Almost 2 years ago, I remember watching videos on Youtube of people with organ transplants, old people, people without limbs, numerous health problems, doing a race that involved a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 run called Ironman. I said to myself, if they can do this, why I can’t? What is stopping me of doing a race of 140.6 miles? I am blessed to have all my limbs, no major health problems, still be relatively young… I simply found no excuse. Although I was always bad at sports and I was never an athlete (more like a couch potato) there was no valid reason for me to say I can’t. On November 5, 2011, I concluded one of the most amazing experiences of my life and finally I said: “I can”.
People tend to say I have nerves of steel, or that I don’t show up my feelings. I have to admit that I was a little nervous the last day on Miami when I was packing everything the night before the trip to Panama City Beach. My friend Juju called me and luckily calm me down. Until race day I was cool. The day before I received some calls from my Coach Marce, Coach Mickey, Bernard, Didi and my mom. Race day came and I couldn’t believe what I was going to do. A week before I talked to my coach Marcelo and basically he said that I was ready, I had the fitness and endurance necessary to do the race (Although he said I didn’t have the power, and that’s something that I have to work on next season LOL). To just follow the plan, to stay in Z3 the whole time, that the hardest part (the training) was done and I just needed to cross the finish line. I was worried about my knee giving up on the bike or even on the run. He just said to take it easy, if the bike portion was going to be windy, just to ramp up the revolutions but try to stay in Z3 the whole time. Stick to what has been working during training.
On race morning woke up around 4am, had 3 packets of oatmeal with almond milk and 2 slices of whole wheat bread (that’s like around 600 calories). Had my mutivitamins and drink maybe like a bottle water. Headed down from my hotel room and we (Hammerheads + me) went to drop the Special Needs bag and did the body marking.
View of Transition Area in the early morning.
Headed over to transition, with my gels, a Cliff Bar, a Power Bar, my aero bottle with water and 2 bottles of Perpeteum (one mixed with water and another in an insulated bottle with just the powder mix). With the gels, I decided to do something different. I noticed that if I had to many gels with caffeine, I would get full of gas. So decided to alternate my gels, one caffeine free Hammer gel, one 40mg caffeine Accel gel. The fifth gel would be the 100mg caffeine 2nd Surge. The gels will be consumed one per hour for an expected bike ride of 6-7 hours, for a total of 8 gels taped on the bike top tube (2 as backup gels). The Power Bar and Cliff Bar were taped to the bike top tube too, to be consumed one at the start of the bike (this will help to calm down my heart rate from transition) and another one at the half way point. Water sips every 30 min, and Perpeteum sips every 30 min (equivalent to liquid sips every 15 mins). Around half way I would have to reload my aerobottle and have the new bottle of Perpeteum ready to be mixed with water. I would have 3 Electrolite caps every 60 min to have my salt levels high. Extra tip about caffeine: I cut caffeine consumption one week before the race. So on race day, I would be more vulnerable to the effects of caffeine and obviously this will help me through the day.
View of the Bike Gear Bag area.Ale ready to race.
Pumped up the tires and headed back to the hotel room. Cleaned the pipes, put Body Glide in the necessary parts and start gearing up with my try gear, timing chip (little trick here provided by Ray: I placed a pin on my timing chip just as a fail safe in order for not the strap to fall off my ankle during the race), Garmin 310xt and HRM. Finally put my Xterra Vortex 4 wetsuit, grab my goggles, swim cap, flip-flops, Morning Bag with my hotel room key and headed out. Gave my Morning Bag to one of the volunteers and met up with the rest of the crew over one of the decks. We wished everyone good luck as it was getting packed with people and headed over to the swim start.
Ray, Joey, me, Jimmy, Lisa and David just before heading to the race start.
By now, I was freezing. Although the wetsuit insulated me very well from the cold, my uncovered parts: feet, hands and face were Han Solo’s Carbonite frozen. The announcer recommended every one to head to the right part of the swim start so we could go out with the current. I took off my flip-flops and headed to the right side. The sand was really cold. National Anthem, and at 6:50am the pros started. I was shaking worse than a bubble head in a roller coaster and I had the urge to pee. I let it go inside the wetsuit, and I thought it was the greatest thing because it warmed me up and felt much better (oh yeah… I’m putting EVERY detail in this race report).
