This is the start of the swim for this year’s Ironman Arizona.
Yes, we started swimming in the dark. Made it difficult to sight the route once the sun came up.
But I still had a better swim than I could have imagined – which was followed by a bike segment that was also much better than expected – which was followed by a run which was 15 minutes faster than last year.
All that SOUNDS good. But, in reality – not so much. But, then, maybe so…
“Lemme ‘splain. No, is too much. Lemme sum up.” – Inigo Montoya
For what seemed to be good reasons, I was particularly freaked out about this race; I knew that my training had not gone as well. I hadn’t had as much volume, it had been slower, I had done very few 100+ mile rides. I had also gotten overtrained in late summer, which made me slower; and I had to recover from being overtrained, so that made me slower. I was fat and had been sick.
In addition, the strange injury which had crippled my previous IM had returned. This was a weird something in my calf such that, when I started running, it would seize up, and it wouldn’t even let me walk freely for a few days. I kept testing it in the weeks leading up to the race, and it always showed up. This injury had caused me to walk the 26 miles of IMCdA, only daring to run the last two tenths down the chute.
So I wasn’t really looking forward to this race. I mentioned several times in the weeks leading up to IMAZ that perhaps we should just go ahead and sell out and move to Cozumel; this is my default response to anything I don’t like.
I was actually walking around scared for days before flying down to PHX, and then for the days before the race; on Saturday, I was well-nigh paralyzed. (My friend Tia decided to rub some lavender under my nose, as she thought this would calm me down. I had mixed emotions about that 🙂 I was doing a lot of praying and going through Step 10 over and over again. Ethel was remarkably consistent throughout this period; she just kept telling me that I was going to do the race, even though I kept asking her to take me back to the airport.
So when I woke up on Sunday morning, I could barely move; I thought for a while that fear had actually paralyzed me, or made me comatose. But I got in the car and Ethel drove me to the transition area and I went through the motions and eventually realized that, no, I wasn’t actually scared any more – I was calm. As has happened with so many things in my life, the purpose of the fear was to stop me from acting; once I realized that I was going to go ahead, the fear gave up and went back to wherever it comes from.
I made some mistakes in setting up transition that would haunt me later, but as scattered as I was, that’s to be expected. I said my prayers and got my last set of hugs and kisses and got into the line to go into the water.
Unlike previous Ironman events, I found myself looking forward to getting into the water; Corch Ian had given me his old Blue Seventy Helix wetsuit, and that darn thing was shaving 10-15 seconds/100y of my swim times. I’d done the practice swim the day before and knew that the water felt just the right temperature, so in I went! Wheee!
Corch had told me to stay to the right, out of the craziness, so I did that, and encountered none of the normal panic or shortness of breath that usually attends big swim starts. From the get-go I felt like this was something I knew how to do; the only real issue occurred when the sun came up, and it became more difficult to sight staring directly into the dawn. It cost me about 150 yards worth of wasted distance on the way out, but once I made the turn, that was over. Time to swim!
It seemed like I was passing folks the whole way, and I came out of the water in 1:25:58 – according to my Garmin, the 4224 yards turned into 4331 (due to my wandering) at 1:59/100y. Sub-2 pace for an Ironman! Woo-hoo!
…While I love the way that the Helix lets me swim, it is a tight fit, so I lost a good bit of time in transition while two volunteers tried to get my rather corpulent self out of the wetsuit. But even though I lost minutes, I was still so excited about my swim that nothing could affect my spirits, and I went through transition in 12-something and was on the bike and heading down the road.
And that’s when the trouble started.
For one thing, I had put my BAT tracking beacon in the wrong bag, so I didn’t have it with me on the bike. And I was going through transition in a hurry, so I forgot to get my FOOD! So I started the bike without having eaten anything yet.
The bike course is a triple out-and-back – surface streets through Tempe, then out the Beeline Highway to the eastern edge of Fountain Hills. It’s a mild uphill on the way out – no real hills for somebody who’s been doing St. George and Coeur D’Alene. I figured it would go great.
The forecast had said “High of 78, calm wind”, but everybody who’d done this race had said beforehand that “There will be a headwind on the Beeline Highway”. I need to remember to listen to folks.
As soon as I came out of the built-up area around the race start, I felt the headwind. The further out I went, the worse the wind got. I watched my speed drop and drop even though I was putting out the same number of Watts, and started to get discouraged.
