Did it all really happen just ten days ago? After the trip we took following the race, the holiday, returning to winter, and the almost 7 days I have taken off from doing anything resembling a swim, bike or run, the memory is already fading a bit. But, I really want to capture a few things about this race. So, here it is.
The Ironman Arizona 2012 race report
A few things were different about this race from the other five ironmans I have done. I realized this was the first ironman I have done where I signed up for the race one year in advance (the way most people do). For my first ironman, IMCdA, I decided to become a triathlete the January before the race, so I bought a community fund spot. Cozumel that fall wasn’t sold out and I registered in July. I decided to do Canada in March of 2011, buying a slot through multisports.com, which was basically the same as buying a community fund spot. I qualified for Kona at Canada, 6 weeks prior. I registered for IMStG the Tuesday before the race because it wasn’t sold out. The reason I explain all of that is that I think it helps explain some of my feelings leading up to this race. I had been planning it for a long time – a year – and had a lot of expectations. I had hired a coach again in late August to help me prepare. I had all of the latest and greatest equipment. With a calm swim, a flat bike and a flattish run, I was really expecting it to be my race. And in so many ways, it was.
The other thing that was new and different for this race is that not only were Mark and I both racing, but we also had the kids along. He and I both did IMCdA and Canada, but this was the first time we had both raced and brought the kids. The only reason this was even possible is because Mark has a cousin who lives in the area, and she graciously agreed to watch the kids from Sat night until whenever we wanted on Sunday. While there are so many good things that can be said about making Ironman a family event, I can also say that for me, the circumstances added a bit of extra stress. I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t choose this set-up again (racing spouses and kids in tow), but we did it and it worked out.
Tempe on race weekend was a little bit better than the Tempe I had seen two weeks prior, but as a host city, I felt like there was a definite lack of excitement that made it different from small town destination venues like Lake Placid, Coeur d’Alene or Penticton. The area is huge and even people right in the vicinity of Tempe Beach Park (or whatever it’s called) neither knew nor cared what the event was. That’s fine with me since I have been to a bunch of these races at this point, but a first timer is maybe missing out a bit on some of the fun and excitement of a smaller venue. On the plus side, the lodging is cheap and plentiful, the race is easy to travel to, and there are tons of places to eat. So, pros and cons to Tempe.
Everything was clicking along smoothly on race morning. We left our hotel at about 5:15, found parking close to the start and we both felt organized and ready to go. I had been a ziplock bag/label freak for this race and had essentially distributed all of my gear into gallon, quart or sandwich-size zip-locks, mostly all before we left Colorado. So I was feeling organized and ready to roll. That is why it was such a huge shock went I dumped out my Morning Clothes Bag to begin putting on my swim gear to find that I didn’t have the ziplock that contained all of my morning essentials and swim stuff. I had my timing chip on already and I had my wetsuit, but I didn’t have my goggles, my Tri Slide, my morning gel, salt tabs or pharmaceuticals (Immodium and Pepto).
It was after 6 when I discovered this glitch and I started to get nervous. I began asking random strangers if they had an extra pair of goggles. Right away a man in the porta potty line handed me an extra pair. He apologized for their condition and said I was welcome to have them. I was really grateful, but when I took a closer look, I decided to keep looking for a pair that might fit better and hold onto this pair if I got (more) desperate.
After getting a new swim cap (they have extras of those), I walked near my bike and asked some girls if they had extra goggles. One of them gave me a brand new pair of TYRs, and I knew I was good to go. With that crisis solved, I shimmied into my wetsuit and we made our way to the sea wall.
Mark and I had already decided we were going to try to take the line inside the buoys and we knew we wanted to enter early enough to make it over there, but not so early that I would freeze before the start. If you do Arizona and want to know how and when to enter the water, I can tell you that we walked along the ledge of the sea wall for a long ways before jumping in and it was perfect.
The water was chilly but not unbearable and we made our way over to the inside line. The kayaks over there were trying hard to get the swimmers to all move to the right of the buoys, and I started to get nervous about how far inside we were and left Mark to swim closer to the buoys and move a little further back. The swim start is pretty cool. The swimmers are under a bridge and it is still practically dark out. If I liked a mass swim start with almost 3000 people, I’m sure I would have absorbed the moment and enjoyed the whole thing. But I actually dread any Ironman swim start and I was a little anxious. The gun went off and I got underway. There was a lot of contact, but it was no worse than Canada or IMCdA or some of the other races and I actually thought I was doing o.k.
I wish I had a story to tell here that somehow explains my time, but the truth is, that’s all I had on that day for the swim. I had trained for a 1:15, but something about that swim was slow for me. I can try to blame it on the cold water, or the hoards of people, or the fact that I got stuck on the stairs trying to exit the water (true), but the truth is I still have issues in open water and I really need to address those if I hope to improve my times next season. People have told me that the key to good swim times is to become a better swimmer in the pool, but I definitely think I need to put in some gravel pond or Stroke n Stride time next summer.
I don’t wear a watch in the swim anymore because it usually messes with my head, but after I got my wetsuit off and started towards my bag, I saw Sonja in the chute. Here’s me screaming at her “what’s my time?! what’s my time?!”
She gave nothing away that my swim had been sub-par because she yelled to me what a great job I had done in the water.
Swim time: 1:21:45 – 40/135 AG
Right after exiting transition, the course takes a turn and there was some type of bump in the road which caused the bottle I had mounted between my aerobars to fly off. I had two other bottles on my frame, so I didn’t even think about stopping for it. That was my only nutrition “glitch” of the day and I don’t think it really affected things.
