The HOW and WHY:
I had every intention of ending the season after Kona. I was looking forward to pizza/cookies and drinking several adult beverages.
Flashback to about 30 minutes after crossing the finish line at Kona, I told Mandy how much fun I had during the race and that I want to come back next year to race the best in the world. The competition left me hungry for more. I felt like I was so close to where I want to be, yet so far away (placing 33rd in my AG). Regardless, my off season had officially started. Time to relax, enjoy, and indulge! Mandy had other plans…
Mandy mentioned doing another Ironman this year like Cozumel, Florida, or Arizona. I thought she was crazy. We actually argued about it with me mostly getting upset and saying it wasn’t possible to race an Ironman well with such short recovery. Just to humor her, we looked at the dates. Cozumel was out because it conflicted with Mandy’s work schedule and Florida and Arizona were sold out so the subject was dropped…for the time being…
The next day, the subject came up again as Mandy was convinced we could find a way to get me entered into Florida, but I wasn’t hearing any of it. We flew home Tuesday night from Kona and arrived back in Florida Wednesday night. Ironman had already announced the changing of the race venue from Panama City Beach to Haines City. (Side note: PCB is a 9 hour drive from my house and Haines City is 2.5 hours.) Thursday comes around and this is when Ironman announced the option for people to transfer out of Florida to Texas if they weren’t able to make the new location work logistically. That same day, I’m driving to get a massage when I get a call from Mandy. She says “Hear me out…. e-mail the race director at IMFL and ask if they are opening up any spots for registration for all the folks that have transferred out”. I was still adamant and very against the idea of racing another Ironman just 3 weeks after Kona. I hadn’t done a thing since the race, was eating pretty terrible, and not really focused on recovery. I can’t explain how or why, but during that massage, my mind started to turn a corner. Maybe it was possible. The challenge intrigued me but I was still highly skeptical. Immediately after my massage, I told Mandy that since this was her idea, she had to talk to my coach (Eric) and get his thoughts. Little did I know, she had already reached out to him. Wife knows best….
Thursday night at like 8:30pm, on a whim, I e-mailed Ironman asking if they were opening up registration for Florida. I kind of hoped they wouldn’t respond or just tell me “no”. 30 minutes later, I get a response that they would let me sign up and I would get a registration link in the morning. Ironman called my bluff……. Sh*t.
The next day, Eric and I went over the pro’s and con’s of doing the race. It really boiled down to 2 things: Was I mentally in it? And was I injury free (no niggles)? We also discussed on what we needed to do in the next year to move up in my AG at Kona and try to crack that top 10 or 15. We talked about using Florida to test out pushing the bike and trying to ride away from everyone. It was painfully obvious in Kona that I lost way too much time to my competitors on the bike and if you want to be near the top in your AG, you have to take risks. Something I didn’t do myself. The AG race at Kona has become a mini pro race in my opinion where you have to be willing to blow up if you want to be at the top. I thought about Florida all Friday and I thought to myself “How are you going to feel come race day and you didn’t sign up?” “Are you going to be staring at the Ironman tracker on race day wishing you had signed up?” It was at this point when my mind was made up. Bring it….. game on…..
WHY I KEPT IT A SECRET:
It was entirely my idea to keep it a secret and the total amount of people who knew was 8 which included: Mandy, Eric, my parents, my brother and my sister in-law, and my massage therapist. I knew I was taking a huge risk and gave myself a 50% shot of having a good race. I also knew that this was going to be much harder physically and mentally with the short turn around. So in order to stay mentally focused and channel positive energy, I didn’t tell anyone or especially post anything on social media as I didn’t want any unsolicited advice. I used to think people were crazy for doing multiple Ironman’s in a short turnaround and I have and still would tell people not to do it. I became a hypocrite but I was willing to own and live with my decision if it blew up in my face. Most of all, all the naysayers (including my past self) motivated me to prove them wrong. Also, the competitor in me really liked the idea of my competition not knowing that I had signed up to race last minute.
