Friday, December 7, 2012

IMAZ Race Report

Sorry to take so long but here it is:

2012 Ironman Arizona
November 18th, 2011


Location: Tempe, AZ
Distance: 2.4-mile swim/112-mile bike/26.2-mile run
2012 Triathlon Race Number: 12
Career Triathlon Race Number: 126
Ironman Race Number: 11
Conditions: Partly to mostly sunny.  Mid 50s to mid 70s.  Wind up to 15-20 mph and a 62-degree water temperature.

IMAZ was to be my final triathlon of a very interesting multi-sport season.  While, it was only my 12th triathlon of the year, the 2012 season has been one of the most ambitious of my multi-sport career.  In addition to the triathlons, I had the privilege of competing in the Race Across America (RAAM) as part of an eight-person relay in June.  In July, I completed the 153-mile Race Around Mount Rainier in One Day (RAMROD).  Still on tap, is Anders’ and my 22-day expedition to climb Cerro Aconcagua in Argentina, at the end of December.

IMAZ was certainly NOT my focus for the 2012 season.  In fact, just five weeks prior I had the honor of competing in my second Ironman World Championship in Kona.  With my taper leading into Kona, which commenced in late September, and my recovery post Kona 2012, and then taper for IMAZ, I had effectively gone the prior seven weeks before IMAZ without my normal IM race-specific training.  While, I felt good and fully recovered from Hawaii, I certainly had a lot of question marks about my actual level of fitness—especially endurance--for this race.

In this wasn’t enough of a challenge, a friend of mine gave us late notice on his 70th birthday party and so I found myself the two days before the race up in Las Vegas, which is more than 300 miles northwest of the race site in Tempe, Arizona.  In fact, at 1:30am on Sunday, race morning, I found myself sitting in the Wynn casino in Las Vegas, listening to Paul McCartney perform Let It Be.  Indeed, the night before my IMAZ race, I attended a 70th birthday party that featured Robin Williams, John Fogerty, and Paul McCartney and his band.  It also involved a lot of walking around and dancing (but only sparkling water drinking).

In any event, I chartered a plane for the quick flight down to Phoenix and by 4 a.m. I was back at my hotel and eating my PB&J sandwiches as I tried to preserve at least a modicum of IM race preparation normalcy.  Soon, I had completed all of that more normal pre-race stuff and found myself sitting on a dock at the side of Tempe Town Lake at 6:50 a.m. “ready” to go.

This was to be my 11th Ironman.  I was once again competing in the IMXC group for a shot at a return trip to Kona.  For a variety of reasons my expectations for this outcome were quite low—and appropriately so.  Of course, as you would gather from above, my race prep was not ideal for this race.  But more importantly, my XC AG featured two competitors who were vastly more talented than I: John O’Brien and Wyman Roberts.  Realistically, third place in the XC AG would be a great outcome for me.

Despite all of this I was excited to race and I was focused on gratitude, which was to be my key word for this race.  I wanted to make sure, not matter what happened today, that I took time to reflect on how lucky I was to be here and racing once again.  I’m certainly not the most talented triathlete around, but I was indeed fortunate to be able to get my 55-year old body to the starting line of another one of these great tests!  I was focused on explicitly reminded myself of all that I have to be grateful for as the day unfolded.  And with that thought, I pushed away from the dock and swam out to join the other 2433 athletes whom would start this race.

The Swim

When I pushed off from the dock and went under I was struck by how cold the water was.  Objectively, I knew it was the same temp, more or less as last year when I did this race, but it seemed to me to be much colder on this morn.  I must confess that coming into this race I thought that about the IMAZ swim as my least favorite IM swim (and the soon to happen 2012 swim certainly did not change my view on this).  I felt a little shaky and timid as I swam out under the two bridges to join the fray.

Last year, I went to the far left—on the buoy line—and that seemed in retrospect to be a poor choice as I swam 78:20, despite clearly being in sub 70 shape.  I felt I was once again ready to go 68-72 and so my original plan was to be more towards the middle in hope of swimming a good line but at the same time avoiding some portion of the crowd.

