Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ironman Arizona 2015 Race Report

I woke the morning of November 15, 2015 like any other race day morning -  A few minutes before the alarm, excited and ready to go.  We had arrived in Tempe three days before and I felt like I had enjoyed the IM experience, eaten well and was adequately rested.  The weather forecast was sketchy calling for rain between the hours of 3 and 5 pm, clouds all day and temperatures in the high teens (mid 60s F).  While not the heat I was used to racing in, I never though too much about the cold, I threw my sleeves into my bag for the bike, never crossed my mind that I might need something more for the run.

I ate my normal bagel and PB and started drinking Carbo Pro with Nuun. Carole and Erin were up and the suite was buzzing with activity.  We decide to head to transition shortly after 5.  It was dark and cold.

Erin, Me and Carole

Transition was very tight - annoyingly so.  I finally took my bike off the rack to an empty rack (why were were packed in like sardines while there were many empty racks I do not know.)  I got my chained lubed up, my nutrition on board (a concentrated bottle of 1000 calories of Carpo-Pro and Nuun, my aero bottle filled with 200 calories, and my bento box stuffed with 8 gels) and my tires pumped up with the help of a couple nice guys.

Pretty Bike

I felt really good, calm and collected but the time went fast.  I got body marked and made my way into my wetsuit.  Since it was a "Swim Smart, Self-seeding, rolling start" I got myself  to the line up and settled in behind the 1:10 sign. It wasn't sure of the time but it seemed like a long time standing there, getting colder and colder,  People were making small talk around me.  I couldn't believe how many people said things like "well I don't swim this fast but ...."  Have I said yet that I do not like these new starts?  Well, this one in particular does not work.

I'm in there somewhere
 See, the entrance to the water in through a set of stairs - maybe 10 feet wide (with arm rails dividing it up into sections).  The pros of course had the normal in water start with the males going off at 6:40am and the females at 6:45am.  Then at 6:50 they started the rolling start.  But unlike IMLP or IMMuskoka where there was someone at the timing mat line controlling the flow, this was just a free for all getting down the stairs and into the water.  It was more like a on land mass start!  I hit the stairs and glanced at the clock which read 6:51:xx so I knew I started sometime around that time.  It was mayhem as I looked into the dark water and saw the turbulent white water of the masses of bodies starting the swim and had no choice but to dive right into the cold waters and start my swim.  I didn't have any time to even think about the cold water, or the fact that I didn't have a warm up swim.  It was move or get crushed.  WORST SWIM START EVER!  The arms and the legs were everywhere with more bodies jumping / diving in every second.  I had  a great practice swim the day before, so I just focused on my stroke and my breathing and getting the heck out of the scrum.
Hard to see the entrance area in the bottom right

At 63F I thought the water would be too cold for me.  I don't know if it was the insane swim start, but I didn't really feel the water temperature at all.  I quickly settled into my stroke, drafting, passing, finding a bit of space, catching up to packs ahead of me....  It was dark as the sky was covered with clouds for the entire swim out.   I swam right along the buoy line and sighted well.  Yellow buoy, yellow buoy, yellow buoy,  seemed like forever before I saw the first red turn buoy.  The sun was just starting to peak it's way out as I made the turn.  I felt like I was having a great swim.  I took a very hard elbow to the the left goggle and the pain was strikingly acute and lasted for several minutes.  I was sure I was going to have a black ring around my eye.

That's me in the pink cap - Barry has a great eye!

It was a short swim across the lake to the second turn buoy marking the second half of the swim.    While swimming well, I was starting to feel like I was ready to get out of the water - my feet were starting to get cold.  I picked up my kick and continue the back half of the swim.  About 800 meters from the end my left shoulder started aching.  I was able to keep my swim stroke up, pushing through the pain but wondered what might come of it later in the race.  The memory of running with a sore left shoulder the entire run at Muskoka was definitely on my mind.

Finally I could hear the crowds at the swim exit as I came underneath the twin bridges and got my first glimpse of the final turn buoy.  Just like having 5 k left in a long run, I picked up my cadence and pushed hard to the stairs.  I looked up and there was a hand and two feet - I knew the stairs would be tricky - they always are - I grab for the hand as I tried to get my knee on the bottom step.  Honestly that is all I remember.  Next thing I know I'm running from the wetsuit strippers ready to ride!

