Saturday, November 17, 2012

What I Think it Took

Now that Ironman Florida is behind me and I’ve had a chance to reflect on what was such an awesome day way over and beyond any previous attempts at that distance, here are a few thoughts on what I think contributed to my “perfect” race.

1.      This was my first flat course Ironman.  I live in a flat and windy part of the country.  Why I wasted my time on hilly Ironman courses prior to this proves how much of an idiot I am at heart.  I’m much better suited to tucking into my aero position and maintaining an effort, and I was able to train really well for that here at home.  Now, I had been told that on those hilly courses, “You’ll do great in the hills because you’re a strong cyclist.”  I don’t think I quite get that.  I really am not suited for uphill cycling (though I enjoy it immensely!).
2.      My plan was to crush the bike leg of the race, no matter what the consequences were on the run.  Every prior Ironman I held back or gave up with fatigue on the bike leg, yet felt great on the run.  I told myself “not this time” and that’s how I trained.
3.      Combine 1 and 2, and I was able to nail a few sub-5 hr 112 bike sessions followed by a goal-pace run.  So, on race day it wasn’t a guess.  Those hilly Ironman races prior, I had to show up on unfamiliar terrain thinking, “I guess I can do this.  I dunno.”  At IMFL, I toed the line thinking, “Just do what you did in training.”
4.      I put a lot more time on the bike in training.  In my last Ironman, I only did four rides over 100 miles and the longest was 120 miles.  This time, I did seven and the longest was 134.  My weekly mileage increased too.  During the long rides, there was a clear plan in the form of lengthy intervals (for example, 6x40 min @ IM to HIM pace, w/ 10 min RI) or a complete time trial effort over the entire length of the ride.  None of them were just “trash miles” as perhaps I was guilty of in previous Ironman training seasons.
5.      I dipped down to uncharted territory on my weight.  I got down to 5.6% body fat.  I’ve never been there before.  My last Ironman I got down to about 7% body fat at best.  It was a gamble and it took a ton of sacrifices and perhaps a voluntary eating disorder, but as long as I felt healthy and was turning in good workouts and felt energetic it felt right.
6.      Can I give some mad props to God without turning anyone off?  At the very least, He dealt with me constantly bugging him for a second wind, for the pain to go away, etc.  Maybe He just said, “Fine, Richter.  Here’s your breakthrough Ironman.  Now leave me alone so I can solve this world hunger thing.”
7.      And, finally, I think I put together a lot of little nitty gritty things that hopefully all added up to a second here and a second there.  Those you can piece together in my race report, which occurs below.

IMFL 2012 Race Day Nutrition - Actual Intake

Some slight differences here, but not much.  I basically stuck to my nutrition plan for the race and I think everything worked out great.  Below is my actual race day nutrition for Ironman Florida, with a few assumptions during the punchy parts of the marathon. 

Notable Nutrition Items Week of Ironman:
-         Stop caffeine one week prior, resume race morning
-         Continue meals and eating habits of training block
o       Salmon or chicken with steamed veggies for dinner, flavored white rice prior to long workouts (same for race day)
o       Cottage cheese and swig of skim milk pre-bedtime
-         First Endurance EFS or Gatorade predominant drinks last 2 days before race

Pre-Race Breakfast:
-         2 scoops Hammer Sustained Energy (213 cal, 45 g carb, 7 g protein) and 2 cups Silk chocolate soy milk 3 hrs prior to race (280 cal, 46 g carb, 10 g protein)
-         2 blueberry Pop-Tarts 3 hrs prior to race (400 cal, 76 g carb, 4 g protein)
-         First Endurance EFS, 24 oz, with 4 First Endurance Pre Race pills
-         1 Saltstick salt tablet (45 minutes prior to race)
-         4 Hammer Nutrition Anti-Fatigue pills (45 minutes prior to race)
-         First Endurance Optygen HP and MultiV
-         1 Gu Roctane gel (20 min prior to race) (100 cal)
Total: 1185 cal, 215 g carb, 21 g protein

Bike Leg:
-         Bottle 1 (24 oz): 2 scoops EFS (192 cal, 48 g carb), 2 scoops CarboPro (230 cal, 57 g carb) , 1 Saltstick tablet, 2 Pre Race pills, 1 Antifatigue pill
-         Bottle 2 (28 oz): 2 scoops EFS, 2 scoops CarboPro, 1 Saltstick tablet, 2 Pre Race pills, 1 Antifatigue pill
-         1 EFS Liquid Shot (400 cal, 100 g carb)
-         At special needs replace Bottle 1 and Bottle 2 with same thing and replace EFS Liquid Shot
-         1 Bottle: flat Red Bull (115 cal, 28 g carb, 1 g protein), 2 scoops Powerbar Perform (140 cal, 17 g carb), 1 Antifatigue
-         At mile 80, 3 Hammer Nutrition Energy Surge tablets
-         Powerbar Perform and water on course, maybe 15 oz of each
Total: 1539 cal, 261 g carb, 4 g protein

Run Leg:
-         1 Saltstick tablet every 30 min
-         1 Antifatigue every 30 min
-         2 Pre Race every 30 min
-         2 Gu Roctane gels
-         Special Needs: flat Red Bull
-         At mile 18, 3 Hammer Nutrition Energy Surge tablets
-         Coke (46 cal, 13 g carb), Powerbar Perform, and/or water every aid station
Total (assuming 15 Coke shots, not counting Perform): 1005 cal, 223 g carb, 1 g protein

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ironman Florida 2012 - A Perfect Day

I believe if you want something bad enough you ought to be able to achieve it.  You just might have to do some pretty crazy stuff to earn it.  I think I did.  That covers the hard work part of this endeavor, but I have to lay down props to God for making this unbelievable day possible too.  I think He lets us each experience a bit of His glory.  Last Saturday at Ironman Florida He let me have a great big helping.  If you want the spiritual version of my experience I’m happy to share it, but I know some people may not like that version.  The truth is that God heard more of my crap, my prayers for the pain to just stop, for a second, third and fourth wind, and other trivial needs out there on the course than anyone else had to endure.  I know it’s probably a complete waste of His time for me to bend His ear, but for some reason He blessed me with the experience of a lifetime.  Here’s how it went……

Pre Race Stuff

Boy was I cranky those last couple of days before the race!  I’m pretty embarrassed by my attitude, but my mom, big sister Ginger, and amazing wife Angie, all put up with my moody, selfish ass.

This was after my race as we awaited the finish of my fellow Tricredibles at the finish line.  From left: My amazing wife, Angie, sister Ginger (behind me), and my favorite mom I've ever had.  Julia and Kelcey Bonner are on the left edge of the picture waiting for Carl, who would finish shortly after this picture was taken

Maybe the moodiness was because I had tapered off of caffeine, but my focus was getting on that start line and anything that took my mind off of that was just in the way.  Pure T Selfishness.  What I really couldn’t wait for was getting to the second half of the marathon.  I knew I’d be on my target pace until then, but that this would be the point where I failed or succeeded.  I expected to be in the hunt for a Kona slot at that point, but any number of things can take that away from you when you enter your last 2 hours of an Ironman. 

So let me insert here what the goal was.  When asked, I told everyone I wanted to finish in under 10 hours.  That was pretty conservative.  What I really wanted was for the “stars to align” and finish in 9:45, which would have been good enough for 5th place in the male 40-44 age group last year.  I figured there’d be 5 slots for my age group for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, so perhaps I had a shot.  Not really but maybe.  I had pretty much beaten myself down to believing you had to be some combination of these 3 things to get a Kona slot: (1) on drugs, (2) jobless, or (3) some sort of genetically gifted uber athlete.  I wasn’t any of that, so I had just about given up hope.  But anyway, if all went well I thought maybe I could turn in that 9:45, and hopefully a bunch of crazy fast people wouldn’t show up this year and go much faster than that.  Boy was I wrong about that last part.  But don’t worry, this story has a happy ending!