As I swam out it looked like a zoo in the middle so I drifted to the right and ultimately ended up about 15 yards from the right wall--where all the spectators gather.  I’ve heard all the warnings about this choice but for whatever reason, it seemed the better choice to me ay 6:56 a.m.

Mike Reilly was doing his thing and at one point he asked all the first timers to let out a cheer.  Just about everyone around me did so…oh boy, and I was just 2-3 swimmers back from the start line (yes I know I should have been a bit further back but my plan was to swim a couple of 1:10-1:15 hundreds and just settle in after that).

At the gun, I simultaneously took a kick to my right ear and had some one push my legs down…Uggggh!  I tried to right myself and made some progress but I was being frequently run over and pushed down.  I’m a big guy and normally I just kick and flare out my arms and get all gnarly and folks leave me alone, but I felt strangely weak at this point.  Very soon into the swim, I felt my HR spike and my legs and arms getting that not very desirable anaerobic feeling.  I just couldn’t get horizontal enough to establish a rhythm and these first 60-70 seconds progressed my body slipped deeper into a non-sustainable status.

I began to hyperventilate and felt a wave of panic crawling it’s way up into the more animal parts of my brain.  I’ve only had this happen once before in 126 triathlons (Eagleman 2008) and I knew I had a relatively short time to ease the stress and get my body to settle down before I could proceed.  (In Eagleman 2008 I merely pulled way right, as I had started on the right side, and flipped over on my back and just calmly regained my equilibrium).  How to do it in this washing machine?

All of a sudden I knew I needed to get to the sidewall.  This entailed swimming across about 15 people rows of traffic but as soon as I thought of this I was on my way.  I literally pushed, shoved and (sorta’) punched my way to the wall, which I reached in a very surprisingly short period of time.  I was elated to find a ledge of sorts that I was able to hoist my very stressed body up onto.  By the way, I hereby publically apologize to all the folks I messed up to get to safety—believe me I did not expect this!

I sat on the ledge and felt my heart racing—absolutely pegged—and I was breathing at probably 90 bpm.  I heard some kind folks above me telling me to relax and just sit there.  I’m sure I looked like some old novice fool who had no business racing IMAZ.  Part of me wanted to scream at them to tell them that I was a very accomplished triathlete, I had just done Kona, and…but sometimes its better to just be quiet and accept that another’s unfavorable view of you has more than just a sliver of the truth in it….

I sat there for what seemed like an hour waiting for my body to chill out.  It was absurd, I was about 60-70 yards into the swim and just sitting there watching hundreds of people—most of whom on a normal day are very much slower than I—swim past me.  I tried to remember the whole gratitude thing and I asked myself what I was grateful for now.  I started laughing out loud as it was clear that I was indeed very grateful for the ledge that I had parked my butt on!

After what probably was really only 60-90 seconds, I dropped back in and swam right up close to the wall.  My HR spiked a few more times and two of those times I grabbed the wall and waited for things to calm down again.  Man, I was really, really struggling here.  Soon however, I was finally able to establish a comfortable rhythm.  I was more than a little rattled and I wasn’t really sure what was going on (although the rational part of my brain was telling me that I was tired, I had drank too much coffee and got off to a bad start and there was nothing fundamentally wrong with me) so I decided to be really conservative.  I swam easily and I stayed within 20 feet of the wall for quite a while—I knew I was swimming a longer course but at this point I didn’t care.  I know I’ll die at some point but I certainly do not want it to be in Tempe Town Lake!

The swim towards the early morning sun continued and my body relaxed and with that change I began to drift a bit away from the wall.  I started trying to swim through swimmers but I knew I was way behind where I normally was in an IM swim.  The rest of the swim was anticlimactic, as it progressed I actually began to feel stronger and as I passed people left and right I began to feel like maybe I could still turn in a half-way decent swim (I’m amazed at how overly optimistic I still get in triathlons despite all of my experience and a large amount of historical negative data).

