It was a beautiful morning in Panama City Beach thankfully. It was not very windy at all, and the sea looked very calm with few waves.
Transition was a zoo. There were 2258 athletes that started the race. It's just too much. Some pics of me setting up my bike in transition:
My bike on the rack:
Some pics of my transition area and the incredible number of bags there are due to 2000+ athletes:
Here's Dan getting ready at his rack:
And here's me psyching myself up for the swim:
After Dan gets his stuff ready, we put on our wetsuits and head down the beach. Unfortunately, we're pretty late down there and don't get to warm up since the pros leave 15 min before us and we're not allowed in the water after the pros leave.
Both Dan and I look around the beach at the race participants. The whole start corral is filled to the brim with people! We look at each other and worry about the swim as it's going to be a serious crowded free for all.
(By the way, this is the first race where my facts may be a little altered as I tell them. I was so focused on racing that I didn't concentrate on remembering every funny detail and also the order in which they happened may not be how they happened. Sorry about that!)
The start cannon goes off and we leap into the water. It's a total madhouse. Everybody is jammed together and trying to stroke. The only good thing about this is that this creates such a huge drafting current so I don't even need to stroke very much; I just stroke easy and let myself be carried along with everyone else!
I usually like to get into the middle of the pack and the swinging arms and legs don't frighten me. I like to latch onto as many people as possible to draft off of since I'm such a slow swimmer. But this is the first time I was worried about my health. Many times people tried to swim up my rear; can't they even tell that they are swimming on top of somebody else? Duh! I also got hit in the BACK of my head a few times; how is that possible? I think on the return stroke of their arms, their hand is whacking me on the back of my head. So many messy swimmers. They shouldn't be swiping their arms so wide; they should be more compact in their strokes so they DON'T annoy yours truly by whacking me on the back of my head! A few times, some people were actually stroking their arms UNDER my body. I have yet to figure out how they can swim the freestyle and get their strokes under my body which is laying somewhat next to them. The biggest danger is staying away from idiots who breast stroke. Geez. they are kicking their legs so wide that they are hitting everybody next to them. If I were them, I would breast stroke with their arms, but flutter kick so as not to annoy other people.
Generally, I think I have found that most people are pretty messy swimmers. There were 1000 first time Ironman racers at IM FL. That's too high a chance that we'll find first time messy swimmers out there.
The swim course is a 2 loop course. We swim out to the turnaround buoy, go left to another turnaround buoy, and then swim back. We (I hate this) run out of the water onto the beach and then leap back into the water for the second loop. I hate this because I always lose time getting out of the water and running on the beach, and then getting back into the water. I prefer one loop swims instead.
So the tremendous number of racers sweeps me out to the first turnaround buoy in record time. We turn left and then I lose my group. I swim by myself to the next buoy and then I still can't find anyone to draft off of for a while. In fact, I seem to keep angling to one side. I think there is a current out there. But off in the distance I see a whole mass of messily swiping arms. I swim off to them and now I'm back in a group to draft off of.
I hit the beach, tire my legs running out of the water, run around this thing, and then run back into the water. This time, we head for the third buoy directly and skip the first two to save some time. We manage to get around the buoys and we race for the beach.
I get out of the water and run up to an area where volunteers whip my wetsuit off me. It's the best thing. Getting out of a wetsuit can be hard, but having someone just whip it off you is much faster and easier. We run up to T1 and I get my swim to bike bag. I put on my bike stuff, and decide to try DeSoto arm coolers. They are like bike arm warmers, but supposedly they keep my arms cool instead of warm. Hmm we'll see if they work. I first run to the bathroom, and then run to my bike and jog it to the bike out.
As I mount my bike and start pedaling, there are some idiots still jogging their bikes. We yell at them to get moving and finally they move to the side and let us pass.
The next 6 hours or so were a blur. Some highlights:
Getting out to the course, the flat terrain makes high speed very easy. But also I've got my disc which was simply amazing. I did not experience the sail effect as the wind wasn't hitting me from the side, but it definitely seemed to make maintaining high speed much easier on the legs.
With 2258 racers, it was almost impossible not to get some drafting benefit. I would latch onto these huge packs of cyclists and pray that I would not get a penalty. I was surprised that when officials came by that they did not just pull the whole group over. I usually hung on the back and tried to maintain as much distance as possible. As far as drafting is concerned, hanging only 7 meters back doesn't remove nearly enough drafting benefit at all. Some tests have shown that 50 meters back you still get drafting benefit. So I would latch onto a big group that was going about 20-21 MPH and just hang out. Pedaling with the group plus my disc made pedaling seem so easy. At times, I would find myself alone, especially going up the little hills that were there and on the back side I would race to get back into another group.
