I know I've mentioned it before, but Zero found this picture of I guess Joe Paterno's office, and in the background is a Nittany Blue t-shirt with the words "Endure Fatigue" emblazoned on it. We began to use this phrase as it sums up, well, just about everything. When Z emailed me following Arizona and used the above line as the subject, I thought it was a more-than-appropriate title for this blog post.
By now, many have either figured out that I did actually race at Arizona, or have heard my little recap. Truthfully, it was surprisingly uneventful. I didn't truly suffer like I have in some races, in fact it didn't even feel like racing. It felt like a really long training day. But, I do want to write down my thoughts about the race, what I need to do to improve and what I hope to accomplish down the road.
First of all, I'll say that I am not disappointed with the result, in fact I'm pretty psyched. As I've mentioned to many of you over the last week (wow, it's ONLY been a week?), I'm more proud of myself for making it to the start line than for making it to the finish. Making it to the finish line of any of the events I've done has never been a question. I will always finish. But, especially in this case, I wasn't going to go if I thought it would set my knee back.
From a competitive standpoint, my first inclination was to dissect the performance and figure out why I did not accomplish what I thought I could do going into the race. But pretty quickly it was clear that what I accomplished was no small feat. Due to the circumstances beyond my control, I took a year off from running and cycling. Those are months and miles that I can't get back. I lost what I had built over a number of years, and more importantly, wasn't continuing to build. It was comforting to know, however, that as I began to get back into it, that my aerobic fitness returned reasonably fast. Obviously I was continuing to swim (for the most part) over the 12 months, which was keeping some fitness, but I had taken March and April completely off. So to go from zero to Ironman in just 5 months was nothing short of a dream for me. And to finish better than all but 10% of the race illustrated that with some determination, help from those around you and a lot of elbow grease, really anything is possible.
Obviously I had ridden/ran on Friday, and the conditions seemed good. It gets breezy out on the open road, but I expected Sunday's conditions to be about the same as it had been the days leading up. Saturday's swim was fine, I was prepared for the cold temps, unlike last year, and I went for a 3 mile jog in the afternoon before going to dinner. My dad had gotten into town just in time to eat - actually slightly later than I had hoped to eat, but it didn't really matter.
Sunday morning we walked outside and it was expectedly chilly, but unexpectedly windy. I went for a short jog just to warm up a little, before getting into the wetsuit. 6:45 came and one by one everyone started jumping in the water. 15 minutes treading fairly cold water gets old pretty quick. As if nerves aren't already high, and the reality of an 8 to 17 hour day staring athletes in the face, they blast the beats over the PA. I'm all for pumping sweet jams, but I feel like I want to be super calm before the start at a race this long! The cannon went off and arms and legs were flying everywhere as the swell of 2500 people thrust forward in Tempe Town Lake.
Last year I swam 1:02:23. It was my first race of that distance, and I was super nervous as my knee really was in its early stages of recovering from surgery. When it started getting hit, I freaked out and really didn't think it was a good idea for me to have swam. With the experience from last year, a better knee and about 350 miles of swimming since then, I figured I would pretty easily be close to an hour. Before the cannon sounded, I was trying to clear my goggles. A poor choice to go with the rose colored Socket Rockets, as they fogged up immediately upon entering the water. Now, there may have been a countdown, but I swear I didn't hear it, and I got caught out with my goggles not on my face. I quickly put them on and began to swim, but the right one filled up with water. It was early, and I wasn't moving very quick, so I swam over to the side a bit and fixed it. As I began swimming again, I noticed I was headed straight for a dock, so I nudged my way into the field a little better.
The goggles soon fogged up again, but I was committed to just getting into my rhythm now, so I kept going. The only thing I knew was that I was going in the general direction of the race, but I wasn't around anyone, so I tried to rejoin the race. After going around the turn buoys, I stopped for a second to clean the lenses - now with the sun shining brightly to my left, I couldn't even see arms in the water. I ultimately stopped one more time to clean them, really frustrating actually. I was just swimming all over the place. I came out of the water and got my wetsuit taken off and crossed the mat in 1:02:21. Bleh. But hey, at least I was faster than last year, even if only by 2 seconds. Last year with that time I was 13th out of the age group; this year was 24th.
Since I didn't have to go through T1 last year, this was a first for me. My feet were totally frozen but I was running pretty fast through the transition area. I got to my bag's area, but the volunteers were slow to find it. No big deal. I went into the tent and made sure I had everything I needed, and tried to put on my socks. My feet were cold and covered in grass. I finally got out of there after what felt like an eternity (4 minutes) and onto the bike.
Lap 1 - I got onto the road and felt decent, as I anticipated I would just an hour into the race. I made sure to not ride too fast, after all it's not an Olympic or even a Half. I settled into what I felt was a reasonable effort and made my way into the desert. It was oddly overcast, pretty chilly and definitely windy now. Good thing it was overcast, too, because I didn't put any sunscreen on out of transition (shh!). I didn't have a computer, so I didn't know how fast or slow I was going, but I was taking a look at my watch at the 5 mile intervals that seemed to be lined up. I made sure I ate a Gu every 30 minutes, and took an S! Cap every 45 minutes. I was drinking a decent amount, I started with my aero bottle (water), a water bottle (Gatorade) and my Hannah Montana water bottle (Coke). That first lap took 1:45, and while I wasn't psyched to see it had taken that long, I figured it was an effort I could hold for the distance and it was 5:15 pace.
