My third attempt at Ironman, and I find myself back in Panama City Beach. Ironman Florida is a close-to-ideal race for me, for several reasons. First, it takes place the first week of November, so the bulk of the heavy training is accomplished during the more benign months of September and October. Second, the timing doesn’t interfere with the majority of local races, thus allowing participants to enjoy a full season and not have to put all their race eggs in one basket. Third, it’s a great place to bring the family and treat them to a well-earned week on the beach, post-race. Fourth, because November is the low season in Panama City Beach, lodging and restaurants are abundant and reasonably priced. Fifth, the straight, flat run and bike courses suit my strengths and allow me to hide some of my more prominent weaknesses.
Because I had done a lot of base training and successful long-distance racing early in the year (a marathon, a couple of half marathons, two long adventure races, and a half ironman), I knew this could potentially be the Ironman that I could try to “race,” something I had wanted to do at least once in my life. In my previous two Ironmans, the goal was to enjoy and finish. Why I wanted to race one is a decision I still question, as it seems like a perfect recipe for how to make a fun day pretty un-fun. Oh well. Although I followed the same schedule as the last two Ironman ventures, this time I actually followed the mid-week structure and did the track sessions, bike intervals, and swim drills. With a solid base and more specific training, I really didn’t know what the results would be, but I was confident I could best my 11:37 PR and possibly break 11 hours. To make matters more fun, local tri studs Barry Ogden and Jason Phillips would be joining me in Florida (as would Tim O’Donnell). For Barry, this would be Ironman No. 8, and his times just keep getting faster and faster each race. Although this would be Jason’s first foray at this distance, he’s got youth and unlimited talent on his side, as evidenced by his second place finish (only behind Chris Legh) at an August Olympic-distance race. The trash talking and wagering began early and only intensified as race day approached. Many predicted that the three of us could and would finish the race within 30 or 60 minutes of each other. Dave dubbed it the Battle on the Beach. It would be an interesting race to see whether an uber-biker (Barry) could hold off a super-swimmer/biker (Jason) and a pretty good swimmer/runner (me).
We arrived on Wednesday night and settled into our beautiful, three-bedroom condo overlooking the beach from the fifth floor. On Thursday, Jason, Barry, and I went for a practice swim on the course. The water was cool, calm, and very clear (visibility was at least 20 feet). At one point, Jason and I stretched out the limbs and inadvertently left Barry in our wakes. Later, Barry swore he was going race pace and was concerned we might put some serious time on him in the swim on race day. As I explained to him, that was indeed the plan. We grabbed some lunch, registered, purchased some merchandise, watched the pro press conference, and retrieved our bikes. That night, we went to the pre-race dinner and athlete meeting. Friday, we spent some time at the beach, and I prepared my bike and the countless transition and special needs bags. Scott and Dave arrived that night to witness (and leave their own unique mark on) the race. We went to a nice group dinner on Sharky’s outdoor beach deck.
Barry and I were meticulous in the pasta we ordered and made sure we were consuming the right amount of carbs to go with the Gatorade we were sipping. P