Ironman Arizona 2012 Race Report

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Ironman Arizona is complete and I had an amazing day! I did not meet my time goal but I am VERY happy with the result anyway and you will find out why if you make it through this race report.

Since this was my first full Ironman and my training was not exactly “by the book” or normal for a good portion of the season, I am going to give a lot more details about the entire season, training leading up to the race, my nutrition struggles, the entire weekend in Tempe, the race itself, and much more. Because of that, this is a VERY long race report. I have partitioned the post out with headings for each section so you can skip parts easily if you like but a lot of it ties together so you might want to crack open a beer and relax if you really want to get the whole story here. Heck, maybe I can drag out this intro a little more too…blah, blah, blah, this is going to be a lengthy report, blah, blah, blah, I hope you can read it all, blah, blah, blah…ah yes, there we go. OK, now to the report.

The Reason



Why Ironman Arizona? Why 2012?

Several things fell into place over the last few years that made Ironman Arizona 2012 the perfect choice for my first Ironman.

First of all, while I have been inspired by others and had the itch to do an Ironman for quite some time, I have just never been one of those people that just wants to “finish” an Ironman. I have no problem with those that do an Ironman in their second season or after only having done a sprint triathlon. Some people are inspired by a friend that completed an Ironman or they are challenged by a group of friends to go complete an Ironman together. That is all fine and those people are certainly an inspiration. I, however, tend to wait until I feel I am ready to “race” an event before I give it a go…that is just me. I started triathlons in 2005 with a sprint and didn’t do my first half ironman until 2008 because I felt I needed more experience at shorter distances before I could put in a performance that would meet my standards. As I write this, I worry that it sounds snooty and I hope no one takes it that way. This is simply my way of racing and has nothing to do with anyone else and their racing choices. I met someone at Arizona that was doing their first Ironman and had never done anything over a sprint before. I think that is perfectly fine (as long as it is done correctly) but it does not fit my personality or style. I usually won’t do it until I feel I am ready to race it all the way through on my terms…which are different terms than other people may have. 2012 brought about a lot of things necessary for me to be able to commit to a full Ironman training schedule and race on my terms.

In previous years, with a full time job, twin girls, and a coaching business, I had a hard enough time fitting in proper half iron training and just didn’t feel that I had the time to commit to Ironman. 2012 was different because I knew that I was planning to quit my engineering job at the end of 2011 (ended up being March of 2012 due to project extension). My wife and I had decided that we no longer wanted to be away from the girls all day and that it would be great if one of us could stay home. With my coaching business (especially the quickly developing Beachbody Coaching element), and the fact that she made more money as an engineer anyway, I was the obvious choice and gladly volunteered to work from home and take care of the kids. While I may have SLIGHTLY (read as MAJORLY) overestimated the amount of free time this would afford me, it did make training for an Ironman much more manageable than it would have been otherwise.

I chose Ironman Arizona for two reasons: 1) A flat bike course (which plays to my strengths on the bike…I do not climb hills well) and 2) At the time of registration, my wife was supposed to be heading to San Diego for a six month assignment that would last into December (past race day). With Tempe being a 5-6 hour drive from San Diego, it seemed like a perfect spot. I had also done my first half iron under similar conditions. In 2008, we were both in San Diego on assignment and we drove over to Tempe for the Soma Half Iron where I completed my first half in just over 5 hours (5:12 and some change).

Earlier in the year, reason number 2 went away and my wife ended up changing jobs within the same organization which cancelled our trip to San Diego. So, now Arizona was not as much the obvious choice but it was still a good course for me and I knew it would bring back fond memories of Soma so now we just had to fly down instead of drive…no big deal.

The Training

The Race Schedule and the Detours

My season was a little unorthodox but it didn’t really start out that way. My original race plan laid out like this:

April 29 – Eugene Marathon (Goal of 3:30)
July 14 – Ocean Shores Half Iron (Goal of sub 5 hours)
November 18 – Ironman Arizona (Goal of sub 11 hours)

I was planning to focus mostly on running with 3 swim workouts per week and only 2 bike workouts up to the Eugene Marathon, then increase biking significantly while maintaining run and swim fitness for the 10 weeks leading into Ocean Shores, then take 2 weeks of recovery and maintenance after Ocean Shores, and then do a 16 week build to Ironman Arizona.

The first part of that plan went pretty much on track. I had some issues getting in some key workouts in February due to the project extension and long hours when I was expecting to be done with my job, but in general, the training leading up to Eugene went pretty well. I felt very good about my chances of hitting 3:30 and I was hitting most if not all of my swim workouts and building a little bit of base bike fitness. Here is how the schedule actually ended up playing out though:

April 29 – Eugene Marathon (Goal of 3:30, actual time of 3:34, Race Report HERE)
July 14 – Ocean Shores Half Iron (Goal of Sub 5 hours, actual time of 5:03, Race Report HERE)
July 21 – Fat Salmon 3.2 mile open water swim (Race Report HERE)
July 22 – Seafair Sprint Triathlon (Race Report HERE)
July 25 – August 14 – Ultimate Reset and no workouts (See details and review HERE)
September 30 – Race for a Soldier Half Marathon (PR of 1:38)
November 18 – Ironman Arizona (Goal of sub 11 hours, actual time of 11:48)

So, I missed my time by a little at Eugene by falling apart in the last 5 miles or so. Again, I had nutritional issues as I experimented with my nutrition and tried to figure out what was going to work for me. The bike buildup and swim/run maintenance went pretty well up to Ocean Shores although I missed some volume here and there that probably would have helped. Again, I had nutrition issues as I changed it up again in response to Eugene (the lack of water on the run course didn’t help either). However, at this point, the training and racing was pretty normal for a buildup to an Ironman. A half iron race 3 months or so before the Ironman, some nutritional experimentation, etc.

