Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Race Report: Ironman Arizona by Jeremy Geer

I feared the full Ironman distance.  Now, I have genuine respect for it.  In what I knew would be the hardest thing I had done in my life (so far), I managed to finish Ironman Arizona in 12:59:49, just 11 seconds under the 13 hour mark.  It’s a success just to finish in some respects, but I’m confident that I’m capable of much better.

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In the days leading up to the race, I had quite a bit of anxiety, mostly due to inconsistent training.  The longest swim I had done in training was just over 2 miles, and the longest run I had done in training was just over 18 miles.  While I had managed to exceed 112 miles on the bike during a workout, it happened to also be the same day that I managed to crash right into a brick wall and knock myself unconscious less than a mile from my house.  Yeah, it is fair to say that I had some nerves going into November 17th in Tempe, AZ.

And, as Thanksgiving approaches, I have a lot of people to thank for enabling me to finish this race.  First, Mandy, my wife, who not only encouraged me to finally sign up, and showed up for the ENTIRE 13 hours of racing, but also took on a high energy 4 year old as well as a new born baby, while I was out on day-long workouts.  Speaking of the 4 year old, Quinn was a champ, dressed up as Ironman on race day, and I only wish I could harness the caffeine-like energy he exudes the moment he gets out of bed every day.

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Kirk, Cyndi, and Jacquie, who got me through my prep races and somehow think this lifestyle is normal and fun.  Todd, for leading me on some great century rides and loaning me his Zipp 808 wheels.  Curren, for all the Aquasphere goggles and swag that made me look like a hero.  Coach Todd for giving me a custom training plan and keeping me on track.  My PT, Ruth, and her support crew for not letting a little concussion, separated AC joint, fractured acromion, or torn hamstring stop me.  The Foxtrot shop and team, including all the little triathlon nuggets Adam gave me since I embarked on this hobby a year ago.  Tim and Heather, for giving me course recon and IM AZ race-day insight that I would have been lost without.  Hector, you get a shout out just for reminding me that a fast runner averages 7 minute miles in his sleep.  And finally, my family: Jim, Barb, Jamey, Crystal, Hudson, Katherine, and Uncle Rob, who all came out to cheer for me on race day – I would not have gotten through that last 20 miles without you guys there!

My pre-race prep began with a bike course preview.  After a lengthy delay securing a loaner set of pedals at the expo (I remembered my shoes and helmet, but who thinks, “oh yeah, I had to remove my pedals for bike transport?!”), my friend Heather drove me down the entire bike course.  After a vehicle preview, we rode about 22 miles on the Beeline Highway and I got a taste for riding through cross winds in the aero position with Zipp 808 wheels – a little unnerving, but good practice.  The best part, though, was that the “hill” at the turn around point was very gradual with just a few hundred feet of climbing.  Nothing to fear here compared to the hills we climbed outside of Boulder.  On a bad note, my shoulder was aching badly whenever I stayed down in the aero position for 10 minutes or more.  And, unfortunately, my delay in getting pedals nixed my opportunity to get in a run course preview.

Friday night, I packed up my five gear bags: 1) morning clothes, 2) bike gear, 3) run gear, 4) bike special needs, and 5) run special needs.  I had gotten a lot of advice from Ironman veterans on what to include in each bag.  My morning clothes had my wet suit, chip, goggles (x2), Garmin, plus head lamp (thanks, Todd!).  My bike gear bag had my helmet, shoes, a pair of Smartwool socks, my nutrition, some tube socks with toes cut out for arm warmers (thanks Cyndi!), a couple of small towels (thanks Jacquie!), some packaging paper (thanks Tim!), some toe warmers (thanks Heather!), and my nutrition.  My run gear bag had my running shoes, visor, sunglasses, race, bib, nutrition reloads, plus a fresh pair of Smartwool socks and another pair of socks-turned-arm warmers. Both my bike and run special needs were sparse: an extra pair of the arm warmers, an extra couple gel packs, and an extra couple of Hammer Energy Bars.  In my run special needs, I did include another pair of clean Smartwool socks in case the weather was hotter than expected, and I wanted a dry pair of socks for the second run loop.