I finally exit the swim—and very, very pleased to do so—in a very slow 84:13 (84:23 officially).  Ouch!  But in the rational light of two weeks hence, a lot better than the worse case scenarios for sure!  My Garmin had my swim distance at 2.66 miles (I’m not sure how accurate this is but I know I swam quite a bit longer course than I needed too!), which works out to an average pace of 1:48/100 yards.  If I throw out the 3 minutes or so I wasted at the start and if I had swam 2.4 miles this indicates a time of 73 minutes so it all seems to compute.  I had a bad swim this morning—but this was not an indication of my inherent fitness and my potential this morning.

The Garmin also had me at 2926 strokes, which works out to just 1.6 yards/stroke—I would have expected 1.8+ so this is consistent with a lot of panicky flailing around.   This is the 8th fastest of my 11 IM swims and is more than 18 minutes off of my best.   Competitively, I have just the 1392nd OA best swim (42.8 %-tile vs. 58.4 %-tile last year—which also sucked).  I’m 49th out of 98 in my AG (51.0 %-tile vs. 68.4 %-tile last year).

As far as the XC competition goes, I’m over nine minutes behind each of my main rivals, which is not a good development since I’m actually a stronger swimmer than both of them.  Oh well, my main emotion as I climbed up the steep stairs out of Tempe Town Lake was one of relief.  I was truly grateful that this swim was behind me!

Transition One

I seemed to kind of stumble through transition and it ended up taking me 8:44 (7:58 officially).  This is considerably slower than my 5:16 last year, but last year I had a fantastic T1 (4th in my AG—98.2 %-tile).  I’m not sure where this stands competitively but I imagine it was a pretty middle of the road effort for me.  As I grabbed my bike I saw that John and Wyman were up the road ahead of me.  I noted this but it really had no impact on me.  I knew my swim and T1 were very poor and so I wasn’t surprised to be behind them.

The Bike

I was pretty happy to leave T1 and get on my bike.  I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t better the 5:26 I did last year—the forecast was for light winds and comfortable temperatures.  After winding through the park I made my way out onto Rio Salado and I immediately became aware of a cyclic bump emanating from my rear wheel.  I looked down and the tire didn’t look flat but it was hard to tell with the 21mm tires I was running and the toroidal bulge in my Zipp disc.  Also, there was heavy bike traffic around me and I could only hurriedly and sporadically glance down.

I hoped that the bump would go away or that I was imagining things but unfortunately the bumping was persistent.  I rode for a few minutes trying to decide what to do and as I turned off of Rio Salado I decided to pull over to the side and see if I could figure out what was going on.  So I did and I felt my rear tire and I could instantly tell it was very soft—well underinflated.  I’d guess there was 40-60 PSI in there.  Uggggh!  What to do?  I knew, I couldn’t just ride the 112 miles like this—firstly it would be very slow due to the higher rolling resistance.  Secondly, I knew it was likely I’d get a pinch flat at some point or that the tire would continue to lose air and become unrideable.  Still, I wanted to avoid using one of my two CO2 cartridges for fear the air would just leak out.  I also was not psyched to change a tire off of the disc because I knew from experience that it would take quite a while to do so due to it’s “stiffness”.

I decided to take a gamble and ride up the road looking for an official bike mechanic and address the problem there.  I mounted back up and shook my head—this certainly had a “one of those days” feel to it.

I went through 5 miles in 15:20 (19.6 mph) and a HR of 152.  I estimate that I lost about 2 minutes during this first five-mile stretch due to the soft tire and my pull over to the side of the road.  Soon I found myself on the Beeline and I went through the next five mile split with a time of 17:02 (17.6 mph).  Here the big surprise was the wind, which while not strong in the context of Kona, was much more than the 5-mph that had been advertised.  I soldiered on.

