Ok, so let’s pick up right where we left off shall we? Race day started with a 3:15 AM alarm. There were three of us in the house who were racing. We had determined that time as the appropriate time in order for us to get up, eat food and get to transition by 4:30 AM. Fortunately, I was smart enough to program the coffee pot the night before so I didn’t have to fumble around with that in the morning. I woke up, headed downstairs for some oatmeal and a bit of pre-race banter.
3:30 AM Party… Not!
Once we had eaten, coffeed up and woken up all the way, we headed in to town to get ready for the day. First stop was to drop off our bags at bike and run special needs. For any not familiar with an Ironman distance event, there is a half way stop on both the bike and the run where you can drop a bag of supplies that you can then access at the half way point if you need them. It’s not mandatory, but recommended that you throw some things in there that you might need. For example… my bike special needs contained some chamois butter, sunscreen, additional skratch labs hydration and my energy ball fuel. I had also packed a can of coke (wicked good on a long ride), a peppermint patty and some pop tarts. I had no clue what I would or would not use but I figured it was better to be over prepared. In my run special needs I packed an extra pair of dry socks, a long sleeve shirt, a head lamp, an additional visor and extra fuel for second half of the marathon. Along the way to drop off these things, we ran in to some of our supporters/volunteers who would be out along the course.
Long dark walks to bag drop off…
I think my face had officially gone green by this point. It’s not that I wasn’t ready to do an Ironman. I was. I was just really nervous about swimming in Mirror Lake with 2800 other athletes. I know many people who have had a panic attack at the beginning because of the arm, leg, etc chaos. So from the time we dropped off our bags until the race began, I was nervous and very emotional about getting in the water.
After dropping off our bags we headed over to body marking and then into transition to drop fuel in our bike and run bags and make any last-minute changes to our set up, pump our bike tires, etc. Once that was done we headed back toward to the beach area to drop off our big bags with family so that we didn’t have to find a place to stow them for the day. Fortunately, while doing this we ran into some friends.
Sun is up and friends are here!
After all of the prep, it was finally time to head down to the water. I was with Ben & my friend Brian at this point. We all opted to jump in the water quick to calm the nerves, test the goggles and get ready. We only had a minute or two to do that before Mike Reilly called us to get into the wave start lines as the pros were getting ready to start their day. I lined up near the 1:30 swim time wave. This seemed doable to me and I crossed my fingers that it would be safe and I wouldn’t get mauled as all of the swimmers tried to make their way to the notorious white cable that marks the course underwater in Mirror Lake. I took many a deep breaths while they sang the National Anthem and the pros and then eventually the age groupers started making their way into the water. I’m not sure but I would guess that it took about 20 minutes for us to get in the water. And please keep in mind that the weather was still ominous.
I entered the water and tried to stay wide of the cable because I didn’t want to have an immediate freak out about being hit and swum over by the other athletes. Unfortunately within about 200 yards I could tell that I had been pulled over towards the line. Not only did it come into view, but I was all of a sudden in quite a bit of swimmer traffic. Of course, as predicted I started to freak out. I couldn’t breathe so I popped my head up out of the water and decided to breast stroke a bit to catch my breathe. The huge mistake with this was that when I popped my head up, I was able to get a glimpse of what was going on around me…. Holy snikes.
Credit Steffo photography
Imagine popping your head up in the middle of that fray in an attempt to calm yourself. Yep, didn’t work for me. I took a few minutes to calm myself as much as possible and then had a little pep talk with myself. I figured if I didn’t put my head back in the water there was no way that I was going to finish a 2.4 mile swim. So eventually I calmed down and went back to it. “Just keep swimming.”
At some point I could tell that the bit of sunshine we had at the start had gone and that it was now raining. Before the close of my first loop it was raining pretty hard as I could feel it hitting my face when I’d turn to breathe and I could hear it in the water. Great. Well, I guess that chance of rain came true. I made the turn and headed toward the arch to complete my first loop of the swim. It was definitely raining but it didn’t seem horrible out. I hurried under the arch and headed back out into the water to complete my second loop. This is when things get interesting…
As I was swimming down the first length of my second loop I could tell that the rain had picked up. Not only that, at one point I felt a strong vibration with my entire body. At first I didn’t know what it was and then I realized that it had been a big old clap of thunder. Uh oh. Well, again, just keep swimming or so I thought. As I rounded the turn buoy at the end of the loop, I noticed that the kayakers had all moved in closer. I lifted my head to hear what was going on and they were telling swimmers to cut the loop short and head back in to the finish asap. Ok, I cut off the bottom corner of the rectangle and started to head to the other side. Within a few strokes I could sense that there was additional panic happening so I once again lifted my head to find out what was going on. I heard lots of people screaming…. “Swim to shore, swim to shore. Forget the finish.” This was about when I had seen the lightning. All of the sudden Ironman was on hold and we were all swimming frantically to the shore of Mirror Lake.
There were athletes scattered everywhere as we picked random docks to climb up on out of the water. My understanding is that some athletes were put into the police boats in an attempt to clear the water. It was a very odd scene. There were hundreds of athletes lining the shore as we stood there and wondered what to do. After few minutes we were told to head to our bikes. We did not start the run down Mirror Lake drive to the olympic oval before pausing a moment to give all of the water safety volunteers and personnel a big round of applause for getting us out of the water safely. After that I began to run down Mirror Lake Drive, in my wetsuit, in the rain making my way to transition. There were volunteers in the road offering to do the job of wetsuit stripping. I was going to sit so they could take mine off, but I was able to quickly peel it off myself instead. As I ran up into transition it hit me that this was going to be a mob scene. Because everyone had been pulled from the water together, they were all going to be in the transition tents at the same time. I had flashbacks to Ironman Lake Tahoe.
At the end of the day I managed to swim 2 miles before being pulled out of the water because of the lightning. At first I didn’t know what to make of this. Some people report feeling a bit jipped because they didn’t complete the full Ironman distance. I have come to the conclusion that despite not having swum 2.4 miles, I’m still an Ironman. I mean for crying out loud there was a huge lightning storm all around us. I have spoken to several of my friends who were there on land and they have told me how scary it was and that they were so happy that we were pulled out. Honestly, I’m happy too. The water safety crew did their job and kept all of the athletes as safe as they possibly could. And we are Ironmen because we chose to press on despite the adverse weather conditions. You never know what the day is going to hand you, all you can do is keep moving forward and make the best of the situation.
Stay tuned for the bike report!