I awoke at 4:15 AM when the alarm went off feeling pretty well rested and ready to go. I was a bit excited but strangely calm at the same time. Today was the day I would become an Ironman. All I had been training for had been leading up to this one day. I had practiced my pre-race rituals so that I performed them like I was on autopilot. I ate got dressed used the restroom, drank and did some stretching to get loosened up. Linda woke up and I helped her into the bathroom. We agreed that there was no need for her to fight the crowds to get to the start and she would watch the coverage via TV and try to get close to the finish when she knew I was getting close. Ellen and Tim from FitBit were going to help in that regard as well.
Once I was ready I gave Linda one last kiss and she wished me good luck. I told her I loved her and was out the door heading down to the start area by 6:00. I knew the first 2 waves of professionals and elites were going off at 6:30 and 6:35 and then it was the mass start at 7:00 for the rest of us. As I headed towards the start the noise and enthusiasm started to infect me. I was getting really excited andkeyed up. I had to calm myself a few times to keep from getting too carried away.
I headed to the line of Port-a-potties for my PRP and hoped that it would be enough. Just after I emerged the gun went off and the first wave of elites were away. Five minutes later the second wave was off with the gun as well. My stomach was starting to have butterflies and with 10 minutes to the start as everyone was getting in the water I had to make a last dash to the port-a-potties. I took care of business and entered the water just as they were counting down the last 30 seconds to the start. Unfortunately this meant I was near the back of the group, not where I had hoped to be starting. I would have to make the best of the situation and headed towards the outside of the course. Just as I got into position the gun went off and it was a mass of flailing arms and kicking legs looking like a school of piranha at feeding time. The race had begun.
I stayed to the outside and started pacing myself for the distance. I had swum much farther than this distance several times in the last few weeks so I knew I could do it, but I had to keep myself in check. I wanted to go fast and get it done, but I knew if I pushed too hard I would pay for it on the bike and the run. I was getting into a nice rhythm, catching the person’s draft in front of me when I got kicked in the face. They knocked my goggles of and I had salt water in my eyes. I stopped to wipe my eyes and put my goggles back on. At the same time I assessed where I was and saw that I was heading too far out, away from the buoys. I quickly got back to the task at hand. I attacked a bit harder, looking for a draft, but leery of another kick to the face.
Fortunately I did find another swimmer going at the right pace. I locked onto their feet and let them pull me around the course. Before I knew it we were making the turn at the halfway point and heading back towards the beach. I had found a strong swimmer who followed a good line and managed to steer us away from the other groups of swimmers. I noticed that someone had latched onto my wake shortly after the turn and I pulled them into shore as the athlete in front of me was pulling me. Almost before I knew it we were back to shore and heading out of the water. As usual when transitioning from the water to the land it took me a moment or to to get my legs back under me. I always felt very heavy when I first came out of the water and it takes me several steps before I’m steady on my feet. This was all the guy in front of me needed to pull away. I had wanted to thank him for the pull but he was gone before I could.
As I ran into transition I mentally went through my checklist of what I needed to do In order to head out on the bike. I had been practicing my transition to get it down to a science. I had my cap and goggles in hand as I reached my rack and they quickly went into the 5 gallon bucket. I then sat on the edge of the bucket, dried my feet and took the time to put on my socks and cycling shoes.
I was being fast but efficient in the transition. I had a plan and I had to stick to it. Included in the plan was making sure that I was hydrated and fueled for the entire race. This meant I needed to take the extra seconds to eat and drink now while it was still early so I wouldn’t pay for it later. I also put on my Garmin so I could track distance and splits. I added my hat, sunglasses and race belt and I was ready to go. I grabbed my bike and headed towards the mount line and the exit of the transition area.
There were other athletes also heading towards the mount line pushing their bikes and it was a bit confusing right around the line. I crossed the line and tried to do a running start to mount my bike as I watched others do. Now its not a good idea to try too many new things on race day as there is usually some type of a learning curve. This maneuver is one of those things. Just as I planted my left foot to try and spring onto my bike, the cleat slipped and I ended up falling. No harm except I was embarrassed and almost got run over by the guy behind me. I quickly got back up, mounted from a standing start, clipped in and off I went, face red and heart beating too fast from the adrenaline of embarrassment.
Having pre-ridden the bike course earlier in the week I pretty much knew what to expect except the winds today weren’t as strong or gusty as they had been. It was nice that I wasn’t having to fight to keep going straight. I knew I would lose some positions as I climbed up to Hawi and the turn around point. I was keeping within my limits as far as riding ability, going by feel more than anything. I was also being faithful to my fueling and fluid plan as I had a reminder set to go off every half and hour for me to eat and drink and every time it went off I was eating and drinking. Looking at my Garmin at the turnaround I noticed that I had been biking for 3 hours and 32 minutes. Not a bad time for the halfway point of the bike. If I could keep up the pace, then I would finish the bike right around 7 hours. Add that to my swim of just over an hour and I would have over 8 hours to finish the run. I was feeling good.