My training was very minimal in the 3 weeks between. The first week consisted of 2 incredibly easy swims and 2 easy bikes just focusing on recovery and getting the muscles moving again. My first run was 9 days post Kona, and it hurt like hell and felt incredibly awkward. I totaled less than 50 miles of running in those 3 weeks with my longest run being 6 miles and that was a brick workout. For the bike, we focused on short high intensity intervals to keep the muscles firing. My longest ride was 8 days out from IMFL which was 50 miles with some tempo work in there followed up with that 6 mile run off the bike. The absolute key part was listening to my body and communicating to Eric how I was feeling. I didn’t feel fresh but I was able to hit every workout without killing myself. After the brick workout, I was pretty spent for the rest of the day but I had the next day off training and just focused on recovery and getting more sleep. I didn’t feel great at any time during those 3 weeks but I didn’t feel horrible either. I told myself that it didn’t matter how I felt until race day.
I got myself lined up at the front with the rolling start as the plan was to get out in front and not let anyone get away. The cannon fired to start the PC division and I was anticipating another 5 minutes of waiting until they started us. I was caught off guard with my goggles still on my forehead when they told us to go. I threw the goggles on as I was running into the water and started my watch. After running into the water and doing some dolphin dives, I found myself some clear water with another guy to my left and few folks on our feet. There was some cloud cover and the sun was barely up and I was wearing dark tinted goggles which made sighting buoys a bit difficult. I tried to keep things smooth and keep my hr down but the pace felt hard and my HR was through the roof. On the first lap, I was a bit worried I was already in trouble as my effort was much higher than I would have liked it to be. I did my best to minimize my energy expenditure on the first lap but as we ran up to the beach, I felt fatigued. Looking at the data, my hr was at 185 bpm as we exited lap 1. We had a good group formed as we started the second lap but I knew it would break up as swam through the masses on the second lap. The second lap was pure chaos. I was dodging people left and right and trying to thread the needle through folks. There was no visibility in the water so it was impossible to tell that I was coming up on someone until it was too late. I did my best to not disrupt anyone’s swimming to the best of my ability. I quickly lost any contact with the group but miraculously found a few of them after the first turn buoy. The whole second lap, I didn’t know if someone went off the front or if we were still in front. I exited the water and heard Mike Reilly say I was first out of the water but knew there were a few hot on my heels. I skipped the wetsuit strippers as I’m personally not a fan of it and then headed to what was the longest T1 I have ever done. I tied my transition bags the day before which I knew was a mistake yet I did it anyway. I struggled to get my helmet out of the bag in T1 which cost me 20-30 seconds. Fortunately, a volunteer was nice enough to get the bag open for me. I threw my helmet on, ran with my bike shoes in my hand, grabbed my bike, and headed to the mount line.
