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My alarm started buzzing away at 4:30:00AM…and started hitting snooze at 4:30:03AM. After thinking through the situation for a bit more, I hit snooze another few times – taking me to about 5AM – when Lindsay called (I asked her to give me a ring since she was down there as well, just in case the hotel clock went on the Fritz). Given my snooze alarms were still working quite well, another whack was in order, bringing me to 5:11AM before I finally started to contemplate doing something.
Since Ironman races basically require you to have virtually everything set the day before, I really didn’t have anything to do aside from eat breakfast and show up. Further making the situation easy was the fact that my hotel was less than a mile from the start. So really, my list of ‘morning of’ tasks was whittled down to just putting water on my bike and getting my wetsuit on. Triathlon pre-race life is much simpler that way.
Though, to make life a bit simpler the race organizes a shuttle from the local Wal-Mart over to the start. Equidistance from the hotel for me, I figured that was the easiest path forward. So I showed up there slightly after 5:30AM and a bus immediately showed up. Perfect.
The bus whisked us right to the start area where I was able to toss my Special Needs bag off in a pile of bins. These are the bags that you can pick-up halfway (well, mile 49) on the bike, and mile 13-ish on the run. I was completely self-sufficient on the bike, so I just needed the run bag.
After that I headed over to get body marked. Nothing too fancy here, age on calf and bib number on arms.
Then it was time to enter transition and take care of the water bottle fill-age and putting my gels on my bike. They were already in transition from the night before (in my super-fancy tennis ball containers), but I kept them in my bike bag in transition instead of on my bike.
From there I went over to my run bag and double-checked everything was good to go there as well. I then backtracked to my bike to pump up my tires and leave my pump by the fence (pre-labeled) in hopes it would be there some 10-12 hours later when I returned to pick it up. Thankfully, it would be.
After that, it was time for a quick porta-john pit stop before getting the wetsuit on next to the morning clothes bag drop. I was happy to find the lines for the bathrooms reasonably short and only taking a few minutes.
From there it was off to the beach. Once on the beach I met up with Lindsay at the Team-Z tent, before wandering back over to the start area to watch the pro’s go off at 6:50AM.
(Pic of the Pro’s going off, courtesy of Lindsay)
Normally you have a bit of time before the Pro’s go off to get into the water – and they allowed that. But at other races they also allow a few minutes between the pro’s 6:50AM start and the masses 7:00AM to dip into the water. That didn’t quite happen, so I ended up just lying down at the edge of the water in order to get my body acclimated to the water (it takes at least 45 seconds to get your body/breathing used to the water temperature). With that accomplished, I was ready to roll (though I would have liked a longer warm-up).
Before I knew it, it was ‘Go time’. Without really any warning or countdown the canon went off – and off running into the water we went.
(Sorry for the so-so quality above, had to take photos of the photos I bought, the below much better one is from Lindsay)
Because there’s odd sandbars along the way it’s a bit of a shallow water run before you finally get into the whole swimming thing. I was happy to find that my front-line starting position let me avoid any nastiness with respect to elbows during the first portion of the swim. It was only as we neared around the 2nd buoy that bunching occurred (from folks going out too fast that slowed, and from some folks catching up). It was a bit rough for a few hundred yards, but then things settled out – just in time to hit the first turn buoy.
You can see the bunching above at the second buoy (again, courtesy Lindsay).
About this time I should point out the IMFL course is a two-loop swim course with a beach run tossed in, along with a few intermittent sandbars near shore for fun.
The first turn buoy wasn’t too bad – people just kinda flowed around it – and off into the rising sun we went for the cross-leg. The cross-leg was nice and quiet given many people were wandering blinded by the sun everywhere. Thankfully since I had swam the course on Thursday, I knew that the best line was simply to actually aim at the sun. If you weren’t aiming for the sun, you were doing something wrong.
By time I hit the second turn buoy back towards shore the swell had changed a bit and people kinda hit the turn awkward and a lot of bunching/colliding occurred, but after the turn it wasn’t too bad.
From there it was straight into shore, where I found the first sandbar about 12 or so minutes later. This is where it gets tricky, because you hit the sandbar, stand up – run – and then go swim again briefly…only to run onto the beach for the timing mat. If you’re doing the course I’d highly suggest you practice this two-step-tango in the days prior.
(Here’s the whole sandbar thing, you can see above the folks running and then swimming again, the folks closer are headed out on the second loop on the diagonal)
Following the timing mats and a cup of water, you go seaward again for the second lap on the diagonal across two semi-separated sandbars before finally getting back to the swimming. I was astounded at all the folks simply walking across (not running) the sandbar. Umm…race?!? (A sign saying “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” should be planted on the beach there.)
