People said you don't really know what to expect till you are in the middle of it. People were right, but it was a glorious feeling and a wonderful experience.
Either the great or terrible thing about Ironman races is that they almost force you to take a vacation since they spread out the meetings and parties so much. I loaded up the new Element and picked up John Gregg and his wife Katie Wednesday afternoon for the trip down to PCB. John has a place in Sea Grove that we along with our friend Colin Soniat and his wife stayed. We had to pick up our packets Thursday so after a quick last bike ride we went down to the race site. The line was ridiculous and took two hours to get through but that is all part of the "Ironman" experience right?
I had cut down on my calorie intake on Monday and Tuesday so by Thursday night I was ready to pack them in, I recommend Pizza By the Sea. Thursday night half price everything! Yes that included my Abita Andygator Beer.
Friday was rest day for all of us despite the fact that we saw several people seemingly hammering it as we went down to drop off our bikes at transition. By this point our friend Brad had joined us, he was there to spectate and support and joined us for the dinner at Angelina's Friday night. The temperature was quickly dropping, forecast temps for race morning were 40 degrees.
Typically it can be a challenge to sleep well the night before a big race, but I opted for a vodka tylenol PM mix to help do the trick and found myself getting a pretty decent night of sleep. We woke had a light breakfast and were on the road by 5am, and yes it was cold.
Mentally you have a list of things to do in your head once you arrive: put air in the bike tires, fill the water bottle, put roast beef sandwiches in the bike and run bags, take salt pills, find a place to use the bathroom... did I forget anything? For me this process all went very smooth. There just happened to be a bike pump right next to my bike, I filled my bottle, took some pills, stowed my sandwiches... didn't have to pee so I just waited around and watched Colin stress.
I issued a "guess my time challenge" race morning and was met with some very discouraging support. I distinctly remember hearing the words, "Kyle I would tell you but I don't want to hurt your feelings." This was 15 minutes before the swim and I won't lie, it motivated me.
Most people know that Kyle and swimming just don't go together. I hate to swim, I especially hate swimming in a pool which makes training a bit of a struggle. While this was by far the weakest part of my training I did get in two 1+ hour swims in the final two weeks before the race. I wasn't looking forward to the swim but I wasn't dreading it either... the goal survive and be under 1:30:00.
If you have not done an Ironman then you probably cannot appreciate the carnage that occurs at the first buoy of the swim course. 2500 people all coming together at one spot while trying to swim and fight the incoming waves. There is punching. There is kicking. There is gasping for air. There is NOT a lot of actual swimming. Point blank it is just way too congested to swim so you tread water, try to keep your head up and wait for space in front of you. Now I was feeling pretty good and comfortable in the water at this point and the race was starting to spread out a bit so you could actually swim. Finished the first of two swim loops, ran out of the water and Muse's Uprising was playing on the big sound system. I love this song and it really fired me up. Back in the water for loop two where I was comfortable the whole way and left the water feeling great about the swim. The girl next to me said we were at about 1:20:00 which was way better than I expected.
The transitions at a race this big are a little different than a normal race. You have to run into transition, grab your "Swim to Bike" bag then race into a changing area. This area was nowhere close to big enough which led to slow transitions for everyone. Ten full minutes later I was changed, layered up, and ready to hit the bike.
I went with an interesting look for the bike leg, black long sleeve shirt, black and white tri shorts, pink and black argyle socks pulled up to the knees, and black gloves with green, yellow, orange, and pink stripes. I was going for loud and with my pink water bottle I think I nailed it.
Just about one mile into the bike I see my friend John Gregg. This made me feel even better about my swim since John typically comes out of the water well in front of me. We chatted for a bit and then he said I was in charge of setting the pace. Deep down my goal was to average at least 20 mph on the bike, but I also knew wind conditions would dictate the reality of that goal. I glanced back several times in the first 10-15 miles and John was always a few bike lengths back which made me feel good about the pace since he has done two Ironman races. At some point John disappeared and which left me to question my pace but since I felt no discomfort I charged forward in search of my friend Colin who was a good 15 minutes faster than me in the water. Some point between mile 30 and 40 I caught Colin, exchanged some pleasantries and continued on.
