Ironman Arizona 2013 Race Recap: Pre-Race and the Swim

Better late than never, right?

I realize that IMAZ was 2 months ago. I wasn’t blogging back then, but I still wanted to recap the experience if anything just for myself. However, considering how many IM recap posts I gobbled up in the months prior to my race, I really hope someone will find something useful to get out of this.

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Anyway, we ended up driving from Kansas City to Tempe for the race. We didn’t want to deal with the stress of shipping our bikes since they both fit in our Honda Element and we also wanted to spend time vacationing at our leisure after the race. We left on Wednesday and got into town late on Thursday after a stop in the lovely Elk City, OK for the night.

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On Friday we did athlete check in, got our backpacks and made a few hundred dollars worth of purchases at the store.

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Friday afternoon we went for a quick 3 mile run along Tempe Town Lake and then ran some last minute errands. This gave us a chance to pick up some last minutes items like Gu and some peanut butter and shampoo from a near-by grocery store. We then high-tailed it over to the official Athlete Welcome Dinner. In the future, I think I will skip the dinner. The food was bad (and I’m usually partial to free food!) and the presentation was just okay. Plus I didn’t have any bug spray and the mosquitos started to come out.

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The Athlete Dinner

On Saturday we participated in the practice swim. We had read conflicting information back and forth about people for and against it. Some people said the water isn’t clean enough that we might get sick from it… but ultimately I am SO glad we did this (and I don’t know anyone who actually got sick). I knew the water was going to be cold, but actually knowing how it was going to feel was just one less thing to stress out about. I probably only swam 200 yards… I just wanted to get a feel for it, but that was enough. The water ended up being about 63 (don’t quote me on that) and honestly, it was PERFECT. Super chilly at the start, but I never overheated in my long-sleeve wetsuit. By the end of the swim on race day, I felt so comfortable in the water.

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The turn buoys ready for action!

Since we wanted to stay off our feet as much as possible and avoid extra walking, we brought our bikes with to the practice swim. We just took turns doing the swim and I watched the bikes while Paul swam and he watched them while I swam. Once we were done, bike check in was open and we got in the MASSIVE line for it. After our bikes were racked and we had dropped off our transition bags, we just stared at each other thinking “OMG. WHAT NOW?” With nothing left to do, but sit around until the race the next morning, the nerves started to set in.

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Paul’s bike and gear ready to go!

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Getting my gear ready. OCD much?

We picked up Subway for an early dinner and then headed back to the hotel to overanalyze, pack and repack our Special Needs bags, and arrange and rearrange all of our gear. One awesome coincidence is that the NBC broadcast of Kona was televised that night. Watching that the night before was one of the best motivators we could have had. When we settled in that night, I am shocked to say that I slept like a baby. I NEVER sleep like a baby before a race, but for some reason I was a rock. Paul slept well too, but he also took a shot of whiskey so that probably helped 😉

Race morning could not have started any worse. We felt good from getting some sleep, but as he was picking up one of his gear bags, Paul threw out his back. He managed to mostly roll it out by laying on his back for a few minutes in the hotel room, but it was definitely hurting him throughout the day. Now on edge, we headed out the door with our gear and walked the mile to the race start. We stayed in the Best Western Inn of Tempe on Scottsdale Road, so we didn’t have to deal with parking and it worked out really well.

Once we got to the race site, we dropped off our special needs bags and then went to check on our bikes. We pumped up our tires, took a photo and then headed out to the swim start. As we were heading out to the swim start, Paul wanted to check on his bike one more time. More bad luck strikes. His Garmin Edge resets and is now no longer synced with his cadence sensor or HRM. Argh. We can’t take the bike out of the transition area and syncing it again isn’t working with oh, 2500 other cadence sensors in a 200 foot radius. He ends up leaving it, but finally manages to get it synced once he was out on the bike course.

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Paul and I in T1 right before the race!

We get in line for the port-o-potties and they move surprisingly quickly, but are still pretty long. We do what we normally do and each time we get out of the bathroom, we just get right back in line. Nervous bladders and not having much else to do except stand around elsewhere usually make this a solid plan.

Finally everyone starts hovering near the swim start, so we make our way over. I start putting on my wetsuit when I hear Paul swear loudly. More bad luck. As he is pulling up his wetsuit, it rips. A 3 inch tear right through the rubber on his butt. People are slowly inching towards the start and we really don’t have a lot of time. Paul sprints back to his morning bag and grabs duct tape from it. He has me put it over the tear and even though it isn’t sticking very well at all, we don’t have any other options so I pretend it looks great.

