Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ironman Florida Race Report: Swim + T1

I know I promised to bold the important parts for those who don't want the nitty gritty (my dad) but I don't have time right now, so if you're in a hurry, just look at the photos.

SWIM: 1:20:58

The swim was awesome. One of the reasons I chose IM Florida is because of the swim. I came to triathlon from a swimming background. I love swimming (even though I mostly hate training in a pool). For me, roads for the bike and the run are pretty much the same everywhere. Paved asphalt or concrete. Big deal. What makes a race interesting to me is the swim (okay and the hills on the bike). Last October I was in Arizona when the SOMA half iron distance race took place, so I went to the practice swim for the chance to swim in Tempe Town Lake to scope it out since I was considering doing IM Arizona. Well, Tempe Town Lake is just as icky as I’d imagined, and it’s cold. The whole time I was swimming there, I thought “I should do Florida instead. Florida has nice water.”

The water for Ironman Florida was perfect. The temperature was just right – I wish I knew what it was. It felt like it was warmer than 75 to me. My toes didn’t mind getting wet; my ears were warm enough; I didn’t have to warm up in the water for 15 minutes just so I could put my face in the water without hyperventilating. If I'd been wary of the cold I would've spent more time warming up in the water instead of hanging out with Dave and Lauren. Instead while I chatted with them I just kept pulling my wetsuit up as far as it would go. I'm glad I did this because for the first time my arms didn't get tired during a wetsuit swim. Seems like I finally got the wetsuit on properly!

Even though I have a swimming background and lots of experience with open water swimming, I was still a little nervous about the mass swim start. I’d never run into the water with 2500 people before, all heading for the same buoy. I was mostly worried about getting kicked really hard in the face (like in the nose, where it's make my eyes water and be hard to breathe), or getting kicked or shoved. The swim course was counterclockwise, so my coach advised me to start on the right side of the beach to avoid some of the beatings. I took her advice. I'd watched race starts for IMFL before and it surprised me how many people walked into the water instead of running. Well, it's kind of tough to run in when there are so many people in front of you taking their time. There was a group of swimmers who had ventured out a little farther to the right than it seemed we were supposed to be - they had a huge advantage because the water was so shallow there that they ran probably 50 meters in mid-calf deep water before starting to swim. Very crafty!

Race start video that Lauren took (click on image to play)

Since I hadn't gotten any warning that the race was about to start, I had to start my watch when the cannon went off. I usually try to start my watch at the 10 second countdown, so that I don't have to think about my watch and can just start swimming when the race starts. I was ready to swim, but it took awhile to actually get into water that was deep enough to swim. The people in front of me were still walking but I just started swimming. I bet we looked kind of like dominos falling down as we entered the water. Normally I have problems keeping my pulse down at the beginning of a swim race. I expected to have to breathe every second stroke for awhile, but that just didn't happen this time. Maybe I didn't go out as hard since I had all these people in front of me to deal with.

I was sure that Ironman was the one race I'd be able to draft off people, at least the first loop. Wrong! I must be doing something wrong because I had a hard time sticking to peoples feet. I drafted off a few people at the beginning, but I kept finding people were either too fast or too slow - or they stopped to sight rather than incorporating it into their strokes. Or worse - they switch to breaststroke to sight and I'd have to dodge out of the way quickly to not get kicked. I only got kicked once during the whole swim, and it was due to a breaststroke sighter. At least it was just a kick in the arm and even though it hurt I reassured myself because you don't really need arms after the swim, and I was almost done at that point.

The water was clear and I could see schools of fish swim past probably wondering what the heck was going on at the surface. I could see jellyfish but mostly they were well below the surface and they were pretty to watch, especially the farther away from shore that we got. The water was darker since it was deeper, but the jellies were so vibrant and white. I think they were mostly sea nettles. Since I'd swam with a lot more jellies before, this didn't bother me, but I could imagine how it might freak out some people. I only swam super close to one - I basically swam over it, so I stopped kicking in hopes that my feet wouldn't touch it. (My husband is probably laughing if he reads this because I asked him recently to count my kicks per stroke and he couldn't tell if I was kicking once per stroke or if my legs just moved a little as I rotated during the swim.) But I tried to keep my feet up higher than usual. I don't think it worked because I had a rash on my right foot the next day that can't really be explained by anything else. I didn't notice the sting though, but I also wasn't paying attention to my foot at that point.