AS I shifted into a higher gear for the descent down from Hawi I noticed that I was having trouble getting into my highest gear. Seems my spill at the beginning of the leg had done some damage and bent my derailleur in. I played with the shifter a few times trying to get it to shift into my highest gear but it just wouldn’t go. I knew I was losing time and ground by not having this gear so I made the decision to pull off and see if I could do anything with it. I signaled I was stopping and pulled to the right. I quickly stopped and dismounted. I looked and didn’t see anything wrong so I just pulled on the derailleur to try and bring it out enough to shift, but I was being careful to not pull it too hard where I would be dropping the chain. I jumped back on the bike and pedaled off hoping it had worked.
I shifted down and then back up and it finally did shift into the highest gear. I got low on the bars into my most aero position and just pedaled trying to make up a little of the time I had lost. Would it make much of a difference in my overall time? Probably not, but it was more to keep my head in the game. The committee was starting to warm up as I was starting to feel the effort on the bike and they were telling me to slow down, take it easy. I had lots of time. I just kept on it and even tried to pick up may cadence a bit. Looking at my Garmin I was blasting along at 23.5 mph on the mostly flat course. I knew this was good for a short bit, but was unsustainable in the long run. After about 10 minutes I eased back to 22 mph and it almost felt like I was coasting.
I neared the 9th of the 11 aid stations on the bike route and realized it was time to eat and drink. The problem was I couldn’t face another Gu gel. I had been having one every half and hour on the bike and the thought of another turned my stomach. I decided it made sense to stop in the aid station and see what else that had. Fortunately they had bananas and Bonk breaker bars which I decided to try. I only ate half of a banana and half of a bar and drank some water. I also decided I should use the restroom. It had been hours since the start and I did have to go. Fortunately there was no line and I was in and out feeling greatly relieved. The fact that I had to go I thought was a good sign that my hydration and fueling was working.
I got back on my bike and into the home stretch of the bike course. Only 20 or so mile to go and then it was time for the run. As I finished up the bike and entered Transition for the second time, I noticed on my Garmin that I had done the bike in 6 hours and 49 minutes. That was a good time for me and left me lots of time for the run if I needed it. My T2 transition went off with out a hitch and it was with a surge of energy that I ran out through the cheering crowds in town before heading out onto Ali’I drive. My plan was to do a 5 minute run one minute walk pattern until I had to reduce to 3 to 1 and then to 1 to 1 if necessary. My complete failure on the run back in Texas was haunting me as I went through the first couple of walk/run cycles. I was now out of town and the crowds were pretty much gone. The committee in my head started talking it up.
They were pretty quiet at first, but as I got out onto Ali’i drive and there were other athletes running by me every time I slowed to walk, they started trying to goad me on and to break from my plan. I knew it was a good plan and that if I stuck to it I would be successful, but in the quiet of my mind, the committee started getting traction. I started to doubt myself and started trying to push beyond the 5 to 1 run to walk ratio. I quickly got a hold of myself talked myself through the plan. It was a solid plan. It would work, I just had to see it through.
To keep the committee quiet I started trying to think of other things than the task at hand. I thought about Linda and how I was really doing this in support of her fight. I thought about all of the good people who helped me to get to this moment and I was momentarily overcome be emotion. I even stumbled in my running as the wave of gratitude and appreciation washed over me. Those two thoughts helped to restore my resolve to see this through strong, to follow the plan and just get it done.
By this point I was already past mile 18 of the run. It had worked. I had pushed to and through the usual wall and now it was all downhill. Just over 8 miles to go and I knew I could do it. I still felt OK, but realized that I was on the verge of cramping. Thinking back I realized that I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since I started the run. I wasn’t following the whole plan. Fortunately there was an aid station just ahead and I run to it and got my hands on another banana and 2 Gu. I forced myself to eat it all and to wash it down with a glass of water and some chicken broth.
I walked out of the aid station with a banana and another cup of broth in my hand. I slowly ate and drank this over the next mile and I started to feel better. I was back to a point where running at least for short stretches, was again possible. I passed mile 20 maintaining a 2 to 1 run to walk ratio and I actually started to feel better. The nutrients and minerals were getting into my system and recharging me at least a bit. I knew better than to push any harder, though.
At the aid station at mile 23 I again had some broth and a couple of Gu. I had to force it down but I knew I needed it to finish strong. Then all I had was a 5k left to the finish line. I was now reentering town and the crowds were still there and were still cheering just as loudly as before. They helped to reenergize me as well and I actually picked up my pace. I was determined to run the rest of the way to the finish, even if it was a slow jog. I passed the marker for 26 miles and was in the finish stretch. There, ahead was the finish line. Just beyond I saw a sight that took my breath away. Linda was there in a wheel chair with the folks from FitBit. I ran for all I was worth to the line and into her arms. I was just so over come with emotion as I crossed the line I heard the announcer say Anthony Franklin, you are an Ironman.
Tears were streaming down my face as the emotions washed over me. Linda was crying I was crying the FitBit folks were congratulating me. It was amazing. The tired ness I had felt just minutes before was gone. We cleared out of the finish area and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Several of the news crews who had interviewed me the day before wanted to get a few words now as well. At first I was reluctant, but then I realized I had to share this achievement with the world. I talked for a few minutes, about what I don’t remember. I don’t even know if I was even coherent. We then headed back to the hotel for Linda to rest and for me to eat and rest as well.
I had done it.
I am an IRONMAN.