Ironman Arizona Race Report Part 1: The training, possibilities, and swim

It was really hard to decide where to start for this race report because there’s so much more to an Ironman than simply going and doing it. The race itself is really a showcase of the “work” you’ve put into it and the training is where you really break barriers (at least, while training for your first IM) and see if you have what it takes to train for one of the biggest endurance events out there.

The Training

To say that my training went well would be an understatement. Roughly 8-10 weeks out from IMAZ, I was redefining what I thought I’d be able to do. Practically every week was a surprise where I would do something that I’ve never done before, and previously definitely didn’t think I’d see myself doing any time soon. I was running my fastest ever at lower heart rates (faster than when running 70-85 miles per week training for the Boston Marathon in ’09) and I was riding faster than ever at very low heart rates. I was recovering well (with quite a bit of effort) and training very, very consistently. I said “work” earlier because with so much constant improvement, I was truly enjoying the vast majority of my training and it usually didn’t feel like work.  My marked improvement was from a variety of factors. I graduated in May, so this was my first opportunity to see what happens when I’m able to train beyond the three month summer “vacation” where I only had to worry about working 40 hours a week. Before, school would start up in late August and it would be back to a high stress, incredibly busy environment juggling classes, homework, work, and training. I think that added stress really took away from my training before. Additionally, I started eating a lot better. Since Janée (my wife) and I have graduated, she has been a wonder in the kitchen, coming up with amazing vegetarian recipes (I was almost completely vegetarian leading into this race, only occasionally having chicken while out to eat). So I attribute consistency, longevity of this training period, and improved diet to my improvement over the last several months.

During my build up for IMAZ, I ran the Big Brothers Big Sisters Half Marathon here in Flagstaff in August, running pretty conservatively in the first half and hard in the second half to finish in 1:25 on a very hilly course. I then raced the Mountain Man Olympic distance triathlon the following day with a very surprising PR of 2:04:39 and even more surprising, the fastest run of the day in 36:09. In September, I placed 2nd overall at the Nathan Tempe Triathlon in another PR of 2:02:55, which included a 58:18 bike (split PR) and race-best 35:14 run. Then, in October, I placed 4th amateur at the Soma Half Ironman in 4:16:30, yet another PR. Soma, being a month out from IMAZ and in Tempe, was a good dress rehearsal for the Ironman and roughly two-thirds of the bike and the first four miles of the run were at ironman goal heart rates. I also got to practice my IM nutrition plan with no problems. Encouraging!

All things considered, we (Janee, Bettina (Warnholtz, my coach), and myself) believed that I could go 9:10 on race day with good weather and no catastrophes. In my head, I had this broken down to a 1:05 swim, 5 hour bike, and 3 hour run. The sub 3 run was the biggest goal for me outside of finishing. It sounded lofty for a first ironman, and it’s hard not to have doubts when you hear so much talk of how easy it can be to mess it up. On top of that, I was very familiar with past results from IMAZ and it appeared that only one amateur had ever run under 3 hours there (Mr. Troy Jacobson), and only a handful of professional triathletes would usually break 3. Regardless, the training numbers strongly indicated a 9:10 was possible and I had quite a bit of faith in that. If things turned out that good, I knew that would probably mean that I could earn a slot to the Ironman World Championships. IMAZ had 65 slots available, distributed throughout the age groups based on the percentage of total participants that age group had. For my age group (25-29), I would have to place in the top three to be guaranteed a slot.

The Race!

This has been the background picture on my computer for the last seven months:

Swim

1:13:58, 751st overall, 69th in age group (137 finishers in M25-29 age group)

Jumping into Tempe Town Lake was a bit of a shock at a water temp of 61 degrees. It definitely took my breath away, but as I made my way toward the start line, I got my breathing under control and I was alright. I lined up about 10 people back towards the middle of the inside half. It was really cool looking up at the spectators on the Mill Ave bridge and I was actually anxious to start – not very nervous at all. Sure, the swim was crowded at first with roughly 2700 starters, but it was fine after awhile and relatively uneventful. I was stoked to make it to the first turn buoy in 30:30, figuring a 1:05 would be in range (a 1:10 was my bad day goal). After that, it was still uneventful, although I didn’t seem to keep as straight of a line near the guide buoys like I did on the way out. I was shocked to see 1:10 as I rounded the last turn toward the swim finish. My thoughts at the time: Oh well, it’s a long day, this is my first ironman, and I’m gonna make it out of the water alive! In hindsight, I don’t think I swam a single freestyle meter in training at a pace that slow, no joke.  I even finished the swim 7 minutes after someone that I swam faster than a month ago at Soma.  I do think I “fell asleep” in the second half and I was just mindlessly “swimming.” I also had it in the back of my mind that any hard swimming was going to add to my energy expenditure for the day. Last, I wonder about my wetsuit. This was my first time back in a full sleeve this year and it seems restrictive, possibly because of my lanky, stick-like figure at 6’1, 150lbs. For it to fit my core, the length has to be rather short, and I’ve experience shoulder burn within the first 400m of races while wearing it. Either way, something happened but it can’t be changed and I’m content with it.

Part 2 – The Bike

Aerial photo from: http://ww1.prweb.com/prfiles/2008/11/07/218400/IronManSwimmers.jpg

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