Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ironman Arizona Race Report and Results

It's tough to put an Ironman into words on a blog. I think for this very reason I may only do 1 of them next year. I'll start from the beginning of the trip...

Thursday- Jen and I got to the Moline Airport where my awesome parents were waiting to take the kids from us so we could be on our way. I rolled up to the checkin counter of Allegiant Air and the 15 year old looking kid said, "I think you will have to pay extra for the bike." I explained to him that last time I few Allegiant they only charged me for checked bag since I had so carefully packed this bike into a small case. He asked his boss who told him it only should be charged as a checked bag. I thought that would be the end of the debate but then he told me he was going to look it up. I couldn't believe it...why was this kid questioning his boss?? He was trying to find it but couldn't and one of the other workers told him to let it go. SCORE!!!! $25.00 to ship a bike! Flight landed in Mesa, AZ at 10:30 and we got our rental car. The guy behind the counter laughed when I told him I was going to get my bike case into the economy sized car I had reserved. He told me for $10.00 more a day he could get me a bigger car. We took our chances and it fit no problem.
Friday- Friday we left the hotel at 9:30 and made our way to the race site. I picked up my packet and then went to the pro meeting at 12:30. As expected the meeting was packed. They told us this was the biggest pro field in any race outside the world championship this year. I was pretty excited about that since I wasn't really going into this race with a goal of placing high as much as I was with a goal of racing fast. I thought the bigger field would help me get out of the water with other riders and lead to a faster ride. At the meeting they go over the course and the rules. They are all pretty similar. One of the female pros, Lindsey Corbin, asked all of us to wear a pink bracelet in honor of Sally Meyerhoff, an elite runner turned triathlete who was killed last March while riding her bike. I had heard about Sally because she was a GU athlete and seemed like a tremendous person as well as athlete. Friday night Jen and I attended the Ironman pre-race banquet. We were fortunate enough that one of the Ironman officials gave us a wristband for Jen to get in when we approached him about why athletes have to pay $30.00 for a spouse to attend the dinner. This is one of my biggest complaints about Ironman. They are a profitable company...a HUGE one at that. They do some incredible things but charging family members $30.00 to attend a pre-race dinner or post-race awards banquet is certainly not one of them. I feel it would be fair to give athletes and 1 guest complimentary passes to these things. The races cost well over $600.00 now. Family members make great sacrifices so their loved ones can train for and make an Ironman only seems right to me those same family members should get into the banquets without paying an absurd amount. The dinner was nice and the show that Mike Reilly (voice of Ironman) put on was a good one. He kept us entertained but I still stand by the fact they should not charge an outrageous amount for a family member to attend. At the banquet we found out the oldest athlete who would be competing was a 74 year old gentleman from Cedar Rapids, Iowa so that was pretty cool (Jen and I would later watch him finish on Sunday night). They also had the youngest competitor on stage who was an 18 year old girl that was racing to honor her high school basketball coach who was recently diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease).

Saturday- Saturday was pretty uneventful. I checked in my bike and then dropped off my bike and run gear bags in transition. I also spent some time packing my special needs bags. I opted to go light on them. For my bike special needs bag I put one bottle of GU Ironman brew in the bag. That bottle has about 850 calories in it. For my run special needs bag I went only with a bottle of Red Bull. I was asleep by 8:30 anxiously awaiting the 4:00 wakeup call.

Sunday-Sunday was race day. I slept well. I was not nearly as nervous for this race as some of the other races I did this year. I was very confident in my fitness and knew I was going to shatter my IM Wisonsin time which was my big goal for the race. I got a good warm up in before the race and put on the Xterra Vendetta wetsuit for the last time this year. All the pros entered the water at 6:40 a.m. so we had 10 minutes to warm up. The water was cool at 61 degrees but that is the kind of temperature I love swimming in. It did not feel cold at all. I lined myself up in the middle of a pack of female athletes thinking my chances of finding someone to draft off would be better in the female pack than the male pack. At 6:50 the cannon fired and we were off! I wanted to swim conservatively and in hindsight I wish I had not done this. It was still pretty dark when we began the swim and it was not long before I lost contact with the main group. In fact, it wasn't long before I felt like I was swimming on my own behind nearly everyone else...males and females. The swim course was one big loop. We started at one bridg and swam down to a different bridge. I got to the bridge thinking we were turning around but the swim actually went a few hundred yards past the bridge. There was only one guy around me and when we hit the turn I was on the inside and I didn't see him again until late in the swim although I could feel him on my feet most of the way. I could see one other female pro ahead of me by about 25 yards but I could never close the gap on her. I felt like my form was getting sloppy on the way back in and with about 500 yards left the first amateurs passed me. They started 10 minutes after me and I was hoping to get in before they caught me but due to my error in starting out too slow I never swam fast enough. I wish now I would have just swam really hard and tried to stay with more of the group for longer. I feel like my swimming is pretty good right now but this swim didn't show it. I was out of the water in 1 hr. 3 minutes and we one of the last guys out. I got out in the exact same time as the guy who swam on my feet on the way back in.

