My wife, Jill, and both my girls left Colorado on Tuesday before the Sunday race to embark on a two-day drive down to Tempe, AZ. We chose to have our own personal vehicle because of convenience and cost and have made the trip down to AZ numerous times for Training Camp and visiting friends. Our friends in Fort Collins, Jason and Kelly, did IMAZ last year and rented a four-bedroom house near Tempe and when they told us about the deal they received, we knew that is what we wanted to do this year. It didn't take my parents and sister much convincing to join in and our plans quickly came together for seven of us to spend one week in Tempe with IMAZ sandwiched between days of lounging around the backyard pool and hottub, plenty of shopping for the women, Sea Life aquarium and just having fun.
Saturday before the course swim, I also had the opportunity to spend breakfast over a very large stack of pancakes at NCounter with Air Force Triathlon Teammates, Scott Poteet and John Hensz as well as Coach Dan Frost. Afterwards, the swim recon was great, felt like the water temperature was going to be a perfect 64 degrees. After bike and gear bag drop-off was complete, it was time to head home and relax for the rest of the day. Very uneventful few days of rest leading up to the race. Exactly what I had in mind.
To say Coach Frost went out of his way to take care of me would be an understatement! Dan spent most of the Friday and Saturday answering my questions, helped with a quick tune-up of my bike and even met me at my house on race morning at 5AM! After completing 13 Ironman distance races, he knew exactly what to do and what to say. I felt ZERO stress from the impending race and I was able to soak in the atmosphere of what Ironman is all about and enjoy the moment.
Race Morning: I think I'm addicted to Triathlon for one reason, race morning! I LOVE the cool, damp, darkness. The sound of generators powering floodlights as they blind the transition area. I love looking around at the nervous energy of the competitors making last minute adjustments to their bike and going through their transition bags for the 12th time. I love seeing the hopeful faces of family members, wanting to do anything for their racers, but being cordoned off...set aside as spectators, not participants. Transition area is the first feeling of "being on stage" for these triathletes and Ironman AZ was no different. Transition size and setup was not unlike any other major race, however, I was surprised of how many family members were just hanging around at 530AM! I quickly aired up my wheels, checked/rechecked and shuffled my gear in my T1 and T2 bags, and finally checked-in my special needs bags. Once everything was ready, I grabbed my swim gear and headed towards the dock edge of Tempe Town Lake. This was really the most fun parts of the day...watching 3,000 competitiors jump 6 feet off the edge into a dark lake. I decided to be a spectator for a while and continue to just soak in the moment. I was standing next to a man sort of out of place with khaki pants and an Ironman polo shirt. I looked at his credentials lanyard and recognized instantly his name: Andrew Messick, CEO of World Triathlon Corporation (Ironman)! I asked "Does this ever get old?" and with a sentimental tone to his voice, he said "Not this part of the day, isn't this great?!" I swear he had a tear in his eye, but it was still too dark to notice...I know I did.
Race: After spending 11 years of redlining anaerobic races (Sprints, Olympics and 1/2 Ironmans), I knew this was a different beast and I would have to change my approach to racing. It would be all about pace and I felt I perfected my pace through the three months of training leading up to IMAZ. The swim was comfortable. I positioned myself in the front to the right and felt the draft of similar paced swimmers throughout the race. I exited the water in 1:02 with what I estimate a 70% effort knowing that Ironman success hardly ever comes in the swim portion and a lot of racing was left to be accomplished.
I eluded to in the first paragraph how half of my goals were accomplished. One thing I practice is setting multiple goals for my "A" races in a stratified format. My first goal was to finish my first Ironman. Second, I knew I should be able to get under 10:00 with my training. Third goal, I know I'm capable of sub 9:30 after racing several 4:20 1/2 distance races and as well as my marathon and 1/2 marathon times were progressing the last couple years. Lastly, if I broke 9:30, in past years of IMAZ, the last Kona slot in my age-group was around 9:20-9:28. Within the first 25 miles of the bike, I knew the bike pace of the main group was way too much for me to hold. In the first lap of three, I stayed extremely disciplined to maintaining my watts as dozens of cyclists passed by me. This may have been one of the hardest things I've mentally had to do in a race! Why was I getting paced by so many on the bike?! For those that know me and have raced with me, that usually doesn't happen. I was still holding my watts pace through mile 37 (1st lap complete) and then I abandoned my strategy. I intentionally told myself, no more of this! I'm going after them without blowing myself up for the day. So, I increased my watt pace by 25! A calculated decision that I knew could have dire consequences later in the day for the marathon. This increase of effort was evident in my bike speed average INREASING each of the three laps from 20.5mph, 21.3mph, to 22.1mph. I still won't have the capability of uploading my SRM data until next week, however, I'm thinking my SRM needs recalibrated and somehow it occurred during the travels?? My only evidence is my IM Watt Pace in training would equal a high 21mph without race wheels, helmet, racekit, etc. On raceday I had all the bells and whistles and my IM Watt Pace was giving me a low 21mph. I was losing at least 1 to 2 mph that I didn't plan for and to get that back, I really had to use up a lot of extra calories/joules during the 5+ hour ride. Bottom line: Bike split was 5:15 instead of an anticipated 5:00 and I knew going into the run, I didn't have too many matches left unburnt.
Marathon: Go big or go home! I love running...the marathon is what builds dreams or shatters them! I was off the bike in 6:23. I started the run with an attitude of "can I run myself from behind and catch back up with a low 3:00 - 3:15 split?" I know I'm capable of it...however the energy spent on the bike described above prevented this from happening. After about mile 5, I knew the sub 9:30 goal (and Kona) was over. From that point on, it was a matter of perserverence, mental strength and getting back to the mindset of soaking up the scene, enjoying myself, encouraging people when I saw them struggling on the course, high-fiving my family when I passed them and thanking the volunteers for being so helpful. The run at Ironman Arizona is so spectator friendly, there really wasn't an area on the course where you weren't surrounded by encouraging people. This can be good and bad. Some spots out there, all you want to do is stop and walk, maybe even crawl into a hole, but you have to ask yourself...do I really want to do that in front of so many people!
I crossed that finish line to the sound of Mike Reilly and "you are an Ironman!" just shy of 10:00 with misty eyes similar to how I started, no bonk and in very good spirits. Two race goals achieved and countless objectives accomplished. An amazing experience that I could not have done without the support of my family and friends. Yes, you can be 50% successful and still have a perfect experience!