Goal Achieved! – Ironman Florida 140.6

On November 7, 2020, I did it…

At 6:24 am I began swimming 2.4 miles.

At 8:24 pm, 14 hours 3 minutes and 58 seconds later, I completed the marathon and crossed the finish line, and heard…

“Chris Tubbs, you are an Ironman”.

Preparing to get there

Panama City Beach is about 650 miles away, so we decided to drive. A 9-10 hr drive is a normal day for us when we do roadtrippin’. Driving was also desirable so that I didn’t have to fool with shipping my tri bike or pack (and check) all of my race gear.

The first big job – Pack properly, bring all the things necessary (and possibly necessary). The problem is that I hate packing. I almost always forget something important. So, a month before the race I obtained 3 different Ironman packing lists. I went through them and added additional items that I use. I was going to stay on top of this and make packing easy by using a checklist.

Lies we tell ourselves…

To race a triathlon, particularly one that can last 17 hrs, we have a shit ton of gear, accessories, backup accessories, and contingent accessories. If one were to lay it all out, then stand back and look at it they’d become befuddled. It would cover a king sized bed. I’ll make a separate post to list all of the items that I took to the race.

I spent 3 days pulling, organizing, and grouping my stuff. The undisturbed checklist was on the same table sitting adjacent to all the gear.  I kept telling myself that I’d go through the list after I thought that I had everything together. Well, after 3 days of sorting, I got fed up with the whole process and decided to pack everything into bags. I didn’t want to see it or think about it anymore. The lie I repeated in my head was that I always take what I need for each training session. Since I was simply packing for all three sessions at once why would I forget something? False confidence kept me feeling secure, not knowing what issues were lurking in the days ahead.

On Wednesday morning we packed the car and hit the road. Everyone was feeling excited about the race. Good times. I had one major stress, one of the local athletes asked me to take his bike with me. He was flying and didn’t want to take the risk of having an issue with the airline. I locked down our bikes (they were on a trailer hitch rack) and hoped for the best. We took our time getting to Panama City Beach, frequently stopping along the way to stretch our legs and get food or refreshments. Our trip ended up taking about 11 hrs.

Arrival and Pre-race activities

With a race this large, ~1700 athletes, pre-race activities begin days in advance. We arrived Wednesday night because my athlete check-in time was 11 am on Thursday. Athlete check-in is when we confirm that we are present to participate in the race. We also receive our race bib, gear bags (run, bike, run special needs, bike special needs, and morning clothes) timing chip, and some race swag. Finally, I selected a Friday morning bike check-in.

 

After the check-in necessities were completed, I meandered through the Ironman Village. Because of the COVID19 pandemic, safety precautions were pretty thorough and the usual crowds were missing. Actually, they only permitted athletes in the village, the race was deemed a “no spectator” event. As a result, the overall environment felt thin. So thin I began thinking that many of the registrants were not going to show up. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Lazy packing bit me in the ass (wallet).

After we settled in, I decided to unpack my gear and put it into the various race bags.

  • Morning bag – This is meant to hold the clothes that are worn before the race. We change into our swim gear in the transition area and place these clothes in the bag. After we finish, we’ll have them to put back on. I was told to put bring something warm since our bodies will be depleted and unable to warm up after the race.
  • Bike Bag – All of our cycling gear and nutrition go in this bag. Helmet, shoes, socks, gloves, etc.
  • Special Needs Bike Bag – This bag is used for extra items that we think will be needed while we are on the bike. We drop it off in the morning and it’s taken to the halfway point of the bike course (56 miles). I placed extra bags of Infinit nutrition and a peanut butter sandwich in the bag. Whatever remains unused is discarded, so don’t place anything of value in this bag.
  • Run bag – this one contains all the run stuff
  • Special Needs Run Bag – I put additional Infinit nutrition, a headlamp and a neck gator in here. I knew that it would end up running in the dark.

During the sorting of my items into the various bags that I realized a critical error. I had forgotten all of my hydration bottles. The big reservoir that sits on the front of my bike, all of my water bottles for the bike and the run. SHIT! SHIT!! SHIT!!!

