Ironman AZ – Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Ironman AZ – Nothing ventured, nothing gained

It was always a dream of mine to compete in Ironman AZ (Arizona) as a professional triathlete. Because I live in Phoenix, which is very close to Tempe where the race is held, I had gone and watched the race a few times in previous years. It was not my intention to move up in distance so quickly but with the race being local I decided to give it a shot.

After Vineman 70.3 I was really discouraged and felt burnt out. I also had to start my new job and put my time and energy into that. I pretty much had 8 weeks of really poor unstructured training, some of the weeks I did nothing, some of the weeks I was working out at work, and some I was able to motivate myself to go on some longer rides and maintain my swimming. I actually think the heat in Phoenix was a big part of the burn out. The summer heat simply lasted too long from May until the middle of November, pretty much a week before Ironman AZ.

I had 10 weeks from when I finally got my head back into the game until the race. Ideally, this was not as much time as I would have liked but I sorta liked the impromptu attitude albeit probably wasn’t my smartest decision I’ve made before.

I logged some good long runs and probably five 5+ hour rides which gave me some confidence going into the race. I had one big race simulation training day about a month out from the race. The race simulation day was about 7.5 hours and it went really well. I think I should have done at least two more of these before the race though. The problem was that it took so much out of me and I actually had to take a week off because I was so exhausted. I felt so run down that I thought I was sick. I also had some sciatic nerve pain about 2 weeks out from the race which caused me to take a few days off. I went to a chiropractor and got straightened out (pun intended) and my back and leg felt much better almost immediately. However, on the Wednesday during race week I did a little tune up brick workout and my sciatic pain came back a little. My back was sorta sore the entire race week but felt good by the time race day rolled around. I tried not to think about it and went into the race with no expectations but with the confidence that 9 hours or better was possible for me.

Onto the race…

The swim was a cake walk for me. Oddly enough, I did not swim nearly as much as I have in the past because I wanted to focus on riding and running. I ended up trailing along the front pack and exited the water in just around 50 minutes being 15th out of the water. The swim felt a lot shorter than I thought it would and it was actually nice to not be red lining it the whole time like I do in an olympic distance race or even a half.

I exited the water about 30 seconds back from a big group of guys and grabbed my bike gear bag and got into the change tent. A volunteer was trying to help me get my helmet out of my bag and it made the knot in the gear bag tighter than it already was. Then as he was trying to pull my helmet out of the bag, the visor broke off. Eventually another volunteer just cut the bag open because we had so much trouble getting the helmet out. I had to fiddle with the visor for a few minutes to get the visor back on but it rattled the entire ride.

I got to my bike 3 minutes later and was literally the only person in transition because the group got away due to the issue with my helmet. Once on my bike, I got settled in and realized my power was not showing up on my Garmin. I thought, okay…maybe it just needs a few minutes because sometimes it goes to sleep. 5 miles into the bike the Garmin says power meter detected. Wooohoooo! Then I look to my left and see Lionel Sanders flying by me. My Garmin detected his power meter as he was passing me and it recorded some of his watts, 356 to be exact. By then, I realized that my power meter battery was dead. This was frustrating because I had a number in mind and I wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it so I could have a good run. Then I proceeded to get passed by a ton of other pros, as usual. To make matters worse there was a really bad headwind up the Beeline. Towards the end of loop 1 of 3 my back started to bother me. I was worried because of how early it was into the ride. I also was cramping a lot despite getting in all of my tried and tested nutrition. During the whole ride I drank 5 bottles of Infinit, 1,500 kcal, two mini twix bars, a power gel, water, and even some Gatorade towards the end to see if it would stop the cramps (about 2,000kcal). The cramps were weird though. I was cramping in my jaw, my hands, my glutes, adductors, and one calf muscle. They also didn’t go away with my nutrition and heavy sodium intake. I ended up just slogging through the ride and really hit some low points where I was wondering what I was doing out there. I came off the bike in 5:11, about 20-25 minutes slower than I had thought I could ride. Initially I didn’t think it was that bad since I could probably run well given how much slower I had ridden. However, when I tried to get off my bike my hamstring cramped up so bad the volunteer had to pull the bike from under me.

