I remember watching the Kona broadcast in years past thinking “Those people are special. Those people are amazing athletes. Those people are crazy. I’m not like that. I couldn’t do that if I wanted to. No way, no how.” There was something always fascinating about watching people complete what has been dubbed the most grueling single-day endurance event know to man. Even if I thought that it was completely out of reach for myself, I still liked watching other people do it.
People always ask me why I decided to do an Ironman. I don’t really have a good answer, but if you have ever watched the finish of one, you’ll know. I decided I wanted that finish line for myself, so I went after it.
The entire year before the race, I thought I would be a bundle of nerves on race week. But I wasn’t. I was excited and anxious, but not nervous. We left for Panama City Beach on Wednesday before the race, and both Courtney and I were full of nothing but excited energy. Waiting at the airport, we were loud and giggly, and Dan was pretty much embarrassed to be seen with us. But I didn’t care, because we were going to do a freakin Ironman! We had to connect through Memphis, and even the screaming kid in the seat behind me didn’t dampen my spirit. I was way too excited to let anything get me down.
Thankfully, when we had registered the previous November, we had gone ahead and booked our condo at that time. And boy, am I glad we did. It was right on the beach, less than a mile from the race site. Meaning that we were within walking distance so we didn’t have to mess with driving and parking every time we needed to go down there. Very convenient, and I highly recommend staying as close to the race start as possible for anyone doing a future Ironman.
Wednesday we spent the day getting going down to the expo and getting checked in. It was so exciting to get my actual race stuff! We had to weigh in, I presume so that in the event that we ended up in the medical tent, they’d be able to tell how dehydrated we were. We got all of our stuff, and then headed over to the event store to start stocking up on M-dot merchandise. I knew I wanted to wait till Sunday and get plenty of “finisher” stuff, but I did want to get a few things now. My favorite purchase was a “More Cowbell” shirt that turned out to be a huge hit when I wore it the next day. There was such a great energy at the expo being around all of the other athletes and their families, so we just hung out for a while soaking it all in.
After that we went down the road and ate lunch at Spinnakers, a bar that was right on the beach. Here it was, Halloween, and we were sitting out on the patio at the beach, wearing shorts. How perfect! Once we got some food in our bellies, it was time to make a Super Wal-Mart run to stock up on food for the rest of the week. Since we had a full kitchen in our condo, we wanted to be able to eat most of our meals there instead of having to eat out. Most of the people we saw at the store were other racers doing the same thing.
We went back to the condo to get all settled in and unpacked, then had Dan drop us off at Eric’s parents condo so that we could pick up our bikes. Their condo was about five miles down the road from ours, so we rode back to our place just to make sure that everything was in proper working order. We just hung out and relaxed for a bit, then Courtney and Eric decided to take a walk on the beach while I got dinner ready for all of us. They came back an hour or so later, and Court had a shiny new rock on her left hand. It was their 7 year dating anniversary, and he had decided to propose! She had been hoping he would, so I was very happy for them. We settled down to a gourmet meal of Stouffers lasagna then watched a marathon of the Halloween movies before turning in relatively early.
I don’t know what the deal was, but I just could not sleep past about 5:30 the entire time we were down there. Thursday morning I woke up early, had some breakfast and sat out on our balcony for a while and waited for everyone else to wake up. Court was up early too, I guess we both were too hyped up to sleep! Sitting on the balcony, we could see quite a few people in their wetsuits out swimming the ocean right in front of our condo. We took our time just hanging out, and then she and I walked down the beach to go to the Gatorade practice swim. At the race site, they had buoys set up for the length of the swim course so that you could get in the water and do some swimming on the actual course. There were a ton of other people there doing the same thing, it was kind of a weird feeling to finally be here at the race, surrounded by other racers!
