Monday, November 19, 2012

Ironman Arizona Race Report

Sun Devils and Sir Mix-A-Lot

Arizona wasn’t one of the bucket-list races that I was looking forward to because it’s scenic or challenging. In all honesty I only picked it because of timing with hopes of capitalizing on my current fitness and possibly scoring some early 2013 season Kona points. Mentally, leading up to race day, proved to be one of the most challenging races to prepare for. Like many Northern cities, Boise Triathletes start winding down their season by mid-August so finding people to train with after Vegas is difficult and nearly impossible after Kona. I’m pretty limited on my training partners anyways since I train (aka “work”) during the day when everyone else is working and train during the evenings.

It was nice to leave the cool 50deg temps of Boise for the 70deg temps of Tempe. The swim venue was…interesting. A man-made cement “lake” in the center of town near ASU that I imagine is used mostly for water drainage during monsoon season. The water is stagnant and made me a bit queasy as I scouted it the day before the race. I opted to skip the open swim and was glad on race morning that we jumped into the water before sunrise and I couldn’t see what I’d be swimming in.

As the canon sounded to start the race it was still very dark so I sighted off the silhouette of the bridge that marked my waypoint. The sun was just starting to light the horizon but it was still difficult to see the orange buoys in the low light. An hour is a long time for my mind to be without stimulus. As I stared into the murky waters of Tempe Town Lake I was mentally coaching myself on my swim form, “Long and Strong”, “Long and Strong”, “Long and Strong”. Mentally this was to keep me thinking of proper swim form and add some kind of a rhythm to swim to. I repeated this in my mind over and over then all of the sudden the words began to carry a beat:

“Long and Strong”, “Long and Strong”

'Cause I'm long, and I'm strong
And I'm down to get the friction on
So, ladies! {Yeah!} Ladies! {Yeah}
If you wanna roll in my Mercedes {Yeah!}
Then turn around! Stick it out!
Even white boys got to shout
Baby got back!

Oh no! Quick, think of a different song. I can’t spend the next 50 minutes with Sir Mix-A-Lot stuck in my head. The harder I tried to more the words came effortlessly to my mind.

Oh baby, I wanna get with you
And take your picture
My homeboys tried to warn me
But that butt you got makes me so horny
Ooh, Rump-o'-smooth-skin
You say you wanna get in my Benz?
Well, use me, use me
'Cause you ain't that average groupie…

All the way back into T1 the lyrics to Baby Got Back were stuck in my head. It was a good beat and a good way to break up the monotony but there was no way I could spend 5 hours on the bike with this in my head. I needed a different song.

I thumped my way into T1 and felt comfortable about my swim. It wasn’t a PR, it was “average” for me this season. As I looked at the bike rack I could see that there were only a couple of bikes left which meant I wasn’t last out of the water. I had no clue how far back I was, I just knew I needed to focus on having a solid bike. I wasn’t planning to have the fastest bike split because I’d only been on this bike fit for a month and hadn’t put down enough miles to allow my muscles to adjust. I’ve been making adjustments to my bike fit all season and these latest changes were the ones that I felt would get me the closest to my optimal position. This course is flat. I know a lot of people warn about the false-flat on this course that you have on the way out but compared to the courses I typically choose to race, this was going to be flat and fast. I’ve never raced an Iron-distance course with a flat bike and run courses like this let alone a 3-loop course so I wanted a steady effort and try to make up some of the gap with the middle of the pack by the start of the last loop.

Photo courtesy Kevin Tu

I exited T1 like a turbo 'Vette and the first loop of the bike felt good. I had a good cadence and felt strong. As I started the 2nd loop there was a lot more bike traffic. I came up to the Aide Station to grab my Special Needs bag to collect some more nutrition but after I grabbed my bag a guy came flying past me on the right side and ran into my arm, knocking the bag out of my hand and sent me into panic mode just to stay upright. I don’t know why he was passing me on the right at all, let alone through an Aide Station. I would have liked the nutrition I had in that bag but I was going to be ok with everything I had on my bike. The 2nd loop was a little bit slower so I figured I would be fine and would push the 3rd loop a little bit harder…until I made my way along the straight section of Beeline Highway on the 3rd loop and saw wall-to-wall athletes on both sides of the road. I missed one of the Aide Stations because athletes were 3 to 4 deep. The road was so crowded at times that I had to sit back and wait to pass because they were riding 4 across and 3, 4, sometimes 5 deep as they passed slower traffic. I couldn’t cross the yellow lines in the center of the road so there was no other choice. 3,000 athletes on 37 miles of road is very busy. Yep, no lack of people to cheer for as you ride with them along the course.

