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Ironman Arizona 2011 Race Report

LogoAnother Ironman Arizona is complete and in the books.  As with every race, I had certain levels of goals.  My big goals were (1) a sub one hour swim, (2) a sub 5:30 bike, (3) a sub 3:30 run, and (4) an overall time of sub 10:30.  Like all big goals, I knew these would be tough to reach, but assuming good conditions, a good day, and some good luck, I felt they were possible.  My reachable goals were (1) a sub one hour swim, (2) a sub six hour bike, (3) a sub four hour run, and (4) an overall time of sub eleven hours.  I knew these were possible given past performances and my current fitness, assuming a somewhat normal day.  Although, what a “normal day” is at an Ironman, I have no clue!  Each Ironman, being 140.6 miles, presents various challenges and tests.  Everyone willing to undertake such an endeavor will face some dark places during the race.  Having a successful race is all about how one handles those moments, however long they last.

Unlike 2009 and 2010, this was my first Ironman where I had both (a) enough knowledge and experience to push myself physically and mentally and (b) the fitness to do more than “just finish”.  Simply surviving was not my objective.  From many, many predawn mornings of running or biking to more time spent doing intervals on the track than when I was on the track team in high school, my fitness has never been better.  Likewise, my 2011 races taught me some valuable lessons, some great (see Marquee, Mountain Man, and SOMA) and some not-so-great to downright painful (see Branson and Boise).  All in all, I was extremely excited for race day and felt very ready to race.  Now, onto the main event!

Pre-Race

As usual, I awoke three hours before race start.  I ate my typical pre-race meal: oatmeal with a splash of honey.  I also “splurged” with a little decaf coffee as it simply sounded yummy at 3:45 am.  While eating, I did my final race-prep items (e.g., morning of nutrition prep) and left for transition a little before 5:00am.

As always, my super-awesome family and friends were there to support me.  There will be more on this subject later, but I consider myself beyond lucky to not only be able to do what I do, but to have the support of those dearest to me.  After getting my bike and body ready, I found members of “Team Toby”.  A few photos later and it was time to queue for the swim.

Swim

IMAZ

Simply put, there is nothing like the swim start to an Ironman.  Just imagine hoping in a little lake with 2,500 of your closest friends, treading water for five to ten minutes, hearing a cannon fire, and then all starting to swim at once.  Yes, it is as crazy as it reads.  When you hear that blast, all hell breaks loose, especially if you have positioned yourself near the front.  Of course, that’s exactly where I like to start.  I don’t mind the contact.  It’s just part of the race and the experience.  The pic gives a little idea how about close everyone is; you are constantly bumping into other athletes.

IMAZLike last year, this swim was physical, but unlike last year, not overly so.  I was able to sight decently well and felt like I had a good swim.  But, checking my watch upon leaving T1, I knew I had failed to meet my sub one hour goal, although not by much.  After the race, I learned my swim was a semi-disappointing 1:02.  Not terrible, I know I can accomplish better.  This will definitely be something I work on during 2012.

Transition 1

Exiting the water, I had my plan.  I yanked off my cap and goggles, began removing my arms from my wet-suit, ran to the biggest wetsuit stripper I could find, and planted my butt on the ground while raising my legs in the air.  As I sat, I recognized the guy as one of my friend’s boyfriend.  She calls him IHB or “Insanely Hot Boyfriend”.  So, when I said, “HEY IHB!! Help me strip!!” perhaps his look of shock shouldn’t have been too surprising.  But, it was very entertaining for a moment.  As soon as my wetsuit was off, I gathered it and sprinted to the changing tent.  Here begins the first quasi-annoying part of the day.Ironman Arizona

After some lessons from last year, I felt like I had a rock-solid T1 plan.  As I plop down, I yell for help from a volunteer.  A guy runs over and, as I dump my T1 bag on the ground, I say, “I need help with my arm warmers and gloves.”  Seems like an easy enough concept.  The T1 volunteers are prepared and know that our fingers do not work.  Given that (and my 2010 experiences), I had rolled my arms warmers into donuts.  Well, Captain Intelligent begins to UNROLL them!  I quickly say stop and mime that he needs to hold them up, which he does as I shove my useless hands through.  Then, I stammer that I need help with my gloves.  His response?  He literally picks up one glove and hands it to me.  Sigh.  I ask him to hold them, which he does while I again shove my hands in.  Double sigh.  Nice guy, but wow…  I grab my helmet, don it and my glasses, buckle the helmet, and sprint off for me bike.  Luckily, few people were exiting the tent at that point, so a volunteer brought me my bike.  I grabbed it, said thanks, made for the exit like I had stolen that bike, and got on my way.

