IRONMAN OCALA – CLEANSING OF THE SOUL – PART 2

At 2am, the rain came. You can hear it. Then the flashes of lightning and sounds of thunder. Bad. So much for sleeping the rest of the night, but I had hope since we weren’t getting up for another 3 hours. No dice. I managed to shut eye a bit more, but when we did finally get up, it was at least only raining. I checked the weather and it was a nice 65 degrees out – my only consolation. So as we geared up and prepared to head out, the rain stopped. A sign? I’ll take it.
The quick drive got us there with plenty of time to park, get setup in transition (where calculating what you need, placing, and strategy is an art in this sport too), get body marked with my number, and survey the scene. Gina got her java from a food truck and was golden. Overcast skies. Ok, so the forecasters had it so far. Since sunrise was at 7:15, so they already let us know the start will be delayed 15 minutes, we had a few more moments to get ready. Mentally, it was game on. I felt all of us would be able to duck any rain until maybe the run. I lubed up with Aquaphor, slipped on my Blue Seventy wetsuit and booties, and did some dynamic stretching drills to loosen up. The water was calm. Cold yes, at 67 indeed. As the half and full distance racers gathered for our final instructions, Gina and I embraced, kissed, and she gave me her final coaching instructions – “make sure you come back to me. And kick some bleep.” A few gathered for a final prayer. And with that, I faced the open lake, made my way far right in waist deep water (mass swim start so 300 all in) and took 3 deep breaths.

With this field, it was easy to get some water and start to stroke freely. No hits,Ickes to the face. Just a smooth start. I got into a nice rhythm. Tucked in behind a few of the half racers (wore different color swim caps and were doing 1 lap as we did 2 laps). The current was against us for one portion, but sight lines of the buoys were fine, and I was able to just get locked into a breath/stroke sequence, that was much of autopilot. I was warm and the booties help enhance my kick. Since we didn’t have to exit the water for our second lap- we were told to stand up and wave – it was time to enjoy at least another 1.2 miles of clear water. As I made the turn for the  2nd lap, no one was ahead of me (so I thought but was actually in 3rd). I just tried to stay in rhythm, stay in my mind, and with the sun coming up, start to plan out my bike ride. I didn’t know how cold I would be once I exited the water, but if it was to e in the 70′s I’d be fine. So the final lap was up eventful, maybe because I was locked in mentally, not focusing on the WHOLE race, other than just being very happy with how things started. I was swimming well, no issues, and ready to roll.
I make the final turn to shore, hear the crowd cheer, high five the race director, and then see Gina running along side of me to transition asking how I was. I actually thought for sure by all this I was in first place. I made my way to the “strippers”, and with wetsuit off, proceeded to the area of transition. I took my time as what I had expected to wear wasn’t needed, and just got set, straddled the Black Widow 2, told Gina I was fine, and off I go.
Swim 2.4 miles. – 1:02