This is where I really went off the beaten path though. I had signed up for the Fat Salmon and the Seafair Sprint on a whim back in June and didn’t think it would mess with my training much. I didn’t plan to taper down for any of it or anything like that…I just planned to have a little fun that weekend and train right through it. However, while I was in Vegas at the end of June, I was convinced that I needed to do the Ultimate Reset and I couldn’t wait until after Ironman. The only spot to fit it in was right after Seafair and BEFORE the buildup to Ironman. This would end up taking my Ironman buildup from 16 weeks as planned (after the 2 week recovery period that was already planned) down to just 13 weeks and would be directly following 3 straight weeks of absolutely no workouts and likely a great deal of weight loss. As I said, this is not exactly an orthodox training protocol and I was well aware of that fact…and even if I wasn’t on my own, several people made sure that I knew how crazy that was. I won’t go into any more detail as to why I made this decision here on this post but you can read my Ultimate Reset Review and Training Update blog to get more details if you wish. Just to put it out there, I now believe more than ever that it WAS the right decision for me even if it was rather risky and unorthodox. I lost 17 pounds that I badly needed to lose and maintained that weight loss right up to IMAZ.

To top that unorthodox training decision off, after I got back into Ironman buildup, I decided to sign up for a half marathon with my wife. The Race for a Soldier is a fun race in Gig Harbor for a good cause and it offered child care during the race (at the YMCA where the race started). I had a 15 mile run on the schedule for that week (actually supposed to be on Wednesday) so I figured it would be fine. It landed right on the end of a recovery week (the 4th week after 3 weeks of build). This all seemed fine to me when I signed up but then the competitor in me took over and I decided that I wanted to PR at this half marathon. The course is very hilly and my previous PR of 1:42ish meant that I would have to run in the 7:30 pace range to get a PR by any significant amount. I did not realize just how hilly the course was when I set a goal of 1:38 with a friend that was also running the race…but once it was set, there was no going back and I certainly had not done enough threshold work to be able to PR and not be extremely sore. So, what happened? Well, I did PR and came in at 1:38:15…and I paid for it with a nearly completely ruined week of training. I was so sore from that effort on that hilly course that swimming was about the only work that I could do…I essentially added in an additional recovery week that was not planned.

TIP: Don’t race a half marathon, or any other race, all out at the end of a recovery week and expect to jump back into a build week just a day or two later. My recommendation would be to run it easy if you want to run it for the cause or for fun or schedule it near the end of your last build week before a recovery week so you can utilize the recovery week to get ready for more Ironman build. The way I did it made for a good half marathon performance but it cost too much in the end. In reality, I kind of figured it would when I found out how hilly the course was but I just did it anyway. Don’t do that.

Other than that mistake (which was fun but definitely still a mistake in terms of Arizona training), the 13 weeks of buildup following the Ultimate Reset went extremely well. There were a few hiccups here and there like the rainy 90 mile ride in the cold rain that I was unprepared for (in terms of gear) that caused me to miss much of the run afterwards because I could not feel my extremities. Overall, though, the training was very encouraging and mostly well-executed.

The Training Plan

Below is a general overview of a typical non-recovery training week for me during the different phases I mentioned above. As I mentioned, during most of this training, I was working from home with the kids. So, I had some advantages in fitting in training like this but it was still difficult at times and I did not make every workout. I was able to utilize the YMCA child care for my swim workouts, family (Grandma and Aunt Nancy) for some other workouts, and nights in the garage after putting the girls to bed for others. My wife took the burden on the weekends for my longer sessions.

Early Season Training (leading into Eugene)

Monday – Rest Day (P90X2 Recovery and Mobility)
Tuesday – 3000 yd swim workout, P90X2 Core or Run
Wednesday – 1 hour bike (often on Trainer and technique focused), Run
Thursday – 3000 yd swim workout, P90X2 Total Body and Run
Friday – P90X2 Yoga, Run
Saturday – Long Bike, 4000 yd swim workout, P90X2 Ab Ripper
Sunday – Long Run

Each one of these workouts had a specific purpose. So, where you see “Run” it may have been a track session, a tempo session, a recovery session, or something else. The swim workouts were detailed and focused on specific elements of form and stroke length and rate as well. The strength sessions were focused on building a strong foundation of strength on which to build power and speed later.

Mid Season Training (after Eugene and leading into Ocean Shores)

Monday – Rest Day (P90X2 Recovery and Mobility)
Tuesday – 4000 yd swim workout, Bike
Wednesday – Bike, Short Run
Thursday – 4000 yd swim workout, P90X2 Phase II or III workout
Friday – Bike
Saturday – Long Brick
Sunday – Run, Open Water Swim, Yoga

Again, each workout had a specific purpose. The bike workouts included power intervals on the trainer, hill repeats outdoors, threshold sessions, and recovery sessions. The runs were mostly maintenance and recovery and the swims were detailed and focused as usual.

