We woke up way too early, about 3 a.m. Let me tell you something. You might think we’d bound out of bed all excited and ready to do this race, right? So excited unable to sleep? Yeah, not so much. I woke up as grumbly as I have for any training day this year or any other race.
T and I walked over to Starbucks where we’d grab coffee, a couple pastries, and some spinach feta wraps for breakfast. I don’t know if they just didn’t taste as good as they normally do, or if it’s the fact it was 3 in the morning, but whatever it was, I managed to eat about ½ of the wrap. I saved my cheese croissant for transition and we milled about the room for a bit more before finally deciding to venture to the race.
Once there, we found our bikes and spots in trans. T had her bike checked out by the mechanics and I had my tires pumped up. Then I tried to find out where Kris and Mark were. The idea was to meet up with them just prior to dropping off my morning clothes bag so I could toss my cell phone in there. Met up with them in plenty of time, handed them the baby dinosaurs, got some good vibes and kudos, and then found our friend Corie. We chatted with her for a bit, took a couple pictures, and then got in line with the rest of the team so we could enter the water.
You may find this hard to believe, but about a minute or two before I hit the water, I was overcome with a serious feeling of apprehension. I don’t know if I was afraid of the cold water, the mass start, or it was simply nerves, but I was very close to bailing. Last year, as a volunteer, we heard that a guy hopped in the water, said “fuck this” and hopped right out. That very well could have been me. Imagine that. $783 in race fees, countless hours spent on the road, swimming 4K in the pool, and I was ready to bail! Luckily, I just kept moving.
Jumping in the water, I started cursing a lot, not out of anger or frustration or pain, but out of sheer jubilation. The race was finally here! It was time to show off everything I had been working at for 11 months, and really, for years. Because let’s be honest; since 2008 when I watched that YouTube video of Kona, Ironman has always been my dream. I knew I’d get there someday; today was that day.
I sat on a ledge for a minute or two, just to slow my heart rate down. The excitement in the air obviously got me a bit excited and I didn’t want to start the race jumpy. T and I stuck together until the cannon went off, wishing each other well and promising it would be a good day. A quick kiss goodbye, a love you, and suddenly the cannon went BOOM! My Ironman journey was beginning!
Anyone who has ever described an Ironman Swim Start as a washing machine is being generous and downplaying it. As T put it, it’s more like the movie Titanic after the boat goes down and everyone is clinging to someone or something trying to survive. That’s what an Ironman Swim Start is like. Survival is just it. You know for the first several hundred meters you’re going to be fighting for space, so instead of stressing, just accept and know it’ll come.
T and I must have been more towards the back, although you’d never know. Bodies were flailing everywhere. People were looking around, almost confused, like this was a novel concept or something. Me, I put my head in the water when I could, and when I couldn’t, I propelled my way forward using any method I could.
Probably 2-300 meters in, I was able to start settling down and swim. I was really really focused on taking it slow, ensuring my breathing was stellar. See, I wasn’t planning on being fast this day. No sir, I was planning on having the endurance to keep going after the swim. What good is it to swim 2.4 miles if you have nothing left in the tank for the ride AND the run? So I kept very steady.
Just before the turn around, some dude kept zigzagging into my swim path. I understand, sighting isn’t easy, especially with the sun right in your face, but c’mon, man! This was insane. I sped up just to get away from him, but he sped up too! I was slightly annoyed, so I actually moved quite a bit over.
The turn is the only part for the rest of the swim where I got bottled up. Everyone wanted to hug the buoy to minimize time in the water. Makes sense, but damn it led to some snarls. I didn’t get caught up too badly and kept pressing on.
Here’s some random thoughts I had on the swim (yes I was thinking things):
- It’s kind of cool to swim under a bridge
- Wasn’t there a helicopter last year?
- They’re taking off of runway 8 at PHX
- Those condos are nice. Won’t we run by them later?
