After completing my first full Ironman in 2012 (Click here for the review) I was pretty confident I would not do another full Ironman (140.6 total miles - 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). The biggest reason was the wear and tear on my hip but a close second was simply due to to the amount of time required in training. Generally, Ironman training is 4-6 months of 12-16 hours per week. That is a huge commitment for anyone with a job and a life outside of fitness and frankly wasn't something I felt like I wanted to deal with again.
In a moment of weakness shortly after Ironman Louisville in 2012 I signed up for Ironman New Orleans 70.3 (half distance Ironman) that was to take place in spring 2013. I had already done three 70.3 Ironman events and mostly enjoyed them and who doesn't love a trip to New Orleans, especially since my wife would actually want to go. Despite another crappy swim, I was very happy with my results there (Click here for the review). Still, I had no sight set on another full distance event.
I did a couple local short distance triathlons after IM New Orleans and then over the winter suffered through a bad IT band injury and the subsequently plantar fasciitis, which killed my 2014 triathlon season. I did ZERO triathlons that year and no races after the Outback in the Ozarks 200 Mile Relay, which was one of the most enjoyable events I've ever done. I simply tried to get healed, which never happened.
For some reason later in the year I started getting the Ironman itch. I wanted to do another full Ironman and break 12 hours and have a fast (for me) bike leg. IM Florida and Arizona both fit the bill but they are both always in the middle of football season. The Razorback football schedule for 2015 came out in October 2014 and when I looked at the dates, both Florida and Arizona were feasible. I went back and forth in my mind, did tons of research on both races and eventually settled on Florida, though Arizona would've been perfectly fine.
For a number of years both Florida and Arizona have sold out of registrations within minutes of opening. The reason is that both races are flat and fast compared to most other Ironman races. Because of this I was prepped and ready to get my details entered into the web screen quickly and click the submit button with my payment shortly after the registration went online.
I was very fast and got successfully registered for Florida within a few seconds. As it turns out Florida registration was open for several hours before selling out. This apparently was due to new (and changed date in the case of Lousville) races in the southeastern US in the same timeframe, so the demand for Florida has decreased. As info, Chattanooga, Maryland, and Louisville (not a new race but moved from August to October), are the new competing races. All of these are within 5-6 weeks of each other and all within similar geographies.
Anyway, I got registered and paid so I was committed. I did have a bit of buyer's remorse but was also excited because it was in a place I haven't been (Panama City Beach) and it should theoretically be a faster race for me.
Unfortunately, the plantar fasciitis I experienced in summer of 2014 still plagued me well into 2015. I never really felt better until summer 2015 so I was finally able to start getting in some longer mileage weeks which happened to coincide with the beginning of my Ironman training plan.
Things were going pretty well until late July when I experienced some severe hip pain during a run. This pain was on my right side which is the side of my artificial hip. I have a pretty good feel on my hip pain so I know when things are really bad versus nuisances. I knew this pain I experienced was really bad.
I took a few weeks off and then tried to run again. I got a few pain-free runs in but on one run the same pain returned. At this point I was less than three months out from IM Florida. I knew at this point that my hopes for the race were in jeopardy. I decided to totally shut down the running and focus on cycling and swimming.
I did a fairly decent job of focusing on cycling but to be honest I didn't work hard enough on swimming. I hate swimming because I suck at it. I tried some water jogging to help prepare for running but it was pretty fruitless.
Leading up to the race I knew I was just going to try to get through the swim, hammer the bike and run/jog/slog + walk the marathon. I did calculations and knew at worst I could walk the entire marathon and still finish under the maximum 17 hours you are allowed in an Ironman race. We had planned a vacation along with this race so there was no way I was not going to at least attempt the race.
Fast forward to race week and I felt totally unprepared. I had not done a single open water swim outside of a few swims during our July vacation in Aruba. It's a 45 minute drive each way to get to open water swims from where I live which is a pain and I simply did not make the required effort. I should HAVE but did NOT. Totally my own fault.
