I Got High at IRONMAN Florida 2015…

Last weekend on Saturday November 7th, I competed in Ironman Florida, which was held in Panama City Beach, Florida.  This is a full Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.5 mile ocean swim + 112 mile cycle + 26.2 mile full marathon run.  I’m confined to a wheelchair, so my legs are dead weight for the entire triathlon. This is my last race of the 2015 triathlon season. It’s also the longest distance race, by far.

For the 2.5 mile ocean swim, I use an adaptive ankle strap to attach ankles together and DeSoto T1 wetsuit pants. The ankle strap keeps my legs from swaying all over the place, and the wetsuit pants keep my legs from sinking. Basically, I swim with my upper body only. For the 112 mile cycle, I use a Top End Force-RX hand-cycle. For the 26.2 mile run,  I use a Top End racing wheelchair. The run is the only part of the triathlon where I may have an advantage, as the racing wheelchair can cruise at a faster pace than the average runner.

I woke up at 4:00AM race morning, as my division started at 6:25AM. Normally I would have eaten a 4:00AM breakfast filled with carbs, but not that morning. Instead, I was nauseous… Didn’t eat anything.. Not a good start to a 13+ hour race day.  The started to show around 6:05, just as a couple of volunteers were carrying my wheelchair down to the beach start area.  Minutes before the race started I hoped out of my wheelchair and sat down in the beach where the sand and ocean water meet.  Of 3,200+ athletes racing that morning, I was 1 of 2 wheelchair/hand-cycle adaptive athletes.  The siren booms… Ironman has begun…  Swimming out past the breaking waves was much harder than I had anticipated. I’d swim 3 meters, only to be pushed back 3 meters by a breaking wave.  I almost gassed out just getting 200 meters out past the waves. After a 2.5 mile (3,800 meter) ocean swim, I exited the water after 1 hour 30 minutes. I also spent an additional 12 minutes 46 seconds in T1 (transition area) rincing off the ocean water and changing into dry clothes.

Next portion of Ironman triathlon was the 112 mile hand-cycle portion. For me, this is without a doubt the longest toughest part of any triathlon. For the first half of the hand-cycle portion I felt strong, holding an average of 17.1 mph for 56 miles. At the half-way point I took a 2 minute break to eat something and absorb some nutrition. The remaining 56 miles were significantly harder than the first 56. My arm and shoulder muscles started to cramp and tighten up.  Although the Florida roads were nice and smooth, the route home had a slight incline for most of the way. This resulted in a much slower ride back to transition area. At mile 100 I was almost 100% gassed, yet so excited to be only 12 miles away from completing the hand-cycle portion.  Those last 12 miles seemed to take forever! My arms were totally spent and the pain had set deep down to the bones. Yet, the very last mile of the hand-cycle portion it was like I had a shot of energy flood through my body. In this moment, my muscles were rejuvenated and my stamina was strong again. It’s called a “runner’s high”, and it’s a beautiful feeling. In total, it took me 7 hours 21 minutes to complete the 112 mile hand-cycle portion.

After the 112 mile hand-cycle ride, it was onto the 26.2 mile marathon “run”, which was the final portion of the Ironman triathlon. Since I’m confined to a wheelchair, the “run” is done using a racing wheelchair.


10 hours into the race, my body (specifically my arms) was falling apart. I had to stop multiple times for food/soda/nutrition during the 26.2 mile run. I felt like I was going to pass out.  To make things worse, my racing wheelchair gloves had gotten wet, which means the grip was gone when pushing the pushrims. Since I was already in zombie mode, I just took the gloves off and finished the marathon run with bare hands. With 1 mile remaining in the Ironman I was completely gassed. My arm muscles were cramping and my fingers were hyper-extending involuntarily. Yet again, as I got closer to the finish-line something came over me. People were in the streets cheering for all the athletes, and the moment became very real and emotional. Once again, I had found a strength during this final mile which I thought would be impossible to obtain. Once again, I was flying toward the finish-line on the best high I’ve ever had…. a runner’s high:)

The 26.2 mile marathon portion took me 3 hours 57 minutes.

IRONMAN Florida 2015 PC Division

From start to finish, IRONMAN Florida 2015 took me a total of 13 hours 16 minutes. The experience was amazing. I encourage everyone to try something that makes them nervous and/or scared. Overcoming your fears is priceless, and infinitely empowering. Please email me at jacob@howirollsports.com if you or someone you know may be interested in participating in a triathlon.

I really want to thank my sponsors for all their unconditional support throughout the 2015 triathlon race season. Garden of Life supplies me with the absolute best organic nutritional supplements on the market. Without their help, I would surely be unable to compete in an IRONMAN. Thank you to Boca Bearings for making sure my hand-cycle and racing wheelchair have the fastest bearings on the market!  Thank you to Swiftwick socks for making the best compression socks in the industry! Lastly, thank you to Coach Rich at RW Training for preparing me for the toughest race of my life. Your knowledge and direction help more than you’ll ever know!

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