IMFL 2016 Race Report
This may be the mother of long race reports! There are so many people to thank, I tried to cover everyone in my pre-race comments, my husband Bill, my fabulous son and coach, Patrick, his wife, Jeanne, and my grandchildren Paige and Ian, and Marc, who came from Belgium, and to all of my friends who came to the race, and those who cheered and followed from afar.
Seeing familiar faces on the racecourse was absolutely the BEST! I think I was more anxious than I thought, but I really thought I felt calm. I have to admit my patience was a bit thin. My thoughts always came back to “Pat has always gotten me ready, and this is no different.” I completely trust his coaching.
The pre-race activities, kept me busy. Packet pickup was streamlined with all of the great volunteers. That venue brought me right into the Ironman store, where I almost melted my credit card. The Ironman Village with all of the vendors was fun, finding all sorts of gear I didn’t know existed. Friday morning Pat and I went for a short bike ride, and then checked in our bikes and race gear. We all went out for lunch and came back so Ian could participate in the IronKids race. He ran a mile in 7:29, and came away barely out of breath. Then we went back to the condo to celebrate Ian’s 12th birthday. The refrigerator freezer in our condo was not working properly which meant I could not freeze my water bottles. I was not looking forward to drinking warm nutrition on the bike.
Pat said I would need 2800 calories on the bike. That is way more than I eat in any given 24 hours. The countertop looked like a chemistry lab, or maybe even a drug lab with little bags of nutrition, Clif Bars, Gu’s, Stinger Waffles, and other things I thought I might need. I probably brought enough nutrition to Florida for about half of the athletes competing. We sat on the floor and Pat discarded whatever he thought I would not need.
We put on our Tri Tattoos and went to bed early. I was told not to set any expectations other than to finish.
Wakeup was at 3:35 am, because transition opened at 4:30. We had time to drop off our Special Needs bags, and put our nutrition on our bikes. I wiggled and tugged my wetsuit halfway up and we waited to get down to the beach. My plan was to get in the water and warm up, but by the time we got down to the beach it was too late. Getting about 2700 people into the start is not an easy or quick task.
We got down to the beach, kissed each other goodbye, and Pat went up where he would get a good start. I then dropped my goggles in the sand. Fortunately I was able to get most of the sand off them before I got in the water. It is probably a good thing I didn’t get in the water prior to the start, it looked relatively calm when we started. Reality struck, HARD! The swim was way worse than any of the nightmares I had about it. I was pushed, punched, kicked in the face, and there were swimmers swimming every which way. The wind was blowing out of the east and the waves were really picking up. I had earplugs and was questioning why I did not wear them. There are two loops to swim on this swim course, and the first loop was tough, we got out and ran along the beach and reentered the water.
I saw Peggy Schloegel and waved at her. By the second loop the wind was really blowing. It was getting harder to sight and reach the buoys. I thought I was being pushed back to Destin. I fought against the waves and other swimmers and got back on track. Getting out to the turn was horrible, the waves were 3-4 feet. I got way too much salt water in my mouth and was fearful I would be sick on the bike ride.
Pat had told me the night before, “when you are almost finished with the swim, start planning what you will do to get on your bike.” By then I was just get out of the water! I reached the shore, started pulling off my wetsuit, got to the wetsuit strippers, and they yanked the wetsuit the rest of the way off. When I got to the shower I saw Marc, rinsed off, and got my bike bag and headed to the transition area where volunteers were waiting.
I survived the swim.
Swim Goal: Swim under 2 hours
Coming out of transition Onnie and Jack were there yelling to me. Awesome way to start on the ride. On the way out Bill, Jeanne, and the kids were out in front of the condo where we were staying. So uplifting.
The bike ride was fantastic, for the first 10 miles, the wind was pushing me along, and then I turned north into almost a direct headwind. I understand the wind was 15-20 mph with some gusts. I thought about all the windy rides I had this summer at Erieau and knew I could do it.
Sometimes it was frustrating because my speed dropped way down. All year Pat had been telling me to keep a high cadence, it would be easier on me. I stuck to the plan the entire ride. I tried to grab a bottle of water as I rode by the second aid station, but it was wet and it slipped.
I decided to just keep going. Somewhere around my 26 miles and Pat’s 70 miles I looked up and he hollered, “Hi Mom,” he looked strong and was really moving. We smiled, and waved.
I stopped for a minute at the next aid station and refilled one of my bottles and dumped my nutrition mix into it. When I turned and headed back to the west, the wind was more behind me and I picked up speed. My plan was to stop at Special Needs and pick up whatever I might need. Somehow I had it in my mind I could stop, sit down, rest and go on.
Not the case!
I picked up my stuff and moved on down the road. At least the wind was helping me. Then it was another turn to the north where the wind had shifted more northerly, and it was head on again. Even though it looked to be a short distance on the map it was farther than I liked. At the turn around I was flying and before I knew it I was at the bridge and only had 12 miles to go.
I had a lot of nice conversations with God along the way, asking him to stay with me and keep me safe and moving along, which he did. I also knew I had many people praying for me. As I was coming back into the bike entrance I saw Peggy, Onnie, and Jack again.
Bike Goal: Under 7 1/2 hours
Bike Time: 7:27:47
I decided to try something new when I got off the bike. I left my shoes on the bike. That would have been fine but I had to run on the concrete in my socks. I have two toes with arthritis and they don’t bend. I got into transition, changed into dry clothes and headed out on the run.
Jeanne, Ian, and Paige were there waving and yelling. Great way to begin the run. Once again I stuck to my run walk plan and was doing fine. My toes hurt a bit, but no big deal. I met so many nice people on the run. I ran and walked with a man from Guatemala for a while, others from around the U.S. and Canada.
It was great.
The people of Panama City Beach were fantastic. Some were in costumes, cheering, playing music, and making a big party of it. Sort of like Mardi Gras. I saw other friends out on the run course. Once again I saw Pat. He asked how I was, and he went on to finish. Part of the course is through a state park. There were tons of volunteers and lots of music.
Around mile 16 my toes were hurting, and I slowed down some. I was coming around a corner and heard trombone music and thought I will tell Ian about this. I looked up and it was Ian playing the trombone.! Pat, Jeanne, Paige, and Marc were there too. That really perked me up and I was ready to go.
They were still there on the return run and Ian had an audience of everyone who was cheering people on. I ordinarily don’t drink soft drinks or any caffeine, but I drank Red Bull and Coke on the run course I was so wired up on caffeine. The last 5 miles I mostly walked. Less than a mile from the finish, Jack and Onnie were there. Onnie said Pat was trying to get in to put my finishers medal on me. I had no doubt he would figure out a way.
I was finally at the finishers chute. Running down the chute is such an amazing experience. I saw Marc again and waved. For one year I had worked hard to hear those words, “Gini Fellows, you are an Ironman." One of Pat’s friends was a volunteer, took my timing chip and said Pat was waiting for me to put my medal on. True to form there he was with a big hug and my medal.
What an amazing night.
Wait, I didn’t cry when I crossed the finish. For a year every time I thought about finishing I would tear up. I want to go back and finish again so I can cry.
Run: Just finish
It was an amazing day. Doing an IRONMAN is not just a solo gig. It takes support from family, friends, and on race day, strangers. It was so special and an honor to do the race with Pat. I will never forget it!
Friends told me if I did one I would want to do another. I will get that opportunity next year at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Maybe I will cry when I cross that finish line.