Friday, November 7, 2014

Triathlon Tuesday - Ironman Florida Race Report Part 2 - The Storm During the Storm

(continued from Part One: Here)

RACE DAY - Saturday 11/1/14
I woke up around 3:30 Saturday morning to the wind HOWLING outside. I took a peek outside just to make sure… Yep, those trees are bent in half from the wind. Oh, goody.

I hadn’t slept very well, but I never sleep well the night before a race so I didn’t worry about that (It’s the night before the night before a race that counts with sleep. Little sleep the night of the race? No problem.)

I refused to freak out about the wind (what could I do about it anyway?), and had my pre-race breakfast: bagel, banana with peanut butter, and a Boost drink. 

Made this post on Facebook which really did sum up how I felt:
This is it. I can't control the winds howling outside or the cold. But I can control how I will respond. And today I will choose to rise up to the challenge that is before me. And adapt as I need to. One stroke at a time. One pedal at a time. One step at a time. Until the finish. #‎IronmanFlorida2014
It was time.
Rob, Meg and my wetsuit/leather pants
I went ahead and put on my wetsuit. Usually, I wait until right before I get in the water before putting on my wetsuit in order to avoid over-heating. No possibility of that happening on this day. Slapped on the bright-as-the-sun yellow socks, throw away sandals, and my coat, and got a ride to as close as we could find parking (the Club La Vela lot, about .25 miles away from the start) around 5:15am.   Dropped off the special needs bags as we were walking in.

Cold & soon to be sad

Checked the air in my tires, got my nutrition on my bike, then stood around trying to find a way to keep warm. Finally found a building where I could go inside and wait with my friends Megan and Rob because it was that cold.  At 6:30am we headed out towards the beach with everyone else to get ready for the swim start.

You could feel the excitement as the wetsuit-clad masses made their way from the transition area down to the beach. We all knew the water would be at least 20 degrees warmer than the air temperature and we were looking forward to it. Plus, the sun was starting to peek over the horizon.

Somehow, everything seems more possible once the sun comes up.

I was trying to focus on what was ahead, and uh, drink my Red Bull (all plans –bad and good—begin with Red Bull) when the announcement came over the speakers at about 6:40am.

"Due to a dangerous rip tide and water conditions, causing the water safety team to be unable to keep themselves or the swimmers safe, the swim from Ironman Florida has been cancelled."

There were other parts to the announcement too: bike would start via time trial method at 8am, the race would still be considered an Ironman, life would go on, etc.

My reaction to the news:
 Joaquin Phoenix signs

Ya’ll, there are no words. 

Seriously, a tiny piece of me died when I heard the swim had been cancelled. And although I didn’t say anything, I immediately understood the ramifications.

No matter what, I wasn’t going to be completing a full Ironman. All my training, all my planning, all my physical and emotional focus were not going to get me to 140.6 today. Despite ten months of training, my goal became an impossibility with one sentence.

It was a huge mental setback. But I didn’t dwell on it right then, because to do so would just make me not want to do the race at all. And I had spent too much time and money to be there and not do the race at all (and believe me, there were people who made the choice, once the swim was cancelled, to just call it a day).

Rescuers needed rescuing
I finally really looked out at the water. The Ironman officials had obviously made the right call, it wasn’t even questionable. The rescue kayaks were having to rescue each other after constant tipping, or were getting blown so far off course that a jet ski was needed to pull them back.

There was no way they could’ve gotten to swimmers in distress. And as much as I hated that my race was not going to be what I had hoped, no race is worth someone’s life. This is Ironman, not Stupidman.

But just for the record: if the officials had told us that they strongly suggested we skip the swim due to the dangerous conditions, but we could swim if we really wanted to: I. Would. Have. Swum. 


Whatever. I would have done it. But we didn’t have that option. 

So we moved on, and like I mentioned, I didn’t dwell on it right then. We had nearly an hour and a half before the start, and we were freezing, so we grabbed our (now-defunct) T1 bags and headed back to the car then the house.

Only needed a few thousand more laps...
Because I use humor to deal with just about every situation, and heck since I still had on my wetsuit, I jumped into the tiny pool at our rental house and swam a few laps. If I could’ve just gotten in about 7000 more I could’ve called it the 2.4 miles.  But at least now I could say I had done a triathlon.
Got changed into my cycling clothes, used the restroom (much nicer than the porta potties!), and we headed back to the start around 7:45. 

