Ironman Arizona 2014 is in the books and, as many of you know, it was my first. With the hectic schedule that I have I normally only have the time to do a “bookend” race, meaning at the beginning of the season (April) or the end (October). With a little luck and a LOT of support from Laura and my friends, when an opportunity arose for IMAZ, I was able to jump on it. For that opportunity, I am eternally grateful and none of this would have been possible without them.
Our local races (Eagleman and IMMD) had eaten up most of my vacation time so we weren’t able to get out to Arizona as early as I would have liked. We weren’t able to play with some of the pre-event activities and, as a matter of fact, we didn’t get in to Phoenix until noon on Friday. This was just enough time land, get a car, and go straight to Tempe Beach Park for registration and the last Athlete Briefing of the day. A little pre-course scouting and time to get some grub. A staple of Laura and I whenever we are in Phoenix, the Old Tortilla Factory in Scottsdale, and we were good to go.
Saturday morning there was a pre-event swim in Tempe Town Lake and I, being hesitant about the mid 60s water temps, wanted to see if I would need the neoprene boots (legal if under 65 degrees) or the neoprene cap (legal anytime) that I packed. 800 yard swim and the water was perfect in a full suit and only the normal swim cap. No fear necessary. A quick rack of the bike and a nice, long rest back at the hotel while Laura went shopping for dinner, where we were able to connect with our friends Andy and Rebecca (both racing). In bed by 9pm in order to be well rested but, of course, I was awake every 30 minutes, in anticipation of the big day.
3:30am wake up so I could do some quadruple checking of my special needs bags and to grab anything that I had forgotten when packing my bike and run transition bags. A nice breakfast of a bagel, peanut butter and banana and a lot of NUUN tablets to sip on prior to the start. NUUN wound up being my lifesaver for this whole trip!! As soon as we landed on the plane, I felt dehydrated and my eyes were bloodshot. This NEVER went away and I found that by drinking coconut water and NUUN tablets (in regular water) I was able to offset this a little bit. Hydration/Nutrition for this whole course would be my primary focus.
Fast forward to 5am. The opening of transition. My Iron-Sherpa, Laura, actually drove there and stayed there from the start of my day to the end and I could not have done this without her. I owe her, BIG TIME. Once the bike was inflated and all my nutrition was set on the bike, I felt 100% prepared. (It wouldn’t be till later that I realized I had left my arm sleeves out of my run special needs bag, but that wasn’t too bad). Around 6:30 am they told us to start lining up to get in the water since we had to swim 300 yards to our start line. IMAZ is one of the races that still does a mass swim start so we all had to get in to get ready. I felt very good about my swim this time so I actually lined up in the middle, but closer to the inside of the course. Normally I sit way back and to the outside. At about 7:04 (a little late) the cannon went off and BAM BAM BAM, LOTS of contact with other swimmers. Being that Tempe Town Lake is freshwater you would think that you would be able to see. Wrong! You get about 10 inches of visibility and by that time, you’re looking at someone’s calf, meaning their foot is about to kick your jaw. Fortunately I didn’t get kicked but there was certainly a lot of contact between myself and other swimmers, both giving and receiving. About halfway through I matched up perfectly with a guy who was kicking so hard that it felt like depth chargers going off. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from him, so I actually tried to swim to the outside, from the inside. I’m sure this didn’t go very well for those I cut off but it helped my sanity, and my form. A LOT of full extension rolling going on with this swim as there was no current to battle. This is one of the only times that this type/form of swimming can be effective. A 1 hr 22 min 11 sec swim wasn’t setting the world on fire, but I’m happy with it for my first open water swim at that distance.
A quick transition (7 min 37 seconds) could have been done about 2 minutes faster, had my bike transition bag not been tied by an apparent 30 year Navy veteran. There were so many knots tied in that bag that I almost just ripped it open from the sides. I couldn’t help but laugh. At this stage, to get mad would have been wasted energy. So yes, it took a while (in my opinion) for T1 but I was able to get out on the bike and get to moving! Funniest part was this was the first time anyone had seen my kit, a Star Wars Stormtrooper. Spectators were loving the kit and the guys in the change tent were high fiving me. I kept telling them, “Let’s have some fun out there!”.
