MICHAEL LOVATO | Professional Triathlete

 

PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN

 

The Ironman Arizona Race Report

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I never have understood how most folks seem capable of putting together race reports within hours of finishing their events. I never even understand how they get them done within a day or two. I always find that I need a few days to let it all sink in, to process things, and to sift through the interesting and non-interesting, the essential info and the nonsense. Who am I kidding: I don’t ever know how to filter out the non-essential info, and that’s why my race reports are so long. So hang in there, here I go:

Race week arrived pretty quickly for me this year. I had done some consistent training back in January and February, but most of March and April were spent resting, racing, and resting some more. I figured I would see how much better I felt with a long taper: four weeks. Now this four weeks included a rest week for Cali 70.3 and a recovery week after, so the tapering was not tough on me mentally. I enjoyed it actually.

Back to race week: all in all, it was smooth. I took a complete rest day on Wednesday, so I felt good about doing a bit more on Thursday. I swam some, rode one loop, and ran the hilly sections of the marathon. I was encouraged by how effortless everything felt; I hoped this would bode well for a good race.

Friday was another rest day with just a short 15-minute swim to loosen up. I found myself to be very relaxed and happy as I participated in the press conference and pre-race interviews for Ironmanlive. I was genuinely enjoying myself, and was truly looking forward to race day. Many of my Austin friends were there to compete as well (brief shout out to the Jack and Adam’s Crew!!), so I had plenty of company. There was also a good sized Boulder contingent which included my good buddy, Alex. He and I feasted heartily at SOMA cafe and later at a spicy little joint called Oregano’s. The theme of the week seemed to be eat, rest, eat, eat, and eat some more before resting again: my kind of week.

On Saturday I drove over to the airport in my borrowed Porsche Boxter (boy, I’ve got some good friends out there!) to pick up my mom. She was going to be heading up my race-day support crew, as Amanda was back in Boulder, in our attempts to save money (saving money is very boring, I know).

Before I make this race report too boring, I had better skip to the race itself.

The water was calm, so the swim looked to be faster than last year’s chop-fest. I zipped up the silver QR, and jumped into the lake. The water temp was also up from last year, so we weren’t in there freezing our teeth off. I found that James Bonny had positioned himself to the far right of everyone else, so I joined him. It did look like the angle would be better from there, and I figured I could sit on James’ feet, as long as he’s not out to win the swim. Turns out he was out to win the swim. And had Kiwi swim ace, Brent Foster not been there, he would have done just that. It also turns out that James is back in swim shape, and he’s more than capable of leaving me in the dust (the more things change, the more they stay the same). I was dropped. Then the next pack dropped me. The the next pack dropped me. I believe my regular pack was one of those, so now I was left to fend for myself. I suffered through the rest of the swim, but exited in a respectable time nonetheless.

Out on the bike course, I set out to race my race. A blessing that came of my swim was that I was able to ride my own pace from the outset of the bike. After five or six miles, I realized that I was in the position to moderately ride to the turnaround, at a decent pace, without feeling like I was working too hard. At that point I set my race strategy: moderate out, easier back, moderately hard out, easier back, hard out, easier back. The six segments of this three-look out-and-back lent themselves to a smart pacing plan.

For the most part, I stuck to that strategy for the entire ride. I gradually applied some pressure when necessary, and I gradually moved my way through the field. As I approached the chase group of seven, I pushed the pace a bit, as an invitation for them to up the ante. As this was only fifty miles in, I knew that there was still plenty of racing to be done, so I controlled the pace as we rounded the turn. I noticed that I had gained the semi-permanent company of a then unknown Belgian, STIJN DEMEULEMEESTER. Along with him, we now had the company of Tim Deboom, and later Spencer Smith. As the miles wore on, I began to distance myself from Tim and Spencer, but had no luck shaking the persistent Belgian.

With just about five miles to go, after slowing slightly to relieve myself, I rounded a corner and realized the lead was now in sight. Francois Chabaud, the French powerhouse, was now only 100 meters up the road. I calculated that the added pressure to gain the lead would be worth it, in order to have the lead of the race, even if for only a while. After all, I had never come off the bike with the lead. I pushed to the front, with the ever-present Belgian in tow, and passed Chabaud. An exciting final three miles afforded me the opportunity to soak up A LOT of crowd enthusiasm.

I was off the bike in first. This was the first time all day that I realized it had gotten quite warm. While running from the bike hand-off to the bags, and later to the tent, the Arizona sun gave me a taste of what was in store for us all: heat.

I entered the change tent with Chabaud and Stijn right on my heels. We all plopped down to don the running shoes, and I took a quick survey of the competition. They looked a bit worked, and I hoped I looked differently, so all seemed fine… for the time being.

