Ironman Arizona 2009 Race Report
What a year!!! Bear with me as this will be long – hey, it’s a long race. We start the year with my first full marathon, announcement of a corporate merger, our daughter’s college graduation and subsequent job search and relocation. Then it was a Half Ironman that rained the ENTIRE race, a bike crash the next weekend, after three weeks of limited training I got a staph infection that lasted another three weeks. In the interim I was interviewing to keep my job, took a new role with the firm and started traveling again. Then it was an attack of the back on my long ride on Halloween (I rode again that Sunday and then could hardly walk on Monday) and if that wasn't enough, I got sick a couple of weeks before my race. So, I went to Arizona coughing and wondering if my back would let me race. Now, finally, the setup is complete.
Although it was my first Ironman, since Deb and I had gone out and volunteered last year, I had a good idea how the week would play out. Here's my week in review....
Wednesday evening arrival complete with all bags. Relax and early to bed.
Thursday - up early, and over to the race site. We had lunch with a friend who provided us a parking card for the building garage at the race site. This was HUGE as we never worried about parking (nor did we have to pay for parking!!!). Thanks Jim!!! After lunch there was a short line at athlete registration so I rolled in, signed all the releases, got my numbers, swim cap, etc and was on my way. Then we made our way down to Tri-Bike Transport and picked up my bike. I, personally, don’t understand why anyone would not use Tri-Bike Transport. For about the same cost as putting your bike box on a plane, they drive your bike, fully assembled, across the country, insured and deliver to you at the race site. After your race, you return your bike (across a sidewalk from transition in Arizona) and they drive it back to your home bike shop. In my book, that’s a deal. Debbie and I then drove our to the Beeline Highway as I wanted to do a short ride on Thursday afternoon to shake down the bike and be sure all was right. The bike was perfect and the ride was nice. Warm with very little wind – the same forecast for race day. I rode the section that is on the profile as “more of a climb”. Dinner with the Endurance Nation folks (it was awesome to put some faces with the postings online) and then to bed early.
Friday dawned cool and crisp. A perfect day for a swim. I arrived at the Gatorade swim and climbed into the wetsuit trying to prepare for the cold water mentally. After a few minutes of procrastination, as well as meeting a few folks from the book, I walked to the stairs, walked down them, said “what the heck” and dove in the water. Holy Toledo that is COLD water. Breathe, remember to Breathe. Level out the body, reach, catch, recover, roll to air, the sooner you are swimming the sooner you will relax and warm up a bit. Breathe. I had never had my forehead hurt from the temperature of the water. My feet were not numb, I couldn’t feel them. Needless to say, I had never been swimming in water this cold. I swam about 30 minutes or so and actually got used to the water and felt it wouldn’t be a problem on race day. Out of the water, dried off, changed to some running gear and went for a short 20 minute run with Jacques and then it was about time for the 4 Keys Endurance Nation talk. It was great to reinforce the 4 Keys again and to get Rich and Patrick’s tips for race management and execution. I spent the afternoon getting my bike ready and going over my list (again). I also began to lay out some of my transition and special needs stuff to give me a head start on Saturday morning. Late afternoon Debbie and I went over to the race site and I got a massage for my lower back pain. This was a stroke of genius as it really helped my back. Then we moved down to the location of the Athlete’s Banquet so we would be sure she could get a ticket. If you are going to go to the banquet, pre-pay for your guest tickets (athletes don’t need a ticket, your wristband gets you in).
The banquet was great – Mike Reilly did a great job as emcee and he gave us quite a few interesting facts, including recognizing the people who lost the most weight in training (I think three lost more than 100 pounds), he also recognized the first timers, there were 1300 or so, and he introduced the Ford Everyday Ironman Hero, Rudy Garcia-Tolson. His goal: to become the first bilateral above-knee amputee to complete an Ironman. He had not completed the bike portion in Kona and was in Arizona for this second attempt. Oh by the way, Rudy is 21, he made the decision at 5 that he wanted his defective legs amputated so he could get on with his life. Google Rudy and read his story. You will be motivated. He is an amazing young man. After the dinner, Paul Huddle, the race director, conducted the competitor meeting and then it was off to bed.