I stayed in my small chain ring to spin things out until I got onto the main road. I figured we had the wind as I was easily spinning over 20mph here. I game planned the first 5 miles to do this before cranking big ring (the bike course was a 28 mile loop we had to do 2x, with markers each 5 miles). This allowed me to get settled and into bike mode. Everything felt good. I passed a few of the racers in the half, and it wasn’t until mile 15 that I got passed by someone in the full (you could now tell by the race numbers who was in what race). At this point, let them go, I was moving well. There was an aid station at mile 14, but was more target than a need. I had all my stuff on board, and was in a nice pace. Race was going as planned. The roads were open to traffic, and I was surprised how busy it was with cars/SUVs and more surprised with how close people were passing us. We were on country roads with no shoulders. I get to the turnaround and lap split it at just under 1:30. Fine. They had a good volunteer crew here complete with tent and goodies, but was more of a target and chance to gauge yourself. All good.
Then, it started. I felt a few drizzle bits hit me in the face. It was still warm, so I tried to hope it was just a tease of a stray shower. By mile 35, it was raining. No really raining. No forewarning of a buildup. It just came down. Then, the lightning. And big boom thunder. Now I have never rode in a race with that before. This was lightning you can see too. Like nearby. Here we are on country roads, surrounded by open fields and trees. And it’s pouring to the point you can struggle to squint. All it took was for the first few cars to get close as they passed for me to say, well, “mofo, this ain’t good. Adjust.
Since it was lightning, I wondered if they would call the race. The half ironman racers would be on the run now and it was on a trail within the park. As I turned to enter the park, all I could think of was getting to the turnaround and hoping maybe it was called. As I saw the first five guys in the ironman race head out for their 2nd loop, I knew game was still on. Wow. Soaking wet, but still warm, I hit the turnaround. Gina was there as I grabbed a few gels from my needs bag station and told her I was ok. Assessing everything, it was. I told her I would take the next loop cautiously. Another 56 miles of it. Off I went. Twirl the ring. Twirl the ring.
Ok bro, smooth. I expected the same tailwind from the first lap to boost the mood. Well, by that same mile 60 marker, it was now a full monsoon rain, puddles covering the slight divets in the road, and the wind now cold and dropping the temperature some 10 degrees. By the 65 mile mark, I was now starting to shiver. All I kept thinking was how the F could it change so dramatically (the storm made the news, with damage, tornado sightings, etc). Since there were only 75 of us in the full, and I knew I was somewhere in the top 10, you were alone out there. One guy passed me and looked fine, but he said same stuff. WTF? I pass the aid station and all I could think about now was finding a way to make it. Not the end of the race, but the halfway turnaround point!!! I was now pale white, clenching my teeth, breathing with forced exhalation to stay calm, tightening up in my elbows and neck, all while leaning my head slightly to dodge the rain in my face, navigating the roads and puddles AND cars. Serious mental overload. It was all safety mode now. I was so done by the time I hit the 75 mile mark, I started to plan how I would stop at the turnaround, call Gina and have her pick me up there. I was done. No way I thought in this weather I could finish another 37 miles of riding and THEN run a marathon. I battled mentally harder than I ever did. Survive. Hang the F on.
I get to the turnaround and the volunteers saw a ghost. “Are you okay?” “Momman, ttdthis is sooommeee serious weeeather! Anyone have a jacket?” By good fortune, blessings, faith, a lady from the local bike shop Santos was there (and props to them with 60 volunteers total). “I got one in my car!” She grabbed a Santos branded windbreaker jacket (Sugoi too!) and proceed to help me get it on. “It’s a small but I have a bigger one too.” This was probably the only time I didn’t care it wasn’t a larger size. It fit just snug enough and covered to my wrists. “THANK YOU!!” I said. (After contacting the store after the event, her name was Dawn Phelps. The jacket was actually a GIFT to HER for Christmas and here she is giving it to a racer!! Forever grateful!!)  I felt warmer after a few miles and it saved me. Literally. Had I tried to ride the final 28 miles without it, game over bro.
With it still blasting rain, thunder, and lightning, now it was just get back to transition. That’s how I was able to cope mentally and stay in the race. Pedal good, keep the legs moving, but be safe and don’t get killed doing something stupid or lose focus. Twirl the ring. Regulating everything from breathing, pace, feel, took all reserved energy I had. I kept looking to my right and saw a break in the clouds on the horizon and prayed. The wind wasn’t blowing to indicate that the cleaning was coming my way. 10 miles to go. 5 miles to go. I enter the park again and with 2 miles to go – yes 2 miles, the rain stops. A sign. A blessing. I made it through hell. Not one of hot fury, but a true washing away of the fear and torment. Game back on.
Bike 112 miles: 6:25