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My coworker, Tim, participated in the Ironman AZ in 2012, and had signed up for two different volunteer shifts for 2013.  He was my guide in the transition area, and went down with me for the practice swim on Saturday morning.  I was very pleased with the practice swim, the water wasn’t too cold (63 degrees reportedly), the visibility was only slightly worse than the reservoirs in Colorado, and my shoulder wasn’t hurting too much during or after the practice.  Tim walked me through some of the other logistics – even where the sunscreen station would be – which really helped calm my nerves.

But wait, Jeremy, so far you’ve just glossed over nutrition, something you always meticulously plan.  Well, my first Ironman was no exception.  I stuck to what worked in the 70.3 races and used Hammer Race Day Boost the four days prior to the race (2 x 1000mg, 3 x 1000mg, 3 x 1000mg, and 4 x 1000mg).  Race morning, I would take my daily vitamin, an omega-3, a garlic cap, acetaminophen (1000mg), a caffeine pill (200mg), 3 x Hammer Endurolytes, 3 x Hammer Anti-Fatigue Caps, and 2 x Hammer Mito Caps.  New to the mix was something Todd Farrell, my coach at TriDot.com, had suggested: a serving of Generation UCAN CranRaz sports drink.  (I intended to have a bowl of instant oatmeal and a banana as well, but I forgot them in my hurry to get out the door.) I tried to keep the nutrition during the race simple.  Every hour I would take 3 x Endurolytes, 3 x AFC, and 1 x Mito.  Every four hours, I would also take another caffeine pill, and another 1,000 mg of acetaminophen.  Mandy, my wife, put a capsule dispenser together for each hour of the race, putting a sticker on the dispensers that had the caffeine and acetaminophen added.

For food, I would eat one Hammer Energy Bar in T1, and then another at the start of hours 2, 4, and 6 on the bike.  For hours 1, 3, and 5, I would stick to Hammer Sustained Energy that I had mixed into a gel consistency and placed into small flasks.  For the run, I would reload with Sustained Energy gel flasks, plus one Energy Bar at the start of hour 2.  Depending on how I felt, I would switch over to Hammer Gel, also in a flask, after 3-4 hours into the marathon.  Mandy helped me make up five flasks of Sustained Energy, each with two scoops of powder and 2.5 oz of water.  Each flask contained roughly 210 calories and each Energy Bar was roughly 220 calories.

Ah, so on to race day… I was surprised how calm I was.  Tim and I arrived at about 5AM, when his first volunteer shift started and as transition opened.  I made my last minute prep on the bike and dropped off my special needs bags, then slipped into my wetsuit.  As I was dropping off my morning bag and heading to the water, someone was running around in a panic looking for goggles (I think his had broken).  Curren Bates over at Aquasphere had hooked me up with a bunch of goggles, so I grabbed my extra pair and handed them to the guy.  This is the second time I’ve handed off a pair of Curren’s Aquasphere goggles within 10 minutes of getting into the water for a race – I only wish Curren got the satisfaction of seeing the face of the athlete when I hand them the goggles and say “no need to find me later, keep them compliments of Aquasphere!”

I was one of the last 100 or so athletes into the water, with the race official hollering “3 minutes until we start.”  This was a bit of a mistake for me, because I thought I’d have enough time to swim over to the start line, but the cannon went off and I was a good 100 yards from the start.  An extra 100 yards wasn’t so bad, it was that I was now behind the slowest swimmers, and I would eventually catch the group of swimmers that would go out too hard and fade.  The first 30 minutes or so was pure chaos.  I got kicked as many times as I kicked someone.  At one point, on my pull stroke, I pulled a guy under by his shoulder.  We both popped up, I apologized, he said, “no worries” and then we buried our heads in the water again.  After clearing that initial chaos, I did come across the fading swimmers just before the turn, which I’m figuring was about a mile in.  I did have to stop twice to adjust my goggles from all the contact as well.  I figured the swim would take me about 90 minutes, and I popped out of the water at about 89 minutes.  No major should pain and I didn’t feel too winded, so I felt like I had a great start.

