Everything started off wonderful - 4:30am I was saved the half hour walk in the dark by a couple of guys who happened to be leaving my motel at the same time in their truck. They were getting down early to get a park spot for their day of volunteering. Great guys. Checked all my gear was set up fine in transition and i found a warm and quite space inside away form the 3000 other competitors to relax and do some stretching until it was time to get into the wetsuit.
The wind had dropped from the previous day and so there were no longer crashing waves that seem to have been growing all week - it was completely flat calm, and lit by a gorgeous pink and orange sunrise. Perfect.
The pros got a 10 min start, which is difficult for me as a weaker swimmer since once I get dropped by the faster feet I'm swimming alone - but I've had some experience of this now and have been swimming well in training and stayed connected longer than usual. There were side currents pushing us inside the buoys that we all knew we were supposed to swim around the outside of, but i guess that no-one wanted to add extra distance swimming back on themselves to do so. There were a few of us was dropped off the main groups but we could see the line that they took and were pulled by the same drift. As far as i could see everyone went around the main corner buoy correctly, so this infringement added distance rather than cutting the course, although i was wondering what would happen if it were called as a penalty - for everyone! Second lap I managed to separate myself from the girls I had following me so it was a solo effort. I was able to judge the drift this time and made sure to swim the correct course. The second lap took a couple minutes longer, but I think that was more due to swimming without anyone to pace or draft off, rather length. Although I was hoping for a bit faster, I had completed the swim just within my target time.
The US races are great because they have wetsuit "peelers" ( no longer allowed to call them "strippers" - it's a family show ;o) who yell to "get on the ground !!-sit down!!" yank the suit of your legs for you and haul you back to your feet. This all happens pretty soon after the water's edge and I wonder how those people who aren't as fast getting their suit to their waist are dealt with! Transition volunteers were super efficient and my bag was handed to me as i ran, i was dressed and out the door and being given my bike in what seemed like a flash. Too bad i was not as sharp getting my shoes on - socks may be nice in cold weather but when they stick to the velcro on shoe straps, it makes it damn hard to slip feet into shoes on teh move. Not that flash, and very public!! Again the American crowd are ace - they don't hold back and know just what to say to get you going with a big smile on your face.
I felt good starting the ride, bright sunny but chilly morning, out along the beach front. Panama City beach is where the college kids come for "summerbreak" and its a stunning cacophony of visual noise and advertisements; every lot for about 20km is either filled with giant carbon fibre fun-fare figures, the flashing lights of a nightclub or a fast food outlet. The course then turns inland, and you get to look at trees for the next 140km, until your return to the City. Racing on my new Enve wheels with Powertap hub I was able to see my effort was a little above target, but as usual had the feeling that I need to make up some time and get warm, and that it was worthwhile holding this. There were very few riders on the road - a couple of age group men with fast swims came past and I was able to keep them in sight for a while, but I knew that it'd be much later in the day before there was any real company on the road - and this could be more of a hinderance with the difference drafting rules that are applied to professionals. So, feeling good I just got about the business, finding arythm and settling into it for a few hours.
After about 80km, I began to feel inexplicably nauseous if I let my HR get too high and threw up a few drinks. I was not too concerned by this, I had been eating enough up to that point and figured it was a 'rough patch' that would pass. Otherwise I was feeling OK at that point, and I knew that we'd mostly be riding with a tail wind on the return leg and with more of the faster age-group males around me to pace off I should be able to make up time. I did feel pretty dreadful by the end of the ride, but this was more associated with the spasms that I get in the backside due to a trapped sciatic nerve and having spent over 5 hours working hard down on the aero-bars, and not worse than usual. The last 20km into town was into a string headwind which was a struggle, but the town had woken up and were out to greet us in. My pink camo QR gets so much attention, it's wikid - it's hard to feel miserable when the bike attracts so much love from the roadside! I can say that I was looking forward to the run exactly, but pretty keen to get off the bike. At this point in the race I was about 12 min down on my target times, and knew that to break 9:30 I'd need to pull off a 3:15 run or better. I know that this was well within what I am capable of, and going into my favourite portion of the race with a clear target time would give me the motivation to push for it. Although I'd not seen the route, I knew it'd be flat. Possibly windy, but flat.
Another slick transition thanks to the expert volunteer crew and despite the nerve twinges through my glute, I was slightly surprised to feel I had light legs starting the run. As usual, I covered the first couple of km slightly faster than target average pace, but not excessively so. It has back-fired on me a few times, but generally I find it's good to have the legs moving and then settle, especially as there were some age-group guys around to pace off. My tummy felt a bit gurgly, made a few very strange sounds, and by mile 2 I was stopped in a port-a-loo. Basically from there on it was a series of sprints between toilets - I was not able to settle into a rhythm before my stomache cramped and I was looking for my next outlet. Frustrating because my legs felt fine and since my heart-rate was dropping each mile or so, I felt good the whole time whilst I was actually running and was generally able to catch back up to the people that I'd be running by prior to my detour. Of course as the miles passed, I was loosing more time to the 'bathroom' and the lack of hydration and nutrition having an increasingly significant effect on my ability to run. By the time I'd run half way I was considering withdrawing, but had taken some more Ibruprofen for the thumping headache that had developed, an Immodium and a Monster caffeine drink thought i'd see if I could not rescue my race if that kicked in and I was able to start getting some gels in me, because my at least my legs weren't hurting.
Whether it was because I had let that idea into my mind and I was feeling totally wretched again by then, or whether it was just lack of nutrition, but three more miles of running below my target pace and stopping at each aid station I kind of ground to a halt. I walked in circles a little bit, around an aid station which was decked out like Santa's grotto, and finally made the tough call not to head out any further into the second lap. Even a hug from Santa at the side of the path couldn't make me feel better.
This is my first ever DNF in countless triathlons since 2004 including 17 Ironman distance and longer, many of which I suffered in and some in which I had poor, even embarrassing, results. But, although it would have been possible to struggle another 10 miles round by walking, I'm no longer out there for the finisher T-shirt, and certainly not a big medical bill.
Nonetheless, being around an Ironman event the day afterwards when you failed to finish is one of the worst feelings in the world.
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