My first Triathlon
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Ironman Florida - TriathlonFull Ironman
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Panama City Beach, Florida
Ironman North America
72F / 22C
= 13h 18m
= W 30-34
Age Group Rank
Eric and I got down to PCB on Wednesday after making the 16 hour drive from MI, stopping for the night to crash at my aunt and uncle’s place in Alabama. The drive was pretty grueling, but it ended up being much less expensive for the two of us and we didn’t have to worry about flying our bike.
It was nice having a couple days to get settled in, get some quick workouts in, and try to relax. I loved being able to stay at the host hotel and have all IM activities happen in our parking lot!
On race day, we woke up at 4:15 and had our usual Kashi breakfast and a cup of coffee. We went down to pump our bike tires
(glad we brought our own once we saw the line for bike support
), dropped off our special needs bags and got body marked. Pre-race activity and chit-chat can actually make me anxious, so we went back up to our room to settle down, get our wetsuits on, and take some pictures. My sister Yvonne and our friend Jen came down to be our support crew for this race…they had on the t-shirts I made for them that said, “Team Cheric IronFan”. Made them very easy to spot during the day.
With about 20 minutes to go, we headed down to the beach and into the start corral. Apparently we went the wrong way and had to go through the water and backwards over the timing mat to make sure we officially got counted. I was very jealous of the folks that wore socks down to the start because the sand was FREEZING…my feet actually hurt from the cold.
After trying unsuccessfully to not obsess about the weather and water conditions, we were pleasantly surprised by the calm surf. I am very prone to motion-sickness and have been slightly terrified of the possibility of big waves, so this was great!
Hmmmm…does thinking about warming up count? We considered getting in the water, but figured we’d just get cold once we got back out and had to wait for the start. It was going to be a long enough day without the warm up.
1h 19m 2s
02m 05s / 100 meters
I have to say that nothing I have done in training could have prepared me for the mass start. It was pure craziness! The trick was to remain calm in the chaos, because there was constant touching, kicking, and hitting going on. It was less like swimming and more like jockeying for position. The three situations that were the most disconcerting to me were: 1
) getting kicked in the teeth, 2
) have my goggles knocked askew, getting saltwater in my eyes and having to try to fix them without getting swam over, and 3
) getting elbowed so hard in the ear that I was positive that I was bleeding or had ruptured an eardrum
(I was fine, by the way
The turns were terrible and you almost couldn’t stay horizontal in the water with all the people breast stroking, so I was looking forward to the second lap where it would be thinned out. I finished the first lap in about 38 minutes – a personal best due to the amazing draft!
The sand bar that was at the front of the course meant that most folks were just sort of walking their way back to the 1st buoy after the turn corral. I did a couple of dolphin dives
(which is funny, really, because I don’t really know how to do them
) and got back on the course for the second lap.
It was significantly less crazy for the second lap, but the turns still got very congested. On the way back in, I found the best feet to draft off for the rest of the course. This guy had a big, consistent kick and was swimming in a straight line…perfect! A couple more pseudo-dolphin dives and we were out of the water.
The swim had been a source of anxiety for me with all the motion-sickness issues, sea creatures, and lack of saltwater experience, but it all went by so fast!
What would you do differently?:
Train like the guy in that Clif Bar triathlon start commercial to prepare for the beatings I would take!
Out of the water and up to the wetsuit strippers. They did an awesome job! I did get a little sand in my eye and definitely had sand all over my clothes from lying down on the ground while they did their work. I was glad we were planning on a complete wardrobe change so I wouldn’t have to worry about sand ending up in bad places for the entire bike and run course!
A brief stop in the showers to rinse off the saltwater and some of the sand and then we ran through to the actual transition area. I grabbed my bag and entered the madness of the changing tent. It was pretty dark and crazy crowded, but I found I seat in a corner. There was one volunteer trying to help three of us, but she had time to help me pull on my jersey over my damp body and she put my sunscreen on my face while I was putting on my socks.
