19 November 2013

Ironman Arizona 2013 Race Report

Forgive me for the length of this race report. Feel free to not read it. Also, now that it’s been 48 hours since I finished racing, fatigue has set in big time and I can no longer muster any edit energy. I tried to share some details here but left some things out, such as what my nutrition plan was and how it went (not well). I’d be happy to share more once I recover a bit more but let me know if there’s something specific. I write with this much detail so I can look back and remember. Others gain information or ideas or just like to see what the experience was like. Again, this is long.

It was a long, challenging, difficult, emotional, fun day out there. Things did not go perfectly – not even as well as hoped – but in the end it was another joyful crossing of the finish line of an Ironman race. Many goals were met and some were missed but I will long remember this event, above all, for all the love and support I received from family and friends. The memories will last a lifetime. And the photography of this day was beautiful, professional, and beyond compare, capturing the day forever.

Ironman for me is about testing limits, pushing my body, and challenging myself. I signed up for this year’s race after volunteering last year. The excitement and enthusiasm gets me, inspires me, and makes me want to face the challenges and see where I stand. It’s easy to forget how hard and painful an Ironman is.

Training has been different this time around. I cycled through some different blocks of training focus: Olympic distance Aquabike last spring, speed and tempo work on the bike, and more long rides. I also had a block of over a week and a half where I swam once and strength trained once because of work. I’ve never had to do that before, especially just a few weeks out. Then there was the calf injury less than 2 weeks out which led to dropped workouts during the taper. None of this instilled a lot of confidence but it did show me you may not be in the ideal, perfectly honed condition for a race but if you’ve done most of the training and built a large base you can have a successful race. It did affect my mental focus and I don’t think I was as single-minded this time. I’ll take these as lessons for the next one: Ironman Chattanooga on September 27 of next year.

Pre-race morning was less than perfect. We arrived about 5:15 am and in hindsight I guess I need to be there at 5:00. Dropping special needs bags, adding stuff to the run and bike bags, getting the bike ready, doing an arm warm up, getting a wetsuit on, etc. takes more time than expected. I did manage to find a pair of portapotties that were sort of out of the way that had only TWO people in line to use. It was a miracle. I always try to eat immediately when I wake up so the GI system gets going. Then I can go once at the hotel and once again at the venue. (Warning: some people with Crohn’s or colitis will be interested to read these toilet details so there’s more to come. And it’s not about a “yellow river”!) The plan was to meet people outside of transition so we’d be together while I warmed up and got the wetsuit on. That never happened and I wasted too much time trying to find them. I had to cut my arm warm up a little short. I also had to go back and put the rest of my morning clothes into a bag. Just one more thing to do. Adjust and move forward.

Lined up with the 2650+ other athletes, waiting to jump into the water. I was one of the first ones in, getting as much of a warm up swim as I could muster before the crowd built. When I got into position Linda spotted me and the orange shirted Get Sladed Nation yelled and waved signs. For the first time ever I was able to spot them as they waited on the Mill St Bridge. I felt so grateful for the support and love; had to look away so as not to get overly emotional.

My swim was my slowest wetsuit swim ever. I have lost something with my swim over the last year and I don’t know what it is. (I should get some coaching probably.) This time I ended up starting closer to the inside near the buoys. The body contact began as soon as that cannon went off after treading water for nearly 15 minutes. Arms swinging, legs kicking, people swimming their own “straight” lines. It was stressful and of course if you’re at or near the front then you better start fast and not slow down for a couple 100 meters at least. I had my goggles dislodged from one eye, which I waited a little to fix, not wanting to get swum over. Just like most people, I’m not immune to getting out of breath, feeling sort of claustrophobic and panicky by all those bodies around me and behind me, feeling trapped. Eventually space cleared enough so the contact was minimal for most of the outbound swim. Drafted wherever I could. Got to the 1st turn buoy at a time when everyone else swung a little wide so I had the inside clear and for the next 200 to the next 90* turn it was also clear as people didn’t seem to swim straight.

