Friday, January 6, 2012

IMAZ race report - better late than never

I wrote this race report a while ago but have not posted it due to trying to put my life back together after two straight years of IM training with the second year being very time consuming. Enjoy reading - I enjoyed writing it.

G. Martin Henry Jr.
Ironman Arizona
November 20, 2011
Race Report

It has been two days since the race. I am still sore and have quite the wetsuit hickey, but I am recovering. I am hanging out in the dessert with my folks and plan to visit my father-in-law while I am out here as well. I stopped to see him once already, but he is not well so I need to get out to visit him again before I go home.

I am actually having a little trouble determining where to start with this race report. Last year I did my first IM in Lake Placid. The emotions I felt upon finishing that event were overwhelming. I don’t think I was looking for that feeling again – it can only be your first IM once. Actually, I’m not at all sure what I was looking for other than the physical challenge and the knowledge that I did my best. O.k., time for honesty to set in – I was also chasing a time. I was looking for a very large improvement over last year. I figured I should get 30 minutes just from the course differential and then 45 to 60 minutes for the year’s worth of training. I shaved a little over an hour off last year’s time which I know should make me proud, but I guess I am just too hard to please .

I arrived in Tempe on Wed. and had to wait an hour for the hotel shuttle to pick me up. Apparently a group of 8 racers arrived just before me and between them and all their gear the driver had to make two trips. So I finally got to my hotel and although exhausted from the day of traveling, I had trouble getting to sleep. It was more real now that I was so close to where the event was actually going to take place.

The next day I walked down to the transition area to pick up my race packet and check things out. I purchased a couple of things from the vendors and then just sat around basking in the sun. I walked down to check out the water. It was green just like Doug said, but I could not detect any nasty odor. I hung around the village for a few more minutes and then headed back to the hotel. I was going to wait around and get my bike from Tribike transport then realized that there was no way I was going to be able to get all my gear and the bike back in the same trip. When I got back to the hotel there was a group of six people from Michigan who were getting ready to walk down and get their bikes so I tagged along with them. Very nice folks.

Friday – not much to do today other than my final warm-up/shake down workout before the race (not including the pre-swim). I waited a while because I was going to go with a friend from Canada, but he was with a group of four and they kept making him late (or so he claims), so I went alone. I biked an easy 10 and ran an easy 20 minutes and then met my parents who came down to spend the rest of the weekend with me and watch me race. It was great having them there – I think I would have raced my very best regardless, but it was nice knowing they would be at the finish line.

Saturday – started the day with a good carb loading breakfast. Went down to the lake around 9:30 for the pre-race swim (it’s the only time you can swim in the lake before the race). Brrr, the water was cold. The full sleeve wetsuit kept my body warm, but I could really feel it on my hands and feet. My face never felt cold. I swam about a quarter mile and decided that was enough to loosen up before the race. Coming out of the water I practiced getting out a couple of times because it is a little tricky. It seems like there should be one more stair on the stairs getting out of the lake, but it’s just not there. Checked my bike and bags in after the swim and then did a whole lot of nothing for the rest of the day.

Sunday (Race day!) – alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. I could not believe it - I actually slept better than the night before. I went downstairs to toast the bread that I got at the grocery store because the hotel breakfast doesn’t start until 6:00. I got down to the kitchenette and there was a whole breakfast already set up. Apparently, they started early knowing that the athletes would be getting up early – How nice is that?

My father drove me down to the race site so I could get body marked, check my bike, situate my water bottles, drop off my special needs bag, etc. I met up with Gene (the guy from Canada) in the bathroom line – how weird is that – 2,640 people racing and we happen to get into the same bathroom line at the same time. We hung out together for the rest of the morning and it really helped to keep the nerves down. I was getting cold so I put the bottom half of my wetsuit on to stay warm until it was time to get in the water.

