Ironman Arizona '08 RACE REPORT   April 13 , 2008    

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"Moving forward, way to do it!"
That was theme of the "run" - moving forward, don't stop. That meant that there was plenty of walking for the majority of athletes, including myself. It was hard to come to the realization that the heat had gotten to me, that I needed to walk the aid stations in order to make it through the day. In total that likely added at least a minute to every mile and my body was still having it's own sufferfest. So when I heard the spectator scream out to motivate us, "keep moving forward"- well, it was a rare occasion that I felt proud to just be walking and not completely stopped. It was that brutal. Pros and seasoned veterans puking and walking alike. My legs were seizing up and had cramping issues from mile 85 on the bike through the rest of the day. My chest hurt from breathing short due to allergies and it only took me three miles into the run to realize this was going to be a much longer day than I had expected. But that's what it was and you have to deal with what the day dishes out.

After several flight changes and cancellations I made it to Arizona about nine hours late on Wednesday night. Judy, my aunt, picked me up at the airport and headed back to her place were I was greeted by the rest of the family Robin and Sarah and then I got to see Heide the next morning. Unfortunately I missed seeing Kyle this time around as he was out on tour. It was great to see them all and also be so well taken care of and not have to worry about other things leading up to the race. I knew I was more relaxed and less anxious than other races and being able to hang out made it that much more comfortable.

In the days leading up to the race the temperatures were considerably lower and it felt great outside- with nice cool mornings after the desert nights had wiped the slate clean. But the forecast was a warning for mid nineties and windy conditions which would surely be a contender on race day. Nevertheless the temptations of a nice day, albeit hot, kept me optimistic.

After registering on Thursday I milled around the expo, got my wheel rentals and took it easy most of the day. I headed out for a short hour ride back near the house and made sure everything worked. This was my first look at the winds and my new 808 wheelset. The crosswinds were something to manage for sure and head winds could prove to be challenging- and this was at a reported 10mph wind. It seemed like the effects were more severe than that- and my analyses was that the wind was far more inconsistent than what I'd been used to back in Washington DC. So it was an unpredictable tug and push to keep the bike in a straight line. To the point that you could be moving at 18mph with a strong steady effort into the wind and cruise back at 30+mph with the same or less effort. It was certainly a thrill to move as fast as traffic coming back and watching your avg speed systematically increase.

On Friday I went down to Tempe Lake for an early swim and got in about 25 minutes. Nothing hard. Amazingly the water temp was very cool even with the wet suit. And the brownish green color of the dirty water was not at all what it tasted like- seemed rather plain- which was a good thing. The water had no current and no chop to really talk about. So those were all a plus in my mind, things to set you up for a good swim. After that I headed out to the Beeline Highway - the furthest part of the bike loop that stretches out into an Indian Reservation for a 20 mile out and back. I got on my bike and took it easy on the way out, slightly up hill and with a head wind. I tried to keep it easy in order to gauge what type of average speed could be achieved over the course with a difficult "out" and an easy "back". The test showed that even with a 18mph out I could creep that up to 23mph avg speed after cruising back down. That was good news.

Getting There
The road to Arizona was colorful and full of bike training and challenges that kept me wondering about how to train. Raquel and her wonderful therapy kept me from breaking apart at the seams at the most critical of times. Olaf was a constant guide in my training schedule and advice as I ramp up for RAAAM.

One of the primary reasons I signed up for this race was to try and qualify for Kona (World Championship). I knew it was a reach for me to improve that much in six months but I also felt like I had a chance to get within striking distance and possibly claim a coveted slot. Sure, my age group is a tough one (arguably the toughest) but you never know who shows up the day of the race. If all went well I could maybe get into one of the last slots in the age group. I figured I needed to be right around 10 hours to have a chance. And in my mind a sub 10 or top 100 overall finish became my secondary goal. The way I split that up was 1:10 swim, 5:20 bike, 3:20 run and :10 between both transitions. I knew I could get through transitions with a few minutes less so that became my working give, most likely give it to my run. What that meant in terms of my previous performance was a minimal 2 minute improvement on the swim, even though I was hoping for more gain which could possibly add to my buffer. Cruising at an avg 21mph on a "flat" bike course wasn't a big deal. And running 7:38 miles on the marathon- 7:25's to start and slowing to about 8:00's was slower than my training runs. My last long run in training was 18 miles at an avg 7:24 pace.

