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December 23, 2010

2010 Ironman Florida Race Recap

The race went really well for me. Too well for my wife. Going into it the deal was one and done. Might not be that easy now. . .

I drove over to PCB the Wednesday before. NASTY wet weather when I arrived, but the forecast for Saturday said clear and sunny (but cool).

On Thursday I waited in a super long line to check in and chatted with the fellow in front of me. He has done IMFL 10x, so he had plenty of tips for me. Later that afternoon I drove the bike course with my parents who came over early with me. Miles 50-60 were an out and back on a road full of cracks. Driving along at 60 was bumpy, I was dreading riding the section on a bike at a considerably slower speed.

On Friday I dropped off my bike and transition bags. Did a little work, but for the most part took it easy and relaxed. My wife and girls arrived later that afternoon, as well as my HS buddy Pete Sinelli and his family. Karen arrived with goodies. First was my custom race logo t-shirt for the support crew. Second was my favorite fish tacos from a restaurant in downtown Jacksonville. Eating at the Burrito Gallery every Friday night pretty much became a tradition before the epic Saturday work-outs, so I wasn't messing around with the routine.

Race day started at 0300 with a breakfast of Nutella on bread with Gatorade. Went back to bed and woke up at 0440. Pete dropped Karen and me off near transition around 0515. It was cold! Temps were in the high 30s. I dropped off my special needs bags and was body marked by Gabriel Martinez, a friend from Jacksonville who was volunteering so he could register for next year. A quick check of my bike set-up and I was ready to get inside. Quick trip to the bathroom and then Karen and I just relaxed in the lobby for a while with a couple hundred other nervous athletes. I applied Body Glide to my neck and shoulders and put on some sunscreen, and then slipped into the wetsuit. The crowd starts moving outside around 0630.

On the beach, I am freezing! I wore socks that I could toss and Karen brought a blanket for me to wrap up in. About 5 minutes before the race start, I walk over to the water's edge and line up to the right of the buoys since the current is running east. A little nervous chatter with some folks, but I'm really not super nervous. BOOM! Into the water, walk across a sand bar, and start swimming. An Ironman start is pretty crazy. Unbelievably, I would occasionally find myself in open water but it wouldn't last long. I was kicked, scratched and folks tried to swim up my back. I was kicked once in the groin, and one time when looking up to sight the person in front of me unloaded a powerful kick that almost connected with my nose. I have no doubt it would have broken it. Traffic around the first turn buoy was insane. It looked like a scene from Titanic. Folks were in a very jovial mood as we bobbed in the water waiting for an opening to start swimming again. Shouts of "Woo-hoo! Ironman Florida!" and the like were common. Really felt like I was moving once I made the first turn and on my way to the second turn. Swimming to the shore was pretty snappy as well. Then we had to get out, run up an embankment on the beach where the tide had created a cliff, and across a mat before going out for a second loop. I felt like I was in a herd of cattle on the beach. Took a gel that I had stored in the sleeve of my wetsuit and some water and off for the second loop. Much more room on the second loop, but I could feel a bit of fatigue when swimming parallel to the shore, and then swimming back to shore was the worst. The water was becoming VERY cold. The water temp at the start was 74, but I think all of the churning from the swimmers cycled some of the colder water below up to the surface. I was losing feeling in my arms (Love the sleeveless wetsuit. Hate the sleeveless wetsuit.). Once on shore, I was relieved that was over and ran to T1. Unfortunately, after they peel your wetsuit (in an incredibly cramped area and on sand), you run through a fresh water shower. I was shivering and got through the shower as quickly as possible.

I picked up my bag and ran to the changing tent inside the hotel. It was completely full so I ducked into an adjoining ballroom where a bunch of other guys had also found some space. The downside was no volunteers to help. I really needed one because I couldn't feel my arms, and I had a terrible time trying to get my arm warmers on. And then trying to keep the HR monitor secured around my constricted chest. And pulling my cycling shorts up. Once changed, I ran out and ducked into the portalet. T1 was an absolute disaster! 17 minutes.

At the mount line, folks were busting left and right trying to clip in. I dodged the carnage and was ready to ride. The ride seemed to go by very quickly. There were a few packs on the first long section of the ride heading north and I played leap from with a few guys riding at about the same speed. A little headwind, but nothing terrible. I ate my Clif Bar (240 calories). We turned right in the might metropolis of Ebro to go east and caught a bit of a tailwind. Eleven miles later it was another right turn to head south. Through this section I was flying! Had it in the biggest gear and was just spinning. 24 mph for the 7 mile stretch and the HR was pegged at 138. I took my first gel at this point (2 hours elapsed).

We turned left to head east again for a 10 mile stretch before the bumpy section. About halfway through this portion I came up on a cyclist laying in the middle of the road with his bike on the grass. A volunteer was directing folks around him. He wasn't moving and didn't look good. A few miles up the road, an ambulance passed going in the other direction. Not sure what happened, but his day was over. Was interesting riding the bumpy out and pack and have a chance to see was in front of me. A couple of times I was tempted to ride on the grassy shoulder and avoid the bone jarring surface of this road. We did a 180 and assembled a small pack as a result of the turnaround just in time to pass the penalty tent 50 yards later. We quickly dispersed and picked up special needs bags. I tossed my empty bottle which had contained Hammer Perpetuem (675 calories for the first 2.5 hours) and got my second bottle of Perpetuem. I also had some chocolate chip cookies, Snickers bites and gels in the bag.