Lap 2 - Out on course they feature PowerBar Ironman Perform drink, or whatever it's called. It wasn't too bad. Seemed a little lighter than Gatorade, and the bottle was both easy to grab and easy to drink from. Lap 2 is also where I felt the urge to relieve myself. I've been racing for a long time. I've never had to stop to use the bathroom before this year in a triathlon. Maybe I'm just getting old, or need bladder control. I seriously didn't even pee in my wetsuit until 2008 I think. Having never peed while riding, it was an uncomfortable experience. I found that I wasn't comfortable doing it while riding into the wind or with the cross, because stopping pedaling was slowing me down. So I would either do it when I had the wind, or if there was a slight downhill. It was really gross to me. And I figured I would have to go once at most. Nope. 4 times. I think because I was drinking a fair amount, but it was cool and therefore I wasn't sweating as much, it just had to come out.
That 2nd lap is also where it began to rain. It was uncomfortable and frustrating, mostly because I felt like I was being punished for choosing to do the race. Like, of all the days to do a race in Arizona, THIS has to be the one where it rains?! I kept the effort about the same that lap, but I had apparently slowed a little to a 1:48 lap. Now I was on 5:21 pace, if I kept that same time, and this was on the slow end of what I was hoping to ride.
Lap 3 - When I got to the end of lap 2, and it was raining, and I saw my dad and Alyssa standing there in the rain cheering, all I could think was "holy shit, this sucks for them." I managed a Cheshire Cat-sized grin and shook my head. Man, what a day. As I turned the wet corner and headed out for lap 3, I really was tired of going out into the windy desert. At some point, a tumbleweed rolled with some zip across the road right in front of me. The wind was old. The abnormally low temperature was old. The wet road was old. But onward I pressed. I ate my Snickers bar and drank some (now flat) Coke around mile 84-90 and pepped up a little. At this point, I figured I should keep my effort much lower to save something for the run. I came across the line in the realm of a 5:32 bike split - way off what I thought I would ride, but given the day, it was reasonable.
I got off the bike and ran to where my bag was, and once again found myself waiting to receive my stuff. I went over to the tent to change, and decided to stop by the bathroom and evacuate. Better to do it now than on the run, I thought. I then went into the changing tent and went Fully Monty en route to a full wardrobe change. I just felt like, for at least this time, I would be more comfortable running in my running gear than in my tri gear, which now smelled like urine anyway. T2 was longer than I would have hoped, but considering a trip to the bathroom and full costume change, it was reasonable.
I got out onto the run and felt good. I didn't want to exert myself, so I ran a pace that felt comfortable. Just so happened that pace was faster than everyone else around me. I hit the first mile in 6:47 and that seemed about right so I stayed there. 6:47 mile 2, 6:45 mile 3. At that point I've gone back over the bridge and have now headed down into transition area and then up onto the dirt path that parallels the lake. There was no 4 mile split, but there was a 5 mile split and that was 14:02. I figured 7 minute pace was closer to where I should be, as I was hoping to come through the half in 1:33-1:35. I didn't see a 6 mile marker, but did see a 7 and that split was 15:05. The wheels were on there way to falling off.
My dad and Alyssa had been joined by my cousin Matthew, who lives in Arizona and, incidentally, I haven't seen in about 13 years. The spot that had scouted enabled them to see me at a few different spots along the course that intersected, so they didn't have to move too much.
After this mile 7, I hit mile 8 (7:52) and mile 9 (8:05). I think I was still running at this point, and was going out onto the second lap. Now for some reason it felt real windy again, and I was no longer enjoying the run. I stopped at the first aid station to get some nourishment, in the form of a cookie or two, an orange slice, some sports drink. As long as I was moving, I was running a decent pace, but the walking breaks were slowing me down. Mile 10 was 8:53 and after that I started to lose it with splits of 10:27, 9:37 and 8:57 (about 1:44 at the half). In retrospect, I think it was in mile 11 (the 10:27 split) where I stopped for a second to chat with the gang and give cousin Matt a hug. Since it had rained earlier, I did see a rainbow at one point and thought "man I must like guys or something because this is pretty."
Depending on where the aid stations were positioned, how bad I felt and how motivated I was to keep moving, my splits bounced up and down. 10:17, 9:33, 10:58, 8:53, 10:24, 12:03, 11:07, 10:06, 9:39, 10:23, 9:17, 9:33, 11:28 (1.2 miles). These added up to a split of 3:57:08. Yikes.
Not in my most unlikely of race scenarios did I envision it would take me nearly 4 hours to get through the marathon. I legitimately felt that, based on some of my workouts, a 3:15-3:20 was possible, and that 3:30-3:40 was about as slow as I was going to go. Boy, I was way off! But, I couldn't even be disappointed because I had just run a marathon. Forget the fact it was at the end of an Ironman - I ran a marathon. In less than 5 months of running following two knee surgeries, I was able to run a 3:57 marathon. I was pumped.
