Sunday, November 7, 2010

Now I belong….Ironman Florida Race Report

The first time I ever did a tri was more than 25 years ago. It was the Wolfeboro, NH GraniteMan Tri. I did no special training and thought I could rely on my running ability to carry me to the finish line. Boy was I wrong. I remember going into the swim I went all out and was soon sucking wind within 50 yards. It was a half mile swim. I was going into survival mode already…ugh!!! Then I struggled through a very hilly 18 mile bike ride and then a 4 mile run. I don’t think I passed a soul. I remember driving home and saying that I would never do that again.

Fast forward to 2003. I had taken the summer off from work and decided to do the Timberman ½ ironman race. All summer long I planned on training but there was always another boat ride to take or beer to drink. I didn’t run a step, or bike much at all. The only swimming I did was to take a quick dip in the lake. When I was picking up my race packet, I took a look around and noticed that these athletes weren’t you average Joe’s. They all seemed to be ripped and laser focused. I was out of my league once again. The weather wasn’t cooperating either. It was hitting 95 degrees. I used a jet ski wet suit which is high on the friction scale. I struggled mightily to finish the 1.2 mile swim. I think I invented a couple new strokes. On the bike I was cramping up quite a bit at mile 40. So much so that I had to stop and stretch. Once the run started I figured I’d kick some A$$. Didn’t happen!! I had no legs left. I ended up finishing in 7:30. I was close to last place. I was humbled.

Over the years I’ve done the Timberman race many times and have had a little success but no real triumphs. So when I decided to sign up for the Florida Ironman, I knew I had a lot of work to do. A real lot of work. I needed to learn to swim long distance, I needed to learn how to stay aero on the bike. I needed to learn how to run after a long bike ride. I needed to learn about nutrition during the race. I needed a plan, an audacious plan. I seeked out the knowledge of all my friends and they all came through.

So one year later I was standing on the beach with some doubts about my abilities but I had 2 things I was focusing on. The first was the race directors words of wisdom “you WILL do this”. The second was what I live my life by “Never give up”. I wrote this message on my right hand.

On race morning I was up at 4 AM. Took care of my normal pre-race business and had a protein shake and a raisin bagel with peanut butter on it. Followed by a Gatorade. Then it was off to the transition area to put PB&J sandwiches in each of my transition bags and to do final set up of my bike. Lastly I needed to drop off my special needs bags a ¼ mile down the street. Then it was back to my room to rest.

At 6:30 it was time to head to the start. My room was located 20 yards from the beach and 50 yards from the finish line. This made many logistics very easy. I slipped on my wet suite, swim cap and goggles. I was about to use a new set of goggles. The ones I had the day before were leaking. This goes against everything I know about racing. Never use anything new on race day. I had no choice.

I headed down to the swim start with 2500 other competitors. 1375 were first timers to the Ironman distance. I was nervous, but kept telling myself that “I WILL do this” and “stick to the plan”. To remind people I actually had 4 plans
1. Finish at all cost.

2. Finish in 13 hours

3. Finish in 12 hours

4. Finish in 11 hours

My swim plan was to stay far right on the 2 loop counter clockwise course and stay out of the hoards of people, it would only cost me about 7 yards if I was able to swim on a direct path to the first turn buoy. At 6:50 AM the pro’s started. Holy cow can they ever swim fast. Then it was my GO time. The announcer did a count down then started yelling GO, GO, GO!!! I didn’t run and dive in, I walked in and eased myself into the water and started to swim. I was getting the s!#@% beat out of me, mostly by women, old women. I kept having to stop and look up to see if I could find an opening to swim. When I reached the first turn buoy I checked out my time, it was around 18 minutes. I was pumped. But I told myself to relax. At the 2nd turn heading back to the beach I had a good rhythm going. I hit the beach in 40 minutes. I was pumped. I had figured I’d be around 45 minutes. I had to run up on the beach and step over the timing mats and by the time I was back into the water I was at the 42 minute mark. The second loop was much less crowed and I was able to get a good rhythm going and ended up finishing in 1:23:04. I was shocked. In my widest dreams I figured I could do 1:30, with a 1:45 my realistic time. I got out of the water in 1677th place.

