Just after 6:00 pm
The glow of blue light was spinning dizzily around me and I couldn’t catch my bearings. All of a sudden my small enclosure briefly shook and I heard a small groan of disappointment right outside the door as another sufferer was rejected by the locked door of a porta-potty. The aqua colored walls and door of the porta-potty sat under the beating sun with other beaten athletes hoping to get in and relieve themselves or just take a quiet respite like the current occupant. “I can’t believe I am sitting here in a crapper trying to get a rest,” I thought. Just two minutes earlier my hands had started to go numb and I wondered how much longer I could ignore the current conditions of my health, so for the third time I staggered into the portable restroom for a break. My body and senses were so beaten to hell that the sauna like heat and smell inside of the restroom had become an afterthought. After throwing up for the past 30 minutes and staggering up the most brutal of a hill in a marathon, I knew I was in big trouble.
I decided that it wasn’t fair to the other athletes to occupy the restroom for too long. I threw the locking hing open and stepped outside into the red rock canyon above the city of St. George. I started my death march and was immediately confronted by a volunteer running up to me asking if I was OK.
“No…I’m not,” I mumbled.
She guided me to a chair that was sitting under a canopy and someone from the medical staff came to check me out.
With sweat beading on his forehead he observed “You are not sweating at all right now, what else is going on?”
I told him my gut was killing me, I couldn’t eat or drink anything, I was dizzy and I had been throwing up for the past 45 minutes or so.
“Let’s get him inside the tent,” he directed to the volunteer.
I was led to a larger tent which had a couple of beds inside. There were no fans but at least there was no direct sunlight. I lied down on the only empty bed, closed my eyes and my entire surroundings had begun spinning uncontrollably.
6:30 am – The Swim
It was a beautiful morning. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and dawn was breaking over Sand Hollow Reservoir. “I am doing an Ironman,” I thought as a smile crept across my face. All of us age group athletes were starting to line up at the entrance to the ramp down to the beach. Most of the pros were already swimming the 100-200 yards to the start buoys.
I didn’t get a great nights sleep but I never really do before an event. I had woken up at 4:00 and started to get ready. There wasn’t a whole lot to do because the event is so well-organized that most of the preparations are taken care of the day before. I ate breakfast and them Emily drove me to the finish line area where the buses were waiting to take us out to the lake. Once I got out there , there still wasn’t a whole lot to do because everything was already taken care of. I checked the tire pressure on my bike and filled up my bottles with Gatorade. Emily and Lexi showed up so I talked with them for a little bit. At 6:00 I started putting my wetsuit on and then slowly shuffled my way over towards the staging area for the start.
I was completely calm throughout the whole morning. Not once did I ever get nervous. I knew that I had done the training and barring any disaster I knew that I would be able to cross the finish line, 140.6 miles later, before midnight. For months I have been stressing about it being cold for this Ironman; then the lake eventually warmed up past 60 degrees and the weather itself was going to be a little toasty. Most marathons are run first thing in the morning during the cooler part of the day, so running in the afternoon during the hottest part of the day was cause for a little concern, but I wouldn’t have to worry about that for hours.
Just at 6:45 am, the professional start, they opened the cattle guards and let us venture into the water. Last year the water was so cold that people were suffering from hypothermia, this year the temperature was reported to be 62 degrees. With my wetsuit and neoprene cap I thought the water temp was great. There is always something to be said about just diving into the water rather than tiptoeing in. Within a minute I was comfortable and there were hundreds of people still inching their way into the water as slow as they could.
As I was swimming out to the start buoys the sun had started to peak over the ridge of mountains. The rocky ridges and island in the middle which were shrouded in shadows had begun to show off their splendid colors. They had a huge starting line and I decided to head towards the second buoy. I was surprised how clear the water was which is always comforting to me because I want to be able to see any lake monsters that are coming towards me before the attack begins. That being said, my heart rate did jump as I noticed something down in the water. To my relief it was a scuba diver. There were a handful of them to help any swimmers who were going under. They had tons of people in kayaks, boats, and paddle boards. Even at five minutes before the start I felt great and calm. I was treading water by my buoy (the one just under the Ford Buoy in the picture) and enjoying the thought of what I was about to do. It started to get a lot more crowded as the start neared and then we got the one-minute warning.
7:00 – Here is where it all begins
The cannon went off and 1550 people began their Ironman journey, one that would not be completed by 240 people. I quickly found a good pace and had to do some jostling around in the water to keep my space and avoid being run over. Right before the cannon went off I looked at the shore and there were still a ton of people who had yet to enter the water. They probably really hate the mass start and would rather go five minutes late and have smoother waters.
