Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Race Report - Ironman Florida 2012

Ironman Florida 2012 Race Report - aka IMFL '12


The view from our hotel - directly onto the swim start
Training - I hired my coach specifically for this race.  I based my selection process on his passion for the sport of triathlon, his past race experiences, his frighteningly similar family/work dynamics, and his overall base of knowledge and certifications.  Sometimes the coach was happy with my results, sometimes he was on the verge of shear anger with my performance... on a few occasions he actually yelled at me for my poor performance.  He's extremely detail oriented and always expects my personal best in each workout.  I've known him for a long time and he's basically coached me for my entire career.  I've seen how he coaches other people and I like his style, although sometimes he forgets to call me back.  Who is this crazy coach? ME.  I chose to coach myself through this journey to Ironman Florida, specifically for the above stated reasons.  I wanted to be able to bring this to my own resume as a coach.

All of that being said...  I must be honest, leading up to this race I had minimal weekly training.  No joke, I cannot lie.  I averaged 6-8 hours a week and peaked at 14 hours.  But I have an indomitable will and based my decision to continue self coaching from my successful performances leading up to this race - in 2012: a few Olympic distance triathlons, some shorter stuff, 3 specific IMFL workouts, a bike leg for a 70.3 relay and a 50 mile run.  It's far from the ideal training/coaching standard but it would have to work.  Working as a full time firefighter/paramedic for an organization that has several open firefighter positions and continues to show and increase in annual call volume proved to be very challenging.  We are up a lot at night and cannot truly rest during the day.  With the rotating 24 hour shift, I haven't had a 'normal' month of sleep for over 12 years.  In the past I have been able to get in an hour of training / workout on shift, not so much in this past year.  With lower staffing levels and higher call volume, we don't have that luxury very often.  On the home front, I am a stay at home dad for my youngest daughter (still too young for school) so my training at home needed to be very flexible and sometimes needed to include her.  Of course, the evenings take priority for my family and I wouldn't have that any other way!

So while that all seems crazy and maybe even like a lack of appropriate coaching expertise, I knew what I was up against when I signed up for this race.  I mapped out my periodization plan and scheduled specific events throughout the year.  My specific training plans changed week by week and sometimes I chose to skip workouts in order to catch up on sleep.  I did hit 3 specific events leading up to this race that I really believe helped me create that DETERMINED attitude.  Three of them were specific training days and one was a run: The first was a 5,000 yard swim in a short course pool (25yds) - I completed this with NO rest breaks, no food/water/rest.  I did hurt but I forced myself to work through foot/leg cramps and to stay focused on how I would resolve similar problems in the Gulf of Mexico.  Another workout was a planned 56 mile bike ride where I chose (20 miles in) to completely change my mind and go for 100+ miles and to NOT stop for extra food/water.  What I took with me for the planned 56 miles needed to last for almost double the distance.  I had to be smart about pacing myself and to stay in lower HR Z2/3 for fueling purposes.  Lastly, I chose a 21 mile run over a very flat area near my home.  I asked a few friends to run with me (they knew they were part of my experiment, but maybe not to the specific degree).  I completed that feeling exhausted.  The 50 mile run - yeah, about that.  I chose that event a year ago, before I signed up for Ironman Florida.  But having completed a 50 mile Ultra Marathon before, I knew that this would be good mental training for IMFL.  Turns out, The North Country Trail Run (50 trail miles in the hills of  Manistee) was the best mental training that I could have completed.  The second 25 miles of that course changed the way I approached all of my long distance training - write this down - "First Half/Second Half"  That is what I took to Ironman Florida.

Arriving in Florida - The 3 flights to Florida before the race turned out to be draining.  Becky (my wife, who came with me to Florida - no way I would go without her!) and I had a flight change at the last minute... literally, just before we boarded our first of 3 flights we got a phone call stating that our middle flight was changed and that we had to be switched to a different flight.  NOTHING that we could do about it, but IF we missed the 3rd flight in to Panama City Beach... I would miss the on site registration area and not be allowed to race.  I needed to stay calm and figure it out after the first flight was completed.  This was the first part of the trip where Becky was able to take over the "rational thinking" and help me stay calm.  As it turned out, we literally got off that flight and straight onto the connecting flight to PCB, FL.   We got there, our bags didn't.  We did however pick up a hitch-hiker from the plane who was staying at our hotel and wanted to ride with us.  I think that she is Becky's TriWife Twin - her husband was also racing IMFL for his first Ironman, and he was also raising money through the Ironman Foundation -- In fact, he is among the leading fund-raisers this year.  Unbeknownst to his wife, he was chosen as a featured athlete and spoke at the athlete banquet Thursday night.  Our checked bags - they were delivered to our hotel much later that night.  Again, Becky was able to take over that aspect and kept me from freaking out. Ha!