The water was absolutely perfect, not a single wave. I had swam in much choppier conditions in lakes before, so I knew I had nothing to worry about. Before we got down there, the swim portion had been my biggest concern. But once we got in the water, every worry just disappeared. This was going to be fun! We swam out to the first buoy, about 500 yards or so, and just floated in the water for a few minutes talking about how exciting this was. Everyone else there was as excited and happy as we were, it was just a great atmosphere. It was so much fun to be swimming in the ocean, I decided I wanted to keep going, so we headed out to the second buoy. Court was ahead of me, obviously, and by the time I got out there, she was trying to help out some guy who was having a panic attack. I felt bad for him, I would have hated to be feeling that way just 2 days before the race. But I was feeling really confident about my swim now. No worries. I floated there for a bit and talked to a couple of other guys while I waited on Courtney. One of them was probably about 60 years old and had done IMFL each of the past 9 years. He assured me that it was a great race and that I would do just fine, and told me to remember to have fun. That’s one of the best pieces of advice I got, and one that I heard numerous times throughout the week. Have fun. This wasn’t something I HAD to do, this was something I WANTED to do. It’s supposed to be fun!
Courtney was still tied up trying to make sure the one guy didn’t drown, so I headed back to shore. The saltwater was making my lips feel kind of tingly, but I was enjoying being out there. The water was crystal clear, I could still see the bottom even out at the second buoy, which was probably close to 800 yards out. No waves, crystal clear water, what more could I ask for!? I got back to the shore and stripped out of my wetsuit, and sat on my towel people watching while I waited for Courtney to get back in from swimming/lifesaving. On our way back to the condo, we saw what we THOUGHT was a big sting ray in the water, so we waded in and walked over to it…..only to discover that it was a giant jelly fish. Ack! It was pretty neat looking, but we didn’t want to take any chances on getting stung.
After our practice swim, I got showered up and Dan and I headed out to drive the bike course. I knew that it was all flat and pretty much all rural, but I wanted to try to pick out any landmarks that might be along the course. There pretty much were none. The first few miles were on the main road in PCB that ran along the beach where all of the condos were, then you turned north to make a big rectangle. The only “hill” of the whole course was a bridge that went over one of the inland waterways, and it wasn’t really much of a hill. Driving over it, I knew that I wouldn’t even need to come out of my saddle to climb it unless I wanted to stretch my legs. There was one portion of the course that had some VERY gentle rollers, but again, nothing to even give a second thought to. Around here it’s impossible to find a long ride that’s this flat, so I was really looking forward to seeing how fast I could go!
We got back to the condo, and it was time to head over to the race site for the welcome dinner. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I wanted to take part in all the activities of the week. The dinner started at 5:30, and we had kind of figured that people would be getting up and leaving as they finished, but that wasn’t the case. It was held in the conference center of the host resort, and they had people packed in there like sardines. Literally. It was after 6 by the time we got there, and it was a struggle to find a seat. I knew there was no way all 4 of us would be able to sit together, so Dan and I just grabbed the first two seats we saw and Court and Eric headed off to find two for themselves. I was wearing my “more cowbell” shirt, and the guy we ended up sitting across from recognized me from Subway earlier in the day. I also had a drunk lady tell me how great the shirt was while we were walking over to dinner. I have to admit, it IS a pretty good shirt.
The food was crappy, and the presentation was boring. But being in the same room as all the other athletes and their respective fan clubs was awesome. So for those of you with an upcoming IM, definitely go to the welcome dinner. My favorite part was when they showed the Ironman video that I’ve been watching almost daily for the last year. Gives me goose bumps every time! They also got the oldest and youngest competitors up on stage, and the oldest male competitor was well-known 78 year old Frank Farrar. I remember watching him on the IM Wisconsin broadcast last year, and being amazed that he was able to finish it. His left leg is completely mangled from an old WWII injury, and he’s done I think 30-something Ironman races. If a 78 year old man with a mangled leg can do it, so can I! After all of that, we had the “mandatory” athletes meeting. This my friends, was a waste of time. They didn’t tell us anything that wasn’t in the athletes guide, and it’s not as if they took roll call. So, not really mandatory. I wish we had skipped out and just gone back to the condo.
