Warning: This is long. Part of this is for me to re-live the experience as I write. Part of it is to be able to look back and remember the details. Part of it is because I like to write 🙂
When I left you the last time, we were about ready to start the race. I honestly didn’t know when my time would start, because I was wearing a wetsuit and the race was not wetsuit legal. Wetsuit wearers had to wait ten minutes to start after the non-wetsuit wearers, which was a VERY LONG TIME. I didn’t know how that all worked, so I just went with it. Nothing like flying by the seat of your pants for an Ironman, huh?
I knew where my boys would be, so I positioned myself to walk right by where they were. Finally, it was time for us to go, and we slowly filtered through the starting chute and to the water. I was so happy to see them waving and cheering me on. It was race time! The crowds were epic. The ONLY complaint is they didn’t play “Panama” as expected. Ahhh! I am so nervous just writing this, even more nervous than I was that morning!!!
With my goggles safely tucked under my pink swim cap, I took off into the gulf. The waves were not small, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I felt I was well-equipped to deal with the salt and waves from the training and the ocean lesson. My coach told me many moons ago that I had nothing to worry about regarding the swim. I would soon find out that she was right. And you were too, Gary 🙂
The swim is a long rectangle where you swim out, over left, then back, twice. Two loops.
My plan was to divide the swim into parts. Out, back, out, back, done. It’s like running a marathon. You don’t normally go into it saying, “Hey, only 26, 25, 24 miles to go.” You divide it up into manageable pieces. So that’s what I did with the swim, my Achille’s Heel, my nemesis, my worst fear. It was relatively crowded as I swam, and I was able to avoid getting kicked in the head. There were the upcloseandpersonal touches that just goes with something like this, which was fine because I was wearing a wetsuit. I quickly made it past the breakers, and had to time my sighting so I could see the buoys over the large rolling waves. If I looked at the wrong time, all I saw was water, but when I got it right, I could see a long way. Someone was trying to steal my Garmin on my left wrist, because it was stroke after stroke feeling like he was grabbing at it. I know he didn’t mean to, but it made me mad. I know, SHOCKER. Finally, I stopped and moved away from him after grunting to stop it already. I think he muttered “sorry” back. My goggles were a hot mess and I couldn’t see where I was going. I literally thought, “I’m swimming and I can’t see anything.” I could follow the masses enough, and soon, I could see the turn buoy. Yay!!!! I honestly cannot remember if I cleaned my goggles or if they cleared on their own. It was like a major traffic intersection at the turn, where everyone converged together all at once. We were all going pretty slow so we wouldn’t mash into each other, so that was nice. One thing I really liked and remembered about that clear water, which was definitely not as clear as it was the day before but still clear, was that I could see bubbles if I was near someone’s feet. That was my warning to look ahead and not get kicked in the face. It worked.
We headed back towards the beach, and I remembered to pay attention to what was behind me. I didn’t really see any buoys and was confused, but swam on. It was just the timing, as when I sighted at the right time, I could see them all. I felt like we were being pushed left, so I tried to aim more right so I would end up at the right spot. People kept passing me, and I felt like I was the last swimmer out there. I stopped and turned to see if there were others actually behind me, and was relieved to see a lot of people behind me!
At 45 minutes, I came out of the water from the first loop. Right. On. Time. I didn’t look at my watch again during the swim. I saw my boys, and threw them a half smile. It was hard. My legs were tired. We were told to cut across the rectangle towards a larger yellow buoy, and there were boaters telling those “cutters” to go in at the correct one. It didn’t take long to find my groove. I kept thinking, “I never have to swim again if I just get through this” many times. It was my mantra. I hugged the buoys and swam. Unfortunately, I didn’t sight adequately and when I did, I found myself WAY right. Damn current. I fought hard to get left, but it was difficult and it took me to the turn buoy to get where I wanted to go. I noticed swimmers WAY off course, and I felt pretty bad for them. Who wants to swim longer than 2.4 miles?
I was tired (duh), but I kept at it. I passed some non-wetsuit people, which surprised me, but when I realized some of them weren’t using their legs AT ALL, it made sense. I wanted to tap one of them on the shoulder and whisper, “PSSST. Use your legs!” but I didn’t. I was in the home stretch. I was almost done with the swim. Damn, I was doing it. I decided it was a good time to pee, so I didn’t have to waste time in transition.
