19 November 2018

Ironman Arizona 2018 Race report – The Mental and the Physical

(Warning: this is long and detailed so feel free to not read 2,268 words.)
It was a long, difficult day out there for Ironman Arizona 2018; not because of the conditions but more because of the unusual training lead up and taper I had, having raced Ironman Chattanooga 7 weeks earlier. It was my hardest, and slowest race out of the 12 I’ve done. I finished 12thin my age group, 5 minutes out of the top 10 and a long way from the podium. A more typical time for me, though, would have put me in 4th.

The day started like most Ironman Arizonas – up before 4am, arrive at transition around 5:00 to make final preparations, warm up my arms, put on my wetsuit, and hit the portapotty. The swim start got moved about 2/10thof a mile away and by the time I got there it was very crowded. You’re supposed to line up at your predicted swim time. We were so packed in the chute that I could only get to the 1:10 sign.

The National Anthem was sung, partly without a mic, and then the cannon went off to start the male pros. 2 min. later the female pros took off. The age groupers started 2 minutes EARLY, for whatever reason. I’m sure many people couldn’t get to where they wanted to line up. I poured cool water down my wetsuit a couple of minutes before the start so it would lessen the shock when I jumped in and so I could pee without being noticed. The swim course was different but worked fine once we were in the 60°f/15.5°c water. I swam relatively straight… I THINK. I didn’t use my gps watch so who knows for sure! I had relatively open water most of the time and got into my rhythm fairly quickly. I didn’t pass more swimmers than usual but no major physical contact. The water is “silty” so visibility underwater was about 1 foot – I couldn’t see my hand at full arm extension. It wasn’t super easy to see the buoys as we swam east into the sunrise but making the turn and swimming west seemed better, even if the water was a little choppier. My typical nemesis – leg cramps – made an appearance but never took hold. For the 2.4 mile swim my predicted/goal split 1:04 split. Actual: 1:05.

Getting out of the water was easier than in the past since it was a boat ramp instead of the stairs. We left our wetsuits on for the approximately ¼ mile run to transition. It seemed to go forever! They had swept the path clean but I still managed to step on a pea-sized pebble which didn’t hurt much since my feet were numb. Got to the wetsuit peelers (aka strippers) and they did a great job pulling my top off, getting me to lie down, yanking my bottom off, and then helping me stand up. Got my bag, sat by the heater, and put on my gear for a cold ride: socks, makeshift arm warmers, paper bag under the jersey, non-bike fingered gloves (something new on race day), and a new windbreaker I got at Ironman Chattanooga. Grabbed my bike and jog through transition to the mount line. Predicted/goal split :08. Actual: :12(thanks to the long run and 2 minutes of trying to put the gloves on!)

I did my usual “flying mount” and was on my way. My feet were still numb from the cold swim but I was grateful to have decided to take time to put all that stuff on. The 112 mile course is 3 loops – out and back. I didn’t have sweat dripping until part way into the 2ndloop. At that point I started pulling off the gloves and putting them under my jersey. Next I ripped off the duct tape I’d put over the helmet vent holes and tossed the paper grocery bag at an aid station trash can. At the ½ way point at the turnaround, I stopped, took my jacket off, and stuffed it under the back of my jersey. Then I removed the arm warms and pitched them.

The ride had some headwind going out on the Beeline Hwy. Coming back was pretty fast. Felt pretty good and then pushed too hard on the 2ndloop. Also started to pass some of the slowest swimmers who were just starting their bike ride – they were in for a very long day. The 3rdloop felt slower but I also worked slight less. I stretched periodically so my back didn’t give me the same problems as last year’s ride. Somewhere along the way I lost the new windbreaker. Predicted/goal split 5:30. Actual: 5:45.

Bike – Mental
Mentally I knew my splits weren’t up to par. I had not seen my swim split but assumed it wasn’t great either. Knowing I put too much effort into the bike, by the third loop I thought I should abandon my main time goal of a PR and focus then on placing in my age group because my head was drifting into that negative “I suck” territory. I was getting discouraged as I felt the level of leg fatigue building. At one point I slapped my helmet and cursed at myself to shut up, refocus on another goal, and keep going. It’s also a race, after all, and being in the top 3 (or 5) was also my aim. Just last year I placed 4thwith a time that was relatively slow for me.

At ¼ mile from the bike ramp into transition I took my feet out of my shoes and pedal with feet on top. That way I wouldn’t have to walk and run awkwardly in the bike shoes. The volunteer took my bike and I walked to get my bag of run gear before going to the changing tent where I changed shoes and socks, squirted Aquaphor on top of my toes, grabbed my hat and nutrition, and walked out of the tent to a portapotty. Predicted/goal split :04. Actual: 6 ½.

Once I exited transition I did my usual slow first mile, taking 4 or 5 short walk breaks until I got going. Around mile 3 I started having sharp pain on the outside of my left ankle, which caused me to walk until it went away. I’ve never had this exact problem before. This happened a few times before it became more of a dull, milder pain. I was resorting to stopping now and then to do foot circles, attempting to loosen and stretch whatever what going on in there (Ligaments? Tendons?). The sharp pains were around a 6 or 7 on a scale of 10. The milder: 3 or 4. 

