Leading up to Ironman Arizona, I was starting to get mentally fatigued from such a long season of training. But at the same time, I still seemed strong in my workouts and still seemed like my fitness was improving. Even my race rehearsal workout two weeks prior to the race went really well and I was able to hit all my goals for that day. In the past, my race rehearsals have been known to not go so well.
In addition to mental fatigue, I have been fighting some tendon issues in my left ankle since before China, and even though it seemed to be very slowly getting better, I was still worried of what would happen to it during a marathon run. Sometimes I even worried about whether I would be able to race at all. I basically threw every effort I had at trying to address the tendon issues through massage, stretching, rapid release technology, etc. It never got bad enough to not run on, and I never missed a key workout from it, but it still worried me as I’ve always been fairly injury free over the past few years.
During my two weeks of taper, I was able to rest my ankle a bit more and focus on trying to stay healthy. The “stay healthy” part was hard as first Iyla caught a cold and then gave it to Caden during my taper weeks, which was a big stress for me. I raced Lake Placid with a sinus infection, and I had no desire to do another Ironman feeling sub-optimal. I must have stunk like oregano oil that whole time because I was adding it along with elderberry extract to water and drinking it a couple times a day as well as diffusing different essential oils in my office all day.
During my taper weeks I also started going to the sauna almost every day for some heat acclimation. The weather was calling for low 80’s for race day, which is much warmer than I’m used to here in Monterey. I figured, even if it ended up being cooler, a little sauna protocol would only be beneficial on race day. I started with 15 minutes a day in the dry sauna and worked up to 2×15 minutes with a quick cold rinse in between sauna intervals and also after each session for some hot-cold treatment.
Iyla and I flew out from Monterey to Phoenix on Wednesday afternoon, with Camille and Caden following us later that night. The short flight to AZ was a nice welcome after some of the longer flights earlier in the year. It was somewhat relaxing getting to the race site so far in advance, so I had plenty of time to relax and enjoy some family activities. We had a great hotel (AC Hotel Marriott) which was 1 block from transition and expo. The run course ran right behind the hotel, and the bike course was right in front of the hotel. In fact, from our hotel room and balcony, you could potentially see me 6 times on the bike during the race. It was a great spot.
I spent the next few days doing the normal administrative activities: short ride on the bike course, swim practice, bike check, athlete briefing etc. We also had some nice family activities and Iyla did the kids run (this time all on her own, without needing to be carried). Because the kids had to take naps every day, it gave me some good opportunities to just relax in the hotel room and rest up.
Sunday morning started at 4:30am. I was thankful Camille had the kids sleep in the hotel bedroom with her and gave me the hotel living room and pull-out couch, so I could get ready without worrying about waking the kids. I actually got decent sleep that night, only waking up a couple times during the night (which is normal for me when I’m pre-hydrating). Right away, I started getting breakfast together, as I wanted to eat 2 hours prior to the start. Breakfast was granola with blueberries and a banana with chocolate hazelnut spread and a couple cups of coffee. I was still pretty full from dinner the night before (where I really stuffed myself), so breakfast was a bit lighter than I wanted. After breakfast, I got dressed and collected my race morning things to head down to transition.
After the quick 5 minute walk to transition, I found my bike, put my nutrition on, clipped my shoes in and synced my Garmin. Then I found a seat and just relaxed for a bit before the start. After sitting a while, I finally got my wetsuit on and handed in my morning clothes bag and lined up for the corral. My goal was to start as far forward as I could, to avoid congestion the first lap on the bike. When they opened the corral, I made my way to the front and had a seat on the ground where I ate most of a Clif bar and sipped on some salted water (I add salt to all my water the days before a race).
After we saw the pro men and women start, it was time for the rest of us to get ready.
When the cannon went off for the amateur group, they opened up 2 sections of the corral gate for us to make our way down the stairs and into the water. Once down the stairs and to the water, I made an awkward jump, feet first, into the water. The water felt cool, but nice, and I started a steady effort to the first buoy.
The first couple hundred yards, there wasn’t too much contact and it felt like a somewhat calm start to the race. The first quarter of the swim I did get hit a couple times (for some reason, it’s always the women who clobber me), but during the rest of the swim, there wasn’t too much contact, just the occasional person who can’t swim straight and plows into the side of you. I always second guess whether it’s me or the other person not swimming straight, but almost every time, I’m pretty sure I’m the one swimming the correct line, and the other person is just way off. At times I got pretty frustrated and had to put in a quick, hard effort to get ahead of these encounters.
