When I signed up for IMAZ I had visions of hitting a PR and continuing on my long term plans to get to Kona. During the early part of the season I was hitting my workouts, staying healthy and having fun, all good signs to having a great race.
In April, I was presented with an opportunity to join a fast-growing start-up company. Somehow, I rationalized that taking the job shouldn’t impact my training too much, and I could make some adjustments as needed. Then the 60-70hr work weeks and heavy travel schedule started, and my workout log began to get filled with zeros.
After a couple of months of craziness, I sat down and thought through all the reasons that I wanted to race IMAZ, and tried to prioritize them. I knew that the PR unlikely and that my work schedule would continue to get in the way of training. I wasn’t even sure I could train enough to finish. But I never wanted to bail out on the race. What I hadn’t told many people was that I had originally signed up for the race to honor my stepbrother Hollis, who committed suicide in March 2013. Hollis was always excited to hear about my racing, and I had promised him I’d race IMAZ and he could come see the event. However, he was never able to see me race. But I still wanted to keep my promise.
So I spoke with Coach Debi and explained my work situation and she adjusted the plan and kept me on task as well as she could.
As many of you know, 4 weeks from race weekend, I had a bike accident where I injured my right leg, and kept me off the bike and off running for about two weeks. So come race week, I knew I was going into Tempe woefully under-trained (less than 200 hrs since Jan 1), but ‘over rested’. My one last hope was that I could draw on my experience racing the distance six times prior to IMAZ.
Thursday of race week, Ultimate IronSherpa Fran and I flew out to Tempe, having shipped the bike via TriBike Transport. Our travels were uneventful and we arrived in Tempe ready and determined to have fun. My stepmother (Hollis’ mom) and her husband were going to join us for the circus that is Ironman, and Jason & Powerbar came through with VIP passes for the four of us. Friday I picked up the bike, and reassembled it only to find that I could not get the Garmin Vector power meters to register on either my Garmin 810 or 910xt. So I wouldn’t be able to race using power readings, just my HR and experience.
Friday night we attended the VIP viewing of the Ironman World Championship DVD at the beautiful Tempe Center for the Arts. It was a small affair with drinks and nibbles, then the video viewing. As usual, the video was awesome and inspirational. Watching Rinny Carfrae come back from a 14min deficit was just the sort of visualization I needed for my race. If she could WIN by running on guts and experience, then I could finish using the same formula. And have fun doing it.
Saturday meant early bike check in, transition bag drop off, then back to the room for calm, quiet reflection, reading, TV watching and mental preparation. Fran knows that I’m not a lot of fun the day before a big race, since I’m not much for conversation during this time. So she went out to dinner with my family and I hung out. I actually enjoy the quiet time before race day, and Saturday was no different. I get to visualize my race day, make my final strategy plans, go over the course on paper and in my head, think about where I’m going to see my family and friends, and make last minute adjustments to special needs bags. But mostly I reflect on the reasons I want to put myself through the ordeal. I think the most important point for me this year, was that I had external motivation to race. I wanted to honor Hollis, and I wanted to make my family proud by doing so.
Race morning started early, getting my nutrition down, personal needs dealt with and then off to transition. Our hotel was only 1/2 mile from the transition area, and because of the layout, there weren’t a lot of crowds to deal with. IMAZ is run really well, and has the best spectator layout and athlete flow that I’ve experienced. I quickly dropped off special needs bags, got my bike set up then Fran & I camped out in the VIP tent near the swim finish unti it was time to race. Having the VIP passes meant that I could sit in a relatively quiet and uncrowded place, have a cup of coffee and (most important) a clean bathroom without a line!