I came out of the water pretty happy, and wanted my medal right then. Ha, I was so happy to be done, to know I finished the swim in good time, I wanted to revel in it a little, which didn’t go over well with the people behind me and with the volunteers. I was hurried to the wetsuit stripper, sat down in the sand (that would come back to bite me) and had my wetsuit quickly removed. Zip! Off to transition!!!!
**I did buy all these pics but just don’t have them yet.
I ran and got my T1 bag and headed to the changing room. It was inside the convention center, which was cool, and I quickly got my bike gear on, drank some Gatorade, and headed out for a nice, scenic bike ride around the PCB area. The fact there’s personal helpers in there was damn cool.
As I headed out on the bike, I saw my boys again. It was SOOOO nice seeing familiar faces out there. It made a huge difference to me. I didn’t know how to avoid drafting when there were so many bikes heading out at the same time, but I kept my coach’s words in my head: “Be cognizant of what’s going on and what you’re doing.” Spoiler alert – I never got a drafting penalty (you have to stay 5 bike lengths behind the bike in front of you, and if you want to pass, you have to do so within 20 seconds). Score. No penalty box for me!!!
We had a little tail wind as we headed along the beach. It was crowded, so I didn’t think I was going very fast. After mile 7, we turned north and headed out of town. I knew the big bridge was at mile 12, so I hauled it up that hill and noticed how pretty it was that morning. Only 100 miles to go!! Haha! Around that time, Van Halen’s “Top of the World” came in my head and stayed there for much of the bike ride. Perfect.
Everyone kept saying “have fun” before the race, and I tried. I don’t know why I was a little upset over this, but I wasn’t having fun. I wasn’t having a bad time, but it wasn’t fun. I mean, it’s not supposed to be a party or anything, and it IS work. It’s a strange combination of work, making your dreams come true, thinking about what you’re doing, and more work. I enjoyed it for sure, especially as the miles ticked by. Funny things come into your head as you are by yourself for that long. I remember thinking this funny word, and I knew I needed to remember it, because it was goofy and silly and didn’t make sense – like BAZINGA, but I know it wasn’t that word, but I can’t remember!!! So I guess I WAS having fun, huh?
The Florida bike course is known to be flat and fast. There were a few hills snuck in there, but since I discovered I like hills and I always pass a bunch of people on them, it didn’t bother me. I passed people, people passed me, and when people passed me on these super fancy bikes, I couldn’t help but wonder how in the hell I beat them on the swim. I passed some pretty fancy bikes, too, which made me feel good about my $500 used tri bike. I saw lots of drafting, lots of cool outfits, annoying people, cool people, nice people, and idiots. I mean really, WHO PASSES ON THE RIGHT????? You just don’t do that. There were packs of people I would hover behind until it got too slow, then I would pass them all at once, there were people I was playing back and forth with, people who fell over right in front of me, people throwing up into the bushes, and people with mechanical issues. I feel bad for the guy in the starting chute with a flat. That would suck.
My bike computer had given me some issues right before we left, but we tweaked it and hoped for the best. Within the first few miles, my cadence meter went wonky. It was my most important reading, so I played with the thing a while, and finally got the reading from 292-ish back to a normal 85. Could you imagine going 292? I don’t get why the thing would even read that, but I got it working and it was good the rest of the ride.
I learned about four months ago, that my legs are whiny. For the first hour or two into a ride, they cry and whine and fuss and “are so tired”. I also learned that after that initial time, it goes away and they go faster. As predicted, they were whiny the first 30 or so miles, then shut up and did what they trained to do. They felt strong.
I was very aware of how warm it was (word out was that it was in the mid-80’s, but that was probably in the sun, which we had on and off, but it was hot and very, very humid), so I was sure to tweak my hydration plan. I remember coach telling me that I can’t rely on just eFuel, I needed water as well. The aid stations are set up where you can grab something, have time to drink/eat it if you slow down through the station, then throw it away. They will penalize you if you throw trash out at any point besides the aid station (which people did anyway, but I wasn’t going to), so in the first few aid stations, I grabbed a water bottle and guzzled as much as I could before throwing it out at the end of the station. I made sure I drank my eFuel and took Base salt frequently, as I didn’t want to bonk on my run. At some point, I was lucky to score a port-a-jon without having to wait, refilled my aero bottle with the caged bottle, and went on my merry way.
