Race Priority: A
Race Execution: A-
Performance Summary, comparing IM CDA 2011, Arizona projections and actual data:
My TrainingPeaks reports are linked to the hyperlinks above, where the words Swim, Bike and Run are shown.
- Breakfast: Hammer Bar, Honey Stinger Waffle, GU (580 cals total). 3 salt tabs plus vitamins.
- Swim: 1 GU prior to swim (100 cals total)
- Bike: 3 Scoops of Ironman Perform per 24 oz water bottle, in five bike bottles. 3 1/2 Honey stinger waffles (eating in half waffle sizes) and 4 GU packets. Estimated 24 additional oz of water per hour. Total calories at 385 per hour.
- Run: GU & Salt tab at start and every three miles thereafter. Two waters at each aid station. Approximately 200 calories per hour and 40 oz of water per hour.
Weather conditions: Sunny skies, 76 degrees (peak) with 33% relative humidity (at peak temp). Winds were around 7 mph, with a peak of 10 mph around noon. Starting temp for the swim was 56 degrees for the swim and the run start was 75 degrees.
- What went well: I was thrilled to finish in under 11 hours. My swim was much better than I anticipated and transitions went relatively smoothly. Bike efficiency (mph/watts) was better than I anticipated.
- What could have been better: I didn’t feel 100% starting the race or during the race. I feel I was over-invested in my sub 11 hour goal, leading to excess stress/anxiety, resulting in surging adrenaline in the days leading to the race. I started the race on less than 4 hours of sleep, with a headache and upset stomach… less than ideal. I could have adapted better to how I was feeling, possibly preventing my mini-melt down at the end of the run.
- What I learned: My biggest lesson was I need to relax… it’s just a race after all… even if it was my last full Ironman. The fact that I could even get to the start line after being run over by a pickup the prior year, was a success in itself.
- Overall Age Group Rankings: Total division (45-49 male) had 317 athletes and I finished 51st (16.1%), and I was 385th overall out of 2707 participants (14.2%).
Race Report Commentary:
During the past year, I spent a lot of time pondering what it would feel like to finish this Ironman. Would I feel whole again, healed, proud, triumphant, ecstatic? After a year of rebuilding myself, what thoughts would be going through my mind, would I have some type of epiphany? On Sunday November 17th at around 6:00 pm after a year of wondering, I got the answers. Sitting in the recovery area wrapped in an emergency blanket, with athletes on each side of me and my family behind me, I gazed at the ground in front of me and wondered… “If I need to throw up, where is the best place to avoid splashing the people sitting around me…?”
To understand my state of mind (and body), you really need a bit more history than a typical race report. 2012 was a challenging year for me. In March, my mother passed away after a battle with cancer. While doing a training ride in May, I was the first person to come across a single car accident, which killed an 8 year old boy. I called 911 and spent the next hour trying to comfort two 12 year old girls, who kept repeating “I don’t’ want to die.” (the EMT’s asked me to stay while they worked on them). It was a haunting scene.
In July I was run over by a pickup truck while doing a training ride, 2 miles from my home. A Chevy S-10 going the opposite direction tried to beat traffic behind me, turning into me, knocking me to the ground, and then drove over me. I have distinct memories of my body rolling under the truck, and flopping like a rag doll. The passenger side wheels went over my legs and broke my aerobars over my left leg. Miraculously, I had no head injuries (helmet did it’s job) and no internal injuries. My extremities didn’t fare so well. Both ankles, knees, one hip, both shoulders, both elbows, and both wrists/hands sustained damage. The worst damage was my right arm was crushed into my wrist bones, causing extensive bone, soft tissue and nerve damage (I’m right handed). The details on the accident are here.
After the accident, while lying in a bed in the hospital, I thought my Tri career may have been at an end. My arm would never be the same, I would likely have ongoing joint problems, and a future of arthritis from the injuries. I wasn’t sure how I would mentally handle riding again. Would my fears overcome my desire to ride? Even If I did return, I had no expectation of being competitive again.
