Sunday, May 10, 2009

Exocising the demons..The Gulf Coast Half Ironman Distance Triathlon

The Gulf Coast Triathlon was so important to me for one simple reason: I needed a positive experience in Panama City before Ironman in November. The "demons" that haunted me after Ironman Florida are still in the back of my memory but they have been replaced by the memory of stepping across a finish line in the same spot as the Ironman Florida finish line. I know its kinda weird and crazy to think like this but, if you have been following my blog for awhile, this mindset and behavior should not surprize you. Ask my friends, fellow racing fanatics and co workers and they will tell you the same thing: when Melissa gets a goal, either help her or get out of her way. It becomes a passion.

And so was this race. We awoke at 4am to a shining full moon and a relatively clear sky. The waves were breaking on the beach and from what I could tell, it was going to be an interesting swim. Last year, the swim was SCARY rough. This year, the best way I could describe the condition would be : Messy!! The sea just couldn't decided what to do so the waves were going in all directions (or so it felt). I was up, out the door and the first in the transition area to set my gear. We then returned to our condo (right on the race site) and tried to relax. This was difficult for me...I was ready to go!! I was ready to accomplish this goal.

My wave left at 6:35am...which gave me PLENTY of time to complete this race by the cut off. As we enter the water, I saw several women get pushed back by the breakers. I used a couple of dolphin entries (thank you Sara McLarty) and got past the sandbars and really rough surf and began to swim. I set myself up to start far right of the buoys since I know I am slower than most people and it also gave me a clear swimming area to the outer marker.

I was nervous. I tried to slow my breathing down but I didn't really get into the groove of my swim stroke until the first turn. To add disguisting insult to the rough water, a woman got seasick right in front of my swim path. I made a hard right to avoid the contents of her stomach (GROSS!) and continued forward. As much as I wanted to stop and help her, I knew that today wasn't my day to do that.

As I made my way towards the beach, I finally checked my watch and realized I was going to match last year's swim time. Thats ok, I thought, it beats going slower. I came out of the water and worked my way up the sand to the showers and peeled my skin suit. As some of you may know, I don't swim with a wetsuit because, honestly, I have never found a suit that truly fit me...until this weekend. The rep from Blue Seventy fitted me very well with a WLA which is a women's ATHENA Reaction wetsuit ...but more on that later.

Into transition I went with memories of Ironman in my head. I rounded the corner to my rack which was directly across from the pros. I looked for my things..and couldn't find them. What?? It appeared that someone moved my gear after I left transition but I regrouped and got myself together. Helmet, glasses, socks, cycling shoes and I was off!!

Out on the road, I spotted my devoted husband waiting with camera to take lots of pictures. The cool thing about this bike course is that it loops back around after 2.5 miles so I got to see him twice. On the way back I got a highfive and I was on my way out to the rural world of Bay County.

The course was windy in parts with a tail wind in the early part of the course. The course includes one bridge that use to kill me when I would climb it in practice runs but after racing Tri Miami, this thing seemed like a bridge across the creek. I shifted into the lower gear and just made my way up!! We then made a turn for a 12 mile out and back near the new Panama City airport. Half the pavement is wonderful. The other half is a nightmare of potholes and broken asphalt. Thank god for my good bike seat.
After the turn around, I was dead into the wind and did well for about 6 miles until I felt myself starting to slow down. I have been training alot for Olympic distance racing and I can tell that I need to spend more time in the saddle. After mile 26, I was starting to lose steam but I pushed forward.

Back to the beachfront and a tailwind and I was renewed. I headed into transition about 3 minutes slower than last year. This is definitely an area for improvement. I racked my bike, grabbed my running gear and was out in a fast 2:51. I got the T2 thing down.

The run was exceedingly hot and offered little or no shade. The GREAT thing about this race is that they had a water station at every mile!! This was wonderful for Ice, Water and Gatorade. At each station, I filled my hat with ice and grabbed some Gatorade. After mile 4, I was down to a walk and my pace stayed there for the remainder of the race. This is DEFINITELY the place I need improvement and I plan to get some additional help with my running.

