Ironman Florida

November 13, 2007

Ironman Florida – November 3, 2007: A recap by Christine (Crash) Mazurk

The alarm buzzed at 4:30 am, and we both groaned into the darkness. The air conditioner had so chilled the room, I didn’t want to come out from under the covers, but the start of Ironman Florida was fast approaching – and it would start with or without me.

As John showered, his way of waking up, I splashed cold water on my face. The day that faced us would not be glamorous by any means – a swim in the Gulf of Mexico, a long, sweat generating bike ride around Panama City, and a full marathon loomed. By the time we crossed the finish line, we would be covered in sweat and salt, again – not what anyone would consider attractive.

Once dressed for the race, John in a skin suit, me in a bra top and bike shorts, we pulled on our sweatshirts and headed down to the transition area. The air temperature was 52 degrees, windy and chilly for the beginning of the day. Our bodies were marked with thick black sharpies, race number from shoulder to elbow on each arm, and down the side of each thigh, and age on left calf. Only then could we enter the corral of bikes. We checked the tires, fitted our bottles of Accelerade, our energy drink of choice, and our gel flasks to the frame, and went back to the room to put on our wetsuits.

Music played and the race director spoke over the PA system, dispensing inspiration and energy, while giving instructions and counting down to start time for the thousands of people there to either race, volunteer, or cheer on the athletes.

As the sun slept, 2300 athletes made there way to the white sandy beach to await the firing of the cannon, which would signal the start of the race. Resembling a family of seals, we stood with our toes in the sand and looked out over the Gulf of Mexico, flattened by the northeasterly winds of the last three days. The water rippled, the light from the huge spot lights set up for our safety, glistening across the surface, the buoys bobbing in the breeze.

The pros were sent off at ten minutes to seven as the amateurs stood on shore and watched. John and I hugged and kissed for luck and head-butted to our pre-race phrase, “no pukin’” – we would see each other on the run course and then again at the finish line. Taking a deep breath and saying a quick prayer, I waited beside my husband as the minutes ticked down to the blast that would send us out for a very long day.

The explosion ripped through the air, and the athletes surged forward, splashing into the surf like a graceful herd of elephants. 1100 of the 2300 were first-timers, which meant they’d never started in a mass start before. Did they realize they were entering a washing machine of bodies as they began to swim?

It seemed everyone fought for the same square inch of space in the vast sea, as hands pummeled, grabbed and pulled from every direction. One guy swam up my back and stayed there, stoking away as if I were his life raft. A hard kick skyward dislodged him and slowed him down a fraction. By then, I’d been yanked on, pushed under, and kicked in the face several times. I choose that moment to swim out to the right and finish the 2.4 mile swim stroking parallel to the group. (I probably ended up swimming 2.7 miles, but at least I had my own space in the crystal clear water, which I now shared only with a few jelly fish – yes, they were out there. Twice I had to stop mid-stroke or end up with a handful of one.)

The sun climbed its way up the sky as we stoked and breathed our way around the two loop course. I relaxed and enjoyed the rush of water as I sliced through it, zeroing in on the finish arch. I ran on shore, through the arch to the stripper zone … where I laid on the ground while two strong guys yanked my wetsuit off my body. Taking one of their hands, I was once again on my feet moving toward the women’s change tent. Inside, my body began to convulse from the cold. My teeth chattered, and my muscles quivered uncontrollably. From my transition bag, I pulled on the long sleeve shirt I’d brought, knowing I would need it until I dried off. I put on my cycling gear, but because I was still shaking, one of the medical personnel refused to let me go. That’s when I heard one volunteer say, “you come here, honey – we’ll get you warm.”

Two voluptuous women sandwiched me between their bodies to warm me with their body heat. Fifteen minutes later, I was on the bike, pedaling out of town. The breeze kicked up and I again caught a chill, but by mile 20, I began to warm up. By mile 40, I no longer needed my long sleeve shirt, so I threw it away. I hunkered down and pedaled, and the miles passed as I nibbled on pieces of banana, powerbar, and energy gels, while sipping on Accelerade. I worried that my average speed was slow, but realized I was heading straight into the wind – and as luck would have it, the wind shifted all day to remain a head wind through 100 of the 112 miles.

Back at the transition, I dismounted from the bike and changed into my running shoes, heading out for the marathon. It took three miles before I found my running legs, but once found, I was able to maintain a run-walk shuffle. I spotted John coming in from his first loop as I approached the four mile mark – we crossed the street, kissed each other, and moved on. I saw him again when I hit mile fourteen, he was coming in for the finish! Again, we shared a kiss. I told him to go back to the room, shower, put on some warm clothes and to meet me back at the finish in about 2.5 hours. The sun had gone back to bed and the temperature dropped, cooling off the night. I resumed my shuffle and smiled my way through the next 12.2 miles. The crowds remained strong, cheering as loudly at 8:30 pm as they had been at 7:00 am this morning. I chatted with other athletes as we continued to move forward, one step at a time, advancing on the finish line. I walked through one aid station with a 73 year old man; this was his 25th Ironman race. The dedication and will permeated from every single racer, no matter what age, how fatigued, or in how much pain we were, we mustered on. It was quite an awesome place to be.With one mile to go, the aches and fatigue vanished and I floated into the finishers chute. Music blared and the spectators remained wild. Everyone lining the chute, held their hands out for high-fives, and I touched each one as I skipped my way through the banner. One volunteer placed the medal around my neck, another wrapped me in a Mylar blanket, and that’s when I saw John.

He was beaming, screaming, “I love you, Irongirl.” My heart swelled and the tears pushed over the edge, flowing down my face. After receiving my finishers’ hat and tee-shirt, I ran for John’s arms and hugged him as tightly as I could. We held each other and cried. I was so proud of him and he was so proud of me, the emotions overwhelmed. Finally we broke apart and slowly wandered back toward the hotel room.

After getting our bikes and gear back to the room, I showered and then we collapsed on the bed – it was 1:00 am on Sunday. John was a ten-time finisher and I was a seven-time finisher. We were exhausted and sore and exhilarated! I closed my eyes and just as I was drifting into sleep, I heard John say, “So, you want to do Western Australia next year?”           

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