The Perfect Storm – Ironman Florida 2011

The Perfect Storm – Ironman Florida 2011

by Coach Joe

“Give me one moment in time when I’m more than I thought I could be. When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away and the answers are all up to me. Give me one moment in time when I’m racing with destiny. Then in that one moment of time I will feel eternity”

Hey Coach Karyn,

First, I want to thank you once again for all you’ve done for me.  I just can’t express in words how important it has been throughout the years to have your support and mentoring.  Without you, there is just no way I’d be the athlete, coach and person I am today.  I hope that you will share this victory at Ironman Florida with me.  We did this together and I’ll be forever grateful.  You are an amazing coach and a wonderful person.  🙂

Next, I’d like to thank and acknowledge my lifelines.  Suzy, my son Michael, and the hundreds and hundreds of friends and family that supported my journey and pulled me to the finish line.  I’m humbled beyond belief.  The Facebook comments, voicemails, emails, text messages all brought  tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.  I just could not have done this without you all and I would not have wanted to.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I will never forgot.

Ok, on to the Ironman.  Bottom line… it was the perfect storm in every way.  Before, during and after the race I was fully present to it all.  We had a plan and I followed it to a T.  I had plenty of opportunities to go outside the box, but I had no mental trouble staying on plan.  I knew exactly what I wanted, what had to be done and did it.  I stayed positive all day.  I did not think or dwell on the discomfort when it did surface occasionally.  There was no “wall” and I even mentally kicked into overdrive at mile 19-20 although I didn’t get faster, I did not fade the way others were fading.  Hundred of athletes walking the last 6 miles and I ran right past and wished them a strong finish.  I was in a zen-like, meditative flow state the whole way.  It was an amazing experience and a breakthrough day for me.

There were so many high points throughout the day it will be hard to hit them all, but let’s give it a tri…

The swim was incredible, just like Madison.  It was effortless.  It flew by and I felt in zone 1 the whole time.  Stopped a few times just to see what was going on around me and to soak in how cool it was.  I wanted to see it and remember it forever.  But I really didn’t need the rest.  I was in the draft, fully surrounded the entire 2.4 miles, crusin’ with my new friends, totally groovin’ with the rhythm of the ocean.  Six thousand arms all moving in sync.  It was super cool.

I knew my pace was keeping me with the main pack and that was certainly confirmed on the beach and in T1.  It was pure chaos really, but again I was thrilled to be in the competitive mix with the stronger athletes and have a great swim that I didn’t mind the bumping and the pushing around.  Funny, I never tasted the salt water.  Wild that something so noticeable on the first swim at Panama City Beach 6 months ago virtually disappeared during the IM.  The mind is something else when it is focused and knows exactly what to do.  Water temps were a perfect 69F and the waves had calmed considerably from the huge tidal waves the day prior.

They warned us at the athlete meeting about the Pink Meanie jelly fish and the super strong current going west to east.  Both showed up big time.  I started at the far west end of the beach and so happy I did that.  Half way out to the far turn buoy I was already pushed right to the buoy line.  Those that started on the buoy line later said they pushed into the current the whole first half mile and their times increased 5-10 minutes, yikes.  Just before the turn buoy in the very deep end, I saw the first of hundreds of the big pink meanies.  Swimming right under me about 5-6 feet deep.  My heart jumped a beat, then settled when I realized that they were staying down there and not coming to the surface.  But I was ready to push through the sting pain if needed.  It was surreal to be swimming in the big water with these three foot wide creatures following along.  It was as if they were waving at me with their tentacles, wishing me well on my journey for the day.  I was really moving strong on the second lap and remembered a few times to pull back the pace, I wanted to just rip that last half mile and get on the bike, but I stayed in control.  Next thing I knew my fingers were scraping the sand and I was running up the beach.  OMG, that’s every bit as exciting as the helix in Madison.  The sand, waves, sunrise, ocean front condos, cheers and tears.  It was truly overwhelming.  I’ll never forget that moment in time.

T1 was probably the most difficult part of the whole race.  They just did not have enough space or help in there for the first big rush of 1:05-1:15 swimmers.  I probably lost 3 minutes just trying to survive the pushing and trying not to get stepped on by bigger guys or volunteers.  I wore my tri top and shorts the whole race, so thank god I didn’t have to try and change in that mess.  Finally got out of there and I was ready to go.  I saw my girl for the first time since the start and I was sooo happy for that moment.  The body and mind were fully powered and ready to unleash, but again, I stayed in the box.

