As promised, here is the race recap from Ironman St. George 2012!!
I awoke race day with a nervous anxiousness as adrenaline pumped through my veins. Dad and I checked the weather and it was to be a perfect day in St. George with 5-10mph winds and 80 degree temperatures…or so we were told (I really don’t like weather persons). I was excited with this news and what had appeared to be a continuation of my beginner’s luck. In my previous endurance events (half marathons and marathons), I have been afforded the most perfect of weather conditions, my streak would be broken. The ride to St. George was mostly quiet as we looked out towards the lights that lit up Sand Hollow in the distance as my motivational instrumental music lulled in the background. Dad dropped me off with a smile, an embrace, and a simple phrase “go get ’em”. We choked back emotion and I was off to begin my journey.
Arrival to T1 was nice as I chatted with others about the race to come, listneing to their “stories”. I am fascinated by the wide array of athletes from varying background and hardships. I spent all of my prep time socializing and preparing the bike. Ironman competitors are some of the nicest I have ever met. I never had time to listen to my “pump up” music as I was enjoying myself just talking to those around me. Time came to head to the water and I was psyched up and ready to go. There was not a doubt in my mind as my coach and the workouts he gave me had prepared me for what I was to take on. I had a huge smile on my face and was loving the pre-race music. “Wild One” by Flo-Rida is one of my favorite songs right now and was the second to last song I got to hear before entering the water. Before the start, we were graced with Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”. I usually can’t stand Kelly Clarkson, but I must say I enjoyed this one as I entered the waters of Sand Hollow.
The Perfect Storm
The swim cannot be called just a swim. I renamed it to The Perfect Storm and with good reason (press play on the video to understand). When the race started the weather was absolutely perfect. However, this was not to be the case for the day. After the initial chaos of the mass swim start settled down, it seemed like it was going to be an enjoyable remainder of the swim. I turned the corner around the first buoy and was immediately assaulted with white-capping waves. I assumed (and hoped) this would only be during this short portion of the course, but it was not to be. After turning the next buoy it became even worse. The winds were up to near 40mph and the waves were white-capping at 3 to 4 feet. I ended up drinking a lot of Sand Hollow water by accident as we were being punished by the waves that assaulted us head on. I became airborne several times and could not keep a breathing pattern longer than 2 strokes, breathe. To complement the waves, the current pulled athletes further from shore and the buoys. However, it was impossible to tell as you could not see the buoys over the waves. The only thing we could do was swim towards the rock that we knew we would have to go around to get to the finish. I have never seen athletes so spread out across the width of the course, so late in the race. Nobody knew where they were or where they were going. The swim was disorienting and challenging to say the least. Coming up out of the water, I had a feeling of elation wash over me. To complete the swim in itself was a mini accomplishment for me as I had learned how to swim only 2 months before. I was ecstatic.
Swim Time 1:42:02
T1 Time: 6:47
After the swim I took my time in transition as I was recovering from the swim. I was worried about hopping on the bike in a haze and getting knocked off by the wind. As I neared my bike after getting dressed, I heard a loud, booming voice “ALRIGHT JH!!!”. My Dad was there at the edge of the fence with a huge smile on his face. I returned an even bigger smile, complete with a fist pump and yelp of joy. It was on to the bike course.