The second loop was basically a calmer version of the first loop – where I was now able to really focus on getting on peoples feet and swimming a clean line. I did see some solid jelly’s out there – a few the size of basketballs, but most about the size of squished softballs. Thankfully they were down a few feet deep, and the smaller ones closer to the surface I was able to modify my stroke to not hit when I would see them ahead.
A bit later I did the sandbar tango again and hit the beach for the final time. I crossed the mat at 1:06:25 – a few minutes slower than my IMC swim a few months back (all my other ones were lake swims without sandbars, waves or currents). But that’s alright, as the rougher conditions slowed down the pro’s by 4-6 minutes on average, being off a few minutes myself isn’t too bad.
I met up with the wetsuit strippers, got my wetsuit ripped off and then proceeded to leave the stripping area. But that was short lived. As in the process some dude decided to lay down in the middle of the aisle and get stripped – just as my feet graced that patch of carpet. In turn, I then performed a front flip over him. He looked up rather confused, and I looked up with a “Why are you here?” expression. A second later though I was off and running towards the showers to try and get some of the sand cleaned off.
With that, it was time to wander through the never-ending transition area before finally mounting my bike.
I present you with my most complex MSPAINT drawing evah! Just follow the red line from the water to the road, that’s me.
However, because my paint skillz are slacking these days, here’s what it really looked like (yes, we ran through a hotel and into a convention center where the changing rooms were):
Anyway…moving along now….
I successfully mounted my bike without any immediate dismount issues (like at the Aqua-velo), and was off and cooking.
(I successfully demonstrate how to mount a bike. Photo from Lindsay)
It was approximately 500 yards from the mount line that the first ASI Photographer was hanging out taking pictures…on a turn. Seriously? Out of the 112 miles of bike course you chose this blah location in front of a motel to take a picture? Oh well…picture:
After that we hit up the main road along the ocean for about 6-7 miles before heading inland. During that time I get the hatches all battened down and got my HR back under control. I was rather surprised to find my Z2 wattage relatively high (clarification: higher than ever before) – so I was just hoping that would last.
A word about the IMFL course for those not familiar. It’s flat. As in – a blueberry pancake has more elevation gain than this course. For comparison – IMFL and IMC as recorded by my barometric altimeter on the Edge 705:
So, really, the only true hill in the course came at Mile 10 across a bridge over a waterway, the rest were just very gradual ascents and descents. Some non-racing cyclists where hanging out at the top and shouted out “That’s it folks, you’ve just completed the last hill!”. Funny guys…ehh?
A short bit later I was introduced to the legendary IMFL drafting mobs. Both IMFL the 70.3 Championships in Clearwater (held the following weekend) are known for their drafting violators. In all non-ITU events, drafting is quite simply against the rules and cheating. You get assessed a penalty, which varies depending on the event length. For an Ironman it’s four minutes per drafting penalty. It’s also worth noting (because a lot of folks don’t understand this) that once you enter the draft zone of another biker (three bike lengths), the only valid way out is forward. You have 15 seconds to complete the pass, you cannot fall back and fail to complete the pass – that’s a penalty.
So in general, I tend to put drafting in three basic categories:
1) He/She who gets drafting violation due to an accidental entrance into the draft zone because they are not paying attention/etc…While I have yet to get a drafting penalty, if you race enough races in one’s life, I’m sure everyone would eventually end up with one just do to bad luck. It’s not these drafters I’m really annoyed with since it’s usually accidental and the overall impact is minimal to a races end result.
2) The ‘course is too full’ drafting penalty. Common at shorter distance races where the Race Organizers try and be the biggest triathlon in the world. Examples of this would be Nation’s Triathlon, Chicago, NY, etc.. At Nation’s this year the number of triathletes on the course combined with the 12-abreast riding made it very difficult to avoid anyone’s wake if you were in a later wave (luckily I was not).
3) The low-life scum who sit 6” off the back of someone’s wheel for miles at a time drafter. These are the folks that actually take rotations effectively like they are team-time trialing in the Tour de France. These are the folks that go in groups of 35-40 people. And these are the folks that flock to IMFL because of the flat course and sheer amount of territory for the ref’s to cover. There were 10 drafting refs out on the 112 mile course on Saturday – or basically one per 11 miles. There were 2,800 athletes.
On Saturday I saw more drafting than I could shake a stick at. Aside from the cheating aspect of it, the more practical problem with it is it screws up one’s pacing. When the drafting pelotons flew by you had two choices – try to stay ahead of them (pointless exercise in wasted energy as they’ll just try and re-pass you, inciting a feud), or let them go ahead. But letting them go ahead caused me to slow down, because they weren’t quite going fast enough for the HR zones I was trying to hold. So you basically had to sit up and soft pedal to stay out of the massive draft zone.
