Ironman Florida 2012

I have registered for the Ironman Florida 2012 race about a year ago. During the year leading to it I had a change of heart and wanted to skip it but in the end the week before the start I gave in and decided to race anyway. The airplane ticket was in my pocket by the weekend and I’ve arranged to stay with Rick – a friend of mine – in “The Summit Condominium”. It was Wednesday evening that I landed in Panama City Beach, Florida and not too surprisingly there was no sign of my luggage arriving at the same destination. No bags and – more importantly – no bicycle either! On Thursday there is still no sign of my luggage so I have to come up with a “plan B” – getting new race equipment.

Running shoes, bicycle shoes and race suit were luckily in my carry-on baggage but the rest – bicycle, helmet and wetsuit – I’ll have to borrow. Luckily I’ve managed to get a superb Trek Speed Concept 9 bike, but the downside is I’ve never rode this bike. After a test ride – around 2 hours of easy and pleasant riding at average speed over 22 mph along with constant readjusting of the bicycle – it felt like I had rode this bike for many Ironman races and not that I was only starting to get to grips with it.

Late Thursday evening my gear finally arrives but the feeling of riding Trek bicycle is so good I’ve none the less decided not to ride my own bicycle on the race day but to race with Trek. Friday was all about another short test bicycle ride. The sea was also getting calm enough to allow me a quick 10 minute swim which allowed me to get a feeling for the water.

Saturday morning starts at 4:00 with an early wakeup call, time for a quick breakfast and by 4:30 departure towards transition area, refilling the tires and verification of the bags. By 5:15 I am back in my room enjoying deserved coffee and rest but only till 6:15 when it is time to head back towards the transition area. I pass on the “street clothes” bag and hurry on towards the start line so I can catch the start of the race along with Pro racers. I took position to the left on the front row. At the starting signal I shoot myself out of the blocks in hope of beating the startup melee but my plan works only partially with water being quite turbulent which makes buoys hard to spot. After first few hundred meters I finally drift into my own rhythm.

Short sprint over the fine beach sand – which for me is by far the worst part of swimming J – marks the end of the first round and off I jump into the second one. A bit confused I watch some of the fellow racers cut short past yellow buoys but decide to go around them as in the thick of the moment I’m not entirely sure what is the right thing to do. In no time the second round is over and the clock stops at 0:57:59 which is good enough for 4th spot in my age group M40-44 and 58th overall.

Following not the best of times from changing in T1 I hop on the bicycle. I feel great but for Garmin who for some reason shows a heartbeat of 30 to 40 beats per minute – well below what one would expect from an in-form athlete in mid-courseJ. Usually I strive to control my heartbeat especially at the beginning – trying to keep it around 140 beats per minute but this time I have to rely on my experience as Garmin heartbeat only starts working properly after an hour or so of intense cycling.

For the first part of cycling I do not run into many other cyclists but with time I run into more company. Then all of a sudden the group is even too big and it becomes hard to follow the rules regarding the mandatory distance – especially with all the breaking and acceleration going on… Soon the group breaks up under the watchful eye of a motorized race marshal – with weaker cyclists falling behind the rest of us who also form a hierarchy at the front. I feel great with quick feet and my borrowed Trek bicycle feels like it was made just for me J. Even the wind is playing nicely along until we turn around and the wind doesn’t follow suite – blowing mostly head on with occasional side gusts.

Cycling about 10 to 15 meters behind a group of 6 or 7 cyclists where most do not follow the mandatory 7 meters distance rule we catch a pro rider who utters interesting observation – he says that those in the group not following the rules probably took lessons from Lance J. But I don’t care much for it as I prefer to concentrate on myself and my own racing and not on others. I feel that anger or letting others make you vexed during the race can only make you compete worse and does not help you at all.

I’m following my alimentary plan by having a gel every 20 minutes and it helps me nicely. Half of those gels I carry with me and the other half is safely tucked away in my “special needs” bag. Before I know cycling is up and I cross the line in 4:49 which is excellent by my standards. This timing makes for 8th spot in my category and 53rd overall. But of course I have no clue about all this at the moment of dismounting the bicycle.

Second transition is another possibility where I could be faster – again taking too much time. Off I go and I am running now. Nicely warm weather conditions suite me fine and tempo is just about right too – constantly overtaking fellow runners. At every aid station I grab a glass of Perform drink, which is later upgraded to Coke for variety but I steer clear off any food.

Up till the first turn my tempo is nicely constant but on the way back it starts slowing down. I also try to figure out my position but somehow I do not manage to find out my exact placement but being (more or less) at the head of the pack it means there is not too much crowd on the race. That changes when I enter the second round of running when we mix up with runners that are only starting their first round. My second round also marks another slowdown of my tempo with energy levels lowering and more crucially with upset stomach and even some puking. Not to mention it was time to stop at the porta potty too. I am trying hard at keeping my energy levels where they need to be with constant doses of Coke.

I try to speed up for the last few miles but that does work only partially. Finally I make it to the finishing strip and before I know it I pass the Ironman finishing line for the 30th time. With the clock from the run stopped at 3:23 which adds up to 9:18 total time I am second in my category and 36th overall. Not to forget this means I get to qualify for Kona for a 13th time!

The thing I find interesting about this result is the fact that despite putting in only average performance during the run I’ve managed to climb in the overall and in the age group placement. I guess this could be attributed to most athletes exaggerating while cycling which leaves them too tired for a proper performance during running.

Only three weeks after the finish of Hawaii Ironman 2012 I’ve managed to put in a good performance with nice results and qualification but most importantly now I get something richly deserved – and that is a bit of rest J