As I returned home, I had a couple of options. I could lay on the sofa and lament about my “bad luck”, making myself and everyone around me miserable, or I could simply move on. It was an easy choice. Because my competitive nature didn’t get damaged one bit in the accident, within a few days of getting home I started walking as part of my
rehabilitation. It started as a couple tenths of a mile. Then I built up, and tried to pick up the speed, eventually getting to a blazing 3 mph for a 3 mile walk. I’m sure it was comical seeing me walk down the sidewalk, as I had a boot on my broken leg, and I held my broken arm up in the air (to keep the blood from pooling in my fingers) so it looked like I was waving at the passing cars. I started going to physical therapy as soon as I was able. I was going up to 4 times a week at times, and doing therapy on my own multiple times a day. Ironically, training for IM CDA in 2011 I peaked at 20 hours a week, but I was doing 30+ hours weeks of therapy trying to rebuild my body.
I was cleared to exercise again in October of 2012. I lost about 25% of my fitness during my 12 weeks off, based on my HR versus pace/power. I also had a lot of aches and pains in my joints. I spent a lot of time doing zone 1 level work, just to try to get my body accustomed to exercise again. In spite of the pains, it felt good to be moving again. I also started to feel confident that I’d be able to do triathlons again. There was a light at the end of the tunnel.
In late October/early November, some of my friends started talking about Ironman Arizona. I didn’t really think about it too much, and then I came across a twitter post from my coach that said, “Nobody succeeds beyond his or her wildest expectations unless he or she begins with some wild expectations” (by Ralph Charell).
On Monday November 19th, 2012 I sat by my computer and waited for 2:00 pm EST, for the official registration opening for Ironman Arizona. What could be more of a “wild expectation” than a full Ironman? At the time, I was still wearing a brace on my right arm, I was still going therapy several times a week, and still had significant ongoing pain in many of my joints. As soon as registration opened online, I filled out the form and pushed the button to enter… and the event sold out in the first 40 seconds. I was lucky enough to get in, not knowing if I had any real chance of getting myself healed and prepared enough to even get to the starting line.
Fortunately, my body responded well to the training again. My coach did a great job of easing me back into training, to help keep me injury free. My first success was rebuilding my swimming. By February I was swimming 500 TT’s and mile swims that were faster than my pre-accident times. This came as quite a surprise (I guess it shouldn’t… I’ve never been a fast swimmer) and was primarily due to focusing on short duration high intensity swim sets, courtesy of the Tri Racer swim program (Joe loves to race). By June, I had returned to pre-accident run levels. In July, I had posted my fastest biking Time Trial ever, with my highest average power output, exceeding pre-accident levels. Surprisingly, a year after my accident I was able to perform at a higher level than pre-accident, which became apparent in my PR at Boulder in early August.
Adding up all the rebuilding since my accident, I have spent approximately 704 hours in the hospital, surgery, doctor’s offices, or doing physical therapy. I have also traveled around 6,450 miles in my training, composed of 190 miles swimming, 1160 miles running and 5100 miles biking. As much time as I have invested in rebuilding myself from a fitness standpoint, I have spent about 20% more time doing rehab than exercise. At times the road to recovery has seemed long, tiring, and painful, but in the end it has been very productive as my physical recovery as exceeded all of my doctor’s expectations.
In preparing for this race, I spent a lot of time developing my race and nutrition plan, including a lot of research on IM pacing and fueling. I felt much more prepared and confident in my plan for this race. I developed my preliminary plan 3 months prior to the race, so I had opportunity to test (and refine) pacing and nutrition along the way. I put all of the nutrition and pacing info in one spreadsheet, which is located here. I also have links included on some of the reference information. My race plan was targeted at 11 hours, with a range of 10:41 to 11:31. This was over an hour and a half faster than my first full Ironman, so it was an aggressive target.
As the race got closer, I found myself getting more anxious than usual. I had made the commitment that this would be my last full Ironman while still working full time. Some people seem better at juggling their time and managing their energy levels… I found the last 12 weeks really took their toll on my life. I wanted to go out on a high note… so I really imposed a lot of pressure on myself to do well on this event.
On Friday I checked in and previewed the course. Saturday I did a short ride and did the practice swim. This was great as it allowed me to get a feel for the water temp, as well as practice getting out of the water. For the swim course, you come out of the water on steps, and I still need to be cautious of what I do with my weakened wrists. I then checked my bike in along with my bags. For a detailed list of my race plan, see this link. For a list of what was in each of my IM bags, see this link. I had a big brunch, then simply focused on easily digestible carbohydrates for the rest of the day. I laid down on my bed to rest in the afternoon, and was surprised to find my heart resting heart rate at 77 bpm, as my normal is in the low 40’s. I could feel some adrenaline surges as I thought about the race.