Typically I am a complete mess before races. I get snarky and snippy because I’m stressed out, but this morning I am cool, calm and collected because how else can I act? One thing after another this morning felt like a sign from above that we shouldn’t be racing.. well scratch that.. it seemed like PAUL shouldn’t be racing. Despite all the stress, I was having a great morning. I felt ready. I felt good. My breakfast was sitting right, we got to use the port-o-potty, it wasn’t too cold… but I was really worried about Paul’s race. The MONTHS we had spent getting ready. The THOUSANDS of dollars it had taken to get here. Phoo. I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell he wouldn’t get in that water, but I was a little worried he would push through at a time when he shouldn’t.

All in all, Paul had a great swim. I was SO relieved when I saw him on the bike and knew he was still in the race. He said the duct tape held (HOW? I have no idea) and thankfully since the tear was on the side of his butt, it was in an area that is tight fitting and so no water filled up his suit. If the tear was near his arm or a joint, I think he would have been sunk.

Anyway, back to my race. Paul went ahead of me at the start with his duct tape wetsuit and jumped in. I held back a bit because I knew I was a slower swimmer. I felt strong and ready, but started to get more and more nervous as the start approached. As I went to jump in, I held hands with a random guy next to me. I can’t tell if I was comforting him or if he was comforting me, but whatever, we are all friends in this together 😀 I swam up towards the crowd, but I was still pretty far back. I couldn’t see where the official starting line was, so I estimate I was at least 300 yards back. This positioning was probably too cautious, but I don’t regret the decision. Once the gun fired (internal dialogue: OMG OMG OMG), we were off. It is so hard to describe the feelings I had as that gun went off. Music was blaring, everyone floating around me was shouting GOOD LUCK and I was directly under a bridge PACKED with screaming spectators waving flags and posters. Everywhere I looked was just a sea of neon pink and green. I had to doggy paddle for a little bit just to get my wits about me. There was definitely a crowd surging around me, but I never felt claustrophobic or trampled. The doggy paddling at first kept me from taking any limbs to the face and after a few minutes I was able to get into a steady freestyle. I tried my best to hang in the middle of the “road”… Not too close to the buoys, but not too close to the wall since I knew it wasn’t a straight swim course. I sighted by making sure when I was breathing that the wall wasn’t getting any closer on my right. I knew we had to make it to the bridge over Scottsdale Road and then a little farther for the first turn and I kept telling myself that once I got to the bridge, I could look at the stopwatch I was wearing. However, once I got to the bridge, I told myself it was at the turn that I could look at my time… and then once I made the turn I changed it again to when the buoys turned yellow indicating the halfway point. In the end, I never looked at the watch, but it was a good way to trick myself into not stopping. It was way too early in the day to get excited or disappointed about my race by finding out if I was going slower or faster than I anticipated. I just kept on going steady, ignoring anyone who was passing me and trying to stifle the giant grin on my face because it was letting water into my mouth. My mantra during the swim, if you can call it that, was “OMG YOU ARE DOING A FREAKIN IRONMAN”!!!

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The swim course (but not sure why the Scottsdale Road/Rural Rd bridge isn’t on this? Also, it looks like a straight shot, but the buoys actually curved with the lake.

The stopwatch I mentioned was a cheap Timex stopwatch from Target which I wore for the entire race. I hit start as soon as the gun went off and then I never hit pause. This was so that I always knew where I was in terms of clock-time. I may have looked a little silly once I got to the run and was wearing 2 watches, but it was infinitely helpful knowing how many hours until cutoff exactly. I was never really in danger of not making the cutoff as long as I kept moving, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t worry about it constantly. I realize I could have just worn a regular watch since cutoff was midnight, but I think it was more of a kick in the pants for me to see the real clock time. When I crossed that finish line, I wanted my watch to match the number above me.

My swim ended up being 1:37:43 which is technically slower than I wanted it to be, but HOLY COW! I just did an IRON DISTANCE swim. I was on cloud 9. Plus, my rough goal for the race was 15 hours: 2 hour swim, 8 hour bike, 5 hour marathon. Including transition time, this meant as long as I didn’t take 23 minutes to get on my bike, I was technically ahead of schedule!

The stairs to get out of the lake were another reason I was glad to have done the practice swim. The best way to navigate them is to swim up and boost yourself up from behind using your arms as if you were hopping up to sit on the counter of your kitchen. From there you can bend your legs up on the step with you and then use the railings of the stairs to get yourself standing. I was worried it would be hard, but the practice swim helped and they had plenty of volunteers ready to help, as well. I was in a total fog, but I got my wetsuit stripped and then headed to T1. A volunteer handed me my bag and I sat in a chair to wipe off my muddy feet to put on my bike shoes. I wore my tri suit under my wetsuit, so I didn’t need to change at all. I put on my shrug, smeared some sunscreen on my face, fixed my hair and put on my bike gloves and helmet. As soon as I left the tent, another volunteer grabbed my bike for me and I headed out of transition.

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Click here to read Part 2: The Bike!

Click here to read Part 3: The Finish Line