In November 2011 I volunteered for Ironman Arizona so that I could get up the next day bright and early to stand in the registration line for Ironman Arizona 2012. I got in line bright and early and was soon registered. A whole year lay ahead of me. I planned to use the same training plan that I used for Ironman Florida in 2010 and knew that “official” training wouldn’t start until sometime in April. But, as all Ironman athletes know, training technically started the next day. Building a good base prior to starting the official training is crucial. I did a half Ironman in the spring as well as several running races. I felt good as I began the official training.
April and May went well , but getting into June, I got sick. I hardly ever get sick. At least sick enough to miss work, but that’s exactly what happened. I almost missed my annual Lake Pflugerville triathlon as well, but somehow between adrenaline and will power I was able to complete it. Then in July I went on a mission trip with the youth group from church. While I was able to keep running during that week, there was absolutely no swimming or bike riding. And I wanted to be stronger on the bike this year. I wasn’t overly worried about these setbacks, but comparing my training totals from 2010 to this years’ totals, it seemed everything was down.
As I got into the peak training weeks, we had some brutally windy days for training. I did two century rides in winds over 15mph, one of which was also extremely hilly. I also did a 5 hour training ride on the trainer. Not. Fun. At. All. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right?
So, as the race approached I knew I would go in and do the best I could with the training I had done. I had some secret hopes. I wanted to be close or better on the swim than I was in Florida. I wanted to have a 6 as the first number for my bike split, even if it meant a 6:59:59, and I really wanted to go under 5 hours on the marathon. If I did this, it would mean I would set a new personal record. This didn’t seem a far stretch since my bike time in Florida was a 7:01 and my run was a 5:04.
I arrived in Tempe on the Thursday before the race. I was with two friends who were also racing. One of the first things we did was go to the athlete check-in where we signed our lives away; got our blue wristband that would indicate to the world that we were, indeed, racers; got our race caps and chips; and then last but not least, got the coveted Ironman Arizona backpack. When I did Florida, the race bag was a drawstring bag. Nice, but how many drawstring bags does one need (and let me tell you, I’ve got plenty of them). The backpack being handed out this year at Ironman races was a big bonus. It is a nice backpack and one that WILL get used.
After checking in, we had to check out the merchandise tent. Yes, they gouge you on the merchandise but you just can’t resist buying things. Ironman events have started making shirts with the M-dot logo on back made out of everyone’s name that is doing the race. This event was no different, so I had to get one of those. And I wanted a new visor. I don’t wear visors a lot but the one Ironman visor I have is lime green and, well, it really doesn’t go with a lot of things. So I got me a black one.
By this time, we were all hungry so we walked down Mill Avenue to Fatburgers. I know they have veggie burgers and that sounded really good. It was kind of surprising, though, to see how many people asked about the backpacks and what we were here for. One guy even asked if we got the backpacks “at the fair down there” (referring to the expo area). We thought that was funny.
After lunch we met up with my parents to show them how everything was set up so they would know where to go on race day to see me.
Thursday night we met up with some folks from a triathlon forum I’m a part of. It’s kind of funny to introduce yourself to people and not really know who they are until they tell you their screen name. When you hear that, you are like “oh yeah, I know who you are.” There are some really neat folks on the forum and it was nice to put some faces to the names. One of the guys there could actually be a pro if he wanted to. His mom actually was back in her prime days. He lives around Tempe and gave us some tips for race day. Thanks so much to Marianne for hosting. It was great to meet so many others and to see Bryan and his wife, Deb again. After that it was time to get settled and relax for the evening.
Friday morning we did a bike ride out on the Beeline highway. The bike course meanders from downtown Tempe out to the Beeline and then out the Beeline for about 11 miles to the turnaround at Shea and then back to town. The Beeline is a fairly steady false flat on the way out and has been known to have some pretty brutal winds. We wanted to see what it was like out there. It was cold when we started (in the 50s) but within about 10 minutes we were warm. We rode out for about 30 minutes and then turned around and came back. That ride was good for me mentally.