The other part of that plan was that I intended to bury myself on the bike leg.  Every prior Ironman I felt like I sandbagged the ride either by giving up or whatever.  I wanted to crush the bike leg, and if my legs were like spaghetti for the marathon, so be it.

Anyway, Angie and I had arrived on Wednesday before the race.  The first thing I did was go for a run to stretch the legs out after the journey.  Then it was off to the Ironman Expo to get registered for the race.  Man, the place was dead!  Where is everybody?  I had expected the usual herd of hard bodies, which can be a little intimidating.  But this time, now my 4th Ironman, I wasn’t gonna let anybody put that fear in me of, “do I belong here?”  Nobody was gonna intimidate me with their insane vascularity and Ironman logos all over their body.  But on that day it turned out to be easy.  Nobody was there anyway.

Panama City Beach, FL sure does have pretty sunsets.

I was in uncharted territory with my weight for this race.  The last couple races I had really watched my diet and slimmed down to about 159-160 lbs, which is about 7 to 7.5% body fat for me.  That took a tremendous effort, so when I targeted 155 lbs for this race I really had to watch the diet.  That might be a good post for later.  The last DXA scan I had Monday before the race came in at 5.6% body fat and 155.4 lbs.  This drew a few comments about being too skinny from friends and coworkers.  But I still felt healthy and strong, so I believed without a doubt this would play out well for me on race day.  As some triathletes say, when your friends say you’re too skinny, you’ve just started getting into shape.  When your spouse says you’re too skinny, you’re almost ready.  When you think you’re too skinny, you’ve nailed it for race day!  To put it into perspective, I’m not the high metabolism, always skinny guy we all love to hate.  In my 30’s I had ballooned up to 214 lbs.  Weight is a problem for me if I don’t live a healthy lifestyle.  

Maybe that lifestyle over the last couple months was a little extreme and nearly unhealthy in some ways, but I continued that in the days leading up to the race as I ate all my meals at the condo and these were all the same meals I was used to in training.  Chicken and veggies.  Salmon and veggies. Salad for lunch.  I say unhealthy because in some ways it almost is a bit of an eating disorder.  I would eat a Larabar or something and then beat myself up over it, panic a little bit that I was adding weight too close to race day, check in the mirror to see if I looked fat, and then convince myself that if I were at home on my regular routine this would be a break time meal anyway, that it was okay, and everything would be alright again.  I may look back at these two paragraphs one day and say, “What was I thinking?!”  And I know what you’re saying is, “Man, his poor wife!”  (and you’re absolutely right!)

Angie makes the most amazing salads!  This was lunch the day before the race.

Bert and Carl, two Tricredible friends that were also doing the race, arrived that night.  Bert had driven from Greenville and was super kind enough to haul my bike and gear bag down for me.  I never panicked once as to whether Merle III (My bike.  To get to know Merle better, read my earlier blog post "Merle III: Ready to Roll.") was in good hands or not.  Carl flew down in his own plane.  Never feel sorry for someone that has their own plane.

This was Bert’s second Ironman, and he was having to toe the start line with a potential stress fracture in his foot.  He had been in a boot for the last 6 weeks or so.  I would have dropped out, but Bert is tough headed.  I was impressed he was still in this. 

Carl was on his sixth Ironman, but it had been about 10 years as he was on “maternity leave” over those years. This was his comeback to triathlon, and he was essentially my training partner through all this IMFL prep.

On Thursday morning, the three of us went for a swim in the Gulf.  Weather had been cool and windy, and the waves were sorta kinda big I guess and the current strong.  It was expected to lay down by race day though.  It was kinda sketchy swimming out past the breakers but fun in a way too.  Once beyond the crashing suds, Carl came up with the idea that we should swim to the race start, which was about a quarter to a half a mile east.  It was a good swim.  I felt decent, and my energy was coming back from the taper.  There were these bizarre cold spots during the swim.  Like the reverse of someone peed there.  Strange.

Kyle Pitchford arrived that day too from his drive from Greenville.  He’s another Tricredible, and this was his first Ironman.  I was excited for him to be taking this big step.

That afternoon, Kyle, Carl and I did a bike ride.  I remember feeling super.  It was like George Hincapie once told Lance Armstrong that he felt like he had no chain – that is, it was so easy to pedal it felt like he had no chain on the gears.  Of course, we now know that’s because he was swelled up like a dog tick on EPO.  I didn’t have any of that in me.  Kyle and I went for a short run afterwards and I remember thinking Kyle sure was making us run fast!  I didn’t try to slow the pace down, but he was owning it.  Just when I thought we were really flying, Mirinda Carfrae (a pro, and favorite to win this race), came running the other way and showed me what a fast run really looks like. 

Tim O'Donnell, me and Mirinda Carfrae after the race at Pineapple Willy's.  I felt really silly that they had come over to our table to take their picture with me........errr......yeah.

I did my bike and run on Friday by myself.  In fact I stayed away from everyone I could intentionally on Friday.  When we turned our bikes in at transition on Friday we ended up back in the Expo area, which by this time was packed.  I stuck it out for a few minutes with the family before I said I had to get out of there and go back to the condo.  Just too much hype and nerves in the air! I later shut myself in my room and vegged out on the bed that afternoon.  I just needed to focus.  Ginger put some Diana Krall jazz music on, which isn’t normally my thing, but it was calming.  While I lay on the bed storing up energy, Carl (and his girls and Angie) went to Ripley’s Believe it or Not and then walked around in a maze.  He sent me a text asking me if he was sabotaging his own race.  I told him everybody walked around in mazes the day before an Ironman.

I had pretty much packed up all my bags and mixed my drink bottles the week before back at home, so there wasn’t much race prep for me to do Friday night.  But seeing that the weather was going to be warmer than expected with highs in the low 80’s, I made a key move that evening.  I had a spare Ziplock bag of salt tablets and First Endurance PreRace caps that I had planned for my Bike Special Needs bag, in case I lost a bottle with my premix in it (for my race nutrition details, see earlier post "The Goop I'll Eat for IMFL.").  I decided to move it to my Run Special Needs bag.  I already had a bag full of salt tablets and PreRace caps ready at T2 to start the marathon, but this move offered me double the salt and supplements during the run than I had originally planned.

And, with that, I tucked in for the night at about 7:30.  Tomorrow would be a big day.  If not just because of the big race, then at least for the anticipation of allowing myself caffeine again, as well as beer and libations and eating something other than salmon and chicken. It was gonna be a big day no matter what!

Here’s an important conversation I had with my mom, sister and Angie in those days leading up to the race.  I told them I didn’t want any encouragement out on the course.  I’d get plenty of that from strangers, and none of that would be helpful anyway.  What I wanted to know was what place was I in my age group?  Is there another guy in my age group 1 minute up the road?  Is there another Tricredible just up the road that I could try and catch?  These kinds of information are what would motivate me, and I knew I would only get about 3 seconds worth of information to work with as I ran by my family at different points along the course.  Even if the info they gave was wrong or not up to date, it would be better than nothing.

Angie and sister making lunch in the condo.

