Haines City, Florida
The brochure said it always seems that central Florida heats up for the summer about the third week of May, just in time for Ironman’s 70.3 Triathlon. The brochure didn’t lie, and the day turned out to be one to remember.
We arrived just after 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 19th for body markings and to get ready for the 7:15 am swim start scheduled for my husband, Todd. He had already checked his bike in the day before but the morning was spent pumping his tires, checking over the bike and trying to relax.
I had teamed up with our friend Stephanie to form the two-person all-female relay team “Sporty Spice.” Steph’s swim start time wasn’t scheduled until7:45, as the relay teams were the last of the 16 wave swim starts. About 2,000 participants were expected to start the triathlon with sunny skies and a 70 degree early morning.
Todd finished his 1.2 mile swim in Lake Eva in 42:21, two minutes slower than his projected goal. He said the water was murky and, of course, crowded with age-groupers. He steered off course once but was able to recover without losing too much time. Steph, an accomplished swimmer and Todd’s tri-coach for the last two years, turned in a speedy 35:37.
Born and bred in West Virginia, we had all been quietly making fun of the Florida “hills” that the other participants were buzzing about, but we were about to get humbled by the bike and run courses. As opposed to the steeper terrain we were all used to, with quicker inclines and relief on the other side, we were surprised by the long, steady climbs that seemed to plateau, only to begin again with more long, steady climbs. For the first 30 miles, the bike course was about 2-3% constant grade with a significant headwind, unprotected by any West Virginia trees, and with the temperature spiking up to 90 degrees with unrelenting sun. To top that, a challenging side wind showed up for the last half of the bike course. Still yet, Todd and Steph turned in impressive times for the 56 mile ride, at 2:47:55, and 2:53:26, respectively, both achieving sub 3-hour goals despite the windy, hot weather and unexpected rolling terrain.
I had spent my morning picking out a cute new running skirt to wear (the kind that looks like a skirt but has the built-in spandex shorts underneath), being nervous about the upcoming run, waiting for Todd and Steph to complete their swims and rides, and trying to find the right balance of fuel and hydration for a midday run in 90+ degree sunny weather. I would discover later that what I thought was a simple meal bar was actually a “fiber” bar. How and why this was in my mix of pre-race snacks I’ll never know! I also unwisely chose to take an 800 mg ibuprofen on race morning about an hour before I ran, thinking it would help with any aches and pains along the way and after. I would soon discover that several little mistakes put together with the warm weather would create the Perfect Storm for my lower intestines.
With our relatively cool spring in West Virginia, we quickly realized we just weren’t acclimated to the Florida weather conditions. Todd and I ran four days prior to the race when it was only 38 degrees in WV, and tried practicing with a lunchtime run a day later when the crazy WV weather spiked into the 80’s, but we just didn’t get in the warm weather pre-race running practice that we had hoped for.
Expecting a flat course, due to unwisely dismissing those Florida “hills” we were warned about, I had hopes of setting a PR of 1:45 for the half marathon, a full three minutes and change from my previous best. But as I began the three-loop course in the extreme heat with a near-immediate incline (which I knew in the back of my mind I was going to have to repeat two more times), along with a rumbly tummy I initially dismissed as nerves, I quickly realized my goal was quite lofty. The first two miles were the only ones in which I was able to stay on pace, before severe stomach problems settled in for the duration of the entire 13.1 miles.
The run course meandered thru nice neighborhoods where many helpful resident spectators stood outside with water hoses and sprinkler systems inviting runners to douse themselves with the water to cool off a bit. (I would also realize later that, although it felt so good to run thru the water, drenching myself completely was not the best thing for my poor feet which ended up having multiple blisters.)
As I continued to run, the gas in my stomach continued to build. I’m not sure why I never thought to use a porta-potty; there were, of course, many on the course along the way. I guess my competitiveness and “don’t stop” mentality overshadowed my physical ailments (#neverstopever and #iamvelocity). Now, what I’m about to say next has probably been experienced, to some degree, by the majority of all runners, but probably not shared by many of those runners on a public blog. Let me just say that if I hadn’t already heard of the saying “never trust a fart,” after this experience I would have coined the phrase myself and posted it on a million billboards and t-shirts, if only as a gentle reminder to be aware – very aware – that passing a little gas might turn out to be more than a little gas…
I’ll never forget how one split second in time could go from a slight bit of relief to extreme shock and terror. I spent a couple miles (still running of course) trying to decide how to get myself out of this predicament. Either way, I’d have to make it to the end of the course and face hundreds of people at the finish line in my cute but not-so-clean running skirt. As I approached a small incline (one of those nonexistent Florida hills), I looked up and saw a man by the sidewalk with a water hose. People were running past him – some bending down to place their head under the water, some simply quickly running thru the stream. Embarrassment lost the battle to desperation as a potential solution came to mind. Without another thought I jogged right up to the man, promptly turned around, lifted my skirt and said, “I NEED YOU TO SPRAY MY BUTT!” He complied but I didn’t stay long enough to see his reaction after I muttered a “thanks” and sped away. Quickly. Very quickly. My husband said this poor man certainly understood how one split second could turn from a moment of being excited that a girl drew attention to her butt to packing up the water hose for the day.
I trudged on, still feeling sick and watching the time tick away, as I was hard pressed to run at all, much less at the pace I had trained for. I battled the head games, going from readjusting my goals, to wanting to drop out completely, to finally being determined to “just finish.” Meanwhile, Todd was having his own challenges with stomach issues, but he powered thru, wisely taking time to use the porta-potty, then realizing about mile 11 that he was going to reach his sub 6-hour goal for the 70.3 swim, bike and run. I, too, found more resolve around the 11th mile, knowing that I would see the finish line – albeit dirty and smelly – but I would finish – if I had to crawl. My run time turned out to be 2:09:30 (of course nowhere near my original goal, but what can you do when you poop your pants?)
Todd’s accumulative time was a PR of 5:54:53, while Team Sporty Spice came in at sixth place out of 28 teams, with a time of 5:47:13.
I enjoyed the organized, energetic, international atmosphere of the Ironman venue, and, without a doubt, getting sprayed with water hoses by the Florida residents, one in particular, certainly was a very welcomed bonus on that hot day.