I felt great as I made my way through transition. My legs and breathing were both good. I had a solid transition and passed the guy I got out of the water with and the female pro who got out ahead of me.

BIKE: The first 1/4 mile of the bike getting out of the park was a no pass zone but once we got out on the main roads I started pushing the pace hard. I had saved my Peanut Butter GU for this race and I took my first one early in the bike. Peanut Butter is my new favorite flavor of GU. It was awesome. The bike course is 3 loops with the way out going slightly uphill and the way back slightly downhill. The climb out to the turnaround is so gradual it is hardly noticable. We had a headwind going out. The toughest part of the entire bike ride was in the first 18 miles. My legs were not used to going at this effort for very long since I haven't raced in a couple months. After the first 18 miles when we made the turn to come back my legs felt great for the rest of the ride. Immediately after turning my speed went way up because now we were going down the gradual decline plus we had the wind at our backs. I was up over 30 mph for the first 5 miles or so on the way back. I saw my time at the first loop and it was about 2.5 minutes faster than I hoped to average...this was a great start. I felt really strong on the 2nd loop again going into the wind on the way out and having the wind at my back returning. I grabbed my special needs bag which had my 2nd bottle of Ironman GU brew and also a bottle of coke. Those were awesome! The problem with the coke is that it was still semi-frozen from sitting in our freezer all night. When I opened it I got a coke shower! The bottle was about to explode and when I took the cap off it did just that. I dumped as much as I could into my aero drink and the coke really helped keep me strong the next 20 miles or so. I went through lap 2 about 6 minutes under my goal pace for the bike and I was feeling better than when I started the ride. I began pushing harder on lap 3 and was going faster on the way out than I had on either of my first 2 laps. I was pretty exited about this but realized why when I hit the turn. The wind has shifted and instead of blowing out of the west it was now blowing straight out of the south. We would have a headwind on the way home. This was a huge disappointment because I had been looking forward to the "free ride" back home the final 18 miles. I had to work hard as the wind was definitely picking up as the day went on. I saw a lot of amateurs a lap behind me riding wheel to wheel as I went by them. I had passed only a few guys during the ride and a bunch of the female pros. I knew it would be a tough ride for me because I was all alone the entire that I mean I never had the benefit of riding with a pack like most of the pros. I'm the only one to blame for this because I can't swim. When they would go by me riding the other way they were in groups of 4-6 riders. They were all at legal distances which is smart riding. Staggering 10 meters behind the rider in front of you is a big help mentally and physically especially if the size of the group grows. I would not have this option beause all the guys faster than me on the bike already started it ahead of me due to my slow swim. I finished the bike in a time of 4 hrs. 46 minutes. I was really excited about being able to ride that time solo. It was 4 minutes faster than my goal time and 31 minutes faster than my time at Ironman Wisconsin. It also proved to me that I can get in great training indoors. I had not done an outdoor ride in the 4 weeks leading up to the race. I had great confidence that by using my Powerbeam Pro trainer I could be in great bike shape. I did a lot of interval work at high wattage levels to prepare for this Ironman. My back was never tight during the race which was my only fear of riding indoors so much.

