My day started at 3:45am. It really could have started at 1:27am because I woke up, "checked my hydration level" and ate a pop tart I had stashed in the nightstand. Somehow I willed myself back to sleep between making lists of things to do when I woke up.
We were all up by 4:00 and out the door by 4:30. I hopped out near Alvin's Island and headed to transition. I made a list of everything I needed to do - get body-marked, hydration and computer at bike, sunscreen in the bike bag, nutrition and headband in my run bag. Fortunately, on the way out of transition, I heard the announcer say something about rubber bands and remembered that I still needed to put my shoes on my bike!
There is something so beautiful about the hours before a race. It's quiet and loud. It's calm and frantic. You can choose where you want your nerves, your mind, your attitude to go. That day, I was calm and quiet. I sang along to The Way You Do the Things You Do and Sugaree [a gift on race day] as they blared on the speakers. I got to hug a friend from Wilmington doing her first 140.6. I got to hang out with my crew.
Race directors announced the water temp and that this would be a non-wetsuit legal race. Athletes were allowed to wear a wetsuit, but they'd have to start at least 10 minutes behind the last non-wetsuit wearer and wouldn't be considered for awards. It was an easy decision for me to go without the wetsuit. I am a strong swimmer and sometimes feel I swim better without the wetsuit. I knew I wasn't going to see a podium slot or a chance at Kona, but I'm in it to play the game on race day. I didn't want a penalty or an asterisk by my name for performance enhancing tactics.
By 5:45 I was warming up with Jen. The water was a perfect temp. There was a strong east to west current in the first 25 yards and two sets of breakers on either side of the sand bar. Past the sand bar, the waves were rolling, but not steep. I felt good. I sculled and did a hand stand. I did a few drills and was ready to go.
Florida is now a self-seeded rolling start instead of the mass start from years past. [See this video from Jen's first year in the mass start. The year that Erica and I looked at each other and said simultaneously: oh, hell no.] Athletes are funneled into a starting chute and the idea is that you swim in the group closest to your estimated finish time. Well, that did not happen. They opened the gate and all 3000 athletes shuffle in. Somehow I got stuck-slash-wedged in with the 1:30 section instead of the intended 1:10 group. I couldn't move. Plus, I was a little disappointed in the start - no cannon (not even an freakin' air horn) and no Van Halen (Panama!).
It took me two minutes to make it to the start line and into the water. I danced across the start line to GO BIG OR GO HOME and swear I was smiling as I went in. It felt just like home. It was exactly what I trained for at the Carolina Beach Double Sprint and the Pier to Pier swim. It felt like being on Masonboro Island in the summer. I dove under waves and was at the first buoy in no time. I actually had a lot of real estate until about the third buoy, then it seemed like every buoy was a cluster-eff.
A fog moved in and the rollers were a little bigger the closer we got to the turn. At the top of every wave I could look down on the sea of caps. It also got physical in the stretch between the turn buoys. Some guy kept zig zagging across me and I got a punch in my left arm at some point. On the turn back to shore, I found two men with the exact same swim stroke as mine. For two buoys I drafted off their hip. I barely sited and was able to breathe bilaterally again. That might have been my favorite part of the swim.
I reached the shore and I checked my watch. I knew then I was off my timing mark. I was a little disappointed when I hit the beach, ran 25 yards down the sand and jumped back in for the second lap. But, I reset my goals and dove under a wave. I knew that I could probably negative split this lap and still come in at 1:20. Plus, I'm doing a freaking IRONMAN! I love this! I came up from the next wave, gave a big woo hoo! and dove under another.
I watched a man beside me try to jump over the next breaker and when I came up on the other side of the sandbar, he was back in the trough and I was in clear water. I sited on one pink cap in a sea of green caps for that second lap. It felt long, but I felt strong. I remember thinking: this is hard, but I don't hate it. I remembered my last super-long set with Sami and Lance - the 4500-yard-She-Ra workout - and reminded myself that if I did that I can do anything.
Getting back to shore that second time was hard. My siting was a little off - maybe because of the wind - but, I made it out of the water and up the sand and stairs in 1:18:59. I found out later I was 16th in my age-group - and I beat two of the podium finishers out of the water. Outstanding!
I headed for transition. R2D2 was waiting.