It’s funny now, looking back. Where I thought I could place, how fast I thought I could run. Honestly, my goals were just a way to keep me motivated to keep focused during training. I don’t think my goals were crazy, in terms of my potential as an athlete. But my goals were definitely a bit crazy in the sense that I’ve only been running and swimming consistently for about 11 months. That was pretty clear about 6 miles into the run.
The morning was warm, which is always a blessing since you have to walk around barefoot in a wetsuit waiting for the race start. It was a rolling start, so only a few people descended the stairs into the murky trash water* at a time. The sun rose just as the age group race began, so by the time I was in the water, the sky had turned a brilliant orange red, completely distracting me from the task at hand.
All I truly cared about for the swim was going in a straight line and staying right on the buoy line. My goggles were instantly fogged up when I jumped in since I couldn’t rinse them out ahead of time, and when I got them all sorted, someone hit me in the face and knocked them askew again. Then on the way out I was completely blinded by the sun, and on the way back, the kayakers and SUP people were blocking the site lines for the next buoy. I did the best I could and stayed to the inside, but still swam an extra 500 yards. Having large men run into you and push you off your line doesn’t help much. But I did kick a few people in the face who were grabbing at my feet, so there you go.
So it’s not just about swimming 2.4 miles, it’s about swimming 2.4 miles with a bunch of people trying to get in your way, waves and sunshine blinding you, and choking on trash water.
When I was finally done, I managed to forget how to unzip my wetsuit, which was fine since the wetsuit strippers were right there, and they got me out very quickly. My feet were fairly frozen, so my shuffle through the transition chute was pretty slow and sad. The volunteers grabbed by bag for me, and I shuffled over to get my bike things on. Then I couldn’t find my bike, even though I was basically standing in front of it, but again the volunteers saved the day and got me going. Apparently I took my damn time, because I had a 7 minute transition. Maybe I should practice that.
Onwards. I have very little to say about the bike, as it was pretty much 3 laps of the most boring bike course possible. My hip adductors were screaming at me the first lap; by the second lap my legs finally warmed up and that got settled. But by the third lap the hot spot on my foot I often get was absolutely screaming at me, but I was too stubborn to stop and work it out. But I stuck to my race plan, and I my legs felt ready to run at the end.
Again I had a slow transition; I pulled on fresh socks (ahhh) and made one of my best race-day changes: I changed into a wool t-shirt for the run. Completely saved the day. I was warm when the sun fell and the temps dropped, and I had no underarm chaffage like I did in the last two races. Unfortunately, I also made my worst decision, which was to leave on my heart rate strap. It basically dug a hole in my chest throughout the run, but I have my heart rate numbers, dammit!
The run, how I underestimated thee! It took about a mile before I had the bike kinks worked out and felt like I could run like a normal human. It took another 5 miles before I began to wonder how long I could keep it up. My legs felt totally fine and ready to go. My knee didn’t hurt at all (completely amazing). But my abs! Holy crap they hurt so much, and hurt more by the second. It was around mile 6 when the side stitches started. I would work them out, they would come back; I had to walk a lot to keep it from completely sidelining me. Any more then the tiniest sip of water would cause them to come back in full force.
I went from “I could really meet my goal pace” to “will I finish?” in about the span of 3 miles. I had to completely change my goals and expectations and really focus on one mile at a time. When I was in that 5-10 mile zone, I just kept thinking Holy fuck I can’t believe I have so much more to go. I wasn’t even at the half way point! While I slowly was walking more and more, in a way, the second half of the race felt a bit more like a blur.
I was so focused on finishing, and I kept bargaining with myself. Just run to the next aid station and you can walk as much as you want. You can walk all the way to the next aid station. If you run for the next 5 minutes, you can walk the next 10 miles. Somehow this mental trick worked, and I kept the pace and effort fairly consistent, with only 2 or 3 longer walk breaks of about 6 minutes.
A 5 hour run is not really what I was hoping for (I wanted to beat my previous marathon time of 4:15), but it was probably ridiculous to think I could get there in 11 months. After 7 hours of other stuff.
The sun had set about an hour before my finish, so I was ran through the finishing shoot in the darkness. You hear it before you see it; the buzz of the announcer (who announces at every Ironman event and stays ceaselessly excited for 17 hours) echoes off the buildings, the cheering and clapping you hear a moment later. As you turn the corner, the bright lights illuminate the carpeted chute, with a line of hands out on both sides to high five you as you run toward the huge arch. The announcer calls out your name and someone catches you at the end, a space blanket in hand.
I finished in 12 hours and 2 minutes (11:62), which is a solid first-timers time. I couldn’t have gotten there without the support of DJ, who has coached me and supported me and introduced me to all of his great friends, who in turn also supported me and tried to peer pressure me into signing up for more.
I’m over a week into rest, with plans already being hatched for 2017. Onwards!
* Trash water = Arizona reservoir (at least that’s what someone else called it, seemed fitting)