The goal for the bike was to get out of sight and out of mind as quickly as possible and to be aggressive. Eric and I targeted 230-235 watts (much higher than Kona) for the ride which according to BestBikeSplit.com, should have put me right around a 4:30 bike split. We also were concerned about the HR being high for too long after the swim. We wanted to get the HR down as quickly as possible but I knew if I wanted to get it down into the 150s early on in the bike, I needed to back off on the watts. I made the decision within the first few miles to just let the hr be what it was (it was high) and just focus on power but also staying relaxed in order to let the hr naturally fall over time. It took about 40-45 minutes into the ride for my hr to fall under 160 bpm. My legs were feeling good and I was comfortably holding 225 watts. The course is extremely turn heavy and having done the 70.3 a year ago, I knew that a key to this course was maintaining momentum through all the turns and the rollers on the back half of the loop. At the mile 28 u-turn, I was finally able to get an idea what the gap to guys behind me. I knew Jordan Bailey was close behind as we started the bike based on what Mandy had told me. I had hoped I started to put some time into him along with the others. I calculated a little under 2 minutes as I crossed paths with Jordan and another rider. The second half of the loop, I kept the effort strong and pushed the climbs while staying in aero position. I came up on special needs where I grabbed some nutrition and Mandy planned to be there to give me a time split. She told me Jordan was 90 seconds back which confirmed my estimate at the mile 28 turnaround and also were the last time split was. After a quick stop at special needs (thank you to the volunteers there who were awesome!) and I started lap 2, I knew that this was going to be a key moment for me in the race. I still didn’t know if I was recovered enough from Kona and I figured if the body was still fatigued, it would show up sometime on lap 2 on the bike. I started counting by 10 miles and assessing how the body was feeling. Mile 60… still feel strong. Mile 70….. legs are still there. Mile 80….. I still feel good….. I wasn’t expecting this. I got another time split at ~mile 83 and the lead had grown to a little over 4 minutes over Jordan. Mile 90….. why don’t my legs hurt yet? Mile 100….. ok I guess this is going pretty good. I was feeling a bit dehydrated towards the end of the bike and I was drinking as much water as I could grab during the aid stations. As I came up to the final aid station, which was right after special needs, I couldn’t get over to the right fast enough with all the traffic of other riders on the first loop. I ended up missing this aid station which I knew was a mistake immediately. I completed lap 2 and turned at the high school to finish the last two miles of the bike into T2. I got some energy from the crowds and as I rode into town, I knew I had executed exactly what Eric had set out for me. The race was mine to lose….
I started the run (which was immediately uphill) and Mandy told me I had a 5 minute lead. I knew Jordan was a great runner so I knew I would be in for a great battle. I started seeing some guys come in on the bike as I ran out towards the high school. I estimated I had a least 10 minutes on everyone except for Jordan. This was setting up perfectly as long as I didn’t blow up. The first few miles were hot and rolling hills. The sun was out, there was no shade, and I was dehydrated. My effort felt way too high for early parts of the marathon and my hr was flirting in the 155-160 range (I like to try to keep it 150-155). I grabbed as much water as I could at the first aid station but it was warm and there was no ice. I made the turn around at the high school and saw Jordan as I was heading back. He looked strong and had already started to put some time into me. I was already suffering but I kept my poker face and gave him some encouragement. I headed back towards transition to start lap 1 of 3 and was trying to get my hr down and staying relaxed. I noticed my pace was slowing to high 7’s on the flat sections and I was barely 4 miles in. The mental battle began. I started lap 1 and I was overheating. I came up to the next aid station and I started walking through it. I have never walked an aid station this early in the run. But I knew I needed to get water and calories down in order to last the entire 26.2. My pace slowed even more on the early miles of lap 1, above 8:00 min/mile pace. I knew I was in trouble and I knew it was only a matter of time until Jordan passed me. I started questioning whether I over biked or Kona was still in my legs. At the aid station around mile 6, I started taking in coke. I was troubleshooting in my mind and I needed a boost of energy. I usually don’t start coke to the last few miles of the run but early on in the run I realized that this was going to be no ordinary run. Jordan came around me around mile 8 or so and I had nothing to respond. He looked like he was out for an easy Sunday run. I gave him encouragement as he and the lead biker drifted away. The next few miles were a total mind f*ck. It wasn’t even 10 miles in and I felt like we were at mile 20. I felt terrible. The thought of dropping out came into my head several times and I highly highly considered it. But then I thought, if I was struggling through these conditions (hot and humid), everyone else probably was too. And I have the advantage living in south Florida. It occurred to me that this was going to be a war of attrition. Who could last the longest or slow the least. I also thought of some friends of mine; Ben, Brendan, and Matt who were probably watching the tracker and likely yelling at their phone. I asked myself “What would they say if I dropped out and I was at the front??”