I have to say the bike didn’t go how I expected. About 2 months ago I got the Garmin Vector Power pedals and thought I ‘d do this whole race based on power. A great metric if you have trained with it for a while. I have NOT, so I decided to race on Heart Rate, something I have trained with for many seasons. I’m glad that I did. Each loop the wind picked up and it was only in one direction, that would be in our face on the long climb up to the turnaround. By the second and third loop, the wind was a sustained 15-20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph. Rough going but I was able to keep an average heart rate of 141, almost exactly where I wanted to be! I knew that my #1 time goal of a 12 hour Ironman was out the door and I was fine with that. Time to switch to goal #2, 14 hours. My focus was on nutrition and hydration, which I was religious about. I actually switched up my hydration rig the DAY BEFORE (do as I say, not as I do) so that I could carry more water. I wound up putting a bag for my tubes and stuff under my rear bottle cage, using 3 hour bottle mix of Perpetuem in one bottle (which I later discarded after my body just didn’t want that!) and Powerbar Perform in the other cage. My Speedfill (holds 40 oz of water) was used for water and NUUN tablets for their electrolytes but no carbs. One gel every 45 minutes and bananas every 30 minutes or so (from the aide stations) gave me my semi-solid food. I had taped a Bonk Breaker bar to my bike to eat exactly 30 minutes after I got on the bike and had put two pill bottles, one with Endurolyte Extreme caps (and a few Alleve pills) and one with NUUN +Energy tabs for my water. I took at least one Endurolyte every 30 minutes and an Alleve every 2 hours. Every time I filled my Speedfill with another bottle of water, I dropped a NUUN tab. I felt GREAT!!! This is definitely a strategy I’m going to continue to use!! So after 6 hours 51 minutes and 49 seconds (for an average of 16.32 mph) I was ready to get off the bike.
I was scared at this time. How would I feel after that grueling bike and that much time in aero? Would the Marine Corps Marathon I ran just a few weeks ago hurt, or help me? How was my nutrition going to work out to sustain me? When was I going to hit that wall? TOO MUCH THINKING!!! That’s my problem. I just decided to go blank and go with the run, and forget everything else that I had done. My plan was to take at least one carb drink (Perform or Coke) and one cup of water at each aide station. I use Clif Bloks as my normal run fuel and I ate one block every 2 miles (as I always do). At a few of the stations I actually took pretzels or chicken broth (2 times each) and that is where my run splits dropped. Chicken broth I was ok running immediately after, pretzels, I took my time with, made sure to drink lots of water, and stayed walking for just a bit to let them break down just a bit in my stomach. Around mile 20 I felt a little twinge in my hamstring and decided to walk just a little longer than usual. Other than that, no pain at all! The only thing I did find is that by taking in SO much hydration throughout the day, I was making it about every 3 miles before I had to use the port-a-john. I peed 3 times on the bike course and about 8 times on the run (I sure wish I could have THAT time back). I felt great the entire run and, by playing conservative, I was able to really pick it up for my last mile or so. Am I happy with an 11:16 pace overall for the run? A 4 hr 55 min 32 sec marathon? Eh. A 13 hour 21 minute 22 second full Ironman for my first attempt and still feeling good afterwards? HECK YEAH!!!
I took so much away from this experience and the whole journey is to be celebrated! It’s the journey to the Ironman that takes the time and the commitment. The day itself should be seen as a celebration of that journey. Whether you do it and finish (and break the course record like the winner did) or you aren’t able to make it past the swim, makes no difference. You’ve put a lot of work in towards that goal and no one can take that from you.
This journey could not have been possible without the love and support from all of my friends (both old and new), coworkers, fellow athletes and most importantly, my family. The lessons I learned from this past year will help in not only my professional life (TriCycle and Run), my Ironman life (Eagleman and IMMD planning), my coaching life and my personal life. A final shoutout to my IronSherpa, Laura, for all of your love and support throughout the race and this past year. You’re next!!