I slept well that night and woke up to start my day at 4 am. I felt awake and alive – no grogginess.  Just the focus of getting this fun over with.  No nausea or trouble eating or nothing.  All of us Tricredibles and our families met downstairs and headed to the transition area at 5:15.  On the walk over I got a great message on Facebook.  A cross-country teammate and friend from my old high school in Korea was gonna be at mile 5 of the marathon to cheer me on!  Kathy Bishop Stenslie and I had bombarded messages to each other over the last year or so as she just completed her first Ironman at Coeur d’Alene this summer.  She lives in Georgia and made the drive down for some other friends in the race.  I’d get to see an old friend I knew from the other side of the globe, and there’d be some encouragement at a desolate part of the marathon!

Me, Kathy, and my mom.  You can take the kid out of Korea, but you can’t take the Korea out of the kid!  Go Crusaders!

Once we got to transition our group was instantly separated – partially due to the massive crowd, partially because we were focused on our own agenda I suppose.  I chose the wrong body marker.  This lady marked my numbers on me as if she was afraid I was gonna get pressure washed at some point during the day.  She went over every number 3 times.  I stood there rolling my eyes waiting for her to get done.

And here’s my only regret of the day.  I had gone to Special Needs drop off right after body marking while the other guys must have gone into transition to mess with their bikes.  By the time I got to my bike I was in a little bit of a panic as to where to get a pump from for my tires.  Carl showed up out of nowhere and offered his as he was heading to Special Needs.  Not sure how to get the pump back to him I asked him to wait while I pumped up real quick.  He’s such a nice guy but it had to annoy him to have to wait on me when he had just as much to do.  I feel bad about that.  I don’t ever like anyone to wait on me.

I got my wetsuit on up to my waist in the men’s transition room, which was a conference room in the host hotel.  Then I went to see Angie and gave her a big hug and a kiss.  I was kind of emotional about it if you believe that.  I don’t think she noticed that bit though.  Then I headed for the beach.  On my way there I needed to pee so bad I stopped on the sidewalk and just let it go.  Some folks later walked through it, and I immediately felt kinda bad about that too.  Okay, that’s two regrets and the race hadn’t even started!  Once on the beach I found myself a quiet spot and sat down to chill.  I really felt alone and hoped I’d find one of the other guys or maybe Angie would come down and find me.  She did, along with mom and Ginger, and we sat there for a few minutes as they said a few words to lighten the mood.  Then it was time to “chip in” as the director called it and walk over the timing mat so I would be officially counted in the race.  I found Bert just then and we chipped in together, then headed for the right side of the start line.  There was a little bit of a current from the west, so we were going to start on that side and hope the current would carry us tighter against the buoys as we progressed.  I was pissed that the race announcer blabbed that little tidbit of info to the whole beach, but then realized we probably all knew that anyway.  I didn’t see Carl or Kyle anywhere.  I jumped in the water and took some practice strokes.  I was ready! I anticipated a violent swim since there were over 2500 of us and I consider myself a back of the front pack swimmer, so I put my goggles on under my swim cap in case I took a round house to the noggin which can dislodge your goggles.  I normally go with goggles over swim cap, in case they fog up or I need to adjust them for some reason.  A quick thought or two about all the training I did, all the effort I put into this one day, all the sacrifices, and I was zoned in.  I don’t think I was even the slightest bit nervous.

Let’s get this fun over with!

Swim (2.4 mi)

I was shooting for about a 1:05 swim.  When the gun went off I was already in the water about waist deep, maybe with about 3 people in front of me.  A couple of dolphin dives and I was past the breakers.  The water really was pretty calm.  Just some steady swells maybe 2’ or 3’ high.  I was a bit wary about getting clobbered upside the head out there with so many people, but I really had very little contact even right at the start.  Since I breathe to the left and the swim was counterclockwise I could gauge my direction off of the other swimmers rather than having to constantly lift my head and sight forward.  The sun was just rising and even though my goggles were mirrored that second lap was gonna suck with the sun in my eyes.  For now, I was feeling good.  Great even.  I could not believe how little contact I was getting, and for a moment I let myself actually believe that I was out in front.  With one more sighting buoy to go before the first turn, I crested a big wave and it was eerie as I got a vantage point looking “downhill” on the inside of the course and saw hundreds of other swimmers all aiming for the same point.  That turn buoy was going to be a washing machine!  I took it about 15’ wide and held my line.  No fancy moves, no passing.  The next turn buoy was just the same.  Now, on the way back to the beach I settled in to what was feeling like a smooth, perfect swim.  

 Ironman Florida swim course.

I reached the beach just a little to the right of the finish arch and tried not to use too much energy high-stepping out of the water and onto the sand.  My watch said 30 minutes.  Great!  Maybe I could really kill it on the second lap with a tighter swim line since there would be fewer swimmers out there I thought.  I heard Angie and Ginger yell my name and I turned to look and there they were!  So uplifting, if just for a moment!  How they recognized me I have no clue, as we all looked like a pack of upright seals in swim caps.  I squeezed past some of the other competitors on the run back into the water, dove in, did a couple dolphin dives and I was back in my rhythm.  Now the sun was right in my eyes, so I turned my gaze slightly forward as I breathed, sighting one buoy at a time.  At the first turn buoy, again a big crowd formed.  Damn!  Hold my line, no erratic movements, just follow the feet in front of you.

Turning back towards the beach I noticed I had caught a lot of swimmers on their first lap.  They looked miserable and probably got the crap beat out of them as about 1500 swimmers plowed right over the top of them.  One girl was floating on her back.  I looked back at her and wondered if she was moving.  I asked God to please give me compassion to stop and help someone in need rather than selfishly move on for my own sake.  I was just about to consider stopping to check on her and then I saw her take a stroke.  Great, she’s moving!  So, I can too! 

There was a little more contact during this part of the swim.  I took a karate chop to my calf that made me wonder if it was gonna Charlie horse on me.  Then I chose a bad line when I came up on two swimmers side by side.  I opted to go between them.  I imagine that’s what a car feels like in an old car wash with the great big brushes that beat the hell out of the paint.  For this, I’m thankful for the anonymity of dressing like a seal when you swim through and over someone, but also very sorry for doing so.

I exited the water in 1:04:05, a PR Ironman swim for me!  I ran up to the wetsuit strippers and laid down in the sand as they yanked it off of me and I was off through transition.  And I fussed with that sand on me for a little bit then got over it.

  That’s me.  Behind the chick.  It happens.  Maybe she swam Swimmerton College or something .  Dammit.


I had no issues in T1.  I was guessing it would take about 5 minutes.  It took 4:41.  I grabbed my bag, which I had decked out in black duct tape (great tip, Dark Horse!), ran into the men’s changing room where a volunteer emptied it and set me up.  He actually put my race belt on me as I put my shoes and socks on.  That was nice!

 Swim over!  Time to do the stuff I'm much more comfortable at.  Riding my tricycle!

Bike (112 miles)

I think I must have been in my aero position 10 feet after the mount line!  I was ready to hammer! 

This was where I expected things to get interesting.  All you hear about Ironman Florida is how tons of people cheat by drafting on the bike course because it’s so flat and fast.  There was no way I was going to draft (Carl says there are no drafters in heaven), but I also had planned not to let any “packs” get away from me as I had in previous Ironman races.  So let me explain this for just a minute.  When I say a “pack,” I mean a group of people all going the same speed but maintaining the minimum legal gap of 4 bike lengths (7 meters) between each other.  This is also the gap between the dotted lines in the middle of the road, so it’s a good way to gauge that you’re maintaining the proper spacing.  Now, not everyone may do a good job of that in a pack but I was damn sure I would.  So, why bother with being in a pack at all?  When you ride the legal 4 bike lengths behind someone, it’s very clear when that gap increases, indicating that you’re slowing down.  You can quickly adjust to maintain that gap and keep your pace.  On the other hand, riding all alone, when you slow down you don’t have anything to gauge it off of and might be unaware that you’re not on pace.  I know it sounds like a mundane thing to pedal on an open road for 5 hours and that there hardly can be much to think about (for examples, see earlier post "120 Miles of Brain Activity"), but there is, and it really takes a lot of the thinking out of it if all you have to worry about is staying right where you are in relation to the guy in front of you.   

