Ironman Arizona 2011

After having a good race in Kona, but sub-optimal (broken spoke on my front wheel with massive rubbing for 65+ miles, very poor pacing on the run), my only desire for IMAZ was to qualify for Kona 2012.  No time goals, no place goals, no split targets – nothing mattered except qualifying.  Despite having an opportunity to qualify next June at IMCDA – I wanted the spot now, so that I could train the next 7 months with no pressure – and focus 100% on Kona.

This meant that I was putting an immense amount of pressure on myself to perform – though heavily inspired by Rappstar’s Sunday in the San Gabriels – I felt up to the task.

Until 9:45 Saturday AM – I felt 100% confident it was going to happen, I felt as if my recovery from Kona and preparation was going great, with my fitness starting to tick upwards.  All was good until a near miss with a car on my last tune up ride resulted in my bike getting driven over by a car.

I went from feeling confident and ready to go – to having to face the distinct possibility of not even starting the race.  Fortunately I was able to get a rental powertap wheel and rent a bike in time for the bike check in.  I ended up with a slight upgrade in wheel – BWR 100mm w/ PT + Disc cover, to a Zipp 900 Disc w/ PT, but took a slight downgrade in frame – SpeedConcept 9 to QR CD 0.1.  I was able to get my fit coordinates mostly transferred over, but it wasn’t perfect; particularly the angle of the saddle.  Everything was close, but I felt slightly off all over the place, as if I was being nickeled and dimed everywhere.

Better than not starting the race.

I went to bed Saturday very stressed out, with no idea what tomorrow held – but even more determined to deliver after having spent a small fortune to rent equipment for this race.

 

Race Day:

This was my first Ironman having to prep not just myself and my equipment, but to also make sure Mary’s equipment was in order.  Fortunately Mary knows the routine and was able to get most of her gear tucked away and everything in order and I just did the double checks.  She did forget a couple things, but it all worked out.

We made the usual visits to the porta potties a couple times pre-race and around 6:40 put on our wetsuits, turned in our morning clothes bags and made our way to the swim entrance arch.  Once in the water we wished each other luck, kissed and then went to go find our swim spots.

Last time at IMAZ, I started right on the buoy line.  This time I intended to shift my start closer to the wall and make a straight shot to the third or fourth buoy down the row.  As has been the case the last few Ironman, my primary concern was to start smooth and finish the swim strong, comfortable and confident.  No loopy headedness.

The cannon sounded and I started swimming.  I didn’t bother search out any feet  – just swam towards the buoy I had picked and swam at a comfortable effort.  Initially a bunch of guys blew by me, but I didn’t let it bother me.  I ended up catching most of the fast starters by the time I reached the rural road bridge.

The remainder of the swim was uneventful – I exited the water and glanced at my watch and saw a 53 – and was happy.

T1:

I got my wetsuit peeled off and ran to get my bag and change. I was struck by how deep I was chilled.  I didn’t feel cold, but my muscles were moving very slowly.  As I was putting my sunglasses on, the snapped right at the bridge – the only though in my mind was “Great another obstacle, hopefully they don’t have to many bugs out on the bike course!”  I’ve had really poor luck with Tifosi sunglasses – and am just not responsible enough for something of better quality.

Bike:

My goal for the bike was to pretty much ride the same ride that I rode in Hawaii – just with 5 fewer gels to help prevent any stomach backups because of overfilling (4 starting bottle, 10 Bontrager speedbottle, 4 SN bottle).  This meant riding roughly 230ish watts.  Since IMAZ is relatively flat at the beginning I didn’t have to burn some extra watts on a climb as you tend to in Hawaii on the Kuakini highway.

My plan to ride 230 watts didn’t last long as the urge to race got the best of me pretty early on as I started chewing through the handful of guys that swam faster than me.  I told myself that once I felt confident that I was the top amateur I would back down a bit.  As good as that sounded, once I started riding through the back end pros – my restraint went more or less out the window.  Riding a wattage target was pretty much over – I did stay responsible enough to keep an eye on my Joule and stay away from sustained efforts at a level that I knew for sure would wreck my day.  I just listened to my body and power meter to ride at a hard sustainable effort that my training had demonstrated was possible.

By the time I was done with the first lap I was very confident that I was the top amateur and my body was telling me that today the game was on.

My average power for each hour on the bike was roughly 230 watts.  It was basically ~237 into the wind, and then lower as the wind pushed me.  The last 40 minutes of the bike I faded quite a bit – “only” averaging 220 watts.  It was an honest combination of backing off a bit for the run, the slight down hill trend back to transition, and fatigue.

