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First Ironman

 

 

Great Floridian Triathlon, 1998

Prologue: Saturday 25th April, 1998. Five days after the Boston Marathon, and the first day of training for my first Ironman, the Great Floridian Triathlon, to be held in Clermont Florida on 24th October, 1998. I went out for an easy 2-hour spin on the bike with a friend from work. I could still feel Heartbreak Hill in my legs, and Mike had no trouble dropping me on even tiny climbs...

Great Floridian Triathlon, Clermont, FL, 24/10/98: It was strange...I started tapering for the race three weeks before, and felt rotten for the first two of the taper. At first I thought I was sick, but it never went anywhere and by the last week I felt better. That was only about 3-4 hours planned training anyway, almost nothing, and I ended up doing even less than that because of scheduling conflicts. My last workout was a 45-minute bike ride on the Wednesday afternoon, and heading back home I broke a spoke. (I was riding on my racing wheel as I had already set the bike up in preparation for the flight). Hell! I got home and immediately phoned MB up and she got me onto Fabio at Wheelworks. Over to WW, sorted out the wheel and then I boxed the bike and flew to Florida first thing the next morning. Believe it or not, on the plane they managed to break another spoke in the same wheel! I was a bit worried about all the bad karma that seemed to be coming down, but got it fixed Friday morning, and spent the rest of Friday getting ready for the race-bike together and working smoothly, bag for running stuff, bag for cycling stuff, bag for cycling "special needs" (food to be handed off at the checkpoint about 64 miles into the ride) and run "special needs" (for me, spare socks and warm clothes in case it got cold before I finished, and a spare pair of glasses in case I was still going when it got dark. I hoped to avoid using the run SN bag at all if possible). Pasta and to bed early. Got up at about 5,after not having really slept and horrified everyone by having bacon and eggs for breakfast (here we are at the toughest race going, everyone's nervously nibbling away at vitamin-laden powerbars and cereal, except for Steve, chowing into a cholesterol special...). The starting area was just like Ironman footage on TV, pitch-black nighttime, with everyone in their tracksuits pumping up their tyres and queuing for the portabogs under the floods. Oddly, and unusually for me, I wasn't that nervous. I felt very calm and neutral, probably because I had thought about this thing and prepared for it for so long, it was almost an anticlimax now we were here. The sun rose only 20-30 minutes before the start of the race. We all wore velcro ankle bracelets with champion chips on them to clock us through each point in the race. A girl from the local high school sang the USA National Anthem, and then it was 2 minutes to the start...1 minute....cannon, and we were off! I waded out about 30 yards to the arch and then began swimming. There was a row of yellow buoys marking the outward leg, a little over a mile into the middle of clear and beautiful Lake Mineola, then one turned left, swam an eighth of a mile and back along a row of red buoys to the beach. It was a mass start, as is traditional for the Ironman distance and with over 1000 athletes I got batted about a lot more than usual. A man smacked me on the goggles and politely apologised, another woman looked affronted when I pushed her off as she (apparently) tried to drown me by holding my head under water. I started conservatively far back as I'm a slow swimmer, and took 41 minutes to get to the turnaround. On the way back, the sun was almost directly in one's face, and was barely above the horizon, so I couldn't see the bouys...I navigated by the positions of the other swimmers and the location of the sun's glare in my goggles (top left of my left eyepiece) and reached land in 1 hour 30 minutes and change (I'd guessed 90 minutes, so dead-on!). Immediately stripping off my wetsuit as I ran, grabbed my bag from the hook and into the tent. I was surprised at how many were still there. My glasses kept steaming up as I changed, and then a pitstop at the portables made for a somewhat overly-leisurely Transition 1. In the end somewhere around 1:41 on the clock for the swim and T1 in total. The first 35 miles or so of the bike was short, rolling and often steep hills, through open fields and what looked a bit like British heathland. Very nice. Weather was mid-70s farenheit, with clouds and the odd spitterspatter of rain. I went well in the hills, and was looking forward to picking it up once we reached the flats, aiming for 5:30 or so (about 20 mph average) final on the bike...but not to be! There were strong winds all day, never with us after about mile 50 or so, and I couldn't capitalise on the level terrain. A lot of the time around miles 60-85 or so I was doing about 18 mph, and once we got back to the hills at about mile 90-95, there were a couple of points where I was grinding uphill into the wind at 7-8 mph! In the end, I recorded 6:06 (18.4 mph average) for the bike, but given the conditions I'll take it. I drank a lot on the ride to avoid becoming dehydrated at marathon-time, but didn't feel much like eating. Had a couple of bags of salt'n'vinegar crisps, 3 gels & a few fig newtons, but after taking 40 miles to eat half a Clif bar threw the rest away and didn't touch any more energy bars or the sandwich in my special needs bag. I'd made a big bottle of concentrated Gatorade syrup, and squeezed a bit into my HED aero drink system together with the water they handed off on the course. Doing this once, the top came off, so that a third of the syrup landed in the aerobottle and all over the front of the bike! My hydration was now undrinkable, which was bad as once the HED is in it is in: the gear cables are so tight that you have to take off the shifting system to move the bottle, so I couldn't just tip it upside down to get the stuff out, and my computer had choked and wasn't registering to boot, being drowned in thick sugar solution...disaster. What to do? Keeping about 20.5 mph and staying in the aeroposition, I unclipped the computer, sucked it clean, dried it and the mounting with my cycling jersey and then clipped it back in to get it working again. OK, good...now I just had to remember