After 140.6 miles — a 2.4 mi swim + 112 mi bike + 26.2 mi run — Ryan crossed the finish line of his first full Ironman race on Saturday and it was incredible. It was inspiring and emotional and I don’t want to forget a single moment of watching Ryan accomplish something so physically and mentally demanding so please let this serve as your warning that this recap is going to be long one. Buckle up, my friends!
The Road to 140.6
Prior to this race, Ryan completed four 70.3 Half Ironman races. Just in case you’d like to start from the beginning, here are my past blog posts recapping his prior races and a little Q&A he did on the blog about his first Half Ironman experience:
- North Carolina 70.3 (October 2021 — His first race and the start of it all!)
- First Half Ironman Q&A (Ryan answered a bunch of your questions about his first 70.3 experience)
- North Carolina 70.3 (October 2022 — the race where my dad, brother-in-law and I joined him and did the relay while he did the full 70.3 miles)
- Virginia’s Blue Ridge 70.3 (June 2023 — the one with the crazy-hard bike course + his bike crash)
- Augusta 70.3 (September 2023 — the one he did with my brother-in-law!)
After each Half Ironman race, inevitably everyone around Ryan would ask the same thing: Are you going to do a full? After his first 70.3 race in 2021, I remember his answer vividly. “A full has never felt further away.” It was a tough race and a learning experience but it also seemed to light a fire within Ryan that made him want to push himself and sign up for more Half Ironman races.
I knew Ryan was toying with the idea of signing up for a full Ironman after his Roanoke race earlier this summer. He didn’t let up on his training and couldn’t get a full out of his mind. He waffled back and forth a lot but also recognized he was fairly well trained at this point in the summer to set a goal to cross the finish line of an early November full Ironman. A couple months later, at the end of the summer, Ryan told me he was officially registered for Ironman Florida, a 104.6 mile race in Panama City Beach on November 4. Training was about to kick into high gear!
He spent the next few months waking up hours and hours before dawn to train. I kept waiting for him to hit a wall and find himself completely spent and exhausted but it never happened. (Remember how he ran a marathon one morning and then somehow still wanted to go to the pumpkin patch with our family right after he was done!? Superhuman, I’m telling you.)
Witnessing someone train for such a grueling endurance race only made me respect the athletes who train for something like this all the more. It’s hours upon hours, months upon months and, in some cases, even a year or more of dedication and sacrifice. Understanding all the time and effort that goes into training and learning more about the “why” behind many of the athletes’ decisions to make something like this their goal (it’s often incredibly personal) is a big reason why I feel like a big ball of emotion all day on race day.
Ironman Florida: The Race Expo
Our family made the 9-hour drive to Panama City Beach on Wednesday, arriving in the early evening. On Thursday morning, we made our way to the race expo so Ryan could check in, pick up his bag and everything else he needed for race day on Saturday.
It was the 25th anniversary of the Florida Ironman which made the race feel a little extra special!
I typically use race expos to talk at length with the people working at the expo for spectator tips (I also look for moms with children who may have spectated before and they often provide valuable feedback as well) but since Ryan had to come back to the expo to drop off his bike the next day, we didn’t spend too much time at the expo on Wednesday. After the expo, we made our way to Frank Brown Park, a large park with multiple play areas located less than a mile from the expo. I was psyched to find this park because I knew it would come in handy on race day as well and our boys had a blast playing at the park for a solid two hours.
On Friday, Ryan had to drop off his bike and the bags he needed for the race (the transition was a bit different for this race compared to any of his Half Ironmans) and my brother-in-law accompanied him to the expo this time while I stayed back with my sister and all the kids. Leslie and Ross surprised Ryan on his 40th birthday by telling him they were going to join us for his big race and it meant so, so much to Ryan to have them there to support him. Since Ross was heading to the expo this time, I sent him with all of my spectator questions and he helped us get a feel for how to best navigate spectating the race from a logistical standpoint on race day.
One takeaway I’ll share for anyone who might be spectating an Ironman in the future: Book a hotel or lodging that’s as convenient as possible to the race. (Walkability is HUGE.) We opted to stay in a VRBO along 30A because it’s an area we’ve been dying to visit and while we loved the area, it made getting to and from the race a little more of a hassle due to traffic, road closures, etc. Lesson learned.