Following Ultimate Reset (13 week build to Ironman)

Monday – Rest Day (P90X2 Recovery and Mobility), A.R.T. Chiropractor Session
Tuesday – 4000 yd swim workout, 2:30 bike ride
Wednesday – Long Run, P90X2 Ab Ripper
Thursday – 4000 yd swim workout, 2:30 Brick
Friday – 2:00 Brick with longer run
Saturday – Long Bike or long brick
Sunday – Open Water swim or pool workout, Treadmill run, Yoga

This does not include the Fit Club workouts that I was also doing throughout the summer on Tuesday nights. Again, here each workout had a focus and it changed week to week and it changed based on how I felt. If I had a hard session planned but I felt weak, I would do a recovery effort instead or shorten the number of intervals.

TIP: You’ll notice that I put my long runs on Wednesday instead of Sunday. The most common thing that I have seen in long course training plans is putting your long run on Sunday following a long bike or brick on Saturday. The rationale behind this is usually that it teaches you to run long on tired legs. I have seen a few coaches and articles claiming that this is not necessary and possibly even not as effective as breaking up your long run and long bike or brick into different parts of the week. The other reason for putting them together is simply because the average age group Ironman athlete has to put long workouts on the weekend due to time constraints from the day job. Since I did not have that day job constraint, I decided to try this alternate method and only put one long day on the weekend and do my long run during the week. The theory behind this is that you will get a higher quality long run and gain more confidence if not more fitness in the end. The bricks will take care of learning to run off the bike with tired legs. I have done the long run after the long bike before in previous seasons while training for a half ironman and a marathon (and did it early in this season) and I must say that I thought this method was MUCH better. I had amazing long runs and was able to focus my energy on the long bike/brick on the weekend. Obviously, this is not going to work for everyone but I recommend trying it if you have the schedule flexibility.

The Taper

I chose to complete my last BIG week of training two weeks out from Ironman Arizona and start the peak/taper phase at that point. In this phase I simply pulled the volume back significantly and did a lot of race pace practice efforts in smaller doses than the race. My entire last week consisted of workouts like 30 minutes of swimming with 6 x 100 at race pace/tempo, followed by 50 minutes on the bike with 6 x 90 seconds at race pace/power/heart rate, followed by 30 minutes running with 4 x ¼ mile at race pace/heart rate. Those workouts continued through the final week while going from 6 x 100 to 4 x 100 on the swim and lowering total time to 20 min and similar reductions on bike and run. The idea was to keep the muscles firing and maintaining peak fitness without introducing any more fatigue and allowing the muscles to repair completely. I monitored the feeling in my quads, calves, and hamstrings closely during the race pace efforts throughout the week. By Thursday of race week my goal was to feel no fatigue or soreness AT ALL when pushing the 90 second race pace efforts on the bike or the ¼ mile race pace efforts on the run and I was able to achieve that.

The Travel



Well, we probably should have done a little more research on traveling for an Ironman before booking flights and hotel. My wife usually does the travel reservations for stuff like this and she started out thinking of a Saturday flight there and a Monday flight back. I immediately scolded her for rushing me on my Ironman weekend and told her that we needed to fly Friday at the latest. Well, then the athlete guide came in email and I read that I had to be checked in (in person) by 5pm on Friday evening. Our flights (booked through Travelocity and non-refundable) were scheduled to arrive at 2:42pm on Friday. So, we were faced with the prospect of arriving just over 2 hours before the last minute to check in and trying to get through the airport with bags, car seats, a bike, and twin 3-year olds and then trying to pick up a rental car and find our way to the race area in an unfamiliar town. If anything was delayed, it would not have worked out very well.

Travelocity wanted like $700 to change to an earlier flight so we went through all kinds of options including buying a cheap one way ticket for me to go on Thursday and the family to follow on Friday. Eventually, we were able to call directly to the airline and change to an earlier flight for no charge. Then, when we arrived at the airport, my seat didn’t get changed somehow and I almost didn’t get on the plane. We had to get a manager and complain and they had to offer $300 vouchers and ask for volunteers to take a later flight in order to get me on the flight. Not exactly the stress you need before an Ironman.

From there, the flight and hotel and rental car arrangements went fine. We made it in plenty of time to check in for the race. Although, traveling with that much stuff and little kids is, of course, not the easiest thing to do.

Our flight back home was scheduled for 11:30 am on Monday. What I didn’t realize when we made that plan was that I was going to have to pack my bike in the case the very same night that I just finished an Ironman. Thankfully, I felt pretty good and it wasn’t bad but it could have been a huge problem if I had been in bad shape after the Ironman. An 11:30am flight doesn’t seem that terribly early but with packing and kids, it is not what you feel like doing right after the day you just had on Sunday. Why am I telling you all of this? Simply so I can give you this tip…

TIP: If you have the flexibility and finances, make your Ironman trip a day or two longer on each end than I did. Turns out that many people arrive almost a week before and stay 2 or 3 days after. That is a good plan if you can swing it. If you do TriBike Transport or something like that so you don’t have to worry about your bike, and you don’t need to acclimate to race weather conditions, then getting there before Thursday doesn’t seem necessary, but leaving any earlier than Tuesday after a Sunday race is not going to be fun.