Going into the race I had two big strategies: Pace and Nutrition. The bike is the easiest place to do this since you can pack and bring stuff with you. I had the two roast beef sandwiches from Arby's that I ate at mile 25ish and mile 80ish. Also on board was a bottle of sports drink, salt pills, sports legs pills, and a bag of gummy bears. I know that is an odd collection, but I feel like having the real food helped even if only from a mental standpoint.
Back to the race, my strength is the bike so obviously this is where I wanted to bank time. I ended up going back and forth with a guy named Steven Conner. Turns out he and I were pretty much dead even. He even joked that we'd be great training partners. He's a few age groups older than me and had an absolutely great race and enjoyed the few hours on the bike and run where we got to chat. Now on the quest to average 20 mph I knew the winds were going to make it difficult. A Northwest wind of about 10-15 mph was not making the second half of the bike course easy but a final 20 miles down wind was enough to help me average 20.34 mph and come in at 5:30:24, a split that made me very happy.
The bike to run transition was much smoother simply because there were way less people. I plopped down in my chair to change looked across and saw my friend Clark Raymond. He's another local guy that I had done some training with leading up to the race. It was good to chat with him and it also was good to know I had someone I knew right there with me that would push me. Even though for most of us the goal is just to finish and race well, we all like to compete and you want to do a little better than the guy next to you.
I raced out for the run just a few minutes ahead of Clark and immediately felt really strong. It was very quickly out on the run that I came across my buddy Steven. He had dropped me somewhere around the second roast beef sandwich, so we ran together for a few miles before I let him surge ahead a bit. The challenge here is to control your pace. When you get off the bike it feels so good and you want to just go, but 26.2 miles is a long way still and going too fast in the first 5-10 miles usually will take its toll.
Run training has been a close second to swimming in areas where I under trained. My mantra had been the run all comes down to how tough you are anyway. The plan was to try and average 9:30's and see if I could hang on at the end. The challenge with averaging 9:30's is twofold. One that is pretty slow and not something I'm used to doing, and two I don't wear a watch. I asked around to others what their paces were and found that most of the first 6 miles it was faster than I wanted.
I had already seen my friend Jessica Jacobs when I started my run. She was coming in to finish her first lap and in first place overall for the women. There was no surprise when I saw her again at my mile 7 her mile 20. That is when she asked me to run with her. Wow, she's fast but I picked up and tried to give it a go. I didn't make it far, about a half mile before I had to let her go off and win the damn race. She smoked it and I was super thrilled for her and happy that I got to run with her for a bit even if it was only a few minutes.
At this point I caught back up to Steven and we ran together for a bit before I surged ahead. I was now passing a lot of people and while I was not feeling great, I've been worse. In the back of my head I also knew John, Colin, and Clark were all coming and surely going to catch me and I didn't want that to happen. The split for the first half was 2:01:00 which was great but I also felt like I could not hold that pace. The first time I stopped was just past half way where I saw Katie and Colin's wife Wendy. Tons of positive encouragement and I detected a decent amount of surprise that I was in first out of our little group.
The second half of the run is where most people fall apart. I had to try a different strategy here so that I would not fall victim to this. While I was able to run the whole first loop, I decided to walk the water stops for the second loop. I'd eat and drink then run to the next. I found while my pace was probably slowing overall, when I ran it felt good and probably even faster than 9:00's. My only complaint about the water stops was the sports drink flavor. Ironman has its own sports drink now called Ironman Perform and the flavor they chose to put on the run course was orange mango. That is a horrible flavor and I cursed about it many times. Coke and water got me through and before long I'm staring at mile 22 and realizing just four miles to go! Under 11 hours was not possible but I had a chance to finish before it got completely dark. The final stretch was very enjoyable and I made it a point to try and take it all in. With about a half mile to go I passed the cheering section of Katie, Wendy, Brad, and the Belser family which had joined the crowd now. They made a lot of noise and go a big smile out of me I'm sure. Crossed the finish line in 11:14:24 and was thrilled to be done.I made it back to the cheering group in time to grab a beer and watch John and Colin run by to finish off two great races themselves. Huge thanks to those guys who without them training for this race would have been extremely difficult and very boring. They helped me share in an incredible weekend and a race that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. Ironman #1 is done, but I think there will be another to come.