Great Floridian Ironman Triathlon
95 degrees ……100 % Humidity…Heat Index: 107
Starting Pack: 326…..Finishers: 257…Almost 20% DNF
Twenty years I’ve been waiting for this exact day. I’ve been doing triathlons since the mid l980’s and always wanted to participate in the BIG ONE. Being 50 years of age, this was the year I’d been waiting for: the year of Iron Man Paul. Training for an Ironman Triathlon is like having a part-time job for seven months. I have put in over three hundred hours of training, which included 15 triathlons. I’ve swum over 60 miles, biked over 2,000 miles, and run over 630 miles. Each day I would mix my nutritional drinks for training and recovery. My drinks consisted of a combination of Sustained Energy, Hammer Gel, Endurolytes (salt), a chocolate protein drink with banana, milk, and peanut butter, Endurance by Power Bar and Chocolate Endurance R4 Recovery Drink. (I love chocolate!) Knowing I did the training, what needed to done for this race, I was ready to rock. The alarm went off at 4:35 am on October 21st 2006, the day I’ve been waiting for over 20 years. This day was going to be hot, humid, and 95 degrees. Because of the projected heat, I changed my goals. Now I wanted to endure the race and go the distance. Dropping out was not an option. I had to change the nutritional mixture to take into account the extreme heat. I ate my normal meal of egg, turkey & cheese sandwich, washed down with protein drink and banana. Off we went for the race of my life. My entourage consisted of my brother Joe, his wife Debbie and their 11 year old son Joey, as well as my sons Stephen and Tommy, and my mother Mary. There were three races this day: A Full Ironman, Half Ironman, and a Sprint Triathlon. Brother Joe dropped me off. I checked my bike (which was checked in the day before during registration.) Pumped up the tires. Put all my numbered bags (5 bags in all) where they needed to go: Bike Gear Bag, Run Gear Bag, Wet Suit Bag, Bike Special Needs Bag, Run Special Needs Bag. (Are you confused yet? I was.) Got body marked with No. 217, picked up my race chip, and went off to try and relax. Hooked up with entourage about 7:00 am at the flagpole. Got psyched up for the race, with Rocky music playing in my head. Brother Joe filming all the time, a home movie.
Swim: 2.4 mile mass start swim in fresh water Lake Minneola, with water temperature at 78 degrees. Wetsuits allowed, causing a lot of participants to cheer. Race Director went over last minute details. National Anthem was sung and then the horn went off. I took my time, thinking, “No Pain” in my head. Pain is temporary; pride is forever. Watching Rocky tapes had been a part of my head training. Two 1.2 mile loops for the full Ironman. The water felt beautiful. Swim was counterclockwise in an upside down triangle, yellow buoys going out, orange coming in. First loop I drafted behind a few woman that were swimming at my pace. I was happy, 4 minutes ahead of schedule. After the first loop was completed, you had to run back up the beach to get timed and grab some liquids. And then back for the second lap. During the 2nd loop, I was bouncing from person to person, trying to draft whenever possible. Swam a decent amount with my eyes closed because of the searing sun, being grateful for the ability to breathe on both sides, which I’d trained myself to do. Swim is now over: I had an excellent swim, very happy to be a couple of minutes ahead of anticipated schedule! I ran up the beach, laid down on a mat, where 3 guys peeled my wetsuit off in the blink of an eye! Hysterical! Grabbed my bike gear bag and raced into the changing tent because public nudity was repeatedly cautioned against. (Too bad! You know I love to be naked!!) Swim-to Bike-Transition: was a disappointment. There was supposed to be a pool of water to rinse one’s feet, but there wasn’t one. I was forced to spend over 10 minutes in this changing tent, just cleaning the sand off myself to get ready for the 112 mile bike. Put on bike pants, jersey, socks, biking shoes, biking gloves, sunglasses, and helmet. Put swim stuff in gear bag, which was deposited at the exit of the changing tent. Grabbed my bike and off I went, seeing and hearing my family, who were all screaming and cheering.
