Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ironman Florida 2013 Race Report... The Final Chapter.

I admit it. I crossed the finish line, before the stroke of midnight, with a stuffed monkey in my arms, a cramp in my butt, and a huge smile on my face. But honestly, would you expect it to end any other way??

So now that you know how it ends, you can either go on about your day, or keep reading to see what led up to this incredible ending. It's your choice, but this may likely be my last post on this blog. So choose wisely.

The week leading up to the race was a blur of diarrhea, butterflies, deer-in-the-headlight staring, and obsessive compulsive behavior that included packing and re-packing my gear bags, reviewing the course maps over and over, re-hashing my Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, and basically just obsessing in general. I drove solo to Florida by choice. It worked for me years ago when I went head to head with my solo attempt at Gulf Coast 70.3 so I figured I'd try it again. The drive allowed me to be in complete silence - no radio, no talk, no distraction. I can’t say I gave any thought to the race at this point, and an eerie sense of calm was actually coming over me. This calm would last right up until it was time to put on my wetsuit and enter the water. Then it would quickly transform into tears and trembling.

When I arrived in Florida I debated whether I should drive the back-half of the bike course as originally planned or just go check into the condo and review the course maps and online videos some more. Coach encouraged me to stick with my game plan, so I added the extra hour into my drive time. It was a good decision as I had not ridden the “road from hell” at training camp, having unintentionally taken a wrong turn at that time. This road was a four mile out and back that was worse than the worst section of River Road. Driving it I could tell it would be brutal on my overly sensitive neck, but I logged the distance and mentally told myself it was only 8 miles. Another advantage was that the “mountains” that I remembered from camp back in March were more like gentle rollers now and I knew I had done much harder rides in both St. Francisville and the last century ride in Mississippi. I would be okay. Reassured I drove straight to the race site to catch the first mandatory athlete meeting, hit packet pick-up, and swing through the expo before it got too crowded. This too was all a part of my grand plan, as I hate crowds and time constraints. This allowed me the grace to knock out the necessities on day one, freeing day two to acclimate to my new surroundings.

First to arrive, I checked into my condo and declined a group dinner, opting to hit up a local sandwich shop for a last solo meal. I returned to the condo after sunset and decided to go sit on the beach and have a moment to reflect on how I got here. The tears streamed down my face as I thought about my dad and how I wished he was here to see me race. I let out the anxiety that had been building up for the past few weeks, then pulled myself together and went to the condo to meet my roommates as they arrived.

Andrea and Shay-Shay can always be counted on to make me smile and in true monkey fashion within just a short while we were laughing pretty hard. I slept relatively well and looked forward to our practice swim in the am.

Thursday brought the excitement of the pre-race festivities. We got in a good practice swim in the am, a short bike ride, and had time to relax and visit with my friends. Andrea and I scored autographs from Miranda Carfrae and pictures to prove authenticity. My Sherpa Liz and Monkey Cheramie arrived mid-afternoon in time to dress up for Halloween and head to the Athlete Banquet meal. It was an incredible night, and I was inspired by the videos and speakers at the banquet. Having the iron-team and our sherpas together for a meal was priceless and we had a great time.

Friday -

I never worried about the weather, honestly. I had finally accepted my Coach’s directions to control the controllables, and I knew that this was not in my control. There was a strong band of weather that was coming through, and the seas were already showing the effects. The surf was up to 6 1/2 foot swells, and the winds were picking up by the hour. I battled the breakers in morning swim practice and was only able to clear them once out of multiple tries, and that was with the help of a teammate. It wasn’t the most confidence inducing swim, but it was what it was. I was determined that I would battle it on race day until I won or until I was pulled out. One event at a time.

Gear bags were packed and dropped off in transition, and my bike was given a final once-over, a blessing and kiss, and was dropped off onto a rack from which bikes were being blown off of by the strong winds. I made the sign of the cross, suddenly feeling religious, took a breath and walked away. It was what it was. I can’t control it, let it go.

Our team gathered for a quick lunch and chance to connect with our support crew who had arrived from Baton Rouge. It was awesome to see the OWLS and the other team members and families who had come all the way in just to support us.