With a beautiful sunrise, the cannon blew at 7am and the race started. Me, along with other 2500 people fighting in the swim, as expected. The first meters were full of punching, kicking, like I have never seen before in any race. I had to remember to keep it cool since all the hustle will pass as soon as I hit the turn around point. Around 7min of the start, someone kick my Garmin, and it went directly to T1 as I will notice after I was done with the swim. Got to the bottle neck of the turn around and the sun hit me directly on my face, good thing I had my tinted goggles. I wish I had a camera, to capture the sunrise and the 2500 athletes swimming, it was breathtaking, similar to the images that you see on TV, but the difference was that I was part of it.
7:00 am and here we go!
Finalized the first loop, passed by the timing mat and no stopping for me… some people got water from the aid station but I continued directly to the second loop. The water was warmer than the outside climate, and even warmer once way inside. I felt some current stopping me from heading out to the second loop, but then again no stopping. Around the turn around I felt some pain on my face, but I never minded, but felt weird. Suddenly I started to seeing these pinkish extraterrestrial looking creatures… jellyfish. Never minded them, just continued my race. I remembered the days at the pool, and thinking that this wasn’t so bad as training with Juju and Mickey, training with them waaaay harder. Finally headed out of the water, started to take out the top part of my wetsuit and got to the strippers. Butt to the floor, and 2 volunteers stripped my wetsuit from my legs, another one helped me get back up, gave me back my wetsuit and I headed out to the showers, and picked up my Bike Gear Bag. Pushed the lap button on my Garmin and it went directly to Bike mode (Here is when I noticed that my Garmin was already in T1), had to pres stop and for a while I was timeless.
Getting out of the swim.Rushing out of the swim. One volunteer passed my bag and I rushed to the changing tent. Found a spot in the aisle heading to the changing tent, sat down there and opened the bag. Put everything on the floor to see where to start. Gel first, towel second to clean up, shin guards next (took me forever to put this, probably lost most of my time putting the shin guards), socks, arm warmers, race belt with bib number, ecaps canister which I put it in my tri jersey side pocket, sunblock for my face and shoulders. Grabbed the Cliff Bar and put it on my tri shorts back pocket, put my gloves, helmet, sunglasses and bike shoes. Grabbed all the swim gear and put it on the bag. Headed to the male changing tent full of naked people and gave a volunteer my bag and headed to the exit. Volunteers were putting sun block, and I forgot to put sunblock on my neck!, so ask one of them to put that white paste they had on my neck and shoulders. Ran to look up for my bike. A volunteer was shouting the bib numbers and some volunteers were giving the bikes to the athletes. Unfortunately I had to look up for mine and got confused with some racks. Finally saw Ale, grabbed her and headed out. The mounting area was packed and had to run for a while to find a spot to mount.
Bike Out. Trying to find a spot to mount.
Mounted and already pedaling headed out to the bike course, finally hit the “start” button on my Garmin without having any time reference of the amount of minutes lost on T1. Tried to grab my Cliff Bar and Power Bar that I placed on the top tube, but while trying to grab them the Power Bar fell from the bike but luckily I kept the Cliff Bar. Started to eat it to calm down my HR rush from Z4 to Z3 and started the nutrition clock as practiced. Felt windy and it continued to be windy for the first 50 miles or so. I think the estimated was 10mph+ of continuous head wind, or probably more. After having done the legendary 110 mile Storm Brick and facing water and winds of 35 mph+, this felt like nothing. But then again, because of that brick is why I messed up my knee, so being on THE race I had to be more careful in order to last the whole day. Ramp up the revolutions, and I didn’t care the lots of people passing me early on the race. Just had to stick to the plan.
Aid stations were placed every 10 miles, full with water, Ironman Perform, bananas, Power Bars and portables. I started to have a runny nose, that will last the whole race. While on the bike, I chatted with some people. One girl asked “is always THIS windy in Florida?”, or there was this guy that was on a road bike and we were having kinda the same pace… so for moments he will pass me and in others I will pass him… I will even see him in T2 later. I complemented peoples nice bikes or telling people “almost there buddy”.