But you also have to concentrate so you don’t get involved in all that drafting mess.  For instance, if you’re going to try it you only have 15 seconds to complete a pass.  If you're at the back of a line of cyclists and everyone is maintaining the 4 bike lengths between each other, that means if you pass one person in the line, you have to keep passing another and another until you get to the front of the group.  So, sometimes passing gets a little daunting.  But it’s during the act of passing that you have your only chance of communicating with other cyclists.  So, as you keep reading it might sound like I must have been drafting to have all this conversation but every discussion happened in the act of passing one another.

That said, let me be very clear:  I did not draft or cheat at all.  I was meticulous about that.  

 The Ironman Florida bike course.

Just a couple miles down the road, I noticed a guy in the 30-34 age group that was going about the same speed as me, which was about 23.5 to 24 mph.  As I rode up to pass him, I said, “I’m not suggesting drafting, but what’s your goal pace and maybe we can work together?”  He said 22 mph, so I said cool and we allied.  22-22.5 mph was my goal too, which would have put me right around 5 hrs to complete the bike leg.  Over the course of passing each other I learned that his name was Jim and he was from St Paul. 

This was early on the bike, near the beach. 

I had planned to take the first 30 miles easy, then push my goal pace through mile 60, then dig deeper and bear the pain through mile 90, then suffer miserably if I had to to hold onto it for the last 22.  This is straight out of the book, Going Long.  Our pace felt easy, though we were way above 22 mph.  I guessed it was the tailwind and just went with it.  A power meter would have taken that guesswork out but I can’t afford one of those.  (that last sentence was subtle, wasn’t it, Angie?)

After we turned to head north, we got caught by a group of cheating S.O.B.’s just flying by us. Jim said something about how fast they were going and then motored on by me to stay with them.  I yelled something about sticking to his plan and then threw in the towel myself and started maintaining the gap behind them.  One guy in particular was blatantly drafting – I mean, like 6” behind his buddy’s wheel.  It pissed me off enough that I committed to passing their whole group just so I could give him a piece of my mind.  “Dude, ride your own damn race!” I hollered, and he gave me this dumb look like he didn’t speak English.  In fact, I don’t think he did.  These guys had a European look to them.  I thought it was also odd that his bib number did not have his name on it like all the rest of us did.

Then I heard the sound of a motorcycle and a Harley Davidson came right up alongside me.  Course marshal!  I was still passing guys, so if I was ever committed to making clean passes I had to dot my “I’s” and cross the “T’s” at this point to make sure I didn’t get a penalty myself.  Man, I felt like it was the Gestapo!  Don’t look at me!  Don’t look at me!  If they don’t physically show you a penalty card, you don’t get a penalty.  So, I looked straight ahead and started counting backwards from 15 to make sure I made my passes in time.  Once in the front of the pack I was so relieved to have them all behind me.  But it didn’t last long as they all came by me again.  When I was all the way back at the tail of the group – what was the point of all that?  I’m right back where I started! – I saw the marshal eyeballing No Name European Cheater Dude.  Get him!  Get him!  Then she pulled out a red card and stuck it in his face and motored on ahead.  4 minute drafting penalty.  Booyah!  Oh sweet redemption!!!!  I resisted the urge to waste energy and ride up to him to tell him I told him so.

But I gotta insert a question here.  Why on earth were the marshals using Harleys?!  You can hear those things a half a mile away.  By the time one would come up the drafters usually had time to fan out because they could hear them coming.  Seemed dumb to me.

Anyway, right after that was a right turn, an aid station and the penalty tent.  All of that was enough to break up the pack.  Three guys got out ahead at this point, and I was in a legal pack of three with just Jim and a 47 year old that was clearly in the military since his uniform had camo on it.  I’m guessing this was about mile 25.  As he was passing me, he commented on how cool my bike was (he had the same bike) and that we should work to catch those guys that got away.  I shouted, “I’m in!” and he started hammering.  I noticed the network of veins on his calves.  They were huge!  Jim came by me too at that point and I pointed out the veins like an idiot.

Hammering on the bike.  The feeling was glorious!

After a bit I repassed, noticed the military guy’s name was Hunter from his bib, and asked him his branch as I went by.  Marines.  I thanked him for his service and poured on the coals, thankful to have two allies in this ride that were both willing to do their own work and not cheat.  Oh yeah, and weren’t in my age group!

I needed to pee, but downhills were scarce and I need to coast to do it.  I didn’t want to get dropped and lose the motivation of being with folks.  We weren’t catching those guys up ahead, but we were moving.  My average pace was reading 23.5 mph at this point.  WAY faster than my goal pace, but the effort level felt right.  Jim’s turns at the front were fading slightly.  Then at about mile 50 we made a right turn onto the out and back section where the turnaround was, and this road was kind of rough. 

Hunter was again in front of me and I watched him search for the smoothest line in the road, but he wasn’t finding anything good.  He settled for a line about a yard off of the shoulder.  I got on the white paint line right on the shoulder and the paint actually filled in some of the cracks.  It was a big improvement and for a second I thought about  riding up to Hunter to suggest it to him, but told myself he was a big boy and could figure out his own line….and I didn’t need to be wasting my energy helping someone else get a nice comfy ride even if it was an ally that wasn’t in my age group.

Competitors ahead of us were coming the other way down the road and I was amazed how many it seemed there were even though we were crushing this bike course!  After the turnaround, I passed Hunter again and asked him if he was gonna pick up his Special Needs bag.  He said no.  I needed mine as it had my next batch of hydration and EFS gel shot, and a Red Bull mixture I had recently come to rely on.  I hated that this meant we were most likely gonna get separated but I had to get that bag.

Now here’s where a disaster could have happened.  Normally I’m so meticulous about my race prep that I feel I do a good job of preparing for every detail, but I didn’t have much practice at catching a drawstring bag on the fly and emptying the contents without my hands on the handlebars.  I had visions of the drawstring getting caught in the wheel and causing a horrible wreck.  Just as I grabbed my bag, though, it somehow ended up by my mouth and I clamped down on it.  Hey, this will work!  I quickly grabbed my bottles and put them on the bike, then grabbed my Red Bull booster to gulp down and throw away.  Everything was super sticky!  Something had leaked.  I think it was the Red Bull.  Other than that I thought the handoff went quite well, and Hunter hadn’t got that far ahead so I managed to keep up with him.  It didn’t look like Jim was able to.  But somehow through all this process we had caught up to the guys that had broken away.

So, now past 56 miles at 23.5 mph and feeling strong, we turned west to head back and encountered the ugly side of that wind we had been enjoying.  I remember crossing timing mats and thinking of all the people at home following on-line.  My thoughts were, “Whaddy’all think of THAT?!”  I said that in my head on every timing mat, even throughout the marathon.

And then…..enter Baboon Ass.  He came flying by me, but I had time to see his get-up.  There was something tattered about his top, but it was the shorts that particularly caught my eye.  Tattered isn’t a strong enough word.  Shredded.  Threadbare.  And that would have been fine if they were just black cycling shorts, but inexplicably the ass of his shorts had a white square of worn out fabric – like a window over his crack.  Why anyone would want white fabric on your ass crack with black shorts makes no sense to me.  You could see his whole crack and every butt hair was perfectly defined.  DEFINITELY European.  But the guy could hammer.  I’ll give him that.  He also rode a Cheetah – a badass custom carbon fiber spaceship of a bike – though it sounded like it had a thousand cracks in it as he rode by me.  I had never seen one in person.

