Tuesday, April 14, 2015

BLOOD, Sweat, and Tears – Ironman 70.3 Florida Race Report

Going into the race I had a tremendous amount of confidence from the training I had completed over the several weeks prior. Just two weeks before IM70.3FL I completed what’s called last long day (LLD). It is a 4000m swim, 120 mile bike, and a 2 hour run all in one day. LLD was exactly what it sounds like, a really long day. The swim was pretty fun because it was the first time I have ever swam in a wetsuit and it really gives you a lot of flotation so I had one of the best swims I had ever had in training. The bike wasn't difficult as this is probably my strongest of the three disciplines. The run was pretty tough just based on the fact I was tired and had pushed my body farther than I ever had. If it wasn’t for the amazing teammates I had around me that day it would have been much more difficult than it turned out to be.

My preparation for IM70.3FL started on the Wednesday before as our flight to Florida was the next afternoon. I made a very detailed check list to make sure anything I could possibly need was accounted for. I think I packed enough for about 3 people. I laid everything out on the floor at least twice and checked everything multiple times – probably the most OCD I have ever been. Once I went over it several times I eventually packed it in the suitcase and still laid in bed thinking about everything and hoping I didn't forget something. As it turned out I had everything I needed and I am glad because it turned out I needed some of the extra things I packed.

This was my first Ironman event and I will tell you it is an amazing environment. They do an excellent job with the set up and coordination for everything. I picked up my packet the day before the race and did a long walk around to get a good look at transition entry and exit as well and the swim start and exit. I am glad I did this because where I was located in transition wasn’t the best. I had a very long run with my bike through transition before I was able to mount my bike. It wasn’t the best but I have learned in Ironman you just have to make the best out of all situations. Once I got my bearings and felt confident about the course I checked in my bike and made the 45 minute drive back to where we were staying. I went to bed that night with a lot of confidence about how I would do, maybe even a little too much.

The morning of the race I got up at 3:30 and made myself my standard pre-race meal of 3 eggs scrambled, a bagel with jelly, and a couple sausage links. I gather up all my last minute items like my frozen bottles of infinit for the bike and any nutrition I needed. I arrived at transition a little before 5:00am and was waiting to hear if this would be a wet suit swim or not. I was hoping for a wet suit swim but not long after I arrived it was announced that the water was 81 degrees and it wouldn’t be wet suit legal. I was a little disappointed but I still had a decent amount of confidence based on the way I had been swimming over the last couple months. About an hour before the swim start I ate a power bar as planned and then just relaxed a bit before the start. My age group start was at 7:34am so around 7:15 I took a gel and started to prepare myself mentally for the swim. The swim for IM70.3FL is an M shaped course which made for an interesting swim. My plan was to go out hard in the front of the pack and work towards some clear water to eventually find rhythm. Unfortunately that’s not how it went. I got to the front of my group and started well but after about 200 meters of swim I was over taken by a large wake caused by a couple jet skis that were driving around the course. Not sure why there were jet skis as I have never seen them at a triathlon swim before but they made some rough water. After that I slowed down and ended up in a very large group of swimmers and had a short panic. I ended up swimming to a kayak to catch my breath before continuing. At this point my mind was trying to convince me to quit. I was only 200 meters into a 1.2 mile swim and I went from total confidence to considering quitting. I decided to keep going. I found the next kayak on the course and swam directly to it. I ended up making this my new plan for the rest of the course which put me in the very back of the pack once I finally exited water with a 59:07 swim time. I was very disappointed once I made it to transition but I was proud I was able to finish after battling the devil on my shoulder constantly telling me to quit. At least I won that battle and was able to keep moving. I made it to my bike and was fast in transition. I was in and out in less than 4:00 minutes even with the 200 yard run from the beach and another 100 yard run with my bike to the exit.

