It has been a long year that finally came to an end at my first attempt at an Ironman, Ironman Arizona. I started training in January, and raced 3 sprints, 3 olympic distance races, and 4 half Ironman races this year leading up. I had a very successful season and PR’d in almost every race. I placed some high expectations on myself for this race as my ultimate goal in this sport is to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. From the races I had done and the training I had put in I was pretty confident that I could go under 10 hours. Based on the results from most of the other Ironman races around the world this year a sub 10 hour performance very well could qualify me.
Four weeks out form IMAZ got sick and did not shake it off until two days before the race, making my last long ride (2 or more hours) and last long run (more than1.5 hours ) four weeks from my race. This created an enormous amount of doubt in my mind, and created more stress that I did not need, but after two days in Arizona the doubt subsided and I felt like I could have a good day.
I got to Arizona the Tuesday before the race to acclimate myself to the temps and climate. The temps were in the mid 80’s all week and it was a pleasant change from 50’s and rain in Portland. I finished my cycle of antibiotics on Thursday and was beginning to feel 100% again. I had had some good swims at the ASU pool, and a couple of decent short runs, so my mental attitude was becoming much more positive. By Saturday I was sure I was ready to race and ready to race well.
With the alarm set at 4:00 am I got a pretty good night sleep on Saturday night, however I woke up to pee at 3:00 and could not go back to sleep. I got out of bed at 3:45 and grabbed my 750 calorie breakfast bottle out of the fridge and took about a 20 minute hot shower and thought about the day ahead.
Elee dropped me of at the race sight at about 5:15 and I took care of everything left I had to do…pump up the tires, drop of special needs, get body marked go to the bathroom etc. At about 6:20 I took a 150 calorie crank gel shot and put on my wetsuit (I decided to wear a sleeveless in hopes to alleviate the shoulder fatigue I have been experiencing in my full sleeved wetsuit). At 6:45 I jumped in the water and swam to the front. It was fairly cold, the announced temp was 63, and for those 10-15 minutes I was kind of wishing I would have gone full sleeves.
The pros went off at 6:50 and then a lot of elbows and kicking as people fought to hold their spot on that front line. The National anthem rang out, and then BOOOOM the cannon went off, and so did well over 2000 triathletes. The swim really was not as bad as I had heard an Ironman swim start can be. It was chaotic for a couple minutes and I took a heel to the left eye socket, but other than that, no biggy. I felt pretty darn good heading out and I caught a nice draft from a couple guys, I did think that maybe I was going a bit hard as I was breathing every other stroke, and it had been hammered into my brain that the key to the race was to be patient. I took a look at my watch at the turn and it read 26 and small change, I thought SWEET this is going well, I lost my draft and swam the way back on my own, trying to keep a steady pace breathing every 3 strokes. I still felt very good on the second half of the swim and as the volunteer pulled up onto the exit stairs I looked at my watch and it was blank. NOTHING. This was kind of disturbing for me and I was so distracted by it I ran right passed the wetsuit strippers, which in hind sight I think is better, because the volunteers pull it off for you in the changing tent anyway. Based on my first half split and how I felt I thought I swam close to a 55 minute swim which was my goal time. Actual Swim time was 59:14. My budget time to go under 10 hours was 1 hour so I was on that.
Transition one was ok, the volunteers were supposed to get your gear bag for you as you went by on your way to the changing tent but they could not find my bag, I knew where it was so I stopped and grabbed it and ran in to the tent sat down and a volunteer pulled my wetsuit off, I threw on my shoes, sunglasses, helmet and ran out to get sunscreen. Again the volunteers were supposed to have your bike for you as you ran past your row, but they must have been behind so I had to grab my own bike. Total time in T2: 4:17, which is ok as compared to the rest of my AG.