I ate my salted mini potatoes, grazed on Clif Shot Blocks, and relied on eFuel and water until the half point. I packed an Uncrustable but I got slightly nauseated, probably from guzzling water, so I didn’t want it. Half way through the bike ride, I stopped at the special needs station where I refilled my eFuel, potatoes, had a mini Coke (nectar of the gods I tell you), and had a hand full of Cheetos. Mmmmmm, good! I was half way through the bike! The sun was out and wow, it was friggin hot out! I was glad to have the breeze created from the bike ride!
It sprinkled a little after that, and it felt good. I turned north, and went straight into a head wind. Oy. Ok, a hill too? Ok, I got this, if this was easy, everyone would do it, right? It’s not supposed to be easy!!! That’s what I was trying to tell myself, but I’ve never been a big fan of wind (except when it’s behind me), so I just did my best without burning my legs out. I noticed the roads were of very good quality, and I was glad the route was changed to remove an extremely bumpy section. I wondered why in the HELL people do these time after time. I wondered how people do these fast. I wondered why people would want to do ones in the mountains. I saw butterflies, I saw the blue sky, I noticed how pretty it was out and how similar it was to the rides at home. I was doing it. Mile 60, 70, 80, I was doing it. After 5 or so miles into the wind, we turned around. It got quiet, the good quiet that means we have… A TAIL WIND!!!!!!!!!!!!! Man, we had a down hill too! I probably took a mile off pedaling (or a few minutes anyway), and let the wind and hill carry me at 20 mph. It was a nice rest.
Wow, I could crush this bike time!!! I hammered it, with care of course, and tried to maintain a 21-22 mph speed. Soon, it was time to go over the bridge. “Only” 12 miles to go!!!!!
Whooohooooo!!!!! As soon as I came down the other side of the bridge, a magical thing happened. The tail wind turned into a head wind. WTF. My pace screeched down towards 15 mph, and I was pissed, SO PISSED. I was expecting the last 7 miles to have a head wind, not the last 12. Anyway, I cussed at it, swore at it, made a guy think I dropped food because he heard me swearing (we chatted as he passed me by), and I vented it out of my system. I thought of those who raced last year in 20-30 mph winds and was VERY happy for our hot, humid, relatively calm conditions! I stopped at the last aid station to get some Gatorade since I was nearly out of eFuel and my bike bottle mysteriously disappeared, and complained to the volunteer there, too.
When we were about a mile or two from the bike finish, I started crying. I did it. I would make it. I was making good time, and was well within my A goal time. It was the ugly cry, but I got it out of my system before the cameras and the bike finish. I came through the chute to tons of cheering, cow bells, and of course, my boys yelling and cheering for me!
I got off the bike and whoa, felt weird as I gave my bike to a volunteer and headed to T2. Time to run!!! I changed quickly and headed back out onto the course.
The run. Oh, the run. It was 2:41 pm, and still warm. My coach thinks I have a road block in my head about running in the heat, but I think I just don’t tolerate it well, so I am conservative. I waved to my boys as I left transition, and wondered how in the hell I was gonna run a marathon! Ha! Here’s the weird way I felt. It’s hard to describe. My legs and body felt strong. My training did what it was supposed to do. But I was drained. I mean, of COURSE I was, but after the first few fast miles that most IM runners have, I knew it was going to be a very long marathon. I didn’t pay too much attention to time, which I sort of regret and am not sure if it would’ve changed the outcome, but I walked when I wanted to walk and ran when I could. I walked way more than I wanted or planned to before I started running, but that’s just the way it was. My knee started hurting mile 2-3, so with every single step, I felt a jab of pain. It was not supposed to be easy, but I was doing it.
