Both mine and Kelly’s alarms went off at 4:30 and we both sprang out of our beds. It’s amazing how easy it is to jump out of bed when you have a race to get to.
A couple of minutes later there was a knock at the door and Ben was greeting us with the BIGGEST smile on his face. He said the four words I’d been waiting to hear for the last 48 hours – the. water. is. flat. Thank goodness. That was all I needed to hear. I was ready for this.
I had a pre-long ride tradition of making Chobani pancakes before each and every ride. I knew there was no way I was going to get through my Ironman without my traditional pre-long workout pancakes, so I brought my griddle, my spatula, and all the ingredients I needed for my pancakes all the way from Tampa. On race morning I sat down and made my pancakes as planned right on the hotel floor.
They. Were. Awesome. I topped them with almond butter and raspberries – yum. My sister even brought her mini Keruig and we all enjoyed quick and easy coffee before the race. Gotta love the perks of driving to the race and being able to pack your car with all the “essentials,” right?
After we registered for Ironman Florida last year, we immediately turned around and booked our hotel room at the host hotel. We had to put down a lot of money for a hotel room we wouldn’t be staying at for another year, but it was worth it with the killer location we had. Transition was literally right outside our door, which was AMAZING on race morning.
We only had to walk downstairs to get body marked and set-up our transitions. Heck, we didn’t even have to worry about standing in line for the porta potties – we just needed to walk back upstairs if we needed to go. Beautiful.
We quickly got body marked and made our way to our bikes. I pumped my tires and loaded my 4(!) water bottles. I borrowed an aero bottle from a friend (which ended up being the best thing I’ve borrowed from a friend… ever) which I filled with Gatorade, I had a second bottle in the back filled with Gatorade, then the other back bottle filled with water, and the bottle between my legs filled with water. I also attached my fuel box, which contained little ziplocs of Gatorade (that I didn’t end up using), salt capsules, and a granola bar.
When we were heading out of transition Ben spotted Miranda Carfrae setting up her bike and debated asking her for a photo. He was like a little school boy who was seeing Britney Spears in person for the first time.
After transtition, we dropped off our special needs bag. I didn’t have much in mine. For the bike special needs I had some Advil, extra hair tie, pumpkin bread, and a spare flat kit just in case I needed it. For the run special needs I had more Advil, another extra hair tie, extra socks, and a long sleeve shirt.
We went back to the room one last night and finished getting ready with the rest of the family. We had ordered Iron Sibling shirts for everything. I think the green shirts were a big hit!
At 6:30 we all started to panic we were running late. Ben, Kelly, and I threw on our wetsuits and headed to the swim start. As we walk, I began to generously apply myself with Body Glide around my neck, arm pits, and shoulders – I did NOT want to chafe!
This was it!! The next time we’d all be together would be at the finish line!!
Ben was so worried about being late that he took off pretty quickly for the start. Kelly and I took our time making our way through the start arch and to the beach.
We were still having the traditional mass start at 7:00am, but they had corralled everyone on the beach and instructed us to line up at our predicted finish time. Kelly and I both headed to the 1:30 sign, thinking that was a good guess on when we would finish.
At 6:50, the pro males took off, and 5 minutes later the pro women were off. They played the National Anthem and instructed us to take our marks. Kelly and I wished each other luck and promised to see each other at the finish line.
The gun went off and, unexpectedly, we all slowly made our way to the water. I was expecting this huge rush of people running, but it was actually pretty mild. The waves were still a tiny bit rough at the beach line and everyone was taking their sweet time getting past the break.
I lost Kelly when I finally put my head in the water and decided to start swimming. It was such a cool view being in the middle of everything. Every time I looked up to sight, all I saw were arms and caps – it was surreal.
I felt good as soon as I started swimming. People were climbing over me, trying to get pass me, but I was passing just as many swimmers that were passing me. I got hit in the head, my legs were swatted at, and I fought through it all. I felt strong and began making my way close to the buoy line. The thousands of swimmers that surrounded me created this amazing draft and I felt like I was flying out there!
The swim course was a big rectangle with red buoys marking the turns. The first red buoy came up fast, really fast. I made the left and I think that was the first time it really hit me that I could do this – I could finish this race. I tried not to get too ahead of myself and focused on making it to my next turn, then back to the beach. I hung on to everyone’s draft and fought my way through.
