Honestly, though, beyond the complete lack of safe biking conditions--and the utter inability to see where I was going--the rain probably helped. It made the race, overall, much, much cooler, which was a nice change! In San Diego, we had been training in unseasonably warm temperatures most of the season, and I was still suffering from the psychological beating from last year's Ironman Boulder. THAT race was insane.
If I could briefly discuss the end of both of those races to summarize the differences:
- Ironman Boulder: I was watching many, MANY people cramp up, puke, and pass out toward the end of the bike ride all the way through the run. Cart after cart after cart was out on the run course pulling people off. And I watched multiple people pass out WHILE running.
- Ironman Arizona: I was dodging mud puddles. And I was chilly. Everyone else seemed to be doing ok, all things considered.
Completely different races.
In fact, of the three Ironman distance races I have now completed, Arizona, by far, was without question, the easiest. That is not to say it was easy because that shit is SO HARD...but in comparison...the course is easier. Boulder and Coeur d'Alene are more advanced races, for sure.
Ironman Arizona: It's REALLY, REALLY hard, but it could always be harder.
That's quite a marketing slogan.
My strategy for Arizona was to take what I had learned previously and do something with it. Yeah. Crazy, I know. I spent much of this season training slower, and this helped me stave off injury most of the time. I would say my peripheral training was nowhere near what I did for other races. In other words:
- Regular Stretching
- Proper and Purposeful Eating
- Strength Training
Yeah...not a lot of those going on at all this time, especially in comparison to my previous two races. I think, life-wise, I was just in a different spot. I had a lot more going on...and I (unfortunately?) had the confidence that if I could finish Boulder, I could probably do anything I set my mind to. If I had to give someone new to triathlon advice, I would HIGHLY suggest a stretching regimen and a nutritionist and a good masseuse. Those all help!
Going into the race, I felt very confident I would break 14 hours:
- Swim -- Goal was 1 hour 20 to 1 hour 30: Anyone that has ever talked to me about triathlon knows that swimming is my least favorite thing to do, and I hadn't yet broken 1.5 hours in a race. My goal this time was to NOT swim on the outside, but actually attempt to swim in the main group and draft.
- Bike -- 6:45 to 7:00 hours: Of the three events, biking is probably my strongest. My goal was to go VERY slowly and save energy for the run. While I could probably do that course in under 6:30, the goal was to chill out, focus on my heart zone, and get into the run refreshed.
- Run -- about 5:00 hours: I focused a lot on running slower this season, which seems counterintuitive. But by running slower, I really did feel better all year, and really only had one leg issue the entire season. I also did a lot of bricks this season, especially compared to Boulder...so I felt strong and ready to go.
- Transition -- 30 minutes max: Even with taking my time in transition, I felt like I could reach my total time goal AND still see a lot of naked men in the transition tent. WIN-WIN!
Fourteen, long, grueling hours...seemed reasonable. Seemed easily doable.
And it didn't happen.
The morning of, probably because of previous experience and growing confidence, I luckily had zero stomach issues. This was a giant area of growth for me. Typically, pre-race eating and pooping KILLS me...but not this time. Appetite was generally fine (or as fine as it could be when trying to eat at 4:00 AM)...and everything else was like clockwork!
Arizona is a rolling swim start, which I loved. You seed yourself based off of your projected swim time, so in theory, you are swimming with people with your same swimming speed-ish. I also vowed to myself that no matter what, I was going to swim with the main pack...and not off to the side by myself. Previously, I had always been so concerned about getting in other people's ways...that I would swim outside the cluster fuck. This time, I wanted to utilize other swimmers, drafting to help make myself faster.
And, you know what. I did it! But with great accomplishment, comes great learning.
You see, when swimming near A LOT of other people, you start to get pelted and hit and scratched and you get off balance because of the same. But I kept moving forward. I couldn't see my watch because the water was so murky, so I had zero idea if my strategy was speeding me up or slowing me down.
The course itself was marked by three colors of buoys. Yellow on the way out, two red buoys to signify the turn around, orange buoys on the way back, and then one final red buoy to signify the final turn: about a one hundred yard swim to shore.
So I swam and I swam and I swam and I got kicked and punched and knocked and took in gulp after gulp of water. I watched yellow buoys pass me by...and then two reds...and then I swam all the way back counting the oranges...and hoping and hoping to see the last read buoy. The buoy that would signify my turn back into shore. And I saw it. And I felt so much joy and excitement. I only had 100 yards to go! How fast had I gone? Was it worth it...
AT the last red buoy.
With 100 yards to go.
A HUGE calf cramp stopped me in my tracks. The same thing that had happened to me at Oceanside Half, but not in any training session since or before...