I asked a spectator the time as I ran to transition.  It's a long run but at least it isn't up hill!  Someone yelled out 8:10 which seemed late for me - did I really swim 1:20?  Must remember not to do that.  I saw Barry as I was turning to run up to the transition bags.  He was smiling ear to ear cheering me on.  Time? I screamed.  1:12-1:13 was the reply.  Got to give him credit - as my official swim time was 1:12:45, a 10 second PB (negligible), and 13th in my Age Group.

Bike Gear Bags (photo take on Saturday)

T1 went pretty smooth.  Grabbed my bag and took the first chair inside the tent.  It wasn't crowded but my volunteer had to help someone else as well.  I didn't need help as I quickly put on my helmet, shoes, and sunglasses.  I attempted to put on my white bolero but couldn't get my wet arms in the sleeves.  So I threw it in the pile and started out the door.  Thank you to the volunteer who picked up my pile of stuff and got it all safely back into the T1 bag!

A relatively fast T1 split of 4:37.

Staying focused, I grabbed my bike and made my way to the mount line and off through the shoot to the start of the bike course.  AMAZING spectator support here.  My heart was racing.  Next thing I know I'm flying on my bike.  My beautiful bike with my fancy borrowed wheel set!  I'll go ahead and say a big thank you to Cavin for the use of his 808 front and to Kim (Two Years to Kona) for the 365 disc.  Not sure how much faster it made us but it sure did make Stella look fast!

The bike course is a bit boring.  It's a three loop course in the desert.  There are mountains on the horizon, but the landscape is barren desert.  Not even great cacti to look at.  Basically it's a false flat for the first 20 km then a steady slight climb for 10 km, then you turn around and fly back 30 km.  Rinse and repeat 2 more times.  Was a pretty uneventful ride.  My bike felt great and I was happy that my left shoulder wasn't causing me any more grief after the swim.  I stuck on my nutrition drinking approximately 200 calories of Carbo Pro Nuun every 40 minutes and take a gel every 40 mins, sometimes sooner.  I did have a bit of a tummy issue.  I finally got out of aero to have a good burp.  After 2 good burps, I had bit of vomit.  I tried to get as much up and out of me as possible.

Coming in after first loop - Still Dry!

The winds on the way out on the first two loops were noticeable but not too bad.  They were coming out of the northeast I think.  I never felt the wheel set, though there were a couple of occasions where I felt the cross wind on my front wheel.  But the 808 didn't seem anything more than my 404s I ride on all the time.  The light rain started on the tail end of my second loop.  It was wet on the turns coming back to town but I was super careful and always felt strong on top of Stella.  My bike was not failing me today.

I made the last turn around in town and I felt good.  I had been riding well and feeling good.  I was not passed by many woman, and I passed a lot of people.  Barry said I was in 5th, though now we know I was really in 7th.  As I started back out on the last boring loop, in the rain, Barry yells out "you gotta go".I knew what he meant.  My potential Kona spot depended on me getting off the bike with the lead pack.  And I was not in the lead pack.

This was the first time in the day when I started to realize my Kona spot would not be won today.  It's a sad moment in the race day and I should take a little time to reflect.  When I ran IMFL in 2012, my hope was to finish.  My goal was around 14 hours, but Barry and I both knew I was capable of much more.  I finished IMFL in 12:10:36, 33rd.  This is where my dream to Kona began. The next year I raced Cozumel and finished in 11:10:57 with a shortened swim. I was 7th in Cozumel.  2014 was a bitter-sweet year.  I ran Boston, trained hard for IMLP, tore my right soleus, and raced IMLP finishing in 11:56:05 - not competitive as I hadn't ran a step for the 8 weeks leading up to the race.

So that brought 2015 - my year to race two Ironmans.  My first serious attempt to be competitive.  My first chances at Kona.  Ironman Muskoka was my race, but the bike mechanical took it's toll.  I was thrilled to finish the race in 5th, my first IM podium, and a time of 11:23:54.  I had the best IM run of my life, and without the bike mechanical I'm pretty sure I would have broken 11 hours.

