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Ironman Arizona: Race Morning and The Swim

Posted Apr 17 2009 12:31am


Shawn shot this 2:36 minute video of the mass Swim Start. Notice the Power Bar flags blowing in the breeze. It was a minor indication as to what would come on the bike course.  You'll also hear Announcer Mike Reilly pumping up the athletes and spectators. I was so numb when hearing his words as I was bobbing in the water for ten minutes in 65 degree water. Listening now, I REALLY get the chills. 

Dinner at Tarbells the night before the race.  I had pasta and a glass (or two) of wine. 

Race Morning

Staying in Scottsdale about 25 minutes away from the race site was probably one of the best decisions we made. Not only did we have the comforts of a great home with plenty of space and a great kitchen, but we also weren't caught up in the race anxiety of the other athletes in and around the area. I went down to Ironman village to check-in, do the practice swim, and drive one loop of the bike course, but other than that, I stayed away from the mayhem and hung with my friends and family.

The countless hours of training all boil down to the above photo...a couple of bags of a white powdery substance (also known as Perpetuum). It absolutely got me through the bike feeling strong and ready for the run. 

I woke up at 3:45am on race morning and began the laborious task of eating more calories in one meal than I normally consume in an entire day. Breakfast consisted of two whole wheat bagels with peanut butter, a banana and a little sugar free jelly. The goal of eating so early is to give your body plenty of time to digest it. That would be my only solid food before the race start. My state of mind was so calm. It felt like any old race morning, quite honestly. A few nerves, a little trepidation, glimpses of excitement, shades of dread...all feelings on any big race morning.  The best way I can describe my state of being was waking up the morning of a huge test. I had studied my tail off. I had read and re-read every manual. There was nothing more I could do to ready myself. The only anxiety came in the form of the "unknowns." 

Richard, Shawn and I left the house around 5am to head down to the race site. They were going to stake out their tent/tailgating spot after I was dropped off to the transition area. The beauty of Arizona is that the sun starts rising around 5:30am. By the time we got close to the race site, I had to go to the bathroom, so we stopped by one of the porta-potties on the run course by the park and I christened it :-)  By 6am, it was already daylight and you could definitely feel the excitement and energy of the morning. Race announcers and volunteers helped guide the athletes to the various areas of transition. Body marking was by the water inside the bike area. Special needs drops were under the bridge. I also took this time to revisit my transition bags that were dropped off the day before. In my T1 bag (swim to bike), I turned on my Garmin 305 and set the timer to beep every 15 minutes. This would be my cue to eat or drink something on the bike. I turned it off, dropped it back in the bag and felt secure. I then headed to my T2 bag (bike to run) and dropped Thon's Garmin 305 in that bag. It was a "just in case" watch. The Garmin battery doesn't last more than 10 hours so there was a chance I'd need a second Garmin so that I could adequately track my average running pace and I knew I wanted to be somewhere between 9:00s and 9:30s. I was also wearing my Timex Ironman watch that would track my swim and overall time for the day. In addition, I have a computer on my bike that tracked my avg speed there as well.  So, yeah, needless to say, I was prepared!!

Transition area buzzing on race morning

While dropping off my special needs, I saw that Shawn and Richard found the perfect spot for the Gazelle Tent and Team Carrie-zona headquarters! It was just beyond the Mill Ave bridge right by a waterstop. This meant they would see me at least 6 times on the run, with easy access to Mill Ave. to see me on the bike as well. Perfect!  Because we had driven out, my crew had lawn chairs, coolers, water, beer, clappers, cow bells, megaphones, sombreros, flags, etc. If it wasn't an Ironman, you would definitely think they were tailgating for a college football game! (Ohio State, of course!)  


Thanks Coach and Jay for letting us haul the Gazelle tent to AZ! It was a godsend!!  

You can't tailgate without shade in Arizona!

I was one of the few people that had a pump so I was a popular girl in the bike transition area. After I got my tires pumped up, several others asked to borrow it. I certainly didn't mind helping, but it was after 6:30am, transition was closing and I still didn't have my wetsuit on yet. Finally, before anyone else could ask, I grabbed the pump and ran it over to our tailgating area. As I was heading back, the pros cannon fired and the age groupers started to make their way towards the water. I rushed to put on my wetsuit and still had 10 minutes to spare before they corralled us into the water.

Tempe Town Lake as the sun was rising. Stunning...


Believe it or not, it still felt like any other race morning.  My mind wasn't comprehending the magnitude of the day, which is probably a good thing. Really, the only thing I was thinking was, "I don't want to get in the water," which is how I feel before ANY race whether it's 500 meters or 2.4 miles. I always get that ping of, "Damn, I wish I was spectating today" knowing full well that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.  Before I knew it, I was hopping into the 65 degree water and slowly making my way towards the start buoys. IMAZ is a deep water start, so they get everyone in the water and then make you swim to the start buoys and tread water--all before the cannon fires! I treaded water for about 10 minutes...thank God for wetsuits. All the while I could hear announcer Mike Reilly doing his obligatory pep talks, "Who wants to be an Ironman today???" (followed by loud cheers and shouts from both participants and spectators)  "How many first-time Ironmen do we have today??" As hundreds cheered and raised their hands around me, I treaded water with a numbness of shock and almost disbelief. I'd often wandered how I would feel when I heard those announcements and here I was in the midst of it. It was then that it hit me, but before I could process the moment, the cannon fired and we were off!

