May 9, 2012 at 2:53 am #14523RobElkinsParticipant
This was my first Ironman; I signed up last June and then followed a 20-week training plan to get me ready for the race. Last May I was in St. George for work and was able to ride the main 45-mile loop of the bike course so I knew what I was getting into. Ironman St. George (IMSG) is known as a hard if not the hardest Ironman outside of Hawaii. And the week before the race they announced that it will be downgraded to a half Ironman in 2013 since it doesn’t sell-out. Most Ironman events sell out month in advance but being so hard most pros and amateurs avoid IMSG.
I drove up to St. George on Wednesday to give myself plenty of time to check-in and get in two practice swims in the lake. Both times, there was some wind but it wasn’t too bad and the water temp as around 62 so I was feeling good. I went through all the gear check-in and pre-race meetings and was feeling good… I was nervous and excited to race but under control.
On race morning I parked downtown by the finish and T2 and got on the bus to the lake about 4:45am. When we arrived at T1 all was good but it was a little chilly but I was feeling ready to go. The small pro field started at 6:45am and then they started getting all of us in the water (1432 age-group starters). I slowly got in the water because I didn’t want to swim around for an extra 15 minutes. About 5 minutes till 7am I moved into position… I’m not a strong swim so they always so that I should position myself to the outside and back. But that’s where all the slow swimmers are so I went inside (against the buoy) and back. No issues at the start as no one was kicking or punching me. I had some good feet to follow and clean water for about 15 minutes. Then I started feeling some waves and keep thinking that the boats need to back off and give us room to swim. The course is a long rectangle and once we made the first left turn, the race fell apart. The pack of 1400 went everywhere as huge lake waves were hitting us on the left and pushing us off course and under. I couldn’t see the buoys and was really struggling. The wind was 20mphs with gust up to 40mph the lifeguards on boards and kayaks couldn’t help many people as they needed help themselves. I saw kayaks flipped and people hanging on to the buoys yelling for help. We then made another left and were now on the longest part of the course 1.25 miles directly into the waves. It was the toughest swim or anything I’ve ever had to deal with. The waves came so quick that you couldn’t swim or hardly breathe in between them. I swallowed gallons of water and got motion sick causing me to throw up a few times in the water. I could see my watch hit 1:00, 1:15 and then 1:30 and I was really struggling to make progress. I tried to swim the buoys even though a lot of people were swimming across the rectangle just to get the shore. I was getting cold and realized it was time to push to the end or give up and not make the swim cut-off of 2:20. I thought of my family back in Redlands watching online and I didn’t want them to see me fail in the first disciple so I decided to push hard and if I didn’t make a time cutoff it was going to be the midnight cutoff not the 9:20am swim cutoff. After digging deep I exited the water in 2:03 (just 17 minutes to spare).
I always run in transition but this time I couldn’t run, I was dazed, the wetsuit stripped helped me sit down and get off my wetsuit then a volunteer handed me my bike bag. I could feel the helmet inside and realized that now I had 112 miles on the bike in this howling wind.
T1 was like a war zone… The wind was rough so once your wetsuit was off you were cold and I was shaking. I walked in the changing tent and saw 60 men in different stages of changing clothes as they were crying, puking, yelling, or glazed over. The volunteers were doing everything they could to help warm people up and getting them on their bikes as you had to be out of there by 9:30am. As soon as I walked in I turned around and went out to puke some more… I’ll leave it at that to keep this race report from getting too nasty… I went in and the volunteers were great to help get me going on the bike.
