickly realized that my wristwatch had stopped when I was kicked with approximately 10 minutes left in the swim. I restarted my watch and stumbled onto the wetsuit peelers. I lay on
the mat while they pulled off my wetsuit. Within 15 seconds I was on my way again. I stopped for ~10 seconds to catch a quick shower before hurrying into the transition area. Once in, I had my hands full with all my swim gear and I picked up my bike transition bag AND while I was walking to the changing station I put swimmers ear drops into my ears. Once in the changing station I passed Shawn as he was getting dressed and called out to him. I was a bit shocked since I didn’t really expect to see anyone until the congested portions of the run course. I moved on looking for a quiet spot to put on my bike gear. I opened the bag and put on arm warmers, wind vest, helmet, shoes and socks.
And then, a pang of panic ran through my body when I noticed my Garmin was gone! I frantically looked in my transition bag and on the floor around me. To their disapproval, I pawed through several of my neighbors’ transition spaces, barely hearing their grunts of protest. I’ve been using my Garmin for EVERY training run and bike training for the last 2 years. It is my direction, my pace, my heart monitor, my cadence…. basically my race. To not have it during the biggest race of my life was overwhelming. I thought to retrace my steps back to the beach to find where I lost it. Maybe I’d find it just around the corner, or maybe by the wetsuit peelers? I realized that I wasn’t sure where the timing mats were laid and I didn’t want to double-cross a matt and mess up my time/race… besides there were many more people pouring into the changing room area every second. I made the decision to go on without it though I knew this could mean my race. I left my transition bag and paused long enough to get some sunscreen on my shoulders (I was lobster red after the Racine half and vowed to take a few extra seconds in future races…) I jogged over to my bike, grabbed it and jogged out of the transition area.
Once out on the road I was deeply at a loss. Half of me was dazed from the swim and the other half was in remorse due to the loss of the Garmin. Out of sheer habit I barely pedaled to get my heart rate down. It wasn’t long after this that Shawn passed me on the bike. I assumed that he would early on and didn’t shout to him since I was still mourning the loss of my Garmin. Within 5 minutes Jake passed me as well. After about 20 minutes I started to come to and reassess my situation. At this point I basically thought, “Pope you had the swim of your life, you feel great and you haven’t had any setbacks accept for losing a watch – adopt and commit.” I still wore my “back up” cheapo Timex race watch on my right wrist now about 10 minutes behind the actual race clock due to being stopped in the swim. I kicked in my nutrition plan based on this and started taking in my electrolytes and calories.
Working my nutrition schedule without my Garmin was tricky at first. My reliable friend would inform me every 15 minutes that it was time to eat… akin to my nurturing mother Kristie when I was growing up J
. Without it I had to check my watch often to make sure I was taking in my calories. “Eat at :50
Brad. Eat at :50
Brad. Eat at :50
Brad. Good. Now eat at :05
Brad. Eat at :05
Brad,” and so it went. I needed to take electrolytes about every hour so I decided to take it based on the course since I hoped my pace would be close to 20 mph. So when I passed the even mile markers I’d take my electorytes
… 20, 40, 60… Since I took my second dose of sports legs at 1:20 I decided that every odd :20
was for sports legs for the rest of the day since I was supposed to take 3 every 2 hours so… 3:20, 5:20, 7:20, etc. Red caffeinated shot bloks
were not essential and I took those whenever I needed a boost but no more frequently then every 45 minutes. Lastly and most crucially, I realized earlier in the week that I was very likely missing salt in my diet and Hammer Endurolytes
had some but not enough. I wanted to take 3 salt pills to subsidize my nutrition and carefully placed them throughout the day when I was NOT taking any other pills and was close to an aid station so I could drink 12 ozs
of water to chase them. This was the riskiest part of my nutrition plan since it was the only piece I hadn’t stress tested multiple times.
Since my race plan was based on Heart Rate (HR) zones I also attempted several times to get an accurate HR reading. While in the aero position in the drops, the bumps in the road masked my HR so I couldn’t get an accurate read. I sat up in the saddle and used both hands to get a better HR. On an early attempt a big gust of wind pushed me from the right hand side to the far left hand side of the lane. The rims on the race wheels acted as a sail and really caught the wind! If there would have been a rider passing me I would have caused a wreck. At this point I opted to give up on using my HR. Unable to track my speed, cadence and other “key” measures on the bike but I basically said – you’ve done the training… just listen to your body now. … This is precisely what I did. I waited on the bike to gradually bring my HR up even though I felt like the entire field of athletes was passing me.
