Ironman Arizona (IMAZ) is probably the most popular Ironman-branded race in the continental United States. This is mainly because it has a reputation for being relatively easy so people looking to bucketlist an ironman are attracted to this race. Other people look to IMAZ as a place to set a personal record/best time, so they can brag to their friends about how great they are. In addition, IMAZ is the closest major ironman to those of us living in the Southern California region. All of this is to say that IMAZ sells out fast such that most athletes go to the event a year in advance to volunteer and then get to register in person for the following year. This is precisely what I did in 2014, knowing that there was an outside chance I would qualify for Kona at Ironman Texas in May and if that was the case I would just deal with it.
Ultimately, I did qualify for Kona at Ironman Texas, which meant I came into IMAZ not entirely fresh, having completed an ironman five weeks prior. To make matters worse I had made a bike seat adjustment three weeks prior in an attempt to generate more power, went out and smashed two 90 mile back-to-back rides and came away with a muscle strain in the back of my knee. I readjusted the saddle and the problem went away but the injury remained until race day. I missed several bike workouts and ran very little for five weeks. Heading into the race, I had not run farther than 8 miles since Kona. People kept telling me that my Kona fitness would get me through the race but I did not feel especially confident that my injured leg would hold up. I even considered not doing the race but in the end the fact that I dropped over $700 to do the damn thing was reason enough to push through.
The week of the race I went to a doctor who gave me some anti-inflammatory medication as well as some 'magic' ointment. His assessment was overall quite positive, and even though I asked for a cortisone shot he thought that was too risky because I could possibly do long-term damage to the affected muscles. The pills/ointment seemed to help, as my injury began to subside just in time. I did a 30 minute training run the day before the race and while I noticed the injury it did not greatly affect me as it had even the Tuesday prior to the race when I went to track practice.
I stayed with some people from the Seattle Greenlake Triathlon Club who I had gotten to know over the last two years when I'd go up to Seattle to stay with Sarah for the summer. It was my first time at a race with so many other people (in the group) participating, so it felt more like a family atmosphere even though none of my biological family members were there (do they not love me?). I've come to realize that having a support structure of sorts is really helpful, even for a self-reliant hardcore individualist like myself (someone once described me: under that gruff exterior is more gruff exterior).
I had mixed feelings about the race, on the one hand I was hoping to PR with something like a 1:05 swim, 4:40 bike, and 3:10 marathon. This would put me in around 9 hours and easily get me a slot to Kona. I knew this was a stretch given my injury and relative lack of training the previous month. A secondary, more realistic goal, was to shoot for a 1:10 swim, 4:55 bike, and 3:20 marathon or thereabouts putting me around 9:30. Anything over 9:30 would basically be an indication of me moving backwards and that I was probably overtraining/doing too many ironmans in one year.
The swim was a rolling start. The clock begins when you descend the stairs into the 'lake.' I posted up between the 1 hour and 1:10 signs, which meant I got in within a minute of the firing cannon. Given my recent injury, I had spent a lot of time (for me) in the pool and had been posting my best workout splits of the year. Thus, I was quite certain I could swim at least a 1:05. I started the swim cooking but the water was very dark, making it basically impossible to see any feet. There was a fair amount of crawling, battling, and head-knocking. I'm so used to this by now it rarely bothers me when I get clocked in the head or have my foot grabbed. I drafted fairly well, but on the way back the course seemed to be a bit bumpy. I quickly realized the course marshall boats were creating fairly choppy wakes from driving fairly quickly up and down the center part of the course. This was a bit incredible to me as anyone who has ever swam in open water knows that boat wakes are a pain in the ass and will incontrovertibly slow you down. Thus, I swam over to the boats and told them to stop, just kidding. I hitched two rides on the way back to transition on two separate pairs of feet. As I made the final left turn I noticed a lot of people heading in. I knew this was a bad sign and that I was probably closer to 1:10 than 1:05. Indeed, I was right in the middle at just over 1:07, about 20 seconds slower than my other ironman wetsuit swim this year (Vineman Aquabike). Damn it, I need to figure this slow-ass swimming out and plan to spend a good part of the winter hating life by swimming more in the cold outdoor pools of Rivertucky. There's no way I'll ever win my age group by emerging from the water 10-15 minutes down on the leader. There are just too many guys who can swim 55 minutes and also bike and run moderately well.
I made it a point to make my transitions as fast as I could. Lately I've been posting four minute transitions, which is just embarrassing. I got in and out of T-1 in about three minutes, which I was happy with. I think if I came out of the water sooner my transition would be faster because I wouldn't have some asshole in front of me running like they're going to a tea party. I had done a practice ride on the IMAZ course a few weeks earlier (in fact it is what resulted in my strained back-of-knee muscle). I had jammed it that day (two weeks post Kona), and rode 2.5 laps at 250 normalized power, which is good for me. I was feeling powerful that day given my new bike arrangement, and was out on the Beeline learning fools. However, I totally conked out towards the end of the ride, losing all power for the last 15 miles. Therefore, as I entered the bike course, I was a bit scared, so I kept the power at a relatively conservative 230 watts and aimed to build my power throughout the day.
IMAZ is a three loop bike course. Everyone rides like a fucking champion the first loop then tends to lose power throughout the day. What this meant was that several people passed me on the way out. One group of three guys when steaming by, I decided to stay with them a bit just to see what type of power they were rocking and that perhaps I could legally hitch a ride. My power meter went up to around 280 watts as I was following them for a few minutes. Yeah, that's not going to happen. While I wish I could hold 280 watts for an ironman, that's a bit high even for this champion of the common man (and woman). Overall, the day consisted of basically just passing a bunch of struggling-looking people. Occasionally I would see someone I knew, but (especially after the first loop) the course got so crowded I really had to concentrate and spent little time trying to spot my friends. Here and there a guy would go by me but it was rare. About 50 miles in, the rain started to come down, slowly at first, but then a steady Seattle-like downpour (not torrential but definitely raining). Post-race many people seemed to complain about this but the rain didn't really affect me much. I would rather it rain than be sunny and hot. Unfortunately, the rain knocked out my powermeter, so I was 'stuck' riding the rest of the ride on heart rate and perceived effort. How old-fashioned of me!