The Weekend, the Family, the Friends

Friday

So, we went straight to the race site for check-in from the airport and rental car place. We just found some street parking and I ran into the park and got checked in as quickly as possible. We actually parked right outside the new Trisports.com store that they just opened in Tempe. I ran in there real quickly and picked up a few CO2 cartridges for the bike (can’t fly with them) right after I checked in. One thing the Ironman races do well is swag (and they should for how much they charge). I got this great backpack at check-in.

Then, we headed down to the hotel (about 4 miles from the race site). We usually stay in an Embassy Suites or some other “suite” hotel when we travel with the kids because they have an actually separate bedroom so we can close the door and still have lights on after the girls go to bed. So, we booked a room at the Embassy Suites in Tempe. They are not the cheapest but they usually have amazing breakfast buffets and free drinks and snacks in the evening. This Embassy Suites was no exception. The breakfast buffet was impressive and there was free beer, wine, and mixed drinks at the bar with some pretty tasty snack foods every evening. It was a very nice hotel.

My parents made the trip out from Colorado to support me (actually, it turned out it was more to support my wife and help with the kids…which is supporting me too). We arranged to have adjoining rooms at the Embassy Suites and they checked in shortly after we did (it was about 3pm at this point).

I went about unpacking and assembling my bike while talking with my parents and catching up. Then, my parents took care of the kids while my wife and I drove down to the race site for the athlete dinner and meeting.

The athlete meeting is supposed to be mandatory but I know many don’t show up. I figured I would since it was my first one. I was NOT impressed with the athlete dinner. My advice on the athlete dinner is to go by yourself if you want to make use of it since it is free for you. I took my wife and the cost of a ticket for her was $30. Basically, it was an outdoor, seat yourself on folding table and chairs, buffet style dinner with iceberg lettuce as a salad, oily noodles, tomato sauce, chicken, rolls and cookies with bottled water in a kid’s swimming pool full of ice. Not worth $30 in the slightest.

The athlete meeting was fairly informative but it was all stuff that you should know if read the athlete guide and did your part before coming to the race. The program during the dinner with Mike Reilly was kind of fun but still not worth paying extra for family to come in my opinion.

We got back to the room around 9pm and I spent an hour or so putting together my Swim-to-Bike bags and my Bike-to-Run bags. They both have to be dropped off along with your bike on the day before the race. When, those were all put together, it was off to bed.

Saturday

The plan for Saturday morning was to hit the breakfast buffet with my folks and then head down to the race site where they had an organized practice swim (had to wear your timing chip to get in and out since swimming is not normally allowed…it had to be an organized swim) which I would follow with a 20 minute bike ride (basically just to check the bike adjustment and reassembly), and a 15 minute run. We got down to the race site at around 9:45 or so and I threw the wetsuit on and hopped into Tempe Town Lake (I’ll talk about my opinion of the cleanliness of the lake in the swim section…not here). I swam about 15 minutes in the wetsuit and then put the bike shoes and helmet and road along Rio Salado Parkway for about 20 minutes to check the bike out. The bike switched gears perfectly and tires held air fine. I followed that with a 10 or 15 minute run from the park across the new pedestrian bridge (relatively new…wasn’t there in 2008) across Tempe Town Lake. All of it felt amazing and I felt so fresh and ready to race. I think my taper went perfect!

As I side note, since I am proud of this, my Dad mentioned after my practice swim that he could tell which yellow cap I was in the water, amongst the pack of 3 I was swimming in, because I was the only one making no splash! A testament to my Total Immersion training! I am not sure there is anything better you could say to a TI coach or swimmer! Swimming in the top 10-15% of the field and making no splash without having done ANY swimming in high school or college…not a lick of lap swimming until 2005 and finding Total Immersion in 2006…that is a testament to Total Immersion and the amazing coaches and mentors that I have met through that program.

Anyway, with the practice swim/bike/run sessions out of the way, I repacked my transition bags and got in line to check my bike and bags in. I racked my bike in its assigned spot, placed my bags on the ground in the piles of other bags in the numbered area and took a tour of the transition area to see where we were supposed to come in and out. It always pays to check that stuff out when you are not stressed and visualize yourself coming from the swim, through the T1 bags, into the tent, out to your bike, back in from the bike, through the T2 bags, into the tent again, and off on the run course.

That was the last race-related event of Saturday so we had the rest of the day to do whatever we want. My Mom had done some research on things to do with kids and found that they have an Aquarium in Tempe that sounded like a lot of fun. So, we left the race site about noon and headed down to the mall for some lunch and then visited the Aquarium (which was actually in the mall) for an hour or maybe more.

After the Aquarium, we all went back to the hotel and I did my best to rest for the remainder of the afternoon until dinner.
We found a place just a few miles from the hotel to eat an Italian meal (a common meal for the night before a big race for me). It was a place called RigaTony’s and it was not bad at all. In addition to my wife and girls and my parents, my good buddy and upline Beachbody Coach, Dave Ward, drove out from San Diego to support me and met us for dinner. Who would have thought that I would meet another triathlete on Facebook two years ago and end up starting a business venture with him and we would end up good enough friends that he would drive 6 hours just to watch me race. It has been an interesting and amazing 2 years!

We had a nice dinner and then it was back to the hotel for bed and final preps (special needs bags, race day clothing, etc). My parents kept the kids in their hotel room so Paula and I could get up and head to the race in the morning without waking them up.

Sunday – Race Day!