I pulled into transition blown away by how quick I had ridden – and despite fading towards the end of the bike I was pretty happy with how I felt.

T2:

Nothing special.

Run:

The run is where I really intended to differentiate this race from Kona.  While I had come into the race with the primary goal of simply getting a Kona slot for Hawaii, starting the run believing I was the top amateur – I felt that this was the time to tick that 6 year old goal off the list.  I started running – purposely holding back.  I learned in Hawaii that I may have the run speed to run a sub 3 Ironman marathon, I’m not yet ready to do it off a 230 watt bike ride – perhaps 200 to 210, but not 230!  I ticked off the first three miles all @ 7:10, feeling confident I had 23 more of them in me, and I was going to be able to turn in a low 8:5X Ironman.  I let racing get the best of me around mile 3.5 or so – as I came down the path behind transition my dad told me I was the second amateur and that the lead guy was a bit in front of me.  He didn’t know how much, but at that point, I again let racing take over and tossed out my conservative pacing (the feedback from spectators telling me that the guy up the road was struggling reinforced the urge to race), and started running about 7:00.  I didn’t run any sub 7 miles (according to my Garmin), but from mile 3 to 13 I was 7:00, with the exception of the mile that ran up the hill on Curry.

At mile 7 I caught my foe and just kept running.  As I neared mile 10 or 11, I knew that I had put out to much effort on the run and that it was going to come back and haunt me, I just had to hope that I had the mental strength to keep moving forward as strong as I could and that my effort to this point had put enough of a buffer between myself and the guys behind me to hang on.

I cracked at between miles 12 and 13 and went from 7:00 back down to 7:1X, but unlike my first few miles this wasn’t 7:10 holding back, this was 7:10 gas pedal to the floor wishing I had a lot less than 13 miles to run.

As I was nearing the finish of my second loop, I was passed by Eneko and a minute or so later by Paul Amey as they were finishing their race.  To know that they both were likely to crack 8 hours, put into perspective that while I was having an awesome race and had a good chance to break 9 hours – that I was just a minnow in an ocean of very, very big fish.

The upside of being passed was that it really helped to give me an external focal point in the race and distract me from the urge to slow down or to simply start walking.  I did my best to match Paul’s pace – which in reality meant that rather then simply getting the doors blown off I simply watched him disappear into the distance over the course of several minutes.  Fortunately for me this brought me back to the “hot-corner” of the run, and I was able to get a mental boost by running through groups of runners just starting their run.

Things kept going well, though my pace was still slowing, but the call of nature that I had been putting off since mile 2 on the run was getting really strong, and it was being joined by the urge to do the unmentionable.  Now I have always said that the next time this happened I was going to just let it go and clean it up later because it wasn’t worth stopping, but the thought of running the last 5 miles in my own mess – suffice it to say it didn’t sound as fun as it sounds when you are joking with friends.  Discretion is the better part of valor.

At the aid station at ~mile 21, I ducked into the porta potty and did my business, and got back out on to the run course.  I instantly felt better, though I did assume that there was at least a 50% chance that I had been passed.

The last several miles passed as they typically do in an Ironman, just guts and the constant thought that each step is bringing you closer to the finish line and that the distance left to run is less than your everyday run distance.

When I got to the aid station just before the Hill on Curry road, I was passed by a pro that I had passed early on in the bike – and we both exchanged our thoughts on how unpleasant this was.  I entered the aid station and gave in to the urge to walk – I told myself it was OK, that I needed it, etc.  I managed to get myself running again after a glass of coke and water, and got up the hill the best I could.

The last two miles of the run was just a pure fight to try and get to the finish line as quickly as I could – I hoped that I was still the top amateur at this point, but I figured I wasn’t – but I knew that I had a fighting chance to break 9 hours – and I wanted that badly.

When I broke off from the loops of the run course to head to the finish line I knew I would break 9 hours and that was a great feeling.

All of that changed as I rounded the corner onto Rio Salado for the last 100 meters or so of the run – and a couple of guys started to go ape yelling that I was the first age grouper.    At that point I gave up caring about a sub 9 Ironman – I had done it – my longest standing triathlon goal was conquered.  I soaked up the finish line and took my time as I heard Mike Reilly say I was an Ironman and that I was the first amateur to finish.

I had no idea what my time was at that point and really didn’t care.