to add 2 miles to its reading to know where I was, no problem. I then took the aero drink system's straw, sucked up some syrup, stopped the top and then held it down below the handlebars-it worked like a syphon and I was able to drain the stuff out of the bottle and top it up with more water to get the hydration back. Almost slick, except for the fact that a really slick dude wouldn't have had to do it in the first place. Oh well... Anyway, after the bike comes the marathon. This transition was totally different-I glided in, handed off my bike (now there's service for you-just get off the bike which a volunteer racks for you, while another one hands you your run bag as you run for the tent!), and just emptied the entire bag onto the floor as soon as I was inside-stripped, changed and back on the road in under 4 minutes. The first 3 miles of the run was basically a long uphill drag (now fairly sunny) up to a checkpoint and then back down, to be followed by 3 laps of about 7 miles each around the lake. On the last one, you turned off to the right and ran into town to finish. I ran almost all of the uphill except for a short stretch on the very steepest bit. I was doing about 9 minutes/mile, which seemed to be stable whether going up, down or running on the level. I saw Anthony and Jay coming down the hill as I was running up, and Mary-Beth on my way back down. I'd seen no-one I knew on the bike leg, so thought I was still at the back of our little group-in the end, it turned out that I'd managed to pass several people, all while they were hiding in the bushes! I got onto the flats and got into a rhythm: constantly swigging gatorade from my bottles. I'm now the proud owner of a thing called the "Fuelbelt", an elastic belt that has holsters for 4 tiny little flasks, each holding about 5 fl oz, which you can wear while running and it doesn't bounce around. It's basically the same as the one Thomas Hellriegel wore when he won Ironman Hawaii in 1997, except that somehow I don't go as fast as him when I'm wearing mine. I had two bottles filled with high-strength syrup again, and I charged the other two with water from the aid stations and converted them with a squoosh of the syrup. Gu every 30 minutes, 200mg Ibuprofen every 50 minutes. Cranking out 9 minute miles until about mile 15, when I had a shooting cramp in the right calf-hurt, but I ignored it. 10 steps later, the left one went and I stopped-I had to. If the cramp hadn't stopped when I did, I'd have fallen over crying like a kid, it was that bad. I stretched, and looked at my watch: 10:36 Race Time. I decided to walk and stretch until 10:40, and see what happened. I set off at a brisk"power walk", stretching whenever I reached a bollard or lampost, and thought. I decided that I was still properly hydrated, and hadn't bonked, but probably the old neuromuscular chemistry was beginning to lose it due to the long nature of the event. I'd tried changing to coke but it didn't agree with my stomach at all-too acid I think. I decided to change to Race Day, which contains choline as well as carbohydrates. Acetylcholine is the transmitter that carries signals from nerves to muscles, and I thought that it might be depletion that was causing the cramps. The other possibility was salt, so I started drinking the chicken broth when I could get it, and taking pretzels, sucking them to get the salt off and then spitting them out again. I got running again, but slowed to a walk through each aid station to get broth, pretzels, Race Day, orange slices and cookies. I took cookies from about mile 22 or so, quite late. I don't normally eat solid food on runs, but I got sick of Gu after about 2 hours, and pretty much all the rules break down in the Ironman distance it seems: the cookies went down brilliantly. It got dark during my last lap, as I reached the 18-20 mile point. Volunteers issued glow sticks which people looped around their necks (or in my case, ankle) as they ran. It was a quiet and eerie sight, to be running in almost perfect darkness with these pale green loops of light of the other racers up ahead bobbing through the gloom. I chatted with a woman from Argentina, and gave her a cookie, and a bloke from somewhere in the Midwest of America. I finally got to take the right-hand turn back to town instead of continuing on another lap of the lake and then I was turning into Montrose street and could see the finish line. My calf gave a last warning twinge, so I stopped by a car, stretched it and ran the last 25 metres and through the line to become an ironman! Marathon time was 4:17, almost dead on an hour slower than my Boston time. I was a bit spaced as volunteers offered me a choice of medical attention, massage or food, but decided to go with the junk food, and felt better after eating pizza and drinking coke, and walking around slowly. I went to the medical tent to see if anyone was there, and found Anthony in a really bad way not being attended to by anyone, so collared a nurse for him and took his stuff. Mary Beth, Amy and Jennie came in, Rick set up his table right there on the pavement and gave us massages before we drove home in the "Party Van" (our utterly-brilliant hired 16-seater van) and went to bed. We were all so wired though, that by 5 the next morning we were all sitting up and talking about our experiences and eating cold pizza! We went to wake up the other house at 6, but they were all up too, so we went for breakfast at a diner, proudly wearing our shirts which have "Finisher" and the race distances in the past tense on the back.

Epilogue: All of the CRP/Boston group (Mike Ingardia, Britt Greineder, Mary Beth Welch, Jennie Hagman, Don Swarze, Anthoy DeMaio, Vinu Malik, Larry Guerin, Amy Adcock, Roger, Jay McCliver, Chris Sarno and me, finished the Great Floridian. Eight of us were "Ironvirgins" prior to the race, and eight won awards in their age group or class. I'd like to thank Mary Beth for organising so much of the logistics of travelling down to Florida for the race, and Shelley Gumucio for coming down to cheer us on and providing support. Everyone was so thrilled with their experiences that days after the race, my email inbox was abuzz with Ironman fever and even with their legs still recovering everyone had Fedexed their applications in for the inaugural IRONMAN USA to be held at Lake Placid, NY on August 15th, 1999. That was pretty cool, too.