Green Member: Cliff King
Event: Ironman Florida
Location: Panama City Beach, Florida
Class (yours): Men's 50-54
Results: 12:36:54 in time, placed 1213 overall, and 99 in class
Local Knowledge and Conditions: Arrived in Panama City Beach on Tuesday and we drove the bike course on Wednesday, and swam part of the swim course on Wednesday. Had planned to bike the run course but things didn't work out to do that. The bike and run courses were both flat and fast and pretty none descript. Every turn went down another road that looked just like the rode you had just been on. But flat was good, especially when the wind picked up on race day. But the conditions were incredible from Wednesday to Friday with the Gulf looking like Lake Ray Hubbard on a decent day. Very little chop and hardly any waves or swells. That changed on Saturday when we woke up to the sound of waves breaking on the beach. They were not bad, maybe 1 foot but we now had some wind and some waves, some chop, and some pretty good swells out on the turn-around about a half mile out in the Gulf.
Pre-Race Strategy & Warm Up: Prerace was all about calories and mental preparation. Michael Dawdy had prepared me well with a game plan of when to eat, what to eat, and when to arrive at the transition area so I didn't have to think as much as just follow the plan. I walked the quarter of a mile to half mile to the race site, stretched a little and did my final business with the port a potty and then put on the wetsuit and went to the beach. Arrived with just a little time to jump in the water and get the body and suit adjusted before we had to get out for the pro's to start.
Psychology: I am not paid to say this but having a coach to prepare you both physically and mentally is more important than I could have imagined. The training both physically and mentally that Michael put me through made the Ironman experience actually a joy in a sadistic sort of way. His work outs prepared my body to respond in each discipline better than I would have ever expected. Little things like not training the last few months with music to prepare yourself for the mental fatigue of an Ironman distance, and being prepared to change your food intake in the later stages of the marathon when your body starts to reject anything that resembles a gu or gel. Chicken broth and flat coke were just what was needed and if I had not been prepared I might not have gone to them when I needed to.
Lessons Learned (Or Re-Learned): You must go with the flow on race day. I was very nervous at the start of the swim, when you look around and realize the size of 2500 people all gathered to swim at the same time in the same place. As I walked back into the middle of the pack, I thought, this is crazy. But I just went with it and honestly, the swim could not have been easier if I was by myself in Lake Ray Hubbard. People just make space for you and even though you are surrounded on all sides, you form up like a school of fish and just swim. The transitions are crazy when you enter the changing tent and there are hundreds of people with gear flying off and on all around you. I was pretty slow because just finding a spot to change took a minute or two.
The bike was crazy because, being a middle of the pack guy, there were always people in front of me or behind me. Always. Trying not to draft or be drafted off of was almost impossible for at least half the race. But I did my best to maintain space and even though it seemed like the referees were always there, I must have looked right because I never got a penalty. But they did penalize a bunch because every penalty tent I went by was full. The wind made a stretch of 20 to 30 miles on the back side of the course a bear but it also made another 20 to 30 miles near the end of the course a blast.
As Michael said, the Ironman is a 7 hour warm-up for a marathon. I felt good coming off the bike and ran pretty much the whole first 13 miles, and then just walked and ran the second loop as best I could. Probably the most enjoyable part of the race was the last loop because I knew I was going to finish and I spent more time talking to other walker/runners and also took in more of what was going on at each aide station. The people were crazy and enthusiastic and really made a difference. Special thanks goes to Phil from Atlanta who worked with me and I with him to make sure we finished under 13 hours.
Lastly, Michael was right again when he said take your time going through the finish area. Don't race through it and miss the experience. I walked, giving high five's to people on both sides, enjoyed hearing the crowd cheering and Mike Riley's voice. It was a highlight of the day.
Future Goals (include skills executed well and skills needing improvement): I will do another Ironman someday. Either Kona through the lottery in 2010 or another one like Arizona in 2011. By then I will hopefully be a better runner. Want my next Ironman to be under 11 hours. Must improve my bike a little and my run a lot.
Fitness (endurance, nutrition, hydration): Get a coach and listen to them. My endurance lasted because my nutrition and hydration worked perfectly for me because I had someone who knew what they were doing directing me.
Something funny that happened: I had bought a new Garmin 310XT to use to pace me through the whole race so that I would make it under 14 hours and not blow up. When I pushed the button to start the watch, it read something I had never seen. Watch is full must delete something. I had even trained with it down in Panama City Beach to make sure it worked. Didn't know it could fill up and had no idea how to delete anything. So all my plans on pacing were thrown out the window and I had to just use my heart rate to keep me in safe zones. I literally didn't know how fast I was going at any time until near the end of the first loop of the run. I was running next to a guy named Iron Mike (said it on his outfit) and he asked me how many Ironman's I had done. I said this was my first and he said I was doing great. I said I hoped to finish under 14 hours and he laughed and said, "you could walk from here and finish under 14.
If anyone wants to know the spiritual lessons I learned from this experience, just email me because I would love to share them with you.