- I’m not cold
- This lake is yucky
- Another Southwest airplane
- That bridge isn’t coming up. Why is it so far away?
When I hit the turn to head inbound, the buoy got ridiculously crowded and I actually treaded water for a second. A dude and I made eye contact and laughed at the mass hysteria. But I knew I was going to make the cut. There were a lot of bodies around still heading in, which was a great sign. When I made the steps, I forced myself to slow down. I sat on the edge, and very slowly pulled myself up. Mindful of T’s toe injury the day before and her nasty ankle injury, I refused to be a casualty. A volunteer helped me up, and I jogged up the steps. Now I finally took a look at my watch and saw 1:30 something. Satisfied, I worked my way to the back of the wetsuit stripper line, got my wetsuit peeled off, and headed into the change tent. Swim done!
Knowing my back was not against any clock, I took my time, making sure I had everything together. After grabbing my gear bag, I spent extra time body gliding and sunscreening. A volunteer helped me gather everything and I was so grateful. Quick schnarfing a BonkBreaker bar,I ran out of the change tent and towards my bike. A volunteer more or less ran with me to my bike and pulled it off the rack. I grabbed it, handed him the wrapper of my bar, ran out, and began the next journey.
Coming out of T1, the strip of road is super narrow, and instead of mounting right away, I ran down a bit before I found a clear spot. Pedaling slowly to get my legs under me, I saw our friend Scott, who is doing his own Ironman next year and wanted the experience of being there with us. I pointed at him, smiled, and started on my way. And of course, I saw my friend Mike at the turnaround point. I yelled something to him about the Simpsons and began my ride in earnest.
So that pre-ride that we did? The one that filled me with a boatload of confidence and had me figuring I was going to hit some ridiculous speed? Yeah, that wasn’t happening early. Speed was hard to find and certainly wasn’t what I thought It’d be. Nonetheless, I had a simple gameplan for the bike: keep my cadence in the 85-90 range and whatever speed I hit, I hit. I also planned on eating every 3-4 miles and going heavy on the water. Salt would be taken in about every hour.
The first loop was pretty quick. Climbing out on the Beeline highway, the climb was definitely taking effort, which I had anticipated. Still, I was a tad surprised. I was working on adequate food intake and liquid intake, but at some point, I literally became full. I think after eating two Oreos and a few Bonkbreaker chunks, I was done eating for awhile. However, I made sure to keep my fluid intake up. I had water in my aero bottle and a bottle of Skratch in my cage. A lesson I’ve learned from past races is that I tend to take in too much fluid early in the race, get the sloshy feeling, and then not drink until late, thus getting the sloshy feeling on the run. Therefore, I was going to pace myself. Given that it wasn’t too hot out, I would be fine. However, I dropped my salt and Advil early moving things around in my Bento Box, and I hoped/prayed that I could manage. I wasn’t in muscular pain, nor did I have a headache, so Advil wasn’t necessary, but salt…well…we’d see.
When I came back down the Beeline, I pedaled like a man possessed. Threw it down into a pretty big gear and enjoyed myself. Probably averaging 22-23 mph for 10 miles or so, I was feeling great. I felt no fatigue and while I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that pace for the long term, at least I was accumulating time and speed. I also saw T and smiled, knowing she was on the bike course. We yelled something of encouragement, although I don’t remember what. Coming into the turnaround point, I saw my parents and waved, and yelled something to Mike, who was the slow-down guy. Probably something sarcastic about not wanting to slow down.
Loop two was definitely a grind. An awful grind. The sun was higher overhead, and the hills were being felt a lot more. I kept up my cadence, but my legs were feeling the fatigue. Now keep in mind, during training, I did a lot of long rides, including 70, 85, 100, and a couple 60 mile rides + the ½ Ironman. I was over 40 miles in, yet my legs were beginning to feel a bit fatigued. Not a good sign.