My wife and I left the hotel around 5 am on race day and stopped to get Paula a coffee (I will go into detail on my nutrition later). Parking for athletes is available in the US Airways building directly across the street from the race site and is quite convenient.
I went into transition, pumped my bike tires up, filled my aero bottle on the bike, and got my body markings. Then, I left transition, dropped off my special needs bags and saw my wife again. Then, it was time to wait in a porta potty line, put my wetsuit on, and drop off my morning clothes bag. Nothing left but race time now.

My wife was great support throughout the day and had my phone with her so she could post pics and updates to my Facebook page. Her coverage of the race throughout the day was great. In addition, Dave had rented a bike in Scottsdale and was roaming the course with his Go Pro camera and a telephoto lens. There is a video that he made at the bottom of this post. His support throughout the day was awesome as well. My parents, who decided to come without my prompting, were probably the most important addition to the support team. After thinking more about it and hearing the stories, I don’t know how my wife would have handled those two girls for that many hours without the help and still been able to support me…it would not have been possible. Not to mention that we would have had to bring them even earlier if my parents weren’t there (they came with the girls after I was on the bike). Even after the race was over, my parents took the girls to get food and took them back to the hotel which allowed my wife and I to go get my bike out of transition and get all of my stuff back to the car without having to wrestle two very tired kiddos.
All in all, the support from family and friends that were there on site was incredible. A special thanks is definitely due my wife, my parents, Dave, and my little girls for all they endured throughout the day to support my race day.

My wife even made support team shirts for everyone.  Team Rhino!

In addition to my onsite crew, I had an unbelievable level of online support. There were dozens of posts on my FB wall, text messages, and there were people stalking my stats on the ironman tracking site. Comments of encouragement were posted on my pics and on my wall throughout the day. Although I couldn’t see them while racing, I knew they were there and it kept me going throughout the day. For instance, one person in particular (Rich Seibert, our West Sound Tri Club president) told me to remember that every time I went across a split timing mat and heard that timing chip beep that I should imagine it was him yelling encouragement at me from his computer. I DID remember that while I was out on the course and I got in the habit of yelling (at the top of my lungs) out on the bike course “Rich Seibert, Whoooo!” (think Rick Flair) every time I would hear that beep…and, yes, I am serious…I actually did that and it really pumped me up. That kind of stuff is what makes these races memorable. I will forever remember yelling like Rick Flair on the bike course because of Rich. Oh, and just so you know, yelling like Rick Flair goes back to my high school days and is a bit of an inside joke…does that make it sound a little less weird? ;o)

The Race



Now, for the actual play-by-play of the race…the part many of you were waiting for and thought I would never get to.

Pre-Race Nutrition

My pre-race nutrition protocol consisted of Shakeology at 3:30 am (made with skim milk) and 1 package of Generation UCAN mixed with water and 1 serving of Vega Sport Pre Workout Engergizer taken 45 minutes prior to swim start.

The Swim

Tempe Town Lake is often referred to as “disgusting” by the locals and they can’t understand why we would want to swim in it.  I have done two races in it now and have never had a problem with it.  I think the main issue is that you literally cannot see your hand under water if it is at arms length from your face.  However, there is no smell or taste to the water that would suggest that the lack of visibility is due to anything other than suspended sand/silt from storm runoff.  It is not waste water you are swimming in.  It is certainly not the cleanest lake I have been in but I have never had an issue getting sick or finding it disgusting when I was in it.  The water temperature was approximately 64 degrees for our race so it was just about right or slightly on the cold side.

The swim start for IMAZ is a “deep water start” (meaning you are treading water when the gun goes off…not running in from a beach or diving off a dock or boat). The pro men start at 6:45, pro women start at 6:50 and, in true Ironman style, EVERYONE else goes at 7am. That is approximately 2400 competitors all starting at the same time. You may have seen the mayhem and craziness of an Ironman mass start but nothing prepares you for being a part of your first one and I knew that going into the race. Despite the fact that swimming is my strongest event, I was a bit nervous about the mass start since it was my first. My general mindset on the race was that I was nervous about the start but figured that it would be smooth sailing after the start all the way through the first lap of the run. I was just about right on except that the “start” lasted a bit longer than I expected.

I got in the water around 6:40 or so and treaded water for 20 minutes waiting for the cannon. I was about 4 people from the front and right about in the middle (side to side) of the pack as best I could tell. One other guy right next to me asked me what my goal time was and I told him “1:00 to 1:05” and he confirmed that he was shooting for about the same time…so we both figured we were close enough to the right place.

When the gun went off it was mayhem as you would expect but I was not getting kicked or punched. There were people grabbing my feet and thighs and a little bit of rough play but nothing major where I was. The water was anything but open and clear though.
As usual, I had my tempo trainer on and set to 1.03. I settled into that tempo fairly quickly but it was interrupted often with having to swim around someone or recover from someone grabbing me or pushing me. It really wasn’t bad though. One thing I can say for sure is that having an extremely relaxed recovery and swimming from the core (as opposed to having tense extremities) is extremely helpful in a situation like this. As I would get pushed and splashed and grabbed, it never really caused more than a slight hiccup in my stroke. If you think about it, if you have a tense recovery arm and it gets pushed or bumped, that will affect your entire body through that tense arm. However, a relaxed recovery arm will be the only thing that moves when it gets bumped and will not affect body position or the entire stroke as much.