After being out on the course and knowing it was going to be hot and windy I recalculated what I was up against. The swim remained the same but I thought I could tackle the bike course faster which would allow more time on the run which I knew could likely be slower because of the heat. From my pre race pacing on the course I thought I could handle a 22.5 avg speed - a huge difference in time (20 minutes less). But to be more realistic maybe a 22 mph avg- or 5:06. Still that bought me 14 minutes on the run for a total of 3:34 which was close to my previous Ironman run last year at 3:39. And I knew my run was stronger now. Overall going into race day and to simplify the numbers I was shooting for a 1:10 swim, 5:10 bike, 3:30 run, and less than :10 transitions. That would get me to a sub 10- and although I thought it was tough I sensed it was a realistic goal.

I woke up at 3am and had a hard time sleeping until 4am when I decided to just get up. I got plenty of sleep and it was pretty solid from 10pm on. I took a shower to wake up my muscles and started to get geared up. I was surprisingly less anxious and pretty calm. Got ready and had my breakfast ready - banana, cereal, and pop tarts. Tried and tested foods that were sure to keep my system balanced. I had all my bags: special needs, bike nutrition and tools, swim stuff, and the rest of my transition items. By the time it was 5am we headed out and drove to the start about 25 minutes away. We got to Tempe and luckily just got one of the last parking spaces in a nearby garage.

Then we walked into the race madness that is Ironman. Somebody is always freaking out and others are in the midst of rituals usually never seen in public. All walks of life, all crazy in their own way. Families and friends filled the surrounding area. I quickly seized the opportunity and got into a 1 person porto-john line on the outskirts of the park. Priceless. Then proceeded to drop of my gear, one by one feeling more ready and with less to worry about. Check over the bike - tires fine, nutrition and computer all in place. And as I was headed back out to be with Christal and family I realized I forgot to get body marked- back on the other side of transition. Oh well, plenty of time. No rush.

Having everything in place we walked around to the spectator sidelines along the bank of the lake-- which is really a damned up river. So it's a long skinny one loop course that lines the edges with spectators as well as the bridges overhead. At 15 minutes to go it was time to say my goodbyes, get through the timing mats and into the water. That's when I saw Mariana and Andrea at the waters edge and we all were happy to get started. The sun was shinning low across the lake and it was a beautiful morning. We jumped in and swam about 200 yards to our starting points- I just went right along the bank on the right up to the starting line. From my review the day before it seemed to me that the course veered right and the right side would be the straightest line- if you were able to see the turn buoy. So there I was on the front line listening in on all the nervous chatter wondering who was really my competition for the day in and around me.

The Race

The horn goes off and the frenzy starts. Even though it was chaotic there was more space than usual to stay clear and keep a descent stroke. I tried to jump out for the first minute and then settled into a more normal pace. Not sure that made any difference in my situation - there were people everywhere and we were all headed out in the same direction. For the first 10 minutes I followed the bank all the way- it was about 20 feet to my right. I tried to keep some form of bilateral breathing and stay focused on my technique- kept pulling and reaching forward. But it seemed that every now and then I would get pinched between two swimmers that would throw my technique off and have me starting all over again. For some reason there were certain areas that bunched up to the point that we were literally on top of one another. People grabbing feet and landing some hard swim punches. But then minutes later I was relatively in the open with 20 yards of clear water ahead of me. It was hard to believe that we were all zig zagging that much or that anyone was going that much faster than someone else. But it happened over and over. Maybe it was the other 2000 swimmers that were off track.

On the way out we headed directly into the sun. I actually used the sun (the only thing I could see) as my marker. It was the best device since I had no clue exactly where the turn buoy was but it seemed to work pretty well. By the time I started seeing buoys on my left I was probably only three from the turn around. It was a long way - a one lap 2.4 mile course - that seemed to drag on but getting half way and then making the full turn to look back was a welcome change. I could see the bridges and more importantly a string of yellow buoys off into the distance. Now and then you'd see an airplane and get a sense of the straightest path which seemed to correspond to the flight pattern of the airport nearby. So there were some good indicators to keep on track but I still ran into bumpy congestion every now and then. Nevertheless I felt good about my pull and form and was sure to be gaining some valuable minutes while staying within my realm. And even though I was looking forward to the cycling I reminded myself that this cool water was a blessing we would later relish.