The athlete banquet
Banquets and Bags - The full distance Ironman events are like no other!  The expo, the athlete banquet, the swag and the transition bags... what the Wha??  5 years of perfecting my transitions and I can't put my shoes on my bike in transition?  That's right.  Research it if you are racing an Ironman, it's crazy and can be very confusing!  There are plastic bags for different areas of the race and you'll need to have a plan about what goes where.  That's where the Ultra run helped my planning.   For IMFL there was a Bike bag, Bike special needs bag (that would be placed at the 56 mile mark on the bike course), a Run bag and a Run special needs bag (also placed at the half way point in the run).  But the swag bag!! I was impressed, a transition backpack that was complete with Ironman logo's :)  I'm a geek about the swag.

Knee to waist high waves on the Friday practice swim
Friday - Met up with a few friends and went out to swim in the ocean.  This was my first ocean swim ever; yup, the day before the race.  I was completely put at ease with this swim - the saltwater + the wetsuit = crazy buoyancy!  We swam out about 400 meters and looked around then back in.  The waves/swells weren't bad and the weather reports were stating that the water would be even more calm on race morning.

I had to finish organizing my race bags for drop off and get my bike to transition.  By the way, I used TriBike Transport for shipping - amazing!  I'll be using them again, look it up if you need your bike to go somewhere.  There wasn't a lot to do think about once the bike was dropped off.  I had a massage and rested.  In the evening, Becky and I were able to go back near Inlet Beach.  That's the spot where we got married.  We then went to the restaurant where we had our wedding dinner party.  It was a great time and it was very cool be back at that place, the food was amazing!

Becky and I before the IMFL start
Saturday - Who actually sleeps before an Ironman?  Uh, I did.  I slept great and woke up just before my alarm.  I wasn't nervous, I  felt prepared and I was ready to race!  I ate food as planned and made sure my Special Needs bags were all set (it never hurts to double check those things).  Dropped them off, did body marking and made sure my bike was ready to roll out.  I was pumped!  I planned to listen to music before the race but there was so much hype in the air.  People were buzzing and the announcers were great - no lame music, no boring "Good morning, it's race day. Are you ready" junk, these guys know how to MC a big event!  We stayed at the hotel where all of the events took place for the weekend - literally, the swim started on the beach in front of our hotel!  So I went back to the room, geared up and Becky and I walked to the beach.

What it looks like to tell 3000 people to swim towards 1 buoy

IMFL 2012 Swim course - 1.2 mile per lap, 2 laps
SWIM There are no words to express how excited I was!  The professional athletes took to the water 15 minutes before the age groupers.  Funny thing about IMFL - there are 3 swim starts: Pro Men, Pro Women and then EVERYONE else.  2900 athlete's all getting in the swim chute at for a simultaneous start. I gave Becky a kiss, and get in the chute.  0645 the Pro field launched and then they started the National Anthem.  I'll be honest and say that it was nearly a tear jerker - there was so much emotion built in to this one day for me.  I was ready to race and all of the great things about my life played through my head at that moment.  I'm Proud to be an American, I'm honored to be a firefighter, I Love my family and I Love to be a coach!  It was all there. 10 second countdown.... 3. 2. 1. Cannon blast - GO!  The ocean wasn't much better than it was on Friday, but at that moment it didn't matter. Almost 3000 of my new closest friends joined me in an attempt to reach the first buoy.  The IMFL swim is a 2 lap swim - about 800meters out, 200m over and 800m back, a quick beach run through the timing mat and then a second loop.  It was full on contact almost the entire first loop.  Feet, elbows, hands, you hit and got hit.  It's not necessarily intentional but it hurts to get hit in the face.  I couldn't see any of the buoys.  I swam with the crowd and the swells were bigger than I expected.  Never underestimate the power of the draft from 3000 people.  I rounded the second turn buoy and tried to sight to head back in.  Nothing... but I could see the hotel, I swam towards it but it seemed like I kept veering off course.  I have had that happen before where straight swimming isn't always possible but today I was really trying to keep it straight.  I soon realized that it was the current pushing me away from the finish area on the beach.  By the time I neared the shoreline I could see Swim Exit marker.  The ocean swells were pretty big, I didn't know how big but I knew that when I was at the bottom of a swell I could no longer see the hotel.  By the time I could stand the waves were breaking higher than my head.  I dolphin dived with them and got to the timing mat on the beach, volunteers poured water over my face and mouth as I continued to run back to the ocean for lap 2.  The ocean was brutal!  The waves pushed against every bit of forward momentum I seemed to make between the swells.  As I got past the breaking point, the swells continued and it felt like I was the bow of a boat, constantly being thrown up or down.  It was hard, but as they say, "If it was easy, everyone would do it" and this is an Ironman!  Unfortunately, several people never finished the swim and their day at Ironman Florida 2012 was done.  Like the North Country Ultra run, I broke the swim into 2 parts.  The second part was about trying to maintain pacing and control my breathing, it's easy to get excited.  In the last 400 meters of the swim my left calf cramped up.  It hurt, I couldn't even kick with my leg, I couldn't bend my toes or rotate my ankle - I wasn't about to stop and the swells wouldn't have allowed me to do anything about it, so like my long pool swim, I kept on swimming.  When I finally reached the beach it felt good to get some pressure on my feet.  Wait, wait, wait.... the swim was done? Already?  I actually enjoyed that?  I did.  I ran up the beach to the strippers (or wetsuits peelers, if you will).  Ran up the boardwalk to the PVC showers and then to grab my transition Bike bag. Got in to the changing rooms and tried to be quick about getting out of the transition area.  The Garmin data and maps actually showed that I stayed right on course the whole time, I'm happy about that!  Turns out, this was the worst swim conditions in the race's 14 year history - yeah, I was there.