I enter transition and took my time but sitting on the stool to regroup. Gina was right near me and asked me questions as she knew I was beaten up. I told her I was ok, I made it, and it was “time to catch people.” She told me to make sure I was hydrated and also that I was in 7th place. I had put my run stuff inside my bag so everything was still dry. Smart move there. I put on my Wheaties tank and HOKA Conquests, took a split on my Polar RC3 GPS and made my way to the trail. Now it was 26.2 miles of running, but 4 laps worth. I CAN now finish this thing! but let’s not blow up trying. It was a sandy type of trail. Soft so you didn’t get the good push off you get from asphalt, but flip it and you don’t also get the pounding. Trade off. I wanted to manage a good 7:00 type pace, get rhythmic, and now the sun was peaking out and it got sticky humid. The puddles from the rain were evident and frequent, but tolerable. It took 3 miles before I caught my first runner. Motivating. I soon got to the turnaround at mile 5 (there were only markers 1-6 as you looped 4 times), had a layout of the loop, and now kept pace. I was moving good. I passed another by the end of the first loop. Gina was there and that aid station was a good crowd and helped motivate spirits. I was known as “Wheaties Man.” Several runners I passed mentioned they too “better eat their Wheaties”. On lap 2 I pass my new friend Luis. He had a great bike ride, but looked like now the heat was getting to him. I pass 2 more and now know I am within the top 3. More runners enter the loop so it isn’t lonely. I am dialed in now. I know the tangents, hit my spots, take moments to externalize as I adore the black turkeys walking around on the trail. I get a sequence of fueling and hydrating. Stay with it. doing good, doing good. But on lap 3, everything gets dizzy. I know it’s a close call towards a bonk. you know this feeling and never forget it. The bike ride is getting to me as I calculate that I am at around 17-18 miles running now. Slow down, BUT KEEP MOVING!! Push too far and it’s over again. I am NOT walking!
I grab a small jolt shot and with a few slower miles I am back in. I pass another. I now know I am 3rd. Keep it. Keep it. I pass Gina finishing lap 3, all are cheering, 1 more loop!!! I give Gina a thumbs up. I can do this, I can finish this!! Onto the final loop, I now dial in and let nothing deter me. I stay inside me. Channeling. Innervating. I summon all I have been through today. My feet are good thanks to my HOKA’s. The first 2 guys I know were way ahead so I didn’t have to bother with catching them. I didn’t want to get CAUGHT. One guy was about a few minutes behind me. Pick it up. I hit the final turn at mile 25, push it. Coming back I see the 4th place guy and he gives me a fist pound saying he’s done, great race! I tell him to finish strong. I push. All heart now, I can feel it. I cross that last great aid station and salute them for their help. I make the turn onto the grass field and all alone come to the finish. I cross the line and a volunteer gives me my medal. Right behind her is the one award I want to embrace and kiss. Gina opens her arms and we hug hard. We did it!! We finished!! Heaven felt again.
Run 26.2 miles on trail: 3:27.
Overall 3rd place/ 1st age group : 11:04.  Fastest run split overall!! Complete results can be found here: http://www.hitstriathlonseries.com/images/stories/ocala14_full_overall.pdf

Race photos: use this link directly: http://www.backprint.com/view_user_event.asp?PID=bp%13%7C%40&EVENTID=123988&PWD=0&LAST=Carbone&BIB=2463

The vast emotions I went through for the next hour can fill a book. As I was walking around I made sure to congratulate and thus embrace the top 2 guys, then the 4th place guy as he finished. We each battled and won, while pushing each other. I got an array of complements for my run prowess, and for sporting the Wheaties logo. I thanked them for staying in the game and winning. I in turn also made sure to be thankful to the volunteers, still out there waiting for each of us to finish our race. Family members were there and we all made easy friends. Gina and I rehashed what we could of the day, thankful to be in each other’s arms. She even let me do the finish line pour of water over her head!! I was flooded literally with elation, glory. Epic fight won and now so emotionally/spiritually stronger. I tried not to sit. I walked around a good 10 minutes till my heart rate was relaxed. Then, took a seat to sip some java, nibble on some chews, and get a few more hugs from Gina. It looked like it was going to rain again! Fortunate to still have an hour of daylight remaining, Gina helped me pack up, and as I went to get my bike and stuff from transition. I took a moment to sit on that stool, put my head in my hands, and pray. What a journey. A total cleaning of my soul. Renewed, but currently all shredded up from it, amen.
We gathered up, made sure to make about 5 small peanut butter/jelly sandwiches which was to be our dinner (and sangria!!), and staying all soaked, muddy, and exhausted – both of us, headed on home. I said another prayer for those still out there hoping they finished. Within 10 minutes we were back at Shamrock. She showered while I stretched, then reverse. The bad weather made the local news that night – damaged homes, tornado warnings in the Ocala/Orlando area. Once we were back to some homeostasis, we ‘saluted’ our day. We finished another Ironman. We all won, our final Ironman was truly memorable. With that we were sound asleep before 11pm. Dream dreams.

