In any scenario, you could not have painted a more perfect picture of the weather on Race Morning. The ocean was actually glass-like: no wind and no waves. How is that possible? Apparently, just a couple of days before, the weather was so bad that there were warning flags out as in, “Swim at your own risk, FOOL.” Today, it was so peaceful, except for the 1500 or so people that would soon be thrashing through it.
Our hotel was less than a ½ mile away so Tracy, Bob and I meandered down around 6am. Shawn would join later. My pre-race ritual was easy since I had dropped everything off the night before. I just made sure my helmet and sunglasses were on the bike and I double-checked my tire pressure. Still good…Please God, no flats!
Helicopters circled above capturing the moment for the March 31st, 2007 NBC broadcast of this event. I soaked it all in as much as I could, almost chuckling to myself that I was actually here surrounded by Ironman banners, Gatorade inflatables, big screen TVs, International competitors and announcers, TV crews, etc.
Shawn found me in the port-a-potty line (go figure). Even those were more efficient than any other race! By the way, is it UnAmerican to be in the port-a-potty as the National Anthem is being sung? Hey, at least I was sorta standing!!
The pros started at 7am and my wave of women 18+ went off shortly after 7:30am. Yep, that’s right. My wave was ALL of the female non-pro competitors. Me and several hundred other people at the same time. I wasn’t really nervous until we were corralled to the ocean. As soon as they said “Go,” we immediately started running into the water. It was very shallow for a while so swimming was futile. I started well (as much as I could tell). I stuck with a pack and tried to hug the buoys (which seemed to move) as much as I could . Always keep the buoys to your right. The inevitable happened. I got a huge gulp and mouthful of salt water. YUCK. Keep swimming. Try not to panic now. I knew it was going to happen plenty more times over the next 40 or so minutes. I was trying to focus on form, or at least as much as I could with people grabbing at my ankles and swimming over the top of me. The buoys just kept coming. Finally, I saw the last buoy and made the turn. I was still with a pack of people. Keep in mind, that is a rare occurrence for me. The course was a rectangle so I actually glanced at my watch as I made the turn back towards the ocean. 21 minutes…I got excited. Oh my God, I can do this in 40 minutes! Or so I thought. A 40 minute swim is still pretty slow by comparison, but great for me. For as brilliant as the morning was, it started to haunt me on the way back to the beach. The sun was coming up making it difficult to see the buoys on the way back. I started losing my pack because I was drifting to the left. Shit…Get back to the buoys. I started trying to swim in a diagonal pattern back towards the buoys and didn’t seem to make much progress. I was probably now about 10-15 yards away from the pack who continued to blaze ahead while I continued to fight to swim towards them. Once that happened, my usual swimming demons reared their ugly head and I couldn’t ignore the internal, “Why are you so bad at this?” comments. My swim went from “Good Job,” to “You suck” in a moment. I kept thinking, “You are the last wave to go, which means virtually no one is behind you. Please don’t be the last person out of the water.” Fortunately, I wasn’t…I got towards the pier and noticed that most of the spectators had moved on to cheer the others. I finally made it towards the beach and, of course, looked at my watch under the SWIM FINISH tower. 46 minutes. Damn…A brief pity party and then a run up the beach (which also sucked in deep sand and a heart rate of about 190!) Because you’re in salt water, you run through fresh water showers and volunteers are on the other side yelling at you to lay down so they can rip off your wetsuit for you. This is a welcome change from most races where you are on your own. I grabbed my gear bag and the awesome volunteers were there to help me get my shoes ready and pack up all the swim gear that I had just thrown on the ground. I could get used to this. I felt a little chaffing under my arm from my wetsuit so I quickly lathered it with vasoline as I ran towards my bike and began what would be a sub-3:00 excursion through Clearwater. The bike is usually the time where I begin picking off people in my age group. I settle in for about 15 minutes and then I start pushing it. I was anxious to see how many people I could catch today. Believe me, there were plenty of people on the course that I could choose from.