Going into IMAZ, it was go big, boom or bust!  So as I'm heading out on my 3rd loop, the rain is coming down, but the winds had shifted a bit and lightened up .  The ride out was the fastest of the day.  I kept eating and started to prepare myself for the run.  I wasn't cold on the bike.  I was working hard but keeping my power in check.  I made the final turn around and pushed myself through the rain to the finish line.  My bike split was 5:31:10, 7th in my AG.  I'm happy with my bike split, I did not bury myself on the bike, but perhaps I didn't push hard enough?  My normalized power was 148w and my goal was to be between 145 and 150.  My max 20 min was 162 w.  I felt like I rode what I should to have a good run in me.
Done and heading to the Bike Finish!

The final bit of the bike is back up the ramp to the dismount line.  It is quite slow and we rode single file.  For the first time ever in an IM race, I handed my bike to the volunteer and said "I love her, please take care of her".  I had the best IM ride of my life.  My back and shoulders felt great and I was ready to run.

Run Gear Bags (taken the day before)
BUT .... I was pretty sure my Kona dream was done for the day.  I was 7th off the bike (though B had told me I was 5th).  I thought I made pretty quick work of T2 - the volunteer had a towel and was massaging and drying my feet - which were a very crazy shade of white and quite numb.  I got my socks and shoes on, helmet off, visor and sunglasses on. Out the door in 2:38.

Heading out on the run - still dry and warm

I was happy to get out on the run.  It was raining.  And it was colder than I thought.  While I managed to stay not cold on the bike, the cold set in pretty quickly on the run.  The first two miles of the course run along a path just up from the river.  There are a few little climb and I was running well, clocking in just around 5 minutes per km.  I was actually really positive at this point, thinking if I could just keep clicking these in I would be good.  Besides being really cold, I felt ok.  Then the course turns and runs down to the clay path right along the river.

So Cold, So wet, So Muddy

Let's talk about the weather for just a second.  Apparently it only rains 5 days a year in Tempe.  Also, when it does rain in November - the temperature of the rain is near freezing.  And we all know, I do not like running in the cold, let alone WET COLD!

So I'm down on the clay path for the first time, trying to keep my 5 minute kilometers coming.  And it is slippery, muddy, massive holes and puddles.  It's hard to even run at all.  My mind wandered to Kona.  Barry saw me at the end of the muddy trail and I tried to seem positive.  But I knew this was not going to be my day.  I was keeping a a sub 5:20 pace but I was walking more and more.  I was very wet and very cold.  I was having the same bladder issue as Cozumel (I won't go into details but you can read about my Cozumel run in the rain here!).

I crossed to the other side of the lake and continued my run / walk.  I'd run between aid stations and then walk.  I took water and coke and occasionally threw back a gel.  I was very cold. My legs didn't want to work. I was finally making it back towards the bridge and I saw my first friend on the run course - Rob Bruce with his encouraging words of "look at you speedy thing".  While I felt less than speedy, it was nice to see him.

I made my way back over the bridge and finished up my first loop.  I was really walking the aid stations now and my splits were coming in the high 5s and 6's.  I was so wet and so cold.  I ran past the finish cut off and out on my second loop.  As I was going out on the path I passed a woman walking with a "P" (for professional) on her calf.  I suddenly didn't feel so bad about my run this day.  She passed me again while I was walking.  When she started to walk again, I caught up to her and said "can I walk with you?" And started a little conversation.  Her name was Ali and she was wearing a 5Q trucker hat and a bright long sleeve zip up top.  It wasn't her day but instead of pulling out with a DNF, she was making her way to the finishline.  I told her how much it meant to me as an Age Grouper to see her finish.  I wished her well and started to run again.

Heading out for 2nd loop

As I came down to the clay track for the second time, it hit me that many runners (and most of my friends racing) would have to make their way over this muddy mine field in the dark.  I think the rain had stopped by now.  I had my slowest kilometer splits throughout here.  I passed by transition again and was making my way to the bridge when I was passed by a calf marked 40,  She was running so effortlessly, chatting with another girl "I feel great, this is my first Ironman, I feel great".  There was no way I could keep up with her as she left me in her wake.