Sighting was exceptionally easy. The buoys were enormous and it was a rectangular course. Before we started the swim the course looked short to me, I think because the buoys were so big. The buoys were yellow until the orange turn buoy. For the first lap I mostly aimed for just to the right of the farthest buoy. As I got closer I decided there weren't as many people as I'd expected, so I took the turn wide, but not super wide. Maybe 75-100 feet away from the buoy. But once I was past the buoy I turned pretty quickly since there seemed to be space.

Well, space in the water is relative. My brother asked me if there'd be enough people at the turn to just get up and run across everyone. There were definitely not enough people to do that! But I saw holes so I decided to take some of the open space rather than continue to swim super wide. This was probably the most physical part of the swim. I got pushed once, but it just propelled me forward. I think I may have elbowed some guy in the chest (but it just propelled me forward....). At no time did I feel like I needed to do catch-up swim style to keep an arm/hand in front of my face for protection. Mostly it was just having to slow down a bit to keep from swimming into someones kicking feet, or just bumping into people next to me. At times it was a little frustrating because the masses did seem to slow me down on the stretch that was parallel to shore, but overall it was fun and I was enjoying my first Ironman swim.

(Love this next sequence of photos of the first swim loop. Remind anyone of Monty Python?)

Coming back to shore was really easy to sight too because of the tall hotels (with nothing behind them). Also there were lots of wetsuits to follow. This was the first time I did an open water swim where the vast majority of the people weren't getting off course. I got the feeling that the people who seemed to be swimming off course were actually just trying to swim wider than I thought was necessary. On the way back the buoys were all the same color. I saw some people swimming on the left of the buoys and it made me wonder if they were shortcutting or if those buoys didn't matter. Since I wasn't sure I swam the long course - keeping all buoys to my left. I wanted to know I swam my 2.4 miles!

Just before getting to the beach, there was a very shallow area. My coach said to swim til my chest hit the sand. I've always swam at least until my hand hits the bottom. (Learned that after one or two swim races where I thought I could stand up but it was still too deep!) At some point though I stood up because I realized the water was getting so shallow it was going to be hard to get up if I swam any farther. Then we had about 4 or 5 big steps before the water got swimmable again. At that point the water was waist or chest deep, and I think I swam a few strokes before getting to the final shallow area that led us to the beach. I'd already decided to walk the beach segment because I was hoping to be able to pee during that little break since I can't pee and swim at the same time. Oh I wish I could perfect that skill.

Video that shows people running across shallow area then doing the short swim before getting to the real beach:

FIRST SWIM HALF 1.2 mi. (38:08) 2:00/100m

I was pretty much right on target after the first half. Aside from the 2.4 mile Folsom Lake Open Water swim in June where I swam a 1:06, my open water swim times this year have all been exactly the same. 1.2 miles in 40 minutes or 2.4 miles in 1:20. I'm consistent. When I saw my time after the first half, I wondered if I'd actually beat 1:20 for a change. But I didn't really worry about it. 1:30 was my goal considering the huge mass of people, but of course I changed my goal to 1:20 mid-swim, once I saw the 38 minute split.

When I walked over the timing mat, I thought of everyone I knew a few time zones west who would see my swim split when they woke up. It's always nice to think of my long distance cheerleaders during a race. I looked for Dave and Lauren but didn't see them. I got a swig of water to rinse out my mouth. There were so many people walking through the sand with me. I tried to keep to the right so people could run past on the left, but I didn't notice anyone running. Since I hadn't managed to pee and walk, I stopped when I got back in the water to do the job there. I stood with my hands on my hips looking at the swim course and wondering if spectators thought I was thinking about quitting. If they only knew.... I heard another swimmer ask a lifeguard if we had to swim around all the buoys or just the end ones. The answer was all the buoys. I'm still not sure if that was correct, but I just kept my plan of keeping all the buoys on my left. As I finally got to swimmable depth, I felt like I'd sure been walking a lot for a SWIM race!