On training rides I’d grown quite accustomed to listening to my audio books and being whisked away from the saddle by interesting storylines. In the months leading up to the Ironman I’d been polishing off books at a ravenous pace. Early on in the bike I found myself longing for a book and involuntarily glancing to the place on my wrist where my faithful Garmin should reside. The longer I rode the more I forgot about these things and just enjoyed the scenery and focused on being in the moment. Per coach Chip’s instructions I’d remind myself I was competing in the Florida Ironman and concentrate on how my body felt. I chatted with riders as they passed me though they were quite focused on the road ahead.
On the bike course I also found myself to be very well hydrated. Though I had taken care of business during the swim I still found myself needing to extricate during the bike. By mile 20 I was ready to dismount but there was a line at the Lou. I learned in the pre-race debriefing that if they catch you exposing yourself and not using the facilities you are DQd
. That left me with only one option which I shamelessly repeated on the bike 8 more times during the bike.
At mile 30 I started to pick up the pace. Between mile 30 and 80 I wasn’t afraid to crank. During that time I just listened to my body and tried to keep a solid pace while not overdoing it. About mile 40 my quickened pace started to yield visible results and I started to pass a few people.
At about mile 40 I decided it was time to apply sunscreen to my face. In transition they had only covered my shoulders and neck. While rolling, I took out a little ziplock with sunscreen and started to apply it to my face. Sunglasses made it difficult but eventually I got it done by holding the sunglasses in my mouth.
I was very disappointed with the drafting. There were a couple times where the “Peloton” of riders overtook me. I couldn’t stand it and pushed out in front away from the group. It may have pushed my HR but I’d rather bonk than shamefully draft. Sue, Earnest, Debbie, Karen, Michael, Kevin, Derek and others held their position for miles on end. How are you going to call yourselves IRONMAN when you draft like you do? You may go the distance but you know you are not iron.
At mile 53 I was engulfed by a peloton once more. After less than a minute I needed to break-away and I rode on the far left breaking the centerline. The draft marshal on the other side of the road signaled for me to stay on the correct side of the road. It was frustrating since I only had to veer because everyone was drafting in a pack and covered the entire lane. I was very disappointed in the situation but at least I didn’t get a penalty for doing the lesser of two evils (in my opinion).
At last we were at the turn around that was 56 miles in the course which mentally marked the halfway point and signaled the return trip for me. My legs felt great and it was a stark contrast to the half Ironman events where I was ready to get off the bike by mile forty. On the right hand side of the road a spotter was calling out our race numbers and there were volunteers lined up to get our special needs bags. I pulled over on the side, tore open my bag and pulled out my once frozen bottle of Hammer Sustained Energy. I got a laugh from the volunteer when I looked at the rest of the stuff in my bag and said, “Aw man… I never leave myself anything good” and with that I was back on the road.
It felt good to just let myself ride at a comfortable yet relatively fast pace and start to pass by some of the names/bibs, shapes and bikes I’d made mental notes of in the first 20 miles. Miles were now ticking by. At times I was concerned about how fast I was going not sure of my speed or HR Zone. I quickly let go of those thoughts and just let told myself to “Just ride at a pace I think I can hold.” Occasionally I’d pass someone and ask them how fast we were riding but it seldom helped. “Hi Matthew! Do you know how fast we are going?,” Matthew: “33KM per hour… I’m from Canada.” So I’d approximate and go on.
After mile 70 I passed the best fans in the world. Amanda, Vicki, Jonathan and Rheagan
! They were screaming on the side of the road and eventually drove their vehicle up next to me to say hello! They told me my split for the first leg was 18.3 mph. Good information for a Garminless
boy! Encouraged on by their positive words I spurred on my carbon steed and cantered across the landscape.
My nutrition plan was working well but I started to hate eating after mile 70. There was a lot of burping and gas passing. I didn’t want to eat but knew I had to. I spit up a few times but kept it down and pushed onwards. At Mile 80 my right knee started to ache a little however this was to be expected at that distance. I took 3 Ibuprofen with my Endrolytes and kept up the aggressive pace. Shortly after mile 80 things started to get hard on the bike. While rolling, I took the time to rip open a portable pack of Skin Strong Slather and applied it to sensitive areas that have chafed in the past. Precarious work that. As they say I “embraced the suck”, tucked my head down and focused on getting to mile 100. My biggest concern was that the soreness I was feeling was lactose buildup since I wasn’t sure what HR zone I had been in, but I didn’t think it was. I’ve read and heard everyone gets sore on the bike about this time so I just kept the same pace. There was a three mile out and back on a smooth stretch of road where the second timing belt was placed. I looked forward to completing that stretch so I the rest of the ride would be a straight shot back to the beach. Not long after I did the 180 to complete the spur (Steelfield Rd), Big Jay called out to me on the bike. Despite my aggressive pace and the headwinds on multiple places on the course, he with his 6’7” frame was right behind me! What an athlete! I knew he had an aggressive plan for the marathon and thought he’d surely catch me towards the middle/end of the run. Since I wanted to run with him I’d need to stay in front of him on the bike so I could ease into the run. Back on the highway after the spur it wasn’t long until we were riding up the largest 138ft hill that took the shape of a bridge. It felt great to sit in the saddle and power up it with a high cadence. The Ozarks that make up Bella Vista had over-prepared me for the only real hill on the Florida course J. At the crest of the hill there was the 100 mile mark and I was elated to see it. I cheered with some of the other athletes. I changed my focus to maintain a high cadence now. The field was spread out so I looked for the rider in front of me, caught him/her, then focused on the next rider. I was being VERY careful and babying it when changing gears. Avoiding a breakdown was also running through my head.