Since half of the people at the start line were to right of where I started there were tons of swimmers who were crossing directly in front of me and to the left. I was slightly annoyed because they were just extending the distance they had to swim and getting in my way rather than just swimming a straight line to the red turn buoy. In the pre-meetings they told us they had set the course up with yellow buoys every 100 meters and the red buoys were where you would turn. The first stretch was about 1600 meters, the second was 300 meters, the third and longest was 1800 meters and the fourth was the remaining distance. But there is no way that could be the case because then the fourth leg would only be 160 meters…which wasn’t the case. On the first leg I was too far away from the yellow buoys to count them and even if I was closer I was fighting too many swimmers as well. I tried finding people to draft off of. I would get right on their feet and just swim behind them but would quickly start passing them. It was difficult to find another swimmer who was moving at a good pace. I did finally find a good pace behind a guy I called “the kicker.” I couldn’t believe how hard he was kicking. His wetsuit was a light blue with white cuffs at the ankle which is bizarre because 99.8% of all the wetsuits in triathlons seem to be all black. I trailed him for a while and then we got caught up in a group and were separated.
I didn’t worry about sighting too much because 1500 people have to be going in the correct direction, right? Before I knew it I could see the red buoy. I was expecting it to get really crowded at the turn but surprisingly it wasn’t bad at all. On the second leg I was finally close to the yellow buoys and after passing two of them I realized that the next turn was right in front of me again.
As I started leg three I knew that this was the long portion of the swim. I could see the island towards the middle of the lake and knew we had to swim past it and then head back to shore. I just started to dig in and get into a good rhythm. At one point I tried to mentally time how long it took me to swim between the buoy which is difficult because my arms do not move at the same pace as a second hand on the watch. I counted 1 minute and 41 seconds. I knew that it was a good pace because I was around 1:30/100 yards, not too fast and still better than my goal. I felt great and then all of a sudden a swimmer came across and his hand came right across my nose. I had that small pain and smell that you get just before a bloody nose, but no blood came. I screamed under the water and then quickly told myself to have positive thoughts. I kept going and then found myself right behind “the kicker” again. The fierce kicking and white cuffs were unmistakable. It must have been 15 minutes since I had seen him last and I thought “what are the chances of that.” I eventually passed him up as I felt even stronger. In my recent training swims I have been getting stronger towards the latter part of the swim and it was no exception today. I was now even with the island and had counted about 11 buoys, so there should be only seven left to the turn. I started keeping my head down even more and not grabbing a breath every stroke. ( I never even did that during training). I reached buoy 14 or 15 and then noticed the red buoy. “Wow, I am going to be turning to shore in less than two minutes.”
I am guessing the last leg was about 400-500 meters to shore and knew I would be done in 10-15 minutes. I could see the spectators on the shore and eventually I could hear them yelling. I kept my head down and kept swimming hard…before I knew it I could see the cement underneath me. I was at the boat ramp. When I figured I was about waist high in the water, I stood up and ran for the swim exit. I glanced up at the clock and saw one hour, three minutes and change. I was completely happy with this time. I pulled off my goggles and cap and then started to take the top part of my wetsuit off. I then ran towards the wetsuit strippers and laid down on the carpet. Two people yanked my wetsuit off me and another grabbed my arm to help me up. I grabbed my wetsuit and headed towards the transition area.
On the way to the tents you run through on open area that has all the transition bags where you put all your bike gear (excluding your bike). Volunteers would have them ready as you ran through. I grabbed mine and headed towards the tent. Right before the tent they had a ton of chairs where it looked like most people were changing…at least people who didn’t really need to change. Ironman doesn’t like public nudity so if you have to remove a swim suit you must go inside the tent. I wear my triathlon shirt and shorts under my wetsuit so I just sat in one of the chairs outside. I dumped all the contents of my bag onto the ground. I quickly dried off my arms and contemplated putting on my arm warmers. I didn’t feel even the slight bit chilly so I tossed them to the side. I had a personal helper who took my wetsuit and placed it in the now empty bag. He helped me sort through my stuff as I put my socks, shoes and watch on. I grabbed my Clif shots and shoved them in my jersey and I was ready to take off. My helper told me to go and he would pack everything up for me. I ran through the tent and towards the bikes…but just as you exit the tent they have the sunblock team. One person gave me a cup of water and 4-5 others started lathering me down with sunscreen. (Note to self: Next time make sure they get the top of your hands and every bit of your back). I quickly went and grabbed my bike out of the rack, saw Emily and Lexi by the railing, waved and then took off for my second leg of Ironman.
Total Swim Time – 1:03:06 — 8:54 better than my goal
I was 197th out of the water – top 13% of swimmers
Transition 1 Time – 5:15 — 4:45 better than my goal