Race day is a bitter sweet memory. While I was incredibly grateful to be out there, the way the day ended still has me up at night trying to figure out what I could have done differently or whether or not I could have dug any deeper and pushed through to the end.
I woke up at 3:45 feeling like I had gotten a great nights sleep. One thing I seem to have inadvertently trained myself to do is to use the bathroom first thing in the morning. This may seem like it isn’t a big deal but being able to empty the bowels before leaving the room and not have to worry about standing in a port-a-potty line with 2,400 other athletes is a huge relief!
After using the bathroom I went about the routine I had been running through in my mind a thousand times. Get the uniform on, put the timing chip on, put on my sweatpants and sweatshirt, mix up my nutrition and fill the water bottles. I was hoping to be done by 5 but was ready to walk out the door at 4:45. It was nice to have my bike and transition bags already dropped off from the previous day.
The plan was to meet Paul at 5 and walk down to transition together. I don’t remember what we talked about while walking down to the transition area but I was glad to be walking there with him. We had done marathon training together, lots of training for other races together and most recently we had been training for the past six months together for Ironman, his first and my second. We developed what was already a pretty tight relationship to one that was even tighter. Doing 7 hour bike rides together with someone who you have so much in common with will do that.
Once I arrived at transition I went through body-marking in what was a surprisingly short line, and went to my bike. There I put the bottles in their cages, topped off the air in my tires with a borrowed pump and gave the chain a quick lube. The last step was to drop off my special needs bags.
The only thing I had to do now was sit and wait. I found a seat at the place where I was going to meet my family and took in the craziness for a while. I felt calm even in the midst of all that was going on around me. While I was waiting I started the process of getting my wetsuit on so I was ready to go once my family arrived.
At 6:30 I met up with my wife and son and we made our way up to the swim start area. I had the chance to say a quick hello to the rest of my family. At about 6:40 I took in two Hammer Apple Cinnamon gels, took a swig of water, said my good byes and off I went to the swim start.
It took about 10 minutes to actually get into the water even though the total trip was only about 50 yards. All of the 2,400 athletes were being corralled over the timing mats through a 10 foot wide chute.
Just as I was getting in the water it started to rain pretty hard. The water was refreshing as I did my first few strokes and I was feeling very comfortable and relaxed after swimming for three or four minutes. I swam over to one of the beaches to minimize the treading I would have to do before the start. With about 5 minutes before the start I made my way up to the starting rope.
I still don’t know how smart a decision this was. In 2006 I started about 25 yards back from the starting rope and while it was pretty crazy I was able to find clean water after the first 1/4 mile. This time, that wasn’t the case. My swim had improved a lot in three years and I was feeling comfortable about starting closer to the front. I was still surprisingly calm when the cannon went off. I put my head in the water and started to swim.
The problem with starting so close to the front ended up being that I was never able to get into a great rhythm until close to the end of the first 1.2 mile loop. All the craziness actually made the first loop go by quickly. In that first 32 minutes I had my goggles knocked off once, almost had my wedding band pulled off, and got knocked around pretty good.
The 2nd loop wasn’t much better, even though I had cleaner water to swim in with fewer people, I seemed to have gotten stuck behind a slower group that no matter how hard I tried, I could not get around. I got out of the 2nd loop and saw that my time was almost 1 hour 8 minutes. I was swimming sub 1 hour training swims at this distance so I was kind of disappointed in my swim time. But, I just made my way to T1 to get on with the rest of my race.
In the grand scheme of things the Ironman swim is just a warm up for the rest of the day.