For a variety of personal reasons, which I will not put the reader through, my training for Ironman Arizona was not where I wanted. As the race approached, I had to face the realization that I was undertrained and overweight; even by my own pudgy standards.
There is no cramming for the Ironman exam. It takes months of consistent training to be properly ready. I trained, just not to the level I would have liked.
I left San Diego for Tempe on Thursday, and took a nice easy drive out. Checked into my room, which was actually in Mesa, as I went cheap and stayed eight miles away to save $45 a night.
Friday I went over to the Ironman Village and picked up my packet. Having done two full Ironman races, I knew what to expect, I strolled through the vendors, talked to one of the recovery boot vendors, and did a 10-minute demo. They felt pretty darn good, but they are out of my budget right now.
I picked up my bib, timing chip, and goodies, and took a stroll through the Ironman store. I always get an M-dot shirt with the names of the participants on it. I have one from every half and full I’ve done. And I liked the IMAZ coffee mug, so I got one of those. I don’t need to buy out the store anymore though, I’ve done this!
Got my stuff, time to put my feet up for a bit. As I drove back to my motel, I passed the spring training facility for the World Champion Chicago Cubs! What a facility, and the cool part is they got the streets around the park named Addison, Clark, Waveland, Sheffield.
My routine for the day before a race is to get a short, 30-minute shakeout ride, then rack my bike and rest. The shakeout ride went fine, but I thought my rear brake was soft. I gave my bike to bike tech to check it out. They were swamped and had a 3.5 hour wait, so I went and had some lunch. Came back and still had to wait an hour. Ugh. Finally got my bike, racked it, and went into rest mode. Social media off, calm the mind, visualize a successful race.
I slept GREAT! Woke up 10 minutes before the alarm. Had my breakfast as I drove in. Got parked, made my final preparations and now nothing to do but wait. I found a place to sit and get off my feet. Pros start at 6:40. Age groupers start at 6:50 in a controlled self-seeded start.
About 6:20 I start putting the wetsuit on, take my morning dry bag down, and got in the queue for the Roka swim course with the 1:20 swimmers.
BOOM! There goes the cannon and the pro men are off.
BOOM! There goes the cannon and the pro women are off.
BOOM! There goes the cannon and the age-groupers start! And now, we are moving. It didn’t take long and into the water, my race starts. Swim, swim, I can’t see. Roll over, rinse goggles, go. Swim, smash, smash, goggles and cap knocked off. Grabbed the goggles, lost the cap. Swim, swim, can’t see. Goggle fix. I could not get the goggles to stay clear. Finally got far enough as we approached a bridge, and I could sight off it, so I wasn’t worried about the limited vision. I felt strong swimming at this point, and this continued throughout the swim. I figured I had dropped back to the 1:30-1:35 swimmers with the goggle issues, and had some negative self - talk, and doubt going on here. So I gave myself a butt-chewing and got to it. Then good positive self – talk as I got in a groove! Here comes the final red buoy, left turn, I can here cheering, and announcing, and can see the exit stairs, and volunteers, and I’m out of the water! In 1:23:17! My second best swim at this distance, which is three Ironman races, and one Tiki Swim. But it feels like a PR with the start being so bad. I really thought it was about 1:30 so I was stoked. Off to Transition one.
As I exited the water I was a bit wobbly. I quickly realized I didn’t flutter kick enough toward the end and had no blood flow in the legs. Too late now, just start toward transition, I got my legs under me pretty quick. Got my bike bag, found a seat and got ready for the bike. Jersey, knee sleeves, socks, bike shoes, helmet. Go grab my bike, and away we go.
Two years ago when I did this course it was very windy. The forecast for this year was six MPH with gusts to nine. Well it felt stronger than that right away, but not even close to as bad as two years ago. The bike course is three loops. Out Rio Salado, left on McClintock. Right here is a Portillos.
If you are from the Chicago area, you know Portillos. I wanted to stop. But, alas, this is a race, and I keep going. Right on McKellips, left on Alma School, right on McDowell, and left on the Bee line. The Bee line. ~10 miles, fully exposed, slightly uphill until the end when there is a definite kick up. And outbound into the wind. The first loop is pretty crowded. More than half the field swims 1:15 to 1:30, so more than half the field is hitting this at the same time.
Now remember, no drafting, and a six bike length gap is required. Yeah, right. Do the best you can and truck along. The neat thing about a multi loop course is as we are on loop one, the pros go zooming by on loop two. And I mean zooming by. Anyway, I’m watching my power staying within, actually a bit under the plan, and doing better than expected on speed overall. Thankfully no mechanicals this year!! I stopped at mile 62 for special needs, which was two fresh bottles of carbo pro, along with a Snickers and a Coke. I stretched out as they retrieved my bag, took a few swigs of Coke, and was off. I stopped at mile 92 for a quick nature break and another stretch. Then, it was head on in. Except the wind had shifted. As I went down the Bee line my speed was much slower than the first two trips. The wind was more cross than help, and as I turned on McDowell, wham, right smack into it. Ugh, expecting a free ride in, and DENIED!
