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My First Ironman Triathlon

Penticton, British Columbia, Canada
August, 1998
by Gerry Morton

I awake at 5am Sunday morning ready for the day that has demanded over a year of preparation.  My family and support team offers me a ride to the starting line so that I can run through my final race preparations.  I carefully packed my transition and special needs bags the night before and dutifully turn them in to race officials.  I clip my bike shoes onto my bike and place my precut Energy Bars on the top of my bike frame.  I fill my Jetstream with electrolyte fluid replacement drink as I drink from another bottle to stay hydrated.  Volunteers write my number on both legs and arms.  I learn of aspiring Ironman Don Lorimer who died of heart failure only days earlier.  I agree to wear his initials on my left calf out of remembrance.  I put on my wetsuit, green swim cap, and goggles and head out to the beach for the start of the race.

Helicopters swirl overhead as the cameramen jockey for the best vantage point.  I grow concerned for my lack of sleep leading up to the event.  The week before has been like a blur to me.  I remember the wedding rehearsal dinner in Tucson on Thursday, Best Man duties at the wedding on Friday, the wedding reception, and the toast.  I remember running through the airport to catch a connection in Las Vegas, arriving at the Vancouver TraveLodge at 3am, waking to catch the flight to Penticton, registering and preparing throughout the day on Saturday.  I’m aware of the sickness I picked up earlier in the week that prevented a week of training and left me severely congested the night before.  None of that matters now.

The announcer calls all the participants to the starting area.  The sounds of bagpipes signal that the start is near.  Bam!  The cannons explode to mark the largest single wave start in Ironman event history – 1724 participants.  Of these well trained athletes, only 1469 would cross the finish line to earn the title of “Ironman.”  I would be #742 with a time of 13:07:30.  My original goal was 11 ½ hours, but little did I know the conditions that lay ahead of me.  Dave Scott would later comment that if any of these athletes participate in another Ironman event, it WILL be easier.  He would also go on to say that, based on his years of experience with Ironman events across the world, the Canadian Ironman is unrivaled.

The swim was hand to hand combat in the initial stages, but not nearly as bad as I expected or experienced in the wave start at the Wildflower ½ Ironman Triathlon.  My wetsuit kept me strong and comfortable.  I felt smooth as I staked my claim on my area of the water and headed to the first turn at the houseboat in the far distance.  I rounded the first houseboat and checked my heart rate – 172!  This is well over my anaerobic threshold limit of 167.  I knew from training that time spent above that limit was borrowed, to be paid back later with interest.  I begin to focus on technique.  “Long and strong” as my masters swim coach and fellow triathlete Holly Nybo tells me.  (Holly actually WON the race in 1995 and is taking this year off to have a child)  As I round the second houseboat, I notice a cramp in my right quadriceps muscle!  I didn’t even think I was using it!  I focus on relaxing my legs, maintaining a good body roll, and pulling through strong with my arms.  I begin to focus on the huge balloon in the distance that marks the start/ finish/ transition line.  It appears close as I round the boat and head toward it, but it doesn’t come quickly.  I’m in a groove at this point as I watch the ground pass quickly beneath me.  The visual representation of movement provides a clear sign of my forward progress.  Finally the sand beneath me turns to rocks as I see people standing up for the finish.  I swim as long as I can to protect my feet then stand up and look at my watch – 1:14 with a heart rate of 181!  Well ahead of my original goal pace of 1:20, but also way too high for my heart rate.  As I start my jog to the swim finish, I hear the speaker announce my company CEO, and inspiration to do Ironman Canada, “Martin Brauns, Los Altos, California!”  As I come into the transition area, the volunteers help me in any way they can.  I lay down on the grass while a man pulls off my wetsuit.  Another offers me fluids while a lady leads me to my transition bag.  I quickly put on my Runner’s High cycling shirt, from the store in Los Altos, and my helmet.  My socks were prepared in the morning by rolling them down and placing SportSlick on the inside where the toes would rub.  That paid off with no blisters for the day.  I put the socks and shoes on and slide on my gloves.  I am energized by my support team as I start out on the 112 mile bike course.

