The drive to the race was dark and quiet except for the songs playing on the radio. Aimee and I were the only ones on the road coming from the east towards Huntsville. It seemed that everyone else stayed in Huntsville or west of town. Approaching the parking area there was a long line of cars coming from the opposite direction. We quickly made our way to the parking area and boarded a bus for Deerhurst Resort.
Special needs bags dropped off, check. Tires pumped and bottles on the bike, check. As I started to see people the excitement began to build as I ran to give them hugs and best wishes. Done in the bike area we went to check our transition bags. Last minute items and we were good to head down to the swim start surrounded by friends and fellow athletes.
I gave Aimee a final kiss and we parted ways. I headed toward the 1:10-1:20 sign where I expected to see Durno, Beech, Asher, and Uzl. Jeff and I waited on the left side opposite from the other guys. I wanted to be left so I could find clean water quickly. We saw some of the Cleveland cheerleaders like Magda, Maria, Ben. It is always comforting to see familiar faces. It helps keep me relaxed. Relaxed enough to dance with the music playing on the beach. Jeff and I were in a group that started about 8 minutes after the starting cannon went off. I walked into the water, took one dive and started swimming.
With the rolling start the swim start was great. No congestion, no claustrophobia, no bumping and hitting. I found a good rhythm quickly and settled in. I was consistently passing people who started in front of me. I would swim through a small group, find open water ahead of me, then swim through another group. I obviously started way too far back but I was still getting some benefit drafting people as I passed them. My sighting was good but occasionally I found myself zig-zagging. Usually when I was breathing bilaterally so I would switch back to breathing only on my right side. I would guess I swam 80-90% of the course using a 2:1 breathing pattern to my right side. It felt very comfortable so I stuck with it.
At the first turn I started to find people to draft with because I finally found people around my speed, specifically one woman and stayed with her about half way along the return trip.
I was amazed at how many people had bad swim form. I saw hands and arm surfing up, legs split apart, knees bent too much, also some very quick turnover.
I was very mindful about my tempo. I think I was swimming at a 1.2 – 1.3 pace breathing every stroke, to the right. Occasionally I would breathe to the left side or alternate after several 2 stroke breaths. But I felt great, under control, and not over exerting myself. After making the final turn towards the swim exit the water was a little cooler but nothing shocking. I swam all the way to the steps leading up to the fairway of the 18th hole of the golf course.
I stepped onto the stairs and was helped up the stairs by a volunteer. As I turned left towards the wetsuit peelers I spotted a free one and pointed him out. I ran to him and his partner and had the wetsuit stripped off in no time. I grabbed my gear and started the long uphill run to transition. I saw Elizabeth, Dave and Maria. There were people all along the path to the changing rooms cheering for us.
My swim time was 1:02:49
I found my chair and dumped out my bike gear. (In transition each racer had their own chair. It was sweet because it was all yours with your gear bags waiting for you.) The volunteer started to help with putting my wetsuit away. Brad Scholtz appeared and took over as my personal assistant as I got ready for the bike. It was great seeing Brad there with me. As I was getting ready Mark Durno yelled at me across the room. Since there was only about 50 guys in transition we could see each other. We bantered back and forth before heading out to the bikes. Mark and I mounted our bikes at the same time and headed out for a little 180km ride around Lake of Bays.
The bike course has been named The Beast: or the whole course depending upon who you talk with. The elevation gain and hills were freaking people out. It is Ironman and if it were easy it would be called your mom. So it was time to tame the Beast. Aimee and I had driven the course on Friday. We were familiar with the terrain and I didn’t see anything that was extremely hard. Two or three hills were steep but rather short. And even the long climbs were really not that long. Having done the American Triple T 5 times and Ironman Lake Placid I had seen longer climbs. I think the accumulated elevation is what had everyone concerned….upwards of 8000 feet. So Mark and I rode the first 20k together. Sometimes side by side chatting sometimes he was leading sometimes I was leading. At the first aid station I stopped to use the bathroom because I wasn’t ready to pee myself just yet. That is when Mark pulled ahead and I wasn’t sure when I would see him again.
