November 8, 2004.
When my parents arrived on Friday night, the subject of why ever I would attempt an Ironman came up. I thought this was a nice opening for a compliment and said, “I was raised to believe that if I set my mind to doing something, then I could do it.”
My dad replied, “But you choose to do such crazy things!”
Allison had arrived earlier Friday, and her parents had gotten to PCB on Thursday night. It was a real relief to have them all around. I had been kind of thinking too much about what I was getting in to before the family came in and helped to relieve the pressure.
At the Thursday banquet, the oldest female competitor (only 62..!) had given advice to the youngest (18). She told him to “start out with 100% energy and just let it all out slowly for the rest of the day.” I took it to heart.
As late as Thursday the race organizers had mentioned contingency plans if the ocean didn’t let up. But when race day came the wind and seas had died down considerably. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
After making my final bag checks, going to the bathroom, filling the tires, going to the bathroom, eating something, praying, and going to the bathroom, I headed down to the beach at 6:30. I had slept pretty soundly, considering, and was confident, anxious, ready, and a little bit scared.
The gun went off, there was a big cheer, and everyone kind of strolled into the water. With 2100 people, it wasn’t anything close to a mad dash. When we finally got to swimming, it was like being shipwrecked with a bunch of kickboxers with bad pedicures.
Occasionally, I could find a nice empty space and take a few good strokes before getting closed in again. Around the last buoy, things started to spread out, I thought, “I’m really doing this!” and the song of the day popped in my head, Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” No explanation for that.
I looped around quickly, ran up on the beach, took my mask off to see where I was going, swished some fresh water around my mouth, and went back in for the second loop. My mask didn’t seal and water started to leak in. I rolled over and attempted to readjust, but just couldn’t get it right. Finally I took a good shot to the face and that must have done something right, because then I was able to get it closed up.
I was out of the water in 1:06. Fourteen minutes early!
After being “peeled,” I headed through the nice showers and into the transition area to grab my bag and get out on the bike. This year they had the transition inside the hotel, with chairs and changing rooms. I spent too much time in here, but wasn’t worrying about it. It was really nice to go indoors for a few minutes. One guy gave me a watermelon Jolly Rancher. It was delicious and took the salt taste right out of my mouth. Mmm.
They had volunteers (who I love!) to put sunscreen on and hand me my bike. I was off quickly. I got to see Allison and the family cheering and that made me happy. I put on my snazzy new IM Florida arm warmers and cranked it up. There was a little headwind going out along the beach, but that didn’t kill my buzz. When we got to the bridge at mile 12, I could only think of the Thunderbolt bridge first thing on Sunday mornings and how much I enjoy jumping up it. I enjoyed this one too.
A few miles after the bridge, things started to shake out and like speed riders got together. It really bunched up in a few places. After getting tired of following, I’d get out of the saddle and move around the group. Usually this was a short distance 25 or 27 mph bump.
Once after doing this, a guy from the group I’d passed a little while earlier rode up to me. He said, “You gotta love that! Making us look bad on your old school bike!”
“Totally,” I replied. This comment made my day and made it a lot easier for me to keep smiling.
We passed through upper Florida, swamps, skeet range, really poor highway, more highway. It was a nice ride. Since I had only been shooting for 17 mph, I was pretty happy to be holding 19, according to my computer. There was a brief intermission of “Pinball Wizard” for about 15 miles in the first half of the bike, then back to Rush.
I stopped once at the halfway point to use the toilet, then back on and eat the corned beef and turkey sandwich that my wonderful wife had prepared for my special needs bag. After a morning of gels and Clif bars, this hit the spot.
The back side of the bike ride was pretty much the same, more headwinds, country roads and wonderful volunteers. Once, when I had sat up, a 51 year old guy passed and said, “Keep it up Jason,” or “What are you doing Jason?” or something, our names were on our number bibs.
Eventually, again, I blew past this group and the guy said, “There you go! Yeah!” That was awesome too.
By the way, it is in fact possible for males to stand in the saddle, adjust and… um… relieve themselves on the bike. Do not ride behind these guys. Best to pass quickly.
I slapped hands with the Harlem Globetrotters just before crossing the bridge again and cruised into T2. Only a six-hour century (and my first!)! Now I was half an hour ahead of schedule! I handed my bike to the volunteer and ran inside.
Oh, but the wonderful indoor transition area was so nice. I sat down, elated, took my time changing, and was amazed at how wonderful and energized I still felt. Did I really just ride 112 miles?
Heading out on the run, I saw my family again. I cannot tell you how much it meant to see them, and what a great boost it was. The sun was still up and I felt strong, jogging along, thinking about how, if I could hang on to 10 or 11-minute miles, then I could finish close to 12 hours!
The aid stations were great. My favorite was Bedrock. These people had turned out in their caveman gear to help us out and cheer us on. One little girl wore a full-on pterodactyl outfit, waving her wings and shouting “GO!” There was also a Hawaii float and a Rock and Roll Diner.
The run was much nicer than Gulf Coast, the temperature was just right. I made the first 10k in pretty good time, I think. Though at this point my brain was getting a little bit fried and it was becoming hard to keep track of splits in my head. After that first turn back to the finish area I slowed a little bit, but was still on track for about 12.
The sun started to go down and it got chilly in the shade. I was happy I’d packed my windbreaker. My special needs bag was also much appreciated. I swallowed the Red Bull/water concoction and grabbed my mother-in-law’s excellent cookies. Mmm. Cookies.
When I passed Allison and my parents again, I pointed at my watch and said “Twelve and a half!” I was amazed. Almost done, only thirteen miles to go, and I was looking at finishing half an hour better than my best-expected time. Wow!
The second half of the run was not as good as the first. My “run a mile, walk the aid stations” strategy became run five minutes, then walk. Eventually it became run to the corner/that stop sign/that light, then “you can make it to that mailbox/sign/corner,” then walk. I had to take off my heart monitor because it was making breathing difficult. At this point there was no danger I was going to get out of my zone.
It got dark too, which actually helped relieve the monotony. When they say “loop,” what they mean is “out and back.” So you actually see the same course four times.
At some point I realized that I had managed to stop my watch at 10:45. Later on I found out that I’d lost 11 minutes. This was a little strange because I was looking at my watch constantly. In 11 minutes I had looked at the watch at least three times, and apparently each time had thought, “10:45. Great!”
Finally. Finally. I saw mile marker 25. It was over! One more mile! And just around that last turn I started running again. The crowd grew and grew and got louder and louder. This was it! I had done it! YES!
I heard the loudspeaker.
“Here comes Jason Parker from Savannah, Georgia. YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
12:48:20. Later than I thought, but much better than expected. Red-eyed (I never could get the salt out) and weary, I got my medal, hugged and kissed Allison, and headed for massage.