The start of the bike feels really strong.  My heart rate is 163 and I know I should ease it off – it’s going to be a long day.  I try to force down a bottle of Metabolol, but it tastes really unappetizing, so I dilute it with water and All Sport.  My heart rate is strong, but it is in keeping with my strategy of hammering the flats and down hills while relaxing on the up hills.  The swim dehydrated me, so I focus on rehydration.  The first 40 miles pass quickly with only a few up hills.  We pass some sheep on the right near Vaseux Lake.  I learn after the race that 2 triathletes were injured when a few of these sheep made their way onto the course.  I turn right in Osoyoos and head out toward Richter Pass, the first of 2 major climbs in the race.  The turn puts me square into a headwind that would last for the rest of the bike course.  I get into the aero position and begin to grind it out.  At this point I realize that I haven’t yet had to relieve myself of any fluids and it is now 2 hours into the race!  That is the clearest signal of dehydration, so I ease up the pace and focus on fluid consumption.  I was actually thrilled when I needed to relieve myself a half hour later!  I felt much better.  The road to Richter Pass winds upward gradually with some occasional flat stretches.  I continue to pass riders on the flat parts.  I approach one rider from behind and pull to the left to pass.  As I pull out, she also pulls to the left to pass the rider in front of her.  I follow her past 2 riders and then continue past her as she falls back into line on the right.  A motorcycle rides up alongside me as the passenger pulls a yellow board out of his briefcase.  “Drafting – 5 minute penalty in the transition area,” he proclaims.  “What?!?” I contest, “I was passing!”  “You were drafting while you were doin’ it, eh?” he responds.  I recognize my infraction and ask the details of the penalty.  “They’ll take care of you in transition,” he says.  Actually, 5 minutes in the transition area doesn’t sound so bad right about now.  Richter pass has a series of false summits.  The headwinds are insistent, and the temperature is now approaching 100 degrees.  This part of the course is in the desert.  The true summit brings loads of spectators ringing cowbells and shouting words of encouragement.  The support brings me out of my saddle and I finish the hill strongly.  After the screaming downhill that follows, I notice a rattle on the back of my bike.  I look behind to find that my spare tube has fallen loose!  “It only matters if I flat,” I say to myself.  That’s cold comfort since the roughest stretch of road is still to come.  The course then goes into a flat section with 2 turnarounds that provide the opportunity to see other riders.  The Powerbars on my frame look entirely unappetizing as I rip half of them off and throw them away.  I’m certain the wildlife will enjoy them more than I will.  I feel drained coming up on the special needs bags at mile 75.  The peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my bag is fantastic!  I feel totally rejuvenated from it.  I also take in some vitamin supplements – a multivitamin, anti-oxidant, Endurox, and Phos Fuel.  With the renewed energy, I redouble my efforts.  I see Tana, my triathlon teammate and friend, on the bike.  We exchange words of encouragement.  I feel for Tana knowing that her carefully prepared triathlon bag is resting comfortably in Hong Kong due to an airline snafu.  The top of Yellow Lake is once again loaded with spectators cheering wildly.  I crest the top and start into a downhill that feels like a flat due to the headwind.  I also learn how Yellow Lake gets its name – the lake is really YELLOW!  The downhill brings renewed energy, but the headwind is preventing any truly fast speeds.  I hit Main Street and start into town.  This is when the headwind deals the final insult by preventing even the last stretch from being relaxing.  I stay in the aero position and head into the transition area to rack my bike.  “Number 640 – Penalty – Follow me!”  A volunteer racks my bike as the gentleman who owns the voice I just heard follows it up with offers to help in any way possible.  “Can I get you ANYTHING?  What do you need?  Fluids? Food? What can I get you?”  I take some All Sport, Water, and PowerGel and settle in for my 5 minute penalty.  There really is a penalty box in triathlon!  Some people call it the “Sin Bin.”  My bike split was 6:30, significantly slower than my expected 5:45 finish.  Additionally, the heat and headwinds had taken their toll both physically and mentally.  My torso was hurting from staying in the aero position, but my legs felt relatively good.  The penalty ends at 8:00:08 and the volunteer hands me my transition bag.  I transition right there on the grass.  I keep the same socks and shorts since they’re comfortable.  I change into a loose fitting InSport/ CoolMax top from The Runner’s High that will be less restricting on the run.  I put on my hat, slip on my Asics DS Trainer running shoes, stuff my loose clothing into the transition bag, and head out for the 26.2 mile run at 3:00pm.