Just past the 12-mile mark it appeared that my decision to look for bike help would really pay off as I spotted two mechanics under a bike tent.  I pulled over and asked if they could inflate my soft rear tire.  The readily obliged and I felt like maybe my luck would soon change but as the needle passed 100 PSI a loud boom and a rush of air sounded out.  We could see the latex tube had escaped out the side of the disc.  I’m not sure why this happened.  The XC guys had deflated my tires when they checked my bike in while I was up in Vegas and perhaps when we re-inflated them this morning the tube somehow got between the tire bead and the wall of the disc rim.  In any event, it was clear that I was going to be staying for a little while longer as they scrambled to take my rear tire off and to change out the offending tube.

Not to my surprise, the tire-changing process proved difficult even for the trained mechanics as they struggled getting the 21mm tire off of the disc.  For whatever reason, it’s a real bear to change tires off of that wheel!  Finally, they managed to get a new tube in and as they were blowing it up, the new tube also exploded!  Oh-oh.  I asked if they thought the tire might be an issue but they checked it and said no.  As they began to go for tube number three I decided to walk back down the road and hit the porta-potty.

After, as I strolled back to the tent I could see them pumping up the new tube and sure enough—boom!  Flat number three!  They were very embarrassed and flustered and one of the guys suggested that he give it a try, as the other fellow was 0 for 2.  This seemed like a good call to everyone and so tube number four came out.  This time they were successful and I thanked them for their help and was back underway.  As I rode away, I asked myself what I was grateful for and it was clear that I was happy not to have 4 or 5 flats!

I estimate that I was on the side of the road for 12-13 minutes and I resigned myself to just doing the best I could and to try to have some fun.  I went through the next 5-mile split with a time of 27:21 (11.0 mph) and a heart rate of 133 (although, this only measured my HR when I was near the bike, which was only about 60% of that time).

I now found myself having to weave through a multitude of slower riders—normally I would have been 30 minutes up the road towards the front of the pack.  This proved quite challenging as many times they were 3-4 wide and made it impossible to pass.  Also, the bike handling skills back here left a bit to be desired….

The rest of the bike was comparatively un-dramatic.  I had to dodge a number of misplaced water bottles and sudden swerves from bikers ahead but I was able to steadily make my way up through traffic and I actually rode reasonably well.  After the first lap I was on close to a 6+ hour pace but I was finally able to complete the bike in 5:49:23 (5:50:15 officially).  Here are the rest of my splits (time, speed, HR)—note, my PM never worked so I did not capture any power or cadence data:

16-20: 18:20/16.4/146
21-25: 10:24/28.8/137
26-30: 12:33/23.9/137
31-35: 14:03/21.4/137
36-40: 14:38/20.5/140
41-45: 15:01/20.0/143
46-50: 15:25/19.5/143
51-55: 16:42/18.0/137
56-60: 13:47/21.8/137
61-65: 13:48/21.7/135
66-70: 14:18/21.0/132
71-75: 14:45/20.3/131
76-80: 15:22/19.5/135
81-85: 15:49/19.0/137
86-90: 16:07/18.6/133
91-95: 17:30/17.2/134
96-100: 13:37/22.0/129
101-105: 15:20/19.6/130
106-110: 15:34/19.3/138
111-112: 6:31/19.2/129

So as I mentioned above, I rode a 5:49:23 according to my Garmin.  Here is how my 3-laps compared to last year:

 2012  2011  Delta

Lap 1: 2:02:31 1:45:15 +17:16
Lap 2: 1:50:29 1:50:51 (0:22)
Lap 3: 1:57:15 1:50:35 + 6:40

The 17 minutes I lost in the first lap are of-course principally due to my misadventures with my rear wheel.  I’m pleased that I was actually faster on my second lap this year (which I think shows I had the potential to ride 5:20 this year).  The slow-down in the last lap is really a function of a lack of effort on my part.  I could see that John and Wyman were a long ways ahead of me and as I tired, I just couldn’t see the point of pushing through the fatigue like I would normally be inclined to do.