Westbound had some hills.  Nobody told me Ironman Florida had hills!  So we were battling a little wind and some rollers, and I was yo-yoing off the back of the group at this point, trying to maintain my gap of 4 bike lengths but I was having to work to keep it from growing.  Hunter was up there with Baboon Ass and I wanted to talk some smack to him about being a big bad Marine yet spending a lot of time hanging out behind Baboon Ass, but I didn’t have that kind of energy and it would have meant passing the whole group again.  We caught a few pro women and I think there was even a pro dude in there or two (they had started 10 minutes before us).  A marshal came up again and gave us a thorough inspection.  Some guys got lucky up in that group, but then again you could hear that Harley coming from a half mile away so it’s no surprise everyone cleaned up their act by the time the marshal got there. I just continued to stay in the back of this pack where I could maintain my legal gap and not worry about other folks drafting off of me.  I started feeling the heat and from time to time I noticed salt deposits on the shorts of some of the guys (again, all in passing….calm down!).  As a heavy sweater, it made me nervous as to my own loss of electrolytes but I had a nutrition plan I was following and I trusted it.  Because of the wind and hills my pace for this section slowed to 21.68 mph.

And my bottles were so darned sticky from the leaky Special Needs bag it took some arm wrestling to work them out of the cages.  It was a minor annoyance, but I had to deal with it all the way to T2.  I was just bitching to bitch at this point.

When we turned back south, around mile 75 and starting to get a little punchy in the head, I couldn’t see Hunter anymore.  The pack had gotten big.  To try and pass this whole group would have been ludicrous, but I wondered where he was and a micro-goal had materialized at this point of staying with him through the bike leg.  So, like an idiot, I started hammering, passing folks without knowing how long I could keep the pace up.  This was like a full-on Thursday Night World Championship attack.  After passing a few folks I saw what the problem was.  A huge gap had opened up way up the line, and I wasn’t sure but it looked like Hunter was driving the pack that was in front of ours.  I resolved to bridge the gap and it took a few minutes but I managed it.  Once latched on 4 bike lengths to the guy at the end, I eased up and looked back to see if anyone from that pack had come with me.  Nobody.  But I couldn’t hang on.  The effort had tuckered me out.  I was drifting back off of this group and finally had to suck it up and tell myself to simmer down.  There’d be motivation enough in the next group, and I was still way ahead of my goals and, oh yeah, there was still a marathon coming up.

Regarding that last thought, here’s a mental game I play.  In a triathlon, when I swim I tell myself I’m just a swimmer.  There’s no regard for what happens after the swim.  On the bike course, I’m just a cyclist.  I don’t think beyond that.  I don’t dwell on the next task so I can focus on doing my best at the task at hand.  I leave the worrying about the run until I hit the marathon course and become a runner.  It’s a mental thing I play in my head.  So, that thought about a marathon coming up really wasn’t weighing on me that much at this point.  It’s a little risky as strategies go, but it works for me.

As the other group caught up to me and we started the final out and back section at about mile 92, this guy with a European accent and 41 years old written on his leg says something as he comes by me that sounded like, “Who do we have here?  Oh, it’s BRUCE!”  I don’t know where he was going with that but he was way too chipper.  I felt beaten by him since he was in my age group and sounded better than I felt.  He looked like Faris Al Sultan with long hair and a scruffiness about his chin.  I must have been at a low point to feel that way.  There were also two pro women in this group.

Back in Panama City Beach with just 7.5 miles to go, I felt the group took the turn onto the beach highway way too slow.  I had to hit brakes to stay out of the draft of the guy in front of me.  I told myself it was time to drop this group.  So I hunkered down…….and got dropped by the group!  I mean, they took off!  I worked to bridge back up and did kind of a half-assed job of it I guess.  It didn’t matter, cuz the ride was over and I was WAY ahead of my goal.  I finished the bike leg in 4:48:21, with an average pace of 23.31 mph.  For a split second I asked myself, “Did that just happen?”  No time to dwell on that.  Time to transform into a runner!


My goal for this was 2:00.  I ran into the room full of our T2 bags and really took note that my new Bont Vaypor road biking shoes were phenomenal transition running shoes.  Very stable and easy to run in.  We couldn’t do a flying mount and dismount in this race because the organizers know we’ll just end up in a 2500 bike pile-up.  They’re probably right about that.  Anyway, for that long of a ride, I’d prefer to wear my more comfortable road shoes than my tri shoes even though they don’t work for a flying dismount anyway.  Again, Dark Horse’s suggestion of black tape on the T2 bag was a golden tip. 

 My race bags with the black duct tape applied to them to make them stand out in the pile of 2500 bags.

I ran in and shouted my race number, “2007!” and the volunteer kinda gave me a dumb look.  No matter, from the doorway I could see my bag across the whole room with all the black tape on it out of the 2420 or so that were still there and didn’t miss a beat as I ran in and scooped it up and headed for the changing room.  I was out of there in 2:24.  Where’d those damn 24 seconds come from?

Run (26.2 miles)

I ran out onto the marathon course and immediately saw Mike and Lauren Ormsbee and got a high five from them.  So uplifting and I felt SUPER!  Mike was a huge help to me in my nutrition plan as he is a professor and a doctor of sports nutrition.  They live in Tallahassee, where he evidently teaches sporty type folks at FSU how to eat properly without throwing it all up over themselves, and it was so great that they came to cheer us on.  I met him through a study of Lauren’s at ECU where I had to do a grueling VO2 max test back when I was a newbie at this to say the least, but that’s a different story.  Anyway, something else huge happened in that very instant.  I didn’t see her, but I heard Ginger’s voice say, “10th bro, 10th!!!!!!”  She was doing exactly what I had asked for in our conversation a couple days before the race.  Whether it was wrong or right information (it was wrong – the Athlete Tracker on is notoriously slow to divulge info – but it was close enough as I was actually in 13th in my age group at that time) didn’t matter, as what it did was provide hope.  I looked at my watch and calculated if I ran a 3:30 marathon – certainly I was capable of that! – I could finish this thing in 9:30!  Way beyond my goal and expectations of myself!!  I had to try!

But remember that pee I had to do 60 miles ago?  Yeah, that was still there.  So, when was I gonna get that over with I wondered.  And it was kinda hot for a marathon for this kid that struggles in heat every time he tries to race in it.  I shrugged it all off and told myself to focus on just running…..just an easy jog was all it needed to be.  Focus.

My plan here for the run – cuz now I was no longer a swimmer or a cyclist, I was a runner – was to hit my pace of sub-8:00/mi for the first 13 miles.  After that, there’d need to be some guesswork but I had a Red Bull waiting for me in my Run Special Needs bag at that point that would hopefully give me a boost.  The last half of the marathon - that’s where the Kona slots get divvied out to who can keep rolling instead of who crumbles.  That’s where I would need to break down the last half of the run somehow, and I didn’t have a plan yet for that.  I figured it would come to me when the time was right.  I also knew the pain would come to me too.  What was it Chris McCormack said about pain in his book I’m Here to Win?  Something about being eager to anticipate it, and when it comes he says something like, “Oh, there you are my friend,” and then you “embrace the suck” and the pain goes away after a few minutes.  Yeah, right.  Would I be able to embrace the suck?  Pssssssh, hadn’t happened yet in any races I can remember!  I’ve cried for my mommy many a time.

 The Ironman Florida run course.  They actually changed it slightly from a loop in the state park to an out-n-back (not shown).