We headed back to town because Patrick had to be somewhere for some filming of the documentary he is a part of. Selene and I just sat in the truck and talked while he was doing his thing. When he was done we grabbed some lunch and began laying stuff out for the race. Getting ready for an Ironman race is a lot different than other races with the gear bags and special needs bags. The transition bags have to be turned in the day before the race along with your bike, so you have to make sure you have everything you will need race day in that bag.
Friday night was the athlete dinner and “mandatory” meeting. Since it was Selene’s first Ironman, we went. The food isn’t all that great, but the program is pretty inspirational. We found out that the youngest racer was 18 and the oldest was 78. We also found out that a guitar player for the country band Sugarland would be racing with all of us. After the dinner and program, the race director went over some of the rules for race day. There was nothing new so we called it a night.
Saturday morning was the practice swim. Those of you who know me well know that the swim was one of my biggest concerns. Not because of the swim itself or the distance, but because of the water temperature. I absolutely hate cold water. To me, the pool where I swim is too cold and I have to gradually get in. It’s probably low 80s. Tempe Town Lake, where the swim would take place, is usually low 60s or high 50s on race day depending on what the day time temperatures have been like. Luckily, it had been pretty warm during the days leading up to the race, so the temps were in the low 60s.
We met up with some of the other documentary folks as well as some forum folks and got suited up in the wetsuits. I did everything like I planned for race day – ear plugs, two swim caps and booties. I wanted to make sure I was as warm as possible. We walked down to the start. Slowly. I was dreading jumping in that water. I walked down the steps and told myself to just get it over with. OH MY!!!!! That initial shock was unbelievable. My hands and ears immediately went numb. Originally Selene, Patrick and I were planning on staying fairly close during the practice swim, but when I came up I saw Selene and told her I had to go. I had to get moving or I would freeze. I had no idea where Patrick was and at that point I didn’t care. I just started swimming. I was really beginning to wonder how I was going to swim 2.4 miles while being that cold. But I told myself to stay calm and just keep moving. Finally, about 200 yards in I started to get comfortable. Notice I did not say warm, but comfortable. The practice course was about 500 meters out and then 500 meters back. I think I cut it short by one buoy when I turned around, but I was ready to be out of the water. When I got out and looked at the watch I had been in the water for 20 minutes. Race day I would be in a lot longer.
I headed back down to our initial meeting site still in my wetsuit. I was still cold and it was still in the 50s. I knew if I took the wetsuit off I would get even colder. I left the wetsuit on until both Selene and Patrick were done and back at our meeting spot. Finally I got up the courage to take the wetsuit off and then I did what I call the “triathlete Houdini strip act”. I managed to change into dry clothes right there without flashing anyone. I’ve gotten pretty good at that. Several others were doing it, too. I’m sure it’s a funny site to watch.
After the swim we went back to the truck to get our transition bags and bikes so that we could turn those in. It was the last time we would see them until race morning.
We got them all situated and then met up with John “the tri doc” Tuggle. He is a chiropractor who does Active Release and Graston and has helped me with some shoulder issues I’ve had on the bike. He was racing, too, and told me he would tape me up for race day. We found a table to sit at and I got all fixed up. I thought it was funny that he bought taped that had a bio hazard logo on it. Thanks John.
We grabbed some lunch and got the rest of the stuff ready for race day. It was getting real. We met my parents and Selene’s husband along with a youth member from my church who is attending ASU for dinner. It was nice to be surrounded by family and friends for a little bit. We gave them the tickets for bike check out (just in case) and discussed where and when to meet in the morning and then headed our separate ways. I think I was in bed at 8:30p.m.
Race morning the alarm went off at 3:00a.m. I got up, got dressed, ate my breakfast, made my nutrition for the bike and gathered my things. We got to the race site and parked at 4:45. Then we made our way to transition to get body marked, drop off our nutrition, pump up the tires, and put the trackers in the transition bags. We had made plans to meet with John at 6:15 for a prayer before the race, so we headed to that spot to put the wetsuits on. That’s also where I met up with my family and handed off my pre-race clothes that I would need after the race as well. We did our prayer and then headed down to the race start.