….. I knew what I would say to them if they dropped out of a race, let alone at the front of the race….. :). I told myself, lets get through lap 1, which took forever, and then reassess. As I neared the end of lap 1, I was climbing a hill through an aid station when the volunteers, to my surprise, told me Jordan was still in the bathroom. I got through the aid station, crested the hill, and picked up the lead biker again as I passed the porta potty’s. A few seconds later, I hear the volunteers start cheering loudly which I assumed was Jordan getting back to running. I figured he would re-pass me almost immediately. I started lap 2 and Mandy told me Jordan was still ahead by 6 seconds even though he was behind me due to the rolling start. The next few aid stations started to have cold water and ice which I desperately needed. I maintained my strategy of walking the aid stations and running (if you can call it that) everything else. I started to turn the corner and get some energy back but my pace wasn’t really getting any faster nor was it getting any slower. Around mile 12, I was able to get a time gap to Jordan. Much to my surprise, I had started to put time into him. I was feeling so much better that I started making small talk with the lead biker to distract my mind. Lap 2 went by a lot faster than lap 1 but I had started to worry about the guys behind Jordan as I knew they were putting time into me. I started the 3rd and final lap where Mandy told me Graham Sheppard was now in 2nd and only 4 minutes back. Oh and he was running 7:12 pace too. She told me I needed to run under 8 min/mile pace to hold him off and I immediately said “that’s not happening” in my head. I gave it a shot to pick up the pace those first few miles on the last lap but the legs just weren’t there and I couldn’t sustain it for any longer than 20-30 seconds. Mentally, I had given in to Graham and figured he would pass me in the late miles. I just needed to make sure I didn’t get passed by anyone else. My legs were hurting and things were getting foggy. I wanted to walk so bad and I almost did a few times. But I wouldn’t allow myself to walk anything but the aid stations. I knew if I started walking, it was game over. Ashley Davis gave me a time split around mile 21 that it was down to 2 minutes. I still didn’t think I was going to hold him off. I tried to get through the aid stations as fast as I could but I needed water, ice, and coke at every single one. Around mile 25, I was able to get another time split on him and much to my surprise, I calculated a little under 2 minutes. Something clicked and my mental state completely changed….. I still had a shot and I wasn’t about to lose the race in the last mile. I started sprinting (or it felt like I was) up the final major hill, ran through the last aid station, and did my best not to trip over my own feet as I flew down the hill back to Lake Eva Park. I entered the park, rounded the event center, and made my way up the last little hill on the course. I was hurting and barely mentally there. I knew there was no time to enjoy the straight downhill section or even the finishing chute. I rounded the last corner to the finish line and gave it everything. I saw my neighbors and good friends Brian and Lisa Smith cheering me on but I couldn’t muster up anything. I hear Mike Reilly call my name for the second time in 22 days as I enter the chute. I crossed the finish line tape and out of respect for Graham, I didn’t want to celebrate as we didn’t know who actually won due to the rolling start. I fell to the ground and the only thing I can think of is: “never again”.
I collected myself on the ground, stood up, and immediately went over to Mandy to give her a kiss. A few minutes later, Mandy told me I got it and I had won.
OVERALL (9:09:52)- 1st Overall
Photo: Jamie Squire
Photo: Jamie Squire
This was without a doubt, the hardest Ironman I have ever done. Physically and especially mentally. This felt way harder than Kona, just 3 weeks prior. I am really proud yet surprised that I battled through thoughts of dropping out and managed to stay mentally in it even when I thought I was broke multiple times during that run. I am also very proud how I raced. I took some risks, pushed the bike and my limits, and learned what it was like to race at the front for over 9 hours.
I have to thank my coach, Eric Limkemann, for believing in me and setting me up for a great day. He believes in me more than I believe in myself at times. Even bigger thanks to Mandy for having 150% confidence in me and pushing me to do this. Without her, this day wouldn’t have been possible. She already started planning our return trip to Kona.
Now it’s time to rest, relax. and indulge. For real this time! Until next time…
Thanks for reading….