I AM IRONMAN!

JonRoig.com | Posted: 2009-11-23 23:01:56 | 13038 hits | View in Hi-Fi Mode


Finished in 13:02:50... not too bad for my first triathlon, eh?

"I have no business being here..." I told another bemused participant as we hung out by the side of Tempe Town Lake, all decked out in identical swim caps and black wetsuits. We were a fit looking bunch, all in a pretty chatty mood. "I mean, I've done other ultra distance stuff so it's not totally crazy that I'd throw my hat into the ring for this, but I feel like I'm way undertrained. I did my first open water swim in a wetsuit yesterday."

I didn't start the day scared, really... after finishing the Javelina Jundred, I didn't feel like I had much to prove. Ironman Arizona... it was just a bonus race, I told myself. A lark. Still... I paid almost $500 to participate, so I was determined not to let it go to waste.

To some extent, I was very well prepared. I mean, obviously, having just completed a 100 mile ultramarathon three weeks ago, I'm in fantastic shape.

Still, though... I really only started cycling in earnest about five months ago. I was out on my bike a couple nights a week towards the end of my training regiment leading up to the JJ100, but did one 100 mile ride, that's it. All in all, it had gone well, but I certainly wasn't sure how I'd fare when doing 112 miles as part of a longer race.

Same way with swimming. I'd been the pool all summer -- what else can you do in AZ after work when it's 110 degrees out -- but I'd never swam a full 2.4 miles, and I'd certainly never done it in open water with a wetsuit. The day before the race, I took the wetsuit I rented from the awesome folks at Triple Sport out for a test drive. Felt weird. Floaty. It left me wishing I'd given that a try at some point earlier in my training cycle.

Standing on the edge of that lake, though, I was committed. I certainly wasn't 100% sure I'd survive that swim, but I was determined to give it my best. That's all you can do, right?

That swim start is fucking insane. Sure... I was warned about it -- "a mosh pit," "the washing machine effect," etc... but there's really nothing that can prepare you for what happens when 2500 psyched up triathletes all start swimming at once.

The race starts with the entire field floating in Tempe Town Lake. It's crazy to see from the shore -- just a bunch of bobbing heads -- but from the water, it's even more surreal. When things get going, everyone goes as hard as possible immediately. There's no room between people, so things get ugly fast -- everyone colliding, kicking each other, it's like a giant scrum. I'm half convinced we all wear the same swimcaps is that it makes it harder to target specific people later for revenge after the horrible things they've done in the water.

At first, the frantic action was too much for me. I had to fight my way over to the side of the lake and sit for a minute, just to keep from hyperventilating. After a few seconds, though, I plunged back in. There was still a ton of contact, but I kinda found my rhythm and before I knew it, I was breathing normally and moving along at what I considered a reasonable pace.

Navigating in the open water was kind of tricky for me. For the most part, I just followed the crowd, but on the return trip around the lake, I kinda found myself swimming off in the weeds for a little while. I probably could've done this all more efficiently, but I was amazed at how much the wetsuit helped me as a skinny dude who's perpetually sinking when I swim. The water was cold, but at the time, it felt pretty good. My legs cramped up a little part of the way through, but I managed to drag 'em along ok 'till they felt better. No problem. I emerged from the water at 1:28:01... for me, that's an incredible swim time. The wetsuit really did make it easier.

It wasn't 'till I hopped out after 2.4 miles that I was like, "OMG... I'm totally freezing." Joe Galope stripped my wetsuit... how cool is that? It's always nice to see a friendly face along the course. (Earlier that morning, I also ran into Sandra, working the transition bags again. She helped me find a replacement day clothes bag for the one I forgot at home that morning.)

I took about 15 minutes at the first transition to warm up and change into bike clothes. The people who are serious about this stuff, they just do the race in one outfit. Me... I wanted to be comfortable. I knew I was going to out there peddling away for a long time.

I headed out towards the Beeline, feeling pretty shaken up. My toes were frozen and didn't unthaw until I hit the turnaround at Shea. That first leg out was pretty bleak -- the wind was strong, fighting my efforts to get up the hill at every turn. I proceeded pretty carefully. Ironman is full of rules and the last thing I wanted was to incur a drafting penalty. (They literally have a penalty box.)

Of course, the existence of a drafting penalty means that you really can't chat with the other folks you're riding with, since you have to leave a fair amount of space between you. Certainly, as a guy who likes to shoot the shit with other athletes to help pass the time, that was strange for me... but I settled into the groove soon enough. I actually sped up throughout the ride, once I got progressively more comfortable on the bike and started to develop a strategy: find someone who seems fast and follow at a reasonable distance. Let them do all the hard work of navigating, keep your head down, and keep moving forward. It was really nice to do a ride out there and not have to worry at all about traffic.

I certainly feel like I bonded with my bike. Her name is Amelia. I'm also now aware of just how much faster some people bike than me. Who knew?