I see my friends and family cheering as I head out of transition.  My Mom holds up a sign saying “Go Gary, you can do it!”  I laugh out loud, knowing that the sign is borrowed from another competitor.  I know that she is trying, as she always has, to make me feel special and supported.  I see my Aunt Ellen cheering enthusiastically and instantly feel grateful for her help in preparation.  I recognize that her transport of my bike and transition bag helped to make this race possible.  I see my girlfriend Mercedes (later wife) performing a cheerleading routine.  I am grateful for her love and support both today and for the last 3 years that we’ve been together.

I settle into a 9 minute pace intent on maintaining my original goal of a sub 4 hour marathon.  I take in fluids while running through the first several aid stations.  I feel strong, but am unable to push much faster than 9 minute miles.  I expect this feeling to go away within a couple of miles and I look forward to loosening up.  My heart rate starts at 160, then settles to 155, then 150.  I know I need food, so I eat a PowerGel which seems to help.  At mile 6, however, I begin to walk through the aid stations.  I douse myself with a cold sponge, and slowly take in All Sport and water before beginning my trek toward the next aid station.  The deal I make with myself is that I could walk through the water stops as long as I run all the stretches in between.  The deal holds up although the running gets slower and the walk breaks seem to stretch on a little longer each time.  I see Tana at the run turnaround looking fresh as always.  We again trade words of encouragement as I continue on my quest.  The steep hill up to the turnaround point was unpleasant to say the least, but getting the special needs bag made it worthwhile.  I ate half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a Cliff Shot, took some more vitamins, and took in some fluids before heading on.  I also stop for a 5 minute massage.  Two volunteer ladies rubbed each of my legs simultaneously – true pleasure at this point.  I continue on at what is now a 10 minute pace.  I see Ron Renwick, another teammate.  As I pass he exclaims “Gerry!  This hurts!”  I concur and struggle onward.  At the next aid station I decide to begin drinking the flat Pepsi that I’d refused to this point.  I begin to pick up the pace.  As I get closer into town, the pain begins to drift away.  The natural endorphin high, cheering spectators, Pepsi, and Motrin I took at the turnaround all combine to provide me with a semi-euphoric state.  As I crest the hill and start downward on Main Street, I begin to recount the journey I started 1 year ago with the goal of completing an Ironman Triathlon.  The goal is about to be realized, but I begin to recognize that it’s the journey that’s brought me my happiness and not the lone act of crossing the finish line.  As I cross Eckhart Avenue on Main Street, I notice the wall of people on either side of me.  The cheers are tremendous!  I see my Mom as the flash on her camera activates.  My 10 minute miles turn to 8 minutes as I begin to high five the spectators on both sides of the road.  I surge ahead into the final turn and see it a hundred yards ahead… the finish.  The cheers are louder now as I’m all alone in the straight away pumping my fist energetically in the air.  I hear a voice boom from all sides, “GERRY MORTON FROM MENLO PARK… AND HE’S A HAPPY GUY!!!”  I cross the tape and collapse into the outstretched arms of my Mom, Mercedes, and Aunt Ellen.  This is truly a day that I will never forget.

Gerry later went on do 3 more Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.  He also completed more than 30 marathons including the famous Boston Marathon and a 50 mile endurance run.  He will be competing in the Catalina Classic, a 32 mile paddleboard marathon, on August 27, 2006.  Gerry holds a Masters of Science in Nutrition and speaks regularly to groups throughout the United States.  As the CEO of EnergyFirst, he is committed to bringing out the best in people through exciting seminars, cutting edge products, and contagious energy.

Gerry Morton, CEO of EnergyFirst, is an experienced athlete who has competed in 30+ marathons and 4 Ironman triathlons. Gerry is an excellent source of information on nutrition, supplementation and exercise. Since 1997, he has been educating and motivating others on how to attain peak performance.

Our Story

Our Story

EnergyFirst, a leading company in the all-natural protein and supplement industry, was founded in 1997. We, at EnergyFirst, believe that everyone can benefit from drinking a protein shake whether the goal is optimal nutrition in a meal replacement, an easy and healthy breakfast alternative, a weight loss aid, or a protein supplement for athletes. We also believe that your protein shake should be 100% natural and delicious. Nutritionist, educator, athlete, and EnergyFirst's CEO, Gerry Morton is committed to providing customers with all natural, science-based, effective products for optimal nutrition, weight loss, and a healthy lifestyle.

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