Saturday, the goal is to sleep in as this would be the last opportunity for a decent night of sleep until Monday night. I was so fortunate. I slept very well every night including Saturday night which I didn’t expect. Saturday morning Debbie had a volunteer meeting so while she went to the meeting, I visited the Active Release Therapy specialists for some more work on my lower back as well as my hip flexors and watched some folks freezing in the practice swim. After her meeting, we ate a big lunch and then went back to the hotel to finish my transition bags. I had the stuff all laid out on top of the bags so I read the list and Debbie loaded the stuff in the bags to be sure I didn’t miss anything. I was short a race belt and had to improvise but it all worked out fine. I turned in my transition bags and racked my bike – at this point I realized race time was upon us. Then we headed to the airport to pick up my brother, Bruce who was coming in for the race. After collecting him, Debbie took Bruce on a tour of the expo area while I got another quick massage. I could get used to this. I think Bruce was most amazed by the sea of bikes and the total amount of money sitting on those racks. Then it was off to a quick dinner and back to the hotel to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. My goal was to fill all my drink bottles, set out my clothes and finalize my race morning list so I didn’t have to think at all on Sunday, just do. I was in bed at 8pm as I had hoped.
Sunday morning – 2am. Up for breakfast – an Uncrustable, some Infinit and a banana. Then back to bed. Up again at 4am. A quick shower, dress, a few more calories – Cheerios, Infinit, banana and Diet Coke. Wrote “BELIEVE” on my left arm with a picture of a man in a box to remind me to race my race, no one else’s and wrote “EXECUTE” on my right arm. We left for the race at 5am. We were fortunate to be able to park in VIP parking thanks to the Janus Investments people. These folks were absolutely wonderful to us all week and especially to Bruce and Debbie on race day. We were parked mere steps from transition and I just worked through my list. First, air tires. Then fill aero bottle, put other bottles on bike, fill bento box. get body marked, put run bottle in bike to run bag, drop off special needs bags and then get to a quiet spot to calm down and talk with Debbie and Bruce for a while before the ice bath. I was surprised that I was very calm. I started to insert myself into my wetsuit about 6:20 and while I was doing that, Debbie and Bruce had to leave to go board the boat from which they got to watch the swim start. I told them bye and continued to adjust the wetsuit. I got all set and then Brian Massey from EN wandered by so I had someone I knew to hang with prior to the start – that was great instead of listening to all those voices inside my head. As we were moving toward the water’s edge, there was some commotion to our right, two men were carrying Rudy down to the water for the swim – all of the competitors clapped and showed their admiration for this young man’s courage. Before dawn we were on the dock and then I was in the water…..SHOWTIME!!!
As the sky began to lighten all 2500 of us were anxiously awaiting the starting cannon in the cold water of Tempe Town Lake. After the practice swim, I had a good idea what to expect. Cold. However on race morning the adrenaline was coursing through my veins and it didn't seem as cold. I took a few strokes and then breast stroked under the bridge and hung onto a paddle board for a few minutes. Mike Reilly asked who was going to became an Ironman and my hand went up in the air. Listening to the National Anthem while bobbing in cold water was a new experience and very emotional. And then the cannon fired. I was swimming. Everyone talks about the washing machine effect and I must have missed it. I seemed to be in a great spot, a bubble of water around me and I just swam, and swam, and swam. A few times I was jostled or bumped but it was much more similar to a big wave start than a 2500 person all-in start. I took a minor kick to the left ear and at one point found my wrist between two kicking legs. I got it out of there quickly as I was afraid of getting my wrist snapped by a vigorous kick. So much time in a sensory deprived environment gives one many varied thoughts like, there is our firm’s office in Tempe, I wonder if Bruce and Debbie are cold on the boat, there is the ASU Sun Devil football stadium, this part of the swim feels uphill, I wonder how many strokes I have taken, wow the sun is bright, did they move the bridge, oh, here it is and look there’s the turn buoy – halfway there, check the time. I was at the turnaround in about 40 minutes which was a little fast for me so I took it easier on the way back. The swim back was really uneventful, I sighted pretty easily and just kept moving. My body did it's best to stay warm throughout the swim and I was very fortunate in that regard. Seeing some hypothermic folks at the end made me very thankful. Several were shaking uncontrollably. The stairs out of the water are a unique exit device. The trick is to swim onto the lower steps, not to reach up to the handrails and try to pull yourself out. Volunteers were very helpful and there were a lot of them. I carefully moved off the stairs and into the wetsuit stripping area, hands pulling down my wetsuit and then I was on my back on Astroturf and my wetsuit was off my legs. I rose and started the walk to the Changing Tent. I had decided not to run here as the few minutes would not impact my overall time. Stay in control. I saw Bruce and Debbie, again in a preferred, non-public location due to the Janus VIP treatment. They were hanging out with pro Michael Lovato who was not racing and he was very kind to Debbie with all kind of reassurances and assistance in trying to find me. By the way, Michael has several top three finishes in Kona at the World Championships as well as Ironman victories at Cour d’Alene and Arizona – how cool is that? I am convinced that would not happen in any other sport.
