Before I start with this report, I have a couple things to note. This was my 3rd time doing Ironman Florida. There’s definitely an advantage to knowing what the course is going to bring. This was also Ironman #10. In the weeks leading up to this race, I’ve been considering taking a break from the Ironman distance. No matter how many of these events you do, they never seem to get any easier.
It really didn’t get light out until about 15 minutes before the race, the sun started coming up. It was a brisk 52 degrees and while I wasn’t worried about the temperature in the water, I was very concerned with the temperatures and predicted wind for the bike portion. Earlier than usual, I parted from the best training partner in the world and went to line up to get in the water. I needed alone time to focus and I wanted a contact-free swim start.
No, you can’t see me in this photo, but I’m probably as far away as you can get from this shot. Yes. It was by design.
The anxiety is worst in the last 10 minutes before the cannon fires. But once it goes off, it’s all about doing what you’ve been training for and the nerves disappear. It was a very gentle start and the water was fairly calm. The announcer said there was a current, but I didn’t notice much. About 200-300 yards in, the water jumped about 10 degrees. It felt absolutely wonderful but I was confused. Shouldn’t the water be warmer in the shallow part? Whatever, it felt good on my face and hands. I made the first turn and was disgusted by the number of athletes cutting the course. This was way worse than in 2009 or 2007 when I only noticed it on the second loop. Dear North American Sports – PLEASE do something about this! There has to be a way to make these swimmers STOP CUTTING the last buoy!
The buoys are supposed to be on your LEFT throughout the swim. Where the hell are all these people going? Make the second turn and I see the coolest looking jellyfish! Well, it was just like the pictures you see – it was awesome. It was deep enough that I didn’t worry too much and I was excited as this was only my second jellyfish sighting in my life. Then I looked up and they were EVERYWHERE! I had to dodge a few, but most were deep enough that they weren’t an issue. I tried not to think about them too much. I was too busy wishing the guy drafting off me would quit hitting my feet. I kicked hard a few times, just to let him know he was agitating me, but he hit me regularly. As it got shallow, the water got cold again. We get to the end of the first loop and I hear him laugh behind me. As I got up to start running across the timing mat, I turned to him and told him it was his turn to take the lead. He stopped laughing. Heard some cheers for me and wondered how the hell people recognized me with a wetsuit, cap and goggles on!
Second loop was uneventful – more jellyfish, same temperature change, same thing with athletes cutting the last buoy (come on guys, you know you have to go to the RED buoy before you make the turn!!), but no drafter on this loop. Yay. As I get to the end, I hear more cheers and try to muster a smile as I ran across the mat. I ran under the showers, splashed some fresh water on my face and ran to T1. The calves DO NOT LIKE running in sand, but thankfully, that pulling sensation went away as soon as I hit solid ground.
I found my bag before the volunteers (I do go over this the day before as you never know if a volunteer will even be there or not) and it felt like an eternity before I hit the changing area. I sat down and had about 4 volunteers helping me. It wasn’t until after I pulled on a jersey and started putting armwarmers on that I realized one of those volunteers was Barbara Shoemaker! I said Hi to her, but she didn’t respond. Weird. They helped me put the armwarmers and gloves on. I had toe covers with handwarmers tucked underneath on my shoes – did I mention I don’t like to be cold? I put on the helmet, grabbed my sunglasses and though the transition was a little slow, I was now prepared for the chilly conditions.
The volunteers hindered me more than helped me get by bike, I was positioned right near the bike exit and by the time I got there, there were not 1, not2, but THREE volunteers standing IN THE AISLE where my bike was. I yelled “excuse me!” and went to grab my bike. I sorta had to push through them. As I got my bike off the rack, there was another volunteer directly across from me, with a bike pulled off the rack blocking the aisle asking, “whose bike is this?” I had to yell again, “excuse me!” to get him to move so I could get out. UGH. I got out on the course and the frustration left.
Wow. Ccccccooooooolllllldddd! I was so happy I put on the extra shirt, gloves and armwarmers. I was very chilly. Now I hear a noise. It was in rhythym with my pedaling, I slowed, the noise slowed. I went faster, so did the noise. What the??? Damn…the sticker I used to cover the hole in my disc was flapping. Crap. OK, it’s just gonna fall off sooner or later. But ridiculously annoying in the meantime! I rode conservatively and comfortably. It was windy. Really windy. A couple times, the gusts would move me and my bike, but I am still happy with my decision to use the disc. At some point, I saw Dan and Kurt and they rode in a car alongside me for a few minutes. HUGE pick me up, thanks guys!
