Forum v Ironman Florida

Mike, Bass, Jeff, Adrian, Andrew and Richard M

November 6 2004 saw the RW Tri forum thread and Serpentine Tri represented in style at Ironman Florida. Here's the report...

Everybody was worried before the race. Universally we'd been secretly banking on a fast course and good times, but when we arrived the conditions were awful. Very hot, very humid, such that I couldn't see properly for sweat pouring down my glasses when I went for a short test ride - and worst of all, very windy.

The wind made the sea scary, and the red flags were out all week. One poor guy passed away on the Tuesday when he swam out in it alone.

We went out in spite of the danger, just six of us, because we'd experienced nothing like it and we didn't want to be 'virgins' to it on race day. It was actually quite good fun getting through the white stuff, and Mike decided that we'd go out another 150 strokes, so as a group we went out 400 metres or so. Coming back in, being the weakest swimmer by far, I got separated from them and caught in a riptide.

I was swimming hard and making no discernible progress for five or 10 minutes that seemed like an hour. I thought it a real possibility that I might have got myself into serious trouble. But then the surface sweep took me out of it, and I made it home. I was later told that all you need to do in a riptide is to swim parallel to the shore, so you find your way out of it. Riptides are apparently very narrow channels of current flowing out to sea.

C'mon Ironman, take your best shot

On your marks

On race day, the gods blessed us. Little wind, no humidity, flat sea, hot but not scorching. I’d let my tyres down the day before because I didn't want them blowing in the heat while the bike was racked. So body marking and getting my tires pumped was a bit hectic. Also I wanted a warm-up swim, and to get a feel for any sweep tides. Mellsy was struggling with his tyres; I saw him pushing his girl's bike from one pump volunteer dude to the next...

The PA system gave all age groupers a warning that they had to clear the water in two minutes for the pro start, which was a bit annoying as I was still arsing about on the beach getting my wetsuit on. I managed to get about 15 metres of swimming in, but I discerned that the water was lovely.

The Swim

I found a few of the less fishlike Serpies on the beach and we agreed that we'd hang back together and avoid the fisticuffs of the main mass start. The gun went off, and that's what we did, strolled down to the water with huge grins on our faces. The day could, at this point, have been a lot worse.

The swim was amazingly polite: no punching or kicking. When we bunched around the turnaround buoys, the Americans formed an orderly queue and were nice to each other. Not as in European races where we all try to smash each other’s faces in.

There were lots of very weak swimmers, even worse than me. I was drafting past person after person, as evidently we'd hung back a bit too far on the beach and I was with the really slow chaps.

I kept finding myself with bunches of women (yellow swim caps, as opposed to the gents' much more masculine purple ones), so the mild jostling wasn't a problem as I had a lot more inertia than the girls. My swim split was 1:23, which is fantastic for me as I can’t swim. It was the best pace in any open-water triathlon I've ever done. Yahoo.

Transition 1 was extended, and partly but not wholly assisted by volunteers. We ran up a ramp off the beach, and two women made me lay on my back and yanked my wettie off. Then we got up, ran through a shower contraption (a bit like those sprays at the London Marathon) and into T1 proper.

T1 was weird. All the T1 bags were laid out in rows, and you had to find your bag and then go to the segregated changing room, in which it was bedlam. I was of course wearing my clothes under my wetsuit, so it was just a matter of donning socks, shoes, helmet, gloves and Oakley’s.

After a while I realised I'd got bag 651 instead of 851, so I had to run back the other way. Then blow me, the 600 row had been removed. I was running to and fro like an idiot, until a volunteer took 651's bag off me and put mine in my hand. I'd inexplicably not put the eight gels I was going to use on the bike in there, so I had to make do without.

I used a Camelbak. After I accidentally threw my Proplus tablets away at the Vitruvian when I was reaching in my back pocket for a gel, I had the brainwave of dissolving loads in water in a Camelbak and taking caffeinated electrolyte. Of course I hadn't practised this before race day, and it all went horribly wrong. It tasted like sh!te for one thing and I kept thinking that I must have left some sterilising solution in the tube of the Camelbak. Also I couldn’t see how much I was - or in fact wasn't- drinking, and I finished the bike with about 1.75 litres still left. So it was a crap idea all round.

Averaging over 20mph for 112 miles

The Cycle

Out on the bike course I was passing people constantly, so much so that I was staying in the left hand lane and whizzing past long lines of swim ponces. A marshal motorbike stopped beside me and the dude scribbled something down, and I worried for the rest of the race that they didn't apply a '15 second' rule or something so you had to get back into line after each overtake. Nope, no blocking penalties.