I also had not done a lot of 5+ hour bike rides. I had done a lot of mileage but more short, intense rides versus longer rides. I wasn't super concerned about that but it was a concern.
And obviously I had no running in the three months leading to the event. What a cluster. No reasonable person would do this but I've rarely been accused of being reasonable.
The trip to PCB was to be about 13.5 hours driving so we broke it up into two days. That's a lot of driving and wasn't good for my legs but it worked out fine. For those who don't know, with an Ironman event you typically have two days to check-in with the second day being two days before the event, so in this case you could check in Wednesday or Thursday for the Saturday race. If you missed the Thursday check-in, sorry, you are not racing. Because of this, in both Ironman events I've done I've made sure to leave plenty of time for stupid stuff to happen. Luckily no unfortunate stuff happened.
I need to setup some of the following commentary. IM Florida has ALWAYS been what's called a "wetsuit legal" race. By that I mean that the triathlon organization has rules based on water temperatures on when you can and cannot wear wetsuits. This is important to a lot of people because wetsuits help people swim faster than normal and have an added safety feature, because the wetsuits are made of neoprene rubber that keeps you warm and also helps you float and hence swim faster than normal. IM Florida has always been chilly or cold in the morning and evenings so wetsuit legal was never an issue. Until this year.
2015 in November at PCB was unseasonably warm so the water temps during the week were way warmer than normal, not to mention there had been a lot of red tide in the area the previous several weeks. A few days before the race word started getting out that water temps were rising and wetsuit legal was in jeopardy. Panic quickly ensued.
To further clarify, a water temperature over 76.1 degrees is not "wetsuit legal" BUT there is a caveat. As long as the water temperature is below 83.9 degrees but greater than 76.1, you CAN wear a wetsuit but you won't be eligible for awards or for qualification for the world championship triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. This is important because it really only impacts a small percentage of racers. So, even if the temperature was above 76.1 degrees it certainly wouldn't get close to 83, so I could wear a wetsuit but wouldn't be eligible for awards. Well, big frickin' deal. I wasn't going to be eligible for awards regardless so I was going to wear a wetsuit regardless.
Thursday morning before the Saturday race I forced myself into my wetsuit (these things are pretty difficult to put on) and went out for a swim. The water was fairly rough but didn't look too bad from our room balcony. I got in the water and within a few minutes I was really struggling. The water was rougher than I thought. A few minutes later I was really starting to panic. After a short amount of time I had to make my way into shore. I was done. At this point I didn't think I could make it through the race. I was sorely depressed and ready to quit.
Thankfully, my awesome wife was with me and helped talk me off the ledge. I took time to go back to the Expo and found another wetsuit (on sale!) that fit better and made me feel more comfortable. The next morning I swam in the new wetsuit and felt like a different person. Similar rough water but I had no problems. I was finally confident I could finish the swim. I didn't realize my old wetsuit fit so bad but it did and was restricting me so much I could barely move in it, which assisted in my panic.
On to race day. Pre-race was pretty uneventful except I forgot to get my GPS tracking device on my bike so my wife could track me. I did all this meticulous planning and screwed up the most basic thing.
The swim corral was a mess. The non-wetsuit wearers went first (about 1600 people) and then 10 minutes later the rest of us (800+) went. We were packed in like sardines but once we crossed the start line the real chaos began. The surf was very rough. Waves were 3-4 feet tall at least and we all had to try to work through those before we could even start swimming.
I finally got started and was pretty relaxed but I (and many of us) got beat up like a boxer. Hands, feet, legs, head were all getting hit. It was a melee. Roughest swim I've been in. Took forever to get some actual open water to swim in. This is the main reason I hate open water swims. 1) people are jerks and 2) you can easily die.
IM Florida is two laps. You actually get out of the water for a few feet on the beach and then go back in. THIS, I liked. REAL swimmers probably don't care for it but as a crappy swimmer, I was all for it. After my first lap I was ahead (time wise) of any of my half Ironman swims so I was really happy. The second half of the swim was less brutal, though I still got beat up some.
