By: Jennifer Johnson
I signed up for a 2.4 mile beach swim. 112 mile flat windy bike. 26.2 mile flat run. All in a little beach town at Panama City Beach. Hurricane Michael decided otherwise.
So here I am. In Haines City for my 2&through. I went through a grieving process. I trained for 26 weeks and was not going to race the race I signed up for. I cried. I got mad. I bit my husbands head off, numerous times. But I “Get” to race.
Here I am at the swim start. I decided the only thing I can control about this race was my attitude. I would calm the Hell down, have fun, cheer on myself and be the courses biggest cheerleader. All of us athletes were going through the same thing. 1/3 of these athletes are first timers, because it was a “flat easy course”. Not the case now. But they showed up, and so did I.
Swim start... I chatted with a guy from San Antonio. It was his 3rd attempt to complete the 140.6. The lady behind me had my first Ironman number 1226, I told her it was good luck! I cried during the National Anthem and said a prayer that Wendy would usually say. As I seated myself in the 1:30 spot I listened to the music and danced! As we got closer I told everyone they were going to be an Ironman today!
The swim... I’ve never seen anything like this. We swam in the shape of an M. It had 13 turns. Had to swim through two cylinder floating timing buoys. The first loop I decided to take the scenic route and and not get caught up in the mass of people. The timing buoys and all of the buoys were bottle necked and so crowded! I kept hearing Alan Jackson’s “It’s 5 o’clock Somewhere”. “Keep it between the navigational beacons”. First loop got to see Judd, waved and smiled! Second loop I went into saying “We GET to do this again!” 2nd loop was better. More on course. And then to Transition 1.
T1... Nearly a half mile walk from the swim. My volunteer handler was from a town 2 hours away, because she just wanted to help. Got all my bike gear on and went to my bike Felicia.
The bike... I did not sign up for hills..no wait, I GET to ride hills today! This was a bit harder to convince myself. Tons of beautiful big trees with an insane amount of Spanish Moss hanging. Went by many orange groves that were preparing for winter. Lots of traffic on these roads. I was nervous. Slowed my speed. Got a little off of my nutrition. It got hot. I got rained on. There were lots of accidents with cyclists down. I remained calm. I chatted with several cyclists while we drudged up the hills and laughed that we didn’t sign up for this, but all agreed we were grateful to be there. Got caught up with my nutrition and salts. Stopped and got my special needs bag with pickle juice and Pringles. Chatted with the volunteer. His wife was racing and just wanted to do what he could to help this race out. We had a picnic together. Thanked him and was on my way. Saw my hubby halfway through. A welcome sight! And...I get to ride 56 more miles. More chats with cyclists to keep on pushing. The ones that flew past me were struggling. You got this man! And so do I. Last pit stop to refuel, the man told me I was at the highest point in the state. Go figure! Rolling into town there were so many people on the run already. My speed is compromised by my fear of cars and lack of confidence in my downhill bike handling skills. That’s ok, it is what it is. Gave my bike to the bike handler and told him she’s for sale CHEAP!
T2... A former teammate Stacy was my transition buddy. She helped with all my run gear. Pulled everything out of my bag and laid it all out so I didn’t have to dig. Grateful for all the people that weren’t from Haines City that stepped up to the plate to make this happen!
The run... Hills. Hot. More hills. I saw a man just standing there. Asked if he was ok? No, bad calf cramps. Gave him a swig of my pickle juice. He was very thankful. Came upon him a mile or two later and said I saved him. Nah, gave him the rest of my pickle juice, said I had another in my special needs bag. Later I saw them again and said 3 people were “saved” with my pickle juice. As I ran my 3:1 intervals so many people were commenting on how I was running a good pace. I felt good. Always compliments on my lipstick, if I’m not going to be fast, I’ll just be fabulous! The skies opened up and continued to pour rain and lightening for the last 13 miles. Yes, it’s fun to run in the rain, but not 13 miles. Everyone laughed and said “We started this race with Hurricane Michael and now we end with a storm!” Met a Son and Mom. It was his 13th and her 8th. Mom was 71 and was the only one in her age group. He walked and cliched her arm. They were calculating a near midnight finish. Met a breast cancer survivor who finished chemo one year from the week. This was her first. Ran with a first timer from Puerto Rico who was hit by Hurricane Harvey. He didn’t feel like running so I told him never waste a downhill and run with me. It was his first. We couldn’t tell if we were stepping in a river or a puddle. It was so dark in many portions of the run course. Glad I had my headlamp. Another first timer appeared to be struggling. I asked her if she was ok. Said her back was killing her. I have her my 3 Advil. A few of us broke out singing Milli Vanilli’s “Blame it on the Rain”!!! At mile 23 my fake knee was done. I could barely run the downhills anymore. I tried the flats. So I just decided that I’d do what I can. I high fived and cheered as many people as I could. People were struggling. It was a tough day, but we were tougher.
Finish Line... I thought I’d cry again. Nope. Just get this over with! Earlier the finish was flooded with a near foot of water. They cut holes in the red carpet by the time I got there. Trust me, I found the puddles and stomped the crap out of them! Gave my hubby a kiss and ran through that damn finish line for the last time. HELLLLLO MIKE REILLY!!! Yes, I am Jennifer Johnson from Cypress, 2nd time IRON-FREAKIN-MAN!! My handler asked if I had stopped my Garmin. I laughed and said no. Gave her a big hug and my volunteer “thank you” wrist band. Because stopping your Garmin is important.
Sometimes a race isn’t about “racing”. This race was about community and hard working people that have huge goals and those around them who want to be a part of it. The people I swam, biked, and ran with all had the same goal. Have fun and just finish. This is not the race we signed up for, but it will definitely go down in Ironman history, and we were a part of it. And that’s pretty darn cool.
Ironman Florida 2018 Haines City!