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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Ironman Arizona: A Love Story

Unfortunately for you guys this trip was about as good as it can be so there's not nearly as much to write about as past races.

Mom and I left on Friday morning which, in retrospect, was a poor decision. First off, it meant we had to be up at the crack of F$%& to get to the airport. Two days before an Ironman is not exactly the best time to be missing out on sleep. You're right in that final prep phase and even if it doesn't have a physical impact on your performance the potential is there for a mental impact. Convincing yourself you're tired can be just as bad as actually being tired. The other risk you run cutting it so close is missing check in because of a flight delay. For Ironman you MUST be there 2 days prior to race day to check in. There is plenty of stuff to do prior to race day so this is a reasonable request by WTC (the company that owns Ironman). I decided to go down on the Friday to save a night in a hotel but when I look at the fact that it costs around $2500 to do a race, saving $80 on a hotel is a stupid risk to take. IDIOT!

As it happened, my Uncle Bill and Aunty Penny were headed out of town that same morning and because they're gone for a few weeks they rode with us so they didn't have to park their vehicle at the airport the entire time. Uncle Bill is kind of a big deal and flies a ton so he had some guest passes to the Air Canada lounge. What a civilized way to travel. As I sipped my cappuccino and snacked upon pastries I looked down on the zombies sitting in the departures lounge I smirked a grinchy grin. But it didn't matter. Their planes came just the same. They came without cookies, they came without wine. They came without wifi or couches divine! Sorry, got on a roll there. Regardless, it was so nice to be able to enjoy the lounge and relax that early in the morning, THANKS UNCLE BILL AND AUNTY PENNY!!!

We got through Calgary and on to Phoenix with no problems and seeing the desert sun was a welcome sight. When we got to the rental counter we were prepared for everything the agent could throw at us.
Agent:  Insurance?
Mom:   We've got it covered!
A:  Want us to fill the tank for you?
M:  Are you high, we can drive to a gas station!
A:   Glass coverage?
M:  Nope, we'll tell you that chip was there when we got it!
A:   Additional driver?
M:  No, I'll drive.
A:  Do you live at the same address?
M:  No. (DAMN! They got us on a technicality. I booked the car on Priceline so I have to be a driver) 
A:   Bigger vehicle?
M:  Hmmmmm, ok.  (I've done Ironman with a full size and it's not terrible, you just have to break you bike down a little to get it in the vehicle. So we upgraded to an SUV. Very nice. Let's keep this upgrade train rolling)
A:   Costco member?
M:  Yeah, why?
A:   Oh, well it's a cheaper upgrade fee. Tell you what, I'll waive the additional driver fee too.

FINALLY! My charm and good looks get me something

We were so excited to be in the warm weather that we decided to start driving before the GPS had synced with a satellite, in no particular direction. As it turned out we guessed poorly and headed away from our hotel, but we did it with purpose and I think that needs to be commended.

We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton in Tempe and it was great. Nothing amazing but a nice hotel close to the race site and the included breakfast was a nice surprise. They were also really supportive of the race and even had rags at the front desk for wiping down your bike so you didn't use your room towels. Great idea!

Friday evening was the traditional "carbo load" dinner so mom and I headed down to the event and, after a bit of off-roading, we found a sweet parking spot and headed into dinner. It was the standard chicken and pasta meal but they had a really nice seasoning on the chicken which was a nice surprise. It's an outdoor dinner but rather than sit at the tables mom and I decided to sit on the hill and eat and that was a really good decision. Not only was it nice to sit on the grass the setting made my deplorable table manners much less noticeable.

Saturday was a really nice day. After checking in my gear bags and bike we headed off to the outlet mall. I picked up some sweet deals on some skinny guy dress pants and some new Under Armour. The weirdest part of the day was the Christmas tree. Apparently the tree at the mall is the largest in the region and we were there on the day of the lighting. They had bleachers set up and people had staked out their spot before noon. Now on its own that would not be terribly weird, but the fact that it was 25 celcius and we were surrounded by cacti made it surreal.

That evening we went to the Arizona State football game. This is a real experience; I would encourage you all to try and get to an NCAA football game. The pageantry and tradition surrounding these games is just awesome. We stayed until half time as I needed to get some sleep but the show we saw up to that point was spectacular.




As I've mentioned before I try and learn something every race and improve upon it for the next time. This was no exception. I was always getting to the race site way too early so I timed it a little better at this race and arrived at 6am. This was perfect timing. It gave me enough time to get myself ready but not so much time that I was standing around bored. I did my standard bike check and to my chagrin my rear tire had popped over night. Fortunately the bike techs were amazing professionals and had my tube replaced and inflated in about 3 minutes.

Off to the swim start and this was a different experience than I've had before. Because of the nature of the venue it's a deep water start. This means that you're in the water floating around waiting for the start. I liked it because you really get acclimated to the water temperature and relaxed in your suit, and by that I mean you pee yourself. Before getting into the water I was chatting with a guy named Barry, bib number 2695 and I told him I'd look him up after the race to see how he did. I was absolutely thrilled when I looked him up and saw that he finished in 16:59:18. 42 SECONDS BEFORE MIDNIGHT! The last minute to qualify as an official Ironman finisher. So happy for him and I hope he gets to read this.

The water in Tempe is probably the only negative in this entire race. It's so murky that you can't even see your hand in front of your face. This wouldn't typically be a problem if you were just swimming but because of the concentration of people it makes for an uncomfortable swim. You are constantly swimming into people's feet and getting kicked in the face. It was a benefit to have enough experience in these events that I was able to keep calm despite the beating I took during the swim. It really was no one's fault and that makes it a lot easier to stomach. The organizer can't do anything about the water. The fact that we're swimming in a body of water in the middle of a desert is a miracle anyway so to complain about the water clarity would be ridiculous; and your fellow competitors can't see a thing so you can't blame them for slapping you around.

