Three Ironman Triathlons in Nineteen Weeks…
My Coaching Perspective: With my triathlon coaching, we prepare you for the worst and hope for the best. When Jeff put his 2021 plan together, we never put together 3 Ironman Triathlons. Would I suggest three in one year? No, but here is why Jeff did the third one. He is going for the Ironman World Championship Legacy Spot. If Jeff didn’t do one before IM Alaska, he would have had to wait until 2027 and do one every year until 2027. (New Legacy Rules). We both agreed that he didn’t want to wait that long. So in 2022, he will do one Ironman Triathlon, and then in 2023, it will be the ticket to the Ironman World Championship Legacy Spot. And now for Jeff’s story.
Travel and lead up to the Ironman Florida (smooth sailing):
I was scheduled to have race week off work, so I planned a leisurely trip to Panama City Beach. Tamara would be joining me later in the week, so she drove me over to Minneapolis on Tuesday night, and I flew out early Wednesday morning. I arrived at the ECP airport. The baggage handlers did a bang-up job delivering all the luggage and bikes(I counted 32 cycles on my flight alone). The rental was easy to pick up, and before I knew it, I was on my way to the athlete village to register. The weather was pleasant and sunny, 75 degrees. Registration was not crowded, and within 15 minutes, I was registered with #234 for the race on Saturday. I shopped for groceries and by then could check into my condo. I unpacked and headed out to the Panama City Beach Aquatic Center for a swim(If you ever do this race, this pool is fabulous). The next day, the wind picked up, and the temps dropped a bit; by Friday, it was windy, rainy, and cold. I met up with an IG friend( now friend IRL) at bike check-in. It was so windy that Ironman allowed the bikes to be racked by their handlebars(this was eye-opening as they never let this). I then made a frantic trip to Walmart to pick up a warm-weather gear as predicted temps/wind chill for race morning were going to be in the 40s(this included a stocking hat, long-sleeved shirt, gloves, neck gaiters, and fuzzy slippers). I found a few things that I was willing to toss if it warmed up and headed to the airport to pick up my wife. Coach Rulon arrived when we made it back to the condo almost the same time. We caught up and planned for the cold, and I tried to head to bed by 2100 for my 0400 wake-up call. I was nervous, but overall ready to go.
Race Morning (48 degrees and 20mph winds):
The wind was howling; the weather report said 15 mph with gusts over 20 mph. I was glad it was dark, so I couldn’t see the gulf from my balcony. I had my usual pre-race breakfast consisting of coffee and white rice with jelly( I know this sounds terrible, but it isn’t bad, and it is all simple carbs that go down quickly). I got my kit on and started to layer on top of it. I didn’t want to put my wetsuit on yet as my race wasn’t likely to begin until after 0700. I put on most of the long-sleeved clothes that I brought with me. I got to transition about 0530, checked my bike, and aired up my tires; I put my race nutrition on my bike and got in line for the porta-potty ( the most important part of race mornings). Following this, I began to feel cold and wish I had already had my wetsuit on. I decided to go for it, stripping off all my layers and then struggling with the wetsuit. I had brought a large lawn and leaf garbage bag with me and made it into a makeshift poncho for when I would have to give up some of my layers. I exited transition before it closed and headed to the beach to find my swim time group. I dropped my extra layers and morning clothes bag with Tamara and Coach Rulon, keeping my slippers, hat, gloves, and a garbage bag, and made my way to the sand.
Swim (The sea was angry that day):
I somehow missed the national anthem but heard the cannon as the pros went off on their swim. I inched forward, unwilling to take off my eclectic, warm gear. As I approached the water, I shed my layers, giving up my slippers at the last minute. Oh Lord, the sand felt cold, but by then, I was nearing the front of the line; I saw Jen and Tamara and got to give Mike Reilly and high 5. Off to the water, I bounded. Eek, the water was cold too, but thankfully as I made my way to open water, It warmed up quite a bit. My watch auto laps every 500 yards, and this year, I have made an effort to check it when it vibrates. This has allowed me to stay focused and keep pushing the pace. My first lap was 8:53, a bit faster than my typical average, but not bad. I told myself to settle in and keep pushing. The traffic wasn’t bad; perhaps I self-seeded in just the right spot. My next lap was 10:40, a bit slower than I liked, but over the first 1000, I was right on track. I then hit the red turn buoy and felt the full power of the wind and waves. I swam and swam but felt as though the next buoy was not getting closer. I tried shorter, faster strokes, longer, more powerful strokes, and slowly made progress. Next lap 15:28, what the what? At this pace, will I even be able to finish F#@# this is still the first lap; double F#@#, I have to do this again. I made the turn and headed back toward the beach. I felt like I was constantly running into other swimmers. Was it me, or were they swimming terribly? I’m not a great swimmer, but in both my previous races this year, I was under 80 minutes and swam less than 100 yards over the required distance. I then saw the sand and was able to stand; I waded into the shore and made the short beach run to start lap two. I took my goggles off to see better and began to hear how everyone had swum about 20 minutes slower than their predicted times. I was only about 13 minutes slower, so I took some solace in that. I made sure to grab a cup of water to rinse out of my mouth. This midwest boy will take green lake water over salty brine any day of the week, out for my second lap, which was essentially a repeat of the first, with the exception that the buoys were hard to sight (I would learn later that they were being blown all over the place by the wind and current). I easily made my way out to the turn, then once again struggled into the waves and current, finally able to make my way back to the shore. When my feet touched down on terra firma, I was elated.