So, heading out on the course, I settled into a rhythm of what I thought was about a 7:45/mi give or take 15 sec.  I was just going off of feel, telling myself to keep it at an “easy jog” effort.  My head was maybe already a little punchy, because I remember two conflicting thoughts early on in the run: “I can’t qualify.  There are two many people up ahead of me still.” And, “Wow, there’s nobody out here on the course.  I must be somewhere in the front or so.”  Baboon Ass was right in front of me.  Damn, why do I have to always be where I can see this guy’s ass crack?!  And then he ducked into a porta-potty.  Thanks God.  And that also means I just passed somebody that might be in my age group (I think he had calf compression sleeves on is why I wasn’t sure).  I was picking up people quite steadily.  I came up on a pro male who looked like he was on the verge of quitting.  His breathing was out of control and he was hunched over, barely making forward progress.  I said something along the lines of, “Hang in there, dude.  You’re proving you’re tough just by sticking with it with us.”  Only I think it came out a lot gayer than that.  Whatever, I pressed on.  Just an easy jog.

I had started the run with another EFS gel liquid shot.  As I was pretty sure would happen, I chucked it in the first couple miles.  That stuff is super for getting the nutrition you need in a long race, but I can only take so much of it.  Two of those is apparently my limit, so I winged it at a trash can in someone’s yard.  I guess that could be a littering penalty, but I at least got it near the trash can.  Since mile 2 I was making full use of the aid stations.  Coke and ice were the essentials, but I also took water, sponges, and Powerbar Perform drink.  I’d slam a cup of ice down my shorts and one under my hat if I was lucky enough to grab two.  A swig of Coke, and a swig of whatever else I could get.  Since the course was pretty much empty on the first lap I didn’t have much trouble taking whatever I needed.  Not so much on the second lap as the size of the herd on the course increased.

I had completely forgotten since I was in such of a zone, but sure enough, at mile 5 I heard someone shout my name and there was my old cross country teammate from Korea, Kathy!  It was so uplifting I looked down at my arms and saw chill bumps!  Right after that, I saw Hunter, the Marine, up the road.  Outstanding!  I made it my goal to catch up to him, but he was moving pretty good and I didn’t do so until after mile 6, in the State Park, just before the turnaround.  “Hey there, Hunter!  How you feelin?  Wanna run this thing together?”  “Uhhh, nah.  I kinda got my own pace goin’ on here.”  Fair enough, so I pressed on, hoping I would get to meet him after the race.  Knowing he was a Marine, I had a sneaking suspicion he was some sort of badass pilot – my childhood dream.  I wanted to know.
Just before the turnaround on the first lap.  That's Hunter in the background after I had just passed him.

I took in the look of the sand dunes in the park as I made the turnaround, and it was every bit as desolate as I had expected.  Nobody was out there cheering.  There would need to be some sort of mind trick in order to get through this ominous area a second time without experiencing a mental bonk.  I still didn’t have a plan for this.  For now……just keep running a nice easy jog.

God must have pinged me at this point because an alarm went off in my head telling me, “Dude, you tossed your EFS way back there.  You still have to take in some calories, you freakin’ idiot!  Grab a gel!”  Phew.  Close one.  I was cruising for a bonk if I forgot to eat.  I grabbed a gel pack at the next aid station.

I was taking SaltStick tablets, Anti Fatigue tablets, and PreRace tablets about every 45 minutes, thankful that I had made that decision to put my emergency supply in my Run Special Needs bag so I could double up on them in this heat.  So, at mile 8 as I was running by an aid station I made an impromptu decision to just slam the rest of them and let ‘em do their thing until I got the emergency batch at the turnaround 5 miles later. So I had a mouthful of pills and was shouting, “WATER!” but nobody was paying me any attention.  The aid station was on the other side of the road and most people were coming from the other direction, swallowing up their attention, so they had no idea I was trying to snag a drink.  I missed the cup in the hand of the last volunteer still shouting, “WATER!” and she said to my back, “Just around the next corner!”  Oh, cool, no problem.  I turned that next corner and there tweren’t nuthin!  I turned the next corner.  Nothing.  “Oh please, oh please, God, don’t let these salt tablets burst in my mouth without any water!  Please bring me an aid station!”  It didn’t come for another .75 miles, but I was elated.  Minor disaster averted! 

I think Baboon Ass passed me again somewhere around here.  Sheesh.  He was running right on the shoulder of a female pro.  I saw her turn to him and ask him if he wanted to lead.  He said no.  For her sake - cuz she couldn’t have known the delightful view that was waiting for her if he did – I’d say that was a little bit of that glory stuff God just handed down to her.

My good buddy, Phillip Rowan, was out on the run course giving encouragement and I saw him several times in that first lap.  There he’d be saying things like, “You look strong!  Keep it up!”  It was kind of funny even at the time, because I’d catch a flash of red (he was in Tricred Red) about a block away in my peripheral vision, knowing it was Phillip running to the next intersection, and then there he’d be just in time to give me a high fiver or say something encouraging.  The last time I saw him on my way back to town it occurred to me that he hadn’t heard what I told my family about wanting to know what place I was in.  I hollered at him, “What place am I in?”  He said 10th but didn’t sound so sure.  I said I had to be in at least 8th because I had seen two calves belonging to my age group that I had passed, and there might have been more in those damn compression sleeves that were hiding people’s age.

I think it was about 3 or 4 miles out from the finish that I saw Carl Bonner coming the other way looking strong on his marathon.  A quick high five, and I’m not sure what words were exchanged, but I think – I hope - there were some. 

Passing other guys – as long as they weren’t wearing calf compression sleeves – I could look down at their calf and note their age.  I was obviously hunting guys in my age group, trying to get that elusive 5th place I thought would get me to Kona.  But it seemed like everyone I came upon had sweat their age off and I couldn’t tell what age group they were in.  I wondered if mine had sweated off too, hoping that I was passing other age groupers in cognito like they were doing to me.  I didn’t have the energy to turn all the way and look at my calf – I’d have collapsed in a heap if I had tried that move, so I checked my race numbers on my arms instead.  They were as black and fresh as the moment Mrs. Meticulous inked them on me.  Geez, why did I have to get the only one that probably grew up reminding the teacher that she didn’t assign homework at the end of class?!  I felt like I had a great big sign over my head that said, “Hey, look at me!  I’m 41.  All male 40-44 age groupers come and get me!”

Then I saw Kyle Pitchford – I think around 2 miles out from the finish.  He looked like he was in a tough place but he was moving.  I said something about toughing it out.  I don’t know exactly.

With about 1.5 miles to go to the turnaround near the finish line there were these hot chicks dressed in S&M stuff cheering us on.  I think there were some guys with Super Soakers near here too (“Wanna soak?” “Nuh-uh.”)  The chick with the whip gave my butt a soft tap with her whip.  She wanted more.  She just didn’t know it.

And then I was at the turnaround to complete my first half of the marathon.  My senses heightened as I expected to see Angie, mom and Ginger.  The roar of the crowd was DEAFENING!  It was unbelievable.  A volunteer shouted at me, “Do you want your bag?!”  “Yes, 2007!  2007!”  The black tape on the bag was an outstanding idea.  No question which bag was mine.  I grabbed it and took on board my spare tablets, then grabbed the water bottle full of Red Bull and started guzzling.  I remember a strong feeling of being hot at that moment.