For a long time I will remember the feeling I had when I left T2. It was a first for me: to be the first marathoner on the day, and I knew deep down I was up to the task of setting the tone. This is not to say I was not a tad anxious. I knew that one of the best marathoners in our sport was not far behind me: Tim Deboom. I also knew that one of triathlon’s most tenacious competitors was nearby as well: Spencer Smith. If I dwelled too long on matters, I would have realized there were over forty guys all coming strong, and ready to take that lead. You’d be correct to assume that I was running scared. But dwell I did not.

My newly formed run strategy told me to run that first loop–8.77miles–at as comfortable a pace as I could tolerate. That meant notching five or six 6:20′s to 6:30′s. I felt good; I felt relaxed. I felt like I could go all day. Then someone gave me a split, and my attitude adjusted. It was a race: Spencer had closed some of the gap, and Tim is still back there, so…

I began to push myself a bit more on loop two. I was getting some INCREDIBLE support from the spectators, especially those under the Mill Ave bride, and from those who had been recruited to Team Lovato by my mom. To all whom may be reading: I thank you very much!

Loop two was a bit of a blur: I was running faster, or harder, but the time gap seemed to be shrinking. Spencer was closing, I was plugging along. I felt good, and I pondered how good he must feel to be gaining on my pace. I was fortunate to have some speedy exchanges at the aid station, as volunteers were readily available to pass me some much-needed fluids and gel. I took a lot of fuel on board, determined that if Smith were to catch me, it would not be due to a bonk on my part.

At the end of loop three, I glanced to my right, while crossing Mill Avenue bridge. For the first–and only–time all day, I laid my eyes on the hunter, on the path below the bridge: the gap looked to be a mere sixty or seventy seconds. It was getting close, to be certain. I made my way to the start of the third loop, calculating the time he’d need to take per mile, if he were to catch me. I didn’t like what the math was telling me, so I quickly put that out of my head.

What replaced the thought were some words of wisdom that stuck with me for the remainder of the run: It’s an hour of your life. Never were any six words spoken to me with more perfect timing. Thanks, Huddle. I realized that it was up to me to work for one more hour, otherwise, I’d be mulling over the loss for many months to come. I set myself to the task: one more hour.

An hour later, I still wasn’t done! Ok, I was, but wouldn’t it be funny if I wasn’t?!?

I hit that last loop with everything I had in me. The quads were already achey, and the pavement (the concrete!) was feeling harder and harder with each footfall. Nonetheless, I was enjoying the hell out of myself! That was what this sport it all about. I worked the final four miles with an extra bit of intensity, just in case Spencer was doing the same. I knew this race was going to be determined in the last four miles, I just didn’t envision it like this!

Once on the Mill Ave bridge, with the final turn in sight, I settled myself with the idea that I had it in the bag. If Spencer wasn’t on that bridge with me, there was no chance I’d lose it. Thankfully, there was no need for a sprint finish, as I had imagined there might have been. I say thankfully because my two-minute gap afforded me the opportunity to soak up every moment of the finish of my second Ironman win. It was, as one might imagine, incredible. I slapped hands and waved and smiled and hugged and hopped and bounced across the line. And the Voice of Ironman told me–before he told anyone else–that I am and Ironman!

7 Comment(s)

Jonathan on 4/14/06 said:

Congratulations on a great race. Close races are not only enjoyable from a spectator’s perspective, but also from a competitor’s (especially when you come out on top).

ginny on 4/14/06 said:

Aw, I HATE when I cry at work! You are not only a great athlete and a great coach, you are a wonderful inspiration to all of us!

Amy on 4/14/06 said:

Congratulations! It was so fun to “watch” on ironmanlive.com. You inspire us.

John H. on 4/14/06 said:

Darn, I wish you’d be a little more enthusiastic and show a bit of emotion ;-) . Your one of America’s best and I’m proud to be a fan. Congratulations on a great race and thanks for such a good race report.

kryptonite67 on 4/14/06 said:

big congrats, homie!

rice on 5/4/06 said:

Hi,

Just listened to your talk on ‘everyman’. Great work in AZ. That must really feel great. I was so happy to hear that you work in the mortgage business and your wife in Real Estate. I’m on my way up the chain in my training but hope to be hitting the Iron Man circuit buy 2010. Don’t know if I’ll ever go pro but this is a job that will give you the flexibility you need anyway. It’s a good feeling to know that someone out there is doing it.

Cheers.

Rice.

allbilly on 5/5/06 said:

Do they have trophy girls in Ironman?

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