Ironman 2013 – Panama City Beach, FL – Complete! I really think they should call it IronYear instead. This was one of the most mentally and physically grueling years I have had. I really discounted the amount of effort it would take to get to Florida to compete in this race. Most people, me included focus on the day and how big of an effort that is required to actually finish this insane test of endurance. The actual race gets all the hype but for me it’s the yearlong commitment to 4-7 hour training days and 15-18 hour training weeks that were more overwhelming than the idea of the race itself. Congrats to all that did the training because your reward is a fully catered swim, bike, run with 3,000 other Ironseekers!
A Hunter’s Life disclaimer: This blog entry is clearly not hunting however, this is A Hunter’s Life, and this is what I do. It’s a part of my life and this quest actually began back in November of 2012 while I was on a hunting trip. I committed along with my two training buddy’s Sean and Devon to take on 365 days of planning, training, sacrificing, doubting, and pain to have the chance to hear those words….’Gary Pierce….You Are An Ironman!
So, there I was the day before an awesome whitetail hunt is about to begin in Killbuck, OH at a McDonalds nonetheless. Perhaps the only person that used Mickey D’s wifi to register for Ironman Florida ever. Waiting with great anticipation for the registration to open so I could make the plunge begin my Ironman journey….my information was accepted and boom, I was in. The race sold out in less than 5 minutes, so there are a lot of crazy people out there like to do this sort of thing.
Fast forward to October 30, 2013…..the team made it! We all had our struggles through the training, some were physical, some were mental, let’s be honest we were sick of training at this point! The weeks leading up to the race were a mixed bag of excitement, anxiety, and a lot of pain. I unfortunately had some severe lower back pain that met its match with a swift shot of cortisone. In all the years of playing sports I never had to resort to that shot but I guess only a couple of weeks shy of 40 and few days out from my first Ironman your body may start to fail on you and desperate times call for desperate measures. This was my last effort at competing in this race somewhat pain free. With all of that we were ready to go, packed our gear with the best possible plans and hopes of becoming an Ironman and headed south to Panama City Beach.
Once arriving at the beach we checked in to our place which was about a 1.5 miles from the race headquarters and starting area. The plan was to get into town get situated, knock the rust off the body with some final training sessions and try to enjoy the days leading up to the event. The first order of business was to load up on groceries, if you know anyone that trains this much we eat a lot and often. Off to Publix to load up!
Day 1 – training in the AM included a short swim and bike. I had never swum in the ocean with my wetsuit so this was an important mental day for me. We got to the beach and were greeted with 4’ waves! It was nuts, we got in the water and actually went about 800 yards – honestly this was not safe at all and if race day was like this. I am sure they would cancel the swim portion; the water was too dangerous for race conditions. With the work out behind us we were able to head down to register and visit the athlete vendor expo and souvenir shop. After donating even more money for shirts, hats, etc. we got back to the house and relaxed the rest of the day.
Day 2 – Training would include a short swim, bike, run except for the fact the beach was double red flagged meaning no one in the water due to sever waves and rip currents. Not cool, this was starting to become a bit of an issue but one we had no control over. We finished up our last bit of training and packed up all of our race gear and headed down to check in our bikes and gear bags. We were on schedule and going as planned. The last night before the race I was feeling a little tight and sore as I mentioned my back was a big concern and hindered some of my training the last few weeks. I was a little nervous how I was going to respond but in general the major pain was gone, the race was here and I was ready, probably more than I possibly knew. Off to bed for one more sleep.
Race Day – 4:30 am comes early on race day. Normal routine includes, getting a bagel with some peanut butter and a protein shake (some reason helps settle my stomach). Packed my gear and got to the race site, what a scene….got through number marking fine, pumped the air in my tires, wet suit on, butterflies have arrived about thirty minutes before race per usual, and I am ready to go! Just 140.6 miles between me and the end….and the cannon goes off to start Ironman Florida 2013!
The swim – the water was much calmer than previous days with only 2’ waves. This was one of the craziest things I have done. It was extremely physical and different than any other swim I have done in addition to being 2.4 miles long. I never felt like I got into a rhythm until the second loop. I came through the first half with a couple of decent shots to the side of the head and a kick in the nose; I was no worse for wear at this point. Just keep trucking along and get to transition and on the bike… 1:20 minutes or so.
The bike – after an interesting transition, I had more sand on me than a kid that was buried by his friends on the beach! It was crazy but got most of it off and on to the bike went for next 6 hours. As much as you plan and try and reach time goals you have to be careful to stick to the plan and listen to your body. Chasing a time goal can be a huge recipe for disaster, especially your first race at this distance! The goal was to finish! But as we all do I was hoping to be on the bike in an hour and a half and there I was making way off the beach. The bike was great; the course was flat and had some wind which sets up good for my style of riding. By the time I made it to the 80 mile mark my body was feeling good and I was starting to feel the excitement of what I was doing. My back thankfully stayed in check and did not give me any issues and before I knew it I was crossing back over the bridge into Panama City Beach, which I labeled Mt. PCB as it was about the only elevation we encountered all day.
The run – This is the part of the day that earns you the title Ironman! Wow, a marathon to go….and as a side note the winner of the race crossed the finish line as I started my run. Crazy fast, it happened to be an iron distance North American record. Good on ya bud. With good spirits I hit the run where I would spend the next 4:58 minutes going through one of the toughest things I have ever done. Good news is Sean and I started out together which I think helped me stay focused, the first hour was brutal for me with temps around 80 and not a cloud in the sky I was ready for that sun to set. As the sun set I started to feel much better and settled into a decent pace. But I knew in the back of my mind trouble could come at any point and at about mile 15 it did, wow, my legs were killing me, my entire core was sore, and I felt like vomiting every time I tried to drink or eat something. This lasted through to about mile 21 at the turn and I knew I was going to make it! I had some chicken broth to help settled the stomach and for the next 5.2 miles I just pushed myself as hard as I have ever pushed. Finally….As I ran down that chute with bright lights, deafening cheers, and I crossed under that famous Ironman arch I got to hear those words that all Triathletes want to hear….Gary Pierce, You Are An Ironman! 12:41 was my total time.
It’s taken me some time to put this year and event in perspective but ultimately it comes down to this. I am proud of the goal I accomplished. It’s simple, you set the goal, you train your ass off, and you do it! If I would have come up short I still trained, sacrificed, and learned a ton about myself and would live to conquer the next challenge and what life as a 40 something will hold!
I can’t thank my family enough for making the journey to come and share this day with me, crossing the finish line and seeing them there was priceless. They have been there with me through little league, to the Cape League, college, and more. I have been truly blessed to have great role models and parents/grandparents. My friends that encouraged me, challenged me, and spent that Saturday tracking me, you guys rock! I have always said this I have the best friends you can imagine. Our coach CK for the endless amounts of information that made this day possible! Sean and Devon I appreciate your dedication, effort, and support I could not think of two better people to share that fruity drink with on the beach after the race, Congrats Iron People!
To be continued……