Upon exiting Tempe Town Lake, the course cuts through several backroads and makes its way out onto the Beeline Highway for about nine miles, which consists of a steady but mild uphill grind. At the intersection of Shea and Beeline, the course turns around retraces its steps. Triathletes do this thrice. Overall, the course is lackluster at best, and I really didn't like it. However, it is relatively flat and easy. At the top of my second out-and-back I had had enough of this bullshit and decided to up the tempo a bit. Thus I upped my heart rate from low 140s to mid-to-high 140s for the next hour or so. I felt pretty good the entire ride and had no real nutrition problems. In the end I biked 4:54, but that was too slow to put me in contention for a top three age group. Since my power reading dropped 50 miles in, I can't say for sure what my overall power was, but at the point of dropping, my average was 239, normalized was 240. My guess is the overall race power was between 235-240, very similar to my Kona load. I'm still trying to figure out why I went so slowly relative to my power to weight ratio of about 3.5 watts/kilograms. After the race, my back disc wheel had major streaks on one side where the brake pads press. Indeed, upon closer inspection and even walking the bike post race, one side of the wheel was experiencing brake rubbing. I'm unsure how much that would factor into the power/speed discrepancy. In general, I think I ride pretty aero and don't get out of the saddle much, except to access my nutrition, etc.
In terms of nutrition/energy, I took six Hammer gels (three espresso, three non-espresso), two Gu gels, and two bottles of 4-5 scoop Perpetuem. I began with Heed electrolyte then replaced that on course with Gatorade/water combo. I also took one or two salt pills per hour, as needed. Every hour or so I cracked an anti-fatigue/endurance amino combination. The latter really do help, as my ironman bikes this year have been extremely consistent. I routinely have a variable index of 1, 1.01, and never any higher than 1.03. This means I ride balanced, don't fall off towards the end, and reduce the chances of a bonk late in the bike/on the run.
I got off the bike and ran into the transition tent. There was maybe one other guy in there, which was a good sign. However, I knew several guys were up the road. T-2 took me way too long (3:30 or so) because I spent probably a minute trying to get my compression socks on. I can't keep doing this bullshit, especially when the hands are cold. I grabbed a few gels and gummies, then headed out the door. I felt about as good as I could and was just happy it wasn't hot. A few other guys beat me out of transition and/or passed me in the first mile or two. I paced off of them until the first aid station, then one of them dropped off and the other headed farther up the road (I passed him later, that bastard). I was holding around a 7:20 pace, which seemed manageable. I kept this up through most of the first loop of the two-loop course. My plan was to mostly take it easy through mile six then pick it up a bit if my body would allow.
Because it wasn't hot I didn't stop at any aid station and just kept plowing through, taking a gel now and again, and water and gatorade at most stations. A few miles in I started hitting the coke, then I started hitting the Red Bull late in the race. At special needs I added two more Hammer gels and two bottles of Perpetuem. I've gotten to a point where I can handle gel, coke, red bull, water, salt pills, all at the same time (but I won't get too cocky here). A lot of people get all mechanical talking like “I'll take a gel every 24 minutes, a coke every other aid station, two salt pills every 45 minutes, and just for kicks I will eat a quarter of a Cliff Bar every 10 minutes.” To me, that is just ridiculously complicated plus I secretly (well not so secretly anymore) detest anyone who consumes solid food (except bananas) in an ironman.
Around mile 16 I felt a twinge in my right calf. Damn it, this is where the lack of run training in the past month began to play a role. I immediately went for a salt pill, then also took in some Base salt. Because of the rain, a mud path emerged around the same time. The combination forced me to slow a bit, as I started posting a few 8:00/miles. The cramping never got severe but it was present enough such that I continued to monitor it, and change my gait whenever it reappeared. I've experienced this in the past but not until much later in the marathon. My pace gradually slowed, but it never got ridiculously out of control slow. Around mile 23 I decided to give it one last go and see if I could finish strong. It's important to test yourself in these conditions. One of these days I will get into a battle of attrition and will have to be ready, so might as well test that out. As I picked up the pace though my right calf started acting up again. Damn it, looks like that idea was out of the window. Thus, I went back to my mediocre pace and just finished out the race.
Watching the finishers video, you can see as I cross the finish line I'm basically like whatever, I'm just glad I don't have to run anymore. This was my seventh ironman (three in 2015), and I have to say this one was probably the most anti-climactic. I netted a 9:28 total time (1:07 swim; 4:54 bike; 3:20 marathon), which is pretty good by most standards, but in the end was a bit of a let-down for me, in part because I missed a Kona slot (rolldown) by one. Ironman Arizona is generally considered a PR course, but I missed a PR by two minutes. Overall though, given my recent injury setbacks and the fact I had recently completed the hardest ironman of them all (Kona), I have to be pleased with the result. Many people try and be a hero and then sling together several sub-par ironmans. Three ironmans in 2015 and three sub-10 results is something to be proud of, even if other people are beating me. For now I'll take some time-off of structured training, and begin to sort out how to get five minutes faster on the swim, if it kills me.
By day I am a political scientist studying campaigns, public opinion, and race and ethnic politics. By early morning and/or night I am an endurance athlete.