Friday, December 2, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Ironman Arizona

Grab a pot of coffee or a bottle of wine, kick your feet up, and settle on in.  It's a long one, folks...

The executive summary:
I swam, biked, and ran for a really long time.  Then I crossed an awesome finish line.
Swim - 1:25:54 (2:15/100m)
T1 - 0:05:56
Bike - 6:44:14 (16.62 mph)
T2 - 0:04:11
Run - 6:35:03 (15:04/mi)
Total = 14:55:18

The race numbers have finally faded from my arms and legs, the post-race bloat is getting under control (although it has been replaced by holiday bloat), and the twinges and aches from race day have worked themselves out.  The tan lines and chafe marks might take a little longer to disappear.  But the awesome memories of another successful Ironman are clear as day.  I don't think you ever forget the emotions of anticipation, fear, excitement, pain, bliss, despair, gratitude, and elation that overwhelm you during training and during race week.

I'm going to start my race report by giving an enormous THANK YOU to my family, friends, and coworkers.  I would not have even made it to the start line without my support system.  And none of this would mean anything without all of you.

Race week began with a furious all-night packing extravaganza and a very early morning arrival to the airport.  The 6am flight seemed like a good idea at the time.  It always does.  Minus a furious transferring of items to stay under the baggage weight limits, the travel to Tempe went flawlessly.  However, the first hour of our arrival didn't go quite as well.  The condo that we checked into was a total NIGHTMARE and we were left with needing to find lodging during one of the busiest weekends of the year.  Thankfully, Mia at Westbrook Vacation Rentals hooked us up with a comfortable condo close to the race site, and near the rest of my Ironman crew.  More on all of that later.

The days leading up to Sunday were the typical pre-Ironman hubbub.  Unpack, athlete check-in, pack and repack transition bags, drive/ride the course, spend hundreds of $$ in the expo tent, practice swim, bike check-in, bag check-in, freak out, hydrate, freak out, and get plenty of chemically assisted rest.  I also tried a new anti-blister tactic this year, and covered both feet and heels with 3 coats of Nu-Skin (a process stolen from my coach and slightly modified for those of us without access to surgical grade glue).

Wake-up time was a little after 3am on race morning.  I think this is the first big race that I was dead asleep when the alarm sounded.  It took me a little while to shake off the grogginess, but I managed through my normal routine of Ensure, light breakfast #1, shower, light breakfast #2, facebooking, and coffee.  Ken dropped Mom and I off at transition right around 5am.  It was already a hub of activity despite the early hour.
Since Mom was volunteering in the change tent, she had access inside the transition area and was able to hang out with me while I went through my race prep.  Load up bike, air up tires, porta potty, body marking, porta potty, lube up, porta potty, and then finally wiggle into the wetsuit and...wait.  Oh, the waiting.  Sitting silently, shivering in the November desert air, watching thousands of athletes nervously walk through their routines.

Finally it was time to head towards the water.  I did a cannon-ball off the dock into Tempe Town Lake, took a couple of shocked gasps, and then swam just past the Mill Avenue Bridge, all up in the middle of the chaos.  I had the perfect view of the hundreds of spectators overhead, and of Mike Reilly on the podium.  He spoke the words I've come to recognize now.  "Today is a great day to become an IRONMAN.  You WILL cross that finish line!"  The national anthem was sung, and once again I floated with my hand over my heart, trying to keep my nerves from spilling out as tears into my goggles.
Without much warning, the swim had started.  The still waters of the Salt River turned into a frothy cauldron of tangled bodies.  I had a strange calm come over me that I haven't experienced at the other Ironmans.  I suddenly wasn't scared or anxious or nervous.  The kicking and clobbering and dunking didn't bother me.  I rolled with the punches (literally) and soaked it all in, not knowing when I would get to experience this again.  The rest of the swim was uneventful.  I made it through the turnaround relatively unscathed, took a few beatings on the way back, and found myself on the exit stairs within 60 seconds of my prior Ironman-distance swims.  Predictable and reliable.  And I'm totally okay with that.

For me, time seems to stand still in transition.  It feels like it takes forever, and I can replay it all back in my memory.  But in reality I was in there for less than 6 minutes.  This was longer than previous transitions, but I took a little extra time to lube up my feet again, lube up "other" areas, put on socks, and chat with my Mom (best part of T1!).  Soon I was on the bike and heading out for 6-7 hours of quiet time in the Salt River Indian Community.  My last long ride of the year.
I was determined to enjoy and be thankful for the experience, rather than wish away the hours.  That lasted for about 80 miles.  And then I just wanted OFF THIS DAMN BIKE!  Loop 1 was a cake walk.  I took it easy on the way out and ignored the head wind.  The way back was fast and furious, downhill with a tail wind.  I foolishly let myself believe the entire ride would be like this.  Loop 2 threw us a curve ball.  The way out felt easier than Loop 1.  Fantastic!  Until I turned around at Shea Blvd and the wind just about bitch slapped me off my bike.  And continued beating me while I watched my average speed drop.  Lower lower lower.  I was preparing myself for a horrendous Loop 3.  Yes, it was bad, but not horrendous.  I remembered the advice from the Tempe Mayor at the athlete dinner, telling us to let the spirits of the sacred land we were riding on carry us through the course.  It might sound hokey, but I swear, there is something incredibly special about that land.  112 miles later I was slipping my feet out of the shoes and handing my bike off to a volunteer, feeling very blessed to make it through without a flat tire, a crash, or medical troubles.

I changed my shirt and socks in T2, but only after generously lubing up my feet yet again.  I let the volunteer pack up the nastiness of my gear (I should have just thrown away those socks!) and headed out for the last 26.2 miles of the season.  I had no idea what to expect here, but I was mentally ready for an 8 hour walk.  I don't have a good track record at these things.  I was pleasantly surprised to ward off the demons until about mile 12, which is about 6 miles longer than in the past.
I had the most AMAZING support out on that run course.  My friends and family were out there for every single loop through town, despite being on their feet since 5am that morning.  One of my best girlfriends and her family surprised me (all the way from Portland!) and were out there cheering.  I knew the crew back home was checking in on the live feeds.  And the volunteers were phenomenal.

I don't know that I ever entered the mindfuck black hole of doom in this race.  Yes, the pain was unreal.  Yes, I questioned why the hell I was out there at all.  But I didn't have to make bargains with myself for each footstep just to keep moving forward.  While this makes for a much less dramatic experience, it certainly makes for a more enjoyable one.  For once, I smiled more during the marathon than I grimaced or cried.  And even though my time was slower, I consider it a huge improvement.
As I began the last half mile to the finish line, I was overcome with so much emotion.  The spectators lined the sidewalks and carried you along the lake, past the Mill Avenue bridge, and into the final turn through the dark parking lot.  My friends were waiting here to give me one last hug before sending me into the finishers chute.  I have learned to slow down through here, scan through the crowds, slap hands, and listen to the music.  I actually heard Mike Reilly this time.  And I spotted my team in the bleachers just before I crossed under the arch.  After a very difficult year, I was an Ironman again.  And for those of you wondering, yes, it was all worth it.