Up near the top of the Beeline, I saw Kris and Mark, which definitely boosted my morale. They told me T was doing fine, and that made me even more relaxed. I also realized that I was now halfway through the bike. That, my friends, is the best feeling in the world.
Bombing back down was not as easy this time around. My legs were suddenly feeling like lead. I repeated one thing in my mind: patience. Patience was a mantra I developed early in my training. To me, it is simply allowing the gains to come to you. Don’t chase things, and don’t push it. The lesson I learned from Cheyenne in 2010 came back to me as well: to speed up, slow it down. So mentally, I was fine. But physically, I was worried I was starting to break down. To break up the monotony, and to force myself to take in some salt, sugar, and enjoy what I was doing, I stopped at my bike special needs to drink some Sprite. It was something that sounded really good. Coke, for whatever reason, did not. I drank one-half of the bottle, rested a bit, reapplied sunscreen and body glide, and moved on. I figured I’d eat some pizza I had in my box too to increase my salt.
I saw my parents at the turnaround again, and they were certainly a sight for a fatigued Baby Dinosaur. I forced myself to head back out one more time.
People talk about the wall, and Matthew Inman talks about the Blerch. I don’t know what it is, but let me tell you what happened at mile 80. My brain started to shut down. My legs didn’t want to spin anymore. The fatigue and grind of the race was really bearing down on me, and while I wasn’t worried about making the bike cut (I was still looking to come in under 6:30:00) I was still thinking about T and hoping her ankle would hold. Coming down on loop 2, she said she was in pain.
So here we are, loop 3, and I’m attempting to stab the imaginary pain that is trying to make my body slow down. The sun is hot now, I’m damn near bored, and my body pretty much just went into “go” mode.
Around mile 90, I saw Ky, my teammate and friend, on the side of the road. It was obvious she was wrecked. I stayed with her for a bit, chatting with her. She said some bloke clipped her and down she went. She was on loop two and mailing it in. I didn’t blame her and told her I’d stay until the sag wagon got there. She refused to let me, telling me to keep going. Taking her words to heart, I hopped back on my bike, and suddenly the wall/Blerch/imaginary pain I wanted to stab was gone. I was prepared to move, dammit!
Up at the top of the Beeline, I again saw Kris and Mark, and hopped to actually chat with them and scratch the baby dinosaurs. They said T was still doing well, but slowing down a bit. I told them about my fallen teammate and they wished her well. After that, I grabbed some more water at the aid station and headed back down.
Let me tell you something. There’s a scene in Breaking Bad (spoiler alert) in the final episode where Jesse is imagining himself working with wood. And he’s making this beautiful carving, with sunlight pouring into what appears to be a beautiful workshop. Suddenly he’s snapped back to reality, and he’s chained up working to make meth for the Nazis. If there’s a Nirvana, a euphoric feeling, whatever you want to use, I found it on the way down. Suddenly riding in the desert was beautiful. The cacti were talking to me. I chatted with a few other cyclists, sharing war stories and just enjoyed myself. There was no pain. It was just me and the bike and the road. Truly, I have never felt that feeling of peace on the bike, but if I can duplicate it someday, well…
Coming back onto Rio Salado, I threw it into granny gear and just spun. I flushed as much lactic out as I could and enjoyed the last mile or so. Saw my parents yet again, gave them a big smile, and headed into transition. Not having to flip and make that turn was a feeling of glory. Straight up. I handed a volunteer my bike and shuffled to the gear bags. Another volunteer handed me my bag, and I went into the tent.
I looked at my watch and was highly satisfied. I was going to have nearly 8.5 hours to complete the run. I could walk the damn thing and make it! No problem!. Therefore, I REALLY took my time in T2. Not that I could have gone fast, trying to get those stupid compression socks on, but damn they were worth it. The volunteer and I made small talk, he helped me apply some sunscreen and I put on Bodyglide. I asked for a shot of whiskey, but no dice. J Headed out of the tent, skipped the crappy sunscreen (I know, I put it on people last year), started my Garmin, and was ready to tackle my first marathon.
