An unforgettable experience in the sunshine state.
My journey to becoming an Ironman formally happened in November 6, 2019 when I signed up for the 2020 edition of Ironman Florida (IMFL). I gave myself one year to train for it. I’ve been asked this many times, “why Florida?”. I’ve always seen Florida as my second home, I have a lot of family on my dads side that lives here. IMFL is the race I wanted my first Ironman race to be at. I also just felt a “calling” from my heart to do this one. But we all know what happened in this time frame. A pandemic came through, and while all the races around the world were cancelled or postponed in this period, IMFL 2020 was the only one that went on. However, with all the travel restrictions that happened, there were just too many risks of missing flights or not being to come back etc. so I deferred my race entry to 2021. Great, I gave myself another year to train.
All during this time, I was pretty much self-trained. Running is my first love and discovered this in 2017 after I began eating healthy plant-based food, then I took up cycling and swimming in 2018 only a month before I did my first sprint distance triathlon. Very self-taught, and probably slightly foolish tool, but alas. I primarily trained on the bike indoors with various programs, and while I built up a decent power to weight ratio, it did not make up for a lack of childhood experience riding outdoors. So my bike handling skills are still pretty mediocre at best. The same goes for swimming, I pretty much did all of my training in the pool with minimal open water training.
So, when the time finally came for 2021 Ironman Florida, I thought I was ready, and while I might have made it though the bike and run, my swimming skills just did not cut it. Add to that, the 2021 race had horrendous rip tides where 25% of the field Did Not Finish (DNF) the swim itself! Unfortunately, I was in that statistic. However, the one thing I am proud of is that I never quit despite being asked 3 times by staff to be skidoo’ed out back to shore. I told them I am going to finish the swim. I ended up swimming over 5km (supposed to be 3.8km) do to poor sighting skills and the rip current making it feel like a washing machine. I never quit. But I did not meet the swim cut-off time limit of 2:20 hours, so staff at the swim exist took my timing chip, and my first ironman attempt was over just like that. My tail was between my legs and went back home to Toronto to ponder my life decisions.
After sulking for a few weeks, and friends reaching out, I decided it was time to find a coach. Especially one that was a good swimmer. After a number of calls and shortlists, I found coach Miranda Tomenson of Tomenson Performance and Wellness (TPW) based in Toronto, Canada. She taught me to be more relaxed in the water, worked on my swimming technique, did video analysis, greatly improved my sighting and learn to take straight lines in open water. And with her guidance, I achieved my goal by completing Ironman Mont Tremblant 2022 in Quebec, Canada. I was thrilled when I became a first timer. This was a tremendous confidence boost for me. However, while I was very happy and grateful, there was this sensation that something was missing. And about 4 weeks prior, I had a heat stroke and crashed my bike, which made me miss a few key bike volume sessions leading up to the race. While I did become an Ironman, it wasn’t where I wanted it to be or to my full potential.
In our post-race debrief, I told coach Miranda that I am signing up for the 2023 Ironman Florida. We have one year to train for the original goal I wanted to achieve almost 4 years prior!
Jump forward to this year, the 2023 season started off with a mixed bag of results. First, I got a brand new spanking Trek Speed Concept bike. I set a new 5K PB on a hilly course with 21:05 minutes. But then had rather lack lustre sprint, and Muskoka 70.3 due to a lack of training and recovery from a crash a few weeks prior. I broke my new bike, but fortunately insurance covered it, and my good friends at Evolution Cycles got me back on it in no time. A got a big surprise confidence boost at Barrelman 70.3 in Niagara with a 38 minute PR (05:04 hours).
I must also say, that with training for 70.3 and full distance races, it’s very rare that you get a “perfect build” in which no illness, sickness, injuries, crashes, or life lemons get in the way and throw training off. For Barrelman I was fortunate and it paid off. And leading up to IMFL 2023 I had the same luck of no compromises in training. I did every workout session as prescribed by the coach. Nothing more, nothing less, I nourished myself, I took care of my self, and better yet, I still made plenty of time to spend with family and friends. And then it was time.
Wednesday November 1, 2023, I packed my bike and gear and flew with Delta Airlines back to Panama City Beach, Florida. How the sights, smells, and sounds of the Gulf Coast never get old.
I met so many new friends, heard and told a lot of stories. From all walks of life, all ages from young to old. From all over the world. We were all here to participate in the 25th anniversary of Ironman Florida! AND I FINALLY DID IT. I finished the ocean swim in a pretty good time, and rocked the bike and run and accomplished my original dream and athletic goal of finishing Ironman Florida! Not only that, but smashed my previous full distance triathlon PR by 2:08 hours! Additionally, it’s actually the first international race I’ve ever competed in as well.
The Race: [Official Time: 12:27:04 hours]
We had a professional star-studded men’s and women’s field featuring the likes of Magnus Ditlev, Skye Moench, Cam Wurf, Rudy Von Berg, Matt Hanson, and more. This really made gave IMLF a big race vibe.