Swim - At about 20 till they start getting the age groupers in the water. I wanted to get in early because my race plan was to start near the front on the right side. Theory was that I would get less beat up there than in the middle. I was having a little trouble with my goggles so I swam to the side, sat on the ledge, and adjusted them. Then I got back to my spot because the water was filling up full of bodies fast. For some reason, the water felt warmer race morning. I know it is not true because the reported water temperature was 61 – must have been the excitement of the moment or the fact that I acclimated to the cold waiting to get in the water. In true IM fashion the announcer just keeps on talking until suddenly BOOM! The cannon goes off and it is a mad rush of elbows, arms, feet everywhere. Although I thought I started in good position I still got beat up. I got an elbow in the eye, I was bumped a few times, I got whacked in the eye again a little later, but my goggles never fell off. I understand what a mass start is like with so many bodies in the water, so none of that really bothers me. There are two things that totally annoy me though – one is people trying to swim over the top of you – really! Where do they think they are going – there is no more water on my left side than on my right. The remedy for that is to kick – so I did – I am proud to say that no one swam over me this time (I let it happen twice at IMLP). The other thing I find annoying is when someone is swimming so close and keeps bumping you trying to steer you a certain way. Because we started so close to the right there was quite a few people trying to go left to get closer to the buoy’s. I find that to be a little dumb. I would think that most everyone knows that the shortest distance from point to point is a straight line – So I sighted on the furthest buoy rather than the closer ones, but I kept getting pushed. At one point I actually took my hand and pushed someone away from me. There was one scary moment in the swim – I got tangled up in something. I kept swimming, but it got worse. It felt a little like fishing line, but not quite that strong. I was able to rip it off me and keep going. I felt really good on the swim and actually felt I was catching better water as I went. Although I felt I could really pour it on in the swim, I held back as discussed with coach Doug. What could it have possibly gained me anyway– maybe five minutes? Certainly not worth screwing up a whole days worth of racing for five minutes in the swim. The fact that you cannot see in the water never bothered me for some reason. It is impossible to get off course with so many people in the water so I just kept stroking and before I knew it I was done. Got out of the water in about 1:15 – was expecting anywhere from 1:10 to 1:20 so I was right on time.

T1: - had a little trouble with the wetsuit – not used to a full sleeve. The volunteer was great and just pulled down the sleeves and then I laid down and they did the rest. As I ran into the transition area one volunteer called my number, another grabbed my bag and handed it to me and into the tent I went. Helmet on, glasses on, socks on, shoes on, decided no on the arm warmers, off I went. Someone must have called out my number because there was someone waiting for me with my bike at the end of my row (I am a rock star!).

Bike – Anyone who knows me knows that this is my favorite part of the race. I only swim to get to the bike. Getting out of T1 was not quite as messy as LP. I don’t know if it was the 5 minute time gain on the swim or what, but it was just better. It was no wider, so that was not the issue. As soon as I got out on the road my number one concern was getting my HR under control. I know there is no drafting in triathlons, but it was wall to wall people and a fairly narrow space to get out for probably a mile or two. I figured at this point it was o.k. as the officials would have to penalize about 200 people – it would spread out as soon as we got to the open roads anyway.

My HR was under control in no time (at least I think it was, had trouble with HR monitor the first lap of bike). I started fueling right away. I think I blew it on my hydration as I had to pee three times on the bike – pit stops were quick, but I definitely lost a little time due to this. I know what the hard core guys and girls do, but I’m not vying for a Kona spot and besides – my mother brought me up better than that.

The bike was absolutely beautiful. My legs felt nothing. I was once told that if you are not sight seeing on the bike leg, you are going too hard. So I did some sight seeing. HR monitor was working just fine by the second lap (first lap I was getting readings of 109 – 185, so I went by feel). Going by feel was working o.k., but HR kept creeping up and had to back off to get it back down. On the third lap the wind was blowing pretty good but it was what I like to call a helpful wind. It blew me up the hill – I was climbing at about 23 miles per hour. When I turned around I just got low and let my bike do the work – o.k. I pedaled a little. I kept chanting to myself not to fight the wind – it worked, I just stayed low and monitored the HR. At one point a group of about 20 riders passed my. This was not just a pace line, it was an organized one. I was pissed! I thought about joining them, but decided that I am no cheater, nor are any of the Cyclonauts I know. Then I thought about passing them as I knew I had enough juice in my legs, but I was not going to ruin my race just to prove a point. I finished the ride in 5:50 which was ten minutes faster than I was expecting. That was a nice psychological boost going into the run.

T2 – uneventful. Volunteers still treating us like rock stars!