On the bike the wind continued with gust up to 40mphs for the first section. I knew there was another cutoff at mile 22 but couldn’t remember when it was b/c I never thought it be an issue. I didn’t want to push it hard but knew that I had to get moving to make the time. I was still feeling sick and was struggling with the wind. For those that rode Tour of PS this year, the first few miles were the same. I made it up the first few climbs and pasted the timing mat without someone stopping me so I was happy. We got a little break from the wind but as we started the main loop the winds picked up and were in our face for the 25 mile climb up the canyon. Luckily the wind was not a issue on the big climb now as the “The Wall” at mile 50. The descent back down was fast with some scary cross winds but it was nice not to be climbing. As I hit mile 70 my stomach finally felt a little better just in time to go back up the canyon into the wind. The climbs at miles 75, 85 and 90 crushed a lot of people and they started walking up hill. I keep riding and was actually able to pass people. The aid stations were turning into “rest stops” as most people were getting off their bikes and lying down… Once again, I’ve never seen so many triathletes cry. I never stop and kept going except for the special needs bag. During the last 20 miles I keep thinking this is the last hill but then there was another and then another and another. I finished the bike in 7:07 so that’s a 15.7mph average. All things considered, I’m happy with that time and the fact that I didn’t slow down on the 2nd loop.
T2 was great as I felt like running or trying to run to my bag after getting off the bike. The volunteers were awesome as they got me water and sunscreen as I changed shoes.
The marathon was not easy but not as bad as the swim and bike. This was my first marathon so I didn’t know what to fully expect. The first 6 miles felt fast and I tried to drink and eat as I knew that I wouldn’t want much food later in the run. At mile 7 I passed the aid station that my Dad and sister were working and it was great to get a hug and cold water. It’s a 3 loop course and I tried to just keep moving even though my average pace was slowing down. I spent some time on that second loop thinking of my amazing wife and 4 wonderful children and that gave me strength. I knew they’d be watching at home and I desperately wanted to make it to the finish line for them. At mile 15 I saw my Dad again and made sure he called my wife to let her know I was OK however I was starting to hurt and had to walk a few blocks and make a few pit stops in the bathroom. Once I got on the 3rd lap I knew I was going to make it well before midnight and that felt good. I couldn’t eat the last lap but made a point to thanks each aid station for their help; this took my mind off the pain and kept me going. At mile 24 I saw my Dad again and told them to call home and make sure my kids were watching online because I was about to finish. Most of mile 25 was uphill but then 26 is downhill back into the center of town. I saw the guy in front of me was from my age group but there was no reason to try and catch him. I was running as fast as I wanted to go and enjoying the final blocks as the crowds got bigger and louder. I slowed down to let him run through then I raised my hands in victory as Mike Riley called out “Robert Elkins from Redlands, CA – You are an Ironman”. It was a great feeling that I’ll never forget. My Dad was there to huge me along with some other friends that were volunteering. I finished the run in 4:21 (9:59mph pace) for a total time of 13:48:22
It was a crazy and awesome day and I could talk about it for hours but I know I’ve already lost most readers but here are some stats to prove this was one of the hardest Ironman ever.
29% DNF rate (previous Ironman DNF record was 18% at St George 2011)
13:52:55 Average finish time (16 minutes slower than 2011)
I’ll try and share some photos and I’ve heard that there are some YouTube videos of the rough water that I’ll have to find and share.
Here’s the official highlight video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LDTI3yhluM
Most of the swim footage is of the pros before the water got rough and they had to put down the camera and start saving people.May 9, 2012 at 4:06 pm #14820mikeParticipant
Fantastic report Rob! The conditions were epic and I admire anyone who finished on such a difficult day. The average finish time does not even begin to tell how hard that day was I know many agegroupers that were an hour slower there than they typically are in an ironman.
Congratulations again!May 10, 2012 at 12:41 am #14821kylieKeymaster
Definitely looked like a tough day as we were following along here from home. Thoughts of family are awesome for helping get through those tough points. Congrats on your firstMay 10, 2012 at 12:49 am #14822FredGISGuyParticipant
Rob, what an inspiration! I like how you kept moving forward despite the throwing up and pain. Commitment, dedication and will.
AWESOME! I hope we can sit down and talk about your experience sometime soon.May 23, 2012 at 8:25 pm #14823Chris EvansParticipant
Great job Rob!
That was a really tough day on what was already an epic course. I was concerned when I heard about you when I heard about the wind and I’m glad you finished!
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