When we returned to the condo we had lots of 
laughs. A sing-a-long re-placed the planned TWERK-OFF amongst roommates, and a candlelight dinner with our monkey AEDon was arranged for our last meal. A gorgeous sunset blessing allowed me to check off another bucket list item after having the chance to share it with friends. Andrea and I specially selected a meal of rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, green salad, and corn - the latter of which we bet on to see who would be the first to reproduce on race day. My husband made it into town and checked in on me and then Coach showed up for some last minute TLC and final words of encouragement before bed. The work was done, all that was left was execution.

After a semi-restful night of sleep I awoke at 4am to the sounds of monkeys rumbling through the kitchen. I dressed, then inhaled some monkey bread as I stood on the balcony and waited for the sun to rise enough to show me a glimpse of what I would be facing at the water’s edge at 7am. I could still make out white-caps breaking in the distance but was hopeful that they had diminished overnight and would continue to do so over the next few hours.

Time seemed to fly by and before I knew it I was in the van with my sherpa heading towards the race site. I entrusted her to drop my special needs bags while I got my bike ready in transition and made the first of many last-minute pit stops. I decided that morning to take an Imodium as I was beginning to worry that I would be dehydrated before the race began. Needless to say, I won the corn challenge.

We gathered under the green gazebo and waited as the other team members, family, and support crew trickled in. I was eerily calm all morning, even through transition, but as 6:15 approached and I began to donn my wetsuit my anxiety suddenly loomed. This shit just got real. My legs started shaking uncontrollably and as much as I tried to play it off I started getting worried that I was about to fall apart. I looked up to see Coach looking at me and I knew that she knew I was losing my shit. The tears started to stream down my face without a trigger other than the neoprene being pulled up over my body. Suddenly I was scared. I got some reassuring hugs from those around me and managed to pull myself together and say my goodbyes before walking down to the water to see what lay in store for me.

Thousands of people lined the beach and dotted the water as the pre-race warmup commenced. The waves were visibly reduced from the previous day but still loomed 3-4 feet high as they neared the shore. The water temperature was comfortable and perfect for swimming. I practiced some in and outs and swam out towards the first buoy. The shaking subsided and a calm focus came over me again as I exited the water for the last time before the race began. I knew what I needed to do and that was to execute what I had been training to do all year long. I had not put any thought into where I would place myself in the mass start, so I just walked until I got to a place that seemed to feel right. My goal time was somewhere between an hour thirty and two hours, but I found myself near other swimmers who were hoping for an hour fifteen. Instead of hiding in the back, I put myself near the front and figured no matter where I went I would likely get pummeled.

Hand over my heart for the anthem and then the boom of the cannon sent us all moving forward at once. Three thousand pink and green capped seals shuffling into the waves, bouncing over the surf and laughing at each other as the breakers tossed us sideways and backwards. The swimming was choppy at best. Stop and start. Smack in the face with a hand or a foot. The pressure of someone pushing down on my legs as I tried to stay buoyant made my heart rate rise but only temporarily until I pushed back with my legs. There was no time for panic. Panic would only cause death, or that’s what was running through my mind. I couldn’t even control my pace as I felt like I was being carried forward by a huge mass of swimmers. I wondered if it was going to be like this for the entire swim as it never seemed to let up. After 900 yards the final buoy to the turn was reached and numerous swimmers let out a triumphant yell that made me smile.

The swim towards shore was less aggressive but I struggled staying near the buoys and felt like I was swimming extra yardage. I could feel the burning of my wetsuit rubbing on the back of my neck but knew there was nothing I could do about it now. I pictured raw meat hanging there by the end of my swim and made a mental note to grab some Vaseline in transition.

When I reached the breakers I was able to body-surf many of them in. The feel of the soft sand beneath my feet was glorious and I knew that I had the swim in the bag if I could keep the same focus on the second loop. That feeling was reinforced as I ran through the aid station and saw Coach cheering ecstatically along with my fellow birds. I ran up to give her a high five. If she was happy I must be doing okay. I turned to a nearby swimmer and asked our time. He told me we did it in 48 minutes! I cheered out loud and decided to try and negative split the second loop.

