Ironman Florida 2015 with Justin Knight
Date of Race: 11/7/2015
Total Bike Time: 7h 58m 2s
This past week, I participated in one of the most demanding and the most rewarding races I have ever done. We put a relay team together to help Justin Knight (aka JDude or JD) complete his first Ironman. John Rutledge did the swim leg with Justin, I did the bike leg with Justin and Tim Myers did the run leg with Justin. The Kyle Pease Foundation (KPF) provided everything needed – equipment , transportation, housing, athletes, handlers and all the organization to make it happen. The Kyle Pease Foundation supports people with disabilities of all kinds to be active and participate in sports.
We all trained very hard together for this day spending our weekends riding, running and swimming together in addition to the training during the week in our specific disciplines. We spent a lot of long days together and became great friends.
I was excited and nervous so I did not sleep very well. I got up at 3:13am – 2 minutes before my alarm went off, hopped out of bed and started to get ready. I bought 2 chick fil-a chicken biscuit w/Egg meals the day before so I could have it for race day breakfast. I ate those with OJ, apple, banana, some bonk breaker bars and lots of water for a nice breakfast.
At 4:00am I went down to the Wal-Mart across the street to meet Justin, Teresa, Willie, Kyle and the rest of our gang to walk down to transition. It a nice time for chatting, having fun, getting rid of the butterflies and preparing for the day.
We knew it was going to be fairly hot and humid so we discussed that we would need to take a lot more fluids than we had in training so we planned all that out. We went into transition area, got body marked and began getting everything ready. As typical with Ironman, it was a hectic place at 4:30am in the morning.
I was walking around in T1 getting our bike setup, preparing mentally for the long ride and drinking and eating to top off the fuel I needed for the big day ahead. I waited until all the athletes cleared transition to complete everything so I did not have to wait in line for the porta potty. Then I walked out to swim exit to watch the swim. I saw John and Justin out in the water but I was too far away to see everything that was transpiring. Then, Jerome came running up to me asking me where the pump for Justin’s Kayak was. He said Justin had tipped over and the air came out of the kayak and it need to be refilled. He said they were OK but needed to pump up the Kayak. I went running around transition asking everyone I could think of where it might be but just a few minutes later was told that they found it. They were coming in so I needed to get ready to start the bike a little earlier than expected. At that point, I had to got potty one more time and when I got there I noticed I had my bike bib shorts on inside out – holy crap. Luckily I had time to flip them around in the port potty and re-lube with all my chamois. Of course, there was a lot of chamois all over since I had lubed with them inside out once before … But, at leas one minor crisis was averted.
Then, the fun began. After getting Justin changed, giving him his medicine, we all got together to get him on the bike and ready to roll. We got about a 40 minute head start on all the others, so we were the only ones in transition a the time and got to start the race all by ourselves.
Bike Time: 7:58:02
The bike course changed from last year. They eliminated the out and back section to youngstown that had the 10-mile section on poor quality roads, and replaced and out a back section on highway 79 to New Hope.
This new course was nicer but certainly tougher for us since the new section had some hills and one fairly long climb (relative to IMFL standards). According to my Garmin files (apples to apples), the *old* course was 1,000 feet of elevation gain and this new course is 1300. On a normal tri bike, those hills and that little extra elevation gain is pretty minor in comparison to other IM courses, but with a 340 pound load, it has a pretty significant impact. If I remember correctly, that was in the mile ~75- 90 range so the legs were already dead and I wasn’t expecting any hills out there.
My twin brother – Jim – was an official handler for us and rode the bike following behind us to keep an eye on things, help if issues occurred and keep in constant communication with Teresa on how Justin was doing. Teresa was justifiably a nervous nelly so it was extremely helpful to have Jim help keep her informed that things were OK. By the end of the bike leg, I think Teresa was texting or calling every few minutes. Justin just laughed it off and told Jim to tell his mom “I am busy”.
We rode out of transition through the bike chute and the crowds were going wild. It was amazing. Justin was squeezing his dog-head plastic squeaker and pumping his arms for everyone. The adrenaline was through the roof and we were pushing 250-300 watts for the first 10 miles or so – a mistake we would later pay for – but it was impossible to hold back. We were escorted by the lead motorcycles and police car. Everyone was yelling – “You are in first!”. Justin and I joined in the chanting – “We are in first”. Pretty fun while it lasted.
