As I had mentioned earlier on race week, my main stress was actually getting to Tampa/Clearwater and making it in time for Packet Pickup, which was closing at 2:00pm on Friday. As traveling goes, pretty much everything is out of your control. I knew we were landing at Tampa International around 11:30am, which would give us plenty of time to take care of everything we needed. I also knew that if something went wrong, it could throw off everything.
Fortunately, both legs of our flight were picture-perfect. We got to the Austin airport in plenty of time (4:45am for a 6:00am flight!) and got our bags and the bike checked in safely and securely. Check. We made it to Houston and that leg landed in Tampa right on time. Check. Go Continental. As we were walking towards baggage claim, I said to Shawm, "The pilots did their job. Let's see if ground control did theirs."
While Shawn waited for our luggage, I got in line at Budget Rent-a-Car to pick up our car I had reserved earlier in the week. Long Line…no biggie. Why are there about 20 other people standing around though looking very frustrated? I made my way up to the counter and he said, “I see your reservation, but we’re waiting on cars to come back. It’s going to be at least 15-20 minutes before a car is here and ready.” I had time to spare, so it was cool at this point. However, I could tell by the expressions of the other 20 or so people standing around, that it had probably been longer than 15 minutes and they still didn’t have a car.
I walked down to our baggage carousel and didn’t see Shawn. I called his cell and he very calmly and bluntly said, “Your bike never left Austin. I’m in the Continental office.” Surprisingly, no melt-down occurred. Because he was so calm (thank God), I remained calm. The agents in Tampa obviously weren’t to blame and they said that it should make it here by 2:30pm, but they would call regardless. Well it SHOULD have made it on our flight, but it didn’t. I had little faith that my bike was going to make it. Besides the 2pm Athlete Check-In deadline, there was also a 6pm Bike Check-In deadline. The bike and all of your gear had to be in transition by 6pm.
I called my friends Tracy and Bob who were already in Clearwater and let them know of the situation. We were going to go to Athlete Check-In and then head back to the airport for the bike. After waiting over an hour, we finally got our rental. They had given us a discount and upgraded our car for the inconvenience, which ended up being a blessing with the bike box). We made it to the Packet Pickup by 1:15pm and the Volunteers took care of me and handed me my bibs, numbers, gear check bags, shirt, etc. It was a little overwhelming because my heart rate was already elevated from the stress of the morning. It hit me that I’m here for the freaking World Championship Triathlon—a sport that I’m not even very good at doing. It didn’t take long to look around and see the athletic bodies milling around the lobby and the expo. I mean spandex and tight shirts EVERYWHERE! This is where I immediately get psyched out with any race. You overhear people talking about what their next Ironman is going to be and how fast their bike splits are, what crank set they use, whether or not they prefer endurox or perpetuum, etc. And then there’s me who doesn’t even have my bike yet!!
After I got my packet, I had to get weighed. Are you shitting me?? So, like any other natural human being, I take off my shoes and he’s like, “Nope. With your shoes on…” So, it’s 1:30pm, I’ve been drinking water and Gatorade by the busload, eating like a freaking bear going into hibernation for the winter, I hadn’t gone to the bathroom yet that day (#1 or #2) and I’m wearing jeans and tennis shoes. I’m using all of the above as an excuse as to why I came out 6lbs heavier than normal!!!! The guy who weighed me said, “That’s a good fighting weight! You’re going to do great.” “Thanks jackass. I wasn’t planning on fighting anyone…Until now!”
OK—once the humiliation ended, we picked up our stuff and headed to the Merchandise tent and proceeded to shop. Hell, I’ll probably never make it back to this event so I ended up buying a racing visor, t-shirt and running sweatshirt during this trip. We had time to kill and the airline hadn’t called yet, so we went over to Einstein Brothers Bagels and had a turkey bagel. I also purchased extras for my breakfast in the morning.
While en route back to the airport, I received a call from them letting me know that my bike was officially there. It was about 3:15pm and I still had to get everything in by 6pm. It was Friday afternoon so we had no idea what traffic held for us. Fortunately, it didn’t back up until we were pretty much in back in Clearwater. We pulled into a parking lot by transition and opened the bike box and proceeded to put it together. Pedals…on, seat…on, handlebars…on, wheels…on. A woman let us borrow a pump to blow up the tires. I took it for a quick spin. Nothing seemed to be out of place. I took it for another 30-second spin. Looks ok to me! Ideally, I would’ve liked to have taken it for a 30-min ride, but we just didn’t have the time. I was going on complete and total faith that the bike would get me through the 56 miles. God Bless Shawn for being so patient through all of this. I’ve told him over and over, I would not have done this event without him and his support. Nope. No way.
It was now after 5pm and I had to also pack all of my transition bags. So, in the middle of this parking lot, I was physically and mentally talking myself through the transitions. “Come out of the ocean and I need socks, bike shoes, race belt with number attached helmet, spare tubes and nutrition.” That all goes in the blue bag. “After the bike, I will need my running hat, shoes and power gels. My race belt is already on so I won’t need that.” That goes in the red bag.
At 5:30pm I was standing in line at the transition area with my bike and gear bags. With the stress of the day, I was beat and honestly had no idea whether or not I had everything that I needed packed and ready to go. The volunteers were awesome and helped me find my bike rack and my gear bag rack. What an amazing operation it was. There were still tons of people making their way to transitions with their stuff as well.
After I took care of that, it was only then that I truly looked around and saw what was happening. Ironman 70.3 banners everywhere, inflatables, bleachers, the Swim start tower and corral down by the waterfront, buoys in the water, big screen TVs and The freaking OCEAN in front of me with some of the most pristine white sand ever in my toes. I took a deep breath of relief, nervousness and gratitude and thought to myself, “I made it.”