Starting the bike it was freezing!  I was still wet and did not put any extra layers on like some folks.  The sun was still rising and the winds were already approaching 15 mph out of the north and that’s exactly where the first 30-40 miles went, north!  On top of that, I was keeping my power down, so I really didn’t warm the engine up.  The first 2 hours of the bike my teeth were chatterin’ the whole way, my neck was getting stiff from the cold aero position into the wind and I could not wait for the sun to rise and warm me up.  Most of the athletes I swam with pulled forward on the bike and pushed bigger power into that wind for 40 miles.  That probably explains why there were so many of them walking later in the day.  I wanted to run the 26.2, so I forced myself to slow down and stay in the power zone from our test so my legs would be fresh off the bike.  Even with the conservative approach to speed and power, I came in 6 minutes faster than my planned best case time.  Additionally, my pedaling power average came in just under our target watt range.  This confirmed that I had done a good job of being efficient into the wind and leveraging the tailwind when it showed up.  Coming toward T2 I knew it was my day.  The swim and bike were done and I felt very strong physically and mentally.  I saw Iron Sherpa Girl, smiled for some photos, sucked in some of her amazing energy, and crossed the dismount line.  From the first foot strike off the bike I could tell what I already knew in my heart, the legs were perfect.  The moment had come.  It was time to run and I was ready! Woot!!

T2 went much better than T1.  Much less crowded.  Most of the athletes that I swam with pushed sub 6 hour bike times, so they were already on the run.  I quickly got the run shoes on and out the door I went.  The engine was not only lit, it was on fire!  I blew through Run Out so fast and I was so in the jolo flow zone that I missed Suzy screaming right in my face (see below photo).  I knew what had to be done.  It was time to become.  I was not afraid.  I was ready to Embrace the Pain.  I had no doubt that I’d run the whole way.  Somehow, I just knew.

What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it. – Alexander Graham Bell

I pulled back the whole first mile, soaking in the crowds and hundreds of people calling my name.  Many of them telling me that I looked amazing and had perfect running form.  It would have been so easy to push sub 8:00 minute miles, but again I remembered the plan and pulled back.  Even with the pull back, I crossed mile 1 at 9:00 flat.  Faster than our target pace.  This gave me additional confidence that as I slowed the pace even more, that I’d absolutely run 26.2 off the IM bike.  I kept pulling back each mile and by mile 4 there was enough general fatigue from the long day that I didn’t have to focus on reducing speed anymore, I could now put things on autopilot and cruise.  I really thought I stopped at every aid station, but in looking at the garmin data graph I can only see 18 speed dips indicating a walk point.  Some of my walk breaks were only 15 seconds, so maybe the garmin didn’t capture those.  Anyway, I got the breaks in and the hydration/nutrition to keep me going.  It was still pretty hot with the mid 70’s heat, humidity and full sun.  I really had no urge to hit the porta-potty, so I knew I needed to stay focused on hydration.  By the way, I did make 3 porta stops on the bike, so I knew I was fully hydrated coming off the bike, unlike Madison.

The first 13.1 mile loop just flew by.  I couldn’t believe I was back at the transition area and about to start the second loop.  I plugged in my personal video visualization for the upcoming turnaround point.  I created this video during every long run this year by doing a two or three loop course.  Each time seeing that IM turn in my mind and embracing it instead of hating it.  Knowing that I would be more than half way home and the IM finish line was going to come to me.  I knew I’d see my girl, my life-line, and that I’d get her awesome energy.  And just like that, there she was, screaming me through the turn.  I had full power again and it was another high point of the day.  I now love that famous turnaround that sooo many IM athletes dread.  Again, it’s amazing how the mind works and how much a positive attitude can change the outcome of things.

Pacing was pretty even from start to finish.  Probably less than 1 min/mile difference throughout the race.  I did extend the length of the aid station walks during the second loop.  Just wanted to get more fluid going since I was dehydrated and I wanted to give the legs a little more rest.  I was getting a little tired from the long workout day and wanted to ensure I could finish strong and keep running.  I checked in occasionally to see if the legs were solid and the HR was low.  Both were good to go for the entire duration.  There was just no reason to walk other than it just being a long, tiring day.  I repeated my mantra of “race today, rest tomorrow” a number of times when the brain tried to get me to pull up and it worked great.  As the run progressed and I passed more and more walkers, my personal confidence as an Ironman athlete started to grow.  I could feel the power coming through.  I even started thinking about how much I enjoyed the IM training and this great Florida race venue.  Wondering if I’d come back sometime soon.

I made it through the State Park (approx mile 19) right as the sun set and headed back toward the finish line.  This is the spot when I knew I could finish the last 6 miles running AND strong with no pain or discomfort.  Just the joy of knowing that in a short time ahead, I’d see Suzy and have that “out of body” Ironman finish line experience.  An experience that doesn’t happen many times life.  As I turned the last corner, I could hear the crowds and see the lights.  My eyes wet and my arms were raised the entire last 0.2 miles.  I was floating.  It was happening again.  I was transformed once again to another dimension in time.  I saw Suzy, gave her a kiss, she was crying, and I moved toward the finish line arch.  I screamed in excitement as I flew over the mats.  I had just done what I set out to do and become the person I was meant to be.

What would I attempt to do if I knew I would not fail?

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