Ironman Florida

I love racing in Florida. It is a very easy drive from Atlanta and the weather is almost always hot (the exception is 2014). Panama City Beach, or PCB as we call it around here, is a fun town in the Gulf Coast. The fine sand is white, the sky and ocean are baby blue. It is a pretty and quiet place to visit unless you manage to go during spring break when all college kids decide to go too. Then, it is not so quiet.

Ironman Florida has a special place in my heart. It was my first Ironman back in 2013, even before I started writing race recaps or really understood what I was doing. I learned a lot in the past few years about myself, racing and the sport. Today I can say that I am a better athlete and more knowledgeable person about the sport. We race and we learn so much.

This year was supposed to be an easy year with one big race during the summer and then, off to enjoy and have fun. As you know, my A race wasn’t supposed to be Florida. No one likes an ocean swim to be their A race unless you are a swimmer. And I am getting better at it, but I am far from being one. But after Ironman Santa Rosa “disaster”, I need another race and I wanted a hot one. So I chose this one with high hopes that I would have an awesome day. It is all about envisioning yourself on that day. I truly think it works but if not always everything goes as planned, be prepared to adjust.

I had to adjust this time before the race started. I didn’t arrive on Wednesday as initially planned, my boyfriend had a family emergency and couldn’t come. But everything worked out. A friend of mine, Carolina came with me and was my VERY BEST SHERPA. Sorry boys, she actually saw me on the finish line. Something no men that has came to see me racing has been able to accomplished yet (except from my dad on Chatty 70.3, but he is a rock star so it doesn’t count!)

Leading up: I drove down to PCB on Thursday super early. Woke up at 4 am, packed the car and head to pick up Carolina, aka my awesome sherpa. We hit the road pretty early and were able to get there still in the am. It helps that the time changes and clock rolls back an hour in the Gulf Coast compared to Atlanta time. As soon as we arrived, we unloaded the car and I went to registration. There was no registration on Friday, so it had to get done today. And oh boy, that line was huge so I patiently waited and chatted with some athletes while waiting. Then, after almost 30 minutes waiting, I realize that AWA athletes had a priority line. Ops… next time I promise to read all instructions of the athlete guide. I decided not to “cut” the line. I waited, it was almost my turn anyway.

I got my packet that included my bib, cap, bag and chip. (Thank you again for the volunteers!! You all rock!). I also was requested to sign my life away… all those waivers.

The exit for registration is the entrance for the Ironman store, so I ended up buying a shirt (with the wrong logo, thank you Ironman for screwing it up) and a bottle. Just like the one I lost in Santa Rosa. I also went to get some body glide that I had forgotten and that line took over 1 hour and 30 minutes. So note to self, buy everything before leaving Atlanta. Those last minute purchases should never happen consciously. Yes, I decided to buy there because I was lazy to drive to the store in Atlanta the day before. Never again!

Once that was figured out, I drove to Walmart to buy food for the upcoming days. I had McDonald’s on the road for breakfast and for snack (a quarter pound cheese! yummy!). Me and Carolina ran 3 miles after fueling on fast food and it was beautiful. And I am not being sarcastic. I love McDonald’s.

We decided to attend the banquet for dinner. Ironman Florida does it every year, it showcases some athletes competing and talks about some race statistics. I love data and here is a couple of fun facts from this race:

  • 3 men to 1 gal! #weneedmoregals
  • It was the 19th edition of the race, even thought the race shirt they sold me says 20th
  • Bogota is the city that brought the biggest number of athletes

One interesting thing that I noticed was that the 1st year I competed in this race in 2013, Brazil was the 2nd biggest group of people after USA. This year, Brazil was not even mentioned on the top 5. It really shows how the economy is going down there. Sad.

Once dinner was done, we got back to the apartment, waited for another friend to arrive and passed out. I had a little swim and a little bike to do the next day.

The day before: My coach (her name is Kris and I love her) had me swimming and cycling 20 minutes each. I was excited about it, I haven’t had an ocean swim in a very long time. Woke up early, changed and went to to the beach. It was a little chilly and I felt like staying in bed but I had to get that out the way.