Leaving Panama City Beach for a 112 mile ride. Around mile 30 I had to pee. Stopped, and since the portables were full, I just went behind them and took care of business. My aero bottle ran out of water around mile 40, I passed the aid station of mile 50 and forgot to refuel it. Twenty miles without water, so I stayed with the only source of liquid I had… Perpeteum. I saw a crash of an athlete going speedy that couldn’t make a sharp turn, luckily nowbody else fell. A bumpy ride started around mile 50, where my brain started to shake worse than Chipotle sauce. Mile 55 and passed the Special Needs, luckily I didn’t need anything from my bag so I continued. Finally, got to aid station on mile 60. I asked a volunteer to give me some bottles of water. While I reloaded my aero bottle, prepared the new mix of Perpeteum, we talked about this being my first Ironman, and that he will definitely do one maybe in 2013. I left the old bottle with him to take out the extra weight, and asked him for an extra favor… to hold my bike because I needed to pee for the 3rd time (don’t worry this would be the last time I would pee on the whole race : ) ). Took care of business, I did a really fast stretch, grabbed my bike, thanked the volunteer and asked him where I could get a Power Bar. He started shouting “This guy needs a Power Bar!”, I mounted and a girl that had bananas went rushing back to the table grabbed a Power Bar and while she was coming near me, she slips and slams her face on the floor! But she regains herself and quickly gives me the Power Bar. “Thanks” I said and started to gain speed. The volunteers were just great and so committed!
Pushing through a curve.
After having the Power Bar, I finally got some tail wind and I felt AWESOME! Started to speed up and felt unstoppable for the second part. Hitting around 20mph on the bike, I started to pass lots of people and I thought it was funny because most of them were in these fancy tri-bikes, and I was passing them in my low end adapted road bike whoo hooooo!. I hit a loooooooong boooooooring never-ending straight, until I started seeing signs that said “Panama City Beach: XX miles” and “Welcome to Panama City Beach”. During this time I lost my ecaps canister, but I didn’t worry since I had maybe like a hour to go. Like 15 miles before finishing I had my second Cliff Bar, which I had placed on my tri short back pocket on T1. Back into town and the last 10 miles I had to slow down from my speedy state because of a terrible headwind and the knee wanted to act up, so I rev up like the beginning of the bike ride and had to just tolerate that horrible head wind at the end.
Those last 10 miles in into town seem to last forever. The wind was so strong that at moments couldn’t keep the balance on the bike. Started to see the people cheering and at the end I saw the hotel. I took my feet of my bike shoes and got ready to dismount. So many people cheering in the dismounting area, and heard a “Beto” somewhere, maybe it was one of the Hammies cheering up for me. Like Valet Service, I gave my bike to one of the volunteers and forgot about it (I had never felt so good to be on my feet again and probably I won’t ride my bike until next year!). Another volunteer gave me my Run Bag and I entered the changing building.
Finally back in Panama City Beach and ready to dismount. (Notice my feet are out of the shoes already)
While in T2, I took my gloves and helmet off and opened the bag to see my goodies. I grabbed my small towel, clean up my left knee, sprayed Icy Hot on it and proceed to place kinesiology tape on it. Took my socks off, applied tape to the outer sides of my feet which are the parts were I’m more prone to get blisters, put a new pair of fresh socks from my run bag, and my running shoes. Asked a volunteer for a cup of water and eat another gel with it. I reapplied another layer of sunscreen to my face, grabbed my second ecaps canister and my visor. I was thinking of leaving my gloves, but I decided to take them with me since I loose to much body heat from my hands and it was already getting close to dusk. Put everything back into the bag and gave it to one of the volunteers. As I was heading out of the changing building, I was trying to put my gloves on and noticed that I only had one of them! So I rushed back to the changing area were I was changing, founded it on the floor, and ran back to the exit of T2.
The marathon. Only 26.2 more miles separating me from being an Ironman. Started speedy as many people do… I remember passing by one of the aid stations and they had this song that I love, LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem and I started doing the shuffle LOL. My legs were on auto pilot and felt them like jello. I was checking my Garmin and knew that I needed to slow down. I had to take control of my legs again. I was thinking that maybe I could beat the dark and maybe finish speedy, but I knew the reality. The first 6 miles were good, afterwards I started to feel that my legs were asking to rest. I decided to walk every aid station (every mile), like maybe 30 seconds, give them a rest there and take water/IM Perform/gels the same way I did on the bike (gel per hour, liquid sips every 15 min, and 3 ecaps every hour). Saw Joey and Ray cheering for me. Heading back to the turn around, I stopped once to stretch for a bit. To think that I had 18 more miles to go… and the thoughts of “why I’m doing this” started to hit me. Certainly even the thought that I would never thought I would hear on my mind came to haunt me “should I quit?”. But I remembered… I’m not a quitter. Never have been. I will do whatever is needed to finish something, even if I risk my life… unfortunately I’m just that type of stubborn mofo. Quitting has never been an option for me and it will never be. So I started to run again. Maybe it was not as fast as the first 6 miles, but I just had to keep going.