So, the first half of the swim went well but it was VERY crowded. It never really seemed to clear out much on the way out. The IMAZ course is a simple rectangle, by the way…just one loop. So, you swim out, take a left, take another left shortly after, swim back, take one last left toward shore and you are done. By the time we reached the first turn, I would compare the crowd to that of a typical age group start in a 70.3 race (such as Lake Stevens). That was a bit unexpected…I thought it would have cleared more than that by that point.

I checked my watch at the second left right before heading back on the long back stretch and it was just under 30 minutes. Based on the fact that you start several hundred yards down the lake from the swim exit, I figured that meant I was on track for a 1:03ish swim. On the way back, I went wide of the buoy line by about 80-100 feet and found some clear water (finally) and swam by myself on tempo for a while. That part was magnificent. I merged back in just before the final turn to shore and was again in the thick of what felt like an age group start crowd right up to the stairs out of the water.

The first stair out of the water is right at water level and I had a bit of a time getting out even with the volunteer support…mostly because I was trying to get my foot on the first step instead of my knee. When I switched to putting my knee on the step, it was easy and I was quickly out of the water and headed for the strippers…wetsuit strippers.

My swim time: 1:05:39

I was plenty happy with that swim time. I didn’t push the swim, stayed on tempo most of the time, felt relaxed, and didn’t use too much energy. Would have been nice to be a bit closer to an hour but it was a good swim.

T1

The wetsuit strippers made quick work of removing my wetsuit, although they were a bit confused by the two piece design of the De Soto. I have always had pretty decent transitions with the De Soto myself, but they must not see a lot of the two piece designs because it stumped them for a second. No big deal though, it was quick enough and I was off on a jog to the “swim-to-bike” bag area and then the transition tent.

I got my bag quickly and then found a seat outside of the tent (since it was pretty busy) and calmly got my stuff together to go out on the bike. I did not rush at all in this transition. Everything went smoothly but I certainly wouldn’t call it fast. Going into the race I had no goal transition times so I just did what I needed to do and moved on.

I ran through the tent, got sunscreen on the other end (which hurt a bit because I had some wetsuit chaffing on my neck and that sunscreen stings!), and ran out into the sea of bikes. I was yelling my number the whole time so someone could grab my bike for me but it didn’t work out for me. A volunteer ran down the aisle right in front of me and grabbed 1325 off the rack instead of 1335 so I just ran right by her and got my bike myself. No big deal.

T1 Time: 6:29

The Bike

Bike Nutrition: 2 salt stick caps per hour taken on the :00 and :30 of every hour, 2 Vega Sport Gels per hour taken on the :15 and :45 of every hour, approx. 20 ounces of water per hour via aero bottle refilled as needed.

Ah, yes…the bike. I have often been told, “You are strong on the bike”. While that may be relatively true based on my bike splits in previous half iron races (I have a couple of 2:30ish splits out there), my accompanying runs have been sub-par at best. This is a triathlon…not a bike race. A few people out there that know my tendencies made it quite clear to me that I needed to be patient on the bike. I heard it from sources that know me and I heard it from sources that don’t know my tendencies or history. It seemed to be a recurring theme in everything I read and heard leading up to the Ironman. In fact, someone giving a talk on Saturday to a bunch of athletes was talking to them about “could split” and “should split” on the bike. You “could split” a lot faster than you “should split” if you want to have a good run.

For once, I finally listened to this advice and planned out my bike based on having a good run and not a pure hammerfest to see how fast I could ride. There are a couple of different ways to gage effort and keep yourself in check. The most reliable is power but I don’t train with or have a power meter (expensive). So, I used heart rate. Through various training rides and tests leading into the race, I figured out that I needed to keep my effort below 140 bpm if I wanted to stay aerobic and give myself a chance at a good run. So, my plan was to keep it in the low 130s for the first lap and build effort up to a 139/140 bpm effort on the last lap. This would take into account the natural “creep” you get as your duration increases as well as a slight build in actual perceived effort.

IMAZ is a three-loop bike course that is mostly flat. It is actually a very slight uphill on the way out and a slight decline on the way back for each lap. The biggest factor is the wind. Based on the weather forecast, I was expecting the wind to be a headwind heading out and a tailwind coming back. That was indeed the case on the first lap but it switched directions on the next two laps and was a headwind on the way back on lap 2 and mostly a crosswind on the third loop.

Anyway, given my love for hammering the bike in the aerobars on flat courses, the first loop was incredibly difficult for me. I was staying on plan with my heart rate hovering around 132-133 for the entire way out. That was giving me an average speed around 18 mph into the wind. The hard part was that people were FLYING by me. This is a function of two things and you never really know which one it is: 1) Because I am in the top 10-15% of the swimmers, many of the people that I start the bike with simply ARE FAST and SHOULD be flying by me. 2) Some people are doing the “could split” ride instead of the “should split” ride and will be walking on the run. Either way, my challenge was to not worry about it and race my race…and I did.

On the way back on the first lap, my heart rate was below 130 for most of the time because we had a tailwind and a downhill most of the way. I was rolling 28 mph at a HR of 125 or lower. By the second lap, I was still feeling amazing and was right on plan. I built my effort a little and started hovering around 135-136 for a heart rate on the way out. On the way back, it was not as easy as lap 1 because the wind had switched. Now, I was still hitting 135 bpm and only able to hit 23mph on the slight downhill into the wind. It was similar on the third lap but I built the effort and HR up to around 140.