Part way back I got my 1st mild cramp – in my knee area. Got it to go away fairly easily without having to stop. After a while it returned but after some leg bending and modified stroke it went away again. I relaxed and kicked less than I ever have to keep any cramps from returning. Since the cramp was so mild I thought I would finally have an uninterrupted swim. 4-500m. from the finish a strong calf cramp grabbed me and stopped me cold. Some of the pack of swimmers surrounded and passed me. Finally I got it to mostly release by pulling up on the toes. I made the final turn, fighting to relax it so I could make it to the stairs, completely unconcerned about how fast I was going. No luck. It stopped me again even stronger and I wondered how I’d release it and finish. As dozens of people swam over and around me one guy even asked if I was okay. I said, “Yes. Go!” Negative thoughts flashed through my head about how my run was ruined, how I wasn’t going to have the race I’d trained for and hoped for. Was I even going to be able to walk when I got up the exit stairs? Those thoughts took a rapid back seat to the issue at hand – get the cramp to release and get to the damn stairs! It was a struggle but eventually I got there. Never was I so grateful for the help of volunteers pulling me up and out!

Decided to get help from the wetsuit strippers so I laid down and let them pulled it off. I didn’t expect to have to ask them to pull me up to stand but they just stood there waiting for me so I asked. I knew without a doubt that I would have gotten multiple cramps doing it myself. Able to jog to get my bike bag and into the changing tent where it was way more crowded than I’m used to. I knew it must have meant a much slower than normal swim time. Found a chair by the exit door and it was right by heaters, AWESOME heaters. Put my bike stuff on, leaving my arm warmers because I didn’t want to take my gloves off. (Could it be not enough T1 practice? Yes!) Out to my bike with my new orange aero helmet strapped. Ran out and PAST the mount line before getting on. Moved ahead of 5 cyclists, and their potentially dangerous and wobbly starts, by running an extra 10-15 feet.

For the next 9 miles I regretted not pulling on the arm warmers. Even though the temperature was mild – high 50’s – I shivered and clenched my teeth for 9 miles. I remained patient, unlike in 2011 and didn’t work to hard even though it’s a tempting way to heat up the body. I then settled in for the 3 loops of the bike course, riding in sunshine and with relatively little wind until the 3rd loop. As always there were occasional packs of riders who obviously knew they were drafting but figured they wouldn’t get caught and penalized. That’s always disappointing to see. I admit that I yelled “Karma!” at one of the packs.

I saw family and friends at their traditional corner 5 times, all dressed in orange, making noise and holding signs. It was great! Almost wiped out one of the times when I took the turn in aero position. Now that would have made for some interesting picture taking for Chris Holcroft (Photographer extraordinaire)!

I got water at the aid station at the top of the Beeline Hwy during the 2nd and 3rd loops. Both times I shouted to get a water bottle with the top removed so I could easily pour it into my Speedfil aero bottle. Service with a smile! So grateful to the volunteers. As per my plan I kept my heart rate where I wanted, except briefly a couple of times in frustration with a pack of cyclist who would pass me and then force me to slow down or coast for far too long. In spite of keeping it below 135 (and mostly 116-124 – my zone 2) my inner quads really felt the miles starting with the 2nd loop.

The calf did not bother me on the ride at all, aside from being aware that there was something not right if I pedaled oddly or tried to stretch it. Fortunately there are no true hills on this course and standing isn’t required, since that WOULD have been a problem. I stretched the calf at random points and it improved the longer I rode.

Side note: the asphalt on the Beeline Hwy section of the course was perfect – so smooth. In town at intersections and especially near the freeway underpass and river bridge there were rough spots but nothing too terrible. The rougher places had lots of cycling debri by the 2rd lap. Nutrition, salt capsules, gels, CO2 cartidges, bike bottles. Oh, second side note: since race bibs aren’t required on the bike very few wear their numbers. This is unfortunate because your first name is also on the bib and you can encourage people by name as you pass them if there’s a bib.