Bike

Ironman ArizonaThe bike portion is all about management, even for the fastest of the fast.  Going too fast too early, trying to “make up time”, or pushing is generally a recipe for disaster.  Even the fastest, most fit athlete in the field must complete the bike while having respect for the run.  For me, the bike is all about management.  I simply do not have the biking skills (yet) to engage in any racing.  I must follow my race plan and hope it gets me to the run with sufficient energy remaining in the tank.

The bike started perfectly.  I rode the entire first loop, about 38 miles, at a low-level of intensity.  Of course, during this time, literally hundreds of cyclists passed me.  I simply ignored them.  I was executing my plan, regardless of what they did.  I stayed the course, kept both my effort and my heart rate low.

As I neared the end of my first loop, I began upping my effort a little.  Nothing significant, but a small shift from low to medium effort.  My plan was to hold this intensity for the next 60 miles.  Two eventful things began to happen during my second loop that started a cascade effect: the wind increased and my stomach began to stop digesting.Ironman Arizona

The wind is to be expected on the Ironman Arizona bike course.  The majority of the course is through open, exposed land.  If there is any wind, there’s just nothing to break it.  As my bike progressed, the wind increased and began forcing its will upon all of us.  I would estimate the wind was blowing around ten miles per hour, nothing brutal, but a ten mile headwind is unpleasant over the course of 80+ miles.

My stomach also began to present some issues.  I wasn’t getting sick or nauseous, but I could tell that I had stopped digesting; a very distressing bit of information to have around mile 60.  Knowing this, I reduced my effort with the hope of allowing my stomach to solve its issues before starting the run.  I also reduced my consumption hoping that would help.  The reality was that a non-functioning stomach meant a very unpleasant run.  While hoping that it would improve, I began shifting my race plan to take into account this new, and rather unappreciated, development.  I knew that my sub-10:30 goal was a near certain impossibility so I shifted all my focus to beating 11 hours.

Transition 2

Getting off my bike and into my shoes as fast as possible wasn’t merely my goal, it was a need.  Because of my stomach, I knew I would need every extra second to complete the run.  Luckily, the volunteers were spectacular.  I did a flying dismount and a bike handler immediately took my bike.  I sprinted to the T2 bag area, yelling my number, and another volunteer had it ready for me.  Entering the tent, a volunteer ran up, took and emptied my bag, and traded items with me, one by one.  He was amazing, as are most of the volunteers.  All in all, I was through T2 in 1:58; an extremely fast time.

Run

Ironman Arizona

Exiting the T2 tent, I passed the race clock.  It read 7:06, but I knew that was the pro time (they start ten minutes before everyone else).  Knowing a 9 min/mile average will yield a four hour marathon, I started calculating how much “extra” time I had, assuming I could average 9 minutes per mile.  As you can probably tell, if my race clock was 6:56, I had a whopping three minutes of extra time.  Not much play time sadly.  With that knowledge, I began my run.

As with all races, the legs have been spinning rather quickly for miles on the bike and want to keep moving with the same speed.  At nearly every race, I will start the run, look down, and see a speed at or below six minutes per mile; way too fast for me.  This time, I was ready.  As soon as I started running, I forced myself to slow to an eight minute mile.  My original plan was to hold that pace as long as possible, with the hope that I could do so either until the end or close enough to the end that I could gut out the remaining miles.  Unfortunately, as I passed mile marker 2, I knew my plan was destined to fail.  After taking a small sip of coke in the aid station, I immediately felt like I was about to vomit; not a good feeling at mile 2 of a marathon.  That sensation happened every time I tried to ingest anything during the remainder of the run.  At that point, I changed my plan to running between each aid station and briskly walking each aid station.  Any other tactic would simply have led to failure.