At long last I turned the corner to go back into town and into an incredible headwind. I shifted gears to make sure my cadence was high and focused on getting back to the start. With the headwind I tucked down in to the drops and started to pass people. Since you have 20 seconds to make the pass in triathlons I’d come up on each person and spend a few seconds overtaking them then pass. That did help break the wind somewhat. I was very glad I had an aero helmet and that Mike Bitzer let me borrow his zip race wheels. We started passing familiar places I’d visited during the week and I knew I was in the home stretch of the bike… The starbucks in the Wydem where we ordered Jay’s special expressos, the scooter shop we joked about and, at long last, the hotel where we stop!
I was still pushing harder with a high cadence when I wound into the twisting chute. To my surprise 30 feet in front of me I saw Jake dismount! I dismounted as well and someone offered to take my bike – it felt odd doing it since I’d grown so accustomed to racking it. Not one to complain,J
I clip clopped over to the bike to run bags and looked for my bag which peacefully resided in the third row directly underneath the third palm tree from the end. I plucked the bag with the pink ribbon and continued to the changing room. They directed me to the back but I was on a mission to find Jake who was sitting close to the entrance of the changing room. I took the empty seat next to him and casually struck up a conversation. It was VERY cool to be sitting next to him during the race. I called out for some support while I was changing and a gentleman came over and helped me organize my stuff and pack up my soggy bike gear. I quickly donned a fresh pair of socks and running shoes,
threw on my race belt and headed for the door of the changing room. Once again I stopped at the sunscreen station and requested sunscreen to my back, shoulders and face.
Starting the run was an uncomfortable experience. As part of my training this year I’ve done at least 50 bricks (Bike then Run workouts). Running through the chute I started very slow and let my feet and leg muscles adapt to the new movement. The place where my feet had contacted my bike pedals was the most uncomfortable… much more so than during the shorter bricks I did earlier this year. I slowed my pace way down and again, athletes started to pour past. It wasn’t long until Jake and Shawn pulled up next to me. Evidently Shawn was next to Jake in the changing station and I hadn’t realized it! They were running at a faster pace (8:30s) but I kept up for a quarter mile so we could get a picture together. It was very cool to get to run alongside of them for a portion of the race.
After we passed our great friend and family base, Jake and Shawn broke away and I plodded along. I wasn’t sure how fast I was going but tried to pick a slower pace and hit the cruise control button. Over the next 30 – 40 minutes my body transformed from being sore and uncomfortable into running mode. During this time it seemed like half the field passed me again – many of whom I had passed in the bike. I chatted with the volunteers, racers and fans. There were plenty of signs on the course both funny and inspiring. Some favorites were “That is not sweat it’s your fat cells crying”, “Smile if you peed yourself today”, “Naked cheerleaders 1 mile ahead.” There were some crazy fans dancing and cheering. Some dressed in costumes and others just ringing cowbells. There was a lot to take in - I loved it. I danced with the music when it was there and sang when it was not.
I reset my nutrition plan with my trusty watch and planned to take Perpetum
every 15 minutes with electrolytes at the top of every hour. I maintained the sports legs schedule taking 3 every 2 hours. I also took a salt tablet halfway through the run. So far in the day no serious cramping and no hunger pangs based on the diet.
After I passed the first set of timing pads I gradually started to pick up the pace and that is when the marathon started to be really fun. Without a Garmin to give me a pace or a heart rate I just told myself to find a pace that was comfortable that I could hold for and settled into it. I’d occasionally ask a fellow athlete how fast we were going but more often than not the pace was in KM so I resigned myself to not knowing. The run backzigged
through the residential neighborhood and I continued to hold my slightly faster pace. I noticed that I was running low on the Perpetum
and ran out at about mile 10. I substituted shot bloks
for the calories and I was flying high from the caffeine by the time I reached the Whispering Seas hotel and turn where our friends and family waited. It was great to get high fives from everyone and hear the encouraging words.