We hit the 1st 10 mile split at about 37 minutes and had and an average speed of over 16 MPH. We knew we would not be able to maintain that speed and this was one of the easier parts of the course, but it felt good to get 10 miles behind us at a decent clip. Right about that same time, the lead male riders came through. They were pretty split apart and sparse – just a few of them. For the next 10-15 minutes it was like that — just a rider hear and there and no bunches. Almost everyone that passed by cheered us on and gave thumbs up or other encouraging gestures. Justin would squeak his dog-head horn, and yell right back at them “You are looking good too” . If they didn’t say anything when going by he would squeak and yell “You look Good”. He wanted everyone to be as happy as he was and almost everyone was smiling after seeing him.
We continued to ride along taking it all in, getting ready for the first climb over the bridge. I had practiced riding it the day before with our team runner – Tim – so knew what we had in store, but we hunkered down for it.
We discussed our strategy that turned out to be the way we climbed the hills all day long. I would keep my head down staring at the stem, and JDude would give me the play by play and keep the team motivated. He constantly shouted out where we were – “We are about half-way now, good job! We are almost there! Near the top. We got it”. Then we crested the hill, pump fists for the screaming fans and took off down the backside reaching a speed of well over 30 MPH. That part was fun. See video below (thanks to Jim Blackburn for the GoPro setup and video).
At this point, it was still overcast and we were feeling very strong. At each of the mile markers, we discussed far we had gone, but we did not discuss how far we had to go until we got to mile 100. It is too defeating to think about what is ahead and its rewarding to think about what we had accomplished.
Up to this point our nutrition was bonk breaker bars – many flavors, water and electrolyte drinks. Every 10-15 minutes, we drank water. I would just tell JDude that we were ready to drink and he would lean his head back and I would squirt in 3-4 gulps of water from the bottle. Then, I would drink some myself and put it back. It got to the point where I didnt say anything since each JD heard me grab the bottle he leaned his head back for a drink. Every 30 minutes we shared a bonk breaker bar and I also added a bit of hammer cafe latte perpetuem for myself. We also squirted water on our heads and necks to keep cool as it got hot and we picked up a couple of new water bottles at each aid station. Jim also got us some extra fluids when we needed. For the second half of the race we consumed more fluids, watered our bodies down more often and ate more of a variety of foods like wraps and some of the other stuff Teresa put in SN. I did have a towel in my Jersey pocket that JD used when we spilled too much food and liquid all over him. I have no idea how many calories or the amount of liquid we got but our goal was 400 calories/hr for me and 200/hr for JD with lots and lots of water but I did not keep track. We just kept to a minimum of 15 minute routine for fluid and 30 for food with more frequent watering as it warmed up.
We were still going strong at 30, 40 and 50 miles markers. Our power was still reasonable (~225 average). It was dropping more than I wanted but there wasn’t much we could do about it. (NOTE: I typically shoot for 220 in IM so we figured about 210 for this, but it was just a guess since the ride was so much longer). Brent had told us that if we could average 15 MPH by the time we reached Bike Special Needs, we could stop for 4 minutes to have lunch. We were at 15.2 at that point, but we had a bit more climbing to go before we hit SN so it was going to be tight. We were both sick of bonk breaker bars bars at that point and looking forward to a nice turkey and cheese wrap and other goodies that Teresa packed. We reached Bike Special Needs just in the nick of time – 15.0 MPH, but almost immediately after I stopped, it read 14.9 MPH so we decided to shorten our 4 minute break to about 3.
We stopped and grabbed my Special Needs bag and Justin’s. Mine had 2 wraps in it. Teresa packed Justin’s and it was jam packed. OMG. There was a giant baked potato, 3-4 wraps, a large bag of sun chips, pretzels, M&Ms, recess pieces, candy bars, and a whole host of other items. We had enough for us and all the volunteers helping us. We could have fueled 10 full Ironmans with the contents of this one special needs bag. We will give Teresa some training on Special Needs packing in the future :-). I gave Justin his medicine with lots of water and then we ate lunch. By the time we started again, our average speed had dropped to 14.5 MPH so we were starting to cut it closer that I would have liked but JDude was confident.
Sidebar perspective. As many of you know, I am a poor swimmer and a strong cyclist. It actually gives me an advantage on the bike with lower stress. I am far back at bike start so I typically spend almost the entire bike leg passing folks and don’t get close to most of the fast cyclists until close to T-2. I can just ride my race, not worry about the others around me and I don’t pay much attention to it. So, I don’t see what really happens on a flat course like this. Going 14-15 MPH changes that. By the time we hit 30-40-50 mile markers, there was a non-trivial number of packs with a non-trivial number of riders that would fly by on a pretty consistent basis. I am not going to harp on this, because I don’t care and nothing with spoil the wonderful day we had together. But, I just saw the race from a different perspective than I am used to and it was, well…, different. To be fair to all, I did not see this in the leaders (they were quite sparse) nor did I see it in the back of packers. And, FWIW, the majority of folks were doing the best they could. Almost every single rider that went by us said something nice and gave thumbs up. If they forgot, Justin would just honk his horn and that would remind them so they did. Some of the back of the backers went by us a few times and always smiled and laughed. Those folks tend to stop and start more than the FOPers.