As I headed out on the bike I was kind of upset that I did not have a watch to monitor my HR, or more importantly have an idea of where I was at as far as time. But I did have my power meter which was MOST important anyway. My plan on the bike was to keep it steady and fewer than 215 watts for the first lap and cap it at 230 watts. But most importantly not push too hard and save my legs for the run. I packed on my bike 3 bottles with 380 calories of infinit, and had two more bottles(380 and 520 calories) in my special needs bag so I could drink one bottle an hour and have the last one with some reserve if I went longer than planned, but remember I have no watch so I just had to guess. As we headed out it was clear that there would be some winds out there and as I headed up the Beeline highway there was a direct head wind. I was being passed by several riders and it was hard to fight the urge to ride with them but new I needed to keep my watts down. Either these dudes were faster than me or I would see them again. As hard as I tried to keep the watts down, I was about 5 watts higher going out to the turn that I probably should have been as I averaged 220. The way back down was nice with a tail wind and I was able to rest my legs a bit averaging 209 watts back into town. I was feeling pretty darn good and I knew I only really had about 36 hard miles to go.
As good as I was feeling, I knew this was going to be a long ride and I had to fight the urge to go hard and decided to play it safe and go lgihter, there was still a good headwind going out so I just kept telling myself 205 watts, 205 watts 205 watts. As we approach “the hill” it started getting pretty congested and I just kept it steady and cruised by hundreds of people who were probably on their first lap. I passed the special needs pick up going the other way and figure I would be there within a half an hour and it became clear that I was a bit behind on my nutrition as I still had a bottle and a half on my bike, so drank a bit more frequently. My average watts for the out portion of the second lap were 202; this was a little light, but better than going to hard. Again the way back had a nice tail wind which again allowed me to rest the legs a bit, as I averaged 26 MPH at only 187 watts.
Heading out on the third loop there was a whole lot more people than the two previous loops and it became hard to ride a consistent pace. I had a choice to make, either expend the energy to get around some of these people that are riding just a hair under where I want to be, or find a “legal position” and finish the ride at a slightly slower pace, expending less energy. Not wanting to go slower I chose to get around, but quickly discovered the gain was not worth the effort. I only ended up a maybe .5 to 1 MPH faster but expending 15 more watts, I am not a math wiz, especially on my bike in the middle of an Ironman but I figured I may get to T2 about 3 minutes faster, but knew that could cost me a lot more on the run. So when I caught the next group going a similar pace and I just sat back well off the 10 meters just to be sure I was legal. Still this turned to be very inconstant and frustrating, so I would inevitably spike past until I found a new group to ride with. I know that this is not the best way to race an Ironman but I really did not know what else to do. It turns out I should have probably gone with my first choice as I ended up only averaging 191 watts for the last loop and 197 for the ride. I think having a HR monitor and time could have helped me quite a bit on this ride. Dave Ciaverella has told me that if someone tells you that after a race they probably should have road a bit harder then they probably road it just right. Maybe that’s the case for me here, but looking at my wattage after the fact I do believe I left something on the table here. Nutrition turned out to be good, I had zero issues, and ended up with about half to ¾ left in my 520 calorie bottle. Bike time: 5:07.22. Happy with that time. Goal time was 5:10; budget time was 5:15.
Coming into the bike dismount I was pretty happy to see the clock, it read 6:23 and change which meant 6:13 and change because I knew it was set from the pro start. That meant all I had to do was run a 3:45 marathon to get under 10, and I was certain I could run 8’s the whole run for a 3:30 and come in at 9:45. “Don’t do this Aleck, remember Clearwater last year, you were convinced that 4:15 was in the bag”. This is what I should have told myself, but instead other stupid things were running threw my head, like what if my dog got out while staying at my Mom’s and got into their livestock? Yep some crazy crap goes through your head at about mile 10 on the run in an Ironman. Anyway I digress….
T2 was smooth in and out with no troubles, and I was feeling good. It was great to see my wife and son and her family cheering me on, as well as Bill & Jen Thompson and Jason Kurian. Jason was like my guardian angel in the race, just popping up with a big smile on his face at random places throughout the race to tell me to get moving. T2: 1:55
So I was feeling pretty good to start the run, but I knew this would be a challenge to pace without a watch. I started out by asking people what kind of a pace they were shooting for hoping to find someone that I could pace with, but that did not go over very well as most just looked at me like I was an idiot. OK I guess I am on my own here. When I got to the Ford Motivational zone which I think was only like 4 miles out on the first loop there was a race clock and I knew I was going faster than I should be and I think I had calculated under 7:30 pace at this point I also had to pee and I knew that I still had 9 miles to another pair of socks so I stopped at a porta potty. When I got out I slowed down the pace, boy oh boy am I a bad judge of pace and apparently so is Kurian. I asked him on the second segment if I looked slower than I did on the first part and he said “no, you are holding the same pace” well I knew that could not be true, but if I looked the same I probably should be about 8 minute pace then.
