Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Ironman Florida

I found reading other people's ironman writeups useful, so I hope this can help you prepare for your own swim/bike/run adventure.

Last Saturday my friend Misha and I competed in Ironman Florida. I arrived in Panama City Beach on Wednesday after a weeklong florida vacation. Panama City Beach is rather cold in November, with temperatures in the 40s overnight and 70s during the day. It is also quite windy.

Because of the tight real estate constraints (everything happens on the premises of one resort) the athlete's village is quite small and parking is very limited. I was glad we stayed at a hotel within walking distance. I had used Tribike transportation to ship my bike to the start, and picked it up on Wednesday night. It's really nice to get your bike delivered fully assembled!

On Thursday morning I went for a short bike ride to make sure my bike was completely functional. I rode the first ~22 miles of the course and I got a first taste of the wind on these flat and open roads. I also noticed my crank was loose, crazy how these things happen... There were many people riding their bikes, the proportion of aero wheels is incredibly high (if it was ~50% in 2007 - Arizona it was at least 90% here in Panama city). Also disc wheels became common (~30-40% of bikes) and pretty much everyone was wearing aero helmets. Of course Misha & I had none of these, but we also live in the mission district so we have to keep it real :) I registered and picked up my packet after my bike ride. I also attempted to go swimming in the afternoon but the water was too choppy so I gave up after a few minutes.

On Thursday evening we all went to the Athlete's banquet, a long drawn pep-talk/charity event/athlete's briefing. The room could barely contain the thousands of athletes and their families so it was a real pain for us (baby and super pregnant wife in tow). I know these things are mandatory, but I might skip it next time around.

On Friday I went for a short swim again, then checked in my bike and gear. My son was very excited about dolphins he found in a magazine at the hotel, so we went to see a dolphin show at the local marine world. On our way back I noticed my legs were cramping up for no reason, I blamed it on my poor diet in the last week and of course worried a lot. We had a big pasta dinner in our room at night and went to bed early.

I woke up around 2AM from pre-race excitement. I stayed in bed until 4AM, then got up to eat some oatmeal. I relaxed some more and headed out to the start around 5h15. I checked on my bike and borrowed my neighbors pump to get my tires ready. 5h20AM, nothing more to do. I could have spend another 45 min in bed. I got into my wetsuit around 6h15, then went to the beach to activate my timing chip.

The beach was cold as advertised in other writeups. The water was perfect: the wind had quietened down and there were no waves to speak of. It also felt really warm so I stayed in the water while waiting for the start.

The mass start was even rougher than what I remembered from Arizona. Perhaps because it's a 2-loop thing and the turns are tighter. I was wrestling my way through foreign bodyparts for the full first loop. I did not get punched or kicked in the face too hard, so all in all it was a success. Coming out of the water for the first loop the clock said 45min. What? It turns out it was set on the Pro time so it was actually 35 min, but not knowing that really put me down. The second loop was slightly better in terms of human traffic. Lots of jellyfish (Pink meanies - venomous) could be seen in the beautifully transparent water. I ended up swimming the 2.4 m (4km) in 1h13 min which is good for me given I don't really know how to swim or care to practice that art.

The transition was a mess, mostly because I get out of the water with the bulk of the people. People were going way too slow and some were even stopping in the fresh water showers. I tried not to be too brusk but I did push a few people away. Peeling happens on the beach, so you have sand *everywhere*. There were not enough chairs for everyone in the transition tent, and the whole thing was a zoo. For some reason my biking socks are drenched wet as I take them out of the bag, grr, I don't like the way this is going. This made for a slow-ish T1 time of ~8 min.

My bike was all the way in the back of the racks, so I had quite a bit of jogging to do to reach it in my biking cleats. The temperature after sunrise was not as cold as I had read in other writeups, and I did not put my armwarmers on. The bike out area was too narrow and clogged by a mix of mounted and dismounted riders, probably lost 20 sec in there.

Free at last, zipping along the shoreline on my bike. I am going a lot faster than in Arizona, and I can tell because I keep passing people. You are not supposed to draft, so I end up biking off the main line and pass hundreds of people in the first hour. The wind is pretty bad on our way out so I tuck in low in my aerobars and focus on my form. My watch says I am still way above 20mph (32kmh), so I am not worried just yet. I know the wind will pick up some more during the day.

I see my first crash at the 12-mile aid station. Note to self: stay wide on these.

The bike is going well, my legs are loose and despite the initial headwind I am hovering around 22mph (35.5 kmh). I see quite a bit of drafting, but I also see quite a few people in the penalty tent, so all in all life is fair. I am constantly passing people, I am making great plans to become a faster swimmer. The 100-mile mark is reached well below 5 hours, I am very pleased with myself and start to relax my back in preparation for the marathon. My final split is 5h23 (21mph or 33.5kmh average speed). Mission accomplished.

Nutrition: I had decided I am not going to use any "hydration system" instead solely relying on the single bottle cage my cervelo carries. This ended up working perfectly fine, I swapped bottles every 20 miles (missing only one aid station and going thirsty for 10 miles). I had packed 3 granola bars (18-rabbits) and 3 protein bars (cliff) and I forced myself to eat one every 30 min. Along with the perform bottles I believe I took in 2000 calories on the ride. Not great but that's really as much as I could do without throwing up.

The marathon is my leg (I am a runner). I get in and out of transition fast (~5 min including a potty stop). My legs feel springy and fast, and I blow by the first couple of miles well below 6h30 min/miles. I very much enjoy professionals (in their second loop) asking me whether I am a pro as I fly past them (they do this to decide whether they should chase me). I feel great, I go a lot faster than everyone else on the course at that time, passing hundreds of people. The course has quite a few turns and goes over curbs and bumps, so it does not lend itself to speed that well but then again: speed is a relative concept at this stage of the race. I get to the half marathon mark well below 1h30, and I get a glimpse of Maureen who came to support us at the turnaround point. At this point I am pretty certain I'll easily beat 3 hours on the marathon. Life is good.

On mile 16 I get my first warning shot: my left calf cramps up. I am limping along trying to loosen it up when my right leg joins the cramping fun. I have a short debate with myself whether I should take my chances and gun it for 9 more miles (risking a complete blow out and abandon) or cash in on my performance so far and just bring it home safely. Reason wins and I force myself to slow down to 8 min/miles. Like clockwork I cramp up every 0.5 miles until the finish line. 3h17 marathon, better than DNF. The clock says 10h09min when I hear the words: "Cedric, you are an ironman". I could not have wished for a better race.

Best of all: Misha also had a phenomenal race, which he wrote up here.

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