The water was perfect. It was a cool 74 degrees, which was more refreshing than anything. It was nice having the wetsuit for the extra floatation. The wetsuit, mixed with the salty ocean water, was the perfect speedy combination.
I made the final turn back to the beach and rode the current in. I could see the crowd on the beach, which pumped me up even more. Holy cow – I was almost done with my first lap!
The waves got ahold of me around the final buoy and I did some bodyboarding into the shore. I stood up and started my run to the timing mat. I looked at my watch and cheered out loud – THIRTY-EIGHT MINUTES!!!! WHOA!! That first lap pretty much exceeded all of my expectations. That’s faster than my last 1.2 mile swim for Miami 70.3. I didn’t just beat that time – I killed it. Talk about a huge boost going in for round 2!
The crowds were going CRAZY! I looked for my family, but couldn’t spot them. I did spot a co-worker and waved at him. I also grabbed a cup of water on my way back to the second lap.
Going back for the second lap was a little rougher than the first. Without the thousands of bodies breaking up the waves for you, they were a little harder to get through. I dove under the big ones and worked my way past the break, where it began to smooth out again.
I spent my second lap still on cloud 9 from my first lap. I thought about all the training I did at the pool this past year and how it was all worth it. Every single practice was worth it. Here I was on my way to completing 2.4 miles in the open water for the first time and I felt freaking incredible. I thought about my coach and my amazing friends and how I wanted to dedicate this entire swim to them. They’re the ones that got me here and I can’t thank them enough for it. I owe them so much for supporting me along the way. I’m the slow one in the group, but they never called me out for being the slow one – I was just part of the group and I love them for it.
I took the second lap one buoy at a time and knocked one off after another. Unfortunately I got a little too close to one of them and ended up getting some rope burn under my arm – that hurt. Before I knew it I was heading back to the shore and on my way out of the water.
Just as I was taking my final strokes, a big wave came up from behind and caused me to do a forward barrel roll. In the process of rolling forward, the wave took my goggles clear off the top of my head. I popped up and said the wave just took my googles. The guys next to me said “Who cares? We’re done!” Oh, yeah. Good thing I lost them on the second loop and not the first.
I made my way out of the water and looked at my watch – 1:18!! That time was way, way faster than any goal time I would have ever predicted for myself. I headed towards transition with the biggest smile on my face. I was doing this! I was going to be an Ironman!
I saw my family, squealed with excitement, and dropped to my back at the wetsuit strippers.They handed my wetsuit to me and I made my was through the fresh water showers. The showers were a nice touch, but way too brief. They told us not to stop, so I’m not convinced the water helped in getting any of the sand off.
I ran through the opening to gear bags and saw a sea of green watching from the balcony above. My family erupted in cheers and I cheered back! I grabbed my bag and made my way to the changing tent (which was really a curtained off conference room).
I found an empty chair and emptied the contents of my gear bag on the ground. A volunteer immediately came over and started helping me (p.s. all the volunteers ROCKED!!). I whipped off my tri shorts and put on my bike shorts. The volunteer grabbed my shirt from my bag and helped me put it over my head, she also grabbed the towel and helped me wipe away the sand on my back. I put my shoes on, grabbed my helmet, and sunglasses. The volunteer handed me my nutrition and I loaded my pockets. I downed a Powerbar Blend and threw the wrapper in my bag. The volunteers took the rest of my scattered contents and put everything in my bag. I thanked her repeatedly, forever grateful for all her help. I took one last look around the room, hoping to see my sister, before heading out the door (little did I know she was right behind me out of the water and was somewhere in that room that very minute!).
I went out the door and straight to the sunscreen volunteers. The slathered me with sunscreen and wished me lucked. I circled around transition and headed to my bike. Several volunteers were shouting “539! 539!” and when I made it to my rack a volunteer was waiting for me with my bike. I grabbed my bike, thanked her, and headed to the bike exit.
I saw my friends as I mounted my bike and gave them a big wave as I headed out for my longest bike ride ever – 112 miles or bust!!!