Off to T1. I grabbed my T1 bag and it was off to the men’s changing tent. It was packed. I ended up in a dining hall that they had to start using for over flow. Changing went slow but I didn’t want to rush. Then on the way to my bike all the fluids I drank in the morning were pushing on my bladder. So I stopped at one of the porta johns. Finally I got to my bike.

By the time I hit the bike mount line 13:09 went by. I didn’t know this but I really didn't care. I mounted my bike and I was off. I started off slow so I could ease into a smooth pedal stroke. Now drafting is a no no and carries a 4 minute penalty if your caught. But this was next to impossible, so I hung on the right side and was passing people, lots of people. I was using many of them as a sling shot when I’d go by. I stayed in the aero position most of the time and was taking nutrition every 3 miles. At the 10 mile mark I took my first GU. Another rule is that littering carries a penalty. When I finish my GU I had to take the almost empty packet and tucked it in the bottom of my biking shorts until I got to a aid station where I could throw it out. But within a mile I felt this dripping on my lower leg. I reached down to find out what it was and my hand and leg was covered in GU. So I had to ride the next 100 miles with a sticky leg and hand.

As the ride continued I was in a good zone. The road was smooth until the 50 mile mark. Then we got on this 10 mile spur road that was like riding on a very bad New England road. It was bone shaking. At mile 55 I had average 21.7 MPH. I was shocked. I was having the ride of my life. At mile 63 we took a hard left into the wind and rollers until mile 80. I was slowing down. This section was taking it’s toll on me. At mile 80 we finally took a left heading south on some sweet tar. I was crushing at 25 MPH. YEEEEHAAA!! I hit the 100 mile mark at 4:43. It was at that point I knew that I’d be able to finish up at over 21 MPH. So for the last 12 miles I took it easy and keep it right around 22 MPH. I wanted fresh legs for the run. I finished up with a 5:17:49 and had an average speed of 21.14 MPH. I was now in 566 place. I had passed 1111 people.

In T2 I took it slow and made sure I kept my heart rate low. RELAX. Once again I had to hit the porta john. This is good because it told me I was well hydrated. I got out of T2 in 7:13. I was carrying a PB&J sandwich and some Endurolyte tablets. I grabbed a Gatorade and munched on the PB&J. It went down easy and I was running smooth. I hit the first mile mark in 8:11. I was thinking “that wasn’t so bad”. So I picked it up a bit. I ended up averaging 7:31’s for the first 6 miles and was passing about 10 people every mile. I was running smooth and easy, I wasn’t even sweating. I started doing the math and thought that a sub 11 hour Ironman could be had. But I was starting to slow. The next 7 miles at the half marathon point I had averaged 8:30’s. At the turn around point I grabbed my special needs bag and grabbed my next PB&J. I took one bite but my stomach was NOT happy. I spit it out and throw the sandwich away. I was starting to get in trouble. I was going into survival mode. All I needed to do is average 10 minute miles. How tough would that be? IMPOSSIBLE!!! My legs were still light and lose but I had no energy left. Nothing at any of the aid stations were helping. By mile 19 I was reduced to run a little, walk a lot, run very little walk a real lot. My sub 11 hour Ironman was gone. I went into total survival mode and it wasn’t until mile 24.5 that I was able to regroup and take it home hard.

My fastest mile came in at mile 26. I ran a 6:50. Crossing the finish line I screamed as loud as I could. I probably sounded like a teenage girl. Then I heard those magic words “Scott Graham from Westford MA, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”!!! I finished in 11:14:28 in 513th place. I had averaged 9:39 per mile in the marathon. I was given my finisher medal, a hat and a shirt then was escorted over to have my picture taken.