Getting through the breakers seemed easier this time, and the swim had cleared out considerably so that I could get a pattern of strokes down without hitting or being hit by anyone. Congestion was always worse at the buoys but by now everyone seemed to know how to manage it. I started to count my strokes, not from anxiety like I often did in training, but to just use it as form of rhythmical comfort. I counted to 100 over and over and never let myself think too far ahead into the rest of the race. One discipline at a time. I remember Andrea telling me before the race to take mental pictures throughout the day as there would be so many memories that I would want to keep. I thought of the pictures I had taken so far: the shaking of my legs as I put on my wetsuit; the breakers crashing into the swimmers as the thousands poured off of the beach; the look of pride on Anne’s face as I finished my first loop; and now - the sun rising up above me as I swam longer and harder than I ever had in my life, reminding me of when I was a child and dreamed of being able to swim forever in the ocean. I was doing it.

Swim: 1:38:41 (2:33/100m)

The beach to transition was just that - a pathway to my next obstacle. I used the strippers to peel off my sandy wetsuit and I rinsed off in the shower as I jogged through the crowd. I saw the occasional fitbird cheering for me and I smiled as I knew I had begun this day’s journey well. I took my time in transition, meticulously applying the athletic tape to my foot so that it would support me through the bike and the run. I took a deep breath and jogged out of transition to my bike, where I knew the real work of the day was about to unfold.

T1: 13:31

The weather was perfect at this time, a blend of overcast skies and cool temperatures. I quickly fell into a comfortable pace and tried to push within my comfort zone. I usually struggle with pacing and wanted to average between 14-15 mph over the course of the ride. For the first 25 miles there was a moderate headwind, but it was tolerable. I leap frogged with Layna for awhile before she eventually left me. My mind was clear and nothing but the whirr of the wheels and monotonous motion of my legs entered my thoughts. This was going to be my biggest battle. This ride would make or break my day.

I was glad I had driven the course earlier in the week. The hills were tougher than they were when driven, but not as bad as I had remembered from March. I had broken the ride down into segments, and knew how many miles lay between each main turn on the road. I no longer was riding "20 or 30 more miles", but “only 5 more till the next aid station” or “one big hill left and then 7 miles to the stoplight”. At one point I heard the hum of a motorcycle and looked up to see Big John riding next to me with Coach hanging off waving a cowbell madly and asking how I was doing. I gave two thumbs up and kept pedaling. 

I felt great, as I always do, for the first 56 miles, and then the battle began. I conquered the bumpy road, although I think I left part of my shoulder and neck along the way. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich I hoped to eat from my special needs bag just swelled in my mouth and I couldn’t swallow it. All of the food I packed for my ride was suddenly insatiable and the only thing I managed to eat was banana after banana until I didn’t even want to look at them anymore as I forced them down. I was living off of pepto-bismol and was starting to get a headache from the sun, which no longer was hidden by cloud cover but was directly over me.

Miles 60-80 were especially difficult as I rode into a full-blown headwind and faced the majority of the hills on the course. As fatigued as I was, I was motivated by my ability to still pass people - and to do so going uphill versus down. I wasn’t the last person for once, and I was still showing strength. I held onto the belief that the penalty tent where I hoped to find my fitbird cheering squad volunteering was at mile 82. I prayed they were there as I needed to see a friendly face. At this point I found myself having to pull over just to take salt tablets or to drink. The fatigue was creeping in and I tried to focus on nutrition before it fell too far behind.

Like an oasis in the desert, I saw the penalty tent in the distance. Whether my birds were there or not I had already decided it was my next stop for nutrition. As if answering a prayer, as I approached I first saw Ellen and called out to her. It is amazing what a smile and an encouraging word can do. As my birds piled around me I felt rejuvenated by their energy. I could do this. I am doing this. I will do this.

Energized and ready to tackle the next 32 miles, I set out again this time with a tailwind at my back. Now I pushed hard and tried to make up any time I had lost on the hills and from the winds. I started passing more and more riders, many of them men in their fancy aero helmets and their bikes with zipp wheels. The more I passed the more my confidence grew. I was doing this. It became a matter of not just finishing the bike portion before the cut-off but a matter of just how quickly I could get back now. The sooner I got back, the more time I would have for the run. I knew I needed all the time I could get.

I’m not sure if I was struggling with exhaustion, nutrition, or mental stability, but at one point I reached back to get a water bottle and glanced down to see a hand on my horns holding my bike steady. It was so real that I let out a shocked yell and had a surge of adrenalin run through me. I made sure I ate something right away but wondered if it was my daddy holding me steady as I rode, as I had been praying to him frequently throughout the ride.