Ironman Arizona

One bright side note, my family was out in full force supporting and cheering for me.  They set up their “Team Toby” camp around mile 4, which is also mile 8, of the run.  Knowing they were there was a huge boost.  Many, many times on each loop, I would repeat to myself, “Just get to your family, just get to your family.”  I am extremely lucky to have them and would never have had the race that I did this year without their help.

Ironman Arizona

As the race progressed, I would recalculate my “extra time” at each passing mile.  Without surprise, it slowly dwindled.  I watched it start at 4 minutes, increase up to 16 minutes, and then slowly but surely start to diminish.  I knew this would happen, but I was hoping to get mile 20 with a few extra minutes, you know, just in case.  Whether good or not, I reached mile 20 at right around 10:05 on my race clock, which I knew was a few minutes faster than the real race clock.  I had been preparing for this eventuality for a few miles.  I had also been getting my mind and body ready to run, and I mean run, the last 10K.  Upon passing that mile marker, I took a deep breath, dropped my speed to just over an 8 minute mile, and ran as best as I could to my family (I did stop and walk for a brief moment at the last aid station, getting in just a bit more liquid/sugar).  Reaching them for the last time (as they would pack up and head to the finish line), I weakly waved, high-fived my kids, and took off.  The next 4-5 miles would determine whether all my effort and planning worked.

Ironman Arizona

After leaving my family, I focused as best as I could on good running form and being fast.  I had no preconceptions that I was going to run a 6 minute mile or something impossible at that point, but I felt like an 8 minute mile was realistic, yet challenging.  Dropping my pace to that point felt like I was sprinting.  No one, and I mean no one, was running that fast.  I felt like I was flying.  Wonderfully, my legs seemed ok with that effort.  My stomach, though, was very not ok and let me know right away.  But, knowing I had only a 10K to the end and knowing that my sub-11 goal was still within reach, I suppressed the discomfort and just concentrated on running.  As the miles passed one by one (and I passed my fellow racers dozens by dozens), the pace seemed to become easier.  My body did not like it, but wasn’t openly rebelling against me.  It was like we had reached a deal: Toby’s Body, for letting me run at this pace for 4-5 miles, I will let you feel as crappy as you want after the finish line.  Toby’s Mind, for keeping a steady pace and resisting the urge to increase the tempo, I, Toby’s Body will not whine, stop, or even vomit upon myself.  Both parties then executed this contract and agreed to abide by its terms.

Ironman Arizona

Passing mile marker 25, I knew it was going to be close, very very close.  I was near certain that the difference between my race clock and the real race clock was sufficient, but just in case, I kept a little bit at the end in case a full pell-mell sprint was required.  Leaving the run course and entering the finish shoot, I kept a steady pace and watched my race clock go from 11:00 to 11:01, leaving me just a little sweaty than I was the minute before.  I passed my kick-ass wife one last time (she was awesome enough to wait on one side of the finishing chute) and headed towards the end.

As I rounded the last turn, sweaty, nasty, and bleary-eyed, I could see “10:5x:xx” on the official race clock.  Being unable to see the minute digit left me terrified.  If it read a “9” and I missed my sub-11 by seconds, I would cry.  I rubbed my eyes, looked one last time, and saw one of the greatest things I have ever seen: an 8.  I knew at that moment, with about one block remaining, that I had done it.IMAZ

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 10:58:22.  My first, but not last, sub-11 Ironman.  I could not have done it without the amazing support and love of my wife.  She enables me to train, race, and spend way too much money on this silly hobby of mine.  I also could not have had the focus and energy without the support of Team Toby.  Their presence, support, and encouragement were all instrumental in my achieving a sub-11.

So, 2012?  Sub 10:30 for sure.

And, just for some comedy, the video below is a little “Stream of Consciousness” filmed immediately after I was done.  Enjoy!

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