It's the desert. What did I expect?
Ironman Arizona. April 13, 2008. 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run.
"Ironman is death by small cuts." I just read that on a triathlon forum, and it is a perfect description. I felt a lot of disappointment about the conditions we got on Sunday, and my feelings are mixed about how I dealt with them. But most of all I'm glad I motored through and finished, happy with my finishing place and relieved that my race didn't go a lot worse than it did.
My day got off to a slightly off-kilter start when I arrived at the race site and found that my bike, which I had checked in the day before, had a flat rear tire. No worries, I had plenty of time to fix it, but I never found the source of the puncture and was freaked out about it until I got off the bike.
The swim was rough, starting with me cutting a small chunk out of my foot when I jumped into the lake and hit some concrete at the bottom. I was generally beaten to a pulp from the gun right up to the end, when I got a kick in the chin and a punch in the eye. The latter was so forceful that I imagined my goggle cutting an oval shape into my eye socket like a giant hole puncher, but I never got the black eye I expected. I was stoked when I pulled myself out of the water to see my time of 1:12:18, which was nearly six minutes faster than my previous best.
The bike was brutal. I knew it was going to be hot, but it was not supposed to be windy. At all. The weather people lied. We rode 18 miles into a stiff headwind to the turnaround, enjoyed a lovely tailwind on the return, but then had to do it again... and then again. It was demoralizing, to say the least. The outbound section, which had a slight incline and which on a windless day would have been fast and fun, was like a steady climb in that wind. If you stopped pedaling, you would stop moving forward.
My first lap was speedy but I stopped twice on my second lap looking for sunscreen since I could feel my skin frying as the heat and wind picked up. By the third lap I had a pain in my left hip like someone was gently inserting an ice pick into my hip socket with every pedal stroke. I think this was from grinding away in my aerobars into the headwind for that 18-mile stretch without a break. The second and third laps were also a mental battle, fighting boredom and drowsiness while trying to focus on maintaining my pace. It was difficult to keep a positive attitude, and I don't think I did very well at that. I wanted to get off my damn bike. I need to learn to keep that thought from entering my head.
My 6:57 bike time was disappointing. I was shooting for 15-20 minutes faster than that. Unfortunately I wasn't able to stay on top of my average speed or split times because my bike computer conked out and restarted itself between mile 24-26 of EACH LAP. Polar is going to be hearing from me.
When I started the run, a volunteer perkily told me it was "only 94 degrees!" (The same volunteer told me "Now you only have to run a marathon!") I took off and ran a few sub-10-minute miles, not intentionally hitting that pace but just doing what felt good and thinking that maybe I could pull off a miracle and run a 4:35 marathon to reach my sub-13-hour goal. The heat quickly caught up with me, though, and I realized that my legs were totally chewed up from that tough bike ride. The course was mostly on concrete, which was like running on hot coals. I slowed way down and lived from one aid station to the next, grabbing wet sponges and dumping ice into my bra. By the halfway point I started allowing myself walking breaks. I knew I wasn't going to finish the run under five hours, and it wasn't a matter of giving up; I just couldn't go any faster in the heat. I passed a lot of people, though, moving up 323 places on the run.
The temperature didn't start to drop until the sun went down around 7pm. Even after that I could feel the heat radiating off the sidewalk and the concrete railings of the many bridges we crossed. By then my run had become a survival shuffle; every step was painful. I did manage to run it in all the way from the 25-mile marker (I probably picked up 20 places in that stretch alone). Run time: 5:07:15. Finish time: 13:28:35.
My take on the IMAZ course: Honestly, I hated it. Doing three laps on the bike and three laps on the run was mentally very difficult. All I could think on the first lap of each was "I have to do this two more times?" The bike course was scenic enough for one lap but I was damn sick of the cacti and that big red rock pile off in the distance by lap three. The run course had a few nice moments but way too much concrete. I might feel differently about the course if the conditions had been better.
My wrist: The injury itself was not an issue. But see the next point...
My training: Because of my broken wrist, I had to cram all of my long rides into the last 8 weeks before this race. On the third lap of the bike I was really wishing I had been able to do more long rides. But then again, I always end up thinking that.
My pale skin: Miraculously it stayed pale. I applied sunblock 3 hours pre-race, 1 hour pre-race, in T1, on lap 2 of the bike, and in T2. I got one red spot on my back and one on my wrist where my watched rubbed the sunblock off.
My final thoughts: I will always wonder if I could have gone faster on the bike. It's easy to second-guess one's performance when one is clean and rested and fed and sitting in a cozy chair with a laptop and a cup of tea. But given the difficult conditions, I really can't be too disappointed. I finished 24/87 in my age group (that 87 includes 16 DNFs), 125th out of 368 female finishers, and 815th out of 1689 total finishers. Top third in my AG and among all women is pretty good, dontcha think?
Acknowledgements: I have to thank my crew. That is, all of you. Thanks for the constant stream of good wishes and support. And thanks also to my ever-patient sponsor, sherpa, cheerleader and pasta-party date, Dave, who puts up with a lot of crap around race time. And, OK, for the months leading up to race time. And has not yet asked me to quit doing these things.
What's next: Ask me in a week. Or maybe a month.
April 17, 2008 8:28 AM