(Picture below - me getting water between loops - I'm the one in the white swim cap facing the volunteer with the blue shirt)

I saw a big school of fish as I started the second loop. Poor fishies probably wondering what the heck was going on. I saw a kayaker and wondered if the sharks would go for the kayaker or the swimmers first. Hehe. I'm surprised I didn't freak myself out about sharks. I think I thought about the dolphins we'd seen the previous day and decided they would ward off the sharks for us.

Heading out for the second loop:

The swells got bigger on the second loop. I'd heard this always seems to happen so I expected it. My coach had told me if it was choppy that I should do less sighting. I used to sight way too often, especially given I'm a pretty straight swimmer. But this year I'd gotten used to sighting less. Maybe it's mistakenly a function of more pool swimming? So sighting even less often made it seem like I was barely sighting. But it worked fine. As I said, the course was just a rectangle. I thought the big swells were fun. Kind of like coasting downhill on a bike, and the uphills were easy too. I only inhaled water once but I just kept swimming and coughed it out as I swam, like I've done before.

As I was coming around the last turn in the second loop, I got sad. The swim was almost over! Just half a mile to go! I wanted to savor each moment of my Ironman day, and now this awesome fun swim was about to be done! I honestly briefly pondered doing a third loop just for fun! I knew I had the time, but I also knew I'd want that time on the bike!

Suddenly I started worrying that I’d completely mixed up my transition bags. What if I finished the swim and had my running shoes waiting for me instead of my helmet and bike shoes? Ugh. I just told myself that certainly there must be people dumber than me and I’m sure someone had done that at some point and I bet the awesome volunteers would be able to figure it out for me and get me the right stuff. Instead of worrying about the gear bags, I thought about my friend Laurie who was doing Beach 2 Battleship iron distance race that same day. I knew she was already on the bike since the race was an hour earlier than IMFL and I wondered how she was doing.

I just kept swimming and I was feeling good. Before I knew it I hit the first shallow bit, then the deep bit (this time I walked because it was really only 3 or 4 steps and it seemed more complicated to swim it than to walk it), then the last shallow bit again. Woohoo. I had to smile when I crossed and saw my time was 1:20. At least I'm consistent! I was glad I hadn't bothered to do more training swims than I did. Swimming once or twice a week works for me.

SECOND SWIM HALF 1.2 mi. (42:50) 2:15/100m
TOTAL SWIM 2.4 mi. (1:20:58) 2:07/100m
Overall: 1391/2424
Division: 51/95 (for reference, #47 (halfway mark in my age group) was less than 50 seconds ahead of me)

What I would do differently: Find out the course rules regarding which buoys need to be swam around. Maybe this was discussed at the pre-race meeting, but that meeting started over 30 minutes early (during the welcome dinner) so we missed part of it. I potentially could've swam a much shorter race, but I had fun and hit my target time, so not that big of a deal. Also I could probably skip the water at the halfway point. I don't know that it cost me much time, but I've swam 3.5 mile races in the ocean without water, so I'm sure I'd be okay skipping it next time.

T1: SWIM-TO-BIKE 19:01
Almost 20 minutes for a transition! (I wonder if my coach worried about this!) I am pretty sure I was the slowest in my age group, by a few minutes. As soon as I was on the beach I started to unzip my wetsuit and pull it down over my arms. Hah! My arms totally got stuck. With my Inspector Gadget sized watch on my left wrist and my bracelets (medic ID and race ID) on the right wrist, I had a hard time getting the wetsuit any farther down. I was trapped like in a straight jacket, thinking about how ridiculous I'd look in any photos.

After crossing the swim finish timing mat, I looked for the the strippers (aka wetsuit peelers). I'd used the peelers at Vineman Aquabike and it was so quick (10 seconds?) that it was worth sitting down on the towel covered sand to have them pull the wetsuit off my feet. Otherwise it would've taken me a few more minutes to remove it myself. Luckily my tri bottoms didn't get peeled away with the wetsuit! My ankle timing chip stayed on too. I can't even remember if I ever got the wetsuit off my wrists or if they did that for me.

Next we ran under the fresh water showers. I was surprised when the guy in front of me stopped and moved his hands all over like he was bathing. But since the showers were a few people deep I used that time to rinse off too. (For people who use the RX glasses table, Ironman is smart enough to have the glasses table pickup after the showers, so they stay dry.)

