Monday, November 4, 2013

Ironman Florida: My Pre-Race Jitters

by Meghann on November 4, 2013

If I had to list my two favorite days of all time, it would go my wedding day followed by the day I became an IRONMAN.

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It was a journey that I can date back to 2008 and a dream I never stopped fighting for. It was my impossible goal I made possible and it’s a title I won’t take lightly. I fought hard and gave all I had to cross that finish line. It’s not a title given, it’s earned.

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So sit back and relax, because I’m going to take my time recounting every detail. My head is still trying to wrap itself around the last 48 hrs and I don’t want to forget a minute of it.

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We arrived in Panama City on Thursday, a full two days before the race. I thought my nerves would calm as soon as I arrived, but they didn’t. In fact, they intensified. After weeks of gorgeous sunshine and smooth waters, the weather decided to turn on us two days before race day. I was welcomed to Panama City with gray skies and rough waters. Gulp. All the butterflies that were already taking up residence in my stomach multiplied times a thousand.

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We were told the bad weather was just moving through and to expect perfect weather on race day. I never trust a weather report, but I was trying my hardest to trust this one.

We headed to athlete check-in and went through the process of signing our waivers, picking up our bibs and collecting our sweet athlete bags.

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We weren’t given our t-shirts just yet. Those would be waiting for us at the finish line.

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Kelly was dying to get in the water to test out her new wetsuit and neither Ben nor I had been for a swim in our wetsuits in months. We decided to change and go for a quick swim, even if it was just to get our toes wet.

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The water looked bad from our hotel window, but it looked even worse in person. The waves were high and the current was pushing everyone far right. Double gulp. The three of us felt like such rookies zipping up our wetsuits and heading to the water. There weren’t a lot of people in the water, but there were a lot of guys standing on the edge looking out and discussing how rough it was. A few of those guys wished us luck as we waded our way in.

We didn’t make it that far, the waves were just too rough. I went in just far enough to get thrashed around and get a couple of strokes thrown in the mix. I didn’t even try to fight the current, it dragged me far right without even trying. I cried uncle after a couple of minutes and climbed out. That counts as a test swim, right?

I found this video posted on the Ironman Florida Facebook page that gives an indication of just how scary that water was.

We tried to take our minds off of the race (and the weather) by relaxing the rest of the day. My parents arrived around dinner time and we met them at Mellow Mushroom for pizza (yum!).

The next morning we enjoyed the free pancake breakfast a local church was hosting in the lobby and attended the mandatory course talk. The course talk calmed my nerves just a tad. They repeated that the weather was supposed to finish making its way through that night and they were expecting excellent conditions for the morning. They weren’t planning on changing the swim, but if they needed to, they would make that decision in the morning. I kept thinking how pissed I would be if they cancelled the swim, I knew I couldn’t call myself a true Ironman without the 2.4 mile swim and I was not about to train for this race again for 2014.

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The talk went over cut-off times and for the millionth time I did some quick math, trying to figure out if I could make them all. For some reason the cut-off times scared the hell out of me, especially if the water was still just as rough on Saturday. I knew if the weather didn’t change, I was screwed.

The talk ended just as the rain started moving in. We went up to our room and finished backing our gear bags that needed to be dropped off that day.

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We had 5 bags (bike gear, bike special needs, run gear, run special needs, and morning clothes). The bike gear and run gear bags needed to be dropped off on Friday, but the other bags didn’t need to be dropped off until race day.

I made a list of what needed to go in each bag earlier in the week, which proved to be very helpful as I was a nervous wreck trying to put everything together.

In my bike gear bag I had:

• Bike shorts

• Cycling top

• Sunglasses

• Helmet

• Cycling shoes (I’ve never worn socks with my cycling shoes and wasn’t planning on starting on race day)

• Chamois but’r

• Small towel

• Nutrition

• Notes from friends

In my run gear bag I had:

• Two different pairs of running shorts (depending on what mood I was in at that point)

• Socks

• Running shoes

• Race belt with number attached

• Notes from friends

My brother helped me put my numbers on my bike and I saved my water bottles and fuel box to be filled and added in the morning.

Dropping everything off was fairly simple. We had to wait in a bit of a line to have a photo taken of our bikes. This was just their way of documenting what we came in with, just in case something happened.

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We racked our bikes and dropped our bags off in a matter of minutes.

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After we dropped our stuff off, we headed to lunch, then drove the run course for a bit. My parents had a whole tailgating set-up in mind and was scouting a location on the road.

It’s funny because the whole day we kept making statements like “when we’re on the run” or “when we finish” and every time we did my stomach would turn a little. I was so nervous I refused to say the “when” part and instead kept saying “if.” I even knocked on wood whenever anyone said “when” because I was so afraid of jinxing myself. The water still looked rough and I was frantically texting my friends with my doubts. They kept reassuring me everything was going to be okay and reminded me of all the training I had put in. Still, I was scared. I’m pretty sure I’d never been that scared before a race.

We had planned to distract ourselves with a movie, but the day got away from us. Before I knew it, we were heading to dinner. We played it safe with an easy pre-race dinner at Carrabbas. The place was PACKED with other racers, but they managed to seat our party of 14 (!) relatively quickly and we enjoyed a quiet final meal.

I wish I could say I slept like a baby that night, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The water was still rough when we went to bed and my nerves had gotten the best of me. I probably got 3-4 hours TOPS. My 4:30 alarm couldn’t come fast enough.

This was it, there was no turning back. I was going to be an Ironman in the morning.

I thought I could keep this all to one post, but it’s getting really long. I’ll end this post here and get the rest of the race recap up tomorrow!

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