Nutrition was much easier to judge on the run as I just took a sip of my gel flask at about every other mile, took water at every aid station and salt about every 4 miles. At about 8 miles I hit a little lull, and started thinking that this is going to get pretty hard. About that time I developed a hot spot on my right forefoot. I tried wiggling my toes around to see if I could reposition my socks, and try to make it to the special needs bag at about mile 13 where I had another pair of socks. The wiggling must have worked because it seemed to go away. At mile 10 I was feeling pretty good and thought what the hell lets pick it up a bit, but almost immediately developed a side stitch on my left side, so I backed it down and took a salt tab and it went away, so I tried again to pick up the pace and it came back. Clearly this was my body telling me not to increase the pace, so I accepted that. That was about mile 12 and I started getting mad when I would see the mile markers for the third lap, and would think why can’t that be me. At mile 16 I started cussing at Dave and Ann Ciaverella who told me that at that point you just have to gut it out and pisck it up. Clearly they must have meant mile 18, no that is not happening either. At mile 19 I felt good again and tried to pick up the pace but again, side stitch. A mile or so later came the Motivational Zone again and I took a look at the race clock and I had about 50 minutes to finish the race under 10 hours, “What the hell happened? How did I slow down that much?” I thought, oh well if I am going to do this I really am going to have to go to the pain cave. It hurt, and hurt bad but I picked up the pace and kept telling myself I can do this, I can hurt for 50 minutes. Jason kept me going here as well; he popped up 3 or 4 times in the last 10 k telling me to push. About two miles out a guy passed me with a 39 on his calf, I kept about 20 feet behind him and we made the last turn toward the finishing shoot, and there was Kurian, he said “You got it man you are going sub 10!” WOW! the adrenaline shot through me like a drug, and I had no idea where I was at as far position in my age group, but that 39 year old was not going to take a spot away from me. I sprinted as hard as I could through the shoot and so did he. When I looked up and saw 9:56 I just pumped my fist and let out a loud YES! The finish of an Ironman is truly amazing, to think that I could muster that kind of energy after going 140.6 miles is mind boggling.
My final run time was 3:44.13, and I am disappointed in that time, I think I should be able to run a 3:30. Maybe I am overshooting my capabilities, but I don’t think so.
So I did it, I finished my first Ironman and did in under 10 hours 9:56.57 I am very excited and happy about that but even more excited to know that I learned a lot and there is plenty room to improve.
No, I did not qualify for Kona, and while I am a bit disappointed in that, my coach put it in perspective to me several weeks before the race that no one is entitled to Kona. There are a ton of things that you cannot control in an Ironman race; the biggest is your competition. In this race my AG was stacked with fast dudes, with the last slot going to 9:44.27, yep just about the difference of going a 3:30 marathon. RUN, RUN, RUN.
So this is the end of my season and I have had such a wonderful year. I have so many people to thank for helping me and allowing me to be able to chase these crazy dreams. First and foremost, My wife Elee and son AJ for dealing with my selfish training schedule and giving so much support and love along the way. Marc Roberts (Bob) you are the best of friend’s man and without your help I would have not been able to participate in this event. Bart and Ginger, for making this trip and supporting me along the way, I am lucky to have In-laws like you! Mom & Ray, Dad, Deanna & Stacie same thing, your support is much appreciated. My Coach Scott, thank you for getting me here and in a position to compete in this sport. Dave Ciaverella, bro you are my mentor and best training partner, I have learned so much from you. Jake Barakat, you are good friend and training partner that has helped push me through many miles. Christian, thanks for helping me keep things in perspective. Jason Kurian I have to give you a shout, for helping me get in under 10 hours. All Ironheads, thanks for letting me be part of such a high profile team, everyone of you push me on a day to day basis, the comradery is irreplaceable. Last but not least, David Diviney, your comment about how stupid triathlon is will always keep things in perspective for me to remember that the positives this sport has given me will always out way the negatives.