I recently bought a Garmin 910 (I’ll write a review of it soon) and thought race day would be a good day to test the “auto-multisport” feature. You could basically set up the watch for a triathlon and press lap for each section of the race. I’d never tested the feature before, I’d only figured out how to do it the night before and thought I had it figured out. WRONG.
I wasn’t concentrating on anything but time during the swim, so I didn’t realize my Garmin was only tracking time and pace (not distance) until I was on my bike. Basically my $400 watch had turned into a glorified stop watch. Crap. So I completed my 112 mile bike ride never knowing exactly what mile I was on (only knowing for sure when I hit the mile markers every 10 miles) or what my overall pace was (only seeing what my pace was at that minute). Oh, well. It actually made the ride a little more interesting as I spent my entire ride doing rough pacing math in my head. Heck, it may have worked in my favor because my rough math had me averaging a lot slower than what I actually was and inspired me to ride faster to catch up!
The first 20 miles of the ride SUCKED. We had a headwind that slowed me down and I kept thinking how they all lied when they said this was a flat and fast course. It may have been flat, but the headwind made it anything but fast.
I started eating 30 minutes into my ride. I tried to eat 100 calories every 30 minutes and drink an additional 50-100 calories every hour. I started out feeling good, but it quickly became harder to get the solid food down – I was forcing Clif Bars down my throat for a while. Around mile 40 I got a headache and immediately started taking salt capsules. I started feeling weak and was so scared I was getting dehydrated. I refilled my aero bottle with the Perform on the course and just tried to fill my body with liquid.
The horrible headwind stopped around mile 30 and we had awesome wind conditions for the rest of the ride. I seriously could not have asked for better conditions out there. Hundreds, upon hundreds of fellow cyclists passed me, of course, but I still felt good holding my pace. AND each time someone passed me I couldn’t help thinking that if they’re passing me now, that means I beat them on the swim! Yippee!
Fellow racers are always really nice when they pass us slow folks. I got a lot of “Looking good!” “Keep up the good work” and “Great job” Of course, they’re saying this as they’re passing me, so obviously I’m not looking as good as they are, but at least they’re being nice as they’re passing. I also had at least a dozen compliments on my shirts (the polka dots were a hit!) and a few “Isn’t this fun?” (said very sarcastically).
I turned at mile 50 and headed down the out and back stretch to special needs. I’d read stories about how awful this stretch of road was and they weren’t kidding! It was nothing but solid bumps for 10 miles and it was brutal! It was also a mine field of spare tires, water bottles, nutrition, and everything else you could think that could be flung off a bike.
About halfway out I heard my name and saw Ben waving on the other side of the road. I had no clue where he or Kelly were so it was nice to see him looking so strong on the bike. I guessed he was about 7-8 miles ahead of me at this point.
I hit the turn around point and headed back down the road to special needs. I found my box and the great volunteer handed me my bag. I took out my Advil and took two with water. I also grabbed my pumpkin bread and shoved it in my back pocket before handing the bag back and getting back on the road. I’m guessing I lost maybe 2 minutes at special needs. Not bad.
As soon as I was back on the bike I grabbed my pumpkin bread and ate one of the two slices inside. It was amazing and exactly what I needed at that point. I was still feeling pretty crappy, but I definitely started improving almost as soon as I left special needs.
I saw Kelly on the way out. She was maybe 6 miles behind me and looking strong. We waved and gave some cheers.
I felt like I caught my second wind after special needs. I think all the salt capsules were finally starting to take effect and I was able to get solid foods down a little easier. My headache was also gone and I felt good. I was guesstimating a 7:30 bike split at this time and was really happy with that.
Oh, almost forgot to mention – I started my bike ride with gel nail polish on my nails. By the time I got off my bike, it was all gone. I had nothing else to do, so I spent 112 mile picking the nail polish off. At least it kept me entertained!
I rode through an intersection just past mile 70 and heard someone on the corner go “Wait a minute, that’s Meghann!! GO Meghann!!” It was Steph and Jess on my right, and Chris, Felipe, and Bill on my left! Talk about a rush!
I was only sad that I went by them so fast. Luckily, they drove a couple miles ahead and then cruised next to me for a couple of minutes. My speed picked up, I was so excited to see and talk to them!! I immediately asked if they saw my swim time and told them I was still in shock over it! I also said I was feeling good because I really was at this point. They took off and I yelled that I would see them on the run.
