Finally! Race morning! When I woke up on Saturday, around 3:45, I immediately noticed the very ominous howling noise. It sounded like a freight train was going by outside. I grabbed my phone and looked at the weather. Uh oh. I had a bad feeling when I saw that there were rip current warnings. But I put it out of my mind and continued my morning prep. Hugo and I got dressed and drove over to the Walmart parking lot to take a shuttle to our special needs bags drop off. It was COLD. I was not prepared for this weather at all. Leading up to the race I bought arm warmers for the bike and had packed gloves with fingers for the bike as well. I brought multiple running shirt options as well. I was feeling prepared to race in cold weather. I was not prepared, however, to walk around in it. I had flip flops on (of course) and my Space Coast marathon pullover was all that was keeping me warm. Once we made it to Pete’s condo, after pumping up our bike tires, we had a nice breakfast and Hugo, Maria and I headed to swim start while Kari stayed warm in the condo a little longer.
We got down with about 30 minutes until race start. It was COLD. The wind was howling at around 25mph. Wind chill was in the 30s. I was in a bathing suit and wetsuit. After realizing that water in the 70s would be warmer than air in the 30-40s, I got in for a quick warm up swim to check my goggles. Everything looked good after a minute out and back. Back up onto the beach. The water was a little rough but nothing unmanageable.
“Athletes, we have an important announcement to make”
Silence washed cross the beach or it was in my head. Not going to lie, my heart started pounding immediately when I heard that. I knew exactly what was coming next. Swim cancelled. Ironman Florida would be switched to a bike-run with a time trial start. More information to come. I stood there for a few minutes just a bit confused and quite a bit upset. I had worked my ass off for this race for a year. I had even focused on swimming. Swimming was my weakest sport but I had gone from someone who was happy just to be out of the water to confident and comfortable swimming. I wasn’t going to break any records but I knew I had a 1:20 – 1:30 time in me. An entire year and hundreds of hours and thousands of miles training for a race were entirely wasted.
I’m really happy I had so many friends with me. If I had been at this race alone (never do a race like this alone, btw, for many reasons) I might have done something really stupid like walk away. 259 people DNFed the race and most of them did not even start. We walked off the beach and were soon told the race would begin at 8am and to collect our bike bags so we could change. I was still angry but at this point my feeling was that I had put a lot of work into this and I knew with the insane winds that the bike would be hella tough. So maybe I wouldn’t be an Ironman but giving up because I was unhappy was both not an option and I realized entirely stupid to even consider.
As an aside, my anger was never directed at the WTC. They had the safety of the athletes and their crews to balance against the conditions of the race. The swim on the surface looked safe. The invisible currents were flipping kayaks and swept Hugo 50 yards down the shore. The WTC had a responsibility to the athletes. There is no doubt that the swim is the most dangerous part of triathlon. They managed a bad situation as best as they could.
From 6:45 until 9:30, I had the pleasure of simply standing around in the cold wind and waiting for my turn to start. This really threw off my race. I was prepared for a triathlon. When I hit the bike I should be in a certain phase of my nutrition. I had a plan for that. I did not have a plan for what to do after shivering for 2 1/2 hours. The racers around me and I mostly moaned about the unfairness of life and basically threw ourselves a pity party. They were also first timers like me so we all knew the feeling we were having. Eventually though, there was no more waiting. My rack was called and I made my way to the bike exit of transition.
Things changed as I moved into the chute. I was still unhappy but I had to focus. There was still 138.2 miles of racing ahead of me and the conditions were anything but favorable. The original plan I had for the bike was to come out easy and work my way into my pace. I was so amped up from sitting there and being pissed off about the swim that I hammered down the road just to get going. We had a strong crosswind at first that would quickly transition into a headwind. For 20 miles we road into the wind. I was started on what would be the most difficult bike ride I have ever done. 25 mph winds that were gusting to 35+ felt like climbing a mountain.
I don’t need many stops during a race or ride, generally, as I carry everything I need with me. Something unusual happened around mile 15 though. I had to pee. This NEVER happens. Of course its usually hotter and I’m sweating buckets. I couldn’t change my fluid intake so I had to get rid of it some how. The mile 20 aid station had a line at the portapotty so I kept going until I found a restroom with no line. Trees really do work just as well I found!
As I came around the 21 or 22 mile mark, I finally got my first break of the day as we turned with the wind behind us. This would last most of the next 20 – 30 miles (though not all of it). Finally I was MOVING. When you have 25 mph winds behind you, cycling feels easy! My max speed was over 27mph and I had a 5 mile split of under 13 minutes. This was legitimately fun. I felt good and I was moving fast.
The whole time I was still fighting back the voices screaming that I wasn’t doing an Ironman. This literally happened the whole bike ride. At one point I came up with a plan to do my own Ironman race involving a pool and Flatwoods (7 mile loop) in a couple weeks. I’d just take the race easy and then on the day before Thanksgiving I’d do it again! Everyone else would think its a great idea and we’d have a ball. At least once I came up with that (really stupid) plan, I was able to get my mind fully into the race and just enjoy it.