And right then, there was Angie behind the barrier.  And this moment was KEY.  The crowd was too loud to hear it, but I craned my neck towards her hoping for any helpful words.  Nobody understands what kind of info motivates me more than her in this kind of situation, and she must have been stressed about finding the best thing to say.  There were only 2 or 3 seconds to get any feedback, but I saw her lips move and I read,


I’m doing it!  I’m doing it!  Holy crap, I’m doing it!!!!!!!  Wait, I’m doing what?!?!  What does that mean?  I’m in top 5?  I’m qualifying for Kona?  Or am I just doing a good job in general, like I’m gonna finish, whoopee?  No, I’m doing it.  I’m doing something that I’m supposed to be doing, I guessed, so whatever those 3 little words meant I had to keep pressing on just like I have been and continue doing “IT.”  It was the perfect thing to say given that single instant she had to communicate.  It was pure encouragement in the best form I could have hoped.  I had no idea what it meant exactly, but it was enough to mean that there was NO stopping now.  Those three words carried me for the next 13.1 miles and the hardest ones of the race.

Starting lap 2 it was time for a plan that would keep me moving for the last half of the marathon.  This was the “make or break” part of the race, and the course was now super crowded with runners – some on their first lap, some on their second.  I wouldn’t be able to tell if I was passing more guys in my age group or if they were on their first lap, so the stimulation that comes from that was gone.  A plan evolved in my head: I would take myself out of this place.  No more stimulation from the folks on the course, I no longer cared if I was passing people, no consideration that I was in Florida.  Instead, I put my head back in Greenville, NC, and pretended I was starting the Sunday morning 10 miler from Green Springs Park – one of my favorite workouts.  So, when I saw the sign that said 14 miles I said to myself, “Alright, mile 1 in Greenville.  Just passing the car wash on 10th St that says it uses distilled water.  Yeah right, distilled water.  Who believes….dude, stop thinking about distilled water!  Focus!”  At mile 15 it was, “Huh, I just passed mile 2 – near Lizz’s house!”  Cola, ice, water, Perform energy drink. Just a slow jog.  Mile 16 became 3: “Turning onto Red Banks Rd.” 

I still wanted to see Phillip out there, but evidently he had repositioned himself near the finish line at this point. A blister popped on my foot.  A big one.  It reminded me of Ironman Louisville where the same thing happened and I kinda struggled for a few miles before the pain subsided.  Not this time!  When I felt it burst I told myself hell no, that I was not going to acknowledge any pain from it, and I didn’t.  I felt the squish of the pus in my shoe and kept going.  Just a slow jog.

Kathy wasn’t out there anymore either.  Darn.  I’m not sure, but I think it was around this point – mile 18 – that I decided to take my first focused look at my time and pace.  Wait a minute…..I was on pace for a 3:15 marathon.  That would mean I’d finish in 9:15!  How can that be?  I relooked at my watch.  Yeah, I’m averaging 7:30’s not 8:00 miles!!!  Holy smokes!  Okay, just an easy jog.  Don’t think about it too much.  Keep doing “IT.”  But there was no doubt….something amazing was happening!

Back in the barren sand dune landscape of the park, I made my turnaround and came up behind Kyle.  He was having a tough debut at Ironman and I wanted to say something to encourage him. I told him to count the orange cones on the road.  Really?  That’s what Emily Price said to me once when I detonated at the OBX Marathon.  I got to 2 and gave up on that little nugget of advice.  I hope it did more for Kyle than it had done for me.

I was still moving well but had slowed down to about a 7:50/mile pace.  Nothing was gonna make me stop though.  Evidently, not even that overwhelming urge to pee, which I had now felt for over 4 hours.  I came up on a porta-potty at an aid station and told myself to go ahead and use it but it didn’t happen.  My legs just took over and kept running.  My head was losing control of things. 

Some sort of altercation broke out at one of the aid stations on the way back to town.  A runner coming towards me was fussing about something loud enough that a runner going in my direction mouthed off to him.  I think the first guy was upset at the volunteers at the aid station and the other guy was sticking up for them.  The volunteers are incredible and I would never bitch at them, but the first guy did have a bit of a point.  There were multiple times at aid stations that a volunteer would be standing there with a cup of something not offering it or even telling you what it was.  Next summer I plan to volunteer at an aid station at Ironman Raleigh 70.3 and after seeing that I definitely plan to holler out what I have in my cup to make it as easy as possible on the racers.  Still, I don’t fault them.  It’s a long day to be standing there holding a cup for some stranger just for nuttin’.

So, where’s Bert, I wondered?  I hadn’t seen him anywhere.  Man, I hoped his foot problem wasn’t so bad he had to drop out!  I was still passing pros, both chicks and dude kinds, so that sure felt pretty darn good.  But with 3 miles to go I suddenly had the feeling that I was “going down.”   I wondered if I was gonna end the day in the medical tent on IV’s, and I thought back to all the times I had seen folks cross a finish line and pass out.  I’ve always wondered how people dig that deep, some of them not even able to walk across the finish line, and here I was seemingly putting myself in that same position.  I thought about George Worrell – a friend and phenomenal uber triathlete who had dug that deep for some phenomenal triathlon finishes and said to myself if George can dig that deep I guess I can to.  And if ever there was a time to do so, this was it.

I was beyond the Sunday Morning 10 Miler mileage trick at this point and the brain was all out of ideas and far too punchy to be capable of a clever way to mask the pain at this point, so I just thought about the point on the course where we cross Thomas Dr, which is the bigger road leading to the finish line.  It should have been about 2 miles out from the finish or so, but I never realized crossing it.  I was now becoming very aware of my footfalls thinking that any misstep at this point could send me tumbling.  I was still moving okay (now at almost an 8:30 pace) but, completely exhausted, I was losing it bad.

I caught up to a guy in the last two miles (I don’t know why I thought he was fat, but I did.  He was anything but fat!) who was wearing calf compression sleeves, and when I got alongside him I noticed he wasn’t giving me an inch.  He had to be in my age group, and noticed my indelible 41 on my calf and had no intention of letting me get in front of him.  Dammit.  I was out of gumption at this point too.  I knew he’d outsprint me once we got to the finish chute.  I had tunnel vision too at this point.  It was eerie how aware I was that I had no peripheral vision working for me at all.  I saw a parking garage ahead in the distance where the next turn was and it looked so far away.  Just get to that parking garage!  Once there I went by the Special Needs area one last time.  The crowd was loud as hell again.  “You want your bag?!” In my head, “Dude, I’m finishing!  Don’tcha freakin’ know?  I already got my damn bag!”  You get angry when you get punchy tired!

I say I felt nothing yet here it looks like I have a big smile coming down the finishing chute.  Make no mistake, this is a grimace.

As soon as I veered into the finishing chute the guy I had caught poured on the gas and dropped me.  I thought I was picking it up to a sprint but I don’t know if that’s true.  I felt nothing as I crossed the finish line.  I was blank inside, utterly exhausted.  I didn’t have the energy to raise my arms in elation or nothing. 

Here’s a moment I’ll remember on the last few seconds of my life.  Pure elation overshadowed by pure exhaustion.

A volunteer grabbed me and said something about wanting my timing chip and I think I went down on my knees.  My legs just gave out.  Another question.  I just said yes.  Or maybe no.  Then another.  Yeah. Maybe?  No. I was answering questions but I wasn’t understanding what he was asking.  Then I distinctly heard, “What size shirt are you?”  “LARGE.”  It seems the mention of a free shirt and hat was enough to snap me out of it!  Am I that vain or was the timing just right? As I stood up with the aid of the volunteer I saw my mom, sister, and Angie against the barriers of the finisher corral and couldn’t wait to join them.  The volunteer asked if I was okay and I pointed to my family and told him they would take care of me.