I started taking deep breaths to prepare myself for the cold. Because of the number of athletes and the small area where athletes can jump in, it’s tough to get all 2500 athletes in the water in 15 minutes. We had decided to jump in early so that we could be at the start line when the gun went off. You probably swim 200 yards from where you jump in to the actual start and none of us wanted those extra yards to be included in our time for the 2.4 miles.
When we got to the ledge, we jumped in. It was cold, but it was not near as cold to me as the practice swim was. Selene, on the other hand, thought it was colder. I’m not sure what the actual temp was race morning but someone later posted that it was 61 degrees. We slowly made our way to the start. We ended up in the middle side-to-side and fairly close to the front. I’m not sure that was the best place to be, but it’s where we ended up so it’s what we went with. I told Selene that when the gun went off I was doing my own race. I reminded her to stay calm and just swim buoy to buoy.
The next thing we knew it was time to go. I started swimming. It was fairly crowded at the beginning and lots of contact, but nothing too bad. I mean, when you have 2500 athletes in the water you can’t expect to have your own space. I just kept going. And going. And going. The swim course is just an out and back and let me tell you, the out part seemed really long. I thought we were never going to get to the turnaround. We finally made it there and turned around for the trip back. Shortly after the turnaround, I could tell I was getting cold. At one point I looked at my time and I was 52 minutes in. I knew I’d be in the water at least another 30 minutes. At this point, I encountered the worst contact of the race. Someone actually grabbed my leg and pulled my (probably trying to pull themselves forward). I may be small, but I played basketball in high school and I’m not afraid of a little contact. I kicked hard and then did a hip check in the water to get that person away from me. I also started getting a little bit of a cramp at this point. I wasn’t sure exactly what was causing it, but I hoped it would go away.
Finally I got close to the bridges back at the start. I knew that once I went under those I wouldn’t have far to go before I made the final turn to head to the exit. It was pure joy when I made that turn. I knew I’d be out soon. I got to the steps and crawled up on them. This was the advice I was given earlier. Bryan said if you grabbed the bar, your feet would swing under the steps and it would be harder to get out. So I climbed up on them and the volunteer right there pulled me up to a standing position. I slowly walked up the remaining stairs and then had to decide if I was going to get “stripped” or not. I made the last minute decision to do it. And the volunteers definitely stripped me. I don’t think I did a thing. They unzipped me, they got the top off, they laid me on the ground, they got the wetsuit off and they stood me back up on my feet.
Swim Time: 1:24:02 for a pace of 2:10/100
I was so cold that I knew I couldn’t run. I was frozen. I saw my family briefly and started making the long way to transition.
And it was a long way. By the time I got to my transition bag I could hardly feel anything. I was hoping the changing tent would be warm. It was warmer, but I wished they had space heaters in there. I took my time (as obvious by my transition time) to change into dry clothes and make sure I had everything I needed for the bike before I headed out. Then I made the journey to get my bike and get going.
As I got close to where my bike was racked, I called out my number in hopes that a volunteer would grab my bike and have it waiting, but in the end I had to get it myself. Luckily it was only a few bikes in so it didn’t take long. When I got to the mount like there were lots of other folks. They all stopped right at the mount line. Not me. I went past them to a clear spot and got on my bike to start the 112 mile ride.
For the first part of the bike you meander through town. The course is flat, but you make several turns to get out to the Beeline highway. I probably should have pottied in transition, but somehow I missed the port-a-potties. I knew I’d need to stop soon on the bike, but I didn’t want to stop at the first aid station. I managed to make it to the second aid station and tried to take care of business. I didn’t have the success I wanted (and this would be an issue most of the day) so I just continued. I figured I’d deal with what I needed to as the day went on.
Out on the Beeline you could tell that we had a headwind for the first loop. I think at times I was going 13 or 14mph. I was thinking that people tracking me were probably wondering what was going on, but I knew once I got to the turnaround and headed back into town they would figure it out. And sure enough when I made the turn, I started flying. I was going 24mph+ and it felt great. I wanted to take advantage of the “free speed”. I didn’t feel like I was pushing it for the most part so I just went with it.
There were times when I had to push a little to keep from drafting. Although I have to say that since the bike is a 3 loop course, there were times on the first and even second loop where there was no way to not draft. There are just too many people on the course at the same time.