Back on the bike course I found myself often riding alone. First of all the race didn’t sell out. There were only 1300 people registered for the race. Second I had a good swim and was ranked 129 overall by time. I may not have been the 129th person out of the water due to the rolling start but I was damn well up there. So I was bound to be riding by myself at times. I chatted with a couple of racers like Todd McCall who had a cool IM tattoo on his calf. We saw each other a few times because I would pass him...stop to pee…then pass him again. So I stopped at the second aid station and took another break to empty the bladder. I did the same at Musselman and it worked for me there, so why not do it this time also.
I can’t say enough about the bike course. We went through the towns of Dwight, Dorset and Baysville, each one a nice little town with people out cheering for the racers. Some of the roads were fresh pavement and some were a little choppy. But the scenery was just amazing. The open sections with the rock cliffs reminded me of Lake Placid and St. George. The wooded sections reminded me of Triple T. I felt right at home and the many spectators along the way put a smile on my face.
I felt strong and in control of the first loop. I wasn’t over exerting myself and felt like I could have gone faster, which meant I was holding back just the right amount.
Near the end of the first loop I caught up to Brian Wilson, Don Asher and Mark Durno. I chatted with Brian and Don a little and was within 100 yards of Durno when I stopped at special needs to get my replacement bottles. I wouldn’t see Mark until the run course. The second loop was going well until the course left Dorset and turned onto Route 117. This part of the course is fairly open and straight. The winds had picked up a little and the headwind was a little bit of a challenge. I had to gear down a little more this time to keep things under control. I could see how some people might have muscled through this section and paid for it later on the run. I could feel my quads begin to lose some power during this period. I made note of it and waited to see what would happen. One important aspect of Ironman racing it to remember how long the race actually is. There is a lot of time to recover from a dip in energy as long as you recognize it and counter it accordingly.
As I got closer to Baysville my stomach felt full and bloated. Experience tells me that the digestive process wasn’t working efficiently to empty my stomach of the nutrition I was putting in. I had to ditch a bottle of my Perpetuem and grab a water bottle at the aid station. The water would help the digestive process and allow the calories to be absorbed.
Sure enough after a few sips of water I felt better. I tried Perpetuem again but the bloat returned. I grabbed one of my PowerGels and two things happened, positive things. I was able to take the gel with no problem and my quads felt better. So I am thinking that perhaps my stomach just didn’t want any more Perpetuem. I did go through four bottles of the stuff up to this point, plus a Z-Bar, Fig Newtons, a PowerGel and some brownie made by Tiffany.
With 10k to go, the rest of the bike course I chatted with a couple of people. The final road back to Deerhurst was possibly the hilliest part of the ride. There were several steep uphill sections with some nice down hills. Approaching transition I didn’t prepare to dismount with enough time. I had slipped my one foot out of the right shoe but didn’t have time to do the left. I came to a complete stop at the dismount line and took my left foot out of the shoe. I ran towards the bike handlers, gave my bike to a volunteer and headed toward transition.
Inside transition I was excited to start the run and let people know with an encouraging holler. I went straight to my chair and dumped my run bag onto the floor. A volunteer started to put my bike gear into the bag, primarily my helmet and socks. I also changed out of my bike jersey and into a running singlet. Fresh socks and my running shoes completed my attire for the marathon. I put on my race belt, hydration belt, hat and made my way to the exit. Upon exiting the building I was greeted by the ladies ready and willing to apply sunscreen. I stopped, paused a moment as they looked at me and I said, “Sure, give me some lotion.” Two or three ladies rubbed their hand on my arms and legs to prepare me for the very open run course.