Just before the turn around there was a spotter calling out numbers for the run special needs bags. I made the turn and they handed me my bag. Though I’d packed plenty of things I only pulled out the Rush Running hat and the now thawed bottle of Perpetum. In my haste to keep moving I realized I was outside of the special needs zone and had to run back a few meters and give my bag to a volunteer.
With that I was off! The last 13 miles are a bit of a blur. I started off through the residential neighborhood in a great mood though laser focused on finishing the race the right way. In the only
other marathon I ran, miles 16 – 22 were incredibly hard… even after I felt great at the halfway point. Needless to say I was anticipating the wall I’d need to push through to pop up anytime. I kept telling myself to hold the pace until mile 20 then I’d reassess. The miles kept ticking by and still no wall. I bumped into Fairy Amanda who snapped a picture and encouraged me onward. Certainly my body was starting to get tired and at mile 16 my left knee started to ache so I took 3 more Ibuprofen and kept the same pace… but no wall. The miles ticked by. On the furthest point in the course I met Jake who was feeling dizzy (he ran the rest after he had some food at an aid station)
When I finally hit mile 20 I was ready to open it up – the point in my race plan where Coach Chip allowed me to turn it on if I had anything left. I realized that it wasn’t just about finishing the Ironman or running without stopping… I wanted to race it. There is so much control and holding back in training -and racing the Ironman itself - was a fire that had been building for the last 3 years. With that I started off at what I think was just north of an 8 minute mile. I was breathing heavy but not tiring. I knew I was building lactic acid and now it was a question of how long I could hold this speed before cramping started or my body shut down. The long hours of biking and running in the early morning runs while the world slept, the hard work in the lake when I was bone tired and the cool downs that I could have cheated on… it was all paying off now in the last 6 miles. The bottom line is that I felt incredible. As I had all day, I passed on everything but water in the aid stations. I started passing a lot of athletes that had passed me earlier. I recognized names, figures, forms, runners. I recognized Brandon who didn’t know how fast he was going since he was running based on heart rate. I passed the guy with the Iceland dry fit shirt who had been doing an aggressive run/walk routine for the better part of the day. I passed Kate who had been doing an excellent job of holding just over a 9 minute pace the whole marathon.
Breathing heavy, I passed an athlete who asked if I was going home. In all the races I’ve run I’ve never heard it called that before… yet is seemed so appropriate. The sun was going down, I’d worked hard all day without stopping and I was going to call it a day… “Yes,” I replied. “I’m going home.” I ran hard for about 2.5 miles and I could feel the start of a cramp beginning in my quads. I weightedthe risk/rewards of continuing (in my past race experiences a race can go from great to terrible from 1 intense cramp). Since I couldn’t afford a cramp I slowed my pace I took 2 more Endurolytes and a couple more Shot Bloks. After a mile at what felt like a 9 minute pace the signs of cramping receded and I could pick it up again. When I reached the 23 mile marker I knew there was only a 5K left which is the cool down distance I ran with most of my workouts. I picked up the pace and started for “home.” With 2 miles left my body felt great again so I cranked it up another notch and held on. At 1 mile left I felt absolutely fantastic. I held the very aggressive pace and ran through the much quieter streets. The sun was now getting very low and the twilight was starting to set in. I passed superfans Thad and Steve, as I made the final corner of the residential neighborhood.
I continued to pick up speed as I left the rest of the course behind. I passed the special needs bags and it felt GREAT to keep running straight past the volunteer directing athletes to turn around for their second lap. I picked up my pace to what seemed like a sprint. I remembered the words of other Ironmen telling me to slow down and enjoy the chute wave to you fans and enjoy the moment you get announced. I made the choice to pick up the speed and go as fast as my body would take me. I passed a couple more athletes in the chute and turned it on. At that moment for me it wasn’t about being announced that I am an Ironman - It was about finishing strong. It was internal… that is how I wanted to remember the event, the marathon the last 6 miles and the finishline
. So that is what I did. Words can’t describe how I felt as I raced across the finish line. Lucid, focused, strong… amazing. I could keep running or I could stop – I could choose. I’ve never felt so fantastic.
Simply a spectacular journey and an amazing race.
Very special thanks to Maria who showed incredible patience and took more than the lion’s share of watching Quinn in the mornings and on the weekends
. I could NOT have participated or done nearly as well without her constant enabling.
Also special thanks to T3 Training Systems – especially Coach Chip. I felt amazingly prepared for the day – without the superior coaching over the past 2 years, I’m convinced I would not have done as well. There was not one point in the race where I felt physically unprepared – a major feat for any coach. Thanks to Big Jay, Tamara, Jake, Shawn and Kris for being fellow athletes at Ironman Florida. I’m glad we were able to experience this together. Special thanks to all the friends and family that came down to cheer us on. It made the day so much more enjoyable.
Labels: IM Florida