Immediately after leaving transition, 40mph winds smacked us in the face. At that point, I knew it was going to be a long day, seeing as this was supposed to be the easy downhill part of the course. We winded back in towards St. George and I started to find my rhythm as I came out of my swimming daze. The crowd support was nice in the surrounding towns with great volunteers who were encouraging and cheery. The first 30 miles of the bike went okay until we got out of town. It would all go down from there. It was like a horror flick where all of a sudden a series of unfortunate events occur: the road surface got rough, the crowd disappeared, aid stations became few and far between, and the wind reared its head with a vengeance. For the next 30 miles or so we fought these conditions with no break from the wind. I cannot describe it with any other word than brutal. I recall cursing out St. George in my mind as rage built up inside me (big mistake). As the paddy wagon passed me with athletes who had dropped, I longed to be on it. St. George was spitting his worst in what was to be his last hurrah (seeing as the race is being downsized to a 70.3 in 2013). He was playing to each and every one of my weaknesses with his wind, heat, and elevation. I knew at this point, today was not going to be a Kona day for me. I knew that in order to finish I would have to race smart and save Kona for my next Ironman attempt. I summoned strength from my friends and family who were watching me across the world. Their love and support is what gave me the will power to go on as it replaced my rage and anger I had towards the weather and course. (Detailed in my post That Which Ironman Demands in Return)
The descents on the bike were treacherous. The eventual winner nearly got blown off his bike and had to clip out to keep his balance. The 40mph winds that were headwinds during the backstretch were cross winds during descents. It was essentially the worst of all possibilities. I didn’t trust myself in aero position and held on to the outside bars for dear life. I felt as if I was getting blown all over the road and was doing my best not to ride off over the ravine. I know I will need to work on this in my next training set as I lost a lot of valuable time here by riding the brakes. Getting back into town after the descent provided some relief along with better road surfaces, crowds, and more frequent aid stations. The grind of the backstretch was better the second time around as the wind was not as powerful and I focused on zoning out with thoughts of friends and family. I made it back in to St. George only to be greeted with one last “slap in the face” hill. By the time I got off my bike, I was ready to throw it across the town, never to see it again. It’s a good thing they take the bikes from you;)
Bike Time: 6:50:19, 16.38mph
Coming in to transition off the bike, I had long since come to the realization it was going to be a long day. I decided that I would take my time and make sure I was comfortable. I collected myself, used the restroom, got some sunscreen, and headed out for the final leg of the journey. On the way out I caught my Dad, Aunt, and Uncle along the edge and they were cheering as loud as can be with huge smiles on their faces. I once again bit my cheeks to hold back from getting choked up. Their energy and love rejuvenated me and I can say with complete honesty, I would not have made it through the day without them being there.
I decided early on in the run that my goal would be to keep a pace that I could maintain throughout the duration. My first mile clicked off at 7:00/mi pace and I knew this would most likely be too fast. I ended up dropping it down to 8:30/mi – 9:00/mi which proved to be a wise choice. The 85 degree Saint George sun beat down on us as we winded through loops that were in the shape of “M Dot”. While this was great for crowd support, it was a tad repetitive and difficult on the mind to hear Mike Reilly’s voice proclaiming the finish of others when I still had so far yet to go. The first lap went by rather uneventfully and was a nice cruising pace. I think that part of the reason it felt so good is I was happy to just be off the bike.
By the time the second lap came around, I had lost my stomach. I was unable to keep down my Clif Shot gels and would be forced to seek new nutrition sources that I had never experimented with before. Any seasoned veteran, self included, will tell you this is not a wise choice. However, it was the only choice I had left as 18 miles on no nutrition is not a good idea. I ended up trying Bonk Breaker bars, orange slices, freeze pops, pretzels, flat Coke, GU Gels, water, ice, bananas, and many other things I can’t recall. I would pay for this later.
To begin lap 3, I was excited and picked up the pace despite my ankles and calves screaming in protest. I cruised along, walking through age stations to ensure I got my needed nutrition, until mile 20 came around. I then paid for my “experimentation”. Sparing details, I was forced to stop for 15 minutes to collect myself and make sure I could run again with no “issues”. I regained my stomach somewhat, but would only be able to consume water and nothing else for the remainder of the race. The last 6 miles went by relatively uneventfully, though I could feel the fatigue start to set in.
The final mile was glorious. It was so much more than I could have ever dreamed of. It was a rush of emotion and joy as I closed in towards the words I was longing to hear. The last 50 meters I spread my arms and let out a scream of joy with a huge smile on my face. The crowd erupted as I sprinted the final 20 meters. Mike Reilly’s voice boomed as I finished “from Manhattan Beach, California, John McPheron, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!”. I was in tears at the finish as I searched anxiously for my father. We didn’t even attempt to hold back emotions as i collapsed into his arms. I had completed the Ironman and been rewarded with what I had been seeking.
Run Time: 4:23:01, 10:02/mile
Overall; 13:13:31, Rank 363, Age Group Place 15
Overall it was an amazing experience and I cannot wait for my next one:)
Always in Stride,
Song – Flo Rida – Wild Ones
Quote – “Ironman is every person trying to find out what he can do. Trying to find out what his limits are and convincing himself that he can break through them. You can quit but nobody else cares, and you will always know.” – John Collins, Ironman Founder