Finally getting around to my Ironman Arizona race report. It has taken me a while to sit down and actually do this...as they say, I guess I have the post-ironman blues. You work so hard for something for so long, and suddenly it's over. Strange. Anyway, enough of that! Hopefully I haven't forgotten too much detail in the last two weeks. Unfortunately, I still remember quite a bit, so this is long.
My final weeks of training went really well, and I felt strong and healthy leading into my taper. I ended up skipping only a handful of workouts over the 16 weeks (mostly due to family and work commitments), but somehow I managed to stay healthy the entire time! Only some minor aches and pains, with a bit of back pain after the final build, but overall I felt good!
I headed to Phoenix on Friday morning, two days before the race. I checked into the hotel, and went to packet pick-up at Tempe Town Lake. The site was a little overwhelming. I have done five or so races at the same venue, some with a similar number of athletes. However, Ironman Village was impressive! Basically a mobile triathlon store on-site, with a host of bike shops, and anything you could possibly want to rent or buy triathlon-related. Then, off to the pre-race banquet. It was full of inspiration videos, funny stories, random statistics from Mike Reilly, and a really funny intro from the Tempe mayor. Not the point of the post, so this is all I'll say--say what you want about WTC policies, but they do an amazing job putting on events...and promoting their brand! I will be back.
Good night of sleep on Friday night, and then over to the lake for the practice swim and pre-race brick. Felt good and everything was in working order. Checked in the bike, dropped off my transition bags, and then went to Oregano's for some pre-race pasta! Not exactly an early bedtime thanks to some last-minute prep, and trying to get a 2-year old and 4-year old to fall asleep in the same hotel room bed...
Woke up on time (to one of 6 or so alarms I set). Breakfast, and off to transition. Got everything set up and got some last-minute encouragement from some friends, a PowerGel, and then off to the water! The energy and anticipation was incredible, and I couldn't wait to get started. As soon as they let us get in, I jumped in and headed for the inside edge buoy. I worked my way up until I was one row back from the front. I hoped to go around an hour in the water, and did not want to be fighting through the crowd. Lots of anxiousness for the final few minutes, and then "BOOM". The cannon let us know that it was time to go! Following my plan, I went out hard for the first five minutes or so to try to get into clear water. At the front of the pack, I didn't really find the swim too violent--a couple elbows to the head, but I have had worse. When things opened up a bit (probably about ten minutes in), I just tried to relax and think about nothing but form--rotation, reach, catch, pull all the way through--repeat a few thousand times. I got into the groove pretty quickly, and just kept going. After the turn, I picked up the pace quite a bit as planned (I usually feel better later during the swim). I sighted very often, and tried to see at least two buoys out. It seemed like a lot of people were going back and forth, but it could have been me. About 200 m out (after passing under the last bridge), I backed way off to try to go into T1 feeling good. Out of the water, took advantage of the wetsuit strippers, and off to bike gear bags.
Toward the front of the race, the volunteers were not too busy, so I got my back very quickly. Went into the changing tent, and started my routine. Apparently, the volunteers had other ideas. These guys were literally helping us put gear on-like literally reaching around my waist to put on my number belt for me. It was a different kind of experience! Despite rain in the forecast, the weather was relatively clear for the moment. Ran straight to my bike, threw down another quick powergel and onto the road! A quick aside about transitions...I passed over 20 people DURING T1. What are these people doing in T1 for 5+ minutes? I saw 1:05 and change out of T1, so I knew I had a decent swim. I would have been a little down if I was over 1:10...