Run – I was really convinced I was going to put a good run together this time. I paced myself well in the swim and the bike. I started off running and immediately started monitoring my HR to make sure it did not creep up. It was actually hard to keep it in the range I knew it had to be in, but I knew if I let it go up I would pay for that later. The first two miles were a little tough and I started to question my fitness and whether I had executed my race plan appropriately. By mile four I was feeling more relaxed and the distance was starting to melt away. I was still executing my nutrition plan to my exact specifications, but at mile 13 that started going in the crapper. My stomach started giving me some issues. I was drinking concentrated IM perform and it was just too strong for my stomach. My first attempt to remedy this was to water it down – I still wanted to get the proper amount of calories per hour and knew if I changed to a different source of nutrition I would not be able to monitor this. This did not work and I had to do something quick to keep my stomach from shutting down. I switched to coke and it was not immediate, but it did start to calm my stomach down. The first time I drank a little coke I got a boost, but that diminished each time around. I had some chicken broth at around mile 18 and that helped some. So my aid station routine was grab water, grab ice, grab coke, pour ice in coke, drink coke, pour ice in water, drink water, toss cups, keep going. I never stopped. Always moving forward.

On the last lap I decided to walk the two hills – it’s a fairly flat course, but there are a couple of hills and I was able to walk them faster than I could run them. I was walking up the biggest hill when a pretty girl stopped right next to me and started talking to me. I told her that this was a planned walk, but that I was going to run the rest of the way in. She asked me if I had done an IM before (this was her first). I told her yes and at around mile 22 my mind could not get my legs to run anymore and I was not going to let that happen today. I refuse to quit. She said she was not going to quit either. So we agreed that neither one of us was going to quit and we started running again at the top of the hill. I passed her and never saw her again, but I hope she had the race she wanted.

From mile 20 in I needed everything I had to fight the demons telling me to quit. What did I have to prove anyway? I already knew by this time that my time goal was blown. Well, I promised myself that I would do my very, very best. So I kept going, ticking off the miles refusing to quit, refusing to walk (except for the aid stations – needed the nutrition). HR no longer mattered – I just had to endure the pain. I was getting passed but also passing a lot of people. Doug told me to feast off the misery of others – steal their energy. I decided that this was not going to work for me – I decided to steal the energy from the people passing me as they obviously had more of it. Oh yes, the mental head games you will play! Before I knew it I was at mile 24 wondering how I got this far - I do not remember miles 22 or 23 all that well. It is probably a good thing – time to focus all remaining energy on the last two miles. It really hurt, but like Doug said – “it is only pain.” I hit mile 25 and decided not to stop and feast – I just grabbed water and kept going. I was afraid that if I stopped it would be too hard to get going again – I did not want a repeat of LP. A woman named Lauren passed me right under the Mill St Bridge. I remember her name because she had quite the cheering section. I let her pull me in and then backed off when we got to the chute so she could have her own moment. Then two horses asses passed me in the chute! What the hell were they thinking?

Here is one point I will remember forever. The volunteers at IMAZ were amazing. IMLP is a great race, but the volunteers at IMAZ blow away the volunteers at IMLP. I’m ashamed to say it since I volunteered twice at LP. The finish line catcher immediately put a blanket around me and helped keep me steady. He walked me over to get my shirt and hat and then walked me over to get my finish line photo. He would not let go of me until he knew I was steady enough to stand on my own (at least I thought I was).

I was looking for my parents and finally found them. They are not the most outwardly expressive people, but they let me know that they were proud in their own way. They also helped me collect my gear especially since I was a little shaky. I tried to find some chicken broth at the finish line but could not – finish line food was pizza, French fries and fruit – the fruit I could see, but pizza and French fries? Are you kidding me? I sat down for a while and when I tried to stand up – OWW! My thighs were shredded.

To sum this up – although I improved my result over last year, it was not the race I was looking for, nor did I have the overwhelming emotions that I had at IMLP. So I have to ask myself - is the time commitment needed to race this distance worth it for me? I have already promised my wife no IM for 2012, but I need to assess for my own purposes if there will ever be another one. I enjoy training and I enjoy being fit and I especially enjoy the racing, but this may have been my last Ironman.