Here’s a video a guy with a helmet-cam shot from his bike on Saturday (again, this video is not from me, but from a 29-time Ironman finisher):
The only positive side of it is that three separate times I got to sit back and watch Ref’s hand out penalty cards. And then subsequently at the first penalty tent it was jam packed with cheaters. Sweet!
I’ve since heard that 200 penalties were handed out on the bike course, and 21 DQ’s were given due to no-shows at the tent (if you don’t show-up to ‘serve’ your penalty time, you’ll get a DQ post-race).
Ok…drafting soap-box off…
Back to my ride.
My first 2.5 hours went exceedingly well. My wattages were unreal. I averaged 254w at Z2 – which is basically unheard of for me at that low of a zone. I even recalibrated my power-meter mid-ride just to check things. Things were going awesome. I hit the first 20 miles in 50 minutes, and then pushed steadily into the wind for the next ~30 miles (at a whopping 18MPH at 260w).
But, somewhere after that I lost some momentum – not a bonk, and not going out too hard, just a loss of ability to get back into zone – you can see the slide start around mile 50ish or so – and really kick in around mile 80. That lasted for a long time…a very long time. Around mile 70-80ish or so at a porta potty I got off and went to the bathroom – and also started to breakdown some. Here was a far easier course than IMC, and I couldn’t keep it together. I should have been easily 5 hours – if not a bit faster, and now I was trending towards 5:20-5:25. I had done a much windier course (aqua-velo) just 6 weeks earlier in 5:14 – without any taper and coming off of a 120 mile just days before. And now I was on course for a dismal day (for me).
The weird thing was – my power output was still incredibly high. Even throughout the entire ride, when I got back into zone, my power was still just as high as before. At the moment I’m not sure what it was – probably mental (as seems to always be the case for me at this distance) – but it was tough. There were many points I simply wanted to quit. I had no desire to keep going. Zero.
Eventually though, I wandered back into town.
Bike split: 5:25:11
The lesson here for me is that I suck at being aero for 5+ hours (heck, really anything over 3 hours). That’s why on a course like Canada I basically posted an identical bike time to Florida (where most people would be at least 20-30 minutes slower at IMC). I love climbing – and Canada has tons of it, and I’m really darn good at that (where most people aren’t). I can push the big gear no problem on the flats just as well as most (my power output proves that) – but I just don’t have the flexibility at this point to maintain that position for that long – thus my time suffers.
I took my time through transition. I was not happy and borderline wanting to give up them. Instead of running I simply walked through transition to try and pull it together some.
Once I hit the outbound mat of transition, it was time to run. No if, and’s or but’s about it. With the timer officially started on the run, the Garmin 310XT kept on telling me when I got off-pace by using the Virtual Partner feature set for 7:40/mile. And for the first 6.5-ish miles, I kept a pretty good pace (7:50/mile) – I was down a couple seconds, but basically a wash.
But I needed to get in some nutrition and was having a hard time getting my body to take in the gel’s while running, so just after the timing mat’s at mile 6.5ish I walked about 2 minutes. Towards the end of that walking as I was just about to start running a guy ran by and gave me crap for walking. He and I had exited transition about the same time so I remembered him from before. We ended up deciding to run together. He was running a slightly slower pace than I had planned (about 8:00/mile), but I knew that if I could hold with him – life would be good – and much faster than any potential walking.
So we chatted and ran together. And it was good, he wasn’t too much older than I, and he could pick up on the fact I was pretty dejected and did his best to try and pull me mentally out of the gutter. His day job was ironically enough a nutrition specialist working with those who are obese – so I suspect that he’s naturally good at pulling people out of rough situations. By the same token, he noted that I was doing the same to him – as he said “We had become accountable to each other” – and we plugged along. Life got better for a while. Though, getting down my planned nutrition was problematic – as my body was basically trying to throw it back up. So I switched to what was offered at the tables – Gatorade, Coke, and Water – and plugged along.
The run is mostly through residential areas and a bit of state park action at the turnaround. Here’s what some of it looks like:
We made pretty good time back to the half-marathon point – averaging 7:50’s – very solid.
I ended up ditching my CamelBak given I wasn’t using the nutrition it was holding. No reason to drag along extra weight. But around the same time I also needed to take a second to get in some extra nutrition somewhere – a minute or two to walk an aide station and get in a solid amount of Gatorade. And that’s when we broke apart. I didn’t want to hold him back, so I told him to soldier on – and on he went. And down I went. After that point it became a run/walk game. My legs were not the issue, as they usually aren’t (heck, the day after now my legs feel mostly fine). Just felt like ‘blah’ at best. Losing my running partner quite frankly sucked. But I just kept on pressing on in a mixed walk/run – averaging a little over 10/mins/mile.
