Thursday, April 19, 2007
Ironman Arizona race report.
Yes, this is a photo of me on race morning. And yes, this is the outfit I chose to wear for defense of my title. And yes, it does have a large sausage on the front.
Ok, no it’s not. The truth is that after much positive response to the unveiling of my CHAMP suit, I thought a follow-up with the WIENER was appropriate. Or maybe it’s just as inappropriate as the last.
Either way, this is actually me on Friday morning, prior to the start of my very busy and fun day of promotionals and appearances. I’ll save the details of my pre-race appointments for another post, as they are interesting enough to merit their own attention.
On to the race.
After the tires were pumped, the water bottles were filled, and the Bento Box was attached (yes, I use this very uncool piece of equipment!), Amanda and I made our way back to the car to dump off our bags, have a warm-up run, and to slide into our wetsuits. It’s always such a crazy scene down at transition that the peace and calm of an empty parking lot is quite quite mellow in contrast. We both took short runs to shake out the legs and the nerves. Afterwards, we lubed up with some baby oil, and quite literally slipped into our blueseventy wetsuits.
As we walked over to the start–the final calm before the storm–we could here Mike Reilly calling all pros to the water’s edge. It figured that we were the last two athletes across the timing mat and into the holding pin.
The start of the swim was quite easy. I found myself right behind Tim Deboom, and well clear of any flailing arms and fists. As Tim seemed to be veering too harshly to the left, I unwisely chose to hang a right, in order to follow some better navigators. Turns out my move left me in a larger and slower group of swimmers. After several frustrating incidents (such as swimmers stopping dead in their tracks), I concluded that I need to bump up my swimming, for no other reason than I do not like my group. No offense, fellas. I’m ready to make the move to a faster one, even if it costs me more effort in the race.
Exiting the water, I was in the midst of a very large group of men and women. And let me tell you, the women were the ones who beat me up the most out there! I cruised through transition, feeling good and confident my race was proceeding about how it had in 2006.
In the early stages of the bike ride, I made the conscious decision to let Rutger Beke gradually ride away from me. My strategy was to hold a very comfortable pace for the first loop, and to follow that up with two stronger laps at the end. My feeling was that more often than not, athletes tend to blow up a bit on a three-loop course. What I had not counted on was how my legs would respond to the steadily rising wind speed.
After finishing lap one in just under ninety minutes, I began my charge. I had lost about two minutes to Beke, and only a few seconds to Deboom. I knew that it was time to close the gap from the swim, and I began to apply the pressure. The only problem was that Rutger seemed to be applying even more pressure than I. At the second turn on the Beeline Highway, I noticed that I had lost a good chunk of time to both of the leaders. I figured I’d make that up on the return trip, as the headwinds were really strong by that point. My goal was to really work the headwind section, while recovering on the tailwind parts.
I soon realized that my legs did not have the strong and powerful feeling I had hoped they would have. I tried to modify my caloric intake, to compensate for the greater energy expenditure caused by the howling wind. I figured there was a good chance my lack of power was caused by a lack of fuel. With no real change heading into lap three, I began to worry if the ache in my quads was just a symptom of “one of those days.”
My ride was still going fairly well, but relative to the competition up front, I was just not on par. I knew that the two front runners were strong competitors on foot, and that my best chances for catching them would come if I minimized my time loss on the bike. I had hoped to keep within a six- to eight-minute gap of them.
At the end of the ride, I was getting splits that Beke had put fourteen minutes on me over the course of the day. What an impressive ride he had! With Tim twelve minutes up the road out of T2, I knew my work was really cut out for me.
The great thing about Ironman racing is that anything can happen. I felt great starting the marathon, and history shows that even a twelve- to fourteen-minute lead was sometimes not that much. I set out there to close as much of the gap as I could.
After lap one, the splits were the same: I had made up zero ground. I knew my greatest challenge was that Rutger was running to stay ahead of Deboom, and Tim was running to catch the lead. I was not on their radar, and the very competition they were engaged in was my ultimate undoing.
They continued their battle for the win, while I was left in a desperate No Man’s Land: stuck in third place. While this is not a terrible place to be, it is certainly not an inspired spot to find oneself. After competing the first loop in 56 minutes (my jock math quickly calculated 2:48 pace), I knew I had a low 2:50s marathon in my legs. Accounting for a slowed rate over the next two loops, I figured a 2:53 was achievable. The problem was that would still leave me in a distant third place. For a few miles, I went for it anyway. A fast run time is always a welcome consolation for missing out on the overall win.
I normally love those little victories.
Sadly, on the particular day, I could not find the motivation to drive myself to that point. Last year’s race was stuffed full of easy motivation; there was no way I’d relent. A year later I found myself struggling to figure out why I should kill myself to have a slightly closer third place finish.
In the end, the middle loop was a bit of a surrender. I removed the push from my pace, and settled into a slower run. By lap three, some built-in motivation returned. I received a split from the sidelines that Petr Vebrousek was mounting his typically strong late-day charge. With proven marathon results to his credit, I knew I needed to take a bit of control. My run pace dropped back down to the mid 6:30s and 6:40s and I enjoyed a bit of a race. While it was no where near as exciting as my chase from 2006, it was refreshing to get a bit of a race out of the day after all.
Finishing an Ironman is always such a special feeling. In first place, third place, or 395th place, to cross that line is a thing of beauty. I have now done so eighteen times, and each and every one of those finishes has made me feel like a million bucks.
With adjusted performance goals and modified placing exp
ectations, I crossed the finish line with a smile. To finish the day achieving a common goal set by two thousand others was a sweet and satisfying accomplishment. I was an Ironman finisher again.