Friday morning I woke up early AGAIN. At home it was a struggle to pull my butt out of bed, but now it was a struggle to stay asleep. I was waking up several times during the night, and then unable to sleep past 5:30. I guess I just had too much adrenaline. So I went ahead and got up, ate breakfast, and went down and sat on the beach for a while. It was nice to have a little bit of time alone to just think about the next day’s race and to reassure myself that I was indeed ready. We had to drop off our bikes and gear bags by 3:00 that afternoon, so Court and I set about the daunting task of making sure that we had everything ready to go. I had brought 2 suitcases, plus my normal transition bag, and they were all stuffed full. Now I had to organize all that crap into piles of what I would need and when. Fun stuff.
But before I could make much progress on that task, Courtney and I headed down to the race site for the free athletes pancake breakfast and to get massages. My hips typically are what really bother me, so I wanted to get them nice and loosened up. So we went to the massage tent, got our appointments booked, and then headed over for some pancakes. The breakfast was sponsored by one of the local churches, so we had about 3 different people telling us “Jesus loves you!” as we went through the line.
The pancakes were good, but the massage was even better. I sure do love getting a massage. Even if it’s only 30 minutes, it’s still money well spent. After I got done, my hips and legs were feeling great, ready to take on 140.6 miles the next day. Courtney had her appointment after mine, so while she was getting worked on I went over to the Janus Inspiration Station to make a sign for her that would be placed out on the course. It’s pretty neat, they have a tent set up where you can make signs for your athlete and they will put them out on the run course. You could also make a sign to hold while you watched for your athlete to come by. I had planned on going over to the merchandise tent to look around some more, but it took me longer than expected to make my sign. It was a true work of art.
After Court got done with her massage, we headed into the store to get some chain lube, and I found an “Iron Mate” t-shirt that I picked up for Dan to wear the next day. We rode back to the condo to finish packing our bags. I swear, packing those bags was probably the most nerve-wracking part of the whole week. I had to pack a swim to bike bag, a bike special needs bag, a bike to run bag, and a run special needs bag. Not to mention my saddle bag and bento box for the bike. How many GU’s will I need on the bike? How many Co2 cartridges should I put in my saddle bag? Should I try to fit my spare tire on my bike, or put it in special needs? How much food will fit in my run shorts, and how much will go in my special needs bag? Aaaaahhhh!!! Stress!!!! If I didn’t pack the right things in the right bag, it could make for a very bad race. But, there’s only so much obsessing you can do, so I made my decisions and tied up my bags. Done. Now lets just hope I didn’t put my helmet in my bike to run bag, or something stupid like that.
The boys had decided they wanted to go rent scooters for the afternoon, so we rode our bikes down to the race site and had them follow us in the car with our bags and then wait while we dropped everything off. It was pretty scary dropping off my bike knowing that I wouldn’t see it again until the next day. I’m not used to going home before a race without my bike! The TA was a massive sea of bikes, and Court and I just walked around for a while drooling over them all. Every bike we saw was cooler than the last. Lots of Cervelos, and Court was even racked next to one just like mine. Ok, drop off our bags, time to go. Yikes! This was it, the last thing we had to do before the race. I was a little jittery about doing it, but still not nervous at all. Very surprising.
The boys picked us up and we headed over to the scooter rental place to drop them off, then drove back to the condo. Since our bikes and all of our gear were gone, we didn’t really have anything to do but sit around and obsess about the race. We were both really excited and just ready to get the show on the road. Around 4, we decided that we were both hungry and didn’t want to wait any longer for the guys, so we got dinner going. Our kitchen was pretty limited in the way of pots and pans, but we made do with what we had. The last supper? Baked chicken, rice, stuffing, and veggies. Yum! Dan showed up just as we sat down to eat, the other two had decided to go out to dinner with Eric’s parents.
After dinner is when I started getting a little nervous. I knew that Eric’s and Courtney’s parents would be stopping by that evening, and I was just not in a social mood. So I went into the bedroom and laid down to watch Deal or no Deal. Dan came in soon after and was trying to be all sweet and encouraging, but I was a little crabby and was having none of it. I dozed off somewhere around 8:00 or so, then woke up at about 9 to take out my contacts and go to bed for real. I was nervous, but not nearly as nervous as I had been before Half Max. I was just ready to go!