They say that the Ironman doesn’t really start until the run. They say the run is the toughest part. At Louisville, I absolutely agreed. In fact – at that race, I couldn’t run at all.
Heading into Ironman Florida, I had a plan. I was going to save some energy on the bike so I could do a run/walk approach to the marathon. My original plan was to run .9 mile, walk .1 mile. On the drive over to Panama City Beach, I had a great conversation with my friend David (this is the guy I blame for getting me interested in triathlon), and he suggested that I take a slightly different approach. He suggested that I alternate running and walking every 2 minutes. His thought was, “how hard can it be to run for 2 minutes?” I decided early on Saturday that this was going to be my approach.
I came out of transition and almost immediately saw my family. Got some big hugs, some encouragement, and a few more hugs. For me, the first mile or so of a triathlon is always tough, no matter how hard I train. No exception this weekend. What made it worse is that after less than a ¼ mile on the run, we passed the finisher’s chute. Right as I passed by, this guy turns in and heads to the finish. Yep. He’s done, and I’m just starting to run my marathon. Greeeeeaaaatttt!
So I set my Garmin to beep every 120 seconds, and off I went. Running. Walking. Running. Walking. I got my legs back after a mile or so, and felt generally strong. There’s lots of fan support in PCB, and some of the aid stations are amazing! Lots of aid stations are “themed” at Ironman races, and IMFL certainly had some cool themes. One station was set up like M*A*S*H, there was a “chick zone” station…complete with two dominatrix types, a 70’s theme, and a disco theme. The volunteers were encouraging and very helpful.
The run at IMFL is essentially a 2 loop course through some residential areas, a portion of the “strip”, and through a state park. The only problem was that by the time I was on mile 5, it was dark. There weren’t a whole lot of lights on the course. Running through the state park was really dark – almost dangerously dark. In fact, on the 2nd lap, I walked the entirety of the state park because I couldn’t see the road.
I stuck to my plan for most of the marathon. There were a few occasions where I’d walk 2 segments and run 1 – mostly these coincided with aid stations. I can’t remember how many times I saw Jen and the kids on the first half of the run. Twice? Three times? Not sure. I saw them at mile 14, and we chatted for a minute about how I felt. At that point, I was very tired. Feet hurt. Hammy/Glute were killing me. But it was still early. I knew I had enough time to walk the entire rest of the way if I had to and still beat the cut-off at midnight.
I got to mile 18 and still felt strong. This was the point where I got pulled off the course at IMKY. Based on how I felt, I knew that finishing was not going to be a problem. I kept up running and walking. I passed a ton of folks, but generally stayed in close proximity to the same dozen or so folks. There was a guy who ran the entire race with a 5’ x 7’ US Flag. There was a guy who was clearly a “Clydesdale”. He was struggling, but he was going to make it. There was the guy who couldn’t keep food down. After we passed each aid station, he take some food, and then less than 100 yards later, he’d barf it all up. But he was still moving. In fact, he was power-walking! There was the guy who had an artificial leg. He looked really strong.
I hit 22 miles and saw the kids one last time. I got a huge hug and lots of “Daddy, you’re doing great! We’re so proud of you!” I teared up…couldn’t help myself. Another racer commented as he went by, “That’s what this race is all about!” The last couple of miles were awesome. The crowd grew and grew. People telling me “good job, Ironman!”, “Congratulations!”, “Keep it up!”. It was all so humbling. People cheering for me. It’s overwhelming.
The last half-mile was amazing. There were thousands of folks lining the road. All of them were cheering. Kids giving high-fives. People toasting me with beers. Smiles everywhere I looked. I felt like I was sprinting. I made the last turn into the finish chute and headed the last 50 yards. Mike Reilly (the voice of Ironman) said, “Here comes Joel Strickland from Jacksonville, FL. He’s a first-timer!” Then, I heard the six words I had been waiting for…”Joel Strickland, you are an IRONMAN!”
Overall, it was one hell of a race. Was I disappointed in my time? Absolutely not. My first goal was to finish. I would have loved to go under 14 hours, but at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. I finished. I’ll work for sub-14 in my next Ironman race. Oh yeah…there will be more. What an amazing thing!