Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ironman Florida: Guest Blog

Most of you know me simply as The Bike Sherpa, but actually my name is Mike. I’m Beth’s husband and this week I’m honored to be the first ‘guest’ blogger at Running My Own Race. Last week I finished my first Ironman triathlon in Panama City Beach, FL.; a course which is generally considered to be the easiest Ironman course – a flat bike and run and generally cool weather. Fortunately, last week was no exception.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, well before the Thursday deadline for packet pick-up and the mandatory athlete meeting Thursday night. At the packet pick-up all athletes receive an arm band that has to be worn throughout the event, 5 gear bags and the standard number bib, chip, etc. My folks also drove in on Wednesday from Indiana. The rest of Thursday and Friday was spent driving the bike course, shopping at the expo, picking up Beth and the kids at the airport and generally obsessing over what to put in my gear bags. All that would have been just fine if it wasn’t for the constant stream of super-fit athletes running and biking past our condo. As Beth mentioned in her blog, it’s intimidating to see such a concentrated collection of highly trained competitors.

Saturday morning started early. Beth and I dropped off my bike and run special needs bags around 5:15 a.m. and then proceeded to body marking. That left us with nearly two hours to wait in the lobby of the host hotel, get into my wetsuit and say hello to my folks and the kids. I’m not a particularly confident swimmer, and I’ve never swam in the ocean so I wasn’t really happy to see that conditions were much choppier than I’d seen the last two days.

The 2.4 mile swim is completed over two laps and has a two wave start – a small group of pro’s and everyone else (approx. 2,500 people). I’m still searching for the right word to describe my reaction to starting the swim. Terrifying is probably an overstatement, but not by much. On the outbound leg the water was so choppy and crowded I didn’t see any of the 5 guiding buoys until I reached the outbound corner buoy. I intentionally stayed wide, found some open water and was able get into a rhythm. Other than my wetsuit chafing my neck (a painful experience in salt water) the rest of the swim was uneventful and I left the water feeling good, ready for the bike.

On my way to the transition changing area I saw Beth and was able to give her my wetsuit. Getting on the bike went well; the only real drama came around mile 4 when an elderly couple nearly forced me off the road by making a right turn in front of me (of course with no turn signal). I wouldn’t say the 6+ hours on the bike flew by, but it really wasn’t bad. I mostly concentrated on getting to the special needs bag, then the halfway point and then counted 10 mile increments to the finish. About 1/3 of the bike course had a stiff headwind, but miles 70-95 were on a smooth-as-glass road that had been paved the day before. Fortunately I was able to master the technique of grabbing water and Gatorade bottles while cruising at 15mph. Most importantly, I achieved my primary goal of keeping my heart rate below 140. I only averaged 18 mph on the bike, but I felt pretty fresh after transitioning to the run.

The out and back two lap run course is as flat as promised with a water stop every mile. I was able to run the first 6 miles with a 9:30 pace, but then realized I was pretty dehydrated and walked through most every water stop through mile 23. It was great seeing my family at the turn, but difficult to head back out for the last half realizing I had at least another 2.5 hours to go. The last 3 hours of the run were in the dark so the temperature was perfectly cool. Again I concentrated on keeping my heart rate down –averaging just 135 BPM. I managed to run the last three miles, finishing the last .2 miles with a respectable 8:30 pace. There are a few moments that are forever seared into my memory: my wedding, the birth of our kids and now the experience of hearing my name called as I ran the last 10th of a mile through the finishing chute. The experience was overwhelming. After all, this is the moment I’ve thought about over and over during the countless hours I’ve trained. I even forgot to look at the clock; I was so thrilled to be done. I was happy to learn that I beat my 13 hour goal, finishing in 12:49.