I cant remember where we were on the course but one rider rode buy us and shouted “Way to go Brent and Kyle”. Justin and I had a frank discussion about this. We love Brent and Kyle but we are _not_ Brent and Kyle. We are Justin and Paul. This happened several more times but we were ready. Justin would yell back – “We are Paul and Justin, we are NOT Brent and Kyle”. Just another great idea from Justin to keep the whole day in perspective. Ok, I Dont want to write too many words without a picture so below is a good one from the Halloween party. (JDude is obviously the one in the ironman costume).
Around the 50 mile marker the Sun started to come out more and more and it got hotter and more sticky. We were hoping for rain. I got into a bit of a dark place in the 60-ish mile area after some tough, off-camber climbs — those off camber sections are very tough on that bike, constantly fighting to stay on line — Justin clearly sensed it and starting praying for rain – he kept saying – “we need some rain”. Ok, some of you are going to think I am embellishing but I am not. At about mile 60, Justin was wishing for rain and not 2 minutes later it started raining – it didn’t rain hard – but it did. We both raised our hands to the sky and cheered and laughed for the rain. It was great, got us out of that dark place and moved on. Unfortunately, the rain was short lived but it gave us the boost we need at the right time.
We got to the new section on highway 79 a little before we hit the mile 80 marker if I remember correctly. The roads were in perfect shape but the climbing in that section put us in the hurt locker. After that section, we were riding on will power more than muscle power. Brent ran along side us for a bit there to cheer us on. And, Teresa drove by, took some pictures and blew Justin and kiss. Of course, Justin said “I am busy” and waved the kiss off and started laughing and honking the horn. Cracked me up when I needed it.
When we hit mile 110, we looked for the Waffle house on Front Beach since that was our 2nd to the last turn and about 1.5 miles to go. After we hit that, we looked for the next waffle house since that was our final turn onto S Thomas Drive and the home stretch. The adrenaline was building and so was the lactate and the burn.
Coming down the bike finish chute was surreal. The pain in the arms and legs was excruciating to the point where I was getting a little light headed and my triceps were weak to the point that it took everything we had to steer the bike. Justin provided that extra motivation and got the crowds going. We were shooting for an eight hour bike split and we knew it was in reach but it was gonna be very tight. We pushed and pushed and made it across the timing matt just in the nick of time – 7 hrs 58 minutes. We proceeded into T-2 and I got off the bike – which was an ordeal in and of itself. I was completed overcome with emotion, gave Justin a big kiss on the cheek and a bear hug and almost fell over in the process.
From the minute we got on the bike to the minute we got off, we _knew_ there was nothing that was going to stop us from completing this. For me, personally, it was the only time I have done an Ironman where I did not even consider quitting — it never crossed my mind and JDude felt the same way. We knew that we were going to finish what we started. Justin makes you feel that way. He knows when to provide the extra encouragement needed in the very tough times, when to make a joke to keep things in perspective, when to get low and aero for a quicker section, and when to scold me when I deserved it – like when I got mushy banana all over his face and torso (Mom and Brent thought he got sick since he had so much stuff all over him at T-2).
T2 was pretty fun. I almost fell down getting off the bike and was drained. My legs and arms were dead so the Pease team with Teresa, Brent, Willie etc took over to get Justin changed and ready for the run.
What can I say? Hooking up with the Pease foundation, spending time and training with Justin and meeting all his family and friends has been wonderful. Completing an Ironman with my great friends / “dream team” of John Rutledge, Tim Myers and Justin Knight was a culmination of a lot of hard work by many extremely dedicated, wonderful people. I am not good at all this mushy stuff so I am not going to go through the litany of great people that made this all happen since I will leave someone important out and I cant live with that. I expect that Brent will take care of all that for us since he makes sure everything is covered no matter what we’all miss (we’all is like y’all). It really opened my eyes and heart to see what lengths people are willing to go to do really good things. Racing with JDude to assist him in completing his first Ironman is something I will remember for the rest of my life. It was a fantastic day. Justin has become a good friend who has helped me more than he knows. He is a very special person and makes everyone around him feel special. A wonderful day that I hope to do again sometime – but not tomorrow 🙂