So remember those sub-9 minute miles I was doing in training right off the bike? Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. My legs were completely shot, destroyed from 112 miles of riding. I then realized I was going to be very slow, and instead of sulking and worry about it, I was simply going to embrace it. In other words, embrace the suck!
Until about mile 4, I was struggling. I couldn’t get my legs under me. Even after seeing T come out of transition and knowing she was going to make it, I couldn’t quite get it going. But around mile 4, I felt better and started to actually run. I attempted to make friends, but no one really seemed interested.
Around mile 6, I saw another teammate, one who raced at Boulder 70.3 coming back. He was around mile 11 and feeling great. I wished him luck and told him I’d see him soon.
At this point, I had hit nearly every aid station, taking in water and Perform, being very careful about not taking in too much Perform. I also took in grapes and orange slices, but that was about all I wanted for food. I discovered something wonderful; ice can be great for both cooling down and hydration. I carried cups of ice with me from the aid stations and loved it.
Just before the TriSports aid station, the one we volunteered at last year, I saw Kris and Mark yet again. They told me T was doing well, and walked with me for a bit. Passing through the aid station, I yelled for Seton and Debbie, but didn’t see them. I’m sure I looked like a crazy delusional triathlete, but whatever. And lo and behold, who would I see right after the aid station? The other member of Team Baby Dino! She was doing great, looking really strong. So right about now, she was in between mile 5 and 6 and I was between 10-11. There was no doubt in my mind now that we would both finish.
Coming back, I actually made two friends. They were friends from Utah who had both done Ironmans. They liked to finish together, so they stuck together through the races. One was telling me he was struggling bad. The other told me I should walk so that T could catch up to me and we would finish together. I didn’t know if I should, and pondered it for a bit.
Coming up to the half point, I saw our friend Scott, and he walked with me for a bit. He said I was looking great, to stay strong, and I would finish great.
So at the halfway point, here’s where I was at. Every 5 miles, I was hoping to hit in 1:10:00. That would bring me in just over 6 hours, which would be highly respectful. Furthermore, it would bring me in under 15 hours, which would be awesome. At the ½ point, I was just over 3 hours, like 3:01, so if I could hold it, I’d be fine.
And then…let’s rinse and repeat the entire course! Seriously. It was the 2nd loop, and the grind became much more evident. The run course was becoming quieter. People were finishing, yet here I was still plugging away. Yet I knew in the back of my mind I was over half done.
Around mile 16, I saw T starting loop 2. I asked her if she wanted me to wait for her, and she said “up to you!” So again, I debated. I saw my parents, T’s parents, Kris and Mark again, and handed my mom my arm warmers. Then I decided to keep running for awhile. This was unchartered territory for me! I’d never run further than 16 miles.
Yet mile 18 or so, I slowed. To a walk. The two guys reemphasized walking to have T meet up with me, so I made a decision to do it. That lasted until about mile 19.5, when I saw my parents on the other side of the lake. They had literally walked across the bridge to say hi to me! I was amazed, happy, and glad to have the company. They told me that even walking, there was no way she’d catch me; she was about 40-50 minutes behind me still and it just wasn’t going to work. Plus, I realized that if something happened to her, it could jeopardize my race. Therefore, right there, at mile 20, I picked it up.
Around 21-22, I ran into another teammate, Derek. We hadn’t met before, but it was great to meet on the course. We walked/ran and chatted for a bit, but definitely walked more. He had a friend he met on the course, who I found out later was a congresswoman out of California. Pretty cool, quite frankly.
Mile 23, I saw Kris and Mark again. By this point, I was pretty much walking the entire thing. My goal of sub-15 was gone, but I was still going to finish and I didn’t worry about it. Kris forced me to run down the hill to Seton’s aid station. This time, Seton was on the microphone that TriSports has, and we shared a big hug. He got the volunteers to whoop it up for me and it was just the boost I needed for the final 3 miles.
