Ironman Florida, Panama City Beach 2006

9:32:26 – 43rd overall, 7th in age group
Swim: 58:13
T1: 2:51
Bike: 5:11:16
T2: 1:46
Run: 3:18:22
Qualified for Kona 2007

Really enjoyed this race. Panama City Beach is a nice place to be out of season though it would be the last please I’d want to be in high season based on the number of high rise hotels / apartment blocks on the beach. The beach is beautiful white sand for as far as you can see. At the time of the race it is virtually deserted, most of the people in town are there for the Ironman.

This is a big event with 2,200 people amassed on the beach for the start. It was cold, not what I expected in Florida but luckily I got a prime spot next to a generator and kept warm. (Top tips if u do this race – friends / family can stand with you more or less right to the start so keep some warm clothes when u get kicked out of transition. Even better get booked into event hotel as it’s right next to the start – u could check your bike and go back to bed till 5 minutes before the gun!)

The Pros had it easy being set off 10 minutes before us. I did my usual trick of getting to one side of the start and had a clear swim – no hassles from other competitors but lots of hassles from the sea. This was the toughest swim I’ve ever done – there was a big swell and strong current. I managed to navigate well and concentrated on keeping smooth and trying to cut through the waves. It was fun coming out onto the beach between laps especially as my sister had got right in past her knees to ensure she was ideally placed to scream at me. (any of u that have had me cheer you on in a race well imagine that 10 fold and u get the picture). Continued strong in the swim and gained some spots – exited in 58 minutes – well chuffed given the conditions.

The wetsuit helpers were awesome, they screamed “on the floor !!” – no need to think it was so loud I just reacted – two of them pulled my wetsuit off in one big pull. I raced into transition and having decided to try this race without putting cycling shorts on (just race in my tri shorts) I was out on the bike in under 3 minutes.

The guy on the mike had been telling us how the wind was a headwind and then died completely at 7 miles and just like his comment about the calm seas it was total bullshit. 5 miles of tail wind saw my average speed rapidly up to where I wanted it – in the 22+mph range. I was already dreaming of that sub 5 hour bike split if his comment about the winds was right. Unfortunately turning inland the wind  didn’t die and I battled the next 40 miles into a strong head wind. Managed to keep the speed up at about 20mph but would need to get a good return run to be on the sort of pace I wanted. With the tail wind I had a long section of spinning along at 29 mph – it was great. I took advantage of the odd slight rise to get out of the saddle and change my position. Don’t be fooled – a flat bike course is not ‘easy’ – it’s brutal. There is no hiding – u are down on the tri bars pushing pushing pushing. By 90 miles the pain / ache in my legs was taking all my concentration to keep on pushing. The last 5 miles were tough, but I was on target for a respectable bike split (not my dream split unfortunately) of 5.11

My mum and sister are becoming expert Ironman supporters – they walked out to cheer me on the last mile of the bike. Unexpected and just the right sort of boost.

Into T2 it was good to see how few bikes there were.

Quick change around and out onto the run. I felt good, really felt I was cruising and not pushing at all – mile 1 6.30 ! Jeez, ease up, mile  2 another 6.30 !! I allowed myself to ponder that sub 3 hour run split. I eased up and decided to stick at about 7 minute miles through the first lap and then pick it up on the second if I still felt this strong.

Through 10 miles I was still feeling comfortable and hit it more or less bang on 70 minutes. Then the juice just wasn’t there in the legs and I dropped to 8 min miles through to finish the half marathon in 1.35. Despite my efforts (I can show u the photos if u want to see the agony ;o)) I could only maintained 8 minute miles through the second half. In the final 5 miles I thought about the effort I’d put in training for this race and that I should enjoy these last 30 minutes or so (ever the optimist) – this really helped, though my pace didn’t pick up my comfort level did. I was heading for a decent time, I’d raced well and based on previous years I should have a Kona spot.

My sister surprised me by coming out along the run course and cheering me like you wouldn’t believe, as ever such support almost had me in tears. I felt like I picked up the pace in response to it but in reality I don’t think I did.

The finish is great they swing you round into the expo and there was a big crowd. They even had a finishing tape held across. I was well chuffed to see that I was quick enough that they hadn’t switched the clock over from the Pros’ time to the Age Groupers though that does mean my finishers photo has me 10 minutes slower than I was.

I finished with a 3.18 marathon (same as Kona split last year but not at the level of my Longest Day marathon) and a total time of 9.32.

Rounded off my season very well – pretty close to my years aim of a 9.30 Ironman but more importantly I got a Kona slot for 2007. This is even more exciting than last time as now I know just how awesome an event Kona is. Hopefully there will be several more Tri Londoners out there !!

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