I peed before I got out of the water to save a minute or two. I saw Jen and Tamara on the beach. I believe that my exact quote was, “ I have never been so happy to be out of the God-damned water.” Total time 1:45:15, 92/219 in my age group. Sixteen minutes slower than my slowest non-wetsuit swim at Ironman Texas(2016) and 27 minutes longer than my swim at Ironman CdA earlier this year. I ended up swimming an extra 400 yards for a total of about 4600. This was minimal compared with some fellow competitors. Over the course of the day, I heard about swims as long as 6000 yards(whoa!)
I was elated to be out of the water and ran all the way to transition. This was a pretty long run; I elected to keep my wetsuit on for warmth. The pavement was freezing. Why didn’t I put my slippers on the immediate needs table? I could no longer feel my feet(it would stay this way for the next 4 hours). I hit transition, got out of my wetsuit, put on long sleeves and a warm cycling jacket, gloves, and neck gaiter up over my ears, socks, and my shoes, and headed for the bike out. Slow transition 10:15 at the mount line I ran into my friend, and we commiserated about the swim and current conditions for a few seconds, and we were on our way.
Bike (Every direction I turn is a headwind?!?)
As I headed out on the bike, I wondered if I would ever feel warm. The wind was blowing, and as any cyclist will tell you when you are out in it, it feels like you always have a headwind. I made my way over the only climb(the West Bay bridge, note: this was not the only climb); it is known to be a pretty flat race. It is my typical practice to pee while on my bike; admittedly, I find this to be very difficult to accomplish in good conditions, let alone in the cool temps and wind that blew throughout the day. After the long swim, a PR was out the window, so I decided early on to stop when needed. Down to business: hold steady power, make myself small, stay on top of my nutrition. For the past two races, I have used EFS Pro (six scoops – 240kCal per hour) and a Maurten gel each hour.
My first stop was at special needs where, inexplicably, I saw no volunteers. There were also no bike racks. I had to lay my bike on the ground, find my bag in a mess and change out my bottles. I decided to use the porta-potty, and this was my first mistake. I spent over ten minutes waiting in line. While waiting, I took off a layer. I got back on the bike and headed out for my second 56 miles. After the turn north onto Highway 79, I realized exactly where the wind was coming from. This was a soul cruising stretch of slow, difficult riding. It was made more difficult to see other riders going the other direction faster. I told myself to put my head down and keep pedaling. My splits were averaging 12-14 mph, this was demoralizing, but soon enough, I made the turn and headed back toward the gulf. My speed dramatically increased with splits of 22-23 mph. After a jaunt along the gulf and a sketchy ride on some plastic panels, I was headed back to transition.
T2 was equally slow, I was now warm, but I suspected that it wouldn’t last long once the sun went down. I tucked my jacket into my kit and changed my socks(I always change my socks due to the pee), put on my shoes, grabbed my hat, race bib, and run bottle(more EFS, though only 120 kCal/bottle), and I was off, I decided to use the porta-potty, but didn’t want to take my bottle in with me, so I set it down outside. I was off, or so I thought. I got all the way through the transition to the run start and had to turn around to get my run bottle back at the porta-potties; ugh. Oh well, it felt so good to be off the bike that I didn’t mind, and off I went, for real this time. Overall bike 6:37:00 (12 minutes of stopped time) 144/219 in my age group. The transition was 9:46, though it should have/could have been under 8 minutes.
Run (It was a good run, It was a bad run)
Right after the turn out of transition, you see the special needs area; I said to myself that I would be back in 13 miles. I then saw coach Jen and my wife, Tamara. I grabbed a quick kiss and some encouragement and was on my way. Suddenly coach Jen was at my side, unsure where she came from. I had tucked my cycling jacket under my kit, and she offered to take it off my hands. It was beautiful at the time, so I passed it off (this was a mistake). I was clicking off the miles and was averaging right at my goal race pace. I was focusing on my mantra, repeating over and over: “check your form, be mentally strong, Believe (big Ted Lasso fan). By mile 10, I had slowed slightly but was still under 10-minute miles. Then I started to get cold, and the wheels just absolutely fell off. I slowed significantly but pulled into special needs at about 2:15. I saw the crew reclaimed my jacket(yes, I know this is technically against the rules). As I picked up the coat, I said how fortunate to find my jacket on the barrier, just where I left it; ha!
The second half of the run became a soul-crushing march. Initially, I was able to talk myself into a run/walk cycle of 3/1. This slowly began to degrade and was soon one minute run and one minute walk. At Ironman Wisconsin, I hitched my wagon to a fellow runner, and we helped pass the time and kept each other motivated. I wasn’t lucky enough to find such a soul to run with this race. It just kept getting colder and lonelier, and darker. On the way back, I began to feel nauseated and couldn’t take in anything aside from a sip or two of coke. I was jogging 0.1 miles and walking 0.1 miles. This was gonna take some time, but mile after mile, I neared the finish line. I turned down the finish chute, saw the lights, and heard Mike Reily. As usual, I didn’t see or hear my wife or Jen. Video evidence exists of them screaming for me and for me just running right by. Finally, I crossed the line and can say that I finished with the biggest smile on my face as Mike called me an Ironman for the 11th time. The run time was 5:27:40 138/219 in my age group.
Overall finish: 14:09:54. 126/219 in my age group, 792/1273 by gender, and 1026/1701 overall.
Overall Race Recap
My overall race and execution were hindered by the difficult swim and cold temps and the audacious goal to do three races in 19 weeks. This was my first and last three Ironman race seasons. Next year I have a 70.3 in Oceanside (lots of unfinished business in California) and Ironman Alaska.
I am looking forward to some time off and then will hit it hard to build things back up for 2022!