|Ironman Arizona '08 RACE REPORT||April 13 , 2008
"Moving forward, way to do it!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*Position is for overall place.
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."
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