As I walked to the water, I saw some friends enjoying the view from the balcony, waved good morning and went on to get my feet wet. There were 4 of us, 2 were racing and 2 were just being good friends. We agreed on 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back. And off we went. Well, I went. There were a lot of people in the water but when I decided to check on my friends and looked back: no one was with me. I can’t deny that being out there all by myself was a little terrifying and I freaked out. I started swimming back to the shore, my breathing was hard and I felt like I wasn’t moving and I thought: I am gonna drown and no one will ever find me. I kicked really hard and after 2 minutes, I was on shore again. Oh, that was never wracking. I started to second guess myself for the race but later on the day, while talking to an experienced triathlete and friend, she reminded that there would be tons of people around me. That brought me clarity and calmness. Thank you Izumi.

Quick stop for a picture after my 20 minute ride.

After swimming, I got to ride 20 minutes of the run course. It was easy, relaxed and more importantly, all my gears were working properly. I tried multiple times. The weather was beautiful and I was super happy to have signed up for this race again. All of the required exercises for the day were done and I was ready to chill. I ate a little, had some snacks and put my feet up a lot. My friends went to the beach to enjoy the day as I relaxed, and put my bags together. Check-in had to be done by 3pm and I planned to go close to closing time. I like to see the transition when it is full of bikes. I rack my bike and leave bags where they are supposed to be. I also did my boyfriend’s strategy from Santa Rosa and recognized the ins and outs of the course. All my homework was done. Now time to cook some dinner and then relax for the big day.

I had the usual pasta for dinner and I tried to go to bed around 9 but I couldn’t really sleep till midnight. I woke up a couple of times in the middle of the night. But oh well, that is pre-race jiggers right?

Air-relaxing and enjoying the sunset.

Me and Carolina before going to transition

The morning of: Alarm went off at 4am. I changed and cooked myself some breakfast. I had 3 eggs, 2 toasts with cottage cheese, some orange juice and some coffee. I wasn’t very hungry but I made sure I ate it all. Then, I just sat there and waited. I went to the restroom (trying to avoid porta potties at all instances!) and keep thinking about this great day that was ahead of me. I was just 0.3 mile away from transition so there was no rush. At 5:35, I decided to walk down there. Got body marked, Carolina made sure that my special needs were delivered (my cokes!) and I went on to put my nutrition on my bike and run bags. I was ready to walk to the beach.

Swim: As I start to put my wetsuit on, my ipod is jamming some techno and I am calm but pumped. I feel confident that it will be a great day. I promise to myself not to keep looking up my watch while swimming. The national anthem, the ocean, the sun coming up. I love this. Carolina is next to me all this time, she snaps some pictures and once she can’t come with me anymore, she wishes me a good race and off I go. I move my arm in all directions I can, Michael Phelps style. Got the picture? Yeah, I need to wake up my muscles and they need to be awaken. Following  Kris’ advice I position myself on the 1:10 – 1:20 finish, I think it is aggressive but she knows best.

The horn goes off and it is show time, here I go. I put my feet on the water, wet my face and the water is a bit cold. There is no turning back. Even thought the yellow buoys are guidance and sighting, I try to keep them to my left. That’s where the majority of people are and I figure that it would easier. I maybe able to get some help from a quick feet, maybe a group drafting. I get hit and once that happens, I figure that it is not worth the stress and swim away. I made the first turn on the red buoy, then the second one… and I am now coming back. Despite all the salty water, it didn’t feel that bad. I walk to the timing mat and look at my watch, 36 minutes. Wow. THIRTY SIX? Ok, maybe I can put this one off. Second loop, here we go. I drink water and go again, this loop seems more shaky. The wind decided to show up and it feels like I am inside a washing machine. I kick more than I should on the way back but I want to stop the seasickness I am starting to feel. I swim as much as I can to the shore as some people fight the waves walking back, I am riding them back to shore. I look at my watch… and it is unbelievable. I am a very happy gal. Time: 01:14:04, Division rank: 27/70

T1: I am on a mission, making this as quickly as possible and I think I do an okay job. I had help to take my wetsuit off, but for that, I had to lay on the sand. My biggest fear was to have sand rubbing on my skin during the bike. So yes, I took an extra minute on the shower. Better safe than sorry. I  grab my bag and I run to the changing tents. Getting there, I throw all on the floor and get ready. It goes by quick, I have a gel, I put sunscreen and run out. My friends are volunteering on sun screen station, they cheer me but I am on a mission and I don’t think I answer anyone back. I ask for vaseline, no one has it and I move forward. I want my bike. Time: 09:16

Bike: As I mount on my bike, I hear some cheering and yelling from Atlanta people. This is so fun, I love it. I smile and start to game plan: “don’t get too excited, control your heart rate. This is the longest part of the day.” That is my mantra for the day. I am going for HR control. I do not look for the speed at any time. I drop on my aero bars and I think circles, quick circles. I stretch my back on every turn and that trick helps a lot. The bike is on the highway so it is very hot and not a lot to look around. I make about 4 stops on the bike to refuel water. It was just another day in Florida. Just like I envisioned, so all as planned.