Despite the website saying that discs weren't recommended due to the wind, about half the field were using them. I'd agreed with Serpie George and Serpie Bass that we would "diss" all the people with discs that we passed: "nice wheels dude, do they make you go faster? Byeeeee."

But the yank politeness from the swim was coming out again. Most people I overtook at speed shouted out encouragement

"Way to go," "lookin' strong," "nice form," "hey, you're going much quicker than me despite my disc wheels producing less air resistance than your spokes, and my tubs less rolling resistance than your clinchers," etc. Well I made the last one up, but you get the idea.

The bike course was very quick. I almost came off at the first aid station because I "slowed right down" to what seemed comparatively slow but was actually about 17 mph, so when I hit the bottle I almost took the volunteer's arm off and I almost ditched.

After that I did slow right down. The aid stations were hazardous because lots of people were dropping bottles, bananas and stuff because they'd made the same mistake of hitting them too fast, so you had to take care.

Support was sporadic as it was a long, long, long one-loop course, but at intersections there would be bunches of pick-ups with good ol' boys sitting by the roadside drinking and cheering. Opinions were divided on the bike course. Some people thought it was great; I thought it was horrible working hard and staying aero for that long. It was relentless. Absolutely no hills at all.

I felt discomfort, especially in my feet by mile 40, which had turned to pain by mile 50 and real agony by mile 60. I took a second 'big' ibuprofen, which might have been too much and might have given a risk of hyponatraemia, but the pain was hard to bear and the pill didn't have any noticeable effect.

I almost cried with relief when I got back into town and on the home straight around mile 105, as it would soon be over. It’s hilly courses all the way for me in future, I think.

Fast though, I did the bike course in 5:33 - a bit over 20mph average speed, so I was pleased with that.

Keeping his cool: Andy during the run

The Run

T2 was the same deal with the bags as T1, and the only dizzy thing I did was get onto the run and realise I was wearing my bike gloves. So I threw them away, then I remembered they were my best gloves and had cost me 40 euros in Austria. Dammit!

The run was hot, a two-lap straight out-and-back, and the first time around there weren't that many people on it, so well had my bike gone. I had plans for a 3:50 marathon to crack 11 hours, so I was running at 8:00 pace and walking the aid stations.

I carried a run aid bottle out of T2, again with the dissolved Proplus and lava salts, but I got annoyed with it after about 25 yards and dumped it with the gloves, unopened.

I saw Bella coming the other way after a mile or so, and cheered. Then I saw Mellsy a few minutes behind her in hot pursuit, and booed. Actually he veered over and high-fived, he was looking strong then and I had him figured for sub-10 hours.

The heat was pretty relentless and despite my fantastic progress to the first turnaround, I had a massive fear of collapsing either due to dehydration, bonking or hyponatraemia, so I was juggling water, Gatorade, lava salts and mini pretzels at each aid station. I also did the old IM trick of filling my hat with ice cubes. There were a few wobbles, but nutrition stayed OK for most of the run.

Richard M knuckles down during his marathon
After the first turnaround I saw Serpie George lying on the floor vomiting. I stopped to chat to him, and after a while he said he'd be okay and ordered me to go on. Apparently he almost got taken off the course, but they gave him a chance and he rallied and finished. 11:42 - fantastic time!

The Serpie kit was great - lots of shouts from the crowd "Go Serpenteen, go London!" and regular encouragement team mates as there were nine of us on the course. Well, mainly there were seven of us after Hanreck and Jones finished so quickly. The Switzerland kit will do us proud next year!

The first half-marathon was great, and I kept up 8:00 pace while running, then walking the aid stations. After the turnaround I was a bit cheesed off at having to do it again, but I kept up the pace.

I passed Mellsy again and realised that I was gaining on him. Then it went dark all of a sudden, and my legs packed in.

The final run in was a nightmare. The chance of making sub-11 came and went, but I thought I could hold on for sub 11:15. I was run walking, and stopping to talk to people regularly. 10K had never seemed so far.

I passed a bloke with a red cross in his hair and realised it was Iain. I said hi and we exchanged a few words, then he waved me on as he was ill and had to walk the end of the marathon.

The final straight was packed with spectators and a managed a reasonable jog over the line. They had girls running across with finisher tape for each athlete, which was a nice touch. 11:12:26, which I was very happy with.

What goes on tour, stays on tour: A post-race drink, at Hooters

The catcher was great, as had been all the volunteers that day. They really do make the race. As I'm not doing Ironman UK I think I'll volunteer for it. We take so much competing in long course, I think its only fair that we give something back some times. Fantastic day, fantastic friends, and by my cack standards a pretty fantastic result!

Thanks to Richard M for the photos. You can see more here