Just outside the tent the sunscreen girls slathered me up – probably just a bit too liberally judging from the white streaks that were all over me – and another volunteer got my bike.
What would you do differently?:
Not much...if it weren't 50 degrees out I would've just worn my tri top and shorts, but I wanted to be comfy and being wet and cold for the first part of the bike would not have been fun.
6h 42m 43s
Of the three sports, I am the weakest cyclist. I am just sort of mediocre in the other two, but at least I have been swimming and running for a long time. We knew from a 45 min. ride the day before that the wind would be in our face for most of the first 50 miles, so it would be a struggle to not blow up during the first 3 hours.
The first challenge was to actually mount my bike without getting taken out or taking somebody else out. It was crazy crowded at the mount line and folks who were getting started would occasionally swerve wildly. I ran with my bike and got ahead and to the side of the crowd before hopping on. We had made plans earlier to station Yvonne and Jen by one of the first turns on the bike course so they could let both Eric and I know which of us was on the course first and by how much time. We had assumed I would be out of the water first, but we weren’t exactly sure how much time we’d need in transition and didn’t want to cross paths there and not know it. Turns out I was ahead and later found out that Eric was behind me by 9 minutes. He’s a much better cyclist, so I knew he’d catch me eventually.
Once we made the turn north onto Hwy 79, the wind was there…not awful, but enough to slow my pace to about 15 mph on some sections where I was trying to keep my HR and RPE low. I’m pretty sure that about 1,000 cyclists passed me here…that was fairly demoralizing, but I just kept thinking, “don’t eat the paste!” It took some mental focus to keep the pace and exertion nice and easy.
We made the turn east onto Hwy 20…still more wind since it was coming from the NE. Right after mile 30, Eric caught up to me and we were able to stay with each other for the rest of the race
(at a legal distance, of course
). There were a couple rollers here, but as advertised, the course was super flat…even by my standards. I was feeling good and the nutrition plan was working great…thank you, Infinit!
We got to special needs area and it was a relief to know that some of the hardest cycling was behind us since we would turn the corner and be heading south. The bad news was, we ended up spending 7 minutes at special needs, 6 minutes of which was spent waiting in line for the portapotty…a little frustrating that there were only 2 portapotties, but I guess a few extra minutes wasn’t going to matter in a day that ended up being more than 13 hours long. We got our new bottles of Infinit, “re-butt’rd”, and we were off.
Oh, the blessed tailwind! Going south on Hwy 231 was a breeze. We were going 20-22 mph with no effort
(that’s fast for me
)! I was sad that this section was less than 10 miles long before we made a turn heading west…more tree-lined here so the wind wasn’t pushing us really. Right after the 100K marker the pavement got bad. Every 15 feet or so there was a joint in the pavement
(Eric is a transportation engineer and told me later the probable cause of this, but I don’t remember
). Lots and lots of yellow aerobottle sponges, CO2 cartridges, and some full tubular tires were lining the course here…shaken off by all the rattling. All I knew is that every time I hit one of the joints
(and this was every couple seconds for a couple miles
), it felt like I was getting punched in the girl bits repeatedly…not much fun.
We finally got off that road, heading NE again into the wind. We made another turn east onto 388, so more wind, and the pavement was rough here too. This was a short out and back section, so I just kept looking ahead for the turn around because I was getting pretty impatient with both the wind and bad pavement. At least when we finally made the turn and we saw all the folks behind us, I knew that we were not at the very back of the pack as I had suspected when all those people passed me in the first 2 hours. And when we turned we had the wind at our backs again – whoo-hoo!
All the way down 388 with some wind behind us…there was one more section of sort of rough pavement, but not any worse than some of the Michigan roads we normally cycle on. I was so happy when we hit the 100 mile marker…it finally felt like we were almost there. When we finally got on Front Beach again, I kept looking for the Waffle House that signaled our turn towards the finish. This proved to be a bad strategy as Florida apparently is loaded with Waffle Houses…I got let down after passing the wrong one. But then we finally got to the finish and saw Yvonne and Jen with their signs and their cameras.