Somewhere in the route, I see ITL peeps and they are an awesome cheering crowd. The girls have tutus and I don’t remember seeing any guys. Sorry boys! After half way, I have to stop to reapply chammy. I glance at my watch and it looks like I am flying…. over 18mph average? I get excited but I got back to my moto. Once I start to recognize the roads, I look at my watch and I am approaching the T2, my watch reads 5:50ish … HOLY SMOKES! I have a gel and I enjoy the last 6 miles, I am not racing anymore. I am smiling, I am happy I beat my best case scenario for the bike. I smile left and right. I am so proud of this race. After Santa Rosa, I needed this! Then, I remember it is not over yet and I begin to plan my T2 and run in my head.

As I pulled into Thomas Drive, I have an awesome cheer squad waiting for me: Carolina and my other girlfriends, the ones I rode every single weekend this year. So refreshing! So loud! So fun! I love you gals for sticking around and cheering on me. What a JOY!  Time: 6:04:28, Division rank: 25/70

T2: I am pumped and differently from all the races I have done, I am sad to part ways from my bike. We could have gone longer, we did good today but it is time for my favorite now. I toss my bike to a volunteer (THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS!!!!!!) and go to yell my number: 513! 513! 513! Run bag magically appear in front of me. Again, an awesome volunteer to help. I get a bit lost here, not knowing where to go. I couldn’t remember where the tent was. ARGH! Not again! It takes me 5-10 seconds and someone points the door to me. I go in, and I try to do it all quickly. Then, as I walk out… I realized I am missing my cooling towel. I run back and grab it. Let’s do this. Time: 07:32

Run:  The route is 2 flat loops, my favorite type of run. I am much better runner today than I was 3 months ago, the hard work does pay off. So as you can imagine I had high expectations for this piece. I am excited for this piece. As I go off to run, I hear Stephanie yelling: “NO walking!!!” I told my friends that my goal was not to walk. And the first 2-3 miles go as planned but all of a sudden, I can’t function right. My head tells my legs to move but they are not going as fast as they are supposed to. Something is off, I run/jogg to the next aid station to grab ice to put in my mouth, shorts and top. I am still not right, I can’t figure out what it is. GI issues maybe? I think so, so I am not eating anymore. I keep the ice method and all of a sudden, my body responds. I can run again when I am getting close to mile 10. My coach thinks I was overheating and that makes way more sense than GI issues as I initially thought. I do the first loop much slower than I would like. I am soaking wet. I stop at special needs to change socks and get some coke. My second loop is fulled with cola. If you know me, you know how much I desire the cola on rides and runs. It is my guilty pleasure. I love my coca-cola and I also love to see my friends. I get to see SOOOOOOO many friends. I LOVE this! They take pictures, they yell my name, they encourage me and I feel like I can conquer the world. What an amazing group of friends I have got! So proud to be part of it. The upcoming miles were much easier, I had sugar, caffeine and I was on a mission. I wanted to run, I did walk some aid stations to drink water and cola. As I got closer and closer, I felt that I should push it and that is what I did. Every time, I thought about slowing down, I repeated my power word in my head. What a secret weapon! Once I finished, I saw my awesome sherpa Carolina and my friends Reiko, Stephanie and Izumi. It is SO AWESOME to have a group of inspiring women around you. THEY CHEER ON ME! They are SO happy for me. And I am SOOOO HAPPY they are there  and I am also happy to be done with this crappy run! Time: 4:41:11, Division rank: 27/70

Final time: 12:16:31, I placed 23/70. I guess those quick transitions helped me afterall!

Ironman Florida, You never disappoint. (well…unless you cancel the swim, like in 2014). The crowd is unbelievable, people are out, cheering, smiling and encouraging everyone that passes by. And, I love the ocean. After all, who doesn’t love a nice day at the beach after a race like this?

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