I didn’t rush the transition, obviously. Once I noticed my heart rate was super high I walked most of the transition so my HR would calm down before the bike. Also I didn’t want to hurt my feet running barefoot on asphalt. I'm sensitive! I looked around for my people right after the swim but didn’t see them. I realized quickly that my husband probably was waiting near the gear bags - he was and it was great to see him and have him cheer for me. Dave is an awesome cheerleader and he cheered and screamed when he saw me near my gear bag and then he ran ahead (dodging lots of other spectators) to where I'd enter the change tent so he could cheer again and take photos. A volunteer handed me my gear bag and I walked/jogged to the change tent trying to dodge some guy's bike shoes that he'd dropped while going the other way. I also made an effort to stay out of the way so people who wanted to run the transition could get past me. I was surprised how many people were just lightly jogging too. It seemed the people exiting the change tent were the runners.

(The following awesome transition images are courtesy of DCRainMaker! Our bikes were actually very close to each other so his depiction of where his bike was (the little red deviation near the exit) works for mine too!)

When I entered the building with the change rooms (yes, it was indoors! poor janitors), we ran straight - there was about a 6 foot gap between the wall on the left and the change tent on the right. The entrance to the change tent was at the far end of the room though. Women's change tent was first - lots of volunteers yelled this to let me know. There were people in the make-shift hallway changing though. (Well, I didn't see any nakedness, maybe they were just doing the socks and shoes thing.) Once in the women's change tent - WOW what a MESS! It was really different than the change tent at IM Arizona when I volunteered there last year. AZ's tent was square which left chairs around the perimeter of the tent, but also chairs in the middle. There was plenty of space there. Our change tent was rectangular and fairly narrow given how many people were in there.

I finally found a chair by asking another athlete if I could sit where her helmet was. I untied my bag (glad I'd learned when I volunteered at AZ to make it easy to untie!) and a volunteer immediately dumped everything on the floor for me. I quickly grabbed my bike shorts so they wouldn't get wet or sandy. The volunteer immediately started filling my T1 bag with my wet stuff. Even though I wear tri shorts in the swim, I change to bike shorts for the bike and run shorts for the run. I could wear a bikini bottom in the swim, or wear a swimsuit and change all my clothes but I just prefer the tri shorts, and I like to swim with my tri top because it's hard to put dry clothes on a wet body, so the fewer changes required the better!

I used a combination of baby wipes, two small washclothes, and some water to get sand and dirt off of all vital areas. Smeared some chamois cream on me and the bike shorts as I pulled them on. Baby powdered my feet to dry them. Put on the socks and shoes. Put my flasks in my jersey pocket. Blew my nose to get all that salt water out. The volunteer had gotten my helmet ready and opened my sunglasses case, carefully got my sunglasses out and placed them in the helmet, and put the case back in the T1 bag. She asked me "Do you need this?" a few times and put it in the T1 bag for me when I said no. Volunteers rock! She started to unroll my arm warmers before realizing that I'd rolled them for a reason. I rolled on my arm warmers, put some sunblock on my face, used hand sanitizer to get the chamois cream and sunblock off my hands and left the changing room.

I ran out the changing room exit and was facing the people just coming in from the swim. I skipped the sunscreen volunteers (since I'm picky about sunblock) and hit the portapotty instead. I was surprised there was no line. Apparently I'm the only one who has to pee after a swim. I'd planned to just wait til the first aid station like I usually do on a longer tri, but I guess I either wanted to just get it out of the way or I really had to go. After the pit stop and a stop for hand sanitizer I continued carefully walking towards my bike, trying not to slip on the bike cleats. As I got closer, someone yelled out my number, and magically when I was about 20 feet away I saw a volunteer holding my bike. Wow, having someone fetch your bike and hold it for you sure makes you feel special! Anyone who wants to feel like a pro should just do an ironman! The support was great. I hit my watch as I reached the dismount line and I was a bit surprised to see my transition time was almost 20 minutes. I was under 10 minutes for both Vineman events this year, but the transition distance was shorter and I wasn't concerned about running a marathon at the end.

My T1 to do list said: bring eye drops on bike and run (put in jersey!); chamois cream THEN sunblock. Food plan: H20 30 min, Chomps/Heed after 30. Gel 1-1:15. Relax and HAVE FUN! I'd also written the following abbreviated mantras on my list to remind me of the plan for my mind: 123456, amazing, awesome, strong trained & ready, ohm namo guru dev namo (a yoga chant that proved incredibly helpful!).

