Ironman AZ 2008

April 13, 2008 - Ironman Arizona (AZ)

2.4 mile swim + 112 mile bike + 26.2 mile run = 140.6

Pre-Race Buildup

This was my biggest target race for 2008 and I decided to take some time off of work to minimize stress and maximize the enjoyment and recovery. Thursday was when registration opened, so as I was out and around anyway, I decided to try and register. Since I didn't have my USAT card with me, I had to wait till Friday to register. I needed to go back Friday anyway for the welcome dinner and mandatory athletes meeting so no big deal there.

I had been thinking about a new helmet anyway, so I stopped at a tri-shop that is a sponsor of ours, Focus Cyclery, to take a look at what they had and get some ideas on helmet selection. I ended up with this one:

Turned out to be a GREAT choice. The guy that helped me out really knew what he was talking about. The helmet I had been using, probably protected my head enough, but this one not only protected, but also helped to ventilate and cool. You'll see later why this was such a huge deal.

New helmet in hand (actually in backpack since I was riding the motorcycle) I proceeded to get registered (with my USAT card in hand, err wallet). I meandered through the expo. A lot of neat stuff, but most of it is way more than I am willing to spend on triathlon right now. Very nice stuff, but I can't spend too long looking at bikes that are thousands more than I spent on mine, so it didn't take me long to get through everything.

I grabbed lunch and then went to an event I saw advertised at the expo. This was called Ironprayer and was a group of Christian Triathletes and endurance athletes, including last years winner, Heather Gollnick. They had several speakers with a motivational talk and then a prayer before it was time to head over to to the welcome dinner and Athletes meeting.

The dinner was good, but I was able to meet one of my local friends, Harry, and spent the rest of dinner trying to track down more folks from the board many of us frequent. Near the end of the dinner, we (Harry) spotted one of the other folks and we watched him to see where he went. After the meeting, we wandered over and introduced ourselves. Very fun to put faces with names.

Saturday was mainly drop off the bike and transition bags and then try to stay off my feet as much as possible. Sleep was difficult as I kept thinking "Did I put Body Glide in my T2 bag?" and "Do I have enough Gu/Gel for the whole bike?" and I ended up going downstairs at least 3 times to check everything that was layed out against my checklist to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything. Several times through the night, I woke up with a start "Did I miss the alarms?", nope, only 11pm, 1am then 2 am. Finally, at a bit after 4, I got up and got ready. Made myself a bagel with peanut butter and drank some juice, then waited for my Dad who had agreed to drive all the way out to my house (35+ min) and pick me up at 4:45am so my wife and kids could get a bit more sleep.

The Pre-Race

My dad parked in the athletes parking and then helped me carry my remaining gear to put on my bike and in my transition bags. He wished me luck and then I was off to get things settled (including the butterflies in my stomach). When I got to my bike, a friend from San Diego, Dan, was there to wish me luck. I had gone on a bike ride with him and some friends a few weeks before when they came out to do some training on the course for this race. Turns out he had seen me the other day at the Ironprayer but hadn't been able to catch me after the meeting was over. Very relaxing to have a familiar face saying "hi" and "you'll do great today".

I brought the bike over to the bike guys and got my tires aired up and then got body marked then used the porta-potty and put suntan lotion on. Then I got my wetsuit on and headed slowly to the entrance to the water and delayed jumping in until I estimated about 60% of the athletes were in the water. I think I swam past some as I got closer to the start than I had planned.

The Swim

It was fun just floating in the lake with 2000 of my tri-friends waiting to start. Since there were over 600 of us first timers, I met several of them and we told each other we could do this. When they sang the national anthem, I don't recall any time in recent history where I have hear the audience (the athletes in this case) sing with quite so much enthusiasm (albeit a bit off key at times). I guess it is ok if we all left our swim caps on for the national anthem.

The canon went off and so did we. It was quite a rush and a lot less scary than I would have thought based on some stories I have read. I had a few people grab my legs, but no one pulled me under. I had a few people swim right in front of me, but it didn't feel like we made any hard contact. In fact, in retrospect, I encountered little enough resistance and so much open water, that I think I should have started closer to the front and taken a line closer to the bouys.

I felt very smooth and spent most of the time swimming in "the zone". I picked up my pace a few times to get closer to someone and try and get a better draft, but didn't push a fast pace for very long. I knew the goal was to finish, not win.