The last sequence of bridges came into view and I knew we were on the final stretch- maybe one or two more buoys. I started to increase my intensity just slightly and had the red corner buoy in sight before I knew it. My line got me right around the corner with a sharp cut back to shore. Without only a sense of where the exit was I kept going smooth and steady. Before I knew it I was climbing my way out onto the stairs and being helped up to my feet. I felt solid and not nearly as clumsy as usual, rather strong coming out of the water.
Swim: 1:12:30, 137 HR, 807th

I sensed I had pulled myself into a better position from previous years in the swim but as I ran and looked at my watch... I was at the almost exact same time in my previous two Ironman's. I actually had to double check my time from disbelief. Then triple check. That was done and I knew that thinking about it now was useless- so I got my transition bag and changed outside the tent. I was slow- or so it seemed. And I had plenty of dirt on my feet despite trying to wipe them clean. So I pushed on and got ready to ride. It was a long awkward run in cleats down the transition area just to get to the path that was crowded with age groupers charging to get ahead. We squeezed through like cattle until we had enough space to clip in without tumbling over.
T1: 4:36, 129 HR

Clipped in we shuffled out onto the street single file and then quickly put on the rockets. I was excited to ride and I knew I needed to play my waiting game and not blow it all out in the first loop. Having three loops I knew I could afford to take it conservative the first time out and adapt over the next two laps. There was no fear I would take it too easy so really it boiled down to making sure I stayed on plan and set myself up for a good run. And that became the goal on the bike. Ride fast enough to give myself enough run time while saving enough energy to have a fair shot at running a 3:20ish marathon and make a 10 hour finish. The other major component was to keep fueled up. My intake plan was two 900 calorie Infinit bottles, a gel every 30 minutes on the hour/half and salt tab every 30 minutes on the quarter/forty five. Water all the time - with every intake add water.

From the start I was passing athletes at a rapid pace and rarely being passed. This produced a good/nervous feeling. In my mind I was gaining on the entire field (good) but also only catching up to where I needed to be. The majority of competitors I'm hoping to match up with at the end of the day are likely to have about 10 minutes advantage from the swim so my cycling strength is only a way to get back into the game. But I already knew this and that was part of my plan. I was on track passing over 600 people during the bike course.

The first lap was a good gauge of what was to come and what the day had in store for us. On the way out it was relatively flat with some slow uphill grades. Without wind it would seem flat most of the time with the occasional slope until the last 3 miles at the furthest point were you can definitely sense an uphill grade- but maybe only 4% at most for any significant time. But the head wind was the main factor- uphill or not. The breeze quickly gave way to a pushy gust that generally only got worse as the time rolled on. It was a test of patience as my speed was dropping and yet knowing that on the return I could make most of that up- if not gain on my average. But it was hard to know what the benefit would pay off on the way back into to town. So I pushed on at my prescribed power rating and controlled heart rate.

By the time I got to the turn around point - closer than I expected by a half mile - I was anticipating the reprieve of the tailwind. And it was sweet. Reaching speeds into the low 30's while pedaling at 50-60% effort was a thrill and recharged my enthusiasm. Sure a little cross wind every know and then made it more interesting but this section would make for some better outcomes. By the time I reached town and finished my first lap I had an average speed of 22.9.

The second loop was much like the first but not as exciting. Nutrition was warm to drink and the heat was cranking up- not to mention that the head wind was now a stiff pain. The novelty of riding through the desert was wearing low and the grind to the turn became slower than before. This is when I started to focus on my other symptoms. I had allergies. How was that happening- I was in Arizona where I would least expect it but I was no doubt blowing out my fair share onto the pavement. And the top of my mouth became dry - parched. Even when I was drinking seconds later it was as if I had burnt the roof of my mouth. I kept trying to douse it with fluids with hopes that it would go away but with more attention I noticed my unusual short breathing pattern. This would explain my higher than normal heart rate that stayed with me all day- about 15 beats higher.