I do remember that I got passed by the first pro males around mile 17 or 18. They were, of course, on their second lap. I got passed by more around mile 30. I saw my family as I was making the turn around back at the transition area to head out for the second loop.
As I was heading out on the second loop on the Beeline I saw Selene heading back into town. That made me happy as I knew she was worried about making the swim cutoff. I stopped a second time at the special needs station. Not because I needed my special needs bag, but because I needed to stretch a little and try to potty again.
At mile 80 I passed John. I figured Patrick would catch me at some point as he is usually a much stronger cyclist than me, although I was having a really good bike ride for me. Finally, when I made the final turnaround on the Beeline to head back toward town, I saw Patrick. I’m not sure how far behind me he was but at least I knew he was out on the course as well. I stopped one last time to see if I could take care of business so I wouldn’t have to in transition or on the run. John passed me again about mile 105 and I told him to go and have a good race. I figured I would catch him on the run.
The one big thing from the bike that I can remember is that at some point I can actually say that I passed a pro male. I do fully admit that he seemed to be hurting and I’m sure he probably dropped out of the race, but I can say I passed a pro on the bike. Ha!
As I came back through town and got close to the transition area, I had a big smile on my face.
Bike Time: 6:42:12 for a pace of 16.71mph
I had made it through the bike with no mechanical issues or flats and it was time for the run. As I approached the dismount line a volunteer said “I’ll take your bike.” I said, “you can have it”. That got a few laughs. I headed through transition and grabbed my bag for the run as I headed into the change tent. This time it didn’t take me as long since I didn’t change clothes. I just needed to ditch the bike stuff and put on my running shoes and I was out of there. I just wish I would have remembered to change socks before I started putting my shoes on. Ooops.
The only bad thing was that the vision issues I had in Florida kind of came back while I was in the change tent. In Florida, my vision became blurry with about 12 miles left on the bike and I never got clear vision again until after the race. I figured it was either from the wind or the salt air in Florida. And once again, my vision was a little blurry. Not as bad as at Florida, but I wasn’t really looking forward to running 26.2 miles with blurry vision again. Oh well.
I headed out to do my run/walk. The plan was to run for 5 minutes and walk for 1. I felt fairly good as I headed out, but it felt like I might have a rock in my shoe. I also felt like I needed to use the restroom again. I decide I would stop at the first aid station to take care of things. If I had a rock in my shoe and left it there I knew I would have a huge blister at the end. When I got to the aid station I took off my shoe and sock. I didn’t see anything so I put it back on. I tried to take care of business without much success (this would be the theme for a while).
As I started running again I still felt like I had the rock in my shoe and I still felt like I needed to use the restroom. I stopped two more times and finally decided the “rock” in my shoe was most likely a callous that was just bothering me today. I also tried to think what could be causing the stomach issues. I have a hard time drinking enough on the bike. Always. You should drink a bottle an hour and it usually takes me 1 ½ hours to drink a bottle. On the bike today I only drank 3 bottles. I knew I was a little dehydrated. I figured I need to get more liquids in me. It also got a little warm on the bike. Not Texas warm, but the dry air can be deceptive. After a long ride in the Texas heat, I am soaked in sweat. I came off the bike today almost completely dry. I decided I needed to get more salt in me. And there was also the possibility that the earlier cramps and issues were from female issues. Sorry if that’s too much information, but I had to look at all the possibilities. At a couple of aid stations I took the salty chips. And they tasted wonderful. But that meant I also had to take water because they made me thirsty. I couldn’t run when I had two cups of stuff, so I had to walk at some of the aid stations.
I kept up with my run/walk as best as I could that first lap. I saw my family as I neared the transition area which was nice. It gave me a little boost.
I made the first lap and headed back out for the second of three laps. As I was heading out, I saw Bryan and he told me I was looking strong. That gave me a big boost.
Somewhere before mile 13 I really felt like I had to potty. I stopped for a while to hopefully take care of things for the last time. And after that I decided to try the cola at the aid stations. I hadn’t done that at Florida, but when I took that first drink here it was heaven to my mouth. Yum!!!! From there on out I would take water or ice at one station and cola at the next.