As I was getting out of the lake, I saw my family there cheering for me and that felt great! Then one of the volunteers called out my name and I realized it was Tanya (StandsWithFist) that is part of (founding member of the East Side Cool Kids Tri Club or ESCKTC) the tri club I frequently train with. She got me to a volunteer to help me strip my wetsuit off and wished me luck.

The results show me as the 231st male out of the water in my age group (out of 353 that started the race).

Before the race, I figured my worst-case scenario for the swim was finishing just ahead of the cutoff (2 hr 20 min) and my ideal was between1:10 and 1:25 min. This was a great result.

Swim Split = 1:18:41 (231 AG/1187 overall)

Transition time (8:39) that can only partially be attributed to the longish run from the lake through the transition bag area through the changing tents and then through the bike corral. I was happy with that time at my target was between 5 and 10 minutes and I was still on plan. My bike jersey stuck a bit because I didn't have a towel. That also meant I didn't have anything to wipe my feet on before putting my socks on, so I just brushed them off and made sure my socks were on comfortably. A little grass didn't seem to bother me.

The Bike

I got off on the bike with no problems and saw my family again as I got up to speed. I wouldn't see them again until just before the finish line.

I was happy that I had no mechanical problems or flat tires, though I did see several flats early on in the bike. My only mechanical problem on the bike was a dropped chain that took me about 30 seconds to get back on. I count myself luck as there were many folks I saw with bikes in pieces and in the SAG vehicles as many bikes and riders failed to finish the bike.

I got Gatorade and water from pretty much every aid station on the course. I grabbed bananas from over half of them and ate my cliff blocks, gel and gu's. I drank lots of water and Gatorade, but it was so hot that even if it was cold when I got it (most of the aid stations had it at least cool) it was warm within 10-15 minutes so I tried to guzzle the Gatorade since warm water tastes better than warm Gatorade. I also used plenty of water over my head and body to help keep cool. According to some reports I've heard, the bike course was up pretty close to 95* F. The wide was rough on the way up the Beeline hwy the first 2 laps. The first lap return was a great ride as we had a great tailwind, but by the 2nd and 3rd lap, the wind had shifter and dropped off a bit which made the whole lap harder since there was not the recovery time coming back down the hill.

About halfway through the bike, I stopped for a reapplication of sunscreen and a visit to the porta-potty. That couple minutes came on my 2nd fastest lap and made the second half of the bike much more enjoyable. Other than that 1 stop and the quick stop when my chain dropped, my feet didn't touch the ground for the whole ride.


On the third loop, I realized that the last loop had been much to fast and at too high of an effort level. I realized that I needed to "Not eat the paste!" (sorry if you don't get the reference. Here is a link to the article I read) and I made that my mantra every time someone passed me and I was tempted to speed up.

It was on this loop that I met "Motivational Mary". I know her name was Mary from her race bib. Due to drafting rules, you only have a chance to say a few words as you pass. She said "keep moving foreword" when she passed. A little while later, she had slowed down and I passed her and said something like "this is the third loop right?". She passed me again a little while later and yelled "You givin up on me?" That is an example of the kind of camaraderie that I really enjoy about triathlons.

Near the end of the last loop, I saw more of my friends from ESCKTC and when the saw me, they went nuts. I mean it was like they thought I was going to win this thing or something. It made the last few miles of the bike ride just fly.

Chafing. Ouch. I need to be more generous with the body glide when getting ready in the morning. My tri-shorts were pretty comfy, but after 112 miles on the bike, the bike seat got the better of the padded shorts. It didn't bother me till after the race, but then I did notice it. (this is exactly what I said after my HIM last summer. I guess I need to reread my own race reports to get ready for races)

Before the race, I figured my worst case was finishing before the cutoff of 5:30PM, but the target range was between 6:15 (~18 mph) and 7:30 (~ 15 mph). The results say my average was 14.6 mph. Since I was way ahead of the cut-off and not far behind my goal (9 min), and also, still right on track overall so far, I'll chalk this up as a win as well.

Bike Split = 7:39:29 (306 AG/1602 overall)

My T2 time was 6:41. I'm pretty happy with this time and think that changing into a light singlet was worth the few minutes. I also had a quick stop to get suntan lotion applied.

The Run (walk?)

I knew that this would never be a marathon PR, but I was hoping to keep it about 20% slower than my PR of 4:00. For this leg, my worst-case plan was "finish before the midnight and become an Ironman". I thought I was feeling pretty good as I got off the bike and headed out on the run.