I came out of the water in 1:27 and was ecstatic. My time was below average as a whole but was 15+ minutes faster than my Louisville time and I was so happy to be out of the slugfest.
Transition to the bike was fairly uneventful. Getting on the bike and out on the course was a bit frustrating due to the crowd and the stupid jerk who thought he was faster than me bitching about getting around people. I dropped that guy pretty quick and never heard from him again. I wish I could find him and have a conversation about how fast he WASN'T but pretended to be.
The bike course is almost all flat with a few small inclines. I thought I would enjoy this more than hills but I'm not so sure. With hills you get intense work followed by small rests. With a flat course it is intense work the entire day. That's a long 5+ hours.
A big knock on IM Florida is the bike course lends itself to drafting on the bike - many riders following closely to other riders, getting an advantage - similar to NASCAR drafting. This is ILLEGAL in Ironman triathlon. You are not allowed to draft off other people but it happens a lot, anyway. IM Florida is notorious for it because of the flat nature of the course and people being bunched up. I found myself, as a better-than-average cyclist, constantly battling this. I was passing people most of my race and didn't get into a groove until nearly four hours into the race.
For the first 80 mile we seemed to be fighting a headwind no matter which way we turned. Such is Florida weather. Finally at mile 82 we got a tailwind for about 12 miles. It was GLORIOUS. And then the rain started. Luckily it only last for a few miles. The last 10 miles or so were easy, though I did have to work past quite a few people who seemed to have pretty much shut down before the run.
I got to the run and had no idea what was to come. I tried to start running but within half a mile my hip was already hurting. I knew at that point it was going to be a long day. I just had to work through and somehow get finished.
I decided to try to be methodical. I'd run .2 miles and then walk .1 mile and repeat. When that didn't work I'd do time instead of distance. Run 2 minutes and walk 1 minute. I just kept doing these types of intervals over and over trying to get through.
Nearing the half-way point of the marathon I finally spotted my amazing wife. Words cannot express how happy I was to see her. With my GPS mishap I figured I wouldn't get to see her on the course. Thankfully, she is more awesome than me and she found me. She really is incredible and seeing her meant the world to me.
I got through the half-way point and she walked/jogged/talked with me for a couple miles. This helped me immensely. At about 10 miles left I said goodbye to her and began my final journey as darkness fell.
My pain gradually got worse but I tried to continue as I had done. My intervals got shorter because the pain got worse. With around 6 miles left it was fully dark and a lot of people were walking. The high temp and humidity had taken a toll on a lot of people. I've never seen so many people throwing up at a race. Taking on extra fluids while trying to run is not a good mix.
At about two miles remaining to the finish my Garmin's battery ran out. My lifeblood simply quit on me. Well, hell, I thought. It was all "feel" from there.
When I reached the last mile or so the crowds began to grow and I began to see many more racers trying to finish. I was determined to run across the finish line no matter what.
Even within that last mile I had to walk a little bit but was able to finish strong. Such a great feeling to cross that finish line.
My first Ironman at Louisville I felt like I left a lot on the course. I just didn't feel like I had left it all on the course and could've done a lot better. With this race, I knew I had done all my legs could do. I wasn't out of breath but I couldn't move much more.
In the end I was just a few minutes slower than Ironman Louisville in 2012 even with walking a good part of the marathon. I'm certainly happy about that but left with a big "what if."
Swim - 1:27:27 (2:15/100m)
T1 - 11:16
Bike - 5:30:04 (20.4 mph)
T2 - 8:23
Run - 5:07:32 (11:32/mi)
TOTAL 12:24:42 [Place Overall/Div 667/2418 and 143/376]
Two weeks post-race as I write this I don't know what's ahead. I thought I'd never do another full Ironman again but who knows? If I can get back in healthy running shape I would consider it but for now I want to enjoy fitness for a while instead of being a slave to it.
This was a great and challenging adventure, both disappointing and satisfying. Upward and onward. Thanks to the Lord.