I’ve run over 10 marathons and completed 2 half iron triathlons – in almost every case I’ve felt pretty good within 10-15 minutes of the finish. Not this time. Two hours after getting to the condo, getting a shower, eating some real food, etc. I still felt terrible. Fortunately, some Vicodin came to the rescue and by the next morning I felt well again. That’s a good thing because by 11 a.m. I was on a plane to Atlanta connecting to a flight to Paris.

“Are you ready?” I must have heard that question hundreds of times from well meaning friends and family. Of course this simple, terrible question is what I asked myself thousands of times during each swim, run and bike training session. Were you ready to get married? Were you ready to give birth to your first child? The truth is that there’s no way to really know if you’re prepared for a completely new challenge. And asking that question, at least for me, reinforced my uncertainty. So my advice to friends and family is to avoid this question. Instead, ask about the athlete’s training, the course, nagging injuries, etc. Anything but, “Are you ready?”

And now here’s some advice for those of you considering an Ironman. I think the most important criteria/requirements are:

  • A supportive spouse. It is especially helpful if your spouse is also an endurance athlete. My 150 day training program required nearly 300 hours of actual training, during which I also traveled 60 days for business. As you can tell from her blogs, I am especially blessed with a great spouse.
  • Great kids. Katy and Brady were just as understanding and supportive as Beth. I consider it a great compliment that Brady now wants to try triathlons.
  • A good job. I have a good job in that it allows me afford triathlons – this is not a cheap sport. On the other hand, my job requires a lot of domestic and international travel. That definitely makes it harder to train, especially biking and swimming. If you travel like I do, you better get used to hotel treadmills at 10 p.m.

I am NOT a great athlete. I was never chosen first or second or even third on the playground. But I’m patient, smart and competitive. And I don’t mind suffering. If this sounds like you, then I’m sure you too can be an Ironman.

See you at Ironman Wisconsin in 2010!


Nat said...

Welcome Mike! And congrats! Wow, amazing job on the course. Unreal. I can't imagine how bad that chafing hurt but you cleaned up the course without a problem - whooo hooo!

Sara Cox Landolt said...

Congratulations! My iron-distance finish was at IMFL a few years ago. I was a Cinderella finisher, amazing experience! My hubby finished at IMWI, we live outside of Madison, so if you haven't done the course yet & want some opinions, feel free to let me/us know. And yes, "are you ready?" is one of the most common & most annoying pre-IM questions...

AZ said...

Congrats! An iron tri is on my list, maybe in a couple years. Glad you enjoyed your experience, enough to do another one, must have been great.

amybee said...

CONGRATS Mike! See you at IM WI

BrianFlash said...

Fantastic accomplishment! I remember watching the Hawaii Ironman on Wild World of Sports many years ago and thinking that those people must be the best athletes in the world.

I'm a drowner not a swimmer so triathalons will have to stay in my 'impressive but not for me' category of events.

Sunshine said...

Warmest congratulations!!

Velma said...

Great work Mike, and congrats to the whole family. To train for the race and travel is quite a commitment.

I am originally from Madison, so I may have to come up and cheer the family on in 2010.

Mel-2nd Chances said...

Excellent race report Mike! Congrats on your IM finish, and from reading Beth's posts, you're right, sounds like you're blessed with a great family! I share your sentiments on pride as your son wants to try a triathlon -- i've only done 2 small tri's but it motivated my son enough to do his first this past summer, and looking forward to next season already. Love the advice about 'what not to ask'. I'll remember for that :) Congrats again!

Porkchopwi said...

Nice job Mike.

Now you can look forward to the hills of western Dane County at IM Wisc.! (and probably a headwind).

Congrats on the event!

Love to Run said...

Awesome Job Mike! I would love to complete an IronMan someday but unfortunately, it is not in the cards now. I do have some friends that have done them as well so I have heard of all the training and sacrifice. Good Luck in Wisconsin next year. I hear it is a very tough course though. Even the swim is uphill. LOL Keep up the great training.

Dori said...

Congratulations, Mike! What an incredible accomplishment. Loved your report.