I got up early before sunrise. I laid there feeling my body spit out the acid it accumulated from the race. These DOMS will now take effect for at least 3 days. I make it necessary to continue moving, loosely stretching, eating mildly to regain all bodily functions. My brain is still flooded with endorphins. I replay the race. I smile.
Gina got up and we headed down to breakfast. Brantley and Anne congratulated us and wanted all the news. Luis came down soon after and he finished just over 12 hours. His story was similar, saying he felt all of it on the run. He won his age group!! In fact, the weather was so bad, it decimated half of our field, with only 30 finishers overall, and in the HALF Ironman race, another 100 athletes DNF’d. Another couple was staying too, the husband dropped out after the bike, the wife transferred her race to the shorter ones today, as Brantley informed us of that. We all celebrated our wins with Anne’s quiche and fruit parfaits. From there, we went to the awards ceremony and cheered athletes doing the shorter events on a pristine day – 50-60 degrees, sunny skies. I met all of the guys from yesterday and we once again cherished our struggle and wins. Many won awards due to the dwindled size of finishers, but all well deserved. One guy even was given a different pair of shoes to run in and ran one lap barefoot! Even the last woman – who was doing her first ironman and finished in 17 hours – won some swag. We took pictures and I answered some questions from athletes regarding sponsorships through Active Ambassadors (I wore the Wheaties jacket). I tried to talk to Santos bike crew, but no one was around, so I sent a thankful email to them. I will save that jacket as memorabilia. We even met an athlete and his wife from Charlotte! Sun was shining, people having fun, icing the cake. Ahh, but we then really praised the weekend by going to St. Timothy’s for church.
Another week of Lent completed, but for sure, capped by the Ironman race, where I put it all on the line – transformation. I left a big chunk of ME out there. I almost faded away, yet I came away renewed. My first ever ironman was a DNF after a mile of swimming in cold 65 degree New Hampshire water. Back in 1996, a newbie, poor college kid, and it pounded me cold with doubts about what goals I had in this sport. Now with almost 20 years of experience in me, learning, achieving, growing, traveling the globe, conforming my training/racing to the church calendar, documenting, testing, each year a new shed of self, still poor, it comes full circle. I almost DNF due to the pounding of cold, wet, windy doubt – but this time finish. I attribute my string of success the past 7 years to Gina. She has been THE variable that catapulted my success and in true form together we once again BEEN THERE, DONE THAT. I owe and thank her for WHO she IS. We complement each other. We are friends. We learned to LOVE each other. Twirl the ring. We talked a lot the next 2 days. We had time to walk, get some sun, rest, and dine well in Weirsdale, even becoming a old folk like everyone else there – minus a golf cart (and trust, I tried). I even got to finally find a place to eat some custard!! And since I made a bet with Gina, eat a real burger. And drink more sangria. Hydrated yo.
WE know. And WE understand. I can’t relay enough in words what this trip brought. But this Ironman will forever be ingrained within my heart, mind, and soul.

Now I will recover wisely. With a 41st birthday coming up, I will just extend this celebration a little longer. I will return to racing soon, but promised to Gina, nothing but local events and those entailing sponsorship obligations. Thanks again to all my sponsors on the right links tab of which I am forever grateful. I will post another journal by Easter, but you can also follow me and Gina on Twitter @teammc1 or @ironsherpa1

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