On Thursday evening, we ordered pizza and pasta for dinner and went to bed as early as possible.
Ironman Florida: Race Day!
On race day, Ryan was up at 4 a.m. to eat and get himself ready for the race. After a sleepy “I love you” and “good luck” from me, Ross took Ryan to the race start and I started to organize snacks, signs and race-day entertainment for the boys before we needed to head out to catch Ryan as he finished his swim.
I was shocked when the Ironman tracker app pinged and told me Ryan was already in the water before 7 a.m. as we’ve often had to wait quite a while after the start of a race for Ryan to enter the water. Thankfully Chase and Ryder were already awake but I woke up Rhett and we piled into my car and took off for the swim-to-bike transition.
(The swim course took the athletes out and around the pier two times. This video shows the swim start on race day.)
The 2.4 mile swim was Ryan’s first open ocean swim that was not in a river, lake or protected ocean channel which admittedly had me feeling a little nervous. When we walked out onto the pier a few days before the race, we saw a lot of jellyfish which also concerned me so you better believe I sighed a gigantic sigh of relief when the Ironman tracker app told me Ryan completed his swim in one hour and 13 minutes. He was on land again and I was happy!
Unfortunately traffic and road closures meant my sister and her gang didn’t make it to this part of the race but thankfully the boys and I were able to cheer our faces off for Ryan as he ran from the swim to the bike transition!
Ryan looked strong and excited which also helped calm my nerves for him a bit! After high fiving Ryan, the boys and I made a beeline to the beginning of the bike course to cheer for him again as he began his 112-mile bike. I cannot tell you how excited we all got every time we saw Ryan and the boys loved searching for Dad among the athletes and cheering like crazy!
With Ryan set to bike for 5+ hours, we knew we had a lot of time to kill, so we hopped into my car to head to the park the boys loved the day before to meet up with my sister and her family. Road closures and race-day traffic meant it took us a looong time to travel a single mile but once we were there, the kids had a blast.
We hit race-day traffic again as we left the park but knew it was coming this time and I had a chat with the boys about patience and the importance of supporting family as we set out to accomplish big goals. Spectating endurance races with kids is amazing but it’s never perfect and seamless and this was the point where I was honestly beginning to dread dragging the kids to the rest of Ryan’s 10+ hour race because Rhett was hitting a serious wall. Thank goodness a reset back at our rental house — and donuts! — seemed to do wonders for his mood and the hour or so we spent back at the house where the kids had some downtime and played outside was just what we all needed.
Soon it was time to make our way back to the transition area to see Ryan finish the bike. We majorly lucked out because the road from our rental house to the transition area took us along part of the bike course and the Ironman tracker app made me realize Ryan would be passing us along the other side of the road as we drove. I quickly pulled my car over and we all hopped out and three minutes later Ryan whizzed by us at mile 102!
Ryan was shocked to see us and said it was such an awesome surprise for him at the tail-end of the bike. Ryan said the bike portion of this race felt really, really good to him (a stark contrast from his first Half Ironman) and he felt like had enough energy at this point in the race where he easily could’ve kept going on the bike. We could tell because he truly did look so strong out there!
My sister and her family also saw Ryan a little farther down the same stretch of road which gave him an additional boost of support on the bike! Our families then met up at the transition area to cheer for Ryan as he began his run — all 26.2 miles of it!
(For those who may be wondering, Ryder’s sign says, “Slingshot, boomerang, set me free” — lyrics from the Diplo song “Set Me Free” which is an EDM jam Ryan liked to blast in our house after his training sessions.)
At this point, Ryan looked solid but I also knew the run portion of the race was the area he was most concerned about going in into the race and the temperature outside was only increasing. Ryan is a solid runner but after all of his 70.3 races he repeatedly said he had “nothing left to give” on the run and that was after 13.1 miles… He needed to double the mileage on Saturday and knew he’d be asking a lot of his body at this point in the race.
Ryan said his main thought during the entire race was to “chill” and pace himself. He was concerned about “bonking” during the run (aka completely hitting a wall and running out of glycogen and energy) and I was happy when I saw his splits during the first part of his marathon were significantly slower than his usual half marathon splits because it told me he really was making an effort to slow down and pace himself.
