I was asked a while ago if I had old race reports and if I could pop them up on the blog. Here’s my 2011 Ironman Florida write up. A good day and a PB and quite a few lessons learned. Click on through to check it out.
The sea was flat but with strong currents across the course. The start was on the beach and I lined up close to the front which with hindsight might have been a mistake. It was the roughest swim I’ve ever done. I was swam over, punched, kicked and had my goggles knocked off, it felt suffocating at times and I didn’t think I’d find clear water at all. Despite that in a perverse way I mostly enjoyed it. It was a two lap swim and as I ran onto the beach after the first lap I got a look at where I was in the field. Before the race I was hoping to finish the swim somewhere around the top 100 in about an hour which would have been similar to Ironman UK earlier this year and leave me in a strong position to move up on both the bike and run portions but as I ran back into the water I was a bit surprised to see that it looked like there was already what looked like a lot more athletes than the 100 or so that I’d hoped for ahead of me. The second lap was a lot more swimming and a lot less fighting and again I really enjoyed it and managed to avoid the local sharks that some of the athletes had been joking about in the days leading up to the start.
I raced without a watch so had no idea of how I’d done or my time until afterwards. It turned out I was was over 6 minutes slower and more than 300 places further back than I had expected. I guess not knowing was a good thing. Exiting the water in 1:06:55, in 423rd place overall and 84th in the age group left me with an almost impossible mountain to climb (there was 7 Kona slots in my age group) but as I said not knowing how bad it was at that stage was probably a plus. Ignorance is some sort of bliss so I just carried on with the original plan and headed up towards T1.
Swim 1:06:55 Position overall 406. Position Age group 91
It was my first time experiencing wetsuit strippers. They were volunteers helping athletes out of their wetsuits on the beach. By the time I got up to them I had it peeled down to my waist then I dropped to the ground and a girl grabbed my wetsuit and yanked. It popped right off and I jumped up slightly light headed what with all the going from horizontal to vertical and back down and up again and ran on. T1 was also much slower than I’d hoped. I just couldn’t get it together. I was like a cabbage fumbling slowly through making mistakes and dropping things. Jeez I thought bring on the bike.
My biking has been going really well this year and it is always both my favourite and strongest leg so I was looking forward to it. Straight away I started passing people. The IM Florida bike course is pancake flat. The only “climb” is a motorway overpass and the road surface for the most part is great. This leads to fast bike splits but also to lots of drafting which was made worse today by strong headwinds. Lots of guys hid on wheels looking for shelter. The wind seemed to turn with us every way the road pointed and somehow we only had a tail wind for a short time late in the bike leg. In the first half I was constantly surging to get away from the packs on the bike having to go way over the effort I could sustain for 180k. I was getting more and more frustrated with the blatant cheating. A pack of riders would come through and I would get more angry and ride straight past them and off the front thinking I would show them how to ride. I felt strong and was fuelled by anger at the pelotons. A friend of mine had warned me this would happen and what he recommended was to let the bunch go past then ride the legal distance behind them. He said they would eventually be caught by the draft busters and that would break up the pack.
I felt too good to give in to this so kept on pushing and a couple of minutes after I rode away from a pack they would come rolling past again. It wasn’t a legal or even semi legal pace line it was like a bike race. They were riding 2 abreast, wheel to wheel. At about 100k My legs started to hurt and I finally realised that I was racing really stupidly. I backed off and another bunch rolled by. I sat the legal distance off the back and started to eat and drink and try to recover. I was praying that I hadn’t fried my legs completely.
A short while later a motorbike rolled up beside me and my head dropped. After all of my cursing about the drafters I was going to get a penalty. I looked up at the girl on the pillion with a clipboard and she gave me a big smile and proceeded to take the numbers of the bunch up the road in front of me. I then smiled as she then pulled up alongside them and red carded the whole pack with drafting penalties.
A while later we came to an out and back portion of the bike course. I started to count the riders coming back on the opposite side to get an idea of where I was up to.
I stopped counting when I hit 110. I had hoped to be up close to the top 50-70 at this stage but I was nowhere near it. I was also moving slower than I’d expected. I was about 10 minutes off where I’d hoped to be but I wasn’t sure if that was because of the headwind or just not having the legs.
The fact that Florida is flat would lead you to believe that it’s an easy course but the because of that you don’t get out of the tri bars for 5 hours which in turn means you get really sore and stiff.
You don’t have the normal switching of positions that you get with a hilly or twisty course. It’s just big long straight flat roads. It also means that you don’t get any relief on a downhill because there isn’t any. It’s hard to pedal non stop for 5 hours without it being broken up with climbs or descents. It’s fast but far from easy. I ate and drank more towards the end of the bike trying to sort out the legs for the run and I was unbelievably relieved to get off it and head into transition.
Bike 5:05:44 Position overall 86. Position Age group 20
On the bike I’d moved up 320 places overall and to 20th in the age group. Still a bit away from qualifying but within distance now with a solid run. I’d need to be top 7 in the age group to get an automatic slot.
T2 2:46 Position overall 82. Age group 16th.
The second transition was another fumble fest but even so I made up another 4 places, luckily all of them were in my age group but worryingly my legs didn’t seem to be working as I started the run.
Onto the run and I was pushing to find a rhythm with a sense of panic. Miles 1, 2 and 3 saw me catching and passing a half dozen guys but it felt very hard. Then all of a sudden something clicked and I was moving really well. I started picking off guys one after another. I felt good and really enjoyed the run. Out onto the second lap I was now moving through the main part of the field and got a huge buzz from the passing so many people I even caught a couple of the pros who had a 10 minute head start on us, this gave me a huge lift and made me push on harder. At one stage I slowed at an aid station to be sure to get enough water in for a gel and was passed by a female pro who gave me a pat on the back and told me to keep going. I didn’t know it at the time but it was Eimear Mullan the Irish pro. She told me later she recognised the Wheelworx kit. She was flying in the end I finished behind her on the course but ahead on time as she had that headstart over the age group race.
The last 5k I was really hurting and had to change my run style to stop oncoming cramps. With less than 1k to go I spotted a guy about 400 metres ahead and I put the head down to see if I could reel him in. I looked up after a couple of seconds and he was walking.
Putting the head down and pushing harder I thought I have him. I looked up again and he was running again but I was gaining fast.
Head down another big push and I’m past him, push again to get a gap and settle for the last 500m. Then I hear footsteps behind me and look back to see I’m being chased by someone else! I can’t believe it’s gonna be a sprint finish after over 9 1/2 hours of racing, I push again and again and he keeps coming back but in the end I get him by a couple of seconds.
Run 3:18:37 Place overall 47th. Place in age group 12th.
It looks impressive getting off the bike in 86th position and passing almost 40 people on the run to move into 47th but unfortunately only eight of them were in my age group and I finished in 12th.
My finish time of 9h40 which was a pb but slower than I’d hoped (I think we rarely go as quickly as we hope) Later when I saw the results though I realised that it wasn’t just me. All except the top couple of pros were slower than last year due I reckon to the headwinds on the bike.
I missed a Kona slot by about 15 mins but to be honest I think I got the race I’d trained for so wasn’t as disappointed as I was in the UK earlier this year. I also learned a lot and really enjoyed the race. It was also a big boost to beat five of the Pro men, all of whom I caught and passed on the run.
If you are interested in checking out my training blog you can do that here.
If you are interested in talking to us about coaching you can do that here.
I’ve also written a free mini book that shares the training and racing secrets of some of the most successful Irish Ironman triathletes ever. Collectively they have over 30 Kona appearances including a couple of podiums. You can download that free here.