A time-stopping, mind-blowing, body-convulsing moment. And I literally screamed like you see people do in movies:
Not because it was going to stop me from finishing the swim. But because I knew that for the rest of the day, I was going to have to ride 112 miles and run 26.2 on a gimpy leg...and that...THAT I didn't know if I could do.
So I looked down at my watch--as swimmers ran into me, and as I floated a mere 100 yards from the finish line-- and I saw it:
I was at the low end of my goal. I was there. The fastest swim of my life!
So I got my composure.
And I floated and I used the breast stroke and I doggy paddled and then I did the best I could to swim the rest.
Still reaching my goal, and finally breaking 1:30....and wondering about what the rest of the day would bring.
The calf bothered me most in transition, but not too much on the bike itself...thank goodness!
For me, the biggest challenge on the bike was the aforementioned rain and SLOWING MYSELF DOWN. Not because of the stupid rain, but because that was my strategy...and maybe the rain helped that?
If my goal was to do the bike in seven hours, I needed to be very careful not to get swept up in the adrenaline of the race or care about other people passing me. I needed to ride my race, and stay in my pre-determined heart zones for a long, long, long time. This took a lot of mental energy, but unlike the other two IMs, I ended up not feeling an energy drain at 70 miles in. I felt strong!
In this race, I mostly struggled with going slower than I felt like I could go...and the fact that a vast majority of the time I was shivering and/or couldn't see from the rain and/or from the crud dripping off my helmet into my eyes. That sucked. And stung.
But, overall, my body felt great going into the run and I again hit my time goal.
Honestly, I just don't have much to say about this part of the race that Tokio Hotel didn't already say for me. I guess, maybe, going slower than you can go is just as challenging as going as fast as you can!
Ah, the run.
This is what I still don't understand about these races.
Sure, my calf hurt...but overall, I started the first 10 to 12 miles doing exactly what I wanted to do. Every time I felt myself speeding up, I slowed myself down. I felt fresh. I felt ready. The weather, although cold, was perfect for conserving my energy, and my legs felt great! I was pacing myself for the second half of the run and everything was going so well!
But at 12 miles in, it wasn't my body that left me...it was my mind.
Although 2.4 mile swimming and 112 mile biking are nothing to laugh at...until 12 miles into the run, I never had that overwhelming feeling...the "There is ZERO way I can do this" feeling. The "This is stupid and it's just too far" feeling.
I have to admit, though, during the run, these feelings hit me. And they hit me hard. And they were winning for awhile. I would say from about mile 12 to 20, I was a mental mess. I didn't want to be there, and it became easier to give into negativity than to fight it. My body was sore. My mind was tired. Hell...I had every reason to be tired...but there was something about giving into the tired that disappointed me in me. And so I gave in more.
In sum: for about 2 hours of that run...I threw a gigantic pity party for myself and seriously contemplated leaving the course because that seemed much more realistic than going one more step.
I had stopped being present.
I started thinking about how far each mile was and how many miles I had to go. I started thinking about all the things I hadn't done instead of what I had.
But the beauty of these races, and one of the secrets to them, I believe, is the learning that comes out of conquering those fears. Because that is what those moments are. They are fear. After all those hours of swimming and biking and running...there really isn't a lot left inside of you. Everything is raw and empty and you get to really, really, REALLY know yourself well...and a lot of the things I saw in myself...well...at that time, I didn't like them. And I was afraid. And that is why excuses and/or walking and/or giving up are such tempting options. They are all so easy.
Running, even though everything in your mind, body, and soul are screaming STOP, is simply harder. Sounds like a no-brainer...but it's really important!
Because it's then...right then...by working through all the pain and agony and self-doubt...when you find that inner strength to put one foot in front of the other...and just love yourself for what you're doing...that honestly, you've won that damn race. Getting to the finish line really isn't the victory. Victory comes when you decide and know that you are going to finish. And that's it.
For me...this epiphany came back to me around mile 20...but I promised myself that this time, I would not forget the pain. I would not forget the agony. As I ran...I would burn them into my memory: it really IS hard to do an Ironman...and that I retire...because I don't want to feel that way anymore. Having to find such strength. To go so deep. To conquer so much. To believe in something with everything.
So, no...I didn't hit my goal time. My marathon, it was about an hour slower than I had planned. But I wouldn't be happier if I reached my goal. I wouldn't be more accomplished.
I am happy. And I do feel accomplished.
What I believe to be important is the ability to look at myself, really look at myself, and know that I truly did something hard. That I didn't give up. That I can do it.
And so can you.
I still have so much to learn about these races and what happens and my thoughts. But the next time someone asks me WHY I do them, I think I finally have an answer:
I don't know yet. But I'll know at some point during the race.