Rick Stafford and I left for Panama City on Thursday morning at 7am and pulled up in front of the Boardwalk Beach Condo at 1pm. The first thing I notice when I got out of my car was the wind...holey moley. The flags were STRAIGHT out and the sea looked pretty damn choppy. We checked in with the very nice people at the condo (they are getting to know us now between Ironman races and training rides) and up to the 19th floor and a killer view of the beach. This unit is smaller than the one we grabbed for Ironman but just as comfy and beautiful. Rick and I immediately headed to expo where we checked, got our packets and started shopping! What a FANTASTIC expo full of good deals and great gear.
Rick headed out to meet some friends for dinner and I decide to explore the new Pier Park shopping area about 5 minutes from the condo. This is a gorgeous outdoor mall with shops and restaurants and a huge movie theatre. I ended up buying shoes and shopping at all the little stores before returning to the condo in the early evening.
It was at about 5pm that I got a great phone call...my husband had gotten someone to cover his flights and he was coming to Panama City for the weekend and was bringing his motorcycle!! He would arrive around 10pm. He arrived that evening and it was wonderful to have my hubby in this beautiful place for this great race.
We awoke Saturday morning to a very scary sight. High winds and a rough seas made our practice swim look a little daunting. Rick and I donned our swim skins and headed to the beach. I stood on the beach for awhile and realized that I had never done an open water ocean swim race before. Seven years of triathlon and the closest thing to swimming in the ocean that I had done under race conditions was St. Anthony's. This did not help my nerves as I braved the breakers and swam next to Rick. About 20 strokes out, a wave hit me hard and planted my face into the sand. It shook me up but I was determined. Several more strokes and another big wave hit me broadside and threw me backwards. I turned around and headed to shore...but not to quit...to regroup.
I looked up towards the condos and saw Steve on the balcony. I had a feeling he was concerned watching his wife going backwards instead of forwards. Rick and I talked a little bit , I calmed my nerves and headed in for a second attempt at the waves.
The second attempt over the breakers was not as bad and once I was past those waves, the water was rough but not unmanageable. Since the swim course had not been set, we used some orange markers that the watersports company had set for the jet skiers and swam to the farthest one and returned. Definitely not any distance to this practice swim but it got us acclimated to the water temp and the conditions. If these conditions continued, I had a feeling there would be no quick times out of the water.
After exiting the water, we grabbed a shower and headed off for a short bike workout. The purpose of this ride was to get the legs moving and checking out the bikes for any issues. Once again the wind played a role as the gusts hit 25 mph. This was going to be an interesting race.
That evening, we enjoyed a pasta dinner included in the cost of the race on the beach at the race site. During the dinner the race director told us there was a chance that the swim could be cancelled but to prepare to do the ENTIRE race. This possiblity brought up some questions. This race would be a very unique experience as I was planning on DNF'ing. Yes. You read that right. My goal was to complete the swim and the bike and DNF the run. The reason? My trainer, Hector, wanted me to race at Disney in the Ironman Florida 70.3 just two weeks later and didn't want me doing too much prior to Disney. If there were to be no swim, do I do the rest of the race events? This required a phone call to Hector.
Up at 400am Race Morning and I bolted for the balcony. I looked out into the blackness of the morning to find the wind blowing steady but the waves not as severe. Don't get me wrong, it was still rough but not like the day before. I grabbed me gear and headed for the beach.
I hate waiting. The waiting prior to race start makes me batty!!! Even though my wave was an early one, I was still ready to get started. I walked into the corral and there stood Sister Madonna Butter. Two races in one year I have had the honor of racing with Sister Madonna. We shared some kind words and then we were off. I hit the water with determination..and a little bit of panic. I was determined not to get knocked backwards today...and I didn't. My stroke was strong and steady as I started counting markers to the turn.
The only problem on the swim was the outbound markers were GREEN. Yes. You read that correctly....GREEN..like green sea water. Like they looked the same as the water so between the waves and the markers being hard to see, I simply followed the crowd. I made the turn and looked at my watch. I was 5 minutes ahead of my last 1/2 ironman swim...even in these rough conditions. I kept moving!! I exited the water with a swim time 5:20 faster than last year and accomplished my first open water ocean swim in a race. It was a great feeling.
I saw my husband complete with video camera as I headed off through transition. I made a swift transition and off I went. 25 miles into the ride, I felt pretty good...until the turnaround. We headed back towards home with the wind square in the face. I watched my speed drop to as low as 12 mph as the wind just kept blowing. Time check: 20 minutes faster than last year's time on the bike. Could this really be possible with this wind?? It wasn't until 10 miles prior to the finish we finally got relief and the wind at our back. I was headed for home. I completed the bike 21:20 faster than last year's 1/2 ironman bike course.
At this point, part of me was ready to run but Hector (my amazing coach) had warned me. If I ran the full race, he would fire me as a client. I pushed my bike to my transition area, and I started to cry. It is so foreign for me to quit during a race. It seemed so odd going to an official and telling them I was done. My body was actually feeling pretty good...my mind was ready for the challenge. As I handed over my chip, my eyes filled with tears. I gotta listen to my coach..but I don't have to like it. I know Hector had my best interests at heart in this decision, but I was pissed. I wanted that finish line. I wanted that medal.
I headed upstairs to a shower and some food and put my feet up. Rick was now about two hours from finishing and I wanted to be the best cheering squad ever. I grabbed a cat nap and headed to the finish line.
It hit 1pm and still no Rick. I was very concerned. Steve walked up the course to spread out the cheering and a 115pm he appear. His legs were cramped from the heat but he was going to finish. I screamed and cheered as he hit the finish line. Rick's 4th 1/2 Ironman was in the books. We escorted him upstairs for an ice bath and a nap.
I learned alot about myself during this race. I faced my fear of a powerful ocean and powered thorough the wind on the bike. I realized that listening to your coach can be hard but in the end, their advice is the best medicine. Not finishing this race made me appreciate the finish line experience even more and made me realize that breaking the tape is a special gift for the hard work of the day.
There is NO doubt that I will do this race again. The people were organized and kind. The volunteers were fantastic and the course is fun. Next year, I will come home with a medal.