Heading into Ironman Florida I had low expectations. I’m not going for 2014 KPR so my goal was to prove I could run fast off a decent bike, which I haven’t done to my ability this season yet. I also thought it may be cool to say I raced 5 IM’s in one season (by far a 1st for me). So we headed down to Panama City Beach for one last go at the IM distance before our wedding on November 16th. It turned out great, Owen got in the amateur race just two weeks prior. I also had many friends and teammates racing; more familiar faces on course always make for an enjoyable race.
We were set up with another awesome homestay; Bruce and Gary who live along the bike course. They generously opened their home to us for the long weekend. The windy weather on Thursday and Friday had everyone’s nerves on edge; seven foot waves were reported on Friday morning! Luckily the wind calmed and rain cleared to perfect conditions for race day on Saturday.
Our Beach start was captured by teammate Dave Erickson. I entered the water cleanly diving under each wave trying to swim faster than the others dolphin diving. But soon enough, my face was in the sand, I was forced to stand to dolphin dive again.
I had now lost the leaders, I was in the chase pack which had formed a wall of women in front of me. I struggled to get through, so swam far left (inside of the sight buoys) to complete my pass. I did so successfully, caught the back of the lead pack and found myself swimming side by side with close friend Jackie Arendt. I decided to take a breather before my next surge, I smiled and waved at her with each breath towards one another. She did not wave back so I continued on. At the first turn buoy I surged again and to my surprise dropped this chase pack catching Haley Chura. I was pushing to hold her feet, but she was swimming in a prefect straight line through the cross waves so I held on tight. As we approached the break coming into the beach I got separated again, the waves were crashing over my head, I felt like a tumble weed in the wind coming in. As I ran over the beach timing mat to begin my second loop the announcer confirmed it was Haley coming through, they were talking about her swim in Kona. Beach running is a weakness of mine and as we entered the break water Ashley Clifford went by diving through the waves much quicker than I. Haley was now gone and Ashley had built a gap. I was back in the chase pack; I thought about surging again but decided against it for fear of burning too many matches too early. I settled in and was able to swim easy through the 2nd loop. There were 4 of us together, we swam in a horizontal line, each of us tried to take the lead but would then go way off course in the cross waves. As we exited I was not happy with my positioning but we had only just begun.
My transition was consistent with those around me but we were forced to run across the beach, then across the large transition area twice barefoot. This doesn’t feel great on my bad foot so I was happy to finally hop on my bike. I eased into the ride, going easy the first hour is part of my race plan. Because of my position out of the swim I was riding (legally) in a pack of 3 other girls. (Dede, April, and Ashley) I just sat in with them while my hour passed.
At mile 23 to my surprise Tim Hola came whizzing by already. I took the opportunity to go with him in an attempt to separate myself from this pack. And let’s get serious, who better to take a ride from than Super Man! As we took a sharp corner he lost two PowerBars out of his back pocket. How is superman going to maintain his strength now??? After about ten minutes of riding his tail (legally) I decided to let him go, I couldn’t maintain these watts for the whole bike so I needed to back off.
In another twenty minutes my previous pack caught me again. Yvonne flew by with Dede on her tail they seemed to also be pushing too hard for me so I let them go (regretfully). Slowly Simon and I were able to distance ourselves from this chase pack and we rode the majority of the bike together. She took the lead for thirty miles and then I took the lead for the remaining thirty. We rode quite well together, I was just happy we could put some time between us and the others.
Former Timex Team Manager, Keith Meyer was spotting the women’s race, he informed us that we were making up time on the leaders. To my surprise around mile 105 we caught back up to Super Man. There were only a total of five amateur men that caught us. This was odd to me since they only started five minutes behind us, closer than in Whistler, and at that race I was in the middle of the men’s amateur race. It was a pleasant surprise.
I came into transition feeling fresher than usual. My back gave me no issues which was a fear of mine on such a flat course. Spotters informed me I was in fifth place heading out on the run. It takes me 2-3 miles to settle into getting vertical after swim/biking horizontal for so long. During these first few miles I was passed by a couple big names. Even once I turned on MY faster run speed I was still getting passed. This was discouraging, I hadn’t bridged as large of a gap as I’d have liked on the bike. I knew this would happen here but just not this early.
I tried to push the negative thoughts out of my mind and run my own race. I took in my calories and stuck to my steady pace. I still felt better than the last 3 of 4 Ironman’s I’ve raced this year. (not as good as Cabo on the run) The negative thoughts snuck back into my head at the turn around. Miles 15-19 were pretty dark which is normal, I wasn’t feeling great, my pace had slowed, I still had to get another bottle down and then run all the way back to the finish line. Of course I made it through. I even caught a few of the pro women who previously passed me.
At mile twenty I tried to turn it on again. I ran a few miles feeling great, now all my calories were down; I just had to run it in. Good friend and training partner, Whitney was chasing me down and I was determined to stay in front of her. Looking at those last six miles I wasn’t running particularly fast, but I didn’t slow as much as I could have or as others did. I dug deep and left it all on the course. I heard from spectators/fellow racers later that I looked quite determined towards the end, all business. I wanted no regret following my last race of the season. There’s nothing better than knowing you gave it your all, which I can honestly say I did and am proud of.
Ironman Florida was a Personal Record for me but it’s very difficult to compare courses with one another. Panama City is a fast course and we had ideal conditions. I’ll take the PR and fastest time in my household :) but I don’t know that my performance here was better than some of my other races this year. I felt better with a longer recovery heading in but still felt those other four Ironman’s in my legs. I have learned so much about myself, my abilities, and how to race this distance in 2013 I can’t wait to take that knowledge and experience to use on fresh legs in 2014. Happy Off Season!!!