Ryan later told me he walked through all of the aid stations and that placing cups of ice in his hat did wonders for cooling his body down in the hot Florida sun.
Our plan at this point in the race was to stay out until the finish but we knew we had some time to kill before we could see Ryan at the halfway point of his run so we took the kids to the Target located a half mile from the finish line so they could play in the toy aisle.
It worked like a charm and all of the kids were easily entertained for an hour or so and added approximately 100 items to their Christmas lists.
When the tracker app told us Ryan was about two miles out from the halfway point, we high-tailed it back toward the turnaround spot of the out-and-back run course to see him.
My first thought when I saw Ryan was that he looked HOT. I knew the heat got to him during the Augusta Half Ironman, so I hoped he still had enough energy in the tank to not struggle through the second half of his run.
We cheered for Ryan and yelled out words of encouragement but I couldn’t help but feel a little concerned. I told my sister I wanted to run and catch up with Ryan after he passed us to check in on him and she kept an eye on the boys while I sprinted to catch up with Ryan to ask him how he was doing. He was breathing hard but did one of those “so-so” motions with his hand which told me he was okay and not completely tanking. His pace was still solid (I mean I truly had to sprint to catch him!) and I had no doubt he would finish the race. He was almost there!!
Since our gang had a good spot in the shade along the course at this point, we hung out on a blanket and cheered for the athletes, danced with a man dressed up as a shark and walked up and down the course to look at the creative signs and soak in all of the race day fun. I also broke into some of the Dollar Store finds I picked up for the kids and they seemed to enjoy playing with some new Hot Wheels cars, gem dig kits and surprise balls. Less than $10 well spent!
(The gem dig kit doubled as sidewalk chalk and I thought it was cute when I saw Chase drawing the Ironman logo on the sidewalk!)
When we saw Ryan was about 2 miles away from the finish, we made our way to the finish line and claimed our spot so we could watch Ryan cross the finish line of his first FULL Ironman!
Ross spotted Ryan first and when he yelled out, “There he is!” I felt my whole body buzz with excitement and emotion. He was doing it. He was almost there! Ryan reached out and rang the first time Ironman bell and we cheered as loud as we could as he ran toward the finish! The energy around us was incredible and I hope Ryan felt every ounce of the love, support, encouragement and pride we were pouring out to him as he crossed the finish line.
One piece of advice Ryan received from a coworker who has completed an Ironman before was to either slow down or speed up at the finish but make sure you run through the finish alone so the announcer can call out your name on its own and not as part of a list of names. Hearing the announcer say, “Ryan Fagan, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” made the tears start flowing and I honestly cannot even write about this part of the race without crying again.
Ryan clapped his hands in front of his body before running through the finish and seeing this small display of enthusiasm and pride in himself for this accomplishment is something I’m replaying in my mind over and over again. Ryan is someone who sets big goals for himself but seems to shy away from praise and attention and can sometimes downplay the big things he does in his life. Watching him clearly express pride in himself in the moments before he officially became an Ironman was huge. While I hope he knows how proud we are of him for his achievement, I hope the pride he feels in himself is even stronger. He did it! And it was incredible.
Ten hours and 39 minutes after he began his first full Ironman, Ryan crossed the finish line!
This goes without saying but training for an Ironman and completing such a mentally and physically demanding race is so, so huge. But, honestly, as Ryan’s wife, my front-row seat to his training has me feeling even more impressed by the journey he was on leading up to the finish line. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it over and over again: The way Ryan builds his intense training around family time and a demanding job, always making us feel like his priority, is what impresses me most.
As Ryan ran through the finish line on Saturday, I saw an Ironman but I also saw a dad who regularly set his alarm for 3 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings so he could knock out hours of training before our boys were awake so he didn’t have to miss out on family time. I saw a hard-working man who kept up with his training despite a demanding job and work travel. I saw a husband and a father who sets big goals for himself but keeps the bigger things in mind, always. There is a reason my eyes filled with tears as Ryan ran through the finish line of his first full Ironman and it goes far beyond the fact that he accomplished something so mentally and physically demanding. He’s officially an Ironman but he’s so, so much more than that to us.
We are just so freaking proud!!! He did it!!