Did my standard cyclocross-style dismount while leaving my shoes in the pedals, making sure to grab my Garmin off the quick release mount. With the Garmin mount I broke Tri Law 1.1 – Nothing new on race day. But it went fine. My back was unhappy when I got off but my calf was downright angry. I ended up walking to get my run bag. As I took it to the changing tent, what do I see but people in ART (Active Release Technique) shirts. I asked if they could work on my calf. Their one table was occupied so I said I’d lie down on the picnic bench. He worked on me for about 2 minutes, but in the end it didn’t seem to help, as each step I felt the pain.

Went into the tent with the same thoughts of resignation I had at the end of the swim returning but I refocused on the task at hand – get my bike stuff off and get out onto the run… even if it might end up being a lllooonnnggg walk. Got my nutrition and everything all set and then headed out for the run. Since I had always planned to walk the first few minutes and then shift to a run/walk as I’d trained, I didn’t test my calf. As I walked, less briskly than planned, I hoped it would loosen up and improve. As always I was trying to gauge and calculate what my body was capable of and what I could do to keep moving forward while solving any issues and coping with problems.

Every left step hurt but since it wasn’t a tear I was dealing with I decided I would slowly try to ramp up how much and how fast I could run. Gradually I went to 2 min run/2 min walk but modifying that whenever an incline/”hill” came along. Going too hard uphill I feared could be a tipping point. Got to the 2nd aid station and ducked into the portapotty to pee and to eliminate gas and ummm, semi-solid waste. My small intestine j-pouch (I have no colon thanks to ulcerative colitis) has been chronically inflamed and lately verging on pouchitis. So, even though I started back on antibiotics earlier in the week my bike nutrition generated more waste than desired. Antibiotics usually slows my waste flow down and thickens said waste. Knowing I couldn’t run 24 more miles that way, I stopped to eliminate. It’s always a risk to do that, wondering if I’ll end up with hamstring or quad cramps and not be able to stand back up. I have this vision of cramps setting in while I sit there and me screaming in agony for behind the door, calling for help with my shorts around my shines, and someone knocking on the plastic door and asking if I’m okay, but being afraid of what they might find! It makes me laugh just to picture that.

The new run course was fantastic. 2 laps instead of 3 figure 8’s. Most all of the running was along the river/lake concrete path. It still had the ½ mile hill in Papago Park. The course was well marked and logical, without as many strange sharp turns. Although narrow at times, those sections didn’t last long. Too bad the run over the Mill St Bridge was eliminated but this made it nicer for the Get Sladed Nation to travel back and forth. It meant my getting to see them as many as 8 times. The energy boost I got from them more than made up for any time I took to hug or kiss or high 5 them. I would fight back tears and try to stay emotionally even as I would see them waiting. Keeping those highs and lows in check is important to be able to do.

Unexpectedly I had to make a 2nd portapotty stop during the first loop for more “elimination”. I thought of it as my “Colitis moment”, thinking of how many people I’ve met in the past 3 years who have it far worse than me. For the 2nd time I lost 2 ½ or 3 ½ minutes. I also lost time squatting and stretching my back, which would tighten up. It was another problem I’d been having in the past few weeks. Each of those 5 or 6 stops took ½ a minute or so.

Knowing I wasn’t likely going to beat my best time of 11:46, I didn’t push the run as much as maybe I could have. I walked significantly more than planned though there wasn’t too much more I could have done without the possible risk of making things worse instead of faster. It’s a mental thing; a mindset that I can get distracted from after a long day of racing. It’s easy to let the heart rate and the perceived effort slip as you get further into the run and are feeling so much muscular pain.

During the last nearly 2 miles I got into a running groove that in hindsight I wish I’d tried for a few miles earlier! It was just straight running the last mile and the form felt pretty good and pretty strong. For that last mile every foot pounded out a “chant” in my head: I – love – Lin – da. As I rounded the turn and into the finisher’s chute, the cheers and music and announcements were phenomenal. Again I didn’t sprint to try to pass anyone, wanting to enjoy the moment and to cross with a little space between the next guy and me. (As it turned out that guy 2 seconds ahead of me was in my age group! Oh well.) I already knew I wasn’t going under 12 hours.

