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Iron Man Florida – Race report (1st Nov 2014) – Mark Pellew

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It read clearly on the World Triathlon Corporation internet page, "Thanks to a beautiful seashore and perfect temperatures, IRONMAN Florida is a magnet for triathletes and their families”. 

Let’s just say that ‘race day’ could not have been further from the truth!

The whistling 45kmph winds arrived at around 1am on race morning. Waking to the noise & looking out the window seeing the palm trees bending, it was obvious that today was going to hurt a little more than expected.

Nevertheless a cup of hot chocolate & a pillow over my head, and I was back to dream land for a couple more hours.

What I didn’t expect though, was how cold it became with this cold front hitting the Gulf of Mexico – it was freaking freezing.

Whilst most athletes had lined-up for the start on the beach, I remained in the ocean to stay warm. There was no way was I getting out, and the plan was to run around, over the timing start matt, and into the start area with 60 seconds to spare. No matter though, with some of the lifeguards unable to stay in their paddle boats & rip currents concerning the organisers, the announcement to cancel the swim was finally confirmed.

What now, such confusion. Personally for me, it was first things first. I headed straight over to the Boardwalk Beach Resort Hotel hall to get warm & changed.

Instead of the expected duathlon to take place, the organisers finally decided and confirmed to the athletes we were to keep the remaining race order and have the 180km cycle & 42.2km run. Standing by our bikes in numerical order at 8am (in the cold) from 1 to 3000 – it was a time trial straight and simple in number order. A run & jump onto your bike over the timing matt every 5 seconds (in two’s) was the start of the race.

Tapered & ready, it was beast mode on. I started out in trail of the starting professionals about 45 minutes back. I expected strong cyclists for Florida and that’s what was delivered. It was a dog fight out there. Also with-out the swim, most athletes were green fresh and must have allocated that extra swim effort (now abandoned), to burning a few extra matches on the bike leg.

The concern for me, with the sequence of the race start, was being overtaken and taking cognisance of their bike number to determine how much time they had gained. This race was a unique situation and I tried to get what information I could….while allocating the remainder of my centration to some ‘serious’ bike dodging & headwind riding! In fairness, it was fun & I was happy to be racing and keeping warm.

The ride included one loop of 180km, with some in’s & outs where you could see (and lap) your competition. Travelling in a northerly direction to the first 40km marker into the headwind and finally turning right eastward, it was a partial relief. Averaging only 32kmph & pushing a 318w average to this point, raised the alert buttons on the dashboard, and it was time to manage the remainder of the bike leg carefully, but firmly. In fact, if I had attacked one more time, I would have dropped myself.

No doubt, the age group Europeans racing Florida can certainly cycle. At each opportunity, I could see some of these guys gaining more time on me during the bike leg. They were strong, and in these conditions, that was potentially working to their advantage. Nevertheless I kept my effort where I thought it needed to be, and tried to maintain within striking distance of those who would be wounded gazelle’s once they hit the run leg.

Arriving into T2, for what I expect only the pros & elite age groupers were now ahead of me, the race was on.

It was a quick transition & out onto the run course which included a double 21.1km lap. Hitting the tarmac at a comfortable pace & I felt great. This was a good sign & allowed me to switch into auto-pilot for most of the run & enjoy the American spectators. From dressing up into all sorts of costumes, and making track lanes on the roads demarking fast runners to the left, they were having a ball, and this was so appreciated by the competitors considering they were also out there in the wind with us.

Making the final turnaround on the second loop at St. Andrew’s State Park at around the 32km mark, the pain gauge finally hit alert levels, and the auto-pilot switched off. From here its pain race management and the hurt locker was open. It’s at these points of a race when it’s just you and the road, and you acknowledge that triathlon doesn’t build character, it reveals it.

I tried to make that hopeful Sub-3 hour marathon which was on target for most of the run, but it alluded me, this time, with a 3h03m run.

Crossing the finish line was personally overwhelming, knowing what I had managed to achieve following an achilles injury, which took me out of this year’s IM World Champs in Kona 3 weeks earlier.  

I finished 18thoverall and 1st in age group (40-44).

The rest is honestly a blur.

Thank you to all for your support & wishes!

Cheers P

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