We turned right off of the bumpy road on to a 3-maile stretch of pristine blacktop. There was a huge drop followed by a hard left turn. I'm glad I drove the course the day before if nothing more than to know this was coming. The next 20 miles SUCKED. Rolly hills that weren't terribly steep and gave me a chance to get out of the saddle, but the headwind was miserable. I looked down a few times to see 16 or 17 mph. During this part of the ride I ate half of a cookie and immediately my stomach was not happy. Nothing terrible, but I knew I wouldn't be doing that again. Near the end of this stretch I had to stop at a station to pee. No room in the portalets, so guys were irrigating the pine forest behind the station. I felt much better after relieving myself and a quick left to head south towards the end of the bike helped. What helped the most was another terrific tailwind. There was a little dogleg out and back that lowered the average for this 21 mile stretch a little, but I still averaged 21.5 all the way home.

About a mile before T2, I slipped my feet out of my shoes to let my feet get some air and stretch. The fellow I stood behind in line at check-in recommended this and I'm glad I did. It also allowed me to hop off the bike quickly and just run in sock feet vs. the bike shoes.

T2 was less crowded than my T1 experience and I plopped down in a chair and was quickly supported by a volunteer. I chose not to change out of the cycling shorts (Desoto 400-mile shorts, so worth the money!). I had packed my RaceReady running shorts with gels, but decided the compression in the Desoto shorts would help on the run. The pad in the Desotos is not uncomfortable at all on the run and the shorts have built in pockets on the leg and one on the back to store gels, endurolytes, and snickers. I wish I hadn't pre-packed the running shorts with the gels.

A quick pit stop on the way out of T2 and I was feeling great.

As I reflect, I never really felt bad on the run. The first mile was exhilarating. Tons of support including a bunch of friends from Jacksonville. But what I was really looking forward to was seeing my family just past the one mile marker. Unbeknownst to me, the section right before our beach house is an annual tradition where a group of ladies "dress" to motivate. Besides the costumes, they incorporate whips, Christmas lights and a disco ball into their "aid" station. w00t!

I didn't pay a great deal of attention to them however (honestly), because I could see my family. I've been racing for over 7 hours and this is my first real chance to see them. AMAZING. High fives plus hugs and kisses for everyone! The next mile was a blur and around mile 3 I realize I've gone an hour without a gel. I walk through the next aid station to take a water, endurolytes and a gel. On this first loop I would walk briefly through the aid stations to get fluids. The first several aid stations were entertaining. A medieval theme followed by a circus theme certainly lifted the spirits of the participants.

Again, I can't remember feeling like I was struggling at any part of the run. I remember intentionally slowing down to keep the heart rate in check, but never because I was hurting. On the first loop through the state park there was a lady lying in the middle of the road, her sunglasses broken and her face bleeding. Not sure what happened, but I could see support vehicles in the distance rushing towards us. A volunteer was with her, but it was depressing to think her day was over with just under 20 miles left to run. As we headed back towards the finish line, we picked up a slight headwind. Again, the miles flew by and I was back at the beach house to see my family again. More high fives, fist pumping and another kiss for Karen. I would see them again in about 20 minutes as I began my second loop. At the halfway point I picked up my special needs bag. Why did I pack all of this stuff? Socks, a long sleeve shirt, a jacket and gloves. I tied the jacket and shirt around my waist and stuffed the socks up my shorts leg. When I got back to the family I left the jacket and socks and continued with the long sleeve shirt. Once I was in the park again the sun was setting and I decided to take a brisk walk and put the long sleeve shirt on. At this point I was going to comfortably beat my goal.

One quick stop at a portalet at the 20 mile mark and I was cruising towards the finish line. No more stopping at aid stations, I was just grabbing coke to go with my Snickers bites. Nirvana! At the 23 mile mark I was given a glow stick. Many people had discarded their sticks, but I felt like it gave me power. No shame in running with the glow stick when you are about to be an Ironman.

When I reached the beach house for the last time, it was just me and "the naughty girls". My family had already gone to the finish line. There was an incredibly dark section in the last mile but then we pop out on the main drag to neon lights and a view of the finish line.

Those last 200 yards? Indescribable. I still get goose bumps thinking about them. I'm going to be an Ironman!

I was so caught up in thought I forgot to look up and say cheese as I crossed the line. Somehow, both arms instinctively went up in the air to show everyone I broke 12 hours. Strange how the mind works.

After crossing, I was met by a volunteer from Charlotte, NC who came to register for next year's race, his first Ironman. He grabbed a blanket for me, then took me to get my prizes: a medal and a hat. We chatted about the race as we waited for my turn to get a finisher photo. I told him what a great time he's going to have. We said good bye so he could go catch another Ironman.

My next stop was the food tent. Solid food! A piece of pizza and a coke. I was then focused on finding my family in this dark mass of humans. Fortunately, they found me. I have to admit, the reunion with Karen was emotional. We did this race together. I couldn't have done it without a tremendous amount of support, patience and understanding from her.

Then, hugs, kisses and high fives with the rest of the crew. Emily, Maggie, Mom, Dad, Pete, Amy, Mike and Alex.

Later that night, Pete and Mom went to get my reward treat. A sackful of Krystals. Mmmm. Unfortunately, my throat was raw (from breathing through my mouth?) and I could only eat 2. Still so delicious!

We all sat around and talked about the race until about 11. I wanted to go to the finish line to see those finishing before the midnight cut-off, but I would have been alone. At that point everyone had gone to bed, except me. I went out to the street and watched some of the last runners come through with my friend, the "naughty nun".

Many people told me this would be one of the greatest days of my life. They were right.

Check out the photos online:


Awesome post Marshall and congrats. That's a great achievement.

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