Ironman Florida 1999
As I stood on the beach in Panama City Beach, Florida, overlooking the Gulf Coast, I thought back to the beginning of the race season. It felt like a lifetime ago. As the Grateful Dead have sung time and again, “What a long strange trip it has been.” And 1999 certainly was a strange trip for me. During the previous fall l decided I was giving this sport one last chance. My training and racing had become stale and I wasn’t getting any faster. I thought that maybe this was it;, maybe this was as fast as I was going to get. Plain and simple this sport was no longer fun. One thing about racing: the numbers don’t lie. So, I decided unless there was some sign of potential, or some sign of me actually showing my potential, I was done. As the calendar rolled over into 1999, I knew that things would be different this year, and that was a good thing. My first race was a 5k in January. I set a goal that I had hoped to reach in April and here I was breaking that in the first month of the race season. I knew this would be a great year. Soon after, I ran to another personal record (PR) in March. By this time I knew it wasn’t a fluke. I was back to being healthy and happily racing at my potential.
As I was preparing for Ironman Florida the first week of November one thing became apparent to me. I didn’t have any nervousness. I wasn’t worried and I felt like everything was about to come together for me. I just had this incredible feeling. It wasn’t like everything was going perfectly in the weeks leading up to the race either. I had some knee trouble going on since early September. It started during Labor Day weekend when I rode back to back centuries (100mile bike ride) on Saturday and Monday, sandwiched around a twenty mile run on Sunday. So there was a reason for concern, but to be honest it never entered my mind during race week. I think I prepared as well as I could have for a race. My main objective was to have fun, finish, and see what I was made of, in that order. I guess judgement day would tell us.
Race morning was like any other race morning: Wake up, wonder why the hell I love this sport (I thought I liked sleep more??), pour some God awful energy drink down my throat and eat some energy bar that tasted like something cavemen used to eat. After that you are ‘supposed’ to be ready to race. After years of this little ritual, it is all just tasteless anyway. So off I head to the race. Once I got to the beach, I got numbered, handed in my gear bags, put the last few things (Powerbars, fill up water bottles) on my bike, pulled on my wetsuit and off I go. (In our gear bags we were allowed to put in any extra drinks, food etc, that we thought we needed during the race).
As I stood on the beach before the start there was this real calm that came over me. Then I thought back to the literally hundreds of hours of training. The thousands of miles of riding, countless laps in the pool, and the miles and miles of running. I was ready, no doubt about it. It was ShowTime!
When the horn sounded it was absolute bedlam. It was like being legally mugged as soon as you started to swim. So I stopped, and I waited for all the muggers err swimmers to go by. Once they did I was ready to race. I stayed as far inside as I could to the turn around buoy and I caught all those swimmers I had let swim ahead of me. I was in an even paced groove once I hit the beach. We had to run up on the beach and then head back out into the water for another lap. Once again there was a little jostling for water superiority but I took the inside lane and powered on by everyone. I was feeling really strong and I kept thinking positive thoughts the whole swim. I was surprised at how well I felt. As I hit the beach Ilooked up and the clock read 1:04:28. I was happy with the time considering I had to stop and wait for a clear swim lane on the first lap. Up onto the beach, there were people who were helping pull your wetsuits off. All I had to do was lie down, and there was no fuss, no muss, it was off. What great service. Up through transition I ran grabbed my bike gear bag and I was into the changing tent.
Once inside, I was amazed at the mass confusion. This is exactly how I would picture a *M*A*S*H* tent without the gore. People were scrambling all over. I quickly put on my cycling clothes and headed out the exit. The only trouble I encountered was trying to put a dry shirt over wet body. I need to work on that one.
I ran out to my bike and a volunteer had it waiting for me. I jumped on and it felt real heavy. I had 4 full water bottles, 5 GUs and a two and a half Powerbars on the bike. As I started pedaling, I realized that my legs felt great. I actually looked down twice to make sure I had the right bike. I felt that good. I asked myself why hadn’t I felt this good at other races. Maybe I finally figured out this taper thing for once. Once out on the road I was cruising. The only problem was that people were going by me in packs by the tens. I had to make a conscious decision to either go, jump in the pack and cheat and have a chance at qualifying for Hawaii or race my own honest race. I opted to stay at my own pace. Soon enough I knew that I wouldn’t be qualifying, and as tough as a pill as that is to swallow, I decided to accept it. All along the course people were getting pulled over for drafting. At least the officials were making an honest effort to make it a fair race. My nutritional plan was to drink one of my own water bottles per hour, one at each aid station (which were 2 more an hour), eat one GU, 1/2 a Powerbar, and two salt tablets (to retain water) per hour. (I actually counted drinking seventeen bottles of energy drink) The plan seemed to work, seeing that I never had that lousy dead leg feeling during the bike ride. I think the key was the salt tablets. They helped retain water and stop dehydration. Coming back into transition was like coming back to earth from a mission to the moon. You are out there on the bike for so long with no one to talk to and it gets lonely. Coming into the bike transition was great. The crowd was going nuts as the athletes came in. I dismounted with about five other athletes and headed off to the changing tent once again. Again this was mass bedlam and I took my time, putting my socks on and sucking down a water bottle of energy drink. Heck, 70%of the race was over and I was headed to my favorite event – the run.