I went to bed around 8:00 pm. I tossed in bed until about 9:30 to 10:00, and then woke up several times. About midnight my phone went off with an Amber alert, waking me up. I just laid there in my bed staring at the ceiling for quite a while. Eventually I fell back asleep. At 1:15 am I got another Amber alert, waking me again. Like before, I watched the ceiling for quite a while. Eventually I fell asleep, waking back up at 3:30 am. My alarm was set for 3:50, so I just got up at 3:30. My sleep trackers were showing me at less than 4 hours of sleep, I had a headache and felt nauseous… not how I wanted to start my day.
I had breakfast and got ready for the race. I was ready to go early, around 4:40. I decided to get on the road early to avoid parking issues. It was a good decision, as they closed the roads going south crossing the river. It took me three tries and about 15 minutes (cranking up the anxiety levels even more) to find a spot where I could go around the cones and cross the river. I grabbed my stuff and headed for transition. Getting my tires pumped up, mixing nutrition, adding last minute items to my bike and run bags ate up a lot of time. Lines for porta-potties were really long, and I spent until 6:30 in line to go to the bathroom (which is when transition closes). I got in just in time. I quickly put on my wetsuit, neoprene cap, swim cap and goggles, and headed toward swim start. I ran into two of my friends, Steve and Jamey, and chatting with them helped calm me down a little bit.
Swim start at Arizona was interesting. It’s still a mass start rather than time trial, and also a deep water start. The pro males start at 6:45 and females at 6:50. Then there is 10 minutes for all the age groupers to file through the timing matt, jump off the concrete pier into the water, swim several hundred yards to the start line, and then tread water until the race starts. I positioned myself maybe 15 to 20 yards from the front, about 2/3 the way to the buoys away from the shoreline. I overheard some people saying that a lot of the people who are more unsure of themselves tend to stick closer to the shoreline. Overall, my position wasn’t that bad. With the narrowness of the channel and the high volume of people, the Arizona start is a bit of a slugfest. I definitely had a lot more contact at this start than I did at CDA in 2011. I had a woman next to me grab my shoulder twice to pull herself by me (my separated shoulder). I took a kick so hard to my right I that I couldn’t see out of it for about 30 seconds. I sighted quite a bit at the beginning trying to find any break from the arms and legs that I could. Contact stayed fairly high until the turn. I tried to keep my pacing in check to avoid going hypoxic. When I felt I was pushing too hard, I’d simply stop kicking and relax, just pulling for a while.
When I got to the turn, I pushed hard to go around a big traffic jam, and then relaxed and pulled again. Coming back, I felt like I got into a better rhythm overall. I tried to keep from daydreaming too much and focus on efficient strokes. I started to feel a bit nauseous again, and focused on counting strokes to take my mind off of it. Having the bridges make it easy to see where you are relative to the finish. I swam under the bridge, and had no issues getting up on the steps. I was surprised to find that both of my calves were cramping when I stood up. I didn’t take time to stretch, I simply ran up the stairs. They told us the water temperature was 65 degrees before the swim start and my body temperature was perfect coming out of the water (I wore a full wetsuit, plus a neoprene cap). I really didn’t have a feel for my swim time, it felt good, but in my mind it could have been anything from 1:16 to 1:22. I didn’t look at my Garmin until part way in T1, and didn’t believe the 1:14 I saw at that point. My actual time was 1:12:24, about 5 1/2 minutes faster than I expected.
T1 went okay, but wasn’t terribly fast. The wetsuit strippers were right near the top of the stairs, so I was unprepared for them. The volunteer who helped me really struggled to get me out of my wetsuit, taking a couple of tries on each arm (my fault for not having it down already when I got there). I jogged through the bag section, immediately finding my bag (marking your bag with bright tape is a big help), and jogged into the changing tent. There were a lot of people in the tent and I had to wander way to the side for an empty chair. No volunteers were available so I was on my own for changing. I didn’t want to ride in wet clothes (afraid of getting cold), so I put on fresh bike shorts, tri top and my bike shoes. I waited on my arm warmers until after I got sun screen, in case I took them off somewhere on the bike ride. I grabbed my bike and headed out. My plan was 10 minutes and my actual time was 9:00 minutes.