BIKE - Lola was ready to dance!  I felt great, calf was no longer cramping.  I got out on the bike course and started getting in some food.  I had planned for about 400 calories an hour and since I just finished an hour and a half swimming, it was time to eat!  I settled in on the bike.  I kept my cadence high, just like coach advised :)  It was easy staying over 80 for my cadence - at the end my avg was 84.  I had a few miles over the course where my avg cadence was over 100.  I used the PowerCal for power data but really wasn't prepared to use it for performance, I wanted to see where my avg would be afterwards - turns out that it was 174 watts over the bike course and with the expected 10% difference vs an actual power meter, it matches very closely to previous threshold tests putting me right on track for this 112 mile ride.  Last data point on the bike was my HR.  I knew that I needed to stay comfortable and I fully subscribe to using HR as a performance indicator (yes, Power is definite, but I don't have a PowerTap - PowerCal is great but it cannot be used for shorter interval training and it's partly based on HR, so the data can be inaccurate based on different non-absolute variables).  The bike is the longest 'leg' of any triathlon.  I planned to be out for a while and I didn't want to focus on the time - it's hard to comprehend 6 hours on a bike holding a high cadence AND trying to stay mostly aero.  So I wore my Garmin 910 on my wrist and really didn't look at it except for the infrequent HR check.  The aid stations are placed about every 10 miles and the first one seemed to sneak up on me.  I refilled my water on the go - volunteers hand water out to you and you grab it as you pass by.  The weather slowly became more warm and I really felt good the whole ride.  When the sun peaked, I did start to sweat so I started drinking more water and stayed pretty close to my nutrition plan.  I did use salt supplements and an amino acid supplement and a drink mix in addition to solid foods.  I only used 2 gel packs the whole day - yeah, you read that right, only 2!!  The 56 mile mark came up quickly.  I did pull over to open the bag, grabbed my food and left.  I made a PB and jelly sandwich (actually, Becky made it for me) had an apple, salt/AA supplements - stuck it all in my tri top pockets.  I felt great eating real food.  I ate slowly and drank water with the food, just like any other day 'at the office'.  Miles 75-85 seemed to take the longest and I did have some minor cramping in my upper/inner legs.  Not a big deal, extra nutrition and water and they subsided.  There had been pretty funny signs along the road that entertained me most of the ride (I'm easily amused) but the last part of the bike was back into the city.  The last hour of the bike seemed to be a straight head wind off the beach.  I still kept my cadence up and tried to keep comfortable.  While I was still keenly aware of the next part of the race, I didn't want to fall off pace.  Once back on the beach front road everyone was spaced out fairly - I'll write up another post someday on the aspect to "Drafting at IMFL" (it's illegal but hard to avoid).  Getting off the bike felt great!  I took out some of the nutritional stuff that I hadn't eaten yet and grabbed my Run transition bag then went through the changing area and headed out on the run.