I was utterly SHOCKED AND AWED by the crowd support. I wasn’t expecting there to be that many people on the course, yelling, having fun, yard parties, signs, and all the madness that keeps runners running and their minds off how they’re feeling. I was amazed. I saw Batman, funny signs, a lady whipping people (lightly) as they passed by, and the best volunteers in the whole world at the aid stations. They were filled with people yelling out what they had, and all of them, at least once a mile, were basically the same, except the volunteers. Some were themed, but they were all great. One was filled with young ROTC young men and women (I cannot call them kids because they were so adult-like), and someone noted after the race, “I’ve never seen someone so happy to hand out chicken broth.” True statement. They had vaseline on a stick, cold water sponges, ice, water, ice water, Gatorade, cola, pretzels, chips, grapes, and after sunset, chicken broth. I was totally into ice and cola, and found myself rejecting solids. I drank and drank and salted like it was a cheap box wine margarita.
I think it was about five miles in (and my thoughts were “oh, great (sarcasm), “only” 21 miles to go. $%#@*”. I felt a tingle on my arm, and I realized I didn’t have any sweat on me. Hmmmm. I stopped running. I didn’t feel weird, I didn’t feel bobble headed like I did in Boston, but I wanted to be careful. I got my heart rate down, and started running again. Soon after, we turned, and I realized that my sweat had just been evaporating in the breeze because it was a full on sweat monsoon when we turned with the breeze. Thank goodness!!! I’d never been so happy to sweat!
I was going much slower than I wanted to and was at risk of not making my A goal time. But I just felt like I couldn’t hold on to running the entire time or as much as I wanted. It WAS hot, getting cooler, so I thought maybe I’d feel better later. We soon turned around and headed back around mile something. I still can’t remember what mile we turned around at. I walked through the really cool aid station in the park, and went through the Base Performance station. They were giving out tubes of salt, which I already had and used the entire day, but the guy there had a water bottle made up of his amino acid electrolyte drink. He told me to drink it and take six licks of the salt and I would feel better. I told him I was fine, just hot. He said to do it anyway. Okay.
I drank it over the next mile or two, and honestly, I did feel better. I didn’t have much extra zip or anything, but I felt good. My legs were still strong, although my knee still hurt, but I carried on.
The course goes through some really quiet areas and some areas that are buzzing with activity. You almost need both, but I truly enjoyed this run course. The speed bumps didn’t even bother me!
As I approach the half way point, I saw my boys, and knew I would become an Ironman in just a few more hours. At the run special needs, I grabbed some ibuprofen, chapstick, new gum, and headed out for loop two. I wondered why I hadn’t cried yet.
It was starting to get dark, and when needed, I turned my hat light on. I tried to keep it off so I didn’t blind the runners coming the other way. I saw the Without Limits guys, I saw an amputee struggling in pain, I saw a very small woman pushing her disabled athlete in a running wheelchair, I saw drunk spectators, I saw more and more people struggling and heaving off the side of the road. I changed the words to The Sound of Music song to “The streets are alive, with the sound of heaving”. I’m so funny. I saw the kid who’s 18th birthday was that day, and congratulated him for bringing in his birthday in a really big way. His dad was running with him too, so I gave them both kudos. I talked to a few others who were on their first loop as I headed back with only a 10k to go, and I wished them well. I talked to a girl who did Ironman Texas who said it was warmer that day than in Texas. I talked to a guy who was passing me and had crashed on his bike and hurt his arm. I saw costumes, kids running around having fun and helping, and found that my head lamp made shoes and speed bump paint glow like it was uranium.
I was watching my time, and I knew I was close to my goal time, but I knew I was too far away to make up the time I needed. As I approached mile 25, the tears started. The crowds picked up, and I knew this entire thing had been worth every moment of stress, work, tears, sweat, and every dollar. I felt inspired, and I hoped, at that moment, that what I was doing would inspire someone else, hopefully at least my kids. I cried the ugly cry as I neared the chute. I was doing it. I did it. People were putting their hands out for me to high five. I couldn’t believe it. They were telling me that I had a great smile, look at that smile, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything BUT smile at that moment, one that I will NEVER forget. I felt like a rock star as I came through that chute.
I came through the finish line. I heard my name…. “Kelli Kerkhoff (then he said other names) …YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. I saw my boys, turned and looked at them, and knew that I was forever changed. I did it.
Ironman Florida 2015: 13:09:30