I was really happy to be starting the bike leg with a little “buffer” of time. I still wasn’t feeling great. My headache was gone although the nausea was persistent. I tried to keep my bike power under control. My overall target for the ride was 191 watts NP and 186 watts AP. There was a lot of bike traffic and I wanted to try to get ahead of the crowd, without putting a lot of stress on my legs. At 5 miles into the ride, I was making a pass when I guy decided to pass me and ran into me. His thigh hit my left handlebar, turning my wheel toward his bike. We bounced together a bit but were able to get our bikes separated without a crash. I got a big surge of adrenaline, and all I could say was “Dude, really… we are 5 miles into the race”. The temps were good and the winds were low, and the first lap flew by. I did a lot of passing and managed to get into a little more clear riding. I consciously wanted to make good time when the winds were low, but in retrospect, I should have taken the first lap a little easier. I noticed that my heart rate was running significantly higher than normal at my targeted wattage, by 10 to 15 bpm. I thought this may be simply error in my HR strap and ignored it. I finished lap 1 of 3 at 190 NP/185AP at 21.5 mph. As I neared the U turn I got a chance to give the thumbs up to my family (Kelly, Ana, Jack, Michelle, Charli, and JT) as I went by. I also got to see the other Tri Racers there to support us… who had a Bullhorn. Very cool to be cheered on at about 100 dBA (thanks Shawn, Diane, Devin and Laura). Lap two started off with a challenge. I was consuming nutrition as planned, but early in lap two my stomach started to get more upset with persistent heart burn. Eventually, I threw up about 1/4 to 1/3 of my stomach contents… all over my legs. Very special. I spent the next 10 minutes just drinking water, trying to clear my stomach. It felt a little better and I went back to my fueling plan. I decided to pull back a little on the second lap. I was getting good efficiency (mph per watt) so I knew I could afford to ease off a little. Lap two I averaged 188NP/183AP at 21.1 mph. Again, I found my HR was running high, and realized that my body just wasn’t operating normally. As I started lap three, I noticed that the wind was coming up. The flags were definitely blowing and I could feel some gusting when I was in crosswinds. I also started to feel a bit tired with my quads getting a bit sore. This was unusual for me, as I was running about 68% of my FTP, and I’ve had training rides at higher output for longer duration. I just wasn’t operating at 100%. The ride out to the turnaround felt pretty good. With the wind at my back I was making better time going uphill at lower power levels. Of course, this meant I was riding into the wind on the way back, which took it’s toll on my already weary quad muscles. I knew my power output was dropping off quite a bit, but decided not to try to push it, as I had a long run ahead of me. Lap three ended up being 178NP/173AP @ 20.5 mph, significantly below target. Overall my ride was 185NP/180AP at 21.1 mph. My efficiency was good (higher mph), but I fell short of my power goals. My HR averaged 144 bmp, and normally should have been around 130 at these power levels. Coming down the sidewalk back to transition was very cool… absolutely lined with screaming spectators. My goal was 5:22 and my actual time was 5:17:33.
T2 went well overall. Someone grabs your bike, you grab your run bag and head to the changing tent. I had two guys helping me, so one helped me change my shorts, socks and running shoes, while the other put more sun screen on me. My goal was 6:00 and I my actual was 3:08.
