4th Ironman Arizona
Next week I will post the 70.3 Austin (Longhorn) race report, because I know that I know a lot more people are looking forward to this one even though it will be a lot less entertaining. I really don’t know where to start with this one. The beginning seems logical, but this is an Ironman, and anything about an Ironman is completely illogical, so I will start in the middle.
I neared the turnaround in Tempe that marked the end of the first lap of the three that make up the bike course at Ironman Arizona. I took a few real deep breaths and said to myself, “this is where the race begins.” Up until that point, Ironman Arizona is no different than the first 2 hours of almost any Ironman. A 2.4 mi swim, 30-35 miles of cycling in cool morning air…Then it gets real in Arizona. REAL CONGESTED.
A two lane road quickly looked like a charity event with cyclist of all levels weaving all over the place. This man on a mission was hoopin’ & hollerin’ “on your left,” “left,” “moveover,” “share the road,” I was trying everything. My aerotuck got traded in for a heads up riding position, it wasn’t all bad, I knew by shifting around I could recruit different muscles and hopefully save a little more for the run.
The race is always this game of saving and earning. Find the right feet in the swim, earn a good draft, save some energy, that is what racing an Ironman is all about. You cannot solely win the race in the swim, bike, or run, but it truly comes down to who can be most economical. On the swim side one has to consider it is the only time in the race that they will go an hour without hydration or nutrition. So over swimming an Ironman can be catastrophic, but missing a move can make you a chaser all day.
The swim at Arizona started in the dark, not just dim, but dark. The cannon fired and we were all off into the abyss of night. After being 1st out of the water last weekend at 70.3 Austin I knew I had peaked perfectly in the water. I choose a line 1/2 way between the buoy line and the shoreline, when dawn struck and we could finally see, I realized I was leading the race, or so I thought. As more light beamed I saw that there was what appeared to be a swimmer ahead about 25 yards on the buoy line. Crap, I charged hard for about 200 yards and was making minimal headway. I took a look over my shoulder and had a long line of swimmers single file in the tow. Finally after blitzing it for a few minutes I figured it would be wise to let somebody else set the pace and not burn all my matches in the first 15 minutes of an 8 hour race.
I slowed a lot and I recognized the people by their stroke, I thought I had been dropped by the lead pack instead, it appeared it was just a breakaway that got away. I settled in behind Joe Umphenour and the swim remained status quo the rest of the way.
After nearly 50 minutes of skipping across the water in the Orca Predator it was time to trade cap and goggles for an aero helmet. Transition one is simple wetsuit, cap, and goggles off…helmet on. As I ran through transition I grabbed the bag that a volunteer handed me, I quickly felt that it was too light. I looked at the number, 8…I tossed the bag to a different volunteer and flipped through the row of bags looking for #9. It took maybe 5 seconds but there was a lot of haste in that time. After I got the bag the rest of transition went smooth thanks to some great volunteers in the change tent.
The Arizona bike course is simple, out & back, three laps, six lengths, false flat up on the way out and false flat down on the way back. Knowing that the 2nd and 3rd loop would likely be dangerous it was important to start flying quickly. This was no problem for my legs, I was at full song out of the gate and riding at planned power. It took me less than 15 miles to ride across to the two that had broken away in the swim, Albert & McMahon. I rolled right by them and kept rhythmically tapping out a lot of power with ease.
I hit the first turnaround in under 43 minutes. Then I completed the first loop in exactly 80 minutes. That is a dangerous number, if I do that two more times that is a 4:00 bike split. Yet the challenge began at the end of lap one as I merged into a mass exodus of age groupers beginning their Ironman bike journey. On my first lap I ruled the road picking the smoothest line of pavement I could find, on the second lap I was a prisoner of tense heads up riding as many age groupers wove left and right on the straight roads. Much of the time I spent up against the centerline of cones which was the median on a few of the roads, meant that the Metron81’s were kicking up all sorts of road debris against the downtube of my Orbea Ordu, I just kept praying for no flat tires. The volunteers at the special needs bags were money, getting me a fresh bottle of Infinit to keep me rolling the second half of the ride!
I finished lap 2 in exactly 2:40, what the heck. My hoopin’ and hollerin’ was keeping me alive and my legs were delivering uninterrupted power. I was expecting the third lap to be worse than the second lap with regards to traffic, but instead it had opened up. Now I was working through the stronger age groupers that had some bike handling skills. The aid stations were still mayhem but I was able to eke out a few bottles here and there. When I hit the final turn around at mile 93 I saw one of my buddies from college out there cheering, it definitely brought me a lot of joy and helped me relax on the bike for a few moments. I was still on planned power and I had to make the hardest decision of the day thus far, follow the plan or go to break 4 hours.
I stuck with the plan and cut the power down, get in a super-efficient aero tuck, elevate the cadence, and really started to assess where I was at physically and nutritionally. It was harder for me mentally to spin that final length than keep the hammer down. The wind was starting to holler as the clouds got dark. What the crap? The cold front was not supposed to come until 6pm, now here at 11am the front was here and it was about to get NASTY. The rain came down heavy and the desert roads became a skating rink of oil and road grime. Thank God I was only 4-5 miles from transition. The end of the bike was on a side walk and I coasted the whole way, considering how slick the porous asphalt was, I was not going to take any chances on a polished concrete sidewalk.
In T2 the volunteers were yelling “8-8-8” and I was yelling “9-9-9,” again I was about to get handed bag #8 and at the last second the volunteer grabbed #9. I feel bad for whoever #8 was because both times his transition bag got a little shaken up. In T2 I got another great volunteer as I yanked on my socks and shoes and then opted not to wear a visor since the rain looked like it was there to stay.
Out on the run I saw my wife and daughter drenched under a bridge trying to keep out of the rain, I mustered a smile as I began to tap out 6:40-6:50 miles. This was exactly where I wanted to be. I was able to stay relaxed and kept the legs rolling. At mile 3 I got my first assessment of the damage done on the bike. TJ and Sanders were running just seconds apart a full 2 miles behind. After that I stopped paying attention to anybody else and focused on nailing this run. I knew I had to keep this rolling to have a shot at winning against a charging Sanders and Tollakson. The next 11 miles went beautifully, nutrition was perfect, body was not too fatigued from the bike, I just kept rolling the 6:40-6:50 miles. Boom, the first half marathon in just over 1:28, the day was going perfectly to plan. Lap two, the same as lap one, let’s go. Now at the time check my once 2 mile lead was now under 5 minutes to Sanders and 10 minutes to Tollakson, with McMahon now in the picture at 12 minutes back. I just kept rolling, mile 16 6:48, mile 17 6:47, then…
the next thing I knew Pedro Gomes, a fellow pro that was spectating was talking to me and I was lying on the ground. I don’t know what he told me but it got me up and moving again. I don’t remember the next 9 miles, nor do I really want to. I apparently went from running a strong 6:48, to passed out on the road for about three minutes (according to Gomes), to a 7:45-8:00 mile for the final 9 miles. It was in the med tent that I would find out that Sanders won, McMahon passed Tollakson for 2nd, and I finished 4th…in an 8:05.
I ran the race back through my head, was it nutritional? Was I not recovered from 70.3 Miami and Austin in the previous weekends? Was it just Ironman being Ironman and bringing you to your knees because it can? One thing is for sure, I am back, racing well and looking forward to 2016.
Fighting to Win & Punish,