IM Florida is everything IM Lake Placid is not.
The venues are remarkably different. Lake Placid is a beautiful community, which may be built around a lake- Mirror Lake (not Lake Placid), but is built upon its history (two Olympic games) and its topography- the mountains and the by extension, the skiing. As much as I love it there, the town groans under the weight of athletes and spectators on race week.
PCB, on the other hand, is built to stand up to nothing less than being marketed as the #1 spring break capital of the US. Granted, half the restaurants are closed, but there's plenty of room for anyone and the only place outside the race venue where there seemed to be consistent waits was the Mellow Mushroom.
In much the same way, the swim starts are similarly different. The Placid start can't be a beach start- the beach is too narrow at its mouth and there is a dock in the way- you'd also have to swim counter-clockwise. Once you get in the water, there still isn't anywhere to go, and you have to get out there and tread until the cannon.
IM Florida is the exact opposite. The beach goes on for- well, who know. They make this cute little coral out of black mesh that still allows pretty much the whole field to stand inside. I was the third person over the mat and into the corral. Note: do NOT ask if you can put your socks, the socks you did two other ironmans in, on the glasses table. The answer is NO !
I started in the middle, in the water. They told us we could be knee deep in the water, and that's where I was. I could see the buoy, because no one was in front of me.
Let me step back. I got up early- 4:30- after another dicey pre-race sleep of probably around 4-5 hours that included a lot of sweating. Nothing like getting dehydrated while you (don't) sleep. I made some coffee, ate a banana, ran 10 minutes- up to the Sunset Inn and back. Then I ate two 'single-serving' bags of Fruit Loops. My two good IM races featured crappy cereal that I typically find inexcusable as anything except a snack- go figure.
I walked down with a friend who was a few minutes late, we got body marked and then went our own ways. Maybe it's just experience, but my last three IM pre-races have been easy and quick. I get body-marked, I get in line for the porta-potty, listen to some music- hell, I even posted to my blog from my iPhone in transition- the line to the bathroom was eight deep and I got bored. It was terribly not clever.
I heard a lot of good music off the iPod- Nine Inch Nails, Evanescence, Linkin Park.
I was not allowed to put the pair of socks I'd done at least two ironmans in on the glasses table. I was told this in no uncertain terms...
Back to the swim start. I was standing next to my friend Steve, who rightly questioned my decision to stand in the front row, dead middle, and start there. He was worried about my safety. I told him I was tired of starting off to the right. I had decided if I was going to get clobbered, I'd rather get clobbered by good swimmers than by the duffers on the fringe, who don't know what they are doing and trend large. After all, a good swimmer might swim over you, but they don't keep clubbing you after they do it. The weaker swimmers will pound the hell of you, it takes forever to get in to the buoys...
I looked back. There were people- mostly guys behind me. But not too many.
The cannon went off and I started swimming. Everyone around me was walking, but I was swimming. This is my thing. Unless my nose is scraping the sand I swimming. I paid 550.00 to swim 2.4 miles, and I'll damn well swim the whole thing.
It was the easiest swim I've had in an IM. Yes, there was traffic, and yes, I couldn't get that close to the buoys until the third green one out. But I didn't get that beat up. I did get a foot in the mush, but it didn't knock my goggles off. In fact, my first real frustration was at the red buoy, the outer marker at the turn.
Why do so many people stop at the buoy ? When I'm close to the buoy, the only thing I want to do is get around it. I'm not looking to stop and capture a mental image of the damn buoy. I just want to keep going.
The result of this site-seeing for me is that I always get pushed wide of the buoy and because of the shape of the course, it's important to start turning in, because between the outbound buoys and the inbound buoys the line cuts in.
I got across that line and came out wide headed back in. This was a serious problem the other time I did this race as I swam halfway to Alabama coming back in.
I got in at around 36:30, and despite having done the race before, I was shocked at how long it took to get from the arch to actually start swimming again.
We'd been told repeatedly while on the beach that we were allowed to swim inside the buoys as long as we cleared the two outer corner buoys. Although I've always seen this as a little underhanded, after talking with some people about it, I had come to the conclusion you still swim the same distance as long as you go around the turn buoys. I was determined to get inside the buoys. But it never happened. I swam the entire second loop on the buoys, practically running into all of them. Still, on an open course, being on the buoys for me is huge, because it means I am swimming the course and nothing extra.
I was actually hoping that I'd negative split the swim by swimming the course tighter. But my left shoulder did fatigue, and then the left calf started to feel like I had to be careful with it to avoid a cramp and kept my effort moderate. I has the same issue at the turn- people seemed to be taking it all in instead of swimming. I fought a lot harder at the turn to stay on the buoys- it was hard to see because of the sun, but there were fewer people and I did manage to get close to the buoys. I was swimming alongside a woman (pink cap) and we were going the same speed. That really calmed me.
There was certainly some craziness- people swimming into me, swimming at weird angles or frog kicking. But I got a good line into shore, swam until I could swim no more, and then hauled myself out of the water and started running. I went under the arch in 1:13 and was disappointed that I hadn't swum faster, but I got my wetsuit stripped and then ran to the shower.
At the shower, I pushed my way through people- I couldn't believe people were actually standing still under the thing. Standing still- in a race.
Next: Transition and the Bike- this will be the good stuff...