My legs told me they didn't want to do this, but I had done enough brick workouts that they obeyed me and punched out a 9:19 first mile and 9:59 second mile. After that, my legs were ok with running, but my stomach started to complain and I ran from aid station to porta-potty to aid station trying to keep getting nutrition in faster than it came out. That went on for about the first loop. I was pretty steady in the 12-15 min/mile range with lots of walking (uphills, shady areas, aid stations).

I passed a few people and tried to give them some encouragement. Some smiled and made positive comments back. Others looked out of it and didn't seem to hear or notice me. I saw more than a few people sitting in the shade with volunteers talking to them and a few golf carts with first aid folks buzzed by heading back and forth.

I knew I needed more nutrition, so I tried to take a piece of banana every couple stations when I felt like my stomach would tolerate it and a couple pretzels otherwise. I tried grapes from one aid station, but after about 6 of them, I decided to toss the rest. I stuck with a cup of Gatorade (lemon lime which tasted better on my stomach than the orange from the bike course), a cup of water and a cup of cola at pretty much every aid station. I also got a few wet, cold sponges at each station until the sun was far enough down that the desert air had started to chill a bit. When they started having soup, I went for that, because I had heard that it was loaded with salt.

When I was starting on my 3nd loop, I saw my friends from the ESCKTC again. They were sitting around in the shade by the bridge. They had been volunteering around the course for as long as I had been racing. I think there should be something more than a t-shirt for these volunteers. They are all great!!! When they saw me, they went nuts again and kept yelling "you can do it!!!"

Shortly after seeing them, I had slowed down for an aid station and started talking with another runner (err walker). We found out about each other (both of our first IM), where were were from, stuff like that. Then one of us said "I'm gonna try and run a bit more" and the other said "me two". Rob from Australia and I manage to keep each other running more than either of us had been able to do for ourselves. We both had had stomach trouble (him on the bike and me on the first part of the run). We ended up turning in a 3 loop that was faster than either of the first 2 loops.

The Finish

Just before the final turn to the finish line, my 12 yo son (who started running with me in January) came running out to me with a wrist band on. I asked him if that meant he could cross the finish line with me. The smile on his face was incredible! I took his hand (but tried to get him to slow down a bit) and crossed the finish line with him and hear what I had been waiting for all day long "Stephen Andert, You are an Ironman!!!" They let my Aunt in to the finish corral to take a picture (and be in a picture with me and my youngest son).

IRONMAN, IMAZ, FINISH, 30-Somethings

You can see how effective the reflective tape we were required to wear is. Makes for a great safety device, but a bit distracting in pictures.

Wrap up

I again know that physically I could have pushed harder on the run and probably on the swim too, but since I was not in jeopardy of missing my goal of finishing, I didn't need to. I was mentally exhausted, maybe too exhausted to push myself harder. But if I pushed a bit harder on the bike, I might have been unable to push harder on the run. Or, pushing harder on the bike or run might have resulted in a DNF like some 300 of the other racers. Overall, my average pace for the run was 12:07 (my Garmin data) or 12:13 (race results web page) which is a bit of a letdown as I thought my run would be a lot stronger than that. But I am very happy with it since I passed a lot of people on the run and managed to beat my first ever marathon time by about 2 minutes.

Run Split = 5:20:08 (160 AG/838 overall)

Overall, I think I did pretty good for my first Ironman, especially considering how hard this course was with the heat and windy conditions that caused the 3rd highest DNF rate of any Ironman race to date. I had a great time and it was great to see my friends and family several times.

Overall Total = 14:33:38 (229 AG/1147 overall)

I also experienced another first in this race. Till this race I had never pushed myself so hard I puked. That changed with this race. After I sat down in the food tent and took a few bites of pizza, I was a bit light headed, but after putting my head between my knees and standing back up a few times to keep blood circulating and drinking more water and cola, I felt better.

My oldest son got a job working with ASI sorting pictures, so he didn't get to see me cross the finish, but he saw the pictures before anyone else did (they let him work on the number range that I was in). He had to work till midnight, so I put all my stuff in the car (my Dad gave my wife and youngest son a ride home after I finished. What a great guy!), grabbed some more water and went to the stands to cheer in some more people. I met up with my tri-club friends who were still waiting for some more friends to finish. It was humbling to watch several IronVeterans come in after me. That is how tough the day was and I feel blessed to have been able to overcome the challenges thrown our way that day and finish so close to my goal time.

Lessons Learned

1. Bike Time. I need to spend more time on the bike. That probably means I should get a trainer and set it up in the living room or garage and stick to my riding schedule as closely as I do with the running. As evidenced by the run, I ranked much higher in the run than either of the other 2 legs.


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