Never in a million years would I have thought I would here my name followed by those words, You Are An Ironman, and to make things even better, for some strange reason, I was announce TWICE. Guess I wasn't the only one who was shocked.
Panama City Beach is a wonderful place to compete in one's first full Ironman. The locals are very friendly and come out in droves to cheer the athletes on. The swim in the Gulf of Mexico takes two laps to complete and even though we had some very interesting wave action, the water was still somewhat clear. Not like you could see a black line on the bottom, I wish, but good enough to see the swimmers around you for drafting or self preservation.
For weeks leading up to the race the Gulf had been flat but that would change just days before the event. A front came thru bringing winds, waves and then on Friday, event's eve, the RAIN just in time for racking the bikes and dropping off the transition bags. Wind and waves were so bad on Friday there were RED flags being displayed. No body was in the water and very few people on the beach.
Saturday morning was slightly cloudy and still windy but the wind direction changed so the water calmed just a bit. We lined up on the beach with faster expected finishing swim times on the left closer to the buoys. Gun start a 0700 had almost 3,000 entering the water trying to get past the huge breakers that were still hanging around. After trying to back into one and being pushed back towards the shore about 10 feet I decided to dive into the next few until stroking over them was possible. Being proficient at citing the buoys while swimming in waves is a plus and something I will work on. Timing is everything and since I did very little open water swimming, I flunked that part of the exam as is evident in the tracking from my Garmin 910XT. With my ZIG-ZAGS I put on .4 mile more. Those experienced in body surfing were doing so when exiting the water and I am sure that sped things up for them.
We were told that mats would be down on the sand so we could lay down for wet suit stripping but the winds put a kibosh on that idea. The strippers they had were great in providing stability while the removal was taking place. The shower for rinsing was inadequate as far as I was concerned and I made that known on my race review.
Volunteers handed you the transition bag and then we entered the very large hotel convention area for transition change. Seats for sitting, water and more volunteers to help. Sun screen lathering before you get the bike was nice as was the bike retrieval process. Your number is announced and a volunteer gets the bike.
The bike course was relatively flat, mostly good surfaces but windy. Vehicle traffic, while present, wasn't overly bothersome but we sure did bother a lot of travelers from the lines of backed up cars at crossing points. My major complaint and that of most likely all is the few miles leading to the turn around and back out. Not quite Paris-Roubaix but bad enough that a bazillion water bottles, tubes, tools, gels on the road, enough to open a shop. The bike special needs bags were numerically lined up on the side of the road after the turn around and once again volunteers were ready to hand you your bag. Water and fueling stations were nicely spaced and well stocked. At bike completion the bike catcher after dismounting did a great job and then back into the building for run change.
Heading out for the run was extremely invigorating because the number of people at the side of the roads was overwhelming, picture alpe d'huez without them blocking you. Overwhelming is no exaggeration since my first mile split after 8 hours since the start was 10:36 when I was planning on a 12:30. Lesson learned for next year's IMFL, follow plan and go slow. Again the water, fuel stations were frequent and very well stocked so much so I ate and drank WAY TOO MUCH and paid the Piper at mile 15 when gastro-itus decided to come a calling. Things slowed way down and darkness fell over the venue. Worst part about the run was in Saint Andrews State Park. NO LIGHT to speak of so next time I'll have a head lamp like so many others or GO FASTER.
One thing about being slow during the marathon is that there are opportunities to talk to others. One gentleman 10 years younger came up to me from behind and we started talking. This was his 9th Ironman and in 2 weeks he would be running in his 100th marathon. He was a little upset with the fact that a 13 hour finish was not going to happen for him. That was his pre-race goal and now it was at 13:10. I felt sorry for him for a short time but then I thought about my initial expected finishing time of 15 hours was not going to happen because I was heading to an under 14 hour time. Mile 23, 24 and 25 really dragged on but at 26 the sounds of the finishing PA system announcing the athletes began injecting some EPO and a sluggish run began. To tell the truth, I have had some race finishes where tears started to erupt but this time it was different. I started to come down that finishing chute, stuck out my left hand and got high and low fived all the way in. A number of family and friends who had been following me by way of the splits and projected finish time were able to see me on the live feed and commented on my smile and the fact that I was the only one who had everybody returning my hand-out fivers.
IMFL is a great first IM if one can get entry. Right now there are only IM Foundation entries available and that is how I made it into this year's event. My wife was on the computer last November when entry opened but was not fast enough with her typing. She was upset that her typing skills were not up to speed and insisted on trying when the IM Foundation entries opened. Even though the cost is doubled, the foundation entries sold out very quickly for 2013 and I was extreme appreciative for her willingness to spend the $$$. As of now there are only Foundation entries available for 2014 so if anyone wants to experience this great venue, you still have a chance to enter.
Safe training, stay healthy and have fun.