I decided to get out of my shoes ahead of time because I didn’t want to chance having to run or walk with cleats on with my wobbly legs. It worked well, but it meant that when I had to use the bathroom again in transition, I was barefoot. Gross. Normally that would be particularly disturbing to me, but I didn’t care anymore. Funny what an Ironman does to your sense of all things hygienic.
What would you do differently?:
Not suck so much on the bike. Go to the bathroom when there is no line. Really, this was pretty good for us, but someday I'd like to be much faster and better cyclist.
Volunteers got my bag, and I headed into the changing tent for yet another full wardrobe change. I got my own volunteer this time, and she was pretty young, so I was a little nervous at first. She was awesome though, because she knew just what to do. She asked me what I needed and then unpacked it for me. She was repacking everything I was taking off and reminded me to turn my race belt forward. Perfect. I was supposed to meet Eric by the timing mat out to the run course where he would be waiting for me.
I got to the mat and didn’t see him, so I crossed the mat and hoped I’d see him just around the corner. Nothing. I didn’t see him, and didn’t want to do anything bad with my timing by running back over the mat to check in transition for him, so I waited. I think all the spectators thought I was disoriented because I was just standing there and not running.
Apparently Eric is a much more leisurely transitioner than me because I was waiting more than 3 minutes before I saw him. Crikey! That’s like an eternity when you’re just standing there waiting to get your run on!
What would you do differently?:
This was a pretty good one, but I wish I would've figured out that Eric was still in the tent before crossing the timing mat so I wasn't waiting on the run course.
5h 00m 51s
11m 29s min/mile
Finally we were off, and I felt surprisingly good. While we were in transition, Yvonne and Jen ran to the other side to get some pics of us starting the run…very cool. Our plan was to attempt to run between aid stations and to walk the aid stations while we refueled. We had to keep slowing ourselves down, because I knew we’d need to conserve our energy. I had made Eric a list of the “ABCs of Ironman Training” to recap our last couple years of memories. I figured that reading one letter per mile would keep us occupied to be able to reminisce about some funny and/or stressful memories. What I didn’t take into account was how zoned out we were. After the first 2, I forgot about it again until we were in the state park.
The “Girl Zone” and jungle-themed stations were great…it really helped to have some distraction out there. I had worn my Michigan tech t-shirt for the run and got my fair share of “Go Blue”s and a few “Go Buckeyes” and other funny things. I was glad I wore it because it got us some attention and was just another thing to distract us.
I felt great until about mile 4 where I was feeling just a little behind in fuel. I decided to take a gel to get a little calorie boost, and it worked great. After this station, there was a stretch where all the athletes’ loved ones had all their Inspiration Station signs displayed. We missed ours on the first pass…bummer.
Into the state park and when we hit mile 5, I remembered the ABCs and reached into my Fuelbelt to get the list and it was gone. Crap. It must’ve fallen out when I went for the gel a mile ago. Oh well, I tried to recap as many as I could remember, but I was let down. The funny thing is that 2 days after the race, I realized I put the list back in my shorts pocket, not my Fuelbelt, so it was there the entire time. At least I was able to read them to him later!
We got to the first turnaround still feeling good. Around mile 10 I started slipping again, but we were still running. We caught up to Jasha
) at mile 11 and ran with him for a bit. That was a nice boost for us…and he is a rockstar!
We got to the turn around at 13.1 and it was a little bittersweet to hear Mike Reilly already calling people Ironmen knowing that we were only on our first lap. Right before the turn there were these two guy spectators that were awesome…they ran a bit with us yelling and cheering and calling me Miss Michigan.
Used the bathroom again and got our new Fuelbelt bottles from our special needs bag. I had put M&M’s and some potato chips in there the night before in case I was in the mood for a treat. I picked the M&M’s and they were magical!
