My first half iron race was Eagleman in 2007, which I raced with many of the girls training for IMFL that year. Joe and the kids had stayed home that weekend, so I wasn’t able to see him before the race start. I remember feeling that the 70.3 miles we were traveling that day loomed pretty large—seeming to be an almost insurmountable distance. I was very scared and nervous that I wouldn’t be able to finish. I called him (and woke him up) just before we were due to get in the water and cried. I think he was a little annoyed that I had woken him up, but he was able to say “you’ve done the training, you’ll be fine.” I didn’t believe him.
Standing just outside the starting corral for Ironman Florida, I wasn’t quite as scared. This time I knew I could make it through the swim, bike, and at least half of the run thanks to our experience at Chesapeakeman and our weekend at the Eastern Shore. The rest of the run would be a matter of just making forward progress. Being able to hug Joe and hear him say he was proud of me was the best send off. I did miss seeing my sister before the start, but asked Joe to have her say three Hail Mary’s for me. (I’m not about to buck a trend. Every family trip—over 40 years of Cunningham travels—has started with those prayers and every trip has concluded safely.)
Shawn, Sharon, Patty and I walked over the timing mats and into the starting corral together. It was at this moment that the race became very real to me—I held hands with Shawn as we walked in, and we both had tears in our eyes. I had trained with these women, through tropical storms, hot and cold, and just about everything in between for the past 5 months. I could never have been ready for the race without their support and company along the way. They are my sisters in blood, sweat, and tears and I will treasure their friendship for a long time.
Once in the corral, we stood at the back. I remember looking at all those people in front of me thinking soon we’ll all be in the water TOGETHER. Ack. I can’t remember what caught my attention after hearing the national anthem, but I turned around and at the fence were our TriGirls! Jill looked more excited than I felt, but her good luck hugs and those from the rest of the crew helped me know that they would be there cheering their hearts out along the way. Just then the gun went off! I wasn’t even paying attention and was really caught off guard. But that was a good thing—having too much time to agonize over it would’ve sucked. We had planned to try to remain towards the back of the pack, but momentum seemed to carry us forward into the water. As soon as it was up to my waist it was time to start swimming. It was right around this point that I lost Shawn and Sharon.
The first loop of the swim course wasn’t as bad as I imagined. While very crowded, I wasn’t being swum over or pushed down. Every time I took a breath, though, there was someone right in my face. It surpising at first to be looking straight into someone else’s face while we were both breathing and not pull up to stop, but I needed to delineate and defend my personal space. I kept my recovery pretty wide. Going around the turns was crazy. Everyone got condensed into a small area, and with the sun coming up it was a little hard to see the next turn bouy. Luckily this was the shortest swim segment, so I knew it wouldn’t stay like that for long. I did think about Placid and how it will be similar and different (same crowd, no chop). Coming down the stretch to the timing mats I felt some help from the current and was able to find some more space.
I was hoping to see some familiar faces in the crowd at the beach as we went over the timing mats. I know I looked at the clock, but didn’t register how fast or slow I was going. I grabbed some water to rinse out the salt water, and headed back out. Some guy and I chatted a bit, but too soon it was time to swim again. Like Chesapeakeman, my swim felt like it lasted just as long as any open water triathlon swim, regardless of distance, but unlike my other races, I was able to find my rhythm much sooner. Going around the turns the second time was a little easier since the crowd was more dispersed, and it seemed that last stretch went really quickly. I hit the beach knowing I had a better swim than at Chesapeakeman, and went in search of Karen and Shelley to get stripped! Total swim time 1:25:31, ten minutes faster than C’man which was 1:34:50.
What a crazy place the wetsuit stripping area is! Sand, wetsuits, and wet bodies flying in every direction. In addition to having my wetsuit ripped off me, the last big scab from my bike accident on my ankle got pulled off. Ouch. Up the beach I ran, hoping I’d find my peeps in transition. In the tent (and naked!) were Shawn and Sharon, changing so quickly that I didn’t have time to run out with them. I think Patty was there too, and she zoomed out of there pretty fast too. My coach Grandison helped me change. I think next time I won’t bother with the bike jersey and will swim in my tri shorts and top—it was tough just getting shoes and socks and arm warmers on! Kate G and I hit the bike together, which I was very grateful for. So many familiar faces in the transition area (Cyndi, Derek, Trish, Jill, and Jackie) sent me off feeling good.