The hills of IM FL were very short and gradual. There were some longer, gradual inclines which were annoying but they soon ended at flats or gradual downhills. There were times I was pedaling at only 14-16 MPH which really stunk as I started getting depressed about my bike split. But as in any Ironman, you just have to pedal at your fitness level versus the terrain. It's all you can do; to do more means a higher probability of flaming out later. Contrast this to IM WA where there were NO HILLS at all; there I felt like I was pedaling hard the whole way as there were no downhills at all for breaks! Here, there were many hills to coast down and let your legs get some nice rest.
There was only one "big hill" on the course. It was a bridge that you went over near the beginning and also near the end, that entered/exitted Panama City. Not much of a climb at all and a nice 30 MPH downhill on the backside.
I wore DeSoto arm coolers. Most of the time you wear these arm warmers on your arms to keep the chill down. But it wasn't really all that cold out there so I just put these on. They are thinner than normal arm warmers and made of some moisture wicking fabric. I am not sure if they kept me cooler though; the sun beating down on my arms felt warm and I think they may have been cooler with the wind blowing over bare skin than my arm coolers. They weren't uncomfortably warm so I kept them on.
Mostly the roads were excellent. There were some rough patches that really slowed me down. Also, there were small potholes in the road which were really hard to see. I went through a few which almost threw my water bottles! Kind of scary as I was really focused on riding and now I had to add not riding into a small pothole to my focus.
At one point I followed some Deutsche Fraulein. What's with these Europeans? They always race in speedos or their swimsuits. In any case, I got the pleasure of looking at her swimsuit butt for many miles.
Another euro guy would often pass me and then get ahead of me and...slow down. Very annoying! If you're gonna pass me then pass me but then maintain your speed. Don't slow down and then force me to slow down! Finally I just passed him for the last time and spent some time with extra energy to get ahead of him...far, far ahead of him.
Speaking of rear ends, almost everyone had sand on their butts. I thought this was really peculiar. It took me a while to figure it out, but I think it was from when we sat down after the swim and they whipped our wetsuits off.
On one rough patch I lost my CO2 cartridge. The damn thing got shook loose from its screwhole! I resolved to use some electrical tape on it next time around.
A lot of people rode discs. I was probably the slowest one with a disc on the whole course.
There was a bit of a headwind further inland and along the shore on the way back. It was very annoying and contributed to my low speed at some points. But, this headwind turned into a tailwind on the way back and very thankful for that!
As always, I would get out of my seat and ride to rest my butt which kept getting numb. I shift down about 4 gears and then leap up to ride a while.
Thanks to great M2 training with threshold workouts, I remained fairly energetic the whole way. Even nearing the bike in, I was still able to accelerate and pass some people. I was feeling really good as I approached the bike in.
I kept looking at my computer for my average speed. I was in the high 19 MPHs and just hoped to maintain that. As much as possible I kept to 20-21 MPH or more to keep lifting my average speed and balance out the moments I dropped to 17 MPH or below. For a while I did not think I would be able to come in under 6 hours, but was simply ecstatic that I did at 5:45!
I went into T2 and grabbed my transition bag. I went into the tent and took off my bike stuff and put on my run stuff. This was another contrast to IM WA; there my legs felt so wiped out from the constant watts output. Here, they were tired, but not still felt pretty good. I headed out to go to the bathroom, and then out on the course.
As with the bike, the next 4 hours or so were a blur. Some highlights:
I'm running out of transition and still getting my running legs back. Then I saw another woman from our tour group. She ran like a bat out of hell out of T2 and passed me! I think she must have been running a sub-8 minute mile at least! We must have came off the bike at near the same time but man she left me in her dust on the run!
I kept going for a while and resolved to be super-conservative on the run. Every Ironman run before this I've run at 4:50+ hours. I was beginning to think I would never break my 4:50 time. So I was just going to concentrate on moving my legs at a comfortable pace for as long as possible. I would decide later if I would sprint near the end, or increase my speed at some point.
At one of the early aid stations, I grabbed a sponge and wiped the salt grittiness off my face. Oooo! How refreshing that was! I resolved myself to make myself as comfortable as possible and to remove any possible mental distractions so that I could just focus on the run and not on anything else. I also went to the bathroom once on the run just to remove that distraction too.
I started alternating Gatorade and Cola at the aid stations. I would grab a Gatorade or Cola and a cup of ice. I then poured 1/3 to 1/2 cup of fluid into the ice and then drank that. How refreshing it was to drink an ice cold cup of fluid!
Every 20 minutes I took a salt capsule to prevent cramping. Every 45 minutes I would take a gel for added calories and electrolytes. I also had my Fuel Belt which I had 4 large bottles of my own concoction: First Endurance EFS Tangerine plus two small scoops of Endurolyte powder. I had debated on not taking 4 bottles as they weigh a lot and during marathons I almost never finish all 4, but I do train with 4 bottles so I was used to the weight. Also, if it's really hot, then I like having more fluid to take down between aid stations. I ended up drinking about 2.5 bottles taking gels and salt capsules along the way.