Bike: 7:20 (15.27mph)

Transitioning from the bike to the run went smoother and slightly faster. I gave up trying to remedy the tape on my foot which by this time was falling off from sweat. I changed into dry socks hoping that they would secure the tape somewhat and then headed out. I stuck with my game plan and walked the first two miles before attempting to run. I felt hot and although I was relieved to be off of the bike, I was anxious to see if I would be able to run. 

T2: 9:28

As Kellie, a fitbird, jogged nearby shouting encouragement to me, I came upon the FitBird tent and was met in the road by Coach, cheering encouragement and showing off her “Ass-Kicker” beer bottle. She encouraged me to get running as soon as I could and cool off the next time I found some ice. I was on track she said but needed to be purposeful in my forward motion. In other words, “get your ass moving Pearson.”

I tried to jog but soon found that my right foot was having no part of that plan. I threw in short spurts whenever I could, while keeping a close eye on my pace via my Garmin. I was holding a 14:30 at the time and wanted to keep it under 15 minutes for as long as I could. I had no idea what was going to happen after 13 miles as I had never raced that distance before, and had only run 15 once before I tore my plantar fascia. I figured as long as I could keep a good walking pace it wasn’t worth destroying my foot trying to run. With high arms and short fast steps I leaned forward and pushed from aid station to aid station. 

St. Andrews Park was lonely and the sun was beginning to go down. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice and Jay was next to me. It was so good to see him I almost stopped walking so I could hug him. We only had two minutes before he had to start his run again, but it was a glorious two minutes!

Shortly after he left I switched my headlamp on and fumbled through the dark streets of the neighborhood. The fans were sparse in this area and there were no dancers, strippers, or drunken bystanders to take the focus off of the pain. I was queasy again and struggling to get anything down. My last pepto-bismol had disintegrated in my fuel belt and the pink paste was wiped in frustration on my shorts. I tasted the chicken broth offered at an aid station and it went down surprisingly well but I was afraid it wouldn’t be enough to last me the rest of the night.

As I neared mile thirteen I was met by Kathy who walked with me and answered my questions. Liz was up ahead and joined up before I got to my special needs stop. I was concerned - my Garmin was dying, I was dying, and I didn’t know how to reverse my nutrition issues. In addition I was starting to get cramps in my left hip, enough to make me stop occasionally and wince and jab my thumb into the muscle to try and get some relief.

Liz calmed me as she worked out my pace issues with Coach. I left her to get my special needs bag. I was offered a chair and I sat blankly staring into my bag, unsure of what I was supposed to be looking for. After what seemed like ten minutes I remembered I wanted a pepto-bismol. I grabbed the hot Dr. Pepper that I had thought would be a nice treat, and a bag of nutter butter bites.

Within minutes of sipping on my Dr. Pepper I started to feel better. Liz kept walking with me and encouraged me to eat and drink until my life-force returned. Eventually I made her drop off and made my way alone to the desolate part of the loop. It wasn’t long before I was surprised to see Kathy again - laughing and chatting and running ahead of me just so she could walk with me for a bit farther down the road. I lost her, or she lost me, as I neared St. Andrews for the last time. My pace had slowed to 16:30 but from all accounts I had plenty of time to make the cut-off. 

Suddenly I am faced with Shannon, swinging her arms and yelling at me that I have to start to run. “Why?” I ask. “I have plenty of time to walk six miles. I can’t run. It’s too painful.”

“You have to. Coach says. She wants you to hold a 16 minute pace. You can do this. You have to. Promise me you will. Run a minute, walk a minute. You have to.” She moved ahead of me into the distance as if to say “follow my lead”.

Those last six miles were a slugfest. Walk/jog, suck down some broth, eat another banana. Shannon and Kathy had moved into the shadows, just barely visible. Walk/jog. The pain in my hip and butt were really becoming difficult to ignore. I could hear the finish line as I approached 23 miles. At one point I was sure I heard my name being called out but decided I was hallucinating again.

