Ironman weekend was finally here! All the hard work that started in January had built up to this. As mentioned in Part 1, I felt really strong physically. I was spending a lot of time on the mental part, and thinking about two main recommendations I had read earlier in the year:
- Focus on what’s right in front of you. Being a math nerd, I tend to compute my % complete no matter where I am in my workout. Generally, this is a bad idea, since you’re focused on everything that’s ahead of you, rather than focusing on what’s right in front of you. So, I was focusing more on 5-mile increments on the bike and 1-mile increments on the run.
- Realize that the minute you toe the line for the swim on Saturday morning, you’re already 95% done with the race. The race doesn’t just happen on the event day. It’s also the thousands of hours that were put into training for the race. So, even while Ironman day is a big investment, it’s <5% of the overall time preparing for the event. So, by the time you toe the line, you’re pretty much done!
Andrea and I drove down to Cambridge, MD on Thursday night 9/26. Andrea had back to school night with her students’ parents, so she was tied up until about 9pm. This actually worked out, as we flew down to Cambridge with literally no traffic. We got to the hotel just after midnight, checked in, and passed out.
The idea was to get a good night’s sleep Thursday night and be ready to roll Friday AM. That plan worked pretty well. I was able to get up and out and do a quick 20 minute bike ride just to keep my legs fresh. Then we headed over to event registration. I also wanted to do a quick swim in the Choptank River, which is where the 2.4 mile swim was to be held. The body of water looks a lot more like a Bay than a river. And the Ironman Maryland Facebook page had been chock full of posts about jellyfish in the water… jellyfish that STING. So, everybody was pretty freaked out. My main concern was any reaction I might have to the stings — I had never been stung by a jellyfish before. Oddly enough, I wasn’t freaking though. I was pretty calm. I think doing so much open water swimming over the summer had me confident I’d be fine as long as the stings didn’t bother me.
I went into the water where about 20 people were very gingerly walking around the water. I just dived in and started swimming. And just like that, a sting. Then a second. A third! I literally grabbed a jellyfish with my hand while I swam! Stings everywhere. That didn’t take long. I had swam maybe 200 yards, then went back to shore.
We waited things out about 45 minutes – the stings hurt a bit and were annoying, but no rash… no reaction… just annoying. Ok, I’m not going to worry about the jellyfish.
The rest of the day was uneventful. One major difference between a full Ironman and every other triathlon I’d ever done is how transition is set up. Typically, transition is where you store your bike as well as all your “stuff” that you need for each leg of the race. I would generally lay out a towel and put all my things on top: my helmet, gloves, bike shoes; sneakers, visor and bib; sunscreen, nutrition, etc. But in a full Ironman, the only thing in transition is your bike. That’s it. At Ironman, there were separate bike and run “staging” areas that were on each side of two large changing tents.
Because Ironman is such a long event, many people strip naked after each segment and change clothes completely, hence the need for changing tents. So, you put all your bike stuff into a bike bag and lay that down in between the exit of the swim and the entrance to the changing tents. You put all your run stuff into a run bag and lay that down in between the bike transition area and the changing tents. Your bags are numbered and put in the appropriate “row” so it is easy to find when you get to that point in the race. My number was 338, and each row was 200 bags, so I was always in the 2nd row (even my bike) which did make things a bit easier (this may seem trivial, but it’s really not!)
We drove into town and grabbed some sandwiches, then went back to the hotel and had a chat with Aliza. Well, Andrea had a chat with Aliza, I wound up falling asleep! We then headed off to a nice dinner at a local fish restaurant, right next to the Suicide Bridge, where apparently, a lot of people have jumped to their deaths! Hopefully not because of the food.
We got back to the hotel and started to relax. My biggest concern at this point was sleep. At my prior three Ironman 70.3 races, I did not sleep much. I’d be awake by 1am, and not able to fall back asleep. That was very much on my mind as we turned off the lights around 10:30pm. I had set my alarm for 3:30am. I did wind up waking up around 12:15am, but just for a few minutes. Next thing I knew, my alarm went off. Yay! I had slept nearly 5 hours! That’s an eternity for Ironman races.
One of the best parts of training with other triathletes is gaining from their experience. In this case, my friend Corey raced IM Maryland two years prior and gave me lots of great tips. The best one was to park on the lawn of a local Cambridge resident. Their house was across the street from the transition start, so it made getting set up in the morning pretty easy. With that said, I didn’t expect the 25 minute wait for access to a port-a-potty! It seemed like the entire race was in line with me.
The other best part of the weekend was having Andrea with me to assist. I don’t know how I’d get anything done without her. We were not allowed to leave anything at transition, so Andrea schlepped the bike pump, tri bag and my new Ironman Maryland backpack back and forth from transition to the car. Fortunately, all was good and ready to go by 6:30am when we needed to leave transition and head over to the swim start.
The swim was a rolling start, self-seeded. That meant that you simply got in line based on the time you thought it would take you to finish. People held up signs (under 1 hour, 60-70 minutes, 70-80 minutes, etc) and you’d line up behind them. The race was supposed to start at 6:45am, but the announcer said they were starting at 6:40 – so by the time we left transition, the lines were already pretty filled! I just squeezed in where I found some space. Everything went so fast, before I knew it, I was in the water! I don’t know the exact time, but it was probably 6:43. The fastest swim start I’ve ever seen. It was gonna be a long day, they weren’t messing around!
The swim was essentially two rectangles, with “tails” on the front- and back-end of the rectangle for the start and finish. Typically, you would exit the water halfway and step over a mat (to confirm you did both laps), but IM Maryland had been toying with an EZ Pass-like setup in the water, so I just had to pass under this bar as it read my tracker. A cool idea, and this way you just keep swimming.
My first lap was pretty uneventful — I was maintaining a decent pace and hadn’t gotten stung by any jellies! But of course, the minute I passed under the EZ-Pass bar, there it was – my first jelly sting. Really not a big deal. I continued swimming, and almost ran into one of the safety boats (with a completely terrified swimmer hanging on) — but other than that, made it back to the boat dock and onto dry land, at pretty much exactly the time I was expecting. A good start!
Andrea was there to take my picture and yell some words of encouragement. The “peelers” were waiting for me – I laid on the ground with my legs straight up, and they literally peeled my wetsuit off me in one big yank. They then helped me up and handed the wetsuit back to me. I’ve done this several times and it’s always a riot. Once I stood up, one of the volunteers yelled out “THREE THREE EIGHT” and I didn’t know what that meant until I saw another volunteer hold up my bike bag with a big smile. Now, that is service!! I grabbed my bag and ran into the changing tent.
I’ve never been in a changing tent setup – I’ve always done transition at my bike. So, this was a new experience. It stunk, it was very wet, and a LOT of activity. I found an empty seat and got started changing. It took a little longer than I expected (even though I already had my tri-suit on, so all I really needed to do was put on my socks/cleats and my helmet/gloves/sunglasses.) I also ate an energy bar and fought off a small wave of vertigo.
I threw my wetsuit into my bike bag and handed it back to a volunteer. Then, out the back of the changing tent and into the bike racks! Had to go find my bike.
My bike was exactly where it should have been. I grabbed it, ran to the start, and mounted my bike. I was feeling pretty good and the temperature was still in the 70’s so it wasn’t too hot. I was on my way to my favorite leg of the race!
Andrea made the mad dash from the swim exit to just a bit past the bike start, so she was there to cheer me on and grab a few pics. It’s so great having a cheering section!
The rest of the race is documented in Part 3.