Thankfully along the run, it was heavily shaded from the tall condo complexes along the beach and with the many trees along the course. It wasn't a hot day anyways, and the added shade really helped. Whenever possible, I just ran in the shade and kept out of the sun as much as I could.
I passed my buddy Dan a few times and gave him a yell of encouragement. He later told me that I thought I was going pretty strong, especially if I could yell at him every time I saw him haha.
As I was going out for my second loop I come up on a guy walking and wearing an M2 jersey. I pull up next to him to say hello and find that he is Ron from Philadelphia and he also had Mike as a coach. But his foot was bugging him and he was walking. I gave him some encouragement and sped on.
Being that it was Halloween the night before, the costumed folks were in full force.
Running through a private road, there was the "Girl Zone". Passing into the Girl Zone, there were a bunch of women in lingerie who flirted with us and invited us to slap their rear ends. I thought that my slimy, gel and Gatorade covered hands probably shouldn't be touching them, so I smiled and sped through them every time.
One of the aid stations was decorated like a jungle, complete with vines. Many of the spectators were also dressed up. There were a bunch of clowns dancing to music, a whole bunch of guys wearing hula skirts.
Definitely one of the most spirited spectating races I've seen. They yelled my name every time I ran by and it helped keep my mental state upbeat for sure!
By the second time out, I was definitely getting a bit tired. I was worried that I was just going to stop running at mile 13 like at IM WA, so I mentally hunkered down and just kept focused on moving my legs. I did start walking through aid stations longer which wasn't good for my average pace. But I started getting really happy when I hit mile 20 and did the last turn around.
Right around there, Ford had setup a message area. Back at the expo, I typed a message to myself which was, "MOVE YOUR BUTT DSHEN". But I guess they censored all the messages because it came out saying, "D.SHEN MOVE YOUR DSHEN". I saw this message on each loop and just laughed to myself that they would not even allow the word "BUTT" in their messages. Tush? Rear?
I began to count down the miles after mile 20. It was getting harder to maintain my leg turnover, but I just really focused hard on getting to the next aid station and running the whole way. No walking no way between aid stations!
I also really zoned out because I was watching the mile markers: 21, 22. And then I was expecting mile 23 to come up on this one marker and realized it said mile 24! Wow! Somehow I had completely been unaware that I had passed mile 23 and was now one mile closer than I thought. A tremendous sense of elation blew through me and I started picking up my pace. I crossed mile 25, and then I was feeling a bit stretched so I backed off on my pace a bit and then seeing mile 26, I shortly entered the short finisher's chute. I let a bunch of guys who were faster than me go in first as I wanted my own picture and not with some stranger. As I pulled up, Mike Reilly (the guy who didn't announce my name at my first Ironman, IM NZ) yells, "Dave Shen from Cupertino, California, YOU'RE AN IRONMAN!!!" I was totally pumped! I cross the finish line and shoot my arms into the air for the photos!
I definitely have to look at this picture because I think I was grimacing on the outside (probably due to my bodily pain), but definitely super-happy on the inside. Funny!
I take a quick look back and look at my time. Wow - 11:36! I beat my last PR by 44 minutes! Unbelievable! I was hoping for a near 12 hour or maybe just under 12 hours, but I didn't expect to be under 12 hours by 24 minutes! I was excited beyond belief!
Add to that Mike Reilly yelling that I was an Ironman really made my day. It made a great day into the PERFECT DAY!
Mike Reilly I forgive you for not saying my name at IM NZ.
A volunteer hands me a space blanket and another one leads me into the line where another picture was taken of me holding my medal. Can't get enough photos!
I walk into the food area which unfortunately was really lame. They had Cola which I drank about 4 cups of, and they only had fruit there. I just munched on these delicious grapes until I was full and walked out of there. Apparently they were only serving pizza and I didn't want any.
As I walked to get my bags and bike, I come up to the woman who flew out of T2 ahead of me. I tell her that she was totally amazing and that I had never seen anyone fly out of T2 like she did. In fact, I saw her only once after that but passing me on the other side of the course. She must have been 8 miles ahead of me at the time. But then her daughter said she came in right after me. I was totally dumbfounded. She was so far ahead of me and then comes in after me and I thought that I may have zoned out too much to notice me passing her? But she said she had to stop due to stomach problems. Major bummer!
I got my stuff and headed home to clean up and sit in a bathtub full of ice cubes. Thankfully I didn't ache too much but I did feel super depleted. I made some spaghetti and hard boiled eggs for myself (only thing in my kitchen!) and washed some clothes. I couldn't stop taking down fluids and drank everything in sight: Emergen-C, water, mango juice, milk. I also took a gulp of Gatorade in my fridge but couldn't drink any more. I think I've had enough Gatorade (and Cola) for a while....
Yes it was the PERFECT DAY.