As I turned the corner towards the finish line, it seemed like a bright light at the end of a tunnel - both literally and metaphorically. Not in the "I'm dying" way, but rather in the "hey, maybe things are turning around" way. I couldn't believe how far I'd come in such a short time, and was proud of the accomplishment. I had finished in 10:40:00, and I think that was about 218th place overall. 24th in the age group out of the water, 16th off the bike, stayed in 16th by the end.
Upon crossing the line, women's champion (and 8th overall, setting a new WTC Ironman record along the way) Chrissie Wellington wrapped my Mylar blanket around me. I wanted to say "Hey, remember that time you came to Columbia Triathlon, started 5 minutes before me and I wiped out your bike advantage and beat you?" but I felt that would be inappropriate as she had just cleaned my clock by, oh, 2 hours and change. She ran a 2:52 marathon split. How many girls do YOU know that can run a 2:52 open? I know a couple, but they couldn't run that off a 4:47 bike split and 51 minute swim!
I ate a couple slices of $600 pizza and then joined my cheering section. I felt okay, certainly better than I've felt after any half iron or marathon I've done. I got back to the hotel, showered, tried to eat some food and then headed back down to watch Claire finish. She had an awesome race, truly. I originally felt like she would swim 1:30-1:40, but apparently she really worked on her swimming and swam a 1:15. Flying! You could tell the conditions really affected her ride, but she got out and ran a 4:35 marathon, which was awesome. She finished at 13:35. Considering her two half iron distance races this year were just over 7 and just under 7, that was really awesome.
Downtown Tempe, like last year, was DEAD on Sunday night. My dad came back out and met up with us at Hooter's, and we stayed there until 11. Then we went down to watch the last hour of finishers. If you have never been to an Ironman finish line, you are missing out. There is nothing like it in all of sports. The jams are PUMPING, and those in the stands are going crazy as anyone approaches the line. Mike Reilly, unequivocally the best MC for an event I've ever seen, announces everyone as they cross the line and keeps the crowd hyped. A short while later, Chrissie and Linsey Corbin (2nd place, who broke the old course record too) came out and danced around, ran in with finishers, etc. This is the equivalent of Haile Gebrsellaise or Ryan Hall coming out after the NYC Marathon or Boston or something and handing out medals, or running in with people. You will never see that happen. It's what makes triathlon what it is. An ability to compete in the same race, with the same conditions, with World Champions. Everyone suffers the same, some just for more time than others.
The last finisher came in at 11:59:15, just 45 seconds in advance of the cut-off. Awesome. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the race was just over. Back to the hotel and off to sleep, with an unfortunately early morning ahead of us. Alyssa was going to sign up for 2011, and while in line with her I decided I may as well too. This process took a long time (we were there at 7 but didn't get through the line until after 11). Then we met up with Claire and walked up the mountain with the big "A" on it. I think they may actually just call it "A" Mountain. As we descended to Mill Ave for lunch, we saw Jordan Rapp and his wife eating at Fatburger, so we chatted with them for a minute and took a pic. I'll post that later.
Later in the day it was flight time. And man, my knee hurt. The plane left an hour late, but at least was super quick, clocking the trip in just over 3.5 hours. By the time I got home, it was 1am. Airports the day after Ironman are funny. A large number of people are obviously in town for the race, and most start asking questions whether you raced or not. I've been to a few Ironmans now without competing, so it was nice to finally be able to say I competed. Even more funny is watching everyone who competed walk around. Look like broken old people.
I took off Monday and Tuesday, and then got in the pool Wednesday. Following the race on Sunday night I got a bad case of hiccups (see also: serious hiccups, not just little ones) that lasted until Tuesday morning. By Wednesday I still didn't feel totally right, and only made it through 1500m. I timed a race on Thursday morning before heading home to NJ, and then Friday I ran the Born to Run 5 Miler in Freehold. Named for The Boss's classic anthem of rebellious teenage love (he was born in Freehold), this race features a sweatshirt premium and often times some quick folks. This year it looked like I was "a quick folk" as everyone stared at me in my Falls Road singlet. Someone noticed the slowly fading number on my calf and asked what race I had done. Then they asked why I would be here, five days later, running.
I went out with the group, before a couple dudes separated themselves. Then it was Olympic Trials Qualifier Lindsey Gallo (from neighboring Howell originally, now of VA) who passed me. I hit the mile in 5:50, and it was all positive splits from there. 6:00 2nd mile. 6:12, then another 6:12. I had no shot now at breaking 30, but I tried to stay tough and have a respectable last mile. My legs were screaming at me, I felt not great. But I ran a 6:00 last mile and finished at 30:15 for 9th place. I even got quoted in the paper the next day.
I wanted to do the race, so I did it. I could have just run it, but I kind of wanted to see how my legs could respond 5 days later. I was barely able to run two miles at 6min pace back in the summer, so this was a good sign.