I mounted my bike shortly after the mount line and was finally comfortable in the race. The bike and run were my strengths so I knew what to expect, or so I thought. I settled into about 21 mph for the first section and felt awesome. I was barely even pushing myself while keeping my heart rate well under my 132 goal. I was passing tons of riders the entire time. I made it to the first aid station to get water and everyone was really bunched up. There was about 100 people handing out water in only about a 20 yard area which made it pretty dangerous for the riders. I was behind a couple ladies that were having trouble getting a bottle and after the second try the first went down on the pavement and took the second with her. I was only about 3 bike lengths behind them and made a quick decision to try and turn but when I did I hit my front brake and went over the handle bars with my bike. It was a brutal crash and I took the brunt of the damage. I immediately got up pretty dazed and shocked but was able to grab my bike and get off the course. I did a quick look over my bike and had to bend back my bottle holder as it was bent down onto my rear wheel. I got it out of the way check myself out and realized I was cut up pretty bad. I had major road rash on both knees and elbows, and about ¾’s of my back which was the worse.

Was this the end of the race for me???? The thought definitely crossed my mind but I wasn't about to quit since my bike was still operational. I have been through worse than this and I have never quit before so I did a quick look for my water bottles with my nutrition in them but only found one which had spilled so I was basically going the rest of the way on only gels and water. Once I started again I could feel the burning all over my body but focused my mind on my current situation which was power through and keep cycling. The course was not a super difficult course but there was about 1,500 of elevation gain over the 56 miles and there was not much wind until the very end of the ride. I focused on the small things like my heart rate and gel intake to take my mind off the pain. Even with the pain I was able to smash the bike course the remainder of the time averaging 21.2 mph and moving up from 199 in my age group to around 124 passing 75 men along the way. It was a solid ride with little effort and got my mind back in the game. As I was coming into T2 I heard my wife and family which was exactly what I needed.  I dismounted my bike ran the 100 yards to my area and focused on the run. I was again quick in transition getting in and out in under 4:00 minutes.

Coming out of T2 onto the run course I saw my family again cheering me on and it felt good to be off the bike and making progress. I had my 4 gels and my base salt for the run to get in the needed calories with the on course nutrition to supplement. I started out running well at around an 8:30 pace for the first loop which was right where I wanted to be and my heart rate was around 150 which is right where I wanted it. The run course is a 3 loop course that runs around Lake Eva which is where the swim is. I was not ready for what I found on the course though. I was anticipating a fairly level course but found 3 large hills on each loop. About 1 mile into the first loop the first hill came and it wasn’t bad but directly after was the second which was longer and taller. I made it through the first loop feeling ok but I could tell my inner thighs started to become very sore around mile 6 which at the time I didn’t think anything of but later found out had some very large bruises from the crash earlier on the bike course. The heat started to kick in as well; getting up to 96 degrees with 100% humidity didn’t help anything. At every aid station I had to do my best to keep my body temperature down. I continued to follow my nutrition plan after the crash and took my first gel 30 minutes into the run. I followed that up with some base salt but that seemed to cause some stomach issues so I stopped taking after the first shot. The residents on the course were absolutely amazing. I can't thank them enough. They stood out in the heat with their water hoses and sprayed us down as we went by each time. They were the thing I look forward to the most on each loop. From mile 7 to 11 I struggled with the leg soreness and heat but gathered myself for mile 12 and 13. I just wanted the hell out of there so I decided it was time to move a little quicker. I picked up the pace and before I knew it I could see the finish line arrow. That was quite a sight, better than a kid at Christmas seeing that stupid sign. After getting that excited for the finish turn at a 70.3 I may just pass out with joy when I see that sign at IMTX…… The feeling of going across that finish line at an Ironman event is something special. If you have not done it you have to make it your goal. The environment is something special and I can’t wait to do it again.

I learned a tremendous amount during this race. I learned that you can beat the devil on your shoulder by finding small goals within the bigger goal to keep your mind focused. Find the small things that are achievable and focus on those, before you know it you will have made it to the end. Also there will be adversity when you do any type of Ironman so expect it and don’t let it control you. Just know that it is coming and be ready to adjust your plan accordingly. Last of all I learned I am much stronger mentally than I even thought. It took me to the brink with the horrible swim and then the major crash but I found a way to get through it and finish. It was an amazing opportunity for me and I can’t wait to apply these lessons to my training and move forward to become a better triathlete. See you all after IMTX!

Just a reminder I am doing all of this for one reason. To help kids through Save the Children. So far I have raised over $7,500 with your help and support. Please consider donating and supporting me through this challenge by going to my fundraising page. http://savethechildren.kintera.org/IronmanTX/agdodge50 
I promise you I will not let you down and I will represent you with all of my heart.

Gig'em and God Bless,
Mark Dodge

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