2013 was a tough year for me personally and the race report for Ironman Florida is a tough one to write.  In some ways I was scared to race.  I knew that I wasn’t as “ready” as I have been in previous years.  I also knew that I really missed racing and that I love going out and really testing my limits.  People race for lots of different reasons.  My reason for racing long course is selfish, lots of things in life come easy to me but long course triathlon is hard.  I like pushing myself and finding out exactly where my limits lie.  
The night before the race I was a nervous wreck.  I can’t remember being this nervous about a race ever.  I thought the best thing to do was to have constant reminder on race day of how very lucky I am to be able to race so I took out the sharpie and wrote myself a reminder — “baby ducks have it down.”  After braiding my hair and Kim’s hair I tried to get to bed early.  
Baby ducks have it down.  

I didn’t get much sleep and was wide awake at 3 a.m. giving me plenty of time to eat my applesauce, whey protein and banana.  With nothing else to do I laid back down and read several chapters of Neverwhere.  Nothing like a good book to help pass the time.  At 5 a.m. I put on my kit and started to get ready to head to transition.  I put sunscreen on, collected my special needs bags and Shaun and I headed to transition.  
Applying sunscreen at 5 a.m.
We got to transition about 5:30 a.m. and it was already packed.  There were over 3,000 starters for the race (yes, 3,000) and there was not enough real estate for all the athletes, spectators, volunteers and support crews.  Shaun was lucky enough to have a media pass thanks to witsup.com so he was able to come into transition with me.  We pumped tires, filled bottles, set up the bike computer and dropped off the special needs bags.  As an aside I always pack special needs bags but I rarely use them.  My bike special needs bag contains an extra “set” of bike course nutrition (4 gels and a bar), a tube and a CO2 cartridge.  My run special needs bag contains a gel, a pack of Honey Stinger chews and several lava salt tabs.  After dropping off special needs I got in line for the potties and Shaun went off to take some pre-race pictures.  Shaun returned to see me trip and fall getting out of the port-a-potty.  Yes, I fell and skinned my knee before the race even began.  It wouldn’t be a race without a little blood, unfortunately this was not my only fall.  
Pre-swim putting on the wetsuit.

When I got down to the beach I could see that the Gulf of Mexico was still pretty rough.  The breakers looked like they were in the 4 to 6 foot range and waves were churning past the break line.  Florida had a “modified swim start” where racers lined up parallel to the water line based on projected swim time.  Those swimmers who projected a sub-one hour swim lined up closest to the buoys.  The slower the swim time, the farther you started from the buoys.  I lined up right at the 1:10 mark.  Seeing 3,000 people lined up on the beach was quite a sight.

When the cannon went off there was utter and complete chaos.  The water was too shallow to swim and the waves were crashing hard.  There was no where to go and everyone was getting crushed, grabbed, scratched and hit.  This was my sixth 140.6 mass swim start and it was by far the most violent.  I was particularly perturbed that once I was able to start swimming I quickly ran into an athlete swimming double armed back stroke.  I have no idea why this person would line up with the 1:10 swimmers.  The entire first lap was a fight.  Playing water polo in college was the best possible preparation for this swim.  I made the turn for the second loop in about 35 minutes and hoped that the second loop would be smoother.  No such luck.  The second loop was just as rough as the first.  I couldn’t find clean water anywhere and ended up taking in way too much sea water.  Despite the rough conditions I finished the swim in 1:12.  A 3 minute PR for the distance.

WTC CEO Andrew Messick has been participating in several swim starts this year to experience them from the athlete perspective.  I hope that Mr. Messick participated in this swim start because it was down right dangerous — too many people, poor seeding by the athletes and rough water that made navigation and forward progress difficult.

The sea of T1 bags.

Coming out of the swim I was a bit disoriented.  I grabbed my T1 bag (thanks to Eric for standing over it and making sure I got it as soon as I came out) and ran into the women’s change room.  While the room was fairly empty there weren’t a whole lot a volunteers.  So I pulled on my bike shoes, grabbed my helmet and sunglasses and ran out towards my bike.  In my haste to get out of T1 quickly I forgot to grab my bike nutrition for the second half of the bike (I ended up picking up my “extra” nutrition from special needs).  Thankfully I made it through T1 without falling and was off and riding.