Once I got to the top of the second loop and turned around I knew I had another fast stretch that would carry me into the last loop of the course so I was feeling pretty good at this point. I focused on my nutrition and sat up most of the way back. The aero dynamics really weren't doing much on the return trip so I tried to take it easy on my back and relax my body position. I felt this would be beneficial once I got off the bike and I'd be less stiff overall. And with all these thoughts of preparation and nutrition I passed right by the the special needs area. To my defense there was no sign and I was flying at about 30 mph. But by the time I came to a stop and walked my bike back to my pick up spot, about 200 yards back, I could sense the time draining away. Almost comical was that they still hadn't found my bag when I made it back even though they saw me coming and so I still had to wait. But the almost boiling loaded 900 calorie Infinit water bottle was critical- so it was well worth the time, even though it warm fluids aren't at all appealing. And then I cruised around the rest of the loop.

The third and final loop was a myriad of riders from all levels as the field became mixed between the fastest on their last lap and those that were on a slower pace second lap. As I fought the wind on the way out I found a rider passing and then slowing down right in front of me. This became annoying for various reasons. Primarily because he was likely drafting most of the time and only passing to not get caught, but that also meant I had to drop back just to pass again (per the rules). On one of his meager passes he was already slowing as he came around in front and gave my very little room. Then without notice because my view was blocked I ran over some hard tool kit or something. Why hadn't that jerk pointed it out! My back tire went instantly flat. I came to a stop- and instantly checked my front tire. The huge relief that I only had one flat was a small win in this situation. Had I had two flats I would be riding my carbon wheel into the ground because I only had enough to fix one tube. But the reality was that minutes were ticking off and with every rider that passed by I was going backwards. At the same time it wasn't the end of the race and I was still in position to stay on track if I could get rolling again. In a weird way some of the pressures of the race floated away knowing now that there are some elements of the day you just can't control. This was a firm reminder. The irony being that they swept the entire course to clean it from debris and I ran over a large tool kit somebody dropped.

And when I got rolling again I stepped on the cranks something fierce. The urgency to make up for lost time was something I needed to let go of and put away. And that became more apparent as my quads and abductors started to cramp. My right leg started first and I quickly drank down twice as much as I had been and supplemented my salt intake. But I knew that was a plea that likely wasn't enough if I was feeling the cramps at this point. Slowly I spun out of them and kept my cadence a bit higher. Plenty of fluids on the way back and I was ready for transition.
Bike: 5:21:25, 141 HR, 20.9 avg mph (~5:14:00, 21.4 avg mph without flat)

Before I even got into transition- as I spent my time on the bike mentally preparing for the run- I decided I would turn my socks inside out. I had a great amount of sand and debris from the first sandy transition that on the bike was negligible but could cause havoc on the run. If I had any chance at a great marathon I would need everything to work out smoothly and getting blisters could easily change the entire course of the race. So the extra 20-30 seconds here was a small price to pay. My T2 times are traditionally fast so I felt like I was in there forever. When I got out I was ready to roll.
T2: 2:12, 126 HR

Brutal. Hot. Actually it was brutally hot. It only took me like a quarter mile to understand how hot it was. And that on the bike I had my own built in fan to keep me cool. So now the day had turned and the temperature felt like it was 100. Plus it was midday with the sun beating down and now shade to speak of. My quads were dead weight and all the calf/shin issues I had in the months leading up to the race were non-existent. It was a total turn of events. My heart rate- as it had been the rest of the day was way higher than usual and at this point higher than I could sustain for a full marathon. Taking all these factors in I noted my first mile was fast and was glad I needed to slow down. And I kept slowing down trying to get my heart rate back into a good range. But it just wasn't happening. It didn't take long to figure out that my short breathing, beat up legs and slower pace were just not cutting the goals I had carved up for myself.



~ estimated split

At about mile two I was able to urinate and continue running which was a first. It was also a shock to find out how much I had to go since my impression was that I was dehydrated to some degree. But I went for a long time and I only wished I had seen the color to determine further as to what my body was dealing with. A little lighter now I kept my stride.

Never before had I contemplated dropping out of a race, until that heat and fatigue hit me. I went through some miles at the beginning of the run where I took inventory of my goals and my physical state. And I did that every mile until mile 21. It was a TOUGH day. Suffice to say I had issues I never thought I would have-- and then some. But everyone did. I didn't talk to a single person that didn't get beat up on the course or even come close to their goal. In the midst of all that I did reach into my vault of support from friends and family to keep on going. I rationalized that RAAM just two months later will test me even more and this was just a single day. I got to see Christal and my family frequently on the figure eight 3 loop course, and that was a welcome sight. But it was also depressing to see myself in their eyes- I wanted to push so much more and yet I had no more to push with. My legs were seizing up and I had to walk the aid stations in order to take in 2-3 cups of fluids and ice down at each stop.