The bike portion took 6:45:34. It all went really smoothly; no flat tires, no major problems. I ate a ton of bananas, barely touched my special needs bag, except to refill the Perpetuem on the second loop. Although I saw it a few times, I couldn't bring myself to pee in my bike shorts, so I stopped fairly regularly to properly relieve myself. Towards the end of the ride, I followed the advice some random guy at one of the Tribe rides and spent a fair amount of time standing up in the saddle, just to get my legs ready for the marathon. I had no intention of hitting the ground running, but I wanted to get prepared. I really hadn't done anything in terms of BRICKs, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

I got in and out of the run transition fairly quickly. I took about 10 minutes to change into running clothes, put on my shoes / socks, fill up my water bottle, and gather my wits. I kicked it in classic trail runner style -- number, folded up on my shorts, Ultimate Direction bottle in hand, and MT 100's on my feet. At this point, I was still feeling pretty good... still, with an entire marathon left to go, it seemed like it was still going to be a long haul to the end.

"After all that, I agreed to do what? Run a marathon?"

I took it pretty easy. My total run time was 4:23:18, but my splits are kind of hilarious. I just kept getting slower and slower until the last 10k, when I picked it back up. It's kind of fun, doing all this stuff totally on my home turf -- "I live just on the other side of Papago Park!" I told everyone who would listen -- but doing loop after loop around Tempe Town Lake got old fast. The course is surprisingly difficult. I mean, not really, but it has actual hills in it, unlike the PF Chang's Marathon. After the first loop, I settled into a groove of walking all the uphills and stopping at every other aid station for Coke and Soup. I was very careful to stay on top of my nutrition for this entire race and I think that paid off.

Cruising repeatedly through the little IronMan village under the Mill Bridge was a fantastic experience. It reminded a little of the NYC Marathon; big crowds crushing in from either side, tons of cheering and support. It helped a lot. I didn't bother at all with my special needs bag.

Finally, I saw mile 25 and it was on. Now, this may be my finest moment in sports thus far because I really turned on the heat. I don't know how fast I ran that last little bit -- probably sub-7:00 -- but I must've passed like 100 people during the last chunk. If I'd known I was so close to the 13 hour mark, I would've busted that out a little earlier, but it didn't really matter at all to me at that point. It's awesome what a small world it is, though -- I was taunting some random Tribe dude during my epic last mile since I figured he was local, trying to get him to run with me, and it turned out to be Aaron Berkowitz. (We didn't recognize each other at all...) In your face!

Here's a crazy stat for you -- I started the run in 1972th place, finished it ranked 1416. That is to say, I took out 556 people during the marathon. That's... uhhh... something, right?

I hope I can find video of my finish. I ran through the chute, slapping the hands of everyone along the way there... just felt really great to have that done with.

One of the cool things about this race is that, at the finish line, you're actually met by a volunteer who is assigned solely to making sure you, personally, are ok. It's pretty awesome... never had that in a race before. It's a classy touch...

... and it really goes to how important and amazing all the volunteers were for this event. You guys were incredible! Thank you so much!

All in all, this was super fun. Glad I did it... don't know if I ever want to do it again. Of course, some part of me is like, "There's no reason I couldn't shave 30 mins off my run and an hour off my bike and turn in an amazing performance," but I certainly wasn't moved to immediately sign up for next year's race. My body doesn't appear to have suffered any permanent damage, but I'll be sore for the next few days. Certainly, I'll keep biking and swimming as cross training and if the right race comes along, I might be moved to do it.

After doing a hundred mile race, a lot of people have asked me about the relative toughness of the IM vs an ultra... and I don't really know what the answer is. Training for the IM was extremely time consuming. -- I don't know how anyone with actual responsibilities gets it done. At the high point of my training cycle over the summer, I was waking up every morning to run, going to work, and coming home to swim or bike every night. It felt weird to only do one workout a day. On the weekends, I was alternating between long runs and long rides.

Once you get in the training, IM wasn't too bad. I guess that's how it works, right? Still, though, one can only imagine the effort it must take to get really good at all those disciplines. I had breakfast this morning with a bunch of local badasses including Paul and Linda, both in the top five for their age groups. I've gotta say -- those guys are in ridiculously good shape and must be incredibly focused in their training. (Cheryl Miller's crew really tore it up out there!)

So, obviously, something like the Javelina Jundred is a much harder race in some sense -- it took me 15 hours longer -- but there's a real art to doing a fast tri. Props to everyone out there who beat me!

It's funny, though, how different the ultras are than a tri like this. With almost 2,500 people starting, this was a huge race. The logistics are mindbending to think about. Given its size, it's weird what a quiet race this is in a lot of ways. Participants don't really talk to each other the way people do in running races... but it was kind of peaceful, shuffling along in silence. The funniest story I heard from the race was from Dr. Ora, who witnessed some guy peeing in the penalty tent. He was DQ'd.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank all the people who helped me get ready for this race. I know IM folks have a reputation as bunch of jerks, but I found everyone to be really cool and supportive. Thanks!


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