I’m always amazed at how much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands goes on in picking the first Ironman race. Considering that most of the North American races sell out in about 2.5 seconds, just getting into a race should be the main concern. But inevitably new Ironman athletes pick a race based on the difficulty of the race.
That’s why Ironman Florida always gets a huge number of Newbie Ironman athletes. Over the years it has earned the reputation as one of the easiest races on North America and perhaps even the world. The common assumption is that the dead flat bike (OK one bridge on the course does not a hill make) and run make it the perfect newbie race.
So for all of you newbies signed up for the race this year I would suggest that you sit back and take a deep breath because I’ve got some bad news for you…there is no such thing as an easy Ironman…they are all very hard!
This notion of an easy IM is just something that newbies use to physic themselves up for doing the race. Think of it as a coping mechanism that enables triathletes to go online a year before the race and slam down their credit card for $550 big bucks and sign-up for their first IM.
The thinking goes something like this, “I want to do an Ironman, but I’m not sure I can do it, so why not start with the easiest one of the bunch.” This way the thought of swimming 2.4 miles, followed by a 112-mile bike, and marathon seems almost reasonable. “Sure it is an Ironman, but it’s an easy Ironman,” the rationalization goes.
Did you know that a few years ago after the swim in Panama City an age-group athlete was barely clinging to life from fighting the 5 foot seas and strong currents on the swim portion of the race?
I was there and I can tell you that while swimming is my strongest discipline of the big three (I’ve gone 1:10 in my best Ironman), I would have seriously thought twice before jumping into the extremely rough Gulf Coast waters on that extremely windy and cold morning.
For argument’s sake, let’s ignore the rough seas, cold waters, and rip currents on the swim course and move on to the bike. The bike portion is, after all, why most folks consider this to be an easy IM.
First of all, how many of you have ever run a downhill marathon? Please raise your hand. I have and I can tell you that it was the worst marathon of my life. My initial thinking for picking the Top of Utah marathon was that it would be blazing fast and easy. After all, the first 19 or so miles are all downhill through an absolutely gorgeous canyon. How hard can it be to run downhill for 19-miles, I thought when I clicked submit on my computer entry?
Boy was I ever wrong!
By mile 19 my thighs were completely blown and my legs felt like spaghetti. What followed was the worst, most painful, 10K my life. All of the time I had made up at the start of the marathon, quickly evaporated as I dragged my spongy legs across the last 10K of the race.
There is a good reason why London and Chicago are considered the fastest marathons. It is because the course in sections is flat and/or gently rolling. The perfect combination for lighting fast times that allows runners to use/mix and match all of their leg muscles and not just their thighs. Also both races are also held at normally cool times of the year which are perfect for fast running times.
Just like the Top of Utah marathon, the Florida bike course has only one grade for the bike…pancake flat. That means that for 112-miles you get to sit on your bike in the areo-position watching the Wal-Mart’s, weeds and Waffle Houses fly by as you peddle using the exact same muscles for every painful revolution. There is no climbing, and there is no coasting. There is no change what-so-ever to the course so there is no change to your body position.
There is however the changing headwind. When I watched the race it howled at over 20-mph for most of the morning and afternoon. This meant that many racers reported fighting a headwind for the entire bike portion of the race.
It died down in the afternoon, and that was about just that time that sun came blazing out, the humid spiked, as most athletes started the marathon.
I must be honest here and report that at about that time I was happily sitting in an air-conditioned Starbuck sipping on a lovely cold ice tea. I remember thinking to myself as I watched the sweaty and over-heated patrons come into the Starbucks, “self, it would really suck to have to run a marathon about now.”
Just a quick word here about the IM Florida marathon course...to call it boring would be like calling Howard Stern tame. The course rambles its way through some of the most strip mall like streets of Panama City until it takes a sharp turn through several trailer parks into the “scenic” garden portion of the course. Let’s just leave it at saying that it is no Chicago, New York, London, or Berlin marathon course.
In fact the race headquarters of the Florida Panama City IM seems to smack a bit of that sleazy and rundown feel of an MTV spring break destination. I suppose that this is because it is a huge, sleazy, and run down college Spring Break destination. This is all well and good, unless it happens to be completely devoid of spring breakers, which of course it is in November.
This means that on course, and when you cross the finish line, you will only be greeted by a few hardcore IM family and friends. There is no crowd support; there are no throbbing masses of well wishers. All you get are a few mad locals on their way to the Waffle House, who don’t understand why they have to wait to cross the street for a bunch of sweaty and stinky runners.
Oh yea, I almost forgot. You also get to run next to a virtual parade of loud pick-up trucks, Harleys, and Red Neck Riviera types. For all of you who finished the race, and all of you who attempted the race, be very proud of your accomplishment.
If you crossed the finish line in under 17-hours you have more than earned the words, “You are an Ironman!” And for all of you signed-up for the race this year; good luck…because there is no such thing as an easy Ironman….they are all very hard!