Nothing can prepare you for the pandemonium of the tent in transition. My plan was to be smooth and take my time but not dawdle. When you look at my time you may think I grilled a steak or baked a pie in the first transition but my hands were cold and it took a while before I could operate my fingers to dress. My plan was to dress for comfort so it was a complete costume change. Bike shorts and jersey, socks, cycle shoes, arm warmers, helmet and sunglasses, then out of the tent to go get my bike – stop – get some sunscreen – now go. I had an awesome rack near the pros with my low bib number so I was very close to the bike exit. I went down the entire length of the bike racks, got my bike, moved to the mount line and got on. It was cool too that I got to see Bruce and Debbie at the exit.
As I rode out Rio Salado, I saw Seth – Seth is one of the book guys who is undergoing cancer treatment and has a very tough time with cold. He was shaking like crazy. I talked to him for a couple of seconds as I went by – it wasn’t long until he warmed up and passed me like I was standing still. The bike is three out and back rides with each loop totaling a little over 37 miles, so I looked at it as 6 x 18.5 mile rides. You ride an “in town” section with several turns and then you get to the Beeline Highway for a long stretch out of town. It is usually windy on the Beeline. 2009 was no exception. Forget the forecast of very light winds – the Beeline was cooking. As I rode the outbound first loop I was looking at my wattage vs my speed and I really put my faith in Endurance Nation and said “I’m going to do it like you said”. I saw some low digits on that first leg. At the turnaround of Lap 1, I heard Bruce yelling for me (Debbie had already lost her voice), so I told them to meet me at the Port-o-Lets and took a quick break and talked to them for a few seconds. Then it was back into town – screaming fast downwind. Total first lap was dead on my predicted time. All three laps were between 15 and 16 miles per hour, even though the wind had shifted and the Beeline was different the second and third time around. The third lap had really thinned out and there was some carnage out there. I saw several folks stopped along the side of the road, bent over, stretching or puking, or just laying flat on their back on the shoulder of the road. It was on this loop that I saw Rudy for the first time since the swim start. He was pedaling out the Beeline as I was heading back to town. Go Rudy Go. My plan on the bike had been to execute with conservation of resources in mind. As I approached the ending sections of the bike I felt very good about how I had ridden. The emotional swings are very interesting and deserve some mention. At some point during all three disciplines, I felt a marked shift of emotions. There were numerous, very positive moments. There were also, from time to time, dark places. The darkest were on the bike for me, I really expected them more on the run but I think I stayed focused on relentless forward movement and didn’t let many negative vibes through. While I was focused on smaller chunks of the ride, there are times when you realize you still have 40 or 50 or 60 miles to go and that is a long way and you can never totally forget that a marathon awaits you at the completion of your ride. All through the bike I felt I was consuming ample calories. Looking back, I think I was short by several hundred calories. My strategy was sound and I feel it was spot on, I just didn’t execute to the best of my ability. I wanted to be on the run between 4 and 4:30 and that was accomplished. The bike is ending as my mind begins to think about 26.2 miles to run – don’t think that way. One step at a time.
Easy pick up of the bag and into the tent I go. I feel good, better than expected. I get in the tent, change clothes and realize it is time to get after it. Again there were numerous helpful volunteers and they were helping everyone tirelessly. A small drink of water and then out to get sun screened. Across the timing mat and I am on the run. As I check the time I begin to feel that if not goes catastrophically wrong I should make it but I don’t want to take anything for granted as a lot can happen and probably will over the next seven and a half hours.
The run is three loops. But it is really six. There is a 3.5-4 mile loop and a 4.5-5 mile loop that when combined make up one loop of 8.5-9 miles. I really wanted to run at least half way through the marathon using a run/walk method and I started out pretty conservatively as planned. After the first sub-loop, I realized I had started a bit hot so I slowed on the second part of the first full loop. There is a hill (and it seemed really big) about halfway through the second sub-loop that I planned to walk each time I got there. It is the only hill on the run. As I started to run the second full loop I wanted to really be careful. I wasn’t able to take in many calories and my stomach was doing weird things so I went even more conservative. I took it really easy on the second full loop and upon reflection think it was a good decision. The third full loop began with me feeling good (notwithstanding the weird stomach) and ready to get this done. I was running a bit more – if you can call it that – and walking faster when I was walking. I was beginning to let my head and my heart start to think about the finish line and hearing Mike Reilly call my name. It was a very emotional time as I knew I had only 2-2:30 hours left and would finish with plenty of time to spare barring anything really crazy. As I started the last section, I KNEW I would be an Ironman that day. I KNEW nothing could stop me. I KNEW I would crawl if I had too. Every section I ran I knew that would be the last time I would run that section. I told all the volunteers they wouldn’t get to cheer for me any more that night. I was almost back to the bridge for the last crossing when I looked up and saw Rudy – moving doggedly through the night. I stopped and applauded. I am amazed at this young man. I knew he would make it – I could see it in his eyes. Then I realized I was in the last mile….it is amazing how much better I felt realizing that….the legs had energy….the posture got better….I was able to run more. I passed some people….I was going home. I saw Debbie and Bruce about a quarter of a mile from the finish and told them I would be there soon…they took off to the finish line to meet me. I had to go around a corner, through a parking lot, turn left and then I would be in the finishing chute. Oh my….here it comes….