And again, right after the aid station, I again saw my parents. I was truly impressed with their dedication of being there for me. Let’s be honest; they haven’t been crazy about my ventures into triathlon. Growing up, I was not a runner. I was a hockey player. Hockey was my love, and let’s face it, I still love the game very much. But triathlon has given me a new purpose in life. I’m healthy, happy, and I was about to achieve something that very very few people achieve. I think my parents had a great appreciation for it that day, and I’m just proud they were a part of it.
Then mile 23.5 hit, and any running strength I had was gone. I mean, dead gone. I would run 5 feet and have to walk. Then I’d try again, and walk. It seemed I was spent. For the rest of the race, I was going to have to walk. But again, I knew I was going to finish.
At mile 25, I started some reflecting. In the pitch black night of the Arizona desert, I reflected upon the journey. The 11 months preceding, the long swims, the fall I took in early September on my bike, and the simple fact that in 2009, if you would have told me that I’d be an Ironman triathlete, I’d laugh at you. That is what I reflected on.
At some point, two volunteers talked to me, and asked me where my tattoo was going. I gently told them I wasn’t interested in a tatt, and they told me I’d change my mind. They congratulated me and wished me well. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had a boost of energy, and started running. I mean, this wasn’t the shuffle I had done most of the day. No, this was a RUN. A solid run. I was hightailing it to the finishers chute and was elated.
Running up a slight incline, I saw some people on the side of the road. I pumped my arms to get them to cheer, and they responded. I turned the corner, and hit the finishers chute.
Let me tell you something about the finishers chute at an Ironman, especially being a slow age-grouper. It’s nuts. Just nuts. The lights are bright. There are photographers everywhere. And the amount of cheering? I’ve scored game-winning goals in hockey, in front of a lot of people. I’ve had people cheer for me. Yet, at that precise moment, in that finishers chute, the amount of cheering for me, and me alone, was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. The jubilation that came over me was overwhelming, and it took everything I had to not cry. I saw my friend Scott and pointed at him, smiling. I heard Mike Reilly say my name, and pointed up at him in his tower. And then, with 140.6 miles behind me, and a huge amount of training, I raised my arms in a glorious fashion, pointed to the time, and became an Ironman!
I was immediately grabbed by a volunteer and a mylar blanket was wrapped around me. She walked with me, congratulating me, leading me to the photographers. Along the way, I was given a medal and a shirt/hat. I didn’t want any water.
After the photo, I went into the finishers area, wondering what my food options were. I was handed a bottle of chocolate milk and was happy for that. I grabbed a basket of fresh French fries and a couple slices of pizza. I ate about half the fries and a slice of pizza, then headed down to grab my cell phone. I wanted to hurry and see T. A volunteer found my run gear bag for me, which was great. I pulled out my cell and someone was calling me. It was my friend Steve, who used to do triathlons. He and I had discussed them in college, and he actually probably planted the idea of the Ironman bug into my head. He congratulated me, saying he had been tracking me all day. That gave me an idea of the support I had that day.
I texted my parents and they met me at the park entrance. They helped me get my compression socks off and more or less just supported me while we walked back to see T. I made it back just as she crossed.
She came over, hugged me, and I headed back into the area. We got a picture together and grabbed a bit of food for her. Then we headed back out and met up with our entire entourage. My parents, T’s parents, Corie, Mike, Kris and Mark. Talk about support! Seriously. T and I sat there, and Kris and Mark went to get our gear bags and bikes. My parents and T’s parents skedaddled, and again, I cannot emphasize how awesome they were. Corie, Mike, Kris and Mark, and myself hung around until midnight, then we walked back to our hotel with promises to see Corie and Mike the following day. Kris and Mark would be unavailable, but we didn’t mind.
We made it back to the hotel, sore, tired, exhausted, but with the title of Ironman. J