All 2000 of us lined up at the Start

I lined myself up about 2/3 back towards the center line. The swim is a straightforward out and back rectangle. It's easy to sight on this course which is a good thing because the start heads east right in the direction of the rising sun. The wind was blowing slightly from the east which meant the first part of the swim would be choppy.  The washing machine started immediately. Bodies clamoring for position. Ankles being grabbed and faces being kicked and elbowed. It's hard to keep reminding yourself that no one is really doing this on purpose. We're all struggling for the same thing...some form of comfort and control of our swim. I should also say that the race had about 500 Women and 1500 Men and if I'm battling with a 6ft, 200lb man, he's usually going to win. It was a constant wrestling match. I remember feeling frustrated early though. I kept thinking, "This is NOT swimming. All of the classes and Barton Springs swims don't prepare you for this mess. This is total bullshit!"  That frustration just made me kick a little harder and "swim" a little more aggressively. Of course, I was swallowing more water than I wanted and belching it out as much as possible. (gross, I know). I was trying to breathe every three strokes, but with bodies on your right and left, it didn't really help. It was easier for me to breathe on my right side because I could see the buildings moving and the ASU football stadium coming into view. As dorky as this sounds, this stadium is the sight where Ohio State won the National Championship vs. Miami in January 2003 in 2 overtimes. I kept drawing on that as my inspiration to remain strong and focused.

Mass triathlon swimming...not for the faint of heart.

As usual, there was a traffic jam at the turnaround buoys and I took that moment to glance at my watch. It read 6:23. What?!?!? Damn...In the course of the thrashing, someone hit the stop button on my watch. I now had no idea what my pace was.  I was constantly surrounded by people so I knew I wasn't in last place (always an irrational fear), but I felt like it was taking forever to swim the way back. I found a dude's feet and drafted off him as much as possible. I actually had a flow going for a while. but it was short-lived as I would have to swim around or on top of others to keep up with this dude. I kept the Mill Ave. bridge in sight because I knew once we passed underneath, we just had to make a left turn to swim to the volunteers who were pulling us out of the water. In my mind, I thought, "This is definitely slower than I thought. It's probably a 1:40 swim at best." I've never been so happy to grab the hand of a volunteer who helped me out of the water where I caught my first glimpse of the clock: 1:20 and some change. I wanted to shout cheers of joy and gratitude right then and there! I never imagined it would be 1:20 when it felt so horribly inconsistent and sloppy.  I had the tricep chaffing to prove it too. Even with generous amounts of body glide both under my arms and around the seams of my sleveless wetsuit, I could still feel the burning as I laid down on the ground and let another volunteer strip off my wetsuit in one vigorous pull. (not as kinky as it sounds).

One leg down and two more to go. A piece of advice from fellow T3'er Ralph popped into my mind. He told me to take my time in transition to make sure I have everything I need. These would be the only "planned" breaks of the day so make sure you don't rush through them too fast and forget something. I headed towards my T1 bag and found it immediately. I remember thinking, "There's still a ton of bags here, so I'm doing alright!"  I jogged into the women's changing tent and was immediately assisted by a volunteer who led me to an empty seat. The changing tent is like backstage at a play during a costume change. Clothes are flying, people are naked, adrenaline is pumping and no one cares because everyone is in their own character. My awesome volunteer was helping me empty my transition helmet, towel to wipe my now muddy feet, socks, shoes, sunglasses, Garmin...Where the hell is my Garmin? I know it was here because I turned it on and set it this morning to beep at me every 15 minutes. Where can it be? We were both on our hands and knees looking to see where it may have fallen, but couldn't find it. I still had my bike computer, but I was frustrated that I lost my valuable Garmin. I didn't want to waste anymore time, so the volunteer said, "I'll keep looking and put it in your bag if I find it. You go and I'll pack everything else up."  I left the tent and hit the sunscreen volunteers (probably the grossest job in my opinion). Dozens of volunteers were stationed to lather every sweaty participant with sunscreen for the bike. Arms, legs, face, name it.  It wasn't pretty, but it was effective.  I headed towards my lovely bike, grabbed her and quickly checked the tire pressure (still good) and made my way out of transition to the bike course.

It felt like I was in transition for about 20 minutes and I SWEAR the clock read 1:40 when I left! I remember thinking, "I'm going to catch some serious hell for a 20-minute T1!"  Turns out it was around 8 minutes...

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