I met some unique people along the way. A man training for Ironman that had gotten kicked in the swim and was having a tough day .At mile 5, I saw my training partner, Rick, coming the other direction about to finish his first half Ironman after knee surgery 4 months ago. A couple in their 70's running the half together (made me want to heartfelt is that). A girl who agreed to be part of a relay team 24 hours before the race. So many stories!! I continued to walk but I was determined to finish this 70.3. At mile 6.5, you enter the State Park and make your way around a long circular road. I tried to run but I just couldn't get enough speed to make it worth it so I continued my pace to the end.

At mile 12, I saw my husband-camera in hand taking pictures and cheering me on. He walked the with me up to the chute. It reminded me of my first days running triathlon. I would do Sprint distance races out at Clermont, FL and I would usually be one of the final finishers. He would run with me and help me keep going when I thought I could not continue. Here he was again..helping his wife achieve this crazy goal that several trainers said was simply impossible.

As I entered the chute towards the finish line, my training partner for 9 years awaited my arrival. Rick was decked out in his compression socks, knee brace and finisher's medal with hands on his hips screaming for me to finish. Both Rick and Steve knew that this finish was significant to me. I needed to finish this race mentally to be able to move forward in my training. The finish line area was kinda deserted but this is no surprise. I finished 45 minutes before the close of the course. As I crossed the line, the feeling of relief came over me. No tears, no emotion but just if this huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

My times this day were not the best. Walking 9 miles made my run time almost 10 minutes slower than my previous half ironman but Im really ok with that. I would have loved to PR this event but I think in my heart it was more about crossing the line.

In the coming months, I will HAVE to get faster and strong if I plan to make the 17 hour cut off. This I know. I think the finish time of this race will give me the sense of urgency I need to keep training hard for November 7th. I don't care if I am the final finisher that long as the finish time is under 16:59:59.

Mission Accomplished. On to Ironman....


Kate said...

Yay! You did it!! And surviving the stomach contents of another person on the swim, even. UGH>

The Running Girl said...

Congrats on finishing and overcoming that mental block!!!!! You are an amazing athlete. Keep up the great work.

IronBob said...

On the transition: In working St Anthonys this year in transition I was taking pictures of Bree Wee and going into T2 she also went down the wrong row. After I yelled at her she quickly got her bearings again and on her way (but she lost about 15 seconds).

I know what you mean about course knowledge, I did 12 Houston Marathons and there was comfort in knowing what is coming up.

BIKE girl BIKE. I cant stress this enough (and I think you alluded to it) the importance, now, of saddle time.

Calyx Meredith said...

You banished those demons and got motivated for the next phase - I'd say that's a huge WIN. Those are good milestones even if they don't have the initials "PR". Congratulations again on your race and best of luck with the next pieces!!

Elizabeth the Marathon Girl said...


RBR said...


Did I mention you are AWESOME?

Well, you are.

AWESOME, that is!

Great job. You have accomplished this step in your Iron journey.

BTW< I have been that puking-in-the-water girl. Fortunately I am so slow no one was behind me. I did get a personal canoe escort after that though.

DLDancer said...

Whoo hoo!!! Way to go! YIPPEE!!! You are the bomb!

ShirleyPerly said...

GCT (and IMFL) is a deceivingly difficult course. Last year the swim was quite rough, the bike course was windy and the run was hot, hot, hot. Just like this year, it sounds. Just finishing is certainly an accomplishment. CONGRATS!!

Hassan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hassan said...

Wow! what a great story! Ma'am, I dont know you yet I am proud of you! Triathletes, man I think God has a special place for us :) Keep up the great work! The finish line isnt the tough part! Getting to the starting line..ahh now that takes courage!! Keep up the good work! When is your Ironman?