I follow a run/walk method for the marathon, run about a mile and then walk through the aid stations to pick up nutrition and get it in me. Unfortunately my body fatigue and muscle “discomfort” had me walking every ½ mile. Eventually I figured out that the ankle hurt when I walked but not noticeable when I ran. Unfortunately I was struggling to run. I shifted into a slower run and tried to avoid the walk breaks after a time but still needing to walk through the aid stations.

2 side notes: What was the best sign on the course? I have to say that there were many of those electric rental scooters scattered everywhere. A sign was taped on one of them and it said something like “If you’d used me, you’d be finished by now!”

One guy running a little faster than me passed and asked if I had ulcerative colitis. I said yes and briefly explained that I have no large intestine as a result. He said his wife has colitis. I expressed sympathy and then told him I’d raised 13K (thanks to all of my supporters!) for the cause of finding cures.

The final 3 miles actually felt the best I’d felt for the entire run. I felt like my body was moving properly and didn’t hurt as much. Maybe I “smelled the barn” or maybe I knew that I was nearly done or maybe I’d relaxed enough to just let it flow, who knows!

Aside from drinking water, my stomach wasn’t happy with my planned nutrition intake. I abandoned the plan around mile 6 or 8, shifting to gel (not good), Gatorade, Coke, and Red Bull. It still wasn’t great but it was tolerable. I think now that it’s time to rethink my nutrition plan. Predicted/goal split 4:23. Actual: 5:45

Run – Mental 
This run was such a mental struggle. I was seeing 11 to 13 minute miles. My mind was going in many directions, from disappointment to frustration to regret to sorrow to concern about actually finishing Ironman #12 because of the ankle. Since my race intensity wasn’t very high I seemed to have plenty of time and energy to have this long, convoluted monologue running in my head, interrupted by more rational thoughts of just getting to the finish. 

I also wasn’t my usual happy, interactive self, especially with my support crew. I appreciated their cheering and words of encouragement but I was in survival mode, not planning to quit, but doing what I could under the circumstances.

This was a different sort of struggle for me, mostly because my mind just kept cycling through: not fulfilling the real or imagined obligation to perform well since Linda and my whole supportive family have made so many sacrifices over the years, letting my supporters down, letting myself down, beginning to believe that my goals and vision exceed my abilities, and I don’t remember what else.  Anyway, eventually I just resolved to persevere, keep moving forward, and finishing, no matter the place or finish time. I suffered PLENTY and that has its own satisfaction.  

I’ve had people say that I have a high pain tolerance but honestly, I don’t think I do. I know that my brother’s, for example, is much higher than mine. While I possibly minimize the discomfort in my head, I still feel it like everyone else. Maybe the only difference between me and others is the focus I have on my goals and the single-mindedness I seem to possess. There wasn’t a risk of me quitting completely but still, the discomfort and mental negatives did hold me back. Could I have found 5 minutes somewhere and gotten in the top 10? Easily. But that wasn’t what I cared enough about to pursue because it wasn’t close to the podium. Am I disappointed in that had I performed closer to my normal I would easily have been 4th? Of course! It just wasn’t happening this time.

I almost titled this blog “11 Pees” (sorry if this is too much information)! I peed once in my wetsuit before the start. I peed once while swimming, I peed 3 times on the bike course while going downhill when I could coast briefly. I peed 5 more times on the run. I think it’s official: I have Old Man Bladder! When I went while riding I grabbed a water bottle at the aid station first so that I could then rinse off before filling my aero bottle with the remaining water. Since I wasn’t ready to go at the moment I got the bottle, I would store that extra bottle in the rear waistband of my shorts. This is known as “butt crack bottle holder”. (Sorry if I offended some of my readers!) Key takeaway: obviously I hydrated well!

I’ve been on 2 antibiotics for a couple of months now to help me with my colitis/j-pouch issues. It’s very slowly gotten worse but not severe by any stretch. I am switching doctors to see if we can make progress with other approaches. My go to guy is a surgeon and not Gastroenterologist so he definitely supports another doctor’s taking the lead. 
I came into this race very fatigued, unrested, despite thinking I tapered appropriately. It was new territory and so I may have screwed it up a little. I was most certainly affected by the all out effort I put into Chattanooga. It just shows me how finely prepared I’ve been for most of my past Ironman races.
Also I was mentally flat for IMAZ even though I had high hopes. Being successful takes more than hope. I wasn’t feeling strong or powerful or invincible or confident. I felt overweight. This isn’t exactly the best way to race well!
I am now very sore. My feet are tender, especially where I stepped hard on the little rock. My ankle is still inflamed, at the very least, and tender to the touch. My back is okay but everything that usually hurts after a 140.6 mile race hurts as much as expected.

In the end I’m UNhappy with my performance but happy with my effort.  As I have time to process how IMAZ 2018 went, I appreciate more and more that I actually raced the way I did. I think I will find more satisfaction as I gain perspective in the coming days.Predicted/goal split 4:23, top 5. Actual: 5:45, 12thplace

For those who haven’t fallen asleep from reading this, I will write 2 follow-ups to this: one with my splits and recorded data and one about Ironman racing, Kona, and past and future goals. Yes, it will be about me but I’m always hopeful that someone can take what I’ve written and experienced and see ways to help themselves though my successes and failures. 

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