Overall, I felt amazing on the bike with the exception of the inevitable slight discomfort from being on the bike (and on the aerobars) for over 5 hours. My nutrition went fine and I didn’t really feel any stomach discomfort on the bike at all. I had energy and the gels were going down fine. Near the end of the bike, my mouth felt dry so I drank a bit more water. The wind may have been making me need more water than I was drinking. This may have played into my problems on the run but I am not too sure…I don’t think dehydration was the issue.

My Bike Time: 5:42:20, 19.63 mph

T2

I came into T2 fairly stiff from being on the bike in the aerobars for so long. I felt like the tin man trying to run to my bag. Just before I got to my bag, I decided to remove my bike shoes and carry them. I think that was a good decision and saw other people doing it. If you don’t do a flying dismount and leave bike shoes on the bike, taking them off before you run all the way through transition might be a good option…it worked well for me. I think it helped me in being more comfortable and restoring upright running posture without the discomfort and awkwardness of bike shoes.

This time I actually went inside the tent to transition to the run. Again, I did not rush. I just calmly put my socks and my Newtons on and repacked my transition bag.

I have heard a thousand times before never to try anything new on race day…but I didn’t think this one thing would matter that much so I did it anyway. I bought a Fuel Belt brand race number belt in Hawaii that had “gel loops” in it. I had it in my transition bag for the run with my race number on it (they give you two bibs so you can use one for the bike and one for the run if you wish). I had it loaded up with all of the gels I planned to use on the run. I had never actually run with it loaded with that many gels before (8). I had put it on several times and jumped up and down and it seemed fine but it WAS NOT. I ended up having to pull most of the gels off of it and put them in my jersey pocket as I ran because it was falling to my feet. Not ideal but it was fixed within the first ¼ mile.  Lesson learned…again.

Anyway, I got some sunscreen again as I came out of the transition tent and headed out on the run. At this point, on my watch, it was just before 2pm. This meant that I had just a few minutes longer than 4 hours to run the marathon if I wanted to break 11 hours…I was right on track with not a lot of cushion.

T2 Time: 4:01

The Run

Run Nutrition: The plan was to continue 2 saltstick caps per hour taken together every 6 miles or so throughout, 1 Vega Sport Gel every 3 miles or so just before the closest aid station, and water as necessary at the aid stations. What actually happened was much different.

Again, the IMAZ run course is a 3 loop course and is mostly flat. There is a very slight hill about 3 miles into each loop (very short), some short slight hills as you get up on each bridge crossing, and a longer hill about 5.5 miles into each loop. None of the hills are anything to worry too much about for anyone unless you run VERY flat training courses all the time (like if you live in south Florida).

The stiffness from the bike went away very quickly and I started running well and feeling fairly well within the first mile…which was very encouraging. In order to hit a 4 hour marathon, I needed to run in the low 9 min range for each mile. The first 8-10 miles were close but I started to really have stomach issues around mile 11 or so.

By the time I hit mile 12, I was right on with my nutrition plan but my stomach was not happy about it. I took a gel near mile 11 (my 4th one) and I nearly had a gag reflex with I put it up to my mouth. Hmmm…is my body trying to tell me something? At mile 12, I had to start walking because I felt like I was going to throw up if I ran. Something was definitely off with my stomach. It was VERY frustrating because my legs felt fine and I wanted to keep pace. I would run for a ¼ mile or so, feel like puking, stop and walk and repeat. I stopped taking gels and just took water at aid stations for a while. Then, at mile 16 or so, I started taking Ironman Perform, Coke, and water at each at station. By mile 18, I was feeling a bit better and not walking quite as much.

At mile 18, a lady was walking next to me and offered me a ginger pill for my stomach. I took her up on it (couldn’t make it worse, could it?). The next aid station was just before mile 19 so I started running slowly with the ginger pill in hand. I took perform, coke, and water with a ginger pill at the mile 19 aid station and then started running again. All of a sudden, I started feeling like a new person. I cranked the pace up quickly to about 8:30 pace and felt no stomach discomfort.

I wasn’t sure that it was real but I figured I would take whatever I could get so I just kept pushing the pace. At the next aid station, I walked through, did the Perform/coke/water protocol and then cranked it back to 8:30 pace.

I ended up being able to keep that up throughout the rest of the run! I was running 8:30 pace, feeling fantastic and only walking the aid stations to get the nutrition that seemed to be working (and also because I couldn’t believe that it was real and didn’t want to push my luck by running through aid stations and missing calories and such).

Those last 8 miles of the marathon are, without a doubt, the miles that I am the most proud of out of any endurance event that I have ever done. I did NOT give up. I kept working on my nutrition and trying to get back in the game and when my stomach cooperated, I cranked it and I didn’t let up. Despite the fact that I had calculated out how long it would take me to walk the rest of the marathon and had figured that I would end up walking a good portion of it, when my body let me go faster, I did…I didn’t take the easy way out…I pushed it to the finish. I am proud of that and that is the reason that I consider this Ironman a huge success despite the fact that I missed my time goal and had nutrition/gut issues and had to walk part of the marathon.

As I ran those last 8 miles, there was no one running faster than me (those people had already finished), so I got tons of remarks about how strong I looked and how fast I was running. It felt incredible. I literally felt like I could keep going forever. I have never experienced that kind of feeling in a race…EVER.