Around mile 50 we hit the patch known for its horrific pavement. And it lived up to its billing. The road was a teeth rattling ride and there were bottles and gear strewn everywhere. It was tempting to stop and collect it. Profit! Fortunatey my gear all stayed put. This is also where I collected my special needs bag. I had good luck cookies from Melanie, skittles, and replacement water bottles. The cookies were perfect. The skittles were impossible to eat and ride so not the best idea. I didn’t choke so that’s good!
The next 30 miles though were right back into the wind. This is when rides get hard in general. But when you’re doing mile 55 – 85 into a 25 mph headwind, life sucks. I didn’t want to burn myself out on the bike but I did have goals I wanted to hit, wind be damned.
Finally, I made that turn home and got the wind at my back again. I was tired now so there was no chance I was hitting 25+ mph for any long stretches but I was able to keep it between 18 – 22 mph most of the way back. Once I hit that final 6 mile stretch down the main drag of PCB, I just kicked it into gear and cruised on home.
My goal for the race had been 6:15 on the bike which would have been around an 18mph average. With the wind blowing the way it was there was no way I could do that. I’m simply not strong enough of a rider to ignore that much wind. Not with a marathon to follow the ride. So I finished in 6:37 instead which, all things considered, I’m very proud of. By the time I got off the bike I was no longer angry at mother nature and really, despite the horrible wind and cold, can truly say I enjoyed almost every moment of the ride.
I’d been dreading and anticipating this run for a while. I’ve become a decent, not great, but decent runner the past couple years. I actually took training time away from the run to better balance my bike. Now it was time to see if I could put it all together, back to back. I had a plan going into the run and I was not going to deviate. Walk 0.5 miles out of transition and then start running. Re-evaluate at the 1 mile mark. Repeat if necessary. Walking out of transition was HARD. Everyone was cheering. The crowd energy was amazing. I wanted to run. But I had a plan and stuck to it.
Once I started running though I realized I wasn’t going to stop. Just felt good enough to go on. Every aid station I intended to walk through and I did do that. I was also suffering a caffeine headache (I knew I should have had coffee) and crushed some GUs since they had caffeine in them. Finally I got in a rythm and maintained a comfortable pace around 10:30/mile. This is when I finally started to feel good about the race. I’m a pretty chatty runner so I talked with plenty of other people on the course. Noone else was trying to diminish the race we were participating in. I realized I shouldn’t either.
It all came to a head when I ran into Andrea around mile 17 and she said that this, her 3rd IM, might be the hardest. The bike was just that difficult with the wind. So I embraced the race fully and stopped letting the doubt of the meaning of what I was doing get to me. During the run I was very worried about Hugo. He started very late due to his bib number and when I left, cut off times were unchanged. I was relieved when I finally saw him on the run course. The great thing is I saw lots of people. I got to run with Andrea for about 2 miles. I saw Jon as I came out of a john. I spotted Hugo 3 times and Kari once. Then there was the cheering section Kari brought with her that was cheering us all on. They were dressed absolutely ridiculously so it was great.
Around mile 19 is when it finally got hard. I was having a blast up until then and maintaining a sub-11 minute pace (yeah, still slow…) but my goal had been a sub-5 hour marathon. I felt comfortable I would hit that easily. And then at mile 19 I knew it wasn’t happening. I wanted to keep running but my legs were rebelling. So it was time to switch to plan B. Run 0.5 miles and then walk 0.1 miles. I kept this up, more or less, until the end of the race.
Running down the final 1/2 mile was exhilerating. The crowds were huge. I got a million high fives as I went down the finishing chute. I made sure to give myself some space so I’d have the moment to myself. Then there was the announcement from Dave Ragsdale that was a bit better than the one I’d heard at 6:45, “David Tucker, you are an ironman!”
The feeling was amazing getting across that line. Lots of people have taken up endurance sports like running or triathlon to get healthy and you always hear stories about how people feel after their accomplishment whether its a 5k, marathon or an Ironman. I had yet to have that feeling. I’ve done race distances from 5k all the way through 70.3 and while I felt proud of those achievements, I never felt like I had climbed that mountain that so many people climb to reach their goals. There was never a doubt for any other race I’d done that I could finish it.
Coming into IMFL I had a lot of doubts. I knew I had prepared 140.6 is a lot of miles and its daunting. 138.2 is still pretty daunting. We had a challenging race that in some ways was more mentally challenging than anything I’d have expected. In the end, my training paid off and even with less than favorable conditions, I did 12:05 between the bike & run. If I had done even a mediocre swim I’d have easily come in around 13:30 – 13:45 for the full event. WIth no wind, I’d estimate 20 minutes faster on the bike.
The whole experience was amazing. I will always wonder about the swim and what might have been that day but we’ll never know. I do know I raced as hard as I could and had an amazing time. This isn’t the last for me though. It might be 3 years. It might be 6 years. But I have unfinished business with Ironman and there will be another one completed in the future.