After about 30 seconds of panic, I shifted into problem-solving mode. Where could I get replacement bottles? I should have sufficient time to order for next day delivery from Amazon. If not, a local Dick’s sporting good should at least have sports bottles for my bike & running. Worst case is having to stop at each aid station and refilling my bottles instead of having them prefilled with nutrition. After a few moments, I realized that I would be fine even in the worst case, so I relaxed and focused on getting what I could.

The next afternoon, I went back to the Ironman village and found a tent with bike bottles and the same hydration system that I use on the front of my bike …. yay!!! Unfortunately, the laziness and lack of attention while packing cost me over $200. A costly mistake.

Earlier that morning, several of the Pearland Triathlon Racing Club planned to do a practice swim, so I joined them. There were 11 of us registered for the race and three were newbies. For the most part, we followed the lead of the experienced racers. We walked along the beach to where our swim start would be. The swim would have us going around the pier in a rectangular fashion doing two loops. Today, we decided to just do one short swim around the pier itself… maybe 350-400 yards.

The water was warm, fairly clear and mostly flat. I could sense a bit of anxiety in a few of the athletes. We all started together which seemed to allay some of their mental difficulties. After walking past the sandbar, I was off… wearing the full sleeve wetsuit was the best decision I could have made. I felt comfortable and buoyant and fast with very little effort. Actually, it feels like cheating. ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿฝโ€โ™‚๏ธ.

After the swim, we went for a 45 min bike ride along the coastal highway. The roads were nice, traffic was light and the opportunity to just feel the atmosphere together was a welcomed experience.

 

After the ride, I chilled out with Robin and Kai for the remainder of the afternoon, then met up with everyone for a group dinner. It was time to carb-up. Ensuring that we have full glycogen stores and adequate rest are pivotal at this point in race preparation.

While the food was good, more importantly, the experienced racers took the time to share a lot of their experience and some important lessons. One that was particularly impactful to me came from Jeff Short. He told me that, when on the bike, I should go a little easier than I think. It’s going to be a very long day and pushing too hard on the bike can ruin your marathon run. He did just that during his first Ironman. Blowing the doors off the bike leg caused him to crash at mile 3 of the marathon. He ended up doing the zombie trot to finish and got passed on the run by the same guys he blew past on the bike.

Thursday night I was still feeling absolutely calm and mentally clear about the race. I didn’t have any doubts about my ability to execute and complete it. This was the first race I could remember feeling so relaxed. After some reflection, I determined that this level of confidence and clarity only comes with proper preparation. I was absolutely dedicated to being ready for the coming race. Many of the athletes that I spoke with while walking around were expressing doubts and uncertainty about their readiness. I didn’t know their stories, but I understood the anxiety and second-guessing of themselves. I listened when someone wanted to share and was encouraging and supportive at every opportunity. Ultimately, we all run individual races.

At some point in the evening, I got a message from Johnny, my coach, which said, go to bed early Thursday night because it will be the last good night’s sleep you’ll get until Sunday, and on Friday, stay off your feet, no walking around.

Friday, the day before…

Thursday night I slept like a baby. Still, no feeling of anxiety. Initially, the plan was to join other athletes at 7 am on Friday for another short swim in the ocean, but I didn’t see the need. I got what I needed yesterday – my new pair of goggles didn’t leak and the wetsuit was comfortable. Instead, I decided to get as much rest as I could. I slept until I woke up. At 7 am, I was too hungry to wait any longer to wait for them any longer, so I went downstairs and made some coffee and oatmeal. While downstairs, I sat outside, enjoyed the cool air, and just visualized the race for a while. 

Bike and bag drop-off was the final preparatory activity that needed to be done before race day. So, I double-checked my run and bike bags to ensure that nothing was forgotten this time. When I arrived to the transition area, there were many more athletes hanging around. The crowd had grown by 4 or 5 fold since yesterday morning.

 

After I returned, they were up and ready so we went to get some brunch, run a few errands, then return to the room so he could do his schoolwork. And I stayed off of my feet as instructed.

Next…Race Day!