It was heaven running down the carpet to that finish line. I could hear Mike Riley calling my name and my city so I grabbed my shirt to try to emphasize Team Challenge. He took the hint and called that out too – awesome! Gave a single fist pump across and ran a few extra steps before letting a “finish line catcher” grab me and cover me in a space blanket. Was very wobbly, walking around to be given my medal, hat, finisher’s shirt, and official photo. Before the photo I finally found Linda whose shoulder I always cry on after these. Hug and kiss to Mom, Corey, and maybe others – I don’t remember! Head Sherpa Corey provided me with my traditional bottle of O’Douls no alcohol beer before I got in line for my official picture. Of course there were many athletes asking where I’d gotten that! While chocolate milk has an advertising campaign built around using it as a recovery drink, I used their advertising tag line every chance I could. Holding my O’Douls up I would say “My After”. I crack myself up even if no one else appreciated it!

Linda made the long hike back to get the car while Corey, Mom, and friend John gathered my stuff and headed to the pick-up spot. It seemed to take forever and eventually I laid on my back with my legs up against a wall. We headed straight to Famous Dave’s BBQ without stopping to shower or change or ice my legs first. I had convinced everyone to return to the finish line for the last hour so we didn’t want dinner to go too late OR have the place close before we got there.

Dinner of salmon, onion rings, French fries, and iced tea. No broccoli or other veggies. It was heavenly. It was great to be able to sit, relax, and share stories with the people who gave me such awesome in-person support all day long. Showered, changed, and returned for the last 45 minutes of finishers. It’s a rocking, good time party, and one you don’t forget.

What an awesome day, shared with loving family and wonderful friends!

Goal wrap-up:
It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of an Ironman race and then sign up for next years race 12 months away. With 17 months between Iron distance races, it was easy to forget the pain and struggle of what it’s like, at least for me. Sure it wasn’t forgotten, but the tangible, very real pain is different than saying some words about the pain. To race with that pain and to keep going is of course different than reading words someone has written about it.

I had 4 types of goals going into the race: outcome, performance, process, and experiential.

  • Outcome goals were exceeded. I wanted to be in the top 30 in my age group. I ended up 13th 
  • Performance goals (see times below), at least the ones I admitted to, were exceeded. I wanted to get in under 12:23 and I beat that time by 16 minutes. While I believed in my fitness enough that I thought sub-12 was possible, I missed that by 6 minutes. (Interesting how missing that has me looking at things like the 3 min potty breaks, the ART therapy on my calf, back stretches, etc. as I look for ways to shave time off.
  •  Process goals were all mostly met. Mental: I stayed emotionally "even" for the entire race and carried gratitude, joy, love, and strength in my heart. Swim: I started strong, relaxed, settled in, drafted, and held back on effort. Bike: felt like even split effort on the 3 loops and kept HR mostly below 135. I could have cycled thru my mental check list more and emphasized more full stroke pedaling. Run: I walked the beginning and then maintained a consistent run/walk effort. I did lose focus on the 2nd lap which led to a slower time. I did finish strong and hard.
  • Experiential goals: I raced with joy, and gratitude, and love, and appreciation; I appreciated my natural surroundings; I had fun with spectators and volunteers.

2013 splits – 12:06:14 – Swim 1:04.56 / T1 7min51s / Bike 5:25.46 (20.63/mph) / T2 6min52s / Run 5:20.49 (12:14/mi) – 13th of 106 in my age group, 740th of ? males, 912th of 2652 overall.
2013 Goals – 12:23:00 – 1:03 / 7min / 5:40 (19.77mph) / 3min / 5:30 (12:36/mi)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
2009 splits – 12:32:02 – 1:01 / 7min32s / 5:44 (19.51mph) / 6min 11s / 5:33 (12:43/mi)
2010 splits – 11:51:07 – 1:03 / 6min57s / 5:45 (19.47mph) / 6min41s / 4:49 (11:02/mi)
2011 splits – 11:46:56 – 1:01 / 5min49s / 5:32 (20.25/mph) / 2min46s / 5:05 (11:40/mi)

1 comment:

  1. My daily mantra: I L-O-V-E Skip! I am so incredibly proud of you!