Around mile 7 in the State Park.
Some of the aid stations were great. They were customized, so I saw pirates, Santa Claus, “hot” girls dressed in leather, a banana girl, the cute Ford girls and a funny doctor with some nurses… these cheering zones were just great. I remembered 2 of them booming with great uplifting music. On my way back to the turn around finally I saw Jimmy, Lisa and David. I was getting worried for them, since like me it was their first Iron. Joey and Ray were going for their second loop already. I was happy for them.
Then all of the sudden I hit the turnaround and I had one more lap to go. Passed by special needs, but then again I skipped it. My tape wasn’t falling and it was holding my knee well, so I just continued. Around mile 15 and it was already dark… and getting cold. Good thing that I took my gloves. I passed by one of the timing mats they had on the course thinking “this grab my splits and it directly goes to the Ironmanlive feed… I wonder if anyone is watching the race”. There was one of this stations that had blasting Black Sabbath’s Ironman!!! There was no better theme song for this race!!! It surely uplifted me from my pain, and it seems one of the guys from this cheering zone noticed my revival and looked into my eyes and said “I know you got this, you can do this”. I started singing/mumbling the song… but the beginning of the song stayed with me: “I am Ironman”.
Saw Joey and he uplifted me more, and he was already going to the finish line. Later I saw Ray, and re-applied some more uplifting on me. It was dark already, and I was getting really cold. I found this to be another reason for not to stop, and continue. The aid stations were serving hot chicken broth, HOT chicken broth… taught of maybe taking it to warm myself, but that probably will have killed my stomach or even the race… so I skipped it.
Got to the worst part of the race: the State Park. Worst because the park was pitch black, so it was just me, my gloves, my unstoppable runny nose and the stars. Normally I need glasses, especially at night… so imagine running in a dark unknown State Park. The good part is that I knew that if I passed the spooky park, I would be just 6 miles from the finish line. Numerous thoughts crossed my mind in that dark place: the insane bricks with Joey and Brenda, my friends that I have neglected because of training, the smile of the girl that I’m thinking of asking out when this is all over, my very supportive teammates and coworkers, waking up at 2am or 3am to workout, my mom…
Exited that dark place and saw the light. Six miles to go. I grabbed my 2nd Surge 100mg caffeine gel from my race bib belt to give me the extra kick for the last miles. I was close to my goal and started to speed up with everything that I had. Saw many people walking, and tried to give them support, like Joey and Ray gave me when they saw me. I saw Lisa and David and shouted some support to them. I think I missed Jimmy on my way back, but knew he was behind me.
“I’m Ironman”, “I’m Ironman”, “I’m Ironman”, “I’m Ironman” was the only thought I had now. Four miles to go and start grabbing Coke from aid stations. Coke = Power Up!!! Passed by the “hot” girls dressed in leather support crew and one of them hit me with a whip! Whip = 2x Power Up!!!??? Who knows?!!! 3 miles to go and remembered that compared to the track days with Amrei, Gabe, Gene and Amanda... 3 miles was nothing… just push it!!! I passed the turnaround spot and headed for the final 2 miles. People cheering “you’re almost there!!!”, “keep going!!!”, while feeling that my legs were starting to wobble and completely loose them. Turned left, saw the hotel and at the end the Arc of Triumph filled with lights.
Go to the light.
I was going to make it. All the efforts, all the time, all the sacrifice, all the journey... for that single moment. The last 0.5 mile I started to hear one of my favorite’s songs from one of my favorite bands, Paradise City from Guns N’ Roses. I was happy. People cheering and I started to give Hi-Fives, and it broke my heart when some little kids wanted me to give them Hi-Fives and I did. I looked back to see if anyone was coming behind me, because I wanted for that moment to be mine and nobody’s else. The finish line had this blinding light on top of your face and I just followed towards the light. I wanted to do something different in the finish line, so much effort to just cross the finish line raising my arms like everyone else? I didn’t think so. I remembered Craig Alexander showing his guns when he won the IM World Championships in Kona ’09. I kinda did the same when coming to the finish line and heard “Alberto Navarro from Miami, you’re an IRONMAN”, but as I crossed the finish line I jumped to do a flying kick. I did the same 2 years ago in the ING Miami Marathon, but now it was different... I did it in an IRONMAN.
