Born to Suffer: Ironman Florida

Born to Suffer: Ironman Florida

by Coach Erik Cagnina

Since dropping out is never an alternative (at least as long as I’m conscious and have some say in the matter) and having a good race was no longer a possibility on that day, a fast transition was the least of my concerns as I approached T2 at Ironman Florida in 2003. Really, I wasn’t sure what my best strategy was going to be as I hopped/climbed/lumbered/fell off my bike and then handed it over to a volunteer, hopefully never to be seen again (the bike that is – the volunteer seemed like a pleasant enough chap). I figured I could think about my strategy while I walked (yes, walked – and very slowly at that!) to the closest possible chair inside the changing tent.

Having finally reached that luxurious folding chair in a time that was probably greater than some athletes’ total transition time, I was still debating what my strategy should be. Now what you have to keep in mind is at that point in time, just thinking was requiring some serious effort. So while it appeared to the volunteer hovering over me, waiting for me to speak, that I was doing nothing but staring at a speck of dirt on the ceiling, I was actually engaged in some strenuous activity.

“What can I get you?” the volunteer asked.

I slowly lowered my eyes from the ceiling to the volunteer’s eyes. I didn’t feel like actually speaking so I mentally told him that I was just tired, not feeling great but hanging in there and that I needed a little extra time to collect my wits and regroup and then I would be OK. For some reason, he did not receive my mental message and continued to try to communicate with me via spoken word.

“Are you OK? Should I get a doctor? How about something to drink?” he persisted.

This was my 10th Ironman and I knew this guy was just following the instructions that had been reviewed at the transition volunteer pre-race meeting. Deep down, I was very appreciative of this guy’s enthusiasm and knew he was just trying to help me anyway he could. I also knew that if I continued to stare at him and say nothing, he would start yelling for a doctor which could put a serious damper on my need to finish that damn race. So I took a deep breath and managed to condense my message down to a few words.

“I’m OK. Please come back in a few minutes.” I returned to staring at my ceiling dirt as I slouched in my chair, still completely decked out in cycling gear.

He stared at me for a second and then seemed to accept and understand the dark hole I was desperately trying to climb out of. He said “OK, just yell if you need me.”

After another couple minutes of examining my ceiling dirt, I took another deep breath and actually started to “transition”. First I got my bike helmet and sunglasses off. Then I really started to roll as I got my shoes and socks off. At this point, my volunteer guy noticed that I was once again among the living and cheerily bee-bopped on over to see how he could help.

“How you doing man? You need some water or Gatorade now?” he asked.

“Sure. Gatorade please.” I responded, hoping that bought me another minute of solitude.

As I leaned back into my chair, still lacking any of the sock-shoe-hat-type gear typically recommended if you’re planning on going for a long run, or in this situation a long walk, I realized that just below my armpits was really raw and starting to sting. I must have really been starting to feel better because I was able to figure out that that piping on my singlet was essentially sawing into my flesh. As a general rule, triathletes can be a vain bunch, showing up on race day as fashionable and well-accessorized as a high-school prom queen. I was not in a prom queen kind of mood that day though and I started tugging at the piping, seeing if I could rip it off.

I was making some progress on the piping when volunteer-boy returned with my Gatorade. And in the spirit of Christmas as this is being written on December 24th, the rest of the story goes something like this:

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
soon gave me to know I might not be dead.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
grabbed hold of my piping and ripped it off with a jerk.

And wiping the sweat off the tip of my nose,
giving a nod to my boy socks and shoes covered my toes.

I sprang from my chair, to my fans gave a whistle,
“I’m going down in flames, like a #^*$@% cruise missile!”

And they heard me exclaim as I walked out of sight,
“See you at the finish line, a little before midnight!”
Erik Cagnina is a USAT Certified coach with D3 Multisport and can be reached for questions or comments at:


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