Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ironman Arizona

Thursday November 13, 2014.  Three days until Ironman Arizona.  Today’s schedule is a 45 minute bike, easy, make sure the bike is good, and just shake out the legs a bit.  With this accomplished, I focused on quality food, and a slight uptick in hydration to compensate for the desert dryness.  Also increased carbs, but not to a stupid amount, and no over-eating.  Thursday was  a glorious day in greater Tempe.  A high of about 80, light winds.  It would be a great day to have an Ironman.   Nice of my hotel to welcome us too!

Friday November 14, 2014.  Two days until Ironman Arizona.  Another glorious day.  I do not workout two days prior, I find this is a good off day for me.  I did go to packet pick up and take care of making sure I got my packet, instructions, and all was ready to go.  Continue to get proper food and drink in me.  And relax.  Try and relax.  Stay off the feet.

Saturday November 15, 2014.  Ironman eve.  Yet again, a terrific day.  Another 40-45 minute bike ride.  This time I headed out from the bike start for 21 minutes, then turned around.  Went through a warm up, hit all the gears, and a couple of short bursts.  Felt strong and good.  Wiped the bike down, put the numbers on the bike, and racked it.  Also dropped off my bike and run bags.  Nothing to do now but eat, sleep, and wait.

Sunday November 16, 2014.  Ironman Arizona.  Greeted with a nice, cool morning.  The buzz is electric in the Ironman Village.  Nervous, chatty athletes.  Nervous quiet athletes.  Even some that looked calm, cool, and collected.  For some reason I was nervous.  More nervous than I remember being for IMCdA.  Then it was bothering me that I felt nervous.  I couldn’t seem to calm down.  I was wondering if I should have brought a second bike helmet.  The second for, well, you know, barf.

What calmed me down?  Putting on my wetsuit.  Once the wetsuit was on, it was like, oh, okay, we’ll migrate down to the lake, get in, and swim.  I’ve done this a time or two.  In we go, down some steps into Tempe Town Lake.  About 300-400 yards from the start.  Had to get in at the exit point due to low water levels.

Used the 300-400 yards as a warm up.  It seemed like an eternity, but finally BOOM!  The cannon went off.  Swim start?  More like mortal combat.  2,700 people starting to swim at the same time in no semblance of order.  Push, smash, crash.  Repeat.  Trying to find some swimming room.  Had to go Tarzan style for 400-500 yards just to not crush someone.  The visibility in the water was less than zero.  The lake water was very silty.  I found some swimming room, and got into a bit of a groove.  Now that I was swimming, I would come up on groups of other swimmers.  Getting around them was like trying to make progress in a traffic jam.  Roughly three-quarters of the way through and suddenly the water has a chop to it.  Great, it wasn’t challenging enough with 2,700 people and no visibility.  Now I’m fighting the water.  A few minutes later it hit me.  Or was that another swimmer hitting me (again)?  The chop means WIND.  Expletive, expletive, expletive.

Finally the end of the swim.  Getting out on the steps was a challenge with the low water level, and my sea legs.

Up and out, about five minutes slower than CdA, and ten minutes off my goal, but with the conditions, acceptable.  Off to transition.  Hearing lots of Go Tri Club!!!  TCSD and TCSD rooters were out in force.

Walking/trotting to the transition area, I locate my bike bag, and head toward the changing tent.  Since I am not changing my bottoms, I don’t go inside, but find a tree to lean on and get out of my wetsuit, change my top, and get my helmet, sunglasses, and cycling shoes on.  I skip the wetsuit strippers.  I found it took longer at CdA and I had to carry a heavy wetsuit to transition.  I’d prefer to have my hands free until I was ready to change.

Now that I was ready to ride, I went over to the bike racks, and headed out.  It was a short distance to the mount line and I was riding.  Once onto the road my fears were confirmed.  It was WINDY.  My least favorite element to ride in.  Wind never stops.  It is noisy, and relentless.  Okay, get your mind right.  You cannot control this.  You’ve ridden in it.  You did the 2011 Eastern Sierra DoubleCentury.  You can do this.  Positive thoughts.  The return will be a tailwind.  The course, was a three loop out and back.  Most of the way would be right into the wind and most of the way back with it.

The first out went pretty good.  Slower than I planned, but that was all wind.  My effort was right, and I felt good.  About that wind.  You really feel it, as if with every pedal stroke you take, someone is pushing you right back.  And when it gusted, wow!  Sustained winds of 20 MPH with gusts over 30.  The bike was being pushed all over.  I FLEW back into town.  My first loop was just three minutes slower than my stretch goal despite the wind.  Turn around and do it again!  Through town and out to the Beeline Highway.  The Beeline was just shy of 11 miles.  Going out right into the wind, and a bit uphill.  Just a quarter of a mile on the Beeline I shifted and my chain dropped.  Expletive.  Okay, two minute fix, right?  Not even, usually.  Get the chain on but the crank will not turn.  Flip the bike to get a good look at it.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!  My chain is bent.  I mean bent, like will not roll over the chain rings bent.  Is my day over?  All I can do now is wait for Bike Tech and see what, if anything can be done.

And wait.  And wait.  Finally a vehicle stops, I tell him, and he radios one of the motorcycle techs.  He shows up a couple of minutes later.  Now I realize my day might not be done, as he has chain links.  He goes to work on my bike.  It did take a few minutes, but I was back in the game!!!  I cannot thank him enough, back on the bike, and continue my second loop.

By the way what is that smell?  Ugh that is awful.  Okay its gone.  Hit the turnaround and come flying back down.  There is that smell again.  Wretched sewage, or something?  Oh, there is the sign.  Landfill turn right.