I was alone again for the last few miles and noticed that I had picked up a weave in my forward motion. The aid stations were abandoned and I was so thirsty I couldn’t think of much else. I focused on walking straight but couldn’t seem to. I didn’t want to be “that girl” that gimps across the finish line. I just needed something to drink. Finally at the last mile I found a cup of hot coke and downed it. It was just what I needed to make it in.

The finish chute came quickly and the people lined both sides of the street cheering as I approached. I had to run. There was no way I wasn’t going to at least try. I reached out and slapped hands all the way down until I got to the end where I was...stopped...before I crossed the finish line. There on the ground in front of me was AEDon, my monkey! And my Monkeys were alongside holding me in place while the announcer was saying something. I was confused and didn’t understand what was happening until I heard..."Ready everyone? One, Two, Three, .... Janie...YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!” as the entire crowd shouted the words I had waited an entire year to hear. Dazed, I was allowed to run across the finish line to have my medal placed around my neck by my Coach, and dear friend Anne. There was no better end to the journey than that moment. She who started me on this path, ended it with me. Full circle.

Run: 6:56:32 (15:53/mile)

Finish Time: 16:18: 12


This has been a tremendous journey. I learned that it wasn’t about the finish, although that made it even more special. It was the journey itself. I have learned that I am strong, and confident, and brave. I persevere and do NOT quit. I may hurt but I can overcome it. I can set a goal and can achieve anything I dream. I learned that I have friends that love me. I learned I have a husband and family that is willing to sacrifice for me. I learned that corn passes quickly through me. I learned that I am bigger than my fears.

When I started this blog five years ago it was with the intent to journal my way to a 70.3 distance triathlon. Instead I got to journal my way through five years of life: the loss of loved ones, dealing with friendships that were strained, changes in jobs, the facing of fears, and the development of new and special friendships. It has been an extraordinary journey.

I don’t know what is next for me, but I do know that whatever it is, if I set my mind to it, I will achieve it.

Special thanks to: 

The Shock Da Monkey Team (Shannon, Andrea, Cheramie, Lizard, Susan, AEDon) - you guys made this journey incredibly fun. What started off as a joke turned into a lifejacket. There was absolutely no way a person could take this training too seriously when a humongous stuffed monkey was around. You each did your part in giving advice, helping me train, and challenging me to keep going. Monkeys Rule!

Sherpa Liz: The Best Sherpa EVA! You who allowed me to bathe in your home and sleep by your fire whenever I needed. You who put Styrofoam monkeys in your bathroom to make me laugh. You who gave up your time weekly to meet me for lunch, lend an ear or a shoulder, and help me keep the faith. You who fed me Nutter-Butters and pushed me on. You who gave me a candlelight bubble bath and washed my stink-ass clothes in Diva wash. Words cannot express my gratitude to you my sister. Love you and hope some day I can try and return the favor!

Night-Guides Shannon and Kathy - You guys pushed me through those last 13 and I am ever so grateful.

Hill, Chase, Justin, and Ashlen - Although Hill is the only one who can truly see what this took to accomplish, as you kids grow older I hope you will see that our sacrifices will be worth it. I hope if nothing else you learn that anything is possible if you want it bad enough. Thank you all for your sacrifices, for giving of your time to help make my dream come true. I love you!

Iron-Birds - I cannot imagine doing this training alone. You guys are an incredible group of athletes and friends. Each of you have helped me along the way by encouraging me, riding my ass, checking on me when I was struggling, and caring for me as a family member. I heart you all.

FitBirds and OWLS - Your willingness to support me by joining in "unrequired" training sessions, providing aid stations and relief, and coming out to support the race is so appreciated. You have no idea how much an impact you have made on me. I look forward to returning the gesture.

Anne - you took me from novice to Ironman, from non-swimmer to swimmer. When I met you I had no confidence in myself and now I am fearless. You have changed my life for the better. You are so dear to me as a friend and as a coach. Having you there at the finish line was the icing on my cake. Love you.


  1. Well penned!...GOOD RACE for a gimp with a Monkey going over the FINISH line!
    WAAY to go Janie! YOU are an inspiration! ...AND ...YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!
    Papa C. xo

  2. I am so happy to see you reach this pinnacle! It was an honor to be there to witness your success!

  3. Random stranger/fellow Florida participant here. Just wanted to say I really enjoyed your race report, and huge congratulations!