~6:50 AM


I get chills when the national anthem is sung… there’s a several minute wait as people pass slowly through the gate into the water, and we’re only in ankle deep.  We paddle out together to the far right corner—a good place for those of us “less fast” swimmers.  It’s good to have friends right there in those last moments, it keeps me calm.  There will be 1750 people starting and the start area is a mass of mostly green and pastel blue swim-capped heads and wet-suited bodies.  No sense in having faster folks have to swim over me.  In fact, Wayne has suggested that if we’re nervous about the mass start, there’s no harm in waiting even 5 minutes to let the crowd go… it’s going to be a long day, and no sense beginning it at the bottom of a scrum.  We’re about 50 yards behind the starting line and in a place we can actually stand (further up at the starting line, they’re floating)  The weather is gorgeous—sunny and still cool.  The butterflies seem to be staying in formation.  I’ve felt for days that once the race starts, I’ll know what to do.  I can see my family and Martha and Katee from here and give one last wave.



Waiting for swim start – I’m looking back in the center at the bottom







At 7:00 AM the cannon goes off.  I wait for just a moment, but it doesn’t look as crowded as I have feared, so I begin swimming.  And if stay to the outside, it’s really ok, no worse than when I’ve started races with much smaller groups.  1750 pairs of arms churning is quite a site.  The water is clear and warm.  I pick a nice easy rhythm, and do my best to remember my best swimming form.  I’m doing better than I usually do in the open water, because my breathing is very regular.  I’m really doing it!  I’ve already achieved my first important goal for the day—crossing the starting line!


The course is simple—two laps, straight out for a little over ½ mile, left at the final white buoy, about 100 yards, another left (you can’t miss it even if you don’t look up for the buouy because you’ll see the cables holding it in place), and come back into shore.  Stroke, stroke, stroke, BREATHE, stroke, stroke, stroke, BREATHE.  I know I must be doing ok, because there are people all around me (i.e., I’m not at the very back of the pack).  About 100 yards out from shore you begin to see the bottom, and soon I’ve completed the first lap.  I look at my watch.  43:50, a little ahead of schedule.  I look up, and amazingly Ed is directly in front of me.  “How was it?”  “That was all right,” he says, “We’ll see what happens in the second lap”.  Indeed.  I’m excited to be here, but this is only the beginning of a long day, and by the time I get here again it will be my longest swim ever.  Some people dash across the small strip of beach to get back in the water, but I tend to be a little woozy when I first stand up, so like many of the people around me I’m content to catch my breath for a second and walk back into the water.  (As a small point of pride, I have not been lapped… I’ve finished my first lap at least before the leaders are done with their entire swim… phew!)




People are more spread out in lap 2, and I can keep a line that’s much closer to the buoys.  I briefly consider trying to pick up my pace a notch, but decide against it.  No sense in expending too much energy in this part of the day.  I keep my easy rhythm, I never feel tired.  Occasionally I still see Ed out to my right, we will actually come out of the water within 10 seconds of each other.  I forget to check my watch as I come out of the water, but I’m out in 1:29:55.  Slowed down a tiny bit, but still as much as I was willing to hope for out of the swim.


The announcers at Ironman, Whit Raymond and Mike Reilly, are amazing.  For the whole 17 hour day they keep the spectators involved and excited, giving updates on the leaders and calling out the names of whoever they can spot.  I heard my name announced as I got out of the water  “530 Neal Smyth—you are a swim stud!”


Coming out of the water - 2.4 mile swim complete!When you exit the water, two volunteers tell you to lie down, they grab your wetsuit at the waist and strip it off you, much easier than my usual struggle to get out of it  (“remember to tie your suit or shorts tight!” we had been warned).  The number of volunteers and the amount they do is overwhelming… there are more than twice as many volunteers as athletes!  Carrying the wetsuit, I run a couple hundred yards through a chute (with my uncle Roger racing along on the other side, taking pictures all the way!)  pick up our bike clothes, and head to the changing tent.  Even though I’ve exceeded my own swim expectations, I’m in the slower part of the race.  And most of us are, relatively speaking, taking our time in the change.  I get my clothes on, stuff food and some of my bike tools in my jersey pockets, make a bathroom stop.  Another volunter grabs my bike off the rack as I approach so it’s ready for me, and I run it toward the bike start.  My family has raced out here to cheer me too.  It’s begun to cloud over now, but still not too warm.  It’s now about 8:45 am, and I start out on the bike.





Coming out of the water – the swim is done


Wetsuit off, running to T1

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Running down the ramp into transition area


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