But I told myself that “winds are usually at their highest in the early morning and late evening, when the temperature changes are greatest” (note: I have no idea if this is true, but it sounded good, and it got me through the first loop).
I stopped on the way back down the Beeline at Special Needs and went ahead and got my bag of goodies, since I hadn’t had anything to eat, and ate my first burrito by holding it between the aero bars. Came back down to Tempe and made the turnaround.
Uh-oh – if anything, the wind has picked up for the second loop! NOOOO!!!!
All the way back out to Fountain Hills, I got more and more discouraged; I finally told God that, if He would get me out of this, I wouldn’t do another Ironman until He told me to do so. Made the turn and ate my second burrito, and really picked up some speed on the way back to town; but as I got near Tempe, I realized that I was about to learn something about my character; would I actually have the will to turn around and head back into that uphill headwind a third time? Or would I just wave at Ethel and head on into the chute and say “Well, it wasn’t my day!” ?
It seems, though, that when I got back to Tempe I was so busy looking for Ethel on the way into town that I forgot to quit, and I headed back out – and Glory be! …the wind had died down!
At this point, something clicked, and I just started pushing hard – all during the third loop, the only folks who passed me were half my age, half my weight, and were on bikes that cost three times as much as my Noble Steed. I was flying, and having a ball! For the second time – wheeee!
Came off the bike in 6:09 – a 59 minute improvement over IMCdA – and came out of the second transition under 8 hours; so if I could maintain the 15 minute pace walking that I did the previous year, I was assured of at least an hour PR. Wheeee!
But the first two walking miles, I wasn’t maintaining that pace; I was more along 16:00 or 16:30 for some reason. I reckon it was pushing the bike so hard that was keeping me from being able to walk with the same stride and cadence as last year.
Well, as Shepard Book told Jayne, “If you can’t do something smart, do something right.”
I decided that, even if I had to limp, I’d still be able to finish under the cutoff, so I might as well try to run. I started running 400 steps and walking 400 steps, and that got my pace down around 12 minutes.
When I came through the transition area after four miles, Ethel saw me running and freaked out. I said “Well, might as well try it”. And I kept going.
The “run” (read: run/walk) went up and down both sides of the river – first a 4 mile east/west, then a 9 mile loop that went west, crossed the river, went east to the turnaround, and back. So from the four mile mark all the way to the half marathon, I didn’t see Ethel. But I kept going – 400 run, 400 walk – and was still doing that at the halfway point, at which point Ethel seemed amazed. Made it around the second 4 mile loop (Ethel was still amazed, but I was starting to hurt) and kept going until the mile 18 sign.
At this point, Church was Out 🙂
The run/walk was now over; the death march began.
It HURT – EVERYTHING hurt. And it kept hurting worse and worse. I just kept walking. I watched my pace get slower and slower, but it didn’t seem to matter – I knew that I could fall down and roll the rest of the way, and I’d still have a PR.
My friends Tia and Chad came out to meet me around mile 24, by which time I was actually whimpering with every step – “hmmpp! hmmpp! hmmpp! hmmpp!” They thought that this was hilarious (I hate my friends Tia and Chad 🙂 and they accompanied me almost all the way to the chute.
I was in more pain than I could recall ever being in before, but I picked up my feet and managed to “jog” through the chute. I was delirious and stupid with fatigue; I did not hear Mike Reilly say that I was an Ironman. But I did see Kim as I came through the chute – in addition, our friends Bob and Caroyl, whom I had understood were in Cozumel, seemed to be with her, and so now I knew delirium had set it.
I crossed the line in 14:22, an hour and twenty-eight minute PR.
Turns out that Bob and Caroyl were really there – they had flown back to PHX, and had decided to come see me finish before going to their house. Corch Ian was waiting for me at the finish as well, and there was my sweetie girl, all smiles and encouragement.
I was in more pain than I would have believed, and I was hungry, and I was tight – gave high-fives all around, and then went into the massage tent.
(The after-race events were rather peculiar, and will be discussed under separate cover).
I was very pleased with the race, and wound up signing up for next year just three days later (I’m assuming that God told me to, but sometimes God sounds like Ethel). I’d’a thought that a 14:22 would be a good place to quit, but the fact that I still wasn’t able to maintain a run/walk through the whole marathon left me determined to do a full Ironman right, at least once.
I had an easy week, and then started winter training. I’ve decided to (maybe) get a new tri bike, but not until I get down to race weight. I’m going to do everything I can to have at least ONE complete race next year.