At the turnaround, the length of the swim really set in. 2.4 miles is a long swim, and tires me out more than I anticipate. At least it was really pretty to watch the sunrise over the lake as I swam. I kept reminding myself to take it all in and enjoy the sunrise and beautiful sky during the swim.
The final quarter of the swim seemed to take forever, but I finally made it around the last turn and toward the exit stairs. When I got to the stairs, the volunteers were awesome at helping me out of the water and up the stairs without falling over (I’m sure I would have fallen back down the stairs and into the water without them). The wetsuit strippers were right at the top of the stairs and I almost didn’t have any time to get the top of my wetsuit off before I was on the ground with two volunteers tearing the wetsuit off my legs. They threw the suit back in my arms and sent me on my way. I was handed my bike bag and ran into the changing tent, where I put on my helmet, glasses and socks.
Swim Time: 59:12
Before getting on my bike, I had volunteers coat me in sunscreen. I made the mistake of trying to rub it in as I ran towards my bike. So right when I got on my bike, I reached down to ratchet my shoes tighter, but my fingers just slipped on the knob and I wasn’t able to tighten my shoes. I must have tried ten times, but it was just too slippery with the sunscreen. So the first quarter mile of the bike, was just me fiddling with my shoes, trying to get them tight. I finally got my shoes tightened and settled into my aero position and tried to get some fluid in me.
Going into the bike, I had a more aggressive power goal than any previous Ironman. Luckily, I was able to ride at my goal power for 5 hours during my race rehearsal so I knew it was doable. Plus, I knew this ride was going to be under 5 hours if all went well, so mentally, I was confident I should be able to hit my goals on the bike.
The bike course is super simple and super fast: it’s 3 out and backs with the out being a bit of a false-flat climb and a bit of a downhill on the way back. I knew the first lap would be the best opportunity to go fast as the course was pretty clear of people. So on the way out on the first lap, I just focused on power and hydration. I had planned on each loop being a little over an hour and a half, which is a great way to mentally break up the course.
I was able to hold really good power on the way out on the first lap even though we had a good headwind. The last little bit was a bit steeper and the wind was becoming frustrating. I got to the turnaround at 55 minutes of ride time, which had me worried that I wasn’t going to make it the full lap in my expected time, even though my power was above my goal. That worry soon disappeared when I started heading back to Tempe as it was a slight downhill with a tailwind and I was just flying. I was going 30-35 mph all the way back into transition. I got back in about 35 minutes and under my expected lap time, with a higher average power than I expected.
Each lap was mentally like the first, where it was a long slog out and then just screaming fast on the way back. Mentally, I just focused on going strong on the way out and then resting a bit more on the way back and focusing on staying as aero as possible.
The second and third laps got a bit more congested. I was always passing people. I tried to use each person to slingshot myself a bit farther ahead and then work on catching the next person. Every now and then, it got a bit dangerous and some people were swerving all over the place trying to eat or drink. I was also surprised how little drafting I saw in this race, even with the 3 laps. Everyone I saw (at least on the same lap as me) was riding legal. For the most part, I just focused on my own race and trying to eat and drink according to plan.
For nutrition, my plan was to take in 300 calories an hour on the bike. This was higher than the past couple Ironman races, but I knew I would need more calories with the harder effort I was planning. Calories would be from 3 gels I had in my bento (2 Spring Sports gels and 1 Hammer gel) and the majority of the calories from Hammer Perpetuem which I had in my aero water bottle. I ended up not quite finishing the bottle, so I maybe got 280-290 cal/hr. For sodium, my goal was about 6g of sodium on the bike: 1700mg from a Skratch Hyperhydration I started with on the bike, 945mg were in the Perpetuem, and the rest from a few Precision Hydration salt pills per hour on the bike. I also tried to do almost 2 bottles of water from aid stations per hour, or based on how I felt and the weather. Overall, I thought this was a good nutrition strategy as I was able to carry all my calories without needing to stop at special needs, and only relied on aid stations for water every ten miles.