Instead of the 3rd loop being my fastest it ended up being my slowest by 1.5mph. I was just caught up in traffic a couple of times which added up. It was frustrating during the moment but looking back, no worries. I felt great on the bike and could have gone much harder given the opportunity. I wanted my bike split to be right at 5:00 and if I felt great, to be a couple of minutes under 5:00. Well, I felt great and was on pace to go under 5:00 but just couldn’t get through the traffic. I still hit my target and it was a good feeling to know that I could have gone faster, today just wasn't going to be that day.

I guess I biked myself into 11th place as I entered T2. As I came in didn’t know what place I was in or how far back I was of the top 10 but knew there were a couple of girls right behind me. The run plan was simple, maintain my pace and let attrition weed off those in front. If you’ve never had the chance to race here, the run course looks like a Dennis the Menace map, all urban running with about 20 90deg turns on each lap. Within the first couple of miles, a couple of girls I passed on the bike passed me back and I had to convince myself to stick to the plan, thinking they were going out too hard, too early and that I would catch up to them the last half of the course.

Photo courtesy Kevin Tu
Like a motor in the back of her Honda my pacing was good all the way through the first half of the run and I was on my way to finishing just outside of my 9:30 overall time goal. As my luck would have it, while I was running back onto the sidewalk on one section my foot clipped the top of the curb which sent me tumbling head over heels, literally. I was so embarrassed and not wanting to draw attention to myself I jumped up like nothing happened and it was all part of the plan. But I couldn’t run off right away. I had landed on my tailbone and then as I began to run my hamstring was tight. I hobbled off knowing I would survive but the second half of the run was going to hurt if things didn’t loosen up, which they never did. I ended up walking the sections on the last lap and a half that had any kind of elevation change, which wasn’t much, but mentally I was struggling to stay in the game. Once again I had created my own obstacle. I was frustrated with my luck, or lack of, and just wanted to finish the race.

I finished with an overall time sub-10 which is awesome to reach that benchmark in my career. It wasn’t necessarily the course I wanted my first sub-10 finish but it’s good to see my finish times consistently dropping regardless of the course. Next benchmark is sub-9:30 which I plan to hit in the 2013 season and then the 2-3 year goal is going sub 9:00. I was outside the top-10 finish I had planned on but based on the finish times my training times are exactly where I need to be.


Choosing my goggles for race day was going to be tricky since we would start before sunrise then sight directly into the sun for a little bit before making the turn. I opted for the TYR Remix with the light blue mirrorred  lens that actually ended up being perfect for the conditions.

It would have been advantageous to have a disc wheel for this course because there were a couple of times where I was fully cogged out and girls on disc wheels easily passed me almost as though they were soft pedaling. A nice gift for your competitive Triathlete spouse would be a disc wheel, a new wheel set, maybe? (Hint, Hint) A wheel sponsor for Christmas would be nice.

The big question, would I ever race this event again? I’ve never raced a flat Ironman distance course before and Tempe has some other benefits like temperature, time of year for kicking off the new season and large Pro field for benchmarking the season but the course doesn’t suit my race style. The venue is centrally located but there’s no place to park, the stagnant water you swim in has left me on the verge of a sinus infection. The 3-loop bike and run courses are relatively flat, mind numbingly boring and so crowded you hardly have room to move. If I were to race this course over again I’d put an extra water bottle cage behind my seat and then try to grab 2 water bottles at aide stations. As isolated as you sometimes may feel on courses like Challenge Pendicton or Leadman Bend, I’d rather circumvent the crowds, enjoy the scenery and add some elevation. It’s unlikely that this will make it on my 2013 race schedule, but then it wasn’t on my 2012 schedule until mid-September.

For the Critics...notice how I am NOT the only one who utilizes the "Front Pocket" to hold my nutrition on the run. Great shot of TJ Tollakson using the same water bottle "cage". Maybe it's something only TYR athletes do. I think it just goes to show that great minds think alike.

Up Next

I’m currently working on my 2013 race schedule and plan to have a tentative schedule by the beginning of December. I’ll likely compete in 8-10 Iron and Half-Iron distance races next season while mixing in some local road racing and shorter distance Tri’s. The hardest part is figure out which ones I can afford to travel to; traveling this much is expensive. I’m going to spend the next month enjoying the Holidays with my husband and kids while just maintaining my base fitness. The preseason training will focus a lot of time on muscle memory to improve my swim timing and a complete run overhaul with a target to cut valuable time each mile. Next season, watch for faster swim times, faster bike splits (yes, I know I can still get faster on the bike), and a faster, more efficient run.