Once out on the bike, I was super-happy we had made the effort to come down two weeks earlier to ride the course. If we hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have known that the way out on Beeline is slightly uphill and I wouldn’t have known that a headwind on the way out can change to a tailwind later in the day. That’s exactly what happened on race day. There was a bit of a headwind on lap 1, but by lap 3, it had changed to a headwind on the way back down. I’m not sure when it was in the bike that I realized I was going to crush my goal of 5:45 and ride closer to 5:30, but it was really motivating when I figured that out. I road the whole bike at a slightly higher heart rate than I had been planning on because I was trying to maintain a 20 mph average. I didn’t care that I was perhaps riding a bit harder than I had planned. I knew it was my last race of the season – I had even threatened it would be my last Ironman – and I was ready to “burn down the barn.” Mark had rented me Zipp wheels for the race as a birthday gift and they made my bike feel extra fast.
A few words about the course and the drafting. Yes, this course is crowded. It can be hard to stay legal at times because there are so many people. I felt like people tried to stay legal for the most part, but I had a big peleton swallow me up right before special needs on lap 2. There were several 35-39 girls in the group and the drafting was blatant. I spiked my heart rate pretty high to pass the entire pack, only to have them go by me again later. There were a numbers of motos on the course, but most of them were mechanics or media. I think I only saw the course marshals twice. I think there’s room for improvement here.
The best part of the bike course is the loop through town back by transition. This area was packed with spectators and I easily spotted Sonja on loops 1 and 2 and she was cheering her head off and taking pictures like a superstar.
I had made two bottles for bike special needs – one with Coke and the other with Skratch – and when I pulled over to get them and peeked into my bag….there it was. My swim bag from the morning. I’m not sure how I could have thrown it into bike special needs by mistake, but it just goes to show that even when you think you are calm and organized, you can still make mistakes.
Bike time: 5:36:36 – 19.96 mph – 18/135
The run. It all comes down to the run. I know that when I am well prepared for the bike and run, I can make up tons of time in the marathon but I have only had one good ironman run, back in Cozumel in 2010. More than anything else, I wanted so badly to run well in Arizona. One different thing I did for this race was to put a handheld water carrier in T2, which I had filled with Skratch. The idea was that if had easy access to fluids for the first 6-8 miles, maybe I would break my recent habit of meandering through the aid stations grabbing everything in sight. The plan worked and I blew through every aid station on lap one without stopping other than to grab a water and throw it on myself.
Lap 1 of the run was hot, but I knew that it wouldn’t be long before the sun started to go down, which it does really early in November in Arizona. My original goal was to run 8 minute miles for as long as I could, and while I didn’t quite hold that pace, I never went much over 8:30. It was a super-consistent run for me and probably my best performance to date. I ran 1 minute faster in Cozumel, but that course is pancake flat while the Arizona course has several hills (that must each be repeated 3 times). A few guys passed me here and there, but I was mostly doing all of the passing.
Even though I didn’t have any family cheering me on, I had Sonja, Jared from KE, Timmy from Newton and a few other people from the KE Team. Seeing them on the course gave me a huge boost each time. People were cheering me on by name (from my bib) or yelling “go Kompetitive Edge” or “go Colorado!” It was awesome. I expected to see Mark and Audra more, but the way the run is set up, it is hard to see someone unless you are passing them and they were both in front of me. I saw Mark once and was relieved to see he was still pretty far ahead. When I realized it was a hot day, I was a little nervous we were going to have a repeat of Canada, where I passed him at mile 20 of the marathon. But he held strong and had his own awesome race and I didn’t see him until I crossed the line (thank goodness, because I don’t know if I could have handled the aftermath if he had imploded on the run like he has in his past few IMs).
After lap 1, Sonja had told me that I was in 9th place. I tried to count girls in my age group on lap 1 and I thought I had counted at least 4, so by lap 3, I thought I was in a really good position to crack the top 5. I was still running strong and by the time I reached the now-large hill on the back side of the course, it felt like I was the only person running. I passed a few more girls who I thought were 40-44 and thought I was picking them off.
As I came towards the finish in the final mile, I started to get nervous about the turn. There had been a sign on the ground that pointed right for laps 1, 2 and 3 and left for the finish, but it was a small sign and I couldn’t remember where it was. It was starting to get dark. I momentarily panicked thinking I had missed the turn to the finish and got worried I would have to backtrack and would maybe get passed, but the sign came into view and I was on my way to the finish. At this point, you run off of the course and through a parking lot and there is no one around. Again, I worried that somehow I was going the wrong way. Then I realized the finish was in the same location it had been in for the kids’ race and I turned the corner and realized I was going to break 10:45. I sprinted to the finish to break 10:45, like it somehow mattered, and fell into the arms of my catcher. Sonja was right there in the chute and Mark was still there and Sonja took this picture of us.
Run time: 3:38:30
Finish time: 10:44:30 – 6/135
A huge thanks to Sonja for the info on the course and for all of the support (and pics!) on race day. Thanks to TriBikeTransport for all of their help with the Zipps, to QR for helping me get my bike dialed in on Saturday, to Dina Griffin of fuel4mance for the nutritional counseling prior to the race (no stomach issues whatsoever), to our friend Rick Wold for driving my bike back to Colorado so I didn’t have to take it on the rest of our trip, and last, but certainly not least, to Kompetitive Edge for helping outfit me in the best gear out there and for all of the support they provide all season long.
In closing, I’ll share some of the words of wisdom I received following the race from my Star Wars-loving coach, Kevin Konczak. He has been a rock for me the past three months. We didn’t have a lot of time to work with, but we both agree that we made the best of it:
This should be a new beginning not an end. Rest up and springboard to the next level, you’ve worked far too hard to get where you are. Take a step back if you need but only to work on things in the shadows of a new tomorrow. As Yoda said, “DO OR DO NOT, THERE IS NO TRY!