Back into town, and one more time, turn around and back out.  Here is where the mechanical hurt more than the 45-50 minutes I was idle.  I never got the same groove on the bike after the delay.  I think I stiffened up some.  And it screwed with me mentally.  I kept wondering where I would be if it hadn’t happened.  Trying to get those thoughts out of my head, and into being thankful I was still out there.

At what seemed like an eternity, I hit the far turn-around one last time, and zipped back into town with the tailwind.

Off the bike and into transition.  Now I am calculating times.  See, the run is always my weakest sport.  And I have had injury issues all year.  I broke my foot in March.  And after I started running again, I have had knee issues.  So I did not get the run build I wanted.  I went into this with a very conservative run strategy.  Walk the first four minutes.  Then run 30 seconds, and walk 1:30, repeat.  I did this the last two months of training, and it was working, and I figured a 6:00 to 6:30 marathon based on this.  No world record, but better than my CdA marathon with a strong run build.  My concern was would the knee hold up?  I’m starting the run over an hour later than I anticipated.  If this becomes a walk, I’ll be struggling to make the 17 hour time cut.

Think positive.  Start your 30-130 and FOLLOW THE PLAN.  You put this plan together, your body responded well the last two months.  The knee has been doing great the last month.  Your actual running has improved.

First run segment,  Ouch!  No, not the knee, my left hamstring.  What???  This has not been an issue at all.  Okay, diagnose.  Is it a cramp or a pull?  For the second time I was wondering if my day was over.  Feels like a cramp, which is weird.  When I cramp it is usually my quads, occasionally my calves.  And more often, after my day is over.  However, I did have pickle juice with me.  The worlds greatest cure for cramping.  I took some and about 30 seconds later I was good.  I was off, and on to my run-walk.  And I was run-walking STRONG.  My splits were great, as I was tracking a 3:00 half marathon.  The sun was going down, it was chilly, which is good for me.  Heat and running do not mix for me.  The conditions for running were ideal!  They flat out sucked for cycling with that wind, but for running, fantastic.

The run course is two loops.  The cruelest thing on earth is hitting the end of loop one.  You see the split for finish or continue.  You see faster athletes finishing.  You hear them finishing.  You’ve still got 13.1 to go.  Here it is for me.  Can I get in around six hours?  Heck, can I break six hours?  The half was 3:00:29.  I need an oh-so slight negative split.  And I feel good enough now to do it.  Will it hold?  Miles 13-18 no problem.  Then I noticed I was creeping into 14 minute miles.  The difference wasn’t the run segments, I was walking slower.  So starting with mile 20 I started running more.  I went from 30-130 to 40-120 then 45-115.

Not a single niggle from the knee all day!  No more hamstring issues, and just a bit from the calves, another gulp of pickle juice fixed that. 

Getting close to the finish, I hit a walk segment,  Walked maybe 30 seconds and I reached the barriers marking the finish chute.  No way I was walking any of this.  Too much crowd support.  I started running, and the folks watching started cheering.  They love to see folks run it in.  Around a slight bend and there it is.  The finish line.  The big timer.  Mike Reily’s voice booming, telling the person in front of me they are an IRONMAN.  I migrate to the right side, and high five a bunch of spectators, then make sure my bib is centered, I hit the final few meters, and I hear Mike bring me in.  God, I LOVE that!  Me, I am an IRONMAN!!!! (For the second time).  It is very emotional.  And then, it is over.  Just like that.  Done.  The volunteer takes you back, makes sure you don’t need medical, and gets you to the photo area.  They take a few shots, and get you to athlete food.  And you are done.  Euphoria, emotion, and hey, its over?  I want more!  Well, maybe another time.  Right now I think I want off my feet.

Oh and the run time?  My Garmin showed just over 6 hours.  Darn, missed the sub six.  Except the official time has me at 5:59:48.  Very, very happy!

So a strange Ironman for me.  The event I expected to be the best, the bike, was the poorest event of the day especially with the mechanical.  Even without it, it was about 6:45 of ride time, which is disappointing for the course.  I really expected to have a bike time faster than my run time here. 

I would be remiss not to thank all the volunteers, and especially the bike tech that saved my day.  Thank you all for your support.  And thank you to Ironman for putting on a great event.



Blue Seventy wetsuit
Tyr Rx googles


Specialized Transition Comp
Williams 58-85 wheels (LOVE THESE)
50-34 compact crank set
11-28 cassette
X-Lab cages


Saucony Kinvara 5 shoes
Fuel Belt

Total time 15:15 – Was shooting to go sub 14, but the mechanical and wind put the kibosh on that. 

On course photos courtesy of Tri Club San Diego
pre-race photos by me.

 What is next?  Well I am signed up for IM California-Oceanside 70.3 in March.  If my knee continues to behave, my plan for next year is one or two 70.3s and several shorter tris.  I also want to focus on my weight and conditioning.  For a former obese ~400 pounder I have done well.  But by triathlete standards I am heavy.  It shows in the pictures this year, I really need to get the weight down some more.  This will help with speed, but more importantly it will save the joints and muscles stress, allowing me to keep doing this stuff.

No 140.6's next year, unless, of course the Kona Lottery comes up for me!  :-)  I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to race at Kona.


  1. Phenomenal recap! As you know, I was tracking you all day and was really worried when I saw that bike split. I knew something NOT GOOD had happened. You pushed through, you finished, you are a second time Ironman. Did you hear Mike Reilly not only say your name, but say "good job buddy" or something like that? Yeah, he KNEW you needed more said! I'm so proud of you, Steve!

  2. Congrats on a tough day! Way to persevere from start to finish. You managed to turn tough spots on the bike into a successful race in the end. Problem solving, mental calculations, and unexpectedly tough conditions didn't stop you.Seems like that wind took more people into the DNF box than is typical at Arizona. Keep up the good work!

  3. Steve, you are a machine! It's so inspirational to read this!