As I started the run, I knew I had a decent cushion built up on my goal time, and was close to my fastest ideal pace. Unfortunately I had no illusions that I could maintain where I was at, as I felt poorly starting the run. My stomach continued to be a problem, and my quads were hurting from the first mile on. I had to stop at the first porta-potty to go to the bathroom, in hopes that it would settle my stomach. I watched my pacing, and tried to simply stay on target. I did the math in my head and knew a 4:15 marathon would still bring me in under 11:00. I decided to hold on to my targeted pacing of around 9:00 per mile. I knew that with bathroom breaks I’d end up with a slower pace than that, but again it would give me a little buffer for later in the race. My heart rate continued to run at least 10 bpm higher than normal, for my pacing. I knew I wasn’t dehydrated (I consumed enough fluids that I had to go the bathroom a few times on the bike segment), and the heat wasn’t oppressive (I was pouring plenty of water on myself and ice down my shirt). I figured it was simply adrenaline or that I was just a bit under the weather that day, and continued with my plan. I sort of put my body in autopilot mode and plugged away the first 13.1 mile loop, at 9:01 per mile, basically on schedule. I contented to fuel myself per my nutrition plan. Then things started getting noticeably more difficult. I found myself glancing at my Garmin about every 1/10th of mile, wondering where I was at. I lost the discipline of counting my steps while walking in the aid stations, so I was walking more and my average pacing for miles 13 to 18 dropped to 9:38/mile. After mile 18, my stomach got worse requiring more bathroom stops. My pace from 18 to 22 dropped to 10:23 per mile. Then the real ugliness began. My quads felt completely shredded. I got to the hill at 22.5 miles and decided to just walk up it. That went okay, and I felt a little better “running” down the other side. I ended up alternating with a walk / run strategy. I’d run 2 or 3 minutes and walk for a minute. Not ideal, but I was still moving forward. Mile 25 was my low point. I ended up with a 12:42 mile, which was more than half walking. I was at the point where I really didn’t care whether I made 11 hours or not, I just wanted to be done. I turned the corner and saw the mile marker for the last 1.2 miles. I looked at my watch and knew I still had enough time to break 11:00. I ran to the final aid station, grabbed a little more water and decided I needed to run the rest of the way in. I gave myself one more pep talk… “Suck it up buttercup”, put my head down and did the Ironman shuffle in to the finish line, averaging 9:39 per mile. Overall, the marathon took me 4:14:09, at a 9:42 average pace. The overall event took me 10:56:14, and I finished in the top 15% of all participants.
As a whole, I am extremely happy with the results. I met my overall goal of being under 11 hours, and will retire from full IM racing on a high note. It wasn’t pretty, there was no euphoria, I had no great epiphanies, but it sure felt good to finish. If there was anything I’d do differently in retrospect, the primary thing would be to relax. Easier said than done, but truly it’s just a race. I would still be an Ironman whether I went under 11 hours or not. The other thing would be to start out a little easier on the first bike lap. With my desire to give myself a little cushion, I pushed harder than I needed to in that section, probably creating a higher metabolic cost on my body, particularly with my higher heart rates observed on that day. Ironically, when I woke the next day, my HR was running more normal again, leading me to believe most of my issues were simply nerves.
I am truly glad I had this “wild dream” and invested the effort for this event. Overall, it wasn’t the race itself, but rather the preparation, which allowed me to rebuild my body. In less than 18 months I went from being an Ironman, to a Broken Man, back to an Ironman. It has been an interesting journey, to say the least.
- My family for putting up with my continued training regiment and my whining.
- Joe R. for swim coaching and all of the time trials swims early in the year, and Katherine R. as my lane partner, pushing me every single length.
- Sarah C. and Randy P. for helping me improve my biking through the Elkhart Time Trials, by sharing their data… and pushing me hard at each event. Randy was kind enough to share his race data from last year, which was extremely valuable for my race plan. Sarah also helped me refine my nutrition, based on her wealth of knowledge on long course experience. Jason B. for consistently dusting me at Elkhart and giving me motivation to push my biking harder and to a higher level.
- Sandy L. for coaching me on staying positive, despite setbacks. She overcame a broken leg and wrist (similar to mine) to go on and complete IM AZ, providing me with inspiration.
- Elizabeth W. for my overall coaching and providing the right plan and communication to accommodate my unique situation of recovering from my accident.
- Dr. Q, Dr. G, Charlie, Dan, Traci & Robin at DMOS, who helped heal & rebuild my joints so I could compete (and function) again.
- The Polk City Police & EMT’s, who came to my rescue and quickly got me the medical attention I needed.
The last comment I’d make is that through this experience (Broken Man to Ironman) that I have been reminded to appreciate each day. You can be doing everything right… and still that truck may come from nowhere. I say this not that you need to do crazy things, and “live for the moment”… but, rather the contrary. Appreciate all that you have today… the simple things in life, the journey, not just the result, the challenges you face, and time spent with your family and friends.