This is where things started to go wrong...about five minutes into the ride, I threw up. Argh, no biggie. It's early, legs feel good, just forget about it and keep going. I was surprised how quickly some people passed me early on the bike. My plan was to take it pretty easy-low Zone 2 for the first lap, mid Zone 2 for the second, and let it creep up a bit on the third lap. I knew my chances of Kona qualifying were low to none, so I was out there to race only myself (and hopefully not have a miserable marathon). I started feeling pretty good, so I settled in. Nurtition every 15 minutes, salt every 45, and water when I felt like it. The weather was cooperating, the roads weren't too crowded, and it felt good to be on the bike. Then, about 12 miles in, I had THAT feeling (like get me to a porta-potty NOW). Uh oh. No problem, it's a long day, just stick to the plan. Of course I didn't realize the next bathroom was another 7 miles (at the first turnaround). Dismounted, they my bike to a volunteer, and did my business. Back onto the bike for the descent back into Tempe. My nutrition and water were right on track, but my stomach just felt awful. Not a good sign. I tried to put it out of mind. Stay in your zone, block it out, and just keep riding. My first lap was about 10 minutes slower than I was hoping for (not including the bathroom stop), but okay. By this time the wind was starting to pick up. Dust blowing across the roads, and it was faster to ride uphill (north) than downhill. But, no rain yet. Actually it wasn't even that cloudy. I felt a little better on the second lap (no stops). Finally got some spotty rain and hail at the turnaround (along with a nice rainbow as a distraction). Then, a few miles from Tempe, it got interested. Rain. Real rain. And a driving wind. It made me chuckle a bit. For all of the preparation, speculating race times, figuring out what place you "could" come in, nature shows up and can change everything (hey, a tree might even fall across the road and stop you in your tracks-it's happened before). Hit the Tempe turnaround (this lap just a minute or two over goal time), and out for the final out-and-back. Then, THAT feeling again. Time for stop #2. Made it as quick as possible, and then back on the road. It was obvious that this ride was going to be a bit longer than anticipated, so I had to supplement calories with some PowerGel from the course. No biggie, I had trained for it. The rain had stopped, but the wind was really blowing. At this point, just GET ME OFF MY BIKE. And I LOVE riding my bike. As in I don't really look forward to getting to T2. I found myself in a good group of guys all riding about the same pace, and we stayed pretty much in the same neighborhood (keeping it legal, but still getting some benefit going straight into a 20+ mph wind). Spun down a little for the last few miles, and then into T2-with THAT feeling again.
Porta-potty, then changing tent. Again, the volunteers were awesome. Although at this point, I wanted no help. I know what I need and where it is. I don't want my routine thrown off by help :) At this point, I knew it wasn't going to be my best race day. BUT, I knew I could still nail the marathon. As I've read and truly believe--just keep running. It ALWAYS feels better after a few miles. I tried to go out easy (per my plan), but I just felt GOOD. Mostly it just felt great to be off the bike. Add to that seeing some familiar faces in the early miles, and I thought my goal marathon was within reach. My first lap went about as planned, staying between 7:45 and 8:45 pace. Then, my side stitches started. I tried all of my tricks-belly breathing, jabbing fingers into my gut, etc. Nothing was working. I decided to walk through the next aid station to make sure I was getting what I needed. Another PowerGel, some water, and back to running. About halfway through the lap, my stomach had had enough. I did not want to walk, but I felt like it was a little walking, or throw up again and risk DNFing (not an option). Okay, a little break, but keep moving forward. I could feel my goal marathon going out the window, but it was just one of those days. Another bathroom stop, this time captured on video shown at the finish line area (happened to be right when Tom Lowe was passing me and the motorcycle camera was right there). Oops. That was it, switching to cola. I have never had Coke during a race or training day, but I was desperate. I was at about the halfway point, and it was time. Got some words of encouragement from Brian Grasky at the TriSports.com aid station, and that seemed to help me along. The new plan was water/coke/water while walking through each aid station. About 16 miles in (after yet another bathroom stop), I started to come around. I think the coke did it, because I started feeling MUCH better. I passed my family at the start of three, and was a HUGE lift to see my parents and my girls cheering me on. I was emotional, and I could tell Shannon was too. I took it an aid station at a time, then a light pole at a time. Halfway through lap #3, I felt pretty good. It was time to finish it! I walked through the TriSports.com aid station for the last time, and then set my mind on the finish. There was no more walking. No more water. No more calories. Time to get to the line! And these last four miles were my best of the day. Everything FINALLY started to click, and my pace was suddenly back under 8:00/mile again. With a mile to go, someone asked, "trying to break 11 hours?"
"Would like to, but I don't know where I'm at."
"Just keep going, you'll get it!"
That was all I needed. Put your head down, pump the elbows, and keep the turnover high. As I turned toward the finish, I could feel it. I was there. Passed the family, and turned to the finishing chute. It was 10:58:30, and I knew I had it. It wasn't my goal time, but it was my secondary goal. I'll take it! I got really emotional (as I have for both marathons I've done), but that's me. Everything I have, I leave on the course.
So, I guess that's it! Considering the conditions, my crazy GI problems, and it being my first IM, I'm walking away satisfied. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience, and I will do it again. Time for a year or so of getting faster before going back to IM with a goal of doing my best to qualify for Kona. In my "off-season" so far, I have raced a 5k and spent a lot of quality time getting bloody on my mountain bike. Looking forward to good things for 2011!
Thanks to Bill Daniell of Grasky Endurance Coaching for developing my plan and going over and above his commitment to getting me across the line as quickly as possible and keeping me healthy. I have the feeling I'll be working with you again, sooner than later! A huge thanks to my family for tolerating the training, and endless triathlon talk! It has been quite the 3-1/2 year adventure getting to this point, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
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