My goals slipped away rather quickly and plan B which I hadn't really thought about until I was actively doing it was to run from station to station. I tried to keep my pace and then regroup and load up at the aid stations. Mile 21 was the toughest mentally knowing I was way off my mark and having walked up the ramp to one of the bridges because my muscles were cramping. I started back up as I went across the bridge after seeing Christal one more time. I got in my head and decided to get back into a solid game plan. I latched onto another runner with a slightly faster pace than I was comfortable with. I held on until the next station and got back to my run just a bit faster than the previous time. I had a different outlook, a new plan to enjoy the rest of the race and let the disappointment go. And now I was starting to sense my speed increase compared to the sluggish field. Granted it wasn't anything fantastic but I started to talk to other athletes, joke with the volunteers and thank God this was my last lap when I could still see people coming in off the bike.

I was about 3 miles to go and I made a deal with myself to run through the last two miles and maintain my increase in speed. To essentially give all I had left to the finish line. I turned my shuffle into a more steady stride. Knowing that if I stopped my legs might not start again from the heaviness. I kept trucking and saw the finish line in my mind. I started to smile more and knew I had to enjoy this for what it was. The miles crept by and then I was in my last mile zone. The crowds grew with excitement and my HR was topped out as I made the bend up to the finish chute. I put it all out there in the last stretch but it already seemed easier. My mind had already started to celebrate. And I ran through my third Ironman finish.
Run: 3:59:41, 141 HR

+ My chronic shin/calf pain was non-existent
– Quads where killing me on the run
+ I survived and finished
– I walked more than I wanted to
+ Ran my fastest mile split in a marathon
– Ran my slowest mile split in a marathon
+ Improved over last IM and PR'ed
– Only improved 3 minutes and about 10 overall spots
+ Learned more than I bargained for

Swim 2.4m 1:12:30 1:44 137 160/807 807
T1   4:36   129    
Bike 112m 5:21:25 20.91 141 23/107 176
T2   2:12   126    
Run 26.2m 3:59:41 9:08 141 38/179 141
Total   10:40:24   141 29/141 141

*Position is for overall place.
117 overall among age groupers (minus Pros) :: 29/353 AG :: 141/2027 ALL

Post Race
I was greeted at the end unexpectedly by Liz- a friend from DC volunteering and then quickly was taken by a few more volunteers. "We'd like to take you to medical." That was the start of the conversation. I replied with, "Uh - no way!" I wasn't prepared to sit around in a hot tent for hours before they told me I needed to drink more. That was clear- but I snaked my way out of that one and met up with Christal. I was done and I was glad to be remembering it rather than still doing it. I was disappointed for sure. It was hard to swallow. But it was an accomplishment all at the same time. I rapidly got my hands on not one, but TWO large vanilla shakes that Robin had bought just at the right time. It was liquid gold.

We followed that up with pizza at some local place a few blocks away. And the flurry of emotions were hard to compartmentalize - relief, frustration, happiness, disappointment, and looking ahead to the next one.

By the time it was 6am the next morning we were packed and on our way to the airport. Walking a bit slower.

Stats are fascinating and there are ways to push those disappointed thoughts to the side. So when you take the Pro athletes out of the totals (which is only fair) I was the 109th age group finisher (an improvement over 117th age grouper last year at Lake Placid). Also, consider I was 29th in my age group and that means that 27% of the top 109 finishers were in my 35-39 male age group. Crazy competitive. Or just crazy!

I saw this as one persons account: "It was an epic day in all senses of the word, with heat in the high-90s, winds gusting to 25+ mph, and a few thousand people trying to survive an Ironman. In the end, 18% of the field DNFed, the third highest DNF for an Ironman event ever."

ahhhhLOE Vera Gel. The burn I got on my shoulders was far worse than I had anticipated. The legs recovered quickly. The ache of not having reached as far as I wanted took the longest to overcome. But time takes care of those things. And RAAM certainly eased me from one race into another adventure. There's no running in RAAM.


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