My T1 gear bag had this in it: bib # on race belt, washcloths for feet, babywipes, chamoi cream, bike shorts, hand sanitizer, baby powder to dry feet, clean rolled socks in ziplock, body glide, gloves, arm warmers (rolled so I could roll them on), hankerchief, sunglasses w/ spare lenses, bike shoes, ventolin (to use and leave; had separate one in my saddle bag) swim ear, face cleanser, bottle of water to wash feet, helmet, RX sunglasses (backup), spare contacts + solution (backup), to-do list. In a grocery bag inside my T1 bag, I also included some cold weather gear just in case it was super cold. In that I had: bike jersey, ear warmers, full finger gloves. My food in my T1 bag included two flasks for my jersey - one with Heed powder and one with vanilla orange Carb Boom. On my bike was my bento box and saddle bag. My bento box had the contents of 2 packages of Gu Chomps, plus 1 packet of honey almond butter. My bike also had a flask of apple Carb Boom attached to it on the top tube.

What I would do differently: Next time I’ve got strippers available I won’t bother trying to get the wetsuit down to my waist on my own. I’ll just run to the peelers and let them do it all, so I don't have to feel like I'm trapped in a straight jacket! I would probably just run to the change tent instead of walking at all, as long as I didn’t think it would hurt my feet. Mostly because I had plenty of time in the change tent to let my heart rate settle down. I might spend a few extra seconds rinsing my face off in the fresh water showers. I'm not sure what else I would cut out of the transition though. I really wanted to have my feet in good condition for the run, so that's why I made sure they were clean and dry. I guess maybe I could've been more aggressive when I first entered the tent and just forced myself into a seat. I think being overwhelmed by the crowd slowed me down a little. But I am glad I wasn't one of those frantic women rushing through everything. I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed. I suppose I'd be willing to run to my bike if I left my shoes off until I got to my bike and then brushed off the socks and put my shoes on, but I bet that wouldn't actually save me any time. I haven't had problems with blisters on the bike, so maybe I could be less careful about having perfectly clean feet in T1 and just do it in T2 instead.


  1. Love it! You are writing a training manual. Lots of good advice and insights. Can't wait for the marathon details.

  2. 1.) what is chamois cream?

    2.) I love that you thought about my mom!

    3.) I love even more that you thought about us waking up and seeing your splits online! How cool to know that when we were supporting you, it actually WAS in your brain during the race!

    4.) I can't believe you got stung and didn't even notice. After I went through that in stx, I know what it feels like. Sure, it only hurts for 20 minutes or so (so if it happened again I wouldn't panic), but for that 20 minutes it really HURTS.

    5.) I'm so glad you mentioned the running on asphalt thing. Why do so many events do this? It HURTS. I'm glad I'm not the only one with wussy feet, I HATE running barefoot on asphalt. I always look for dirt or grass nearby to run on instead. It's honestly faster for me to run in the dirt and then clean all the mud off my feet at T1 (I bring extra squirt bottls for this) than to run on asphalt, because it's such slow going -- trying to avoid rocks and such. Ugh!

    Love the updates!!!

  3. 1) seriously? How do you exist with triathletes in your family and not know? It's basically the equivalent of putting vaseline on your neck and shoulders before open water swims to prevent chafting, but it goes in the bike shorts. I use Assos but I used to use Chamois Butt'r.

    2) yeah; we'd planned on using each other to get through the day! No idea if she thought of me.

    3) Of course!

    4) This sting was NOTHING like the jellies at STX that one year. Those hurt like heck - I screamed a few times during that channel crossing. It's possible it wasn't a jelly that caused the rash on my foot, but no idea what else it would be.

    5) Yeah I don't get why events do this either, especially if you have to run a long distance with the bike shoes and the ground is wet. Dangerous! Bring out the red carpet!

  4. Great report! What is so funny to me is the swim was the reason I was worried about doing Flordia! :)

  5. Nicely done!

    Interesting comment re staying longer to wash off feet in the showers - I wish I had taken the extra few seconds as well and stayed longer than I had in the showers. I still had a lot of sand in less than desirable places.