The swim pretty quickly settled down. I'd heard all the stories of black eyes, goggles getting ripped off and kicks to the head but it didn't feel any worse than a typical age group wave start. The first few hundred meters were a crazy mess of bodies but then it calmed down for me and I settled into a comfortably easy rhythm. No reason to push it yet so I just warmed up slowly. Stroke. Roll. Breathe. Stroke. Roll. Breathe. My hip flexor had been starting to tweak over the last few days of taper and I could feel it when I kicked too hard - not a good sign so early on - but I just got on with it. The turn-around seemed a long way past the far bridge but soon enough I was coming back towards the Mill Avenue bridge and I'd finished the swim. I was pretty happy to have swam 1hr 12min for 2.4 miles - right around where I thought I'd be.
The wet suit strippers did their magic and I was off to transition, running through the throng of cheering supporters. I call out my number and someone hands me my bag. Quickly I find myself inside the frantic mess of the transition tent. I work my way to a quieter corner and find a chair to sit on, start going through my bag. Sunscreen, bike shorts, top, sunglasses, shoes and helmet on and I'm ready to go back out to the sunlight and noise. I step out of the tent and get more sunscreen applied and then run in my bike shoes to get my bike. Someone yells my number through a loud hailer and a volunteer gets my bike for me. This is a full service event! We have it easy - all we have to do is swim, bike & run for a while - someone else is always dealing with the logistics. I jump on my bike and ride out to the course. I hear Amy Ewert cheering for me right as I leave on the bike - so many people out here that I know, such great support.
Out on the bike course I settle in for the long haul. I'm expecting to take a bit over 6 hours but I want to start out easy and not push too hard. The temptation is certainly there. The bad thing about being a faster than average swimmer is that most of the fast bikers are behind you and spend the whole ride passing you. But that's just a case of keeping the ego in check and racing your own race. So people pass me and I spin along at 100 rpms, feeling okay, starting to eat, drinking a bit and feeling great. I get to the turn around point and I'm still feeling like I'm flying easily. Then I turn around and find out why. For some reason I never notice a strong breeze when it is helping me - but you sure notice it when it is right in your face! 20 mph sustained winds with gusts up to 35 mph had really helped me on the first half, but not on the way back! I just struggled along with everyone else, finishing the first loop and still feeling great. I'd trained for this, a bit of wind wasn't too much of a worry. At one point a helicopter appeared over a mesa, from out of nowhere. One minute I'm in a quiet desert, then there's the roar of the chopper. Flying low, following the leaders, it was just another indication that this wasn't just another triathlon - this was the big one and I was right in the middle of it.
The ride back to transition didn't seem too bad, even though at one point I was struggling to go at 14 mph - downhill. But eventually I made it back, through the cheering crowds, off the bike at the dismount line without falling and my bike was whisked away. One hundred and twelve miles done, 6 hours and 53 minutes later I hobbled through transition (nothing so grand as running this time) and grabbed my next bag. I saw Chris Sellers helping out at the transition tent and he took charge and got me organised. Getting the gear out of my bag, setting me up to get running. Once again out of the tent and off to the run course - just a marathon to go.
I saw my brother at the end of the first loop on the run, 9 miles in to the marathon. He'd flown out from Scotland for work and decided to drop by to watch Amanda & I. He said later he didn't quite realise the scope of what I was trying to do, until he got there. It was great to see him and I picked it up and ran some more.
You get a couple of race numbers, one with your first name and one with your surname. I'd decided to wear my first name and it was great. People would call out your name and lie to you at any opportunity. 'Looking good, Gordon' 'Looking strong, Gordon' 'Looking fast, Gordon' all lies, but certainly appreciated! I saw Amanda as she came back from her second loop. We stopped and hugged and then she was off - looking good, looking strong, looking fast. Some time on the second loop the chicken broth appeared at the water stops and I tried it. Chicken soup has never tasted as good! I'm not sure it goes too well with Gatorade, but I drank them along side for the next 13 miles.
32 of us started. 32 of us finished. A huge achievement on a day when over 10% of those who started dropped out. 3000 people signed up for the race. Of those, 2461 were still registered by race week and issued with numbers. 2068 actually got into the water on the Sunday, to start. 2066 finished the swim. 1860 finished the whole race before the 17 hour cut-off. 13 of the 43 professionals in the race dropped out. I finished and everyone from T3 finished too. What a day!