I stopped in the port-o-pottie again and was good to go. The first aid station immediately out of transition I filled my bottle with water. That would be my primary fluid replacement since my PowerGels would provide my electrolytes and calories. The strategy would be to take a gel every 4k which is 2.5 miles. This follows my normal race fueling of taking a gel every other mile. In hind sight I could have taken a gel every 3k/1.86 miles. The math was probably easier with every 4k. Almost immediately the course presented us with hills that needed to be walked. Expending too much energy this early in the marathon would be a recipe for disaster. I was determined to power walk the hills and at any other time. As I was heading out on Highway 60 the leaders were finishing their first lap. I would see them again on the out and back course two more times. I felt the course was great. A variety of terrain and neighborhoods kept it interesting. The worst part was the long stretch on Highway 60. Otherwise the course ran through neighborhoods and the center of Huntsville. Some immediate memories: Running through one neighborhood that was an out and back I saw a woman working on her garden. As she looked up and smiled I told her, “Thanks for letting us run through your neighborhood.” With a smile she replied, “It gives us something exciting to watch.” Her street was overrun with triathletes and she welcomed us.
The volunteers who controlled the traffic were great. They were patient with us and made sure we had the right of way with plenty of space. The drivers I think were pretty accepting of the situation. Through the center of town there were canoes laid out on Main Street. It was a nice touch to divide the street that was closed for the race. The aid stations were fully stocked with helpful volunteers and plenty of options to refuel. I was running quite well at a steady 9 minute/mile pace, or at least that is what it felt like. I never started or looked at my watch the entire race. The immediate time was on no concern to me. My running time was of no concern to me. I was able to stay in the moment and race by how I felt.
I was able to see plenty of friends on the course and exchange some hand slaps. If I came upon someone walking I would spend a few moments with them to check on them and provide some encouragement. But I didn’t stay long because I had to get to the finish line. One advantage of having the run course marked in kilometers is your progression is constantly being monitored. You get to see the progress quicker. It also kept me mentally in the game. I needed to constantly do some math to remember when I needed a gel. Every 4km was my goal which requires more mental acuity than every even mile.
I was staying on top of my nutrition and refilling my water bottle when I needed it. I would occasionally take some Gatorade at the aid stations. During my second lap I started to change what I took at the aid stations. The water was losing its appeal so I started to take cola. The extra kick from the sugar and caffeine was a nice boost on top of the gels. I know it was a lot of carbs entering my system but I regulated it with water.
With approximately 8k remaining, or 5 miles, the effects of the long day were starting to catch up to me. Water was not cutting it anymore and I started to switch to cola at the aid stations. I was still taking PowerGel which under normal circumstances is not the best combination, however there wasn’t much left in the race and I could worry about the effects after I crossed the finish line. I just stayed focused and kept moving forward. The long stretch on Highway 60 was difficult for everyone. Many people were walking and I would occasionally walk small segments of the hills with a promise that I would continue running once I reached that construction barrel, sign, person or line on the ground; and I stuck to my promises. I continued to pass people who were struggling. I was also but I like to be an actor and conceal my suffering. If you give the presences of looking good on the outside the mind will convince the body of the same thing. The final 3k was possibly the hardest portion of the day. I was struggling to keep it all together…..not physically but mentally. Training for an Ironman is a very taxing endeavor. The mental and physical stamina required is hard to describe and is best experienced. So when I finally make it to race day I become very emotional at the finish line. Sometimes the emotion comes out sooner.
At Ironman Lake Placid 2006 it was while hugging my son and daughter after becoming Iron for the first time.
At Ironman Wisconsin 2008 it was at the finish line after nearly drowning during the swim.
At Ironman Wisconsin 2013 it was in a port-o-potty at mile 12 when I realized I would have to walk the rest of the marathon.
This time at Ironman Muskoka 2015 I fought to hold back the emotions. Breathe Eric. Keep it together. Up one more hill. Through one more aid station. Around the Subaru. Turn left towards the finish chute.
Okay….now you can scream you head off running down the carpet to the finish line and your fourth Ironman finish.
“Eric Gibb from Avon, Ohio……Eric…You are an Ironman.”
Redemption. Redemption after having a troublesome race at Wisconsin 2 years prior. Redemption after struggling with stomach issues during some swimming. Redemption having an injury free marathon.
Crossing a finish line never felt so good.
My personal video from Finisher Pix.
At 1:50 of the video I am slapping hands with my teammate Mark Durno as I come in from the bike and he starts the run.
This is the Ironman race day video.
Starting the swim at 1:46
My friend Jeff is at 4:00 and I am seen again immediately after.
My finish is at 13:37