I talked to a guy walking as I passed him as I wanted to be sure if he was going to run I was going to wait. I wanted him to have his finish line and I wanted mine as well. He told me to go ahead as he was going to be awhile. A few more steps and then I was turning left into bright lights, jam packed stands, people going nuts jumping up and down and screaming, I was high fiving people to the left and right of the chute like I was winning the thing instead of being a back of the packer but hey, it is MY finish line. Then I hear, Bryan Reece, San Antonio, Texas…..YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!! About that time, I hear Bruce screaming at me from the VIP tent and I high fived him steps from the finish line. Then I was across. Right into the arms of my amazing wife, waiting for me, supporting me, being the incredible partner she is – Sherpa Deb. Words absolutely could never describe the feelings. The emotions crashing into you at the speed of light, the absolute lack of pain at that moment, the insane love for those who got you to this point, the intense desire to share this feeling which cannot be shared. One very cool thing happened right here. Debbie had me look to the side and there was Brian Massey who had come back to the finish and we got to celebrate each other's finish. That was awesome. Then you move through the finish area, getting your finisher’s hat and shirt, your medal, your chip removed and have some pictures taken. Then you move to medical if necessary, go get some food and/or get a quick massage. I did all three – medical for no other reason than to get my blood pressure checked (it was normal) and let them tell me I was fine. Signed up for a massage and got a piece of pizza. I was on a massage table before I could eat the pizza and wow, it felt good to lie down. While I was laying there Mike announced Rudy was coming in. The crowd went nuts. Rudy was an Ironman. Stud.
As I lay in bed Sunday night I tried to reflect on the journey that got me here. What a long, strange trip it has been. Where did it start? It all started with Julie Moss and her collapse in Hawaii in 1982. I saw it on Wide World of Sports and was amazed by this thing called Ironman. I could NEVER understand it but it was cool. I have watched the World Championships year after year and never had an inkling that I might be capable of completing this challenge. It all started then, I just didn’t know it. Then a medical issue in January of 2007 pushed the process along and a conversation with a guy in the locker room one Saturday in June, 2007 germinated the seed. I remember after my first triathlon in August of 2007 telling people I would NEVER do a Half Ironman, much less an Ironman – those people are crazy. Then after doing an Olympic in May of 2008, I thought a Half Ironman was possibly achievable. After completing Longhorn 70.3 in October of 2008, Debbie and I went to Arizona to volunteer and for me to sign up. What had begun 27 years ago now had a clock on it. What a journey….what a year.
A couple of words of thanks – thanks Rich and Patrick and all my EN teammates. Also, thanks again to the Janus Investments people, sponsors of the Janus Charity Challenge and wonderful organizers of a great VIP experience for Debbie and Bruce. To each of you reading this, thanks. You have all played a role in this journey. Finally, thanks to all the volunteers – there couldn’t be a race without you.
Three Things I Learned – check that…..Four Things I Learned
Never limit yourself. The only limits on you are those you place on yourself.
Believe. I believe, with faith, you can accomplish your goal. Whatever it is.
Execution is the key. There is a supply of resources, use them wisely.
NO ONE DOES THIS ALONE. It may be an individual sport but no one does it alone. It takes the love, support, and reassurance of family, friends and even strangers. I prove this by simply asking any competitor, “who isn’t bolstered by the clapping of a volunteer in the middle of no where on the bike course, who doesn’t feel at least a little better when you roll through an aid station and strangers are yelling for you, who isn’t jazzed when a small hand reaches up for a high five?” If none of that gets to you I don’t know if you are human.
I know there are so many more things I learned – some are not yet revealed I am sure, I do know the journey continues….
If this is the end, it is the front end….