The first out and back section was rough – the road was really bumpy. I searched for a smooth path only to come up empty. Just after the turnaround was special needs. I didn’t have anything there, so I kept riding. Then I felt something hit my leg and as I looked down, I saw the shadow of all my flat tire fixing equipment falling off my bike. Uh oh. Should I stop to pick it up? Um….I could, but…no. Forget it. Hope I don’t flat! I wondered how that fell off for about 5 minutes then forgot about it. Mike Boyle came up, we chatted for a few seconds, and off he went. That was a nice distraction.
Mile 80. I feel good. Mile 90. I want this to be over. The speed was nice on the way back in. It felt good, but I still had to push. The way out was rough and I know this ride is considerably slower than the last time I rode here. I stayed true to my plan and backed off my ride a little in hopes that it left me a stronger run.
The last stretch in was RIDICULOUSLY slow! It was a straight-on headwind and the only thing that kept me sane was that I knew we were almost done with the bike. It felt like we were crawling. Then in the last mile or so, there was a bunch of sand across the road that was blowing into our faces and I held my breath and closed my eyes as the gusts blew sand everywhere. You had to see it to believe it.
I handed my bike off, easily found my run bag and ran into transition. I had 2 volunteers help me there – and they were very nice – and convinced me to take off my armwarmers. I considered taking off the bike jersey, but opted to keep it on. I also kept the gloves. I wasn’t frozen, but I was far from warm. I changed shoes, put my Gu in my jersey pockets and off I went. I felt slow, but good. Saw lots of Team Tri Smart members and smiled. It’s always great to see familiar faces along the course. As I hit the first mile and saw my split, I was like, “I need to slow down!” I did slow down for the next few miles and hit cruising pace. I still had my gloves on and felt comfortable. I hit the first round of Inspiration Station and someone put an awesome message in there. “M. Slikas: DO IT AGAIN” Wow. I still don’t know who did that – so if it was you, please let me know! I LOVED it!! I smiled and held the pace.
On the way back toward transition/finish, I saw Team Spectate again. They were just awesome and their cheers are priceless.
The first loop was effortless. But I saw a few women pass me whom I believed to be in my age group. In my head, I was frustrated. I am out of the running. I’m in 5th place with 13 more miles to go. It got hard. I fought with myself. I smiled for the cameras, but I was hurting. My hamstrings hurt. My quads ached. I started walking aid stations. I got to the second round of Inspiration Station and the message read, “M. Slikas: HERE YOU ARE” WHO IS WRITING THESE???? They were absolutely perfect and it was the push I needed. My time was slowing, but I knew if I kept running, my time would still be respectable. I kept wanting to see more of my spectator friends. Oh, friends, you don’t know how much I needed to hear your cheers!! I was in a bad place and was struggling to keep the wheels from falling off. With 2 miles to go, I heard someone yell my number and then another number…of another woman IN MY AGE GROUP! Oh hell no, NO ONE ELSE IS PASSING ME! I kicked it in. It was very painful. It was then that the calves started screaming, threatening to seize like they had in the week before IMWI. No, no, no, no…just finish. I dug deep. I saw Team Spectate and Jeff Shoemaker took what I thought was the best photo of the day.
The sun was setting. I was struggling. I needed the cheers. I was pushing. Leaving it all out there. I need to be done. I passed 3 guys in the last mile and got frustrated at the volunteer who yelled at me that I needed to go out to the second loop. He yelled at me several times that I needed to make the turn. Dude, I know where I am, leave me alone! It hurts!!! Hurry! I. NEED. TO. BE. DONE. NOW. And then…I hear, “MJ Sli..#)($#@^)& from Oakland, er, Orland Park, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!”
I sat dejected and unable to move in the finisher area. Snips was a Godsend as she waited on me and lots of other finishers. I figured I finished in 6th place in my AG and was very upset with my run. It was not where I wanted it to be. After sitting in the finisher area for over an hour, it wasn’t until I got home to the condo to look at the computer and see the results. MJ Slikas – 3rd. WHAT??! That means those women that passed me were on their FIRST LOOP of the run! DAMN myself for letting that get in my head. This sport is definitely mental.
I now have a date in Kona in October 2012. I guess I’m not taking a break from the Ironman distance just yet….