The second loop was probably the worst, at least mentally. There are some parts of the course that head out to some fairly desolate areas and it was starting to get dark. Plus, it’s hard to know that you have to pass the turn to the finish yet again and do one more loop before you are done. Eight miles of a training run aren’t that bad, but 8 mile loops during an Ironman seem to take forever. I saw my family again and finally headed out for my third and final loop. Bryan was there once again and gave encouraging words as I went on my way. I couldn’t be happier. I glanced at my watch and started calculating. Could I beat my time from Florida? What would it take to get there? I decided at this point to ignore my watch and run when I could and walk when I needed to. I knew I would finish at this point and I didn’t want to over stress my body but I still wanted to push as much as I could.
A lot of people were walking at this point, so I tried to be encouraging to those out on the course. As I was running at one point with two other women one of the spectators said “you ladies are making this look easy” and I said “we’re just really good actors”. That got a laugh.
I hit mile 23 and did calculations. I could beat my time from Florida as long as I ran some. But let me tell you. Those last three miles seemed like they took forever. When you are out on the course at this point, you are on the opposite side of the lake from the finish, but you can hear Mike Reilly at the finish line. It’s torture. You want to be there so bad. So when I made that turn to cross the bridge back to the other side I was beyond happy. And as I approached the spot where you could either turn to the finish or go out for your second or third lap, I knew I’d be making the final turn. It felt good. But darn if they didn’t make you climb a small incline to get to the finish chute. That didn’t stop me from running.
When I did Florida, I remember running down the chute, but since I couldn’t really see, I didn’t really “enjoy” it. I just ran down in the spotlight and crossed the finish line. I told myself I would enjoy this one. So I started high-fiving people. I went down one side at first and then went to the other side. I found out later if I would have stayed on the original side I would have gotten to high-five my kids. Oops. It’s just so bright that I couldn’t see them.
I got to the finish line and crossed with a huge smile on my face.
Run Time: 5:25:19 for an average pace of 12:25 per mile
Despite the cramp and cold of the water, despite the lower back pain on the bike and despite the stomach issues on the run, I felt great after crossing the finish line. I got my medal, my shirt and my hat and then I saw my family at the end of the chute. I made the detour for hugs. My daughter told me that one of her male friends watched me cross online. He told her I looked “bad ass” crossing the finish line. As a 42 year old woman, I’ll take that compliment any day from a young, fit teenage boy.
Total Race Time: 13:49:58
I got my warm clothes from my family and told them I was going to get a massage and grab some food and that I would call them in a little bit to see where to meet them. I got my massage (which wasn’t that great – she only worked on the my quads and it was my back that really needed it – but it was free so I guess I can’t complain). I went to check out the food thinking I wouldn’t be able to eat anything (I can’t eat pizza) and they had French fries. Oh yeah. I grabbed some of those and a coke and sat for a bit talking to some other finishers. Then it was time to find my family.
We sat for a bit on the sidewalk waiting for Patrick and Selene but decided based on the tracking it might be a while before they crossed the finish line. My dad had some issues and had already gone back to the car, so I got my family to help me carry the bags I had to the truck and I changed into dry clothes. They went ahead and left and I headed back to the finish line and found Selene’s husband to wait for her and Patrick. After they finished we got our transition bags and bikes and headed back to the truck.
Surprisingly, I was walking pretty normal and had lots of energy. After Florida I was exhausted. I think it was all the cola I had at the aid stations. I finally crawled into bed at 2am and then was up again Monday morning at 4am to head back downtown to get in line for finisher gear. I know, call us crazy. But I’m glad we did as the line to get in for finisher gear was over 200 deep when we left. And the volunteer line – oh my. I’m not surprised the race for next year sold out in 40 seconds. The volunteer line was probably 250-300 deep at 4:45am. It appeared that some people even camped overnight. It’s just crazy. But I got what I wanted.
I spent the afternoon packing and then the tiredness and soreness finally hit. I crawled in bed Monday night at 8pm and slept like a rock. I’m just glad I have the Thanksgiving weekend to be lazy and recover.