Bike: Two 56 mile very, very scenic loops, on lightly traveled rural roads. Race literature described only “gently rolling hills throughout” which was an understatement. They weren’t gentle at all. First loop was done in 3 hours and 40 minutes with plenty of water. I was 10 minutes behind schedule. The bike course actually climbs to the top of Sugarloaf Mt, which is a 12% grade for over ¾ mile. Approximately every 10 miles, there was a water stop. After the first 56 mile loop, you grab your bike special needs bag. All my nutrients for the next loop were in this bag. A quick hello and goodbye. Now it’s between 12:30 - 1:00 p.m. and the heat has arrived. It’s been over 5 hrs into the race. The start of the second loop seemed to be going well until the heat just caught up with me. My legs felt like they were going to cramp. Remembering what my massage therapist Bill Romas advised, when a cramp was coming on, take another salt pill. “You’ll be amazed at how your body will react to this” he promised. He was right. The cramping stayed away for the most part. But now I’m going in to my run stash of salt pills. Those “gentle hills” and head winds were kicking up. Bike station B, about 20 miles into the second loop, ran out of water. I ended up grabbing a discarded bottle of water laying on the side of road, which was very hot from being out in the sun for hours. I needed the water to wash down my thick nutrient mixture. Off I went, struggling now with hot water and pains in my legs. Arriving at water station C, there was no water. Participants were collapsed under the tent in disgust of the situation, some giving up entirely. I grubbed a bottle of warm water from a Traffic Cop on the course and off I went, still taking extra salt pills, and feeling the cramps coming on. I knew the four long hardest hills were coming, including Sugarloaf Mt. Thoughts of walking up all four of them crossed my mind more than once. No shade on the course at all. Because my legs were feeling like this, I asked myself, “What are you telling me? What are you telling me? That I am going to have a nightmare of a run?” Two of the big four hills were next. I was able to ride to the top of them. The third hill came. It wasn’t happening. I walked. At the fourth hill, Sugarloaf Mt., I laughed because I nearly couldn’t get my feet released from the pedals in time, and almost went down. Alas, at the top of the mountain, there was water: very cold water, wet delicious water, and as much as you wanted to drink. I dumped ice water down the back of my neck, trying to lower my core temperature. It’s now the hottest time of the day. Off I went. Another hour ticked away. This was probably the hardest part. I was trying to get off the bike and work out the nagging cramps. When I would do this, another cramp would arrive, to the point where I decided it was best to just keep pedaling and moving forward. As I rounded another turn, I realized my rear tire was low on air, but not completely flat. I had about 20 miles to go. Should I fix the flat? Thinking my legs might just cramp up totally if I stopped, I decided to keep going. Knowing I was near the end helped make that decision. It was just survival now to the end of the bike. Time was no longer an issue. Just enduring and crossing the finish line before midnight was the goal. I was not looking forward to the 26.2 mile marathon. Into the transition area I rode. Family were concerned about the time I had taken: 5 hrs and 10 minutes to do the second loop of the bike. Total hours for the bike had been 8 hours 51 minutes.
Bike-to-Run Transition: Race Officials took my bike and racked it for me. It’s now after 6:00 p.m., almost 11 hours into the race. I grabbed my run gear bag walking into the changing tent, beat and hurting, thinking “No pain. No pain.” Refilled my pillbox so I’d have enough salt pills for the run, grateful they had a supply in the changing tent. I changed my socks, put on my running shoes and off I went. OK now: RUN PAUL RUN. Yeah right, I was lucky I was walking. Forge onward. Go the Distance. My family, wildly cheering me on.
Run: 26.2 miles. The first 5 to 6 miles of the run were out and back on a bike trail, some hills. The final 7 to 21 miles were three 7 mile loops around Lake Minneola. The course was basically flat but offered no shade. It was still hot and humid, but at least there was a slight breeze. The first 5 to 6 miles I walked alittle, ran a little. I came across a woman who was running a minute, walking a minute. I kept meeting up with her, so I decided to just join her for a while, staying for about two miles. I was doubling up on my salt pill intake, worrying that I was taking in too much. I was planning to take 2 salt pills per hour, but was now taking 2 every half hour. A nurse at a water stop told me this was okay. I had no cramps. There was a water stop every mile. Dumping cold water over my head and ice down my back made me feel better. Plenty of water, Hammer Gel and everything else at every water stop. Great volunteers and beautiful too, complete with young girls in bikinis and Hawaiian skirts, the Great Floridian theme. Made me think of the Hawaiian Ironman in Kona, also occurring at this exact same day and time. I wondered how all were doing. First loop around Lake Minneola, I came across runners asking
“Which lap are you on?” followed by words of encouragement.
Every other water stop, Hammer Gel, every water stop, two cups of water.
Every half hour, two salt pills, which kept me focused. First loop over,
no cramping. At 12 ½ miles I see my family who are filming me and
asking, “How you do?” Giving me words of encouragement. I go to my Run
Special Needs bag, getting fresh gum, fresh socks, and Tony Segarra’s
Victory Strap. Scheduled to take in more calories, I guzzled my
nutritional mixture. Starting the second loop around Lake Minneola it’s
dark. I was given a glow stick to keep around my neck. There is very
little street lighting. Here I am in Florida, running around a lake in
the dark. Are there alligators out there? I wasn’t taking a chance. I
was concerned so I ran in the middle of the road away from bushes and
shrubbery. No cramping and I’m feeling better. Worries of "when will
they (cramps) come?” ran through my head. Around 8:30 pm., it starts
cooling off. The breeze is welcomed. Running more and walking less. I
was enjoying the water stops where music is playing. Volunteers were the
only spectators on the course. Very jovial atmosphere where volunteers
were thrilled to see each runner pass by, offering enthusiastic words of
praise. The final loop starts at mile 19. Words of encouragement from my
family keep me focused. In fact, throughout the race, friends and family
were calling, asking how I was doing. It was encouraging to hear. One
more loop, 7.2 miles around Lake Minneola to go. I feel great. No more
Hammer Gel, no more water. I just drank chicken broth. I ran from water
stop to water stop with no walking in between. It was the best miles of
the marathon for me. I averaged under a 10 minute mile pace. No cramps!
I am very excited. Reflected back on all the training, and on those who
helped me get to this race. The closer and closer I get to my goal, I am
feeling stronger and stronger.
I want to say a special “Thank You” to:
Bob Cook of Runners Edge….who helped me tremendously by
formulating my training schedule.
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