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Apparently, there was a tea party in the T1 tent that I’ve erased from my memory, as it somehow took me 16 minutes to get out of the water and onto the bike?!  I also mentioned that Tim had suggested I keep some packaging paper in my bike gear bag and it was a great idea.  I folded it up and tucked it underneath my top and it insulated me really well for the first lap of the bike.  I also tucked a couple of toe warmers under the tongue of my bike shoes.  I was cold as I started out, but I would have been miserable without the paper, the toe warmers, and the arm warmers!

Thanks to Dana and JD over at Foxtrot Wheel and Edge in Boulder, my bike was running like a dream.  I’ve never noticed a difference in shifting between the different setups I’ve used, but I could tell everything was very sharp and very crisp on this setup.  Also, (coworker) Todd’s Zipp 808 wheels were fantastic and perfect for this course that had occasional cross winds.  Coach Todd laid out a strategy that had me holding back for the first hour of the bike.  As I was about half way out, I realized that I was right on target with the power target he had given me.  I tried telling myself that was a good thing, but I knew that it meant trouble because I hadn’t been holding myself back in order to hit that target.  Mandy and Tim standing on the median was a welcome site as I began lap two, but it was just a few miles later that I knew I was in trouble.  The pros were passing me and my legs felt fatigued, not like I was out of breath, just that they were tired of turning.  It didn’t help that I couldn’t stay down in the aero position for very long periods without my shoulder screaming at me.  I could hardly fathom a smile and wave as I passed Heather about half way out.  As I finished the second of three laps, I realized that most of the folks I was coming in with were done… but I still had another lap to go. Mandy was there cheering for me again which gave me a pick-me-up, and  I ended up hopping off the bike at 6:27:10, an average speed of just 17.36 MPH.

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I was very excited to be off the bike, as illustrated by my 5:50 T2.  As I went out on the run, I actually felt pretty good.  My parents and sons had met up with Mandy, and my dad was doing just as he had done for me in high school: encouraging me with a booming voice that could be heard back in Denver and would inspire anyone out of exhaustion.  I was dialing back my pace to hit my targets – good!

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However, somewhere between miles 4 and 5, just after I passed through the main crowd, I started to struggle.  By the time I hit mile 6, my head was out of it mentally and my strategically planned short breaks at aid stations had become extended walks.  I would come to regret not having previewed the run course because it felt like I was going on forever on the north side of Tempe Town Lake.  I got some motivation when I finally hit the turnaround, but that faded quickly as I hit a ¾ mile hill just after mile 9. Just after mile 10, I saw my family again, now joined by my brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, and uncle.  I was dead, exhausted, wiped out.  I could tell by their faces that they could see that I was zonked.  I wanted to use their energy as a pick-me-up, but it was all I could do to just to stay moving forward.  Mandy decided to run with me for a bit as I started the second lap, which was great because it allowed me to chat and distract myself from the exhaustion.

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I caught a brief second wind at miles 18-20 spurred by all the family cheering me on, and then my uncle helped me up the hill the second time for mile 23.  As we crested the hill I had a 5K to go, and my uncle checked his watch.  “You could finish in under 13 hours.”  I had already written off this possibility, but he was right.  I had run dozens of 5K bricks at the end of my longest training days and always found a way to power though them, so I told myself to push.  As I came up the hill approaching the finish, one spectator screamed, “1 minute left to beat 13 hours!” so I bolted for the finish (or at least what felt like bolting after 140 miles).  I crossed with only 11 seconds to spare.

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Some reflections: if you have aspirations to complete just one Ironman, Arizona is the course to do it.  If you are looking for an Ironman PR, Arizona is the course to do it.  The bike course is FAST (despite my results), the run course has two hills but is otherwise fast (albeit all concrete), and you can’t beat the weather.  Of course, I would like another shot at this course in a year or two without a training interruption like I had this year.  Right now, I’m relaxing before supporting my wife in her next marathon, and, before starting all over again in preparation for what is sure to be a challenging day at Ironman Boulder in August 2014.

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