They even got a video of the exchange!
There were a few rolling hills from mile 80-90, which helped break the ride up a little bit. Once I hit mile 90 I realized I was definitely safe from the 4:30 cut-off at mile 88. Huge relief there! I also did a little more bad math and predicted a new finish time of 7:15 on the bike – holy cow!
There’s an out and back section in the 90s and I spent the whole time looking for my brother going one way and my sister going the other. I didn’t see either of them. I was dying to know each of their progress!
I hit the final bridge back into Panama City Beach and took my time getting up it. I was rewarded for my efforts with a lovely 100 mile marker waiting at the top – yippee! I enjoyed a nice tailwind for the next 6 miles and felt like I was flying.
I had planned to take my final PowerBar PowerBlend at the 7:00 hr mark, but as soon as I made the final turn on to Panama City Beach Drive, it hit me that I might arrive before 7:00 – umm… what? Who the heck was I on this bike? I was flying!! Obviously all of my guesses of my average pace and bike time were way off.
The final stretch felt like it went on forever – so close, yet so far! I kicked it up a notch and gave it all I had in those last few miles. I was so excited to be done with the bike and knew the faster I got to T2, the faster I could get on with my run. For the first time since I’d been on my bike, I actually started to pass people.
A couple of miles out I began to recognize my surroundings and landmarks that meant I was getting closer. Finally I saw my final turn on St. Thomas Drive and back to T2. I’d done it! I’d rode 112 miles with only one short stop at the halfway point for special needs. Whoa!
I got to the dismount line and tried to get off my bike. Apparently my legs forgot how to bear weight in the last 7 hours and I immediately stumbled. A volunteer grabbed me and helped hold me steady as I cautiously swung my right leg over the bike.
Once I regained my balance (and remembered how to walk again), I handed my bike off to another volunteer and told her to keep it. I was so happy to be off of it.
I headed to the gear bags and heard a dozen volunteers yell “539! 539!” My bag was waiting for me at the end, I grabbed it and made the turn to the changing tent. Another super helpful volunteer led me to an empty chair and immediately emptied my bag and asked how she could help. I changed my shorts (BEST IDEA EVER), took off my cycling shoes, and put on my socks and running shoes. The volunteer snapped my race belt around my waist and picked everything else up. I thanked her profusely, grabbed a cup of water, and headed out the door.
My left foot was numb from being in my cycling shoe for so long. I tried to ignore it, knowing that it would fade as I started moving (it did).
Outside the changing tent I’m covered with globs of sunscreen thanks to an awesome volunteer (surprisingly I managed to finish without getting burnt – score!). I also spot the porta potties on my way out of T2 and decide to make a pit stop before heading out on the run. Turns out I never had to make the decision to pee on the bike because I ended up never having to go. The T2 stop was my only bathroom stop of the day.
Right before I went in the port potty I heard a familiar voice talking to a fellow participant – it was AMBER! She was volunteering in T2 and managed to spot my siblings and I as we all made the same pit stop.
I gave her a BIG hug and took off for the run.
The crowds on the run course were amazing. As soon as I made that first turn onto the course everyone was cheering and screaming my name (woo hoo for personalized bibs!). I was so happy to be on the run that I pretty much gunned it the first mile and immediately began passing competitors. I gave high fives, I threw my hands in the air, and I just enjoyed being 2/3 of the way done with this thing.
I saw my parents on the right and began waving at them. They started hollering and began pointing to their right to get the rest of the group’s attention. Suddenly a sea of green erupted and I ran by the Iron Siblings support crowd. They were laughing, drinking, and just having a great time. It was so great to see them, their high energy definitely rubbed off on me.
I had a simple plan for my run: ride my adrenaline rush for the first mile or two, then switch to my 1:30 run/ :30 walk method I’d been training with. My watch was still a glorified stop watch so I had no idea what my splits were or my exact distance. To be honest, at that point I didn’t care about my marathon time. I knew I had over 8 hours to finish my marathon and that was good enough for me. I was just going to run by how I felt and see what happened.