By the third lap, I was starting to get a bit tired and was actually looking forward to getting off the bike and start running. I was still holding goal power, but it was getting harder and harder during the last lap. I just focused on making it to the last turn-around and the downhill back would be a little break before the run. There were a couple really strong riders I was riding near on the last lap, as well as a few women pro athletes who mentally helped push me through the last lap. After another screaming fast downhill, I finally made it back to transition and to the dismount line.
Bike Time: 4:43:47, 222 AP, 226 NP
As usual, my bike-to-run transition was insanely slow. After I got my running shoes on, I had to stop to go pee, which took forever. By then everyone I came into transition with was now a couple minutes ahead of me on the run.
Running started off a bit awkward. My feet didn’t feel right and my lower back was a bit achy. I knew this feeling was the norm for Ironman, and I was hopeful it would go away soon. My energy was also pretty low, but I knew from experience a couple Cokes would help a lot with that. I had grabbed another water bottle of Skratch Hyperhydration in transition to start my run with for a big dose of sodium. I knew I really needed to focus on hydration to ensure I could keep running the entire distance.
The first few miles, I just tried to get into the groove of running and tried to get the Skratch down. I really wanted to switch to Coke in order to start feeling a better. The run course was pretty empty during the first 5 miles. There were times I couldn’t even see anyone in front of me and I even questioned a couple times if I were still on the course. Once I crossed over Tempe Town Lake I saw a few more people on the course and the aid stations had a bit more crowd energy which really helps.
Every aid station, I would drink some Coke, maybe some water if I was really thirsty, and also pour 1-2 cups of water on my head to stay cool. I would slow down a bit for the aid station, but still try to run through if I could. Later in the race, there were a couple aid stations I walked because I just needed a little running break. I also carried some salt pills with me on the run, and tried to take a couple per hour to help with hydration and to keep me thirsty.
By mile 8, I could feel some cramping coming on in both my hamstrings and quads. This was really worrisome because I never know if I’m just going to cramp up and need to stop, or if the cramps will never really come. I could start feeling my quads start to twitch with cramps, so I opened a mustard packet I was carrying and hoped it would help. I’ve never used mustard, but I’ve heard it has helped others, so I had grabbed some in the airport to carry on the run. It seemed to help as I was able to keep running without stopping.
I finally made it back to transition and to the halfway point. But I ended up twisting a bit funny at an aid station trying to grab a cup and my left hamstring just cramped up. I stopped at the end of the aid station and tried to stretch it out. I also took in another mustard packet for good measure. I probably stopped for 45 seconds to stretch. Luckily, it went away enough for me to keep running but I could still feel the tightness in my hamstring as I continued to run. Any slight deviation from my normal run stride seemed to cause me to cramp up.
When I started the second lap, I could feel any energy quickly draining from my body. I just focused on making it to mile 16… then to 18…. then to 20. At mile 20, I knew I only had 10k to go and I was just hoping my body wouldn’t cramp. After the short climb on the second lap, I knew I only had a few more miles of downhill to go to the finish. My pace on the second lap was really dropping and I just did anything I could to keep the pace up, which now had fallen to 7:40. The last few miles, I got passed by a few more people in my age group who seemed to have a ton of energy left as they blew by me. I just didn’t have the energy to keep up.
I finally made it to the last mile, which seemed to go on forever. I ended up following a guy in my age group who had just passed me and we ended up coming down the finisher shoot together. At that point in the race, I didn’t really feel like sprinting, but we both really picked up the pace and did a full on sprint to the finish line. After crossing the line, I walked over to a sidewalk and just laid down. The medical staff quickly came over to make sure I was okay, so I decided I’d better get up and go meet the family.
Run Time: 3:18:53, 7:35 pace
Overall Race Time: 9:09:31, 8th Male 30-34
I’m extremely happy with my time as it’s a PR by over 20 minutes. I knew it was going to be a fast race, but I think I did really well on the bike and still was able to hold on for a good run time. I can still see areas where I can improve and gain some good time, but I think it was a well-executed race. I had previously thought that doing a 9:15 Ironman would take me a few years of work, so already beating that goal feels like an amazing accomplishment. What is amazing is the number of insanely fast athletes out there. Looking back on the last 4 years of IMAZ times a 9:09 would have gotten me first place for 2 years and a close second place in 2 of those years, but this year, it was only good for 8th place. It just shows how perfect of a day this year was and the level of athletes that are out there doing triathlon.
I look forward to continuing my journey on improving my fitness and speed at this distance… but first a nice break and some holiday fun.