For the overall ride I averaged 19.2 mph and 136 bpm.  Last year I averaged 20.6 mph with an average HR of 141 bpm.  Last year I was 83.7 %-tile OA on the bike and 90.5 %-tile in my AG.  I’m still not certain where I finished OA (I did move up from 1392 to 955 OA) but I was 33rd in my AG this year (67.4 %-tile).  XC-wise, I was now 44+ minutes behind O’Brien and 48+ minutes behind Wyman.

Transition Two

I was business-like but unhurried as I made my way through T2.  I felt very tired—more so than normal at this point of an Ironman and I was over 30 minutes slower at this point than last year.  Still, I thought if I was conservative early on the run, maybe I could rally and eat into the relatively slow 4:58 marathon that I posted in 2011 (had to deal with significant hamstring cramps last year).  I completed my T2 in 4:46, which not surprisingly was slower than my 2011 time of 3:37.

The Run

I headed out from transition and saw Rob Holmes and waved hi to him.  He gave me a nice congrats on Kona.  I felt pretty decent in the early goings and I didn’t have any of the cramping problems from last year—I had done a pretty good job of drinking Cytomax throughout the bike and only had to switch over to the dreaded Perform at about mile 70.

I was aware that I was very tired and I decided that I was going to just take it easy—I had no chance to get a Kona slot (not that I really ever did against the XC guys I was up against) and with all my problems heretofore, it was just a good thing that I was still in the game.  Here is how my first five miles played out:


At this point, as I trudged up the hill in the park I was acutely aware of how tired I was.  It was clear that I wasn’t going to have a miraculous run so I decided that I should back off from this very modest pace and try to walk and run a bit and just get through the Marathon.  I decided to pursue this strategy for the next five miles:


As you might discern in the numbers above, as I came through the first lap I pushed my 9th and 10th miles a bit in hope of maybe staging a bit of a rally.  I was on the far west bridge at 10 miles when I realized the folly of this approach.  I decided to just shut it down and walk for the most part.  At this point, I can tell you only two thoughts dominated my brain—how tired and sore I was, and how--for sure--I was going to finish.  The next five miles:


I was so so so tired but I actually felt like I could go faster at this point.  Frankly, I was getting bored going so slow and with no one out there to cheer for me I decided I’d start running more to try to speed up the process:


I ran the math and knew that sub 13 was not happening—not that I would expect it with all of my early race challenges—but if I kept on my current approach then at least my marathon would be less than 6 hours (praise be for such minor victories).  So I kept on:


I finished the marathon in 5:56:25.  My average HR was just 127bpm.  I was about 58 minutes slower than 2011 and I ended up splitting 58th in my AG on the run (41.8 %-tile).  Wyman went on to post a 10:52 so no matter what I did today a Kona slot was certainly not in the cards.  My overall time was 13:23:48.  This was 1:37 slower than 2011 and was the 6th fastest of my 11 IMs—despite my problems, this is an easy and fast course compared to many of the other IMs I’ve done.

I was 41st in my AG, which surprisingly was 59.2 %-tile.  Overall, I was 1394th—which ironically was 2 places behind where I exited the water…it was that kinda day!


In retrospect, I got the race I deserved.  I’m a man of limited talents and when I push it like I did this year (two IMs in 5 weeks and staying up and partying the night before) then it’s to be expected that I’ll perform poorly.

Still, I’m glad I did it this way.  I didn’t blow a Kona slot—even at my best, I had no chance at this race.  And I had a great time at my friend’s party.  Also, I finished my 11th IM and I’m very, very grateful to still be in the game given the sad state of my knee.

Looking ahead, Anders and my 22-day expedition to climb Cerro Aconcagua occupies center stage.  I’m enjoying the change in training activities that this endeavor requires.  In many respects, even with all that I have accomplished this year, the final exam still awaits.  I hope that I can rise to the occasion.

2013 is already in the planning stages.  Anders is doing Norseman Xtreme and Judy and I will crew for him.  Both of us have targeted IM Lake Tahoe as our “A” race next year so I think once I return from Argentina that I’ll take it a bit easy until May or so and then gear it up again and see if I can’t get back to Kona for the third time with that race out in California.

Thanks for reading!  Onward and upward!

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