The Great Floridian
Oct. 26, 1991
As the sun rose over Clermont's Lake Minneola, two hundred
competitors stood in waist-deep water awaiting the start of the
Great Floridian, the first Ironman-distance triathlon in the
southeastern U.S. This was my second race at the distance. Two
years ago, I swam 2.4 miles, bicycled 112 miles, and ran 26 miles
at the Endurance Triathlon in New Hampshire in 14 hours and 42
minutes. I focused on that and other successful races, and set my
goal of just completing today's race. I won't think about my
finish time until I near the end of the marathon.
The swim was in calm, clean water at 76 degrees, with a wide sandy
beach that allowed plenty of room for a mass start. I was quite
comfortable in a full-length wetsuit, although I considered not
wearing one because the water might be too warm.
The swim was straight out and back along a line of bright orange
buoys spaced 1/4 mile apart. The swim seemed to go on forever.
When I turned around, I was more than a mile from the nearest
shore, although there were always lifeguards nearby in boats and on
surfboards. My only real problem was navigation. I couldn't see
the finish until I was within 1/4 mile. Twice, lifeguards
redirected me on course.
I finished the swim in 1:28, and picked up my numbered bag with
bike shorts, gloves, helmet, shoes, and socks. There were about 50
bikes left in the transition area. I was in a lot better shape
than in New Hampshire when I finished in 1:33, 7th from last, with
hypothermia in a wetsuit that was too small.
The bike course followed lightly traveled country roads, mostly
flat but with many steep hills at 35-60 and 95-110 miles. It was
sunny with 10-15 MPH winds and temperature in the mid 80's. Two
rainstorms brought welcome relief from the heat for about an hour
each. Race support was excellent, with water, Gatorade, and
bananas less than 10 miles apart. Every major intersection was
controlled. A support vehicle roamed the course to help with
I did the Florida Challenge, a 1/2 Ironman, three weeks ago on the
same course. The Great Floridian seemed like a repeat performance:
I stayed even on the bike for 40 miles, then started to pass people
who had gone out too hard and bonked. This was around Sugarloaf
Mountain, actually a very steep hill that I climbed at 6 MPH in a
42-28 gear, while riders without low gears climbed serpentine or
walked their bikes.
I rode at an easy pace, concentrating on getting as much food and
water as I could. I started with 2 quarts of triple-strength
Conquest (like Gatorade, but with glucose polymers instead of
sugar), and took 2 quarts of water, 4 quarts of Gatorade, 2
Powerbars, and a banana. I finished in 6:48, averaging 16.4 MPH.
It was hard to think about running a marathon, as tired as I was,
but I was so glad to finally get off the bike.
The run was three laps around Lake Minneola, with water, Gatorade,
wet sponges, orange slices, coffee cake, and defizzed cola at aid
stations less than a mile apart. You could also arrange for your
own foods at the start of each lap, as well as at the middle of the
bike. The course was mostly flat with a few small hills. It was
about 80 degrees, sunny, and low humidity (for Florida) at the
start, dropping to the low 70's by nightfall.
Once I started running, I felt great. I ran at about an 8:30 pace
for the first 10 miles, speaking to every runner I passed. "How're
you doing"? "What lap are you on"? I sang a little song at each
mile marker. "Mile 8, I feel great"! "Mile 11, I'm in heaven"!
Mile 16, I feel peachy keen"! It gave me something to think about
while I ran, and later walked.
On the second lap, I budgeted my walking for the uphill parts of
the course. I had never finished a marathon without walking, but
I figured I might be able to run 20 miles. I had trained at race-
walking a little, and could do about a 12-13 minute pace.
Meanwhile, I drank as much Gatorade as my stomach would hold until
I lost my appetite for it and tried some coffee cake and water.
On the third lap, my stomach stopped accepting food and liquid. I
could only force down a small sip of water at each aid station,
even though I was thirsty. Running made my stomach fizz like
shaking a soda bottle. I walked the last 9-mile lap at a 14-15
minute pace, mostly in complete darkness. Amazingly, I gained a
couple of places even on this lap, by passing slower walkers.
I finished in 13:22, running the last hundred yards to make it look
good. As I crossed, I asked for an I.V. They quickly brought me
inside to a row of cots and athletes attached to plastic bags of 6%
glucose*** from the ceiling. They took my pulse (88), ***
pressure (104/62), and asked me when I had last urinated (6 hours
ago). They pumped 2 liters into a vein in my arm. Next to me was
a woman who broke 13 hours in her first Ironman and was very
pleased; a man who was pulled from the run after 16 miles, quite
sick; another woman shivering under blankets, too out of it to
The I.V. took 20 minutes, after which I felt much better. My pulse
was down to 70 and my stomach started working normally. I got a
massage, and the therapist asked me about the large blister on the
back of my heel. "What blister"?
The award ceremony was pool side the following morning, with a
barbecue chicken and pasta buffet. David Turner of Seattle won in
9:26, about the same winning time as Eben Jones in the 1989
Endurance Triathlon (which had similar weather as well). Diane
Roller of Columbus won in 11:48 in spite of a 20 minute delay to
fix a loose wheel. I was 84th of 200 starters and 150 finishers,
and got a 10th place award in the 35-39 male age group, making it
by only 22 seconds. The last finisher came in at 2:45 AM, after
more than 19 hours.
My pulse was 65 the morning after the race. Since that was more
than 10% over normal (48-50), I decided to skip my workout that day
(ha ha). Still, I could run with little soreness and walk down
stairs with no trouble at all. I had much less soreness than after
my last long run (21 miles, two months earlier), or my last long
bike (100 miles, 6 weeks earlier). By evening, my pulse was almost
normal at 53.
Training for an Ironman takes about an hour a day with some longer
workouts on weekends. For the Endurance Triathlon, I swam 1.5-2
miles per week, biked 100, and ran 25-30. But I've had better
results with lower mileage. I now swim 1-1.5, bike 60-70, run 11-
14, walk 3-6, and do one hour each of aerobics and weight lifting.
I put a lot of emphasis on speed work, and often use races as
training. And I train my digestive system and sweat glands by
drinking large amounts of water and experimenting with different
foods on long bike rides.
The key to doing well in an Ironman is not to go fast, but to know
your body, to conserve enough fuel and water to finish the race.
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