And then we waited. 

And waited. 

It was just one of those situations. Nobody was at fault (except maybe mother nature). The Ironman staff and volunteers were working the problem as best they could. It just takes a long time to get nearly 3000 people out one small bike chute at one time rather than staggered as they come through from the swim. 

The bigger problem was, it was 40 degrees outside and we were all sitting around in bike shorts, and at most, a jersey and wind-breaker. We were freezing. 

I thought since I wasn’t swimming, I didn’t need to worry about expending calories before I got on the bike. I vastly underestimated how many calories I was using up shivering convulsively for 1.5 hours. 

So when it was my turn to head toward the bike chute around 9:15am (30-45 minutes later than I estimated I would have if the swim hadn’t been cancelled), my stomach was growling from hunger. Starving is not what you want to be as you are BEGINNING a 112-mile bike ride under pretty terrible weather conditions.

Nutrition had been something I had meticulously planned for my Ironman (see that craziness here if you dare). To be off my plan before the race really even started was a bit terrifying for me. I had a couple of emergency Gu’s in the Bento bag (not part of the nutrition I planned to use) on my bike, so I consumed those as I was taking the last steps towards the start line where I would get on my bike.  Those caught me up to being enough on my nutrition schedule that I wasn’t too far in the hole.

Finally, I was off! I had no feeling in my toes and had a kitchen sized trash bag wrapped around my torso under my jersey to keep warm (never took that sucker off the whole ride), but at least I was moving! 

Um, but not very fast.

I came closer to quitting in the first 20 miles of the bike ride than I did the entire race. Part of it was just the difficulty of going from zero to full effort with no real warm up. 

But more it was because for most of those miles I was pedaling as hard as I could, my heart rate was in the stratosphere, and when I would look at my speed I was going around 10 mph.

I’m not a fast cyclist even on my best days, but I knew there was no way I was going to finish the race if I was putting in this much effort and getting this little result.  Plus, I knew that even under the best conditions I was going to be toying with the cut off times on the bike.  Now, I had started later than I thought I would have, plus was cycling under adverse conditions.

That wind was a #$%^&@%  $*%#&.

And there was a lot of stress: 

Stress #1: Fear of releasing my death grip on the handle bars and being blown into traffic or another rider by the 22 mph constant wind with occasional “fun gusts” of up to 35mph.

Stress #2: I worried I would not make the 88-mile cut off by 3:45pm, or the full bike cut off by 5:30 (although I found out later it had been extended due to how late some people started the race).

Stress #3: I’m riding 112 miles, and then still have to run a marathon.Uhhh...

Let’s just call the bike ride what it was: not fun. 

Yeah, I smiled for the camera guys in the bushes, but that was more of an I’m-paying-to-do-this-so-I-should-try-not-to-look-miserable smile. 

There were things more difficult than expected, such as opening my ziplock baggies (containing food) with gloves on. Hadn’t practiced that one. 

And that lie about Florida being flat? Um, no. There are lots of low grade inclines in the Florida panhandle. Which wouldn’t have been a problem ‘cept for they always seemed accompanied by a headwind.

What I tried to hold on to, to get me through it all, was that the bike course was a loop. If we had such hideous headwinds going out, surely we would have tailwinds going back. 

Nope. Not headwinds going back, mind you, but not tail winds either. Really just cross winds. So although they didn’t slow progress, they didn’t provide the extra push in miles 85+ that I had been hoping for during miles 1-84.

I tried to stop as little as possible.  Two porta-potty stops were necessary (which I knew was good, meant I was staying hydrated). Stopped at Special Needs. Ate half of a ham sandwich, and drank an energy drink mixture, and changed my nutrition bottle on my bike while some teenage boy held my bag open for me to get whatever I needed. Would’ve put on more chamois cream, but was afraid I might scar that young man for life, so didn’t. Then was on my way. Stopped one last time at one of the last aid stations to stretch my back because I knew I was going to make the time cut offs.

Not all of it was bad. I got LOTS of compliments about my Rosie the Riveter bike jersey. Maybe half
a dozen people recognized me because of it and shouted out that they read my blog. 

Shouted it out as they passed me, but hey, it was nice nonetheless.