But finally, on Rio Salado, and the sound of cow bells, cheering, and the village. Volunteers take my bike, and I get my run bag. Gotta say, I made it through the bike pretty good. 6:39 (6:32 pedal time) and I wasn’t cooked. I kept my power in check, and felt ready to run.
In the transition tent, I change out of bike gear and into running gear. The last thing to go on: my shoes. A pair of Hoka Bondi 2s. Well broken in, trained in, with socks I’ve trained in. Of three models of shoes I used in training, I had no issues with these. And I wore them on my longest training runs. That is why they were selected as the marathon shoes.
I walked out of transition ready for my 30-90 run-walk ratio, which would give me a 6:15 to 6:30 marathon. This is where my training was, and I’ve learned do not try and do more than where you are.
The first mile has a few short up-hill sections right at Tempe Town Lake, not bad, but I could feel it.
I also felt a weird sensation, pain in my left foot at the arch. So I took a quick stop to make sure there wasn’t an issue. The shoe was on right, the sock was smooth, but I could feel this pressure on my left arch. Nothing I could do about it, so on I went.
One of the hardest parts of a triathlon for me, mentally is the start of the run. I swam a bit better than mid pack for my age group. I biked just under mid pack. But I run much slower. Which means just about everyone I come off the bike with goes right by me. But I stayed with my plan. I could feel that tight tension in my quads by mile four. When I ran I focused on engaging my glutes and hips to take some pressure off the quads. It usually works. It wasn’t helping much here.
Assessing where I was, at mile six, I was going to have two main issues over the last 20 miles. One my quads were getting very grumpy, and two, my left foot was really starting to get uncomfortable.
Despite this, I kept up with a slow version of my 30-90 split and trudged through the halfway point about 3:15. I say about as my Garmin dropped out a few times going under bridges.
Right after the half way point is special needs. I called out my number and picked up two small bottles of pickle juice and my headlamp. I stopped again to check on that left foot. Still could not see anything causing the discomfort/pressure. But it was there, and getting worse. I decided to walk mile 13-14 and take it easy over those small hills on this two lap course.
I resumed my ratio at mile 14 and had a couple of decent miles. But at mile 16, almost right at the marker, I simply could not run. For the next 10.2 miles I walked. I tried to go into a run three or four times, and never got more than four to five strides. It was, in short a death march. Every step my left foot screamed, my quads groaned, and now my back was hurting too. Probably from compensation for the foot and quads. Oh, yeah, and the knees started to ache.
I tried to keep smiling. When 10-time Ironman champion Chrissy Wellington was asked why she always had a smile, she said it makes it hurt less. She is right, but smiling took energy too. So I tried. I tried to thank the volunteers at aid stations, and keep my humor. I did math, multiplying double digit numbers to keep the mind off the pain.
Mile 20. Just a 10K to go. You are almost there. You’ve got this. It’s all downhill from here. If you’ve done any kind of race you have heard well - meaning volunteers, spectators, and even other competitors say these things. When you are in a slow walk 6.2 miles is an eternity. I do NOT want the hear this. And it continues. Just five to go. You look great. No, I don’t. I look awful. It takes an insane amount of effort just to move my leg forward. But forward we go. Off the bike I had a great chance for a PR time. At mile 22.5 my PR time was gone. Finally, mile 25. The longest mile in the history of man. Oh, I know a mile is 5,280 feet. But this mile defies logic. It seems never ending. It goes and goes and goes. Finally, I can hear Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman. Telling person after person they are an Ironman. Dammit, that gets me emotional. I can’t figure it out, but there is something about finishing an Ironman. I mean, I get it for your first. I was confused why it happened on my second. I really didn’t expect it on number three, but there it was. Maybe because the run, death march was so hard, and I still got through? Maybe the joy on so many first timers? Maybe the nice guy I shared some miles with that was on number eight, Ironman being his new vice, five years sober. I told him, that was way more impressive than the Ironman! Great job dude, wish I got your name.
Well, there it is, the finishing chute. Try to run, you’ve got to run through the finish. Somehow I managed a pathetic jog, and went through the finish. And for the third time in my life, Mike Reilly called out: STEVE SMART YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!! I will not lie, I love that. Almost 16 hours. My slowest Ironman thanks to the death march. But hearing that, makes it worth it.
I am an Ironman. Again. For the last ten miles I really was thinking maybe this should be my last full Ironman. But the finish is magical. And I’m planning on what one I’ll do next.
Many, many years ago when I was really into bowling, there was a tournament known as the Peterson Classic. It was held at a dump known as Archer 35th Recreation on Chicago’s south side. In a less than desirable neighborhood. The tournament was intentionally insanely hard. Great bowlers would leave shaking their heads with scores they hadn’t shot since they were little kids. And there was a sign up that said, Mr. Peterson This is the next to last time I’ll ever bowl in your tournament. I think the Ironman is a lot like that. This is the next to last time I’ll ever do that to myself.
Next: Undecided. Evaluate. Must....lose....weight....
Next: Undecided. Evaluate. Must....lose....weight....