I made it over the bridge and for the first time I felt like I was warming up. This must have been around mile 20 / km 32.  I was picking up my pace between aid stations and feeling a bit better.  I was trying to do simple math in my head to figure out if I had any goals that were still achievable.  Around this time I saw Ali, the Pro, she was quite away behind me but I shouted "way to go Ali" and she responded "go get em LK".   I also saw Jackie and we exchanged some enthusiastic "you've got this" "no YOU'VE got this" banter. I was filled with love of my sport.  I was ready for this race to be over.

As I approached the hill, I knew I was not going to PB on the run, and by my math I would finish around 6:10 pm - giving me an 11:20ish time, a PB sure, but course adjusted, not really.  I walked up the hill and told myself I would run the rest of the way, just over 5 k.  I came down under the bridge and among the rock-star spectators was Barry.

Just before I see Barry with just over 5 km to go

"You've got 29 minutes to run 5k to break 11"  What? No I don't! "You now have 28 1/2 minutes".

I put my head down and ran.

Kilometre 38: 5:06
Kilometre 39: 5:08
Kilometre 40: 5:38
Kilometre 41: 5:20
Kilometre 42: 4:59

I was focused and I pushed the pain out of my mind. The sun set quickly through this time and the cold was setting in again. The cheers from the spectators and volunteers carried me through the cold and the pain. I passed a lady with about a kilometre to go, she must have noticed my age and she pushed back, passing me.  I couldn't keep up.  I ran as hard as I could.   My legs were cold but I knew the finish-line was right there, I just had to get there before 5:50pm.

The lights are blinding.
The cheers are deafening.

Linda Kay From Toronto .... You Are an Ironman!

I stopped moving and the weight of my body was caught first by one volunteer, then two.  I was so cold and I couldn't see for the dried salt in my eyes.  My legs stopped working.  My entire body weight now centred between two wonderful volunteers. They quickly got me to the med tent which was warm.  Before I knew it I was on a lounge chair covered in heavy quilted mover's blankets.  I had a couple doctors and a couple volunteers with me.  One offered to get my morning cloths bag and another got me a hot cup of broth.

Medical Tent

I asked someone if my husband could come in and he said he would call him and he would try but no promises.  The all of a sudden Barry was there.  I was starting to warm up and my breathing was returning to normal.  Barry got me a couple wet wipes and I was able to get the salt out of my eyes.  All I wanted was a piece of hard candy to suck on but all Barry could find me was a piece of pizza crust!  I'm not sure how long I was in there, but when I was warm enough I was cleared to leave, changed into my dry warm cloths and said my thank yous and good byes to the Med tent staff and volunteers.

So that was it for the race. I was done.  I broke 11 hours with a finishing time of 10:56:00.

Swim  1:12:45
Bike  5:31:10
Run  4:04:50
T1  4:37    T2 2:38

8th Female 40-44
 46th woman 
315th over all.

I had VIP access thanks to Barry and spent the next couple hours drinking beer, eating steak and cheering in the athletes.  I got to see all my friends finish and got to put the medal on Carole when she finished her first Ironman, making it look easy in 14:08.  I was so lucky to race with my fellow team mates: Rob, Liz, Lori, Jackie, Jana, Felicia, Heather, Erin and of course Carole.

A huge thank you to the volunteers who stuck it out in the cold and the rain, doing everything they could to make our race day successful.  Ironman could not do it with out you!

Thank you to my partner, my #1 supporter, my sherpa, my photographer and my enabler to my endurance addiction - Barry.  I could never do this without you.  Thank you for believing in me, pushing me and loving me.

Thank you to my club-mates and the Toronto Triathlon Club for giving me the training opportunities and the coaching / training friends who make this all possible.

Thank you to my therapy staff: Dr. Kris Sheppard at the Runner's Accademy, RMTs Jen Goddard and Tracey Elliott, and my FST therapist Sabine at the Mayfair.  You all had an integral part of getting me to the start line, injury free and feeling my best.

Finally thank you to everyone who helps out with my life while training and racing.  My mom for leaving her comfort zone to come stay with the kids and my inlaws for always being around to pick the kids up from school or watch them for a training day.

That's a wrap for the 2015 season. I got faster and stronger, but I've still got lots of work to do.  But for now I've got some recovery time ahead and planning to do!

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