Ironman Florida, meet Murphy’s Law

I woke up this morning bruised, banged up, chaffed, sore, and tired but also still amazed and thrilled that I was able to finish Ironman Florida 2014!  If you read the Ironman Florida race page, they tout the fact that the weather is almost always just about perfect with a fun moderate temperature ocean swim and a fast course.  Yeah, someone decided to play games with us this year.  Every day around the race was absolutely fantastic, both before and after.  However, throughout the week the forecast for Saturday showed temperatures that kept dropping and wind that kept rising finally showing a low of 41 degrees and 20-30 mph winds with gusts over 40 mph!  FUN!

But, first, things are always made more fun with friends and family.  Monette was incredible again, cooking and taking care of things to make my life a lot easier and her sister, Katie, got to come down and was awesome again, too.  Having both done Ironman races, they get it and are excited about the racing which makes it a lot of fun, too.  Also, Dick Sutherland, Dan Lehman, and Steve Thompson from Chapel Hill were down here racing as well and we had a really nice and fun pre-race dinner with them and their spouses.  Congrats to all three of you for your nice finishes!

After doing Ironman Maryland, I felt I had left a lot on the course and wanted one more shot at putting together a really fast race that I know I am capable of.  So, about three weeks ago I emailed EST and asked if they had any more slots.  They told me to call them right away, and they were able to get me in as someone had just backed out.  I add this to the story because of what happened when I went to check-in.  My race number was 813 but the name on the bib that I wore for the race and everything else was AlvaroJavier Cuenca!!  Of course, that caused a lot of confusion but I laughed it off and got it straightened out.

IM Florida number

Okay, to race day:

As mentioned earlier, race morning was cold and windy!  I get everything set up and we work our way down to the water about 15-minutes before the race is supposed to start (7:00 am).  Then, with just a few minutes before the pros are to go off they make an announcement that they are going to have to cancel the swim because of the very unsafe conditions.  The weather channel said the swells were 5-6 feet.  ARGH!  With swimming being one of my strengths, that would make it a lot harder for me to qualify for Kona if I have a good day.  Plus, I was looking forward to the swim because the rough water and water temps at 77 degrees, according to the web, would have really suited me.  Oh well, take what the day gives you right?

So, now we have to go back to our bikes and get ready to do a time-trial start with our bikes.  The pros start at 8:00, and then they start the age-groupers two at a time every several seconds.  With over 3300 athletes signed up, there are a LOT of people to go through.  I didn’t get to go until 8:48 and had to stand around literally shivering in the cold.  Luckily, I had put two plastic bags against my chest and under my suit to help keep me warm and I had arm-warmers and pretty heavy gloves.

Once we get started, I immediately feel how tough the day is going to be;  starting with some scary cross winds to get out of town that had me leaning sideways and getting pushed across the road, then turning straight into the headwinds for 20 miles.  I managed this section well, keeping myself in check and making sure I kept a nice smooth cadence, but it was still very difficult pushing into steady winds that strong.  For the rest of the course, you had a lot of cross winds and more sections straight into the wind, but you had to keep thinking that once you get to about mile 82 the wind would be mostly at your back except for one 5-mile stint.  I knew I was doing okay and had worked my way up toward the front while conserving my energy as best I could.  Even still, by mile 60-65 I admit that my mind was toying with me and I just wanted to be off the bike.  However, I stuck it out and around mile 75 I started to pick it up as planned and started to pass some of the few that had passed me while they were working too hard into the wind.

Then, I noticed that something didn’t feel right with the bike.  Is it my tire?  Just as that’s going through my head I hit a turn and crash hard as my tire rolls.  I wasn’t sure what had happened, though.  I got back up, fixed my bike, and started to roll again trying to not look at the damage to myself.  Obviously, I only made it a short way before realizing that my tire was flat.  So, I stop on the side of the road to fix it.  This is where it gets even more fun.  My bike is off of the road and I have one leg on the white line on the side of the road as I put the Pit Stop onto my tire valve.  All of a sudden, some idiot who wasn’t paying any attention runs right into my ankle with his pedal going probably 25 mph!  It was excruciating and immediately sent white hot pain up my leg.  At first I thought for sure it was broken, plus when he hit me it broke my Pit Stop into three pieces so I had to hope I was able to put enough in the tire.  I limped back onto the road and gingerly got back onto the bike.  My ankle hurt really bad, but I was able to ride as long as I didn’t push too hard with that leg.

THEN, the tire goes flat AGAIN!  At this point, I didn’t have any more repair stuff and didn’t want to get off of my bike because I didn’t even know if I’d be able to get back on.  So, I sat up, slowed way down and rode the final 13 miles of the Ironman on a flat tire.  I had to basically walk around the turns to keep myself upright and avoid crashing again.  What made it worse in a way, was that this was on the section with a major, crazy fast, tail wind finally and I couldn’t take advantage of it.  Finally hitting T2, I see Monette and Katie and stop on the road to tell them that I doubt that I’m going to be able to run, but head into the changing tent to take a look at things.

In the changing tent, I take off my sock and my ankle is grotesquely swollen so the guy helping me calls for the medics.  When they get there, they inform me that they can’t take me and treat me unless I’m willing to abandon the race.  UGH!  I ask for them to just take a look and they say that nothing looks broken and they think it’s a deep bone bruise.  They ask me to walk around on it and I say that I feels okay as long as I keep my foot straight.  The medic kindly walks me out of transition to the start of the run to make sure I’m okay, but I grit my teeth and go, ignoring the pain as best I can.

If you’ve ever tried to ride on a flat, it saps your energy pretty quickly, not that I ever recommend trying that.  So, between my legs being way more tired than I’d like and the pains from the crashes, it was very tough mentally.  I tried to think about keeping a steady quick turnover and not pushing too hard.  That worked for about 5-6 miles probably, but my body was sending me all kinds of signals along the way that it was exhausted.  By mile 8-9 I, once again, didn’t know how I was going to get through the race.  Running into Monette and Katie around mile 11 was nice as I was just about to start walking.  I told them that it may take me a while, but I was going to try to get through it.

IM Florida run

Man, those miles seemed to keep getting longer and longer.  By mile 14, I started to walk for probably 30-seconds or so at the aid stations and wogging (a mix between walking and jogging) between.  It was to the point where if I came up on someone that I could pass but was running close to my pace, I would just stay behind them and keep it easy rather than extend myself.  At that point, I really just wanted to finish and it took every bit of my will power to keep going.  At the same time, I was enjoying all of the people cheering for me as AlvaroJavier!

But, I did keep going.  Coming into the last stretch, it was nice to run into Dan Lehman.  While we didn’t talk a whole lot, it still really helps to see a friendly face out there.  I’ve rarely been so happy to see the finish line and all of the support after such a difficult day; finishing on a much different note than expected, but just as happy in a different kind of way.  I was still surprised at how fast both my bike and runs were and how I placed given how the day unfolded.  I guess it maybe showed ‘what could have been’, but I won’t play that game and learned a lot more, both about racing and myself, than on a perfect day.  After crossing the finish line, they wanted to clean my wounds and the peroxide scrubs just added to the fun!  And, having pushed past new limits, I did throw up a couple of times over the next hour.  But, I survived, and the Pizza, breadsticks, and ice cream that Monette and Katie were kind enough to get really hit the spot.

IM Florida finish

So, there you have it, if you’ve read this far.  After a good year of racing, my season ended on a memorable one.  Thanks to everyone for all of the support this year and to all of the members and incredible sponsors of the TMS-IOS team.  It’s been fun, let’s do it again next year…