The pro men went off at 6:45 and the pro women 5 min later. The swim is in Tempe Town ‘Lake’ which is really a dammed up stretch of the Salt River. If you picture a cement drainage ditch, about 75 yards wide, you have a good image of the venue. The swim is one lap, upstream on the way out, and downstream coming back, with no current to speak of. Because the lake level was down, they could not use the normal starting point, so we all climbed down the swim exit steps, jumped in the water and swam 300 yds or so up to the start line just upstream of the Mill St. bridge. IMAZ is a deep-water mass start, with athletes spread about 1/2 way across the width of the river. I wanted to stay out of the scrum as much as possible early in the swim, so I put myself right against the wall of the riverbank. When the gun went off I started swimming and just kept my effort hard for 400 yards, then backed off a bit into steady effort. I found that if only took breath on my right, I could easily see spectators sitting on the wall, and a lot of them were waving at me. That was pretty cool, and I waved back at a couple of small kids, making them laugh. What I failed to remember was that the river curves to the right on the upstream leg, but the course goes straight up the river. When I finally looked over to my left, I was WAY off the main line of the swim, and had to swim pretty hard to get back nearer to the buoy line. If you look at my GPS plot, you can see where I started to go back, got into the scrum, swam away from the scrum for a bit, then eased back into the main line. At the turn around, I was right back into the thick of the swimmers and got kicked in the face for my troubles, I managed to round both corners then again stayed to the far right, out of most of the traffic. I was continually passing swimmers the whole route, but I wasn’t expending a lot more effort, which felt really good. As we approached the Mill St. bridge, I checked my watch and saw I was at 1:01. My race plan had me getting out of the water no later than 1:10, so when I popped up the ladder in 1:07, I was right on schedule.
Transition was a bit of a long run and a bit chaotic since transition bags are placed on the ground in long rows. The volunteers were scrambling to get bags and it took a little time for me to locate mine, as they were MOVED since we checked them in the night before. I got my bag, got into the tent, took some time to clean all the dead grass and mud off my feet, get slathered in sun screen, then off to get my bike.
Once out on the course, it was immediately clear that we would be in for a challenging day. I watched at least three barricades or signs blow over from the strong, gusty winds. As we made our zig-zag way out of town onto the Beeline highway, I knew that we would have a strong headwind on the outbound leg and thus have a strong tailwind on the way home. The bike course is three out-and-back loops, with a long, gradual 5+ mile climb to the turn around on Beeline. To give you a sense of the winds, my first 1/2 of the first loop was completed in 1:07 (about 18 miles). I finished the return trip in 43 minutes. The most challenging part of the ride back was the gusty winds grabbing my deep section front wheel. A couple of times the wind almost tore the bars out of my hands. Scary stuff at close to 40mph.
On the return leg of loop one I told myself to remain patient, that the straight and relatively flat course was the type of terrain I like, and I that my bike really excelled in the wind. Loops two and three were windier, with stronger steady winds, but less gusty. The tough conditions were mentally taxing more than physically exhausting. I had to keep focused on my HR, and less on the speedometer reading 9 mph. At the turn around on loop three, I got off the bike to use the bathroom and eat one of the bars I brought with me. The wind had completely dried the bar out so that it was hard as a rock and un-chewable. That got a laugh out of the volunteer holding my bike. I pressed a bit harder on the last return trip, and tried to get out of the saddle to stretch, but hamstrings and quads were starting to cramp a bit, so I knew from experience that I was at my limit. I just kept steady effort to get home safely. My plans were to finish the bike 6:15-6:30 and I came in at 6:12. Perfect!
T2 was pretty quick and I was off on the run. IMAZ run is a two-loop route with long out-and-back stretches, almost all of it on hard concrete. There is a stretch of about 2 miles on a crushed stone path. I had run most of the course when I was in Tempe on a buisness trip in Sept, but I didn’t have the whole route and I managed to miss the one “hill” that is on the backside of the return leg around mile 9-10 and 20-21. I clicked off the miles, walking all the aid stations end-to-end and just kept moving.
I was getting passed by a lot of people, but I wasn’t concerned as I knew that steady effort would get me to the finish, and any speed spent now would come back to haunt me later. At the special needs I pulled out my jacket as the temps were dropping as it got dark. About mile 14 or 15 I met up with a gentleman in my age group going at about my pace, and we got to talking about the race. This was his 2nd IM and 2nd at Arizona. He was from Phoenix, and his team mates were running one of the aid stations. We decided to keep running together and to keep pushing each other along. That made a HUGE difference in both our races. When one person needed a walk break, the other wouldn’t let it go on too long before saying “OK, lets get back to work” or “let’s get this $%@&? thing done”… The hard miles between 18 and 23 came and went, and once we made the turn on the Priest St. bridge, we could hear Mike Riley calling out finishers, and we could see the top of the US Air building which marked the finish line. Frank & I picked up the pace just a bit and ran it in to the end. 12:54.
Of all my Ironman races, this one is my most memorable. Not for the overall performance, nor for any specific segment. I was happy to have done the race well, smiling all the way, having a great time, honoring Hollis and my family. I was able to draw from my prior race experience to manage my effort, deal with race-moment situations and still come out as a finisher.