Was also playing leap-frog with this one lady for about 30 miles on the bike. She was faster than me, but would stop at more aid stations so we kept going back and forth. We would talk and encourage each other every time. Finally we ended up stopped at the same aid station at the same time. I gave her my name and she laughed. She was my online friend Anne! We had been talking to each other daily for weeks, but had never met. And now we had.

Coming in the last few miles, I tried to take stock of how my body was doing.  I didn’t have any of the girlie-parts issues I had in Ironman Augusta 70.3, thank goodness. My back and neck were hurting from my 7-hour death grip on steering. 

My knees were what hurt the most. Especially my left one. (Found out later that it was actually my IT-band going from the outside of my hip down through the outside of my knee. Even now, nearly a week later, that area is still bothering me.)  I was concerned about how it would affect the run.

Finally I made it off the bike and into transition. Some nice volunteer took my bike to rack it for me, another grabbed my T2 Run gear bag and showed me the way to the changing area.

I got in the changing area and promptly started sobbing. 

I know the poor women in the room –volunteers, other racers—were concerned. One thought I was hurt and upset because I couldn’t continue the race.  All of them were very nice as I blubbered through, changing clothes and crying at the same time.

I knew why I was crying: relief to be off the bike, knowledge that I still had over 7 hours to complete the marathon and there was NO WAY that wasn’t going to happen, the stress I had carried for 112 miles finally easing back. 

I felt much better after my little sob-fest. Ready to continue. Happy to continue. I didn’t linger long in the crying or transition (about 10 minutes), there was a marathon to be run.

Heading out of the changing room, I realized I had forgotten my Garmin watch/computer. I ran back thinking it was in my Run gear bag, but then remembered it was still on my bike. A super nice volunteer sprinted out to my bike rack, got the Garmin, and brought it back to me. I hugged her and was off. 

Actual real smiles
There’s not so much to say about the run. It was great. Flat. Well-supported. Lots of cheering all the way through the 2-loop course. And by then the wind had either died down or we were sheltered from it, but I never felt it.

And running is what I do. 

My legs, my brain, my whole body: “Oh, you want us to run? That’s no problem.” Whereas on the bike I had to focus every second, now I could just let my body do what it knew how to do. Muscle memory.

I was very happy with my run splits. Although they weren’t fast (around 12 min/mile), they were consistent for all 26 miles (at mile 13 I stopped to get my Run Special Needs bag – changed socks, changed arm warmers [um, that were also socks with the toes cut out of them], drank an energy drink mixture, took massive amounts of Ibuprofen). 

Another huge factor in making the run so great for me was having my family there. My husband and oldest daughter and my grandparents. I got to see them four times as I ran and they cheered me on like I was some sort of hero. Made all the difference.

And I met up with my friend Anne again. We ran a few miles together until we got separated stopping to talk to family.

It all went pretty quickly. I never hit the wall (um, that’s because of how many times I’d already hit it on the bike), never felt like I needed to stop. My knees hurt, but nothing unbearable. 

As for nutrition I was using First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot, plus anything at the aid stations that seemed good at the time (chips, grapes, pretzels, coke, orange slices, warm chicken broth).  As the night wore on my choices became more questionable…a grape chased by chicken broth… but hey, whatever works.

And before I knew it, I was on the last couple of miles. I could hear the announcer proclaiming athletes as Ironmans and I knew it would be my turn soon. Invigorating.

And then I was done. I ran down the finishers chute. They called my name: Janie Crouch you are an Ironman.

At that point, after all we’d been through in that crazy wind on the bike, the lack of a swim was not even part of my thought process. The race hadn’t been what I’d been expecting, but it was the one I’d been given, and I’d finished it. 

I was an Ironman. 

(Read my final thoughts and wrap-up here)

PS - My overall stats, for what they're worth. It does help to know that I would've made it in under 17 hours, even with the swim.


  1. I am amazed and in awe of what you accomplished, Janie. It sounded perfectly horrible. LOL I loved the part where you were leapfroging with the other biker and found out it was your online friend, Anne. Well done. :-)

    1. Thanks Tracey! Can't wait to hear about your race. :D

  2. Awesome account of your race! Your grape chased by chicken broth made me giggle. hehe. :) Congrats!!!

    1. Thanks! It tasted wonderful at the time, although now the thought makes me a little queasy. :)