Some people have been asking my why I would want to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles then finish the day off with a marathon. An Ironman isn’t to be underestimated, but have a look around the Internet and you’ll soon see how popular these events are becoming. When i first started getting interested in triathlon i would watch the Ironman World Championship footage from Kona on youtube. Seeing the how epic the whole day looked with the turquoise waters, lava fields and the athletes pushing themselves to their limits just to finish looked so appealing, i had to give this distance a go.
Ironman Florida – 4th November, 2017
My alarm was set for 4am, but with keeping H as close to UK time as possible this wasn’t required. We were up just before 4 for milk and Trolls (not a bad movie actually). I was able to get some breakfast down; Porridge and bagel. This was done while sitting on the balcony of our condo watching athletes walking to transition. I was focused on the fluttering stars and stripes flag across the street, making sure the wind was down to help calm seas for the swim. After pacing the apartment for a while I headed down to transition, thankfully only 500m away from where we were staying. It was still dark at this stage and all you can hear were generators working away to keep the floodlights on. I get to my bike, fill up the water bottles with Gatorade, and get the tyre pressure set to where I want. I then find a quiet spot to gather my thoughts’ and try and stretch off the tightness in my legs that I was putting down to nerves.
I get myself into my wetsuit and make my way down to the beach. Its still really dark and all you can see are the silhouettes for hundred’s of athletes in their wetsuits all a bit surreal. I get into the ocean and allow myself five minutes to get used to the lack of light and the feel of the sea before I start to warm up with some short easy efforts of swimming. Ever tried swimming with your eyes closed? This was very strange and i inevitably bumped into others trying to do the same. Not much was said other than a nervous ‘sorry’ and a laugh. The sun eventually began to rise and my warm up could continue. I was actually feeling pretty good and my swim stroke was feeling really comfortable.
By now nearly 3000 athletes are on the beach, family, friends and fans are also in abundance, all lined up on the sand. I knew Julie was going to try and get down to the beach so I was looking around for her but with everyone moving around it was hard. Then as is tradition in American sports a singer starts the star spangeled banner. Everyone stops, places their hand on their heart and a silence fall over the beach. Its at this point I see Julie an H. I must admit there was something very special about seeing a national anthem played out like this. Certainly something that I couldn’t see repeated if it was to happen in the UK. A quick hug and good luck from the family and I head to get to my swim start spot. Its always great to have them down at the start of races, it really settles the nerves.
Harrison waving the swim start away
6:45am swim start
I estimated that I would finish around 1hr 15mins for the 2.4miles/3.8Km swim. The swim start was rolling based upon you estimated time. I entered the water with the 1:10 – 1:20 group. There is a swim cut off of 2:20 for the swim and this can unnerve the slower age group swimmers. Almost immediately after starting the swim I begin to pass slower swimmers who shouldn’t have been in this start group. It can be frustrating that folk have overestimated their swim time, but I do sympathize, as the swim is the most daunting leg of triathlon for the vast majority.
My swim was going well, I deliberately started slowly and was gradually building pace, feeling really comfortable and sighting the buoys with ease (this is something I’ve worked hard on after my terrible swim in Chattanooga). First lap was done in 36 mins and change. I couldn’t believe it, a fantastic pace for me and I still felt really fresh. We had to exit the sea and run 50-70 meters along the beach before re-entering for lap 2. There was a bit of a hold up getting back into lap 2 as the sea entry funnel narrowed. I get lap 2 underway and quickly get back into my rhythm. I could feel the sea becoming slightly choppier and the sun was now fully up. But it was still relatively benign. At the turn buoy markers I decide to up my pace slightly to try and pick up some time, this results I having to swim through several packs of swimmers. The consequence of this is that I needed to weave in and out of the packs, increasing my over all distance swam. I exit the water in 1:16, which is pretty much bang on where I though I would be. But I swam an extra 250m, so I could’ve been a good 4 minutes quicker if I’d swam in a straight line. Overall I was delighted with my swim, I was in control throughout and still felt fresh as I made my way to transition to get ready for the bike leg.
I got through transition OK, was able to get the majority of the sand off before I started getting the shoes, top and helmet on. I get out on the bike course with a set plan, both for nutrition and for pacing.
Beginning the 112 mile bike leg
Nutrition wise I knew that hydration was going to be key for the rest of the day, starting the bike it was 22degC and rising fast. In the first 90 mins I was able to get some solid food in, a couple for cliff bars got me through. I started with a liter of Gatorade in my hydration unit. Then the plan was to pick up a bottle (1L) at each of the stations, which came every 10 miles, on top of this i was consuming a gel every 30 mins.