I think there were hugs.  I say “I think” because I was WAY out of it.  Luckily, Ginger had bought a folding lawn chair for mom to sit on during the race, so they immediately unfolded it out on the curb and threw me in it.  I was in a state of exhaustion I’ve never…..ever…..achieved.  Nothing hurt or anything… was just utter exhaustion.  So temporary, but so brutal.  But it was also the most amazing feeling!  I had done “IT,” just as Angie had said 13 miles ago.  I had FAR surpassed my goals, WAY, WAY beyond what I even thought was achievable for myself.  It was epic.  The Ormsbees, Phillip, mom and Ginger were ecstatic….particularly Ginger, I think. I wanted to know if I qualified.  Surely I did with a 9:20:32!  I kept asking but we really didn’t know for sure.  But what was Angie doing?  Angie had her back to me and I remember asking if she was mad at me but she was just looking online on her phone to see what place I came in.

Angie confirms 5th place age group while I try to comprehend and become a normal person again.

Phillip was laughing at me a bit as he said later I seemed like I was totally drunk.  When we confirmed it was 5th place and someone said it had been announced that there were 6 Kona slots in my age group, I felt so relieved! I DID IT!  I can’t believe that just happened!  I was too exhausted to even cry about it, but I sure wanted to…..and had always pictured that I would.  I PR’d my open marathon by over 3 minutes in a freakin’ Ironman finishing the run in 3:21:02.  In fact, I PR’d everything!  It was the perfect day – the perfect race.  I didn’t experience one mishap, one slip-up, one “oh no, let’s go to plan B.”  I wish I could do it all over again!  Every one of those 33,632 seconds out there was complete perfection.

So, here are some fun numbers:

42nd overall, out of 2582 finishers
5th male 40-44 age group, out of 550 to 600ish
1st American male 40-44 age group
13th American overall
18th amateur (non-pro) overall
Chicked by 5 females, all pros

Place in age group after each leg:
After the swim: 37th
After T1: 29th
After the bike: 14th
After T2: 13th
After the run: 5th

I went back to the condo with my family to clean up and eat something before coming back out on the course to welcome the other Tricredibles and congratulate them on their finish.  We even stayed up til midnight to watch the final finishers.  Damn, that’s some inspiring stuff!  Seeing a 78 year old man cross the finish line with 8 minutes to spare before the 17 hour cutoff…..well, that’s worthy of a tear or two.

Bill Linder and I signing up for Kona.  At 78, the oldest one in the race, and the only one in the male 75-79 age group.  If he finished he would get his slot and get to go to Kona for a seventh time, which he did with 8 minutes to spare before the 17 hour cutoff.  This man is a 100% prime, grade A BAMF!

I couldn’t sleep that night!  I was so excited!!!  I tossed and turned with so much anticipation of going through the Kona signup process, and also the fear that it could be taken away from me somehow – maybe there weren’t 5 slots!  I woke up at 4 am once again, only this time not for a race but for the excitement of the new day that would hopefully mean I was for sure going to Kona in 2013.

 Signing a check and claiming my slot for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

The Kona sign up process wasn’t at all how I had envisioned it.  All you do is get in a line and sign up.  It was very anti-climactic, but we took a ton of photos of me signing up like a bunch of idiots because it was just so cool. 

Oh, come on!  Who can top a photo of you holding a Kona Qualifier certificate with a proud mommy?!

I met the first and second place finishers in my age group while in line, a Swiss and a Slovenian guy that had just got back from Kona a couple weeks ago.  Hunter was also there hoping he got a slot, and we got to talk at length.  He finished fifth in his age group and even though there ended up being only 4 slots, he got the only male rolldown slot and signed up for Kona with us.  I was so glad he got that slot.  It was well-deserved.  And, yes, he is a pilot.  He flies an F/A-18 and drops bombs on terrorists that get too close to our heroes on the ground.  And prior to that he was a Blue Angel.  This kid is in awe. That was my childhood dream!

While he and I were talking, I started blabbing about all the hard work I put into my training – particularly my nutrition.  At some point he broke in and said, “I went vegan.”  That shut me up pretty good!

 The slot allocation for the Ironman World Championship in Kona.  My age group got one bonus slot since another male age group did not have anyone turn up.

And then, as if the fun just wouldn’t stop, awards went 5 deep too!  So, I got some hardware and got to stand on the podium representing the top 5 in my age group!  Unbelievable!!!

 The top 5 40-44 age group and award winners: A guy from Switzerland won the age group, on the left, and moving to the right, then a Slovenian, then a Norwegian (not pictured), then a Swede, then me.  Yes, this race was in Florida…..which is in the USA.  The Swede is the “fatty” that outsprinted me by 8 seconds.  And, I won't say which, but Baboon Ass is in the picture too.

 I got wood!  Here's my trophy for coming in 5th place in the Male 40-44 age group.

I’d like to say a big thanks to all of you that helped me do this.

Thanks, God.  There’s a reason you wanted me to do all this and I don’t know what that is just yet.  I’m sorry I’m not smarter than that.  It’ll come to me. 

Thanks to my unbelievable wife, Angie, who put up with my crazy diet, my selfishness in putting my training and my needs first for so many months.  I totally get why neighbors want to steal you away from me.  I had no idea when we met that I had just landed the greatest, most supportive wife on the planet.  Thanks so much for realizing I was a dumbass then and that I would someday appreciate the amazing gift that is you.  I owe it all to you and love you very much.

Thanks to mom and sister, Ginger.  Mom’s been to every Ironman I’ve done, and that streak will continue at Kona.  My sister Ginger flew all the way from Addis Ababba, Ethiopia to see me race, and she’ll be at Kona too.  Thanks to both of you so much for putting up with my cranky, selfish ass those days in the condo before the race.  If you guys want to go on a trip somewhere and just look at consignment shops, I’ll drive.  I owe it to you.  I’ll even gift wrap the crap you buy.

 My beautiful sister, Ginger, on the white sands of Panama City Beach.

Thanks to Carl Bonner.  I’ll admit I prefer to train alone for the most part, but you were a fine training partner and I enjoyed having someone dedicated to suffering with me every Saturday.  And Sunday.  And all those other days.  I know I didn’t convince you of the glory of Silk chocolate soy milk, but it was fun trying.  I’ve always looked up to you as a badass triathlete, and it was an honor to train alongside you.

Thanks to Frank Fisher, another great training buddy.  We had some fun exchanges regarding proper training and nutrition throughout the season and I learned a lot from you.  We didn’t always agree (and had I gotten a penalty, I’d have peed myself in the tent just for you!) but you know your stuff.  Thanks for letting me borrow the tire inflator too.  Luckily, I didn’t need it.  Your turn to use it.

Thanks, Phillip Rowan , another training buddy and sounding board.  I really appreciate you came down to cheer us on and had the energy to run around the course and see us at multiple times.  Regardless of what you say in that moment, seeing a close friend is a big help. 

Thanks to Bert Kelly for hauling my bike and gear bag there and back.  That was incredibly unselfish of you and much appreciated.  Sorry the pile grew a bit on the way home.  Well done in your race, and inspiring in itself that you showed up as injured as you were.

Thanks to Dr. Mike Ormsbee and his wife, Lauren, for coming all the way from Tallahassee to cheer us on.  Mike also was pivotal in reviewing my nutrition plan and providing advice as he’s a doctor of sports nutrition.  By all means, consider using his services and look him up at   If you’re a chick reading this, check him out at his website just to see his abs.  It’s worth it!

Mike and Lauren Ormsbee grace my presence with a post-race victory photo at Pineapple Willy’s for some grog and turboslop.

Thanks to Kathy Bishop Stenslie and her husband, Joel, for driving down from Georgia to cheer as well.  Great to see you after all these years and next time, how about I watch you do this crap?!

Richter, out!