RUN: I had a great transition to the run. I put on my racing flats after changing socks since my bike pair got wet a couple times while going to the bathroom on the bike. I grabbed my GPS watch and headed out feeling great. The GPS took a bit of time to locate the satellites while I was running. At about 3/4 mile into the run it came on and I was running sub-6 minute mile pace! I couldn't believe it. It felt too easy. My big problem was that my stomach was about to explode and I needed to find a bathroom quickly. At the 2 mile aid station I pulled my jersey down and rushed into the portapotty to relieve my stomach. When I got out I looked at the watch and saw my average pace was 6:45 and that included the stop. I was stoked. I knew if I could average 7:00/mile I would break 9 hours which was my ultimate goal. I was running about 6:00 pace and it felt easy. I had to decide if I would back off to 7:00 pace and hope to maintain that throughout or if I should continue on at my pace hoping to build a cushion incase I exploded later. I chose to go big. I was beginning to pass some of the guys in front of me and I felt like I was gliding. When I saw Jen she was excited about how much ground I was making on guys in front of me and I said, "I can run this pace all day." That became my mental phrase for the next 10 miles. When I would pass by spectators I would say, "all day"...mentally firing myself up...forcing myself to believe I could actually hold this pace. By mile 12 reality was setting in and my pace was slowing considerably. By the 13.1 halfway point my average pace had increased to 6:25/mile. I knew that meant I could average 7:35/mile on the back half of the marathon. I was hoping to stay around 7:00 pace for awhile to continue building that cushion but things started going downhill fast. By mile 18 I was to 6:45 pace average. By mile 20 I was at 6:50 average. I remember thinking I could run 8:00 pace the last 6 miles and still break 9 hours. The last 6 miles were pure mysery. Some of the guys (and even girls) I had passed began to pass me back. I kept telling myself to dig be willing to suffer more than I ever have. The will to break 9 hours was there but physically my body was not allowing it. The last 6 miles are a bit of a blur. I thought the 2nd place female didn't pass me until 2 miles to go but Jen said it was closer to 5 miles to go. I remember going up the only hill on the course and it took everything I had not to walk. My pace up the hill was over 10:00/mile. I would have to finish this marathon in some extreme pain. I realized with 2 miles to go there was no way I was going to break 9 hours. I gutted it out to the finish line and crossed in 9 hrs. 5 minutes. Despite not breaking 9 hours I was still thrilled. It was 1 hr. 1 minute faster than my time in Madison and it is a time I can be satisfied with if it's the last Ironman I ever do. I ended up 32 of the 55 guys who started the pro race. I think I was 39th overall counting the 3 female pros and 4 amateurs who beat me. I lost about 9 spots in the last 5 miles of suffering. The feeling of crossing the line knowing I had achieved what I set out to was awesome. I have to give thanks to Jen for allowing me the chance to get in one more race this year. I knew there were some people who thought my decision to start my 3rd Ironman of the year was a bad one. I never doubted it would be my best. I'm so glad I decided to race one more. At the finish line 2010 Ironman World champion Mirinda Carfrae was kind enough to take a picture with me. Jen and I returned Sunday night to watch finishers cross the line for the final 90 minutes of the race before the midnight cutoff. It was in this 90 minutes when I saw who the real warriors of this race distance are. These people were out on the course for 16 and 17 hours. As tough as the day gets mentally for 9 hours I can't even imagine what it is like for 16 and 17 hours. We witnessed people finishing with prosthetic legs and arms, we saw the 74 year old from Cedar Rapids finish. We saw 3 guys finish carrying a fellow competitor they befriended out on the course. We saw a woman finish with her head bandaged probably from falling on the concrete in the darkness of the run course. It was incredible seeing how many spectators hung around until it was all over. I'm glad I went back to watch the finish. It's something I won't forget. Jen and I hung out in Arizona on Monday before heading back. The bike fee was still only $25.00 on the return trip as well. Now it's time for a month break from training. It's time to get out of shape. I'm a firm believer that to get in better shape one has to first get out of shape to allow for the big adaptation from a year of training to set in. I started this past year 57 weeks ago and I was so blessed to be healthy through it all. I'm so thankful to have sponsors like Healthy Habits who always have my bike ready to race. I'm thanful to have Kaminski Pain and Performance Care and Laurel Darren to keep my body ready to race and recover. I'm blessed to have companies like Kiwami Triathlon Wear, Xterra Wetsuits, Zipp, and GU Energy who provide me with the tools I need to race successfully. I'm also so thankful to Russell Constrution for helping me make these races financially possible. Jim and Michelle Russell have also put a lot of money into the non-profit campaign called "Live Uncommon" which aims to get people healthy and active. It's been awesome watching Live Uncommon grow and inspire people to live healthy. I'm thrilled to be part of it. Check out the website to see how you can inspire people in your community to be healthy. In the next few weeks I'll decide whether I want to continue racing professionally or go back to amateur racing. I'll also set a race schedule for next year. I'm so thankful for all the nice comments on the blog and all the well-wishes I received through phone calls, texts, facebook messages, and e-mails. I was not out on the course alone. I knew people were following and I thought of that often as I was struggling. You got me through to the end with a HUGE PR. For that I cannot thank you enough. I only hope I can inspire you to DREAM BIG as much as you have inspired me to do the same. Lastly I must give thanks to my tremendously supportive wife Jen who allows me to do this. Without her love and support I don't even want to imagine how out of shape I would still be...and how much I would weigh. THANKS!! DREAM BIG!


Adam Beston said...

Nice work. What is the one Iron race next year? Rev 3 so you have the summer to prep? Seems like a good series since you seem to be quick over the multitude of distances.

Carson said...

That is awesome Jeff! Such a positive attitude! Keep up the work next year! You can make more gains!

Thomas Gerlach Pro Triathlete said...

You are right, you have to get out with the pro pack otherwise you are hosed. The age-group bike is so much different. Don't let the race discourage you - you know what you have to do to be competitive in the pro ranks. You can't argue with the pro race being way more fun. Forget about the run and focus on the swim this winter. See ya next year. -TG

Thomas Gerlach
Professional Triathlete

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