Warning – its about to get a bit geeky.
For my effort on the bike I train using power outputs. This measures how much effort I’m pushing through the pedals, this is is tracked in watts. Every 8 weeks or so I complete an FTP test (functional threshold power) this is pretty much establishing what my maximum output for 1 hour would be. From this number my coach establishes training zones for training and in addition what numbers i should be aiming for during a race.
The first two hours of the bike leg was taken very easy, working at around 50% of my FTP. I knew that i could go under 5:30, but doing it efficiently was the key to be sure i hadn’t fatigued too much before the marathon. Once past the 2 hour mark i began to push a slightly harder. The conditions were getting tougher the temperature reaching 32degC and the wind was picking up coming off the ocean, but i still felt comfortable.
Getting back to transition in 5:19 gave me an average speed of 33.8 kmph, I was really pleased with this. The bike leg was executed as per the pre race plan.
In full flow, great road along the gulf coast
Getting off the bike the heat hit me immediately, the transition area was indoors. I get my socks, trainers, sunglasses and cap on and set off on the run. To my relief/surprise i immediately felt good on the run. None of the jelly legs or numbness you sometimes getting when starting the run on a triathlon. I quickly settled into a rhythm, going slightly quicker than planned, but i felt fine so wasn’t overly concerned.
The run course was two half marathon loops, stretching out through the local beach neighbourhood towards St. Andrews State Park where the turn around was. Aid stations were set up every mile on the course, my plan was always to take on water and gatorade on the first lap, then move onto water and coke on the second lap. Coke is a lifesaver on long runs, instant sugar boost.
The atmosphere on the run was fantastic. The first couple kilometres the route was lined with various tri clubs and organisations, all having gazebos and camper vans at the road side. They were all set up for the day with their beer coolers and fancy dress ready to go. Think i must of passed every Marvel super hero in that section. The majority of the run was through the residential neighbourhoods. The atmosphere really picked up here. Every house had there deck chairs and BBQ set up on their lawns, music was playing and the usual american enthusiasm was in full flow, one house even had a full rock band playing on its front porch the whole day. It was great, something again i could never see repeated here in the UK.
At around the 8Km mark i began to feel quite a bit of discomfort in my left foot, i quickly realised that blisters were forming. I looked down and my left shoe was ‘dirty’, thought this was strange as i couldn’t remember running through a puddle or dirt. After a few more km’s the ‘dirt’ was now a scarlet red. Oh Oh, we could be in some trouble here.
So its wasn’t dirt
I got through the first 10K in just under an hour, which was the plan, but i was slowing down fast. By the end of the first lap i was in quite a bit of pain from blisters and could even feel the swish of the fluid on the sole of my foot as i ran/shuffled. It was now all about getting to the end. My target pace times quickly disappeared, from thinking i could break 4 hours after 5K to Maybe 4:15, 4:30 or 4:45. With about 5km to go i realised that i need to pick up my pace if i was going to come in under the 5 hour mark. I was able to do this and come in with an official time of 4:59.59. More due to luck that accurate pacing from myself.
Must be early on, no blood.
As i approached the finish shoot i could hear the announcer “blah blah blah YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. I had never given much attention to the almost right of passage statement that surrounds these events, but as i got closer i did think it would be pretty cool to hear my name over the loud speakers. Of course when i got there the announcer didn’t say it. Not to worry i still did it, coming in at 11hr 52mins. Pretty please with my effort for my first attempt at this distance
Crossing the line….
The finish chute was great even though i was blinded as the spotlights etc are shining in your face the whole way down. Everyone who has finished one has said the atmosphere was special there and they were right. The key that made it special for me though was that the rest of Team Brems were waiting at the start of the chute for me. It was past Harrison’s bedtime as we had been keeping him as close to UK time as possible. But he was down with his pyjamas all hyper with everything that goes on ringing his wee ironman cow bell to all the athletes.
Teams Brems waiting at the finish
To get to this finish line as taken months of commitment; the early mornings in the pool, running in darkness, long cycles through the rain. Its not just a solo effort though, to have the time and effort required to trans and recover in order to get to an Ironman finish chute requires the whole family to be committed to the process. I am extremely fortunate that Julie is understanding to what i do now, and none of what i’ve been able to do this year in Mallorca, Edinburgh, Chattanooga and now Florida would be possible without her support.
It may have something to do that we get to go to cool places to race though 🙂