Photo by Nick M, TriJuice

Photo by Nick M., TriJuice.com

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Photo by Nick M., TriJuice.com

Off the bike

Off the bike

I ran to the change tent and started to put my shoes and socks on. I was having serious issues bending over at my waist and being able to put my socks on. I was cramping and had severe back pain. Thanks to the one volunteer who was calming me down and got me some water. I started running and about half a mile in I knew it was going to be a rough afternoon. I had to bend over and stretch my back because it felt like someone had been hitting it with a hammer repeatedly the last 5 hours. I walked a lot and struggled to get back towards transition. I got through 5 miles with a lot of walking, stopping, stretching and finally there was an aid station with Doctor Hoy’s. This is some anti inflammatory cream that feels like icy hot. A couple nice volunteers put some of this on my back and I started running again. I also got a bag of ice and put it in the back pocket of my race suit. Finally around mile 9 my back started to feel better. By better I don’t mean 100% better, I think I just got used to the pain. The rest of the run was hands down one of the darkest and challenging moments I’ve ever endured during a race. I walked so much. So much. I was sick of sugary foods and liquid and I just wanted to be done. I told myself a few times that it would be OK if I just quit, it didn’t matter, you didn’t pay for this. But I always had so much respect for people that finished their days despite everything going wrong. I got passed by all sorts of age groupers with the big “P” tattoo on the back of my leg, signifying professional. It was humbling. It was embarrassing. The race brought me to my knees both literally and figuratively.

Now walk it out

Now walk it out

 

Chris getting some good video

Chris getting some good video

I had an out of body experience towards mile 20 on the run. This was super weird. I felt like I was watching myself from afar. Looking back on it, most of the run is a complete blur.

10 hours and 45 minutes later I crossed the line. I was absolutely depleted mentally and physically given the fact how much perseverance it took to get to the line. I was really disappointed with my time but at the same time I did not really care because I was finally finished.

It’s been about a week now and I’ve had time to reflect on the race. I’m not proud of the result. I don’t think it was a good indication of how fit I was or the training I did. I am sure I could have done more or prepared longer but it’s behind me now. However, I am proud of myself for finishing. I have so much respect for age groupers and pros who finish their day no matter how it ends up going. When you sign up for a race you take the chance that you will have an off day. If that means having to walk in order to finish, that means walking. I know some people argue that it could cause injury, fatigue, etc. for their next race but in reality, if you just walk and jog the marathon and make sure you’re eating and hydrating as much as possible, you really can finish without hurting yourself. I actually felt less sore than I thought I would because I walked so much and made sure to eat and drink a lot. I’ve been way more sore after other races. Plus, I think a lot more pros should learn what it’s like to be out there all day like an age grouper. It is hard. It is lonely. It is challenging. I gained so much respect for age groupers who are out there for 11, 12, 13+ hours. No matter what the circumstances are they find a way to finish. That in and of itself is an accomplishment. I admire those people more than some of my fellow pro athletes who decide to DNF because they have a “bad” first few miles on the run or wherever they had a rough patch. Even if pros are doing the sport to make a living you don’t see businessmen who walk out of a meeting if they messed up on their presentation do you? No. Do you ever see Lebron James just sit on the bench the rest of the game because he missed some free throws or didn’t score as many points as he did the week before? No. What I’m saying is…

There is always something to be gained from finishing a race. What I learned most was that it should have never been about a goal time or where I finished relative to the other competitors, it should have been about the fact that I do this sport because I love it. I think this year I had so many bad performances because I forgot that I was just doing triathlon for fun. I put too much pressure on the fact that I am in the pro division and must perform.

Moving forward I am going to try and have a more laid back mind set and forget about everything besides just moving and enjoying what my body is able to do. We’re meant to move and be active and I’m grateful that I am healthy enough to do the sport I do. In the next couple weeks I am going to take a little more time off to refresh my mind and give my body a break. When I start back up, I am going to try some new training methods for the next few months. I am going to focus on building a big base and doing lots of lower heart rate focused training similar to what Mark Allen did.

As I was out on the run course walking most of the marathon, I told myself I’d never do another Ironman. Those of you who have done an Ironman know this doesn’t last long, I am already thinking about IMAZ next year, and possibly another one at some point before that. I want to get back out there to enjoy the day, rather than preoccupy myself with a goal.

Until next time.

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