Overall the swim went exactly as expected, just keep moving and get out as best you can. As I stepped up onto the stairs my left calf cramped and I fell off the stairs back into the water. I grabbed the railing and pushed my foot into the stairs until it finally released. The amazing volunteers then lifted me out of the water and got my wetsuit off of me and I jogged into transition.

I mentioned I've learned from previous races and one of the things I tried this race was complete outfit changes. Typically I wore my tri suit under my wetsuit and just dealt with the wet and cold. One of the big downsides to a tri suit is that the chamois (pronounced "shammy") or butt pad is thin because it's designed for you to run in it after cycling. I decided to wear proper bike shorts which would take a little longer to put on but should lend a great deal more comfort over 180 km of cycling. This turned out to be a great decision and led to the best ride of my life.

The bike course is 3 loops of an out-and-back highway ride. It is fairly flat and can be mentally draining if you're having a tough day. Fortunately, I was having a great day! At first I was a little worried because I was passing people non-stop and flying at around 35km/hr on the outbound leg and on the return I was holding steady at 51km/hr. This sounds great but you start to wonder how you can possibly maintain this speed over the entire ride. After the first lap the wind turned on us and slowed up the group a little bit. Being a loop course I really enjoyed being able to time myself between familiar parts of the course. I really enjoyed focusing on pushing myself between different landmarks and seeing how I was progressing. At Ironman you're not allowed to listen to music while you race so you need to think about something. I finished up the bike leg in 5 hours 17 minutes.

Now, this bike ride went about as perfectly as you can expect but I did learn a valuable lesson. Knowing how fast I was going I did not want to stop for anything, even bathroom breaks. So, I stood up on my pedals, relaxed a little, and just peed. Ahh, sweet relief. However, I learned very quickly that if you have one foot at the top of the pedal stroke and one at the bottom your straight leg creates a very nice channel from your crotch to your shoe and it will quickly fill with pee. So, fellow triathletes, if you try this time saving technique keep your feet level with a bend in your leg so it will run off and onto the ground. Coincidentally my shoes now live outside the house permanently. (Kim says:  If anyone ever needed proof that I support Colin wholeheartedly with his tris, the fact that I washed his butt pad soaked pee pee bike shorts without tongs is it.)

In transition I again did a full outfit change. This went really quickly though, considering I even had to put on my fancy time consuming socks with a separate place for each toe. I threw on my Hoka One One runners and headed out of the tent. I felt pretty good considering how hard I hit the bike course and my legs quickly came around after the first mile or so. This run was a completely different experience than any other I've had. Typically I just try and survive the run and do a lot of walking. If I see some other poor sap walking along I strike up a conversation and try to chat away the miles. This race I was up with the serious competitors and they're not down for a chit chat, they're racing. This was great for me because there was no temptation to walk. Somehow I managed to run from aid station to aid station (1 mile apart) and only had to take extra walking breaks a couple of times.

I think the funniest thought I had was 3 hours into the marathon. I had done the math and realized that I could actually finish under 12 hours. "I just have to keep this pace for 2 more hours." That was it, just run this same speed for 2 more hours, and it didn't even phase me. Even 6 months ago thinking ahead by 2 hours into a run would have been ridiculous. There was very little that I could have done better during this run. I kept the same pace throughout, my nutrition was such that I never got nauseous or sloshy, and I learned one very important lesson. I learned how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. By that I mean that I was able to evaluate how my legs and lungs were feeling and even though they were burning, it was an amount that I could handle for a seemingly indefinite period of time.

Another lesson I learned will be very important for any future races in warmer climates. In swimming lessons we were taught that heat leaves our body from our head, armpits and crotch and so that we need to cover those areas if we're stuck in water. Using this I decided that to cool down on a run those are the areas I need to focus on. At the aid stations they hand out cups of water and I thought it would be a great idea to pour this ice into my crotch to keep cool. It worked pretty well, until a few aid stations in when I realized that I'd frozen myself solid. It didn't really hurt at this point it was just an odd feeling. No, the REAL pain comes when you begin to thaw out again. Anyone who shoveled snow as a kid remembers that feeling when you skin would thaw out after being outside for too long. That burning under your chin or your the tips of your fingers. This was EXACTLY like that, only on my jimmy junk! Yikes man! Lesson learned. The worst part is that when I got home and told my wife Kim about this story she looked at me and shook her head and said, "You said the exact same thing after Ironman Los Cabos you idiot!" Doh! Ok, lesson learned this time for sure!

Post race was just so awesome. I was so happy about my time that I didn't notice just how bad my legs were feeling. I grabbed a quick piece of pizza and a chocolate milk and found my mom to head back to the hotel. I actually didn't know what to do with myself because I usually finish so late in the evening that I go straight to bed but it was only about 8pm so there was plenty of evening left. I ate the amazing PF Chang's that mom had picked up for me and packed up my bike. After a bottle of champagne I crawled into bed and waited for my 2am hunger attack. This came right on time and I attacked the club sandwich I had waiting on the night stand.



I'm still truly stunned at how well this race went. In my wildest dreams I couldn't have crafted a situation in my mind that had me finishing under 13:15 so to go sub 12 was ridiculous. I have to thank my wife Kim for allowing me to spend stupid amounts of money on my hobby of triathlon and my mom for being my faithful sherpa and helping me get my stuff around the race. However, the greatest thanks for this result has to go to my coach Jeremy Potter who has put enough faith in me to give me workouts that were just unbelievably tough. He saw potential in me that I didn't see in myself and he pushed me beyond my limits. The biggest downside to a race day like this is the new bar that I've set for myself. I have no idea how I can replicate a day like this again but I thought that about this go 'round.