The whole day didn’t go without some adversity though. Right before the swim start, my chest Heart Rate monitor strap broke as I was putting it on. Initially, I was frustrated, but realized it doesn’t affect me that much as I don’t really look at it during a race. My watch would still track my HR on the swim and run, I’d just be missing data for the bike, but I got over that quickly. Coach told me just to not wear it as I McGiver’ed it with duct tape, but she warned me that could cause chaffing, so I ditched it. Glad I listened to her.
I learned from 2021, that race day morning is pretty chilly. So, this time I bought a throwaway pair of sandals and cheap hoodie to toss away right before I got into the water. I also brought a spare pair of goggles just incase. But once I got near to the start, I gave them to a by stander spectator and told them if any athlete needs it to give it to them.
After the professionals started, the nerves kicked in until Eminem’s “Lose Your Self” hit the PA speakers. It was on.
SWIM (3.8KM) – 1:30:22 hours @ 2:20/100m
Out of everything, this swim was by far the biggest mental and physical obstacle for me to overcome. Last time I could barely sight and battle the rip currents. This time, while still wavy, I sighted each and every buoy, stayed calm and steady, and swam straight lines at a sustainable pace. The salty water does throw me off when it gets in my mouth, but coach Miranda had me train at the pool with a bottle of salt concentrated water which got me accustomed to the sensation. There was thousands of jelly fish, but fortunately I never got stung. I was happy when I saw my time upon the first lap, I felt good and strong. And was super thrilled when I finished the second loop. I GOT MY REDEMPTION RIGHT HERE! As a matter of fact, I pretty much swam the same time I did in Mont Tremblant, and that was a mirror lake. That says a lot to the swim training coach gave me.
T1 – 11:59 mins
This was a rather long run into the transition zone. Just the wetsuit peelers (no longer on the beach it self anymore, which is good as you won’t be covered in sand) and used the showers to get the salt water residue off.
BIKE (180KM) – 6:07:29 hours @ 29.43kph
They said Florida is flat and fast, and that she was. While not super flat, there was still some light rolling hills, and a sketchy area in a park, but it seemed like time just flew by. We had to ride one giant loop, which I found really fun and scenic for the most part, except when we had to ride behind a Publix grocery store, but that’s fine. I have never rode on such nicely paved roads in my life before either. Wow, we got spoiled big time. We had some headwind going out of town but a nice tailwind coming back.
I stopped at Personal Needs station, which kind of threw me off guard as it was at 80km instead of 90Km. I also took quick stretch and pee breaks at 3 aid stations. But I could have probably not stopped at 2 of them and hold it a bit longer.
I used the stock 11-33 cassette that came with my bike. However, next time I will use a 11-28 cassette as I was either spinning at 90rpm or 70rpm. On a flat course like Florida, it would be nicer to have more increment options between gears so I could target 85rpm better.
My goal was to target between 150-160 watts, and I stuck to the more conservative side and at the end averaged 152W.
T2 – 6:26 mins
RUN (42.2KM) – 4:30:50 hours @ 6:25mins/km
Finishing the swim, then the bike, were the main concerns of this race for me. Running is my first love, so I’m just always glad I get to run. The first half-marathon went pretty decent with a 2:08 hours. I fuelled according to my plan with coach exactly with the right amounts of carbs and electrolytes all day. But the inevitable heavy legs and body became to take place just shortly after the half-way turn around. I slowed down quite a bit, but I never once walked on the run. Only slowing down at the aid stations to pour water on my head and get water. The suffering was real though. And I think every athlete gets this at some point in the marathon. I had to used the portal potty twice, but probably could have still done without, or only 1 half way. The thought of telling myself “this is my last ironman ever, this is my last marathon ever” crossed my mind at least a hundreds times on the run, until the last 5k where you can hear the announcer echoing at the finish line. And what a finish line it was! Right down the Pier Park main street with the lit up ferris wheel in the background, absolutely a wonderful moment I will always remember. I finally got the emotionally finish and feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment I wanted out of this.
All day, I stuck to my nutrition plan, which was basically 95 grams of carbohydrate and 5grams of sodium citrate (1100mg sodium) per hour.
For this race, I used the Nike AlphaFly 2. While it’s a great shoe for standalone marathons, it’s not great when your form and technique is poor. Ex. entire during an Ironman. Next time I participate in a 70.3 or longer distance triathlon, I will use the ASICS Metalspeed Sky.
And for the second time in my life so far, hearing the phrase “Sean Chin, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” is bone chilling.
I want to say thank you if you’re reading this and got this far. All those early morning alarms, early workouts, long weekend, were all worth it. I love and embrace the journey and training the most, and it’s what keeps me going. But race day, that’s the cherry on top where we get to finally celebrate our fitness, health, and community.
Dare to dream big, and whatever obstacles come your way, look inside yourself, and find that path through it.
Thank you to all my family and friends who put up with me and my training, thank you to all the volunteers, police, and race organizers for putting on such a spectacular event as a very family friends race venue in Panama City Beach, Florida. I will definitely be back!