I started walking at the first aid station about a mile into the race. I made the huge mistake of taking a cup of pretzels, which dried my mouth out. It took two cups of water just to get the pretzels down. I didn’t carry any nutrition with me for the run, so I was completely relying on the aid stations for substance. I took a cup of perform, a cup of water, and a cup of grapes at almost every station.
After the aid station, I pretty much lived and breathed by my watch for the rest of the race. I would run 1:30 and walk :30. I was averaging about an 8:30 min/mi pace during the run and 12:00 min/mi during the walk. I felt really, really good out there, but I didn’t want to push myself too hard.
After being passed so many times on the bike, it felt good to finally get my passing in on the run. I got a lot of compliments from fellow competitors on the pace I was keeping. I told them I was only holding that pace because I was doing a run/walk method –without the structure of my run/walk, who knows what would have happened.
My legs started chafing a couple of miles in. It. Was. Painful. And the worst part was I knew I still had 24 miles left to run – this was not good! I passed a couple of aid stations, but didn’t immediately see any Vaseline out there. All I could think about was how my legs were rubbing and it was only going to get worst. Luckily I remembered I still had a little packet of Chamois But’r stuffed in my sports bra from the bike. I had completely forgotten I stashed it there and was thankful I didn’t end up using it on the bike. Since I was already chafed, it did sting a little, but once that faded the but’r was amazing. I stopped feeling the rub and could instead concentrate on my race.
The run is a 2-loop out-and-back course that takes you through the neighborhoods and into St. Andrews State Park. I’m not sure I would have liked the course for just a regular marathon, but it was perfect for an Ironman. I liked seeing the other runners going back and it gave us all a chance to see our spectators a handful of times.
I saw Ben where the course goes around the pub. He was going back from the turn around point and I was heading towards it. He looked strong and gave me a high five.
I began looking for Kelly after I made my own turn around and found her at an aid station a couple of miles away. I gave her a hug and told her “we’re doing this!”
The sun was starting to go down and the aid stations started breaking out the hot chicken broth. I’d been eating nothing, but sweets all day and was dying for a cup of the salty broth. It. Was. Amazing. However, I had two cups at back-to-back stations and immediately felt it sloshing in my stomach. Whoops. After that I held off and just had a cup every 5 miles.
I saw Ben again on the final stretch of my first lap. He was on his second lap and reached under his hat for some pumpkin bread to share. I turned the bread down, but did cheer him on for being over halfway done.
I saw my family again right before the halfway point. They cheered and hollered, and I smiled and let them know I was feeling good.
When the time came for the turn around, I decided to bypass special needs. It wasn’t cool enough for the long sleeve shirt I had in there and I wasn’t cramping, so no need for the Advil. I felt great and wanted to push through.
On the way out I saw my family again and handed off my sunglasses. I told them I would see them at the finish line!
My coach, Felipe, caught up with me and ran with me for a beat. I couldn’t stop smiling and told him I thought I was going to run a 4:30 marathon! I also told him I thought I could finish under 13:30. He looked about as shocked as I was! Then he asked me what my race time was. I hadn’t checked my race time since I got off the bike, so I had no clue. I switched the screen on my Garmin and saw 10:44. What? 10:44?! We both realized right then and there that if I kept up my current pace that there was a chance I could finish under 13 hours. I almost started crying tears of joy right there. I was nearing the end of finishing a race that I wasn’t even sure I would make the cut-off times for, and here I was suddenly realizing I could finish HOURS before any of goals I had set. Whoa.
I told Felipe I felt great. No cramping, no stomach issues, and no weird pains. I was going to stick to what I was doing, because it felt like it was working. He told me to keep it up and he’d see me in a couple of hours.
I left Felipe on cloud 9, believing I could finish sub-13. Of course, that idea changed a couple of miles later when my legs stopped moving as quickly as I wanted them to. Eh. What can ya do – at that point I was so under my goal that I was just happy to be close to done.
I saw Kelly and our friend Eric on the way out. Kelly was finishing up her first lap and Eric was closing in on his second. Eric had a KILLER race and finished sub-12. Go Eric!
My walk/run slowed down, but I still tried to keep it as consistent as I had in the beginning. I took it one walk break at a time and spent the majority of the run staring at my Garmin.