The Run – a late appearance by the MADCOW:
The run was as flat as a pancake. I was feeling good and wondered when that feeling would end. I was estimating right around 10 miles the bottom would fall out. This was the point of the race in which I was waiting for. It’s really a matter of fortitude. There is this line that clearly tells you that you are entering into a zone a lot of people don’t want to visit. It’s just you and your thoughts, and its what I call ‘the raw reality’ of the race. You can convince yourself that you have to stop; the pain is too great; that you have to walk, yet that little voice in the back of your head knows better. It knows that you could have gone harder if only you had pushed a little more, accepted a little more pain. This is my favorite part of the race. You can almost look at yourself from the inside out and see a part of you that you have never seen before. I think you find out what you are made of when you enter into this realm. But that was for later, for now, I had a race to finish. At mile two this red headed guy goes screaming by me and I ask him how long he is going to run that pace. Well I jump in behind him thinking, “Heck, I can run this pace, no problem.” That lasted about ½ a mile when my lungs were saying, “Hell no! No thank you.” So I let the red head go on, thinking he either would break the course record or die trying. I later saw him walking at mile 16 when I was chugging on by. Needless to say he wasn’t breaking any course records that day. I thought to myself: ‘Another one bites the dust.’ I was running well until about mile 15. I could count on one hand the number of people that had passed me. My legs were feeling great, but the pounding my quads were taking took its toll. I was pretty beat up, but my promise to myself was ‘No unnecessary walking.’ The severity of the cramping caused me to shorten my stride and I had to do more of a quick shuffle then a stride. I was relegated to running slower then I wanted to, but at least I wasn’t walking. This was my moment of truth. I had entered the zone. The nutritional plan for the run was to drink two glasses of Gatorade at every aid station (every mile) and one GU gel every 3 miles. After 15 miles I was drinking Coke too. This is strictly a last ditch effort to keep my energy levels up. The key is to drink it at every aid station but they ran out at some aid stations, which means I had to come up with some creative ways to ingest some sugar. As I was going by mile 20 this volunteer gave me a sugar cookie which there was no way I could chew. So I threw some Gatorade into my mouth with it and it dissolved instantly. I wouldn’t recommend this but for the time being it worked. I almost choked on what I couldn’t get down but what I did get down kept me going to the next aid station. This stretch from mile 20 to 23 was where I really wanted to stop and say, “Enough.” Once I hit mile 23 it was completely dark. My goal was to finish in the daylight and now that plan was out the window. I hadn’t looked at my watch since 6 miles into the run, so I had no idea what time it was. At mile 23 I realized I only had three more miles left in my race season, so that picked me up a little. I thought of all my friends who had supported me during the year. I was thinking nothing but positive thoughts in order to get towards the finish line one step at a time. There was this other triathlete I was closing in on as I neared the last few miles. His girlfriend kept yelling at him in Chinese and he kept running then stopping then running. He would sprint past me only to stop and I would just chug on by. Eventually, as we got closer to the finish I kept thinking, “I have to beat this guy” but all of the sudden here he comes – it’s the MADCOW. There was no way he was going to let some guy who was walking beat him. MADCOW reached down and just gave it everything he had to beat the Chinese guy. He kept pretending the Chinese girl was saying bad things about him in Chinese. “Are you going to let that little American MADCOW beat you?” That motivated the MADCOW! As the MADCOW entered the finishing area he started the famous Garufi* (trademark Dave Garufi 1999) fist pump about 50 yards out. He was psyched and the fans could tell. MADCOW crossed in 10:39:05. Tired, happy and all at once; very cold. I was shivering. The last few yards I thought my whole body would cramp up when I got to the finish line. Luckily I didn’t. I headed off to the massage tent right after I grabbed some pizza. A successful season was over and I was looking forward to next year. To think I came that close to giving all this up. The massage was good, the pizza better and 1/2 gallon of ice cream after the race was the best!
See you all next year with more tales from the MADCOW. Thanks to EVERYONE for your support, I couldn’t have done it without you.