At the 13 mile mark, only a half marathon to go!
RUN - I was excited to start the run.  I had hoped to keep at about a 10 minute mile.  The run at IMFL is a double out and back: 6 miles out and 6 miles back, then go at it again.  I wanted to be about an hour for each part.  When I started running I hit my first mile too hard, jumped into a 6:30/mi pace -- Completely too hard and fast and NOT sustainable but it felt comfortable.  At the aid station is when I realized I was going to hard, I dropped way back to my plan.  It worked and then for nutrition I opted to walk at each aid station for 1 minute, no matter how I felt.  I realized that it was too much for me to run the whole, or even half of the marathon.  The first loop went well, it wasn't comfortable as I hoped it would be but it wasn't bad.  At mile 10 I did start to notice some cramping in my legs, my paced started to show it.  At the Special Needs spot I donned my compression sleeves for my calfs thought they felt alright.  My quads are what hurt!  On the second loop, a half marathon, I was hurting.  My legs hurt but my mind was still strong!  I was determined.  I thought about all the good things in my life and I thought about Becky being at the finish line waiting for me.  One friend reminded me to be 'present' in the moment, the whole race and for each part.  For those last 13 miles, I lived by those words.  I reminded myself about the Ultra, how it hurt.  Relentless Forward Progress (a book I recently read).  Never Stop Moving.  My family.  My friends who I knew would be keeping up on my stats.  I thought about it all, constantly.  If I had to walk, I was very intentional about getting back into a running pace.  When I ran, it was a 9:30 pace or better but my intermittent jog turn walks became more frequent.  I didn't have GI upset but I couldn't even think about eating anything more.  I really had to THINK about what I was doing.  I'm not good at math, but I tried adding up my calories on the run to that point -- I decided to stop trying to force more food in my mouth and only take water for the last 6 miles.  If my legs cramped more, I would walk and get back in to a run.  Mentally - I was there!  I was present!  I was determined!  The thought of quitting never crossed my mind, but I did think about how good it would feel to be done!  Then how good it would feel to get back home, to see my girls and talk with my friends... uh, oh... the emotions!!  I was to the point of tears forming in my eyes, I was happy, and proud of myself.  Not cocky, just proud.  With about 3 miles left in the run you can hear the finish line activities.  You can hear the announcer and the music.  It's a party that you're invited to, you just have to get there!  The spectators were amazing, all along the course - people watching, residents with costumes and sections of the run course dedicated to... well, you'll have to wait to see it for yourself sometime.  At last, the finish chute.  I think it's about a half mile long.  People everywhere and more crowded with each step.  I wanted so badly to walk for just a few seconds so I could cross the finish line running - no chance, my pace picked up.  The crowds, the music the lights!  It was my time!  I flew in the last quarter mile peaking at a 7:00/mile pace -- no idea where that came from! I had thought for a long time about how I would cross the finish line (literally, for months leading up to the race -- see my report from my first HIM where a guy was caught in my finisher pic puking) on this moment I opted to lift up my hand for my first completion, for my family and friends who are number one in my life, for God and my church family, for Team Motiv8 and of course, in remembrance of my mom!

I opted to lift up my hand for my first completion, for my family and friends who are number one in my life, for God and my church family, for Team Motiv8 and of course, in remembrance of my mom!

Jeremy Hagerman!  YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN!

After my finish there was the biggest part of the race still to come.  The hours leading up to midnight, the race time cut off.  The music continued to get louder and the crowd had a hype like no other party!  A few of the pro's came back to the finish to participate in the final hours of the race.  They hung out in the run chute and brought in the runners.  It's an honor to have met them and to been there with them.  There is no other sport like triathlon - you race with the pro's and they come back to support you!
My IronWife - she deserves more than that simple title after all of her support these past 5 years.  For IMFL she was completely selfless and thus I deemed her, my Iron Wife.

Mirinda Carfrae - Among MANY other Podium placements: 2010 Ironman World Champion, '11 2nd place World Championships and 3rd place at the World Champions 2 weeks prior to IMFL'12 where she placed second.

Festivities during the final hours of the race - this... for the 500,000 Ironman Finisher of all time.

A view of what each athlete see's as they approach the final steps of the run chute to the finish!

Andrew Starykowicz the race winner with a new Ironman bike split and new IMFL course record - here he celebrates at the finish line as more athletes approach.
T1 Bag setup

T2 bag setup

The swim start madness

The middle third of the bikes in transition


Becky said...

I love you and am so proud of you!!!

The Hitch Hiker said...

So glad I was able to be part of your IMFL journey.

The Sauce Guy said...

You got to meet Miranda Cafrae?!?! That's awesome.