My Run Time: 4:49:38, 11:03 min/mile pace

The Finish

Although I was fatigued at the end of the race, the last mile was nearly effortless. I felt invincible and was high-fiving people, pumping my arms and celebrating all the way into the finish. There is simply nothing like crossing the finish of an Ironman. I can’t imagine how much better it is in Hawaii.

My Finish Time: 11:48:07

This video shows me about to cross the line (behind Joe Dirt) at 7:53-7:56.  I guess it pays to finish behind Joe Dirt, huh?

My Ups and Downs

Honestly, my mental state was a VERY positive mental state except for a few miles during the run (as you might imagine). I wanted to share one particular conversation that I had with myself during the run that you might find interesting (probably not but here it is anyway).

The backstory is that I set a goal for myself back in 2010 when I was a spectator at IM Hawaii for the first time. The goal was to qualify for Kona by the end of 2015 (racing no later than 2016 in Kona). At that point, obviously, I had never done an Ironman, nor would I for over 2 more years.

During the walking and difficult part of the run, I had a very heated conversation with myself about how stupid it was to set a goal for myself like qualifying for Kona when I hadn’t even done an Ironman before. I scolded myself and told myself that I was more suited to short course racing (which isn’t true at all…I am not particularly fast on sprints or olympic races) and that making such a goal was just stupid. I really made myself feel like crap for it and beat myself up. I was at a race low at that point and was finding many ways to make myself feel like a loser. The conversation in my head, if recorded, could be sold as humor…I am positive of it. That’s not to say that I wasn’t partially correct. Making a serious goal of qualifying for Kona by the end of 2015 may very well have been a stupid goal. I am not one that lets up on goals easily and I always push to make a goal when I set one. However, Kona is truly a race for world class athletes and it gets harder every year to make it in. When I started looking into IMAZ as my first race (back in early 2011), the average qualifying time for Kona in my age group was around 9:30. This year, 3rd place in my age group was a solid 9:18. Ouch.

Anyway, by the time I was running 8:30 pace in the last 8 miles of the marathon and feeling invincible, the conversation in my head was completely different (and likely could be sold again as triathlon humor). I was then convinced again that I was capable of a Kona qualifying performance and knew exactly what I needed to do…it was going to be tough but completely within my grasp. I had suddenly switched two words in a phrase from “Why I can’t” to “Why can’t I?”. I personally think switching those two words in your head is the first step in making your goals. If you can go from the mindset I had when I was walking (the “Here is why I can’t” mindset) to the mindset I had in the last 8 miles (the “Why can’t I do it too” mindset), you are light years closer to being able to achieve your goal. With the first mindset, there is NO WAY you are going to do it…it is a guarantee of failure that you set up for yourself. Even if your goal is physically unattainable, your mindset must be that of “Why can’t I?” to start with or it doesn’t matter if it is attainable or not, you won’t make it.

Special Thanks



1) My Wife: My wife, Paula, was my biggest supporter throughout this process. She kept the kids on the weekends while I went on 6-8 hour training ventures, she put up with my comatose state in the evenings on many occasions, she supported me at the race itself, she made travel arrangements, she engaged in deep conversations about pace and nutrition that she likely cared little about, and she endured many other things throughout the last year. I am so thankful to have a wife that understands my passion and supports it. Now it is her turn. Next year, Paula will be doing her first half iron and I will be moving to short course racing so that I can spend more time supporting her. Hopefully, I can pay back some of what she has given me this year. Thanks, Paula!….I love you!

2) My Parents: Their support throughout the race weekend was amazing. Thank you guys so much for the support and encouragement throughout the weekend! It would have been so much more stressful without you guys. I love you guys!

3) Dave Ward: Dave, you have been a mentor and a friend ever since I met you in 2009 on the P90X Facebook page. You have been a great friend and I appreciate that you went so far out of your way to support me and even make a video of the event. I know we will remain friends for many years to come as we continue to help people change their lives through Beachbody. Love you, man!

4) The West Sound Tri Club and my online supporters. I wish I could thank each one of you individually but the posts and response was overwhelming. I am sure I would miss someone if I thanked people individually. I know that is a bit of a copout but I don’t know what else to do. I know that many of you were a serious inspiration to me during my race and I thank you so much for that. You know who you are.

5) My athletes. All of my athletes that I have trained over the past 3 years were very supportive of my race and watched me online and sent me messages. You are all awesome and I thank you so much for the support.

6) My Beachbody Crew. Besides Dave Ward, I had a whole crew of downline coaches and customers that provided online support and encouragement. Thank you all!

7)  My A.R.T. Chiropractor, Dr. Forrest Hartford.  I had weekly appointments with him throughout the 13 week buildup to Ironman when I was doing my biggest volume.  He helped keep me injury free and gave me great advice that helped me have a great race in Arizona.  I highly recommend seeing an A.R.T. Chiropractor if you are planning to do something like this to your body.

8)  Nancy and Glenda:  Grandma and Aunt Nancy watched the girls so many times for me so I could get training done.  I really appreciated that!  Thanks so much!

Conclusion



Ironman Arizona was a success.  I have some more work to do on my nutrition, some more weight to lose, and a couple more years of hard training to accomplish but I will be back in 2014 with another Ironman (that is the plan).

Thank you all for reading this ridiculously long race report and thanks for the support.

In closing, here is a video of the day that Dave Ward put together for me.

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