I started looking for Ben a couple of miles before the turn around point. I figured I would see him where I saw him previously, but I never did. Then I headed to the pitch blackness of the park and still failed to spot him. Little did I know that he did spot me during the pitch blackness, but refused to make his presence known for fear I would try to catch up to him. In fact, he told me later that he skipped aid stations just so he could stay ahead of me. Man, my siblings are competitive!
I saw a volunteer doing the FSU chop at the turn around and asked him if the game had started yet. He told me it would in about 10 minutes. Good. My husband would be happy I was heading back early, more of a chance he could catch the second half on tv. 😉
I was so happy to hit that turn around point. I had a little more than 6 miles to go. I was sooooo close to being done! I was also hungry. I wanted real food. There were cookies at the next aid stations and they were amazing. A-ma-zing! I spent the next 6 miles trying to hunt down more cookies. How come none of the other stations had cookies?!
The last 6 miles weren’t painful, but they were definitely tough. I’d been moving for the last 12 hours and was tired. I was ready to cross that finish line, put my feet up, and just be done. It would have been so easy to just slow down and walk the rest of it. I had plenty of time, I could have easily walked the last 6 miles and still finish under my goal, but that isn’t me. I had my notes in my pockets from my friends. During my walking breaks I would use my Garmin to shine a light on them and read them. They were just the words I needed to keep me going.
I saw Kelly when I had a little more than a 5k left. She had picked up a glow necklace from somewhere and still had a smile on her face. We cheered each other on and I wished her luck on her final loop.
The last 5k was the longest 5k I’d ever run. It felt so far. There were less people lining the course and all the spectators on the final stretched had moved to the finish line to cheer on their finishers. My family’s tailgating spot had been packed up and moved. They were at the finish line. They were waiting for us.
I turned the corner for the last mile and started tearing up. I couldn’t believe I was this close to finishing. All the training, all the hours on the bike, in the pool, and on the road – it was all building to this. This was it. This was my finish. This was my goal. This was my gateway to sleeping in, getting my weekends back, and the ability to tell people I am an Ironman. This wasn’t just any finish line I was heading towards, this was THE finish line.
I circled around special needs and the volunteers were yelling “finishers to the right, finishers to the right.” I was a finisher! I was heading right!
I went right and saw Amber. She took my photo, gave me a big hug, and told me everyone was waiting for me at the end – go get them.
There are no words to describe just how amazing the finisher’s chute was. Hundreds of spectators lined the entire chute and they were all cheering and putting their hands out. I ran through, giving as many high fives as I could.
I saw my family and waved frantically to them.
I saw my friends and cheered.
Then I heard the announcer say my name…
“MEGHANN ANDERSON-RUSSELL YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”
Derek was waiting for me at the finish line. He dropped to his knees with the medal in his hand and kept repeating,“I am not worthy. I am not worthy.”
He made me laugh, which stopped me from crying. I was still in shock. I didn’t even know my finish time and I didn’t care. I did it! I completed an Ironman. Holy crap – I finished an Ironman!
Derek guided me through the finish line, where I was handed a finisher’s hat, shirt, water, and a heat blanket. To my surprise, we got to the end of the line and my brother was talking to our family.
I wanted to ask him if he went sub-13. I could have sworn he was going to do sub-13!
Ben had a solid 30 minute lead on me coming off the bike, but it turns out I had made up some solid time in the run. I crossed the finish line only a minute and a half after my brother – insane!
I was so honored to have my XP Teammates waiting for me at the finish line. I owe so much to them for getting my butt in shape for this race. They’re not just my training partners – they’re my best friends!
I was STARVING after I finished. While I waited for Kelly to finish, I couldn’t shovel the chicken and mashed potatoes in my mouth fast enough.
Kelly came in a little more than an hour after Ben and I.
She crossed the finish line with tears. I was so proud of my little sister. She hit a few rough spots during her training, but seeing her cross that finish line let me know that she knew it was all worth it. She did it!
I was so thankful to have my siblings to share this experience with. Without them I would never have had the guts to sign up or train. I dedicate this race to both of them, for believing in me and pushing me beyond what I ever thought was possible.
I was so high on my adrenaline rush that I didn’t want the party to end. I quickly showered before returning outside to watch the final finishers come in.
It was a pretty epic ending to an amazing night.