The bike course at Florida is nothing to write home about.  Its flat, there’s wind, drafting is a problem and it can be incredibly fast.  Its not that different from a long trainer ride.  Coming out of T1 I knew the course would be crowded and that drafting would be a problem but I had not idea how bad it would be.  As hard as I tried to ride clean it was almost impossible.  3,000 people on flat bike course makes for a very tight bike.  While there were some obvious pace lines, there were also lots of people who couldn’t get out of each other’s way.  I kept looking for USAT officials but there were none to be found.  There were quite a few motorcycles on course, however none of them carried USAT officials.  Rather they carried VIP pass holders who had paid over $1,000 for the privilege of riding out on the bike course to see their athlete up close and personal.  The first two penalty tents were completely empty when I passed and the third tent contained only four bikers.

I did my best to ignore everything else and just bike, drink and eat.  It took about an hour to get my heart rate to settle in the mid 140s and once there I held it for the duration of the ride.  There was a slight headwind on several sections of the course but there was also an equal amount of tail.  I focused on making sure I drank sports drink at least every 10 minutes (the first two bottles were Skratch and then I used course provided Perform), a half a bar at 30 minutes, another half at 60 minutes and then a gel every 30 minutes repeated twice.  The bike flew by quickly and I entered T2 with a bike split of 5:50, two minutes slower than my 2012 bike split on the same course.

Heading out on the run.

As I rolled into T2 I was greeted by Shaun and Eric.  I got off the bike and knew the run wasn’t going to be good.  I had no feeling in my right foot (the one I had surgery on in August) and my entire right leg was pulling from my lower back, through the glute and down to my knee.  I went into T2 and took a few moments to compose myself before heading out to run.  I love the run.  Its my favorite part of the race but by mile 1 I knew it was going to be a long day.  I had a horrible side stitch and my right foot remained numb with the exception of intense pain at the surgical incision point.  There wasn’t anything I could do about the foot but I started taking in salt tabs along with Perform and ice every mile to help with the side stitch.  By about mile 6 I had the side stitch under control but the right foot and leg were slowing me down.  On top of that my heart rate was registering in the 170s, way above my target heart rate.  I thought a lot about stopping and walking and it took everything I had to keep running (it also helped that I knew Kim was behind me and there was no way I was going to let her pass me).  While I walked every aid station I ran everything else despite it being a very slow run.  At about mile 12 I just started crying, I was in pain and I knew I would be seeing Shaun and Eric at the turn around.  I wanted them to be proud of me and I didn’t want to be a mess.

In pain at the 13.1 mile turn around.

Coming into the turn around, I saw the boys and stopped for a moment for a hug.  I needed to completely fall apart for a minute so I could pull myself together and keep running.  The run back out to St. Andrews Park was painful.  I was counting the miles backwards.  10 miles to go, 9 miles to go, 8 miles to go.  Up until mile 20 (6 miles to go) I hadn’t looked at my total time but at the 20 mile mark a volunteer told me there was 9:45 total on the race clock and that sub 12 was a possibility.  Fueling myself with coke and chicken broth (a weird combination but it worked really well) I was able to start picking up the pace.  Sub 12 was a real possibility.  Then, when running through the dark neighborhoods at about mile 23 I tripped on speed hump.  I fell hard on both of my knees, ripping them open and smacking them on the concrete.  After rolling around on the street for a few moments, crying like a baby and refusing offers to call for medical I picked myself up and started walking.  After about a quarter mile I started to run.  My knees hurt, my foot hurt, my lower back was seizing but I really wanted a strong finish.  I knew that as much as my body wanted to give up and walk I could do this.  I pushed through the last three miles and as I made the turn for the finish I heard the announcer count down to the 12 hour mark, I had missed it.  I kept going, crossing the line at 12:04 with a 4:49 marathon.

As I crossed the line I fell into the catcher’s arms and Shaun and Eric quickly grabbed me from the catcher.  For the second year in a row I made the trip to the medical tent to have my knees cleaned, bandaged and iced.  As I sat in the medical tent I was completely wrecked.  I had pushed my body to give everything it had.  As much as I hurt I was incredibly proud of myself.  Giving up would have been easy and I didn’t give up.  Florida 2013 was not my fastest 104.6 (its rank is 3rd out of 6) but it took the most heart and that’s something that makes me proud.

My salt and tan lines post race.
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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / witsup.com writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05

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