You can see below – the pace I was holding – how well the first chunk went, and then where it all fell apart. The mileages on my watch are just slightly off by about .2/mile.
On occasion I would pick-up other people. One of the advantages to IMFL over IMC is the dual-loop run course. So I was able to pick-up runners just coming off the bike who were a bit fresher and still running a respectable pace. So I ran with a guy from Team-Z for a while, and then eventually chased a very cruising girl (though on her second lap I think) for a few miles through and out of the park. By that point it was harder and harder to find folks still running a pace roughly like mine, so I took advantage of it.
I dropped her (well, actually, she dropped me now to think of it) around mile 23.5ish. Around mile 24 I picked up a new friend who was moving along. And we moved pretty quickly in silence together. Correct that – in darkness and silence together. Due to the earlier time change this year, it was solidly dark by 5PM – so I was running in the dark at that point. At least heat was no longer an issue. 🙂
(Speaking of heat…minor aside about my outfit – I ended up basing it mostly off of Ryan’s outfit he wore at Louisville, and then subsequently at Kona – which is in turn based off of Torbjorn Sindballe’s outfit worn over the past few years. Like myself, we’re both a bit susceptible to heat and so I needed to reduce any effects of heat and sunburn. The upper 70’s temps for that long in the glaring sun can easily put me in a bad spot on the marathon. So I can say post-race that without a doubt that going long sleeve worked really well. I was free of sunburns, and cooling was easy – I just toss a cup of water over myself and it maintained a cool cover on me. On the bike it was even better, like wearing a ice suit. Awesome – highly recommended for endurance races.)
So, back to Mile 24. At this point we were hauling. Well, it felt damn fast anyway. I guess everything’s all relative. When people around you are walking or shuffling – an 8:00/mile pace looks like rather Kenyan-esque. We pushed each other a bit – never saying a single word to each other other than a quick ‘Which lap are you on?’ confirmation we were both Lap 2.
We went on to increase the pace as we got closer to the loud finish spectacle. There was a bit of an unspoken reality that both of us were better runners than we had shown up until that point in the race. I don’t have any basis for that line of thinking other other than running with the guy for 2.2 miles, but just a hunch based on his running form and how we were able to push the pace in the end. I let him run the chute first and tapered the pace for a few seconds as we neared a hundred or so yards out. He wasn’t in my AG, and it didn’t matter anyways for either of us. It’s considered highly poor form to incite a 100 yard sprint race at the end of an Ironman – unless you’re realistically in a position for a Kona slot – as it basically screws up someone else’s finisher picture. Let them enjoy the day. An extra 3-4 seconds on the clock in this situation doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of life.
And then it was good – because I was in the final stretch of 50 yards or so down the finish chute with people cheering and the spotlights were shining with Mike Riley shouting out my name as I came through.
And then I was done. Three Ironman’s completed in a period just a few days over 14 months. Which is sorta mind-boggling in and of itself.
While the time was technically a PR by a small margin, I think I learned a lot more about what I’m capable of. There were many good moments over the course of the day – the first 14 miles of the run was solid. My bike wattages were impressive. And I pushed through to finish – because at the end of the day finishing an Ironman is always the first goal – everything else is really secondary. It also served to re-enforce what I had pretty much already figured out at Canada this year – I really enjoy the shorter distances more. A lot more.
Post-finish line I hung around the free food and drink tables for a bit chatting with a few folks, including surprisingly some who read my blog (I got a fair number of inquisitive looks while down here of folks trying to place me and wondering) and one athlete who is actually also coached by Coach Alan (he rocked out his first Ironman in 10:20 – awesome job!).
After that I hobbled around a bit and went over to the Team-Z tent to chat for a bit before finally going to pickup my bike and run gear at the transition area.
From there I stumbled back to the hotel (by way of Taco Bell and picking up 6 taco’s). Later on I’d head out to the midnight festivus when all the final finishers come in (just like at Ironman Canada at midnight both this year and last year). I’m a big believer that unless you’re hugely broke-ass post-race – you should go out and watch the final folks come in. They’ve been out there almost 17 hours, and they deserve and need everything they can get to make the 17-hour cutoff.
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Many readers stumble into my website in search of information on the latest and greatest sports tech products. But at the end of the day, you might just be wondering “What does Ray use when not testing new products?”. So here is the most up to date list of products I like and fit the bill for me and my training needs best! DC Rainmaker 2021 swim, bike, run, and general gear list. But wait, are you a female and feel like these things might not apply to you? If that’s the case (but certainly not saying my choices aren’t good for women), and you just want to see a different gear junkies “picks”, check out The Girl’s Gear Guide too.