It was only about an hour later when I was looking at the official results on my phone – while trying to see how Mary was doing when I saw my time: 9:00:01.

I want to add in some special thanks to a number of folks – that really helped enable this race and the season as a whole: first on the list is my wife.  She puts up with my insanity on a daily basis and I have no idea how she does it – I’m very lucky.  I also want to thank Marc @ Ironman Wheel rentals for finding a power-tap disc for me to rent, and pointing me to Ed @ the inside out sports booth for a bike rental.  I owe Marc and Ed a great deal of gratitude for helping me get what I needed to start the race.

Beyond that I also want to call out Paulo for his help with my bike fit this past winter and some “cryptic” posts in a number of threads related to training questions I’ve posed – that I found to be very helpful and insightful.  MarkyV for spending a great deal of time emailing back and forth with me this summer and helping get me on a good path.  desert dude get’s the same thanks for the insightful email conversations and excellent solicited (and unsolicited) advice.  So to you three guys: Thanks.

Thanks also to the guys at Emery’s for all their bike support this year, and to Team GearGrinder for all their support!

The Pursuit of Excellence

Excellence should be demanded by our peers.  Labeling those that demand excellence as haters, bashers, etc only promotes mediocrity.  -Paulo Sousa

Paulo laid this gem on twitter a few days ago, interestingly enough mediocrity was referenced again when I checked google reader this morning by Coach Troy – “…Someone, somewhere, is training more and harder than you are… in the sunshine, and you know it.  Actually, the naysayers are nuts for living a life of mediocrity and without any physical suffering…”

In fact google reader has been full of posts about goals, targets, plans and missions that last few days.  It always seems to me that the things I need to hear in life always seem to show up in the blogs I follow – just when I need to hear them most.  Perhaps it’s some coincidental twist of fate, that those I find worth reading know what I need to hear, or perhaps it’s just me assigning value to random words, by random people.  Regardless – the topic of Excellence has been looming large in my mind these last few weeks since Kona.

Many years ago as an age-group swimmer, I had a goal of qualifying to swim in the Olympics – I went so far as to tape a sheet of paper to my bathroom mirror with goal times.  My goal time for the 200 meter freestyle (LCM) was something ridiculous like 1:50 – mind you this was in 1994 and I wanted to go in 1996.  For some reason my young brain was convinced that if I set a goal and wanted it badly enough it would just happen.  I could go on and provide many examples of this over my life, but that example is pretty poignant – a goal does not happen, you simple do not get from point A to point B, beat the local fast guy, qualify for Kona, or podium at Kona – simple because you set a goal and want it to happen, or because time will magically make it happen next year (or at some other far off point).

The unfortunate reality is – we often set a goal, and fail to reach that goal.  When I was a swimmer in college one of my goals was to best the school records for my high school in my three events.  Besides the fact that I was 4 years late and many dollars short – I went into my last individual college swim race having done just that in the 50 free and 100 butterfly – however my 48.12 100 free (SCY) in said final race, fell just short of the 47.99 mark I needed.  Despite having bettered the PR I had set just a few hours early in prelims by 2/10ths – I was very disappointed.  The point is – failing to reach a clearly defined goal is hard to handle, should that goal be public declared – it can be even more difficult.  This can lead to embarrassment, frustration, low motivation – basically all sorts of bad things.

At this point, I’m not surprised if your asking yourself – but goals are important, they provide us motivation to get out the door for a workout (or in the basement as the case may be!) – how can you improve if you don’t set a goal?  Goals are important, but it’s important to make a distinction between a goal (mission) and a desired outcome (target).  The goal or the mission is *how* you achieve the desired outcome – the goal is *not* the outcome.

For example – if you want to qualify for Vegas or Kona – that (the act of qualifying) is the outcome you want.  To reach that outcome you must have a goal to become a better (the best) triathlete you can be.  This is the crucial step I was missing as a youngster; I would define a desired outcome, but I wouldn’t pursue the path of being the best swimmer I could be – so that I would move towards that outcome.  Instead – I just kept doing what I had been doing – which *was* moving me closer, but was also holding me back.

So back to the title of this post…  Don’t pursue an outcome – pursue excellence.  Wake up each morning and do the best job you can of being an employee, a triathlete, a father, a mother, whatever.  The path of excellence will only move you closer to where you want to be, never holding you back.  Best of all you can evaluate yourself daily on if you are living up to your goal, and if you fall a bit short of your outcome – you can take pride in knowing that you accomplished your goal of being your best.

Be excellent.