Next was the food tent but I was not able to even look at the stuff. I headed back to my room and cleaned up. I took a couple of calls from friends and family and proceeded to take a 1 hour nap. When I woke up at I grabbed some food from my fridge then headed out to the food tent and grabbed a couple pieces of Pizza. After that I headed over to the bar to grab a Coke. While in the bar the race director came in and I approached him and thanked him. Especially, the enthusiasm of all the volunteers. I though Boston was fantastic, it doesn’t compare to this.

At 11 PM I headed out to the finish line. Here to me are the true determined people. At this point they had been out there for 16 hours. This was a huge party atmosphere. Everyone was dancing, the music was loud and people thumping anything that would make noise. For every finisher the crowd went wild. You could see tears rolling down the faces of most of these people. The last guy finished at 16:59:30. Talk about cutting it close to the 17 hour shut down time.

I went back to my room at 1 AM and was still wired. I needed to sleep but I had drank 4 Cokes. I was wired, I needed to get up at 5 AM to get in line to purchase Finisher stuff. I woke up right at 5 and went out to get some ice and noticed there was already 10 people in line…WTF, these people are tough. I made myself a protein shake and put it in a cup to go. I dressed in just about everything I owned because it was 35 degrees outside. I was about 30th in line. At 7 AM they let us in and in 10 minutes I had everything I wanted. Next it was off to the picture company. They handed me 2 photos of me crossing the finish line and will be sending me a link to all the photos they got of me during the race.

Now I needed to do some laundry. This hotel had 324 rooms and no laundry room. So I ended up walking 3 miles to the laundry mat and 3 miles back. My legs were surprisingly fresh. On the way back I stopped off at a diner and grabbed 2 hotdogs with onions. Boy did those taste good.

The weather had warmed up and I wanted to see what I had left in my legs so I went for a 4 mile run on the beach. It felt great. I had already done a lot today so I took a 1.5 hour nap. Then it was time for the awards banquet. I attended and they showed a video of the race. Guess who made the video? MOI.. On my first loop I was getting interviewed by a guy camera guy on the back of a motor cycle.

I found out that I finished 27 of 239 men in the 50 - 54 age category.

So now I know that I can compete with these Tri people and hold my own. I belong!!

Thanks to everyone who helped me in my journey. There was a lot of you and you know who you are. Thanks again!!!


  1. Way to go Scotty! From what I was reading about your training, it seemed like you were going to be ready for this and you were. The run at the end sounds like the toughest part...which is interesting since you are a very good runner. This sounded like a real test and some pretty intense stuff. But you did it! By the way, help yourself to more than two hot dogs at the next diner you go to this week.

  2. Thanks for the wonderful write-up! You always tell a riveting story, with the nitty-gritty detail that those of us who push ourselves athletically truly appreciate! I felt the most pain reading about the transmission falling out of the bus on the run -- it must have been a real smack given that marathoning is YOUR sport. But you were victorious -- well done!

  3. Thanks Frank and Melissa. I think I'm going to have a bowl of ice cream for breakfast today.

    I was just plan out of fuel in the run. My legs were not tight or cramping. I was even getting sleepy. And no matter what I tried to put in my stomach, my body rejected it. In short I was bonking.

    On to new adventures!!

  4. Scott. Holy Shit. Good for you. I've been conveniently watching you train for this over the past year and was thinking of you all day. Great story of determination and inspiration. Congratulations!

  5. Wow! Congrats Scotty! You actually made it sound easy! Incredible stuff!

    Completing an IronMan is definitely going on my bucket list. I can't imagine many other endurance races this grueling.

    Now to learn how to swim....

  6. Thanks Jason, The race really seemed easy because of the countless hours I put into training. It was much more then I ever expected. The swimming part is tough and lonely. I took lessons for almost a year.

    Congrad's on the JFK50. With the training you did how the heck were you able to get through that monster? You are one tough sob.

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