"There's no charge for awesomeness"
A volunteer grabbed me, as I was all wobbly. He congratulated me and asked me if I was ok. Another volunteer gave me the medal, a finishers tee and finishers cap. The volunteer holding me asked is it was the first and I said yeah, he said that he had done 2 already but the first one was the best. Then he gave me this space-like covers and said to cover up since my body temperature will quickly go down. Then we passed to the finishers’ photo spot. While standing there waiting for my photo to be taken, I was about to burst into tears… I didn’t had anyone to hug, any friend or familiar face, anyone saw my biggest accomplishment yet… I just became an Ironman and I didn’t have anyone to share it with me. I took control of myself again, I gave all my stuff to the volunteer and headed to the spot were the photographer told me to be. I stood there and all my emotions came out in a big single shout “viking style”: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!.
I AM IRONMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!The photographer smiled at me and wanted to show me the picture. I saw it and we were both laughing. The “Viking“ yell relaxed me, I took off all my distressed emotions in a single loud war yell. My especially designed volunteer gave my stuff back, and I asked “you guys have something to eat, right?”, replied yes and guide me to the finisher’s exit which lead to the eating station. They had water, Ironman Perform, Coke, breads, bananas, cookies, oranges, and pizza. Asked for a Coke, and a slice of cheese pizza. I found a chair, sat down and started indulging. My body temperature already dropped and I was starting to shiver. I love pizza so I went to grabbed another one and another can of Coke. Now I found an empty table, sat there, grabbed another chair where I put my legs and started eating again. I wanted to grab another slice, but my stomach couldn’t handle more, plus I was freezing. Shaking, I finally headed out of the finish line area, went to pick up my Morning Bag and slowly walked towards my hotel room.
Got into the warm, cozy room. I stood in front of the mirror to see how beat up I looked. My upper lip was all broken because of the cold, I had a mark in my neck of probably the wetsuit chafing (although I thought it was a jellyfish sting), I had still my unstoppable runny nose going on and signs that I had quite lost a few pounds. Took my phone and took a picture of myself of the battle damaged self. I checked the phone and to my surprise I had like 50 notifications in Facebook, from my Tri-2-One teammates, coworkers and some friends following my race. They were with me the whole day, following the race on Ironmanlive, sending positive vibes and cheering me on! I was wordless, heartbroken and in shock! Thank, THANK YOU guys!!! Afterwards I took a hot shower. When I got out I saw Jimmy already in the room and he had become an Ironman too! Chat for a bit and then I went down to transition to pick up my stuff.
Battle damaged but happy for the acomplishment.
I got a little time to talk to Joey on the phone and see how did the race go for him, after all the crazy training we were through, we were finally Ironmen! We got everyone together, the new brand new Ironmen, they came to our room and we open the champagne to celebrate! Later we went to see the last hour of the race and the last people to cross the finish line. Very emotive feeling… people cheering up and the announcer making jokes. At 11:45pm the last athlete crossed the finish line and when the clock marked 17:00, Ironman Florida was officially over.
Total Time: 13:02:28
Swim Time: 1:16:04
T1 Time: 13:45
Bike Time: 6:27:17
T2 Time: 08:36
Run Time: 4:56:48
So did I accomplish my goals for this race? Let's see:
- FINISHING Ironman. I don't care if is running, walking, crawling, rolling and in 17 hours. CHECK!
- FINISHING Ironman in my estimated finish time. I'm calculating a sub 14 hour race, taking in consideration maybe a 1:30 hour swim, 7 hour bike ride and a 5 hour marathon. CHECK!
- FINISHING Ironman in a sub 13 hour. In my prime state with all my powers at 100%, I know I can pull this off. I certainly have the fitness, but unfortunately I don't have the necessary power and I am still worried about with my knee. ALMOST CHECK! for only 2 minutes I almost did it! Right now this is the only thing that is bothering me!
- FINISHING Ironman without injury. I don't want to spend another 4 months activeless and with a nagging injury. If I have to take it slow, I will. CHECK!
- FINISHING Ironman with a spectacular photo finish! SUPER CHECK ;) !
- FINISHING Ironman and brag for the rest of my life :) CHECK!
Certainly I don't know the amount of readers that I have in the blog, but it has been a pleasure sharing the journey with you. Hopefully you'll get something out from my experience for your future endeavors and hopefully you'll try to do an Ironman one day. I think is really worth it to do it at least once in your lifetime (bucket list anyone?). I will like to thank everyone that has been a part of this journey and thank you for reading.
Epilogue: Walking like a grandpa, I headed back to the room. I ate something, checked the phone again and finally crashed into bed after an amazing day. This was the day that I became an Ironman.