Before leaving the condo I checked my temperature. 101.7 read the thermometer. My head throbbed.
It was 5 AM and in the low 40s. The wind was blowing hard.
I met the TriGeek Kahuna, RoboStu, Taconite Boy, Trimama, and Iron Jenny outside of the condo office. Iron Jenny asked me to add her cross country ski coach, John S., to the list of names on the cancer honor roll. She choked back the tears as she told me about his condition. I etched his name into the plastic covered paper. His name made it 257 names to be carried with me. Trimama gave me a TriMama and a TriGeek Kahuna sticker. (I affixed them to the bento box on my bike.)
As we walked the couple of blocks to the Boardwalk Hotel I could hear RoboStu’s iPod blasting in his hear. He sang softly to himself as we walked to the race start. He was getting pumped up by the music.
We dropped off our special needs bags and moved on to body marking. A volunteer asked me how old I am as I pulled up my sweat pants leg to expose my right calf. “That’s a great looking 45 year old calf,” she said. (I love that girl.)
I found a place in the transition changing tent to get out of the wind and changed into my wetsuit.
Once changed I walked to the beach and found Tarheel Tri, Commodore, Bolder, and Roman Mica. My whole body shook from the cold. Bolder wished me good luck I said, “Let’s do this thing.”
The announcer pumped up the athletes saying, “You’re going to be an Ironman today!,” as classic rock played on the speakers. At around 6:45 the National Anthem played and we turned toward the American flags snapping in the wind. Afterwards I turned to TriMama and Iron Jenny and hugged and prayed the Lord’s Prayer out loud. We all walked closer to the water. Along the way I saw a group of my friends from Dallas. We huddled together, said a few words about the blood cancer patients we support, put our right hands in the middle of the circle and on the count of three shouted, “Go TNT Dallas!”
It was at that very point I decided I was going through with the start. Bronchitis and fever be damned I was going to make an attempt to complete the race… to be an Ironman.
The pros started the swim 10 minutes before the non-professionals. I watched the line they took to get an idea of the direction and strength of the current. They began swimming to the inside of the first buoy indicating a strong cross current.
The remaining athletes started to crowd the staring area and I took a place on left side and middle of the pack.
The announcer began his countdown with a minute to go.
Then… BOOM! The cannon fired and we were off.
2,100 bodies entered the water. I dashed a high step over the waves until it was waist deep when I dove in and began to swim. From the moment I dove over the last breaking wave I was pushed, grabbed or kicked. No problem, I’ll just move out of their way, or at least try. I jockeyed for position trying to find a steady swimmer to draft from and some lateral room.
The plan was to catch a draft as much as I could at a slow, almost warm up, pace. Getting past the first 200 yard buoy was easy as I kept myself in the middle of the pack. All was going well until the feet I was following broke into a breaststroke and kicked me on chin. I gulped in a mouthful of seawater and choked from the brine. YUCK!
Quickly I regained my composure and swam around the breast stroker. It was easy to find another pair of feet to draft from and again I tried to settle into a rhythm. Soon we came to the first turn buoy and found chaos. Several hundred were trying to make a left turn around the same buoy at the same time. I hugged onto the buoy itself and inched my way around it until I made the complete turn before resuming a freestyle stroke.
This is where the two foot swells began. The smooth water became a roller coaster making it impossible to see the next turn buoy unless it was timed just right at the top of the wave. I began to feel a little woozy and thought it must be the affects of the turbulence and seawater that I swallowed. I kept the pace easy and concentrated on the feet in front of me. Soon I reached the second turn buoy and again there was a jam of people. Ah yes, swimming and jujitsu… my favorite.
Once around the buoy I could see the crowd on the beach and the Boardwalk Hotel and sighting became easier. I switched to breathing on my left side to avoid the swells on the right.
I looked to my left and saw that the closest swimmers were ten feet away from me but I had somebody hitting my arm on the right. I turned to see it was a guy in a red and black, no-sleeves wet suit. He had the entire ocean to swim in, or at least 10 feet of it on my left but he decided to beat on ‘Boomer. (Dude, you are SO off of my Christmas card list!) A few sprint strokes later and I had moved past his reach.
While on the last 200 yards and I could hear the music and cheering crowds from the beach. Soon I touched the sandy bottom and I stood up and ran onto shore. My watch read 39 minutes. In one large pack we ran onto the beach (jeeze it was cold!), turned in front of the crowd, grabbed a cup of water, and ran back into the water for the start of the second lap.
Although I was coughing up yellow gunk and my chest hurt I felt no fatigue in my arms or legs and I decided to press on.
The second lap was uneventful… still crowded at the turns but just less so... I continued at a deliberately slow pace.
I exited the swim at 1:19 minutes and ran onto the beach. (See photo here.)
Dang it was cold!
The crowed was yelling and the music was thumping. I ran into the chute and a woman grabbed my hand and yanked me to the side. She was a volunteer wetsuit peeler. I pulled the zipper and she and a teen-age boy yanked the suit off of my shoulders and down to my waist. I plopped down on the sand and they both grabbed the suit and in unison peeled it off of my legs. I stood up and she handed me my wetsuit, swatted me on the butt and said,” Good job, Ironman!” (I love that lady too.)
I ran under the shower and through the hotel’s breezeway to the transition area. I quickly found my transition bag and moved towards the changing tent. There were so many athletes trying to get into the tent at the same time there was a line just to get inside. Once inside it was pandemonium. Hundreds of bodies in all states of undress and voices raised all trying to change clothes. All of the chairs were taken and I began to strip off my wet clothes where I stood. In what seemed like an eternity I completely changed my clothes, transferred the names of the honorees to the dry jersey, put on a running jacket, helmet, bike shoes, and stuffed my wetsuit and all other clothing back into the plastic bag.
I ran out of the changing tent and found my bike. To my surprise most of the bikes were still in transition. Cool!
As quickly as I could I ran my bike out of the transition but not before running into another athlete trying to find his bike. (Sorry, dude.) Through the spectator lined chute, across the mounting line, and finally after a 12 minute transition I was on the road.
No sooner did I begin to pedal when the heart rate monitor on my bike sounded an alarm that my heart rate was over 170. Twenty points above my upper limit. I felt like I could keep up the pace but my body was telling a differnet story.