Off again and we saw Yvonne and Jen walking up ahead with their backs to us
(their “Ironfan” shirts helped us spot them
), so we started yelling for them. They had just enough time to get down from the sidewalk to take some more pics. They both did the Steelhead HIM with us last year, so they know how to be good spectators! My sister Yvonne is 6 months preggers though, so she had to hobble a bit while she was hustling from place to place!
I hit another low point around mile 16, so I tried some coke and chicken broth. Not bad, but I ended up having to back off the Infinit for a couple miles to settle my belly a little. At this point it was dark and there were fewer spectators, so it got a little lonelier. Eric was doing great…much better than me so he kept me moving.
When we got to the state park again, it was desolate. This was the darkest and emptiest part of the course, so it was tough. We finally hit the turn around, hit another portapotty, and kept going. We saw a guy trip himself up in the dark, groaning in pain…we tried to run a little more carefully after that. We did not need a sprained ankle with a 10K to go. Everything was achy now...feet, knees, legs...but nothing was really injured, just tired. Around this time we started comparing the mileage left to our regular training courses or other race distances. 5 miles doesn’t sound like a lot normally, but after 21 miles it’s an eternity. 3 miles is our neighborhood loop with our dogs, 2 miles is to Ann Arbor Road and back, etc. With about 2 miles to go the crowds picked up again and we knew we’d make it. We skipped the last aid station and made our way to the last stretch. It was awesome.
We ran into the same guys that called me Miss Michigan earlier, and they could not have been more excited for us! For that whole stretch we pretty much felt like rockstars! We tried to position ourselves so that there was a break of runners in front and behind us to make sure we could get a good picture. We heard Mike Reilly say “Eric Miller
(his last name is Mueller
) from Canton, MI followed by Cheryl Donohooo
) also from Canton…you are both an Ironman!” I loved it! Even with the mispronunciations, it was awesome! We crossed the finish line with our arms up and kissed after we were through…apparently it was caught on the live video feed because several of our friends and family back home saw it too!
What would you do differently?:
We probably should've back off the run even more from the start, but this was still a good pace for us. We never had to walk other than the aid stations and we had a decent overall time.
We got our medals, shirts and hats and got our finisher’s pictures taken. We decided to forgo using a catcher because we actually felt okay. Found Yvonne and Jen and took some more pics on our own. Apparently we missed out on free massages…we didn’t even see where they were happening, so that was kind of a bummer…I’m a massage fiend. Walked around for just a little bit and was glad that they had gotten our bikes and gear bags earlier. We went back up to the room and showered.
Yvonne and Jen had also made us dinner and got dessert for us for a post-race treat, so we skipped waiting for pizza and had lasagna and cheesy garlic bread instead…it was glorious! They then showed us a newspaper from Friday that showed a guy who had caught a 720 pound shark right off our beach a couple days ago...nice. At least they waited until after the race to tell us!
We felt pretty good for a bit, then hit a wall. Both of us started nodding off right after eating, so there was no way we were going to make it back down to watch more finishers. I would’ve liked to see the last finishers, but we were sound asleep within about 1 minute.
What limited your ability to perform faster:
Not being a great cyclist, full wardrobe changes, and fatigue. But this finish was on the fast side of what we thought we could accomplish, so it was awesome! I'd love to do another one someday!
I loved this race! I love crowds and I couldn't imagine if it were any less crowded out there for that second lap. It was amazing and the volunteers were great!
Last updated: 2008-06-04 12:00 AM
01:19:02 | 3800 meters | 02m 05s / 100meters
Sleeveless Desoto T-1
2 loop rectangle.
68F / 20C
Run with bike:
Jump on bike:
Getting up to speed:
06:42:43 | 112 miles | 16.69 mile/hr
Big single loop with a tiny out and back. Mostly smooth with some rough patches.
Riding w/ feet on shoes
Jumping off bike
Running with bike
Shoe and helmet removal
05:00:51 | 26.2 miles | 11m 29s min/mile
Double out and back. Flat with a couple speed bumps.
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Lots of volunteers?
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]
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