Sometimes this blogging stuff is hard. Mostly because I have a partner like Brandon on my back to "get content out" all the time. I'm kidding, I love Brandon, and his content driven ways. That's why we have the best blog around! Right? Right!
I have wanted to write this report for quite some time, but it's been surprisingly hard get down. I'm not sure why. I guess because maybe it doesn't feel real yet? Like trying to write down a dream.
But maybe that's what it was--a dream. Of the best kind. So let's treat it as such, get this brain of mine fired up and just see what comes out.
I could start with the description of the 3000km road trip from Vancouver to Tempe, accompanied by my beautiful girlfriend Krissy, and the perfect moments we shared racing through winding desert highway as the sun set over the Arizona horizon. Aggressive downshifts, crazy undulating switchbacks, the occasional overly optimistic full throttle pass of semi trucks with others approaching head on at high speed (sorry sweetie...). Krissy may remember this as "motion sickness", I call it bliss.
Or I could start with the amazing USA! reunions with the Team Unicorn Sparkle Adventure teammates, and with my buddy Rob who is the reason I'm doing this race in the first place (Hi Rob!). What a feeling to have everyone there, ready to compete, ready to support, ready to do something important.
Or I could start with the night before. The cool down ride with Rob where we "rode" the run course (although we basically rode a third of it, the run course was really long) and just shot the shit and talked about everything and nothing all at once; me changing my tires on the hotel balcony, a meditation of sorts that really got me into race mode for the first time; my bunkmates, Krissy and Alex, in bed before me (at 7:30pm) and being totally supportive of my 3am feeding and my hour long no-one-asked information session about "this is how much crazy powder stuff I put in this bottle, and this is the crazy powder stuff in my put in that bottle".
But I'm not going to start with any of those.
I'm going to start with me and Tammy, standing in the darkness of transition, together, with one monumental task before us.
5:20am is early by any measure. I slept well the night before (a surprise to me) save for some crazy dream I had where my Ironman was me diving off like a 700 foot diving board to different diving boards--like a virtual reality Mario Brothers Nintendo game on steroids.
Full distance Ironman races make you pack bags ahead of time. I had a temper tantrum the day before over this (Tammy pointed out I have an issue with "people telling me what to do"). I didn't much care for it on the day either, to be perfectly honest. But admittedly it simplified the morning rituals somewhat. Cab to transition. Body mark. Nutrition in the bike. Bottles full. Tires pumped. Now what?
Tammy and I strolled the transition, it being very dark still. We saw some people trying to rest, others rabid bundles of nervous energy. Eventually we found ourself in the toilet line; an inevitable consequence of early mornings, too much sugar, and last minute "urges". Being the gentleman that I am, when a stall came free I allowed Tammy to go first. As she proceeded forward, the world's largest triathlete exited right before her eyes. She looked at me in terror. I looked at her like I had just sent my prized lamb to slaughter. For those who are wondering, by her account, it was as large as the gentleman's inseam suggested it would be.
We laughed..... Poop jokes never get old.
I was looking around for Rob, but couldn't find him. Not totally surprising, as he was a pro at these and was seeding himself far faster in the swim than me or Tam. I found out later why I didn't find him that morning....and it was not because of his faster swim times.
Wetsuits on, Tammy and me paused as the star spangled banner was sung but a young girl who was struggling to remember the words. The crowd helped her. I actually cried a little (like man cried, not like a baby or anything *chest thump). When the anthem was done Tam and me both looked up to spot our Unicorn team mates ablaze in Minty Fresh support wear high up on the first spectator bridge. They couldn't see us, but it meant the world to us that we could see them. We waved enthusiastically all the same, just in case.
Tammy and me joined the cattle chute of neoprene wearing pissy-pants athletes and attempted to seed ourselves somewhere ahead of the 1:30 mark. That task proved impossible, so we settled in at about the 1:35 mark and chatting with a fellow athlete who admired our choice of swim mask to keep our eyes clear of the murky brine that was the Tempe Town lake.
Nerves were not high. Calm was the flavour of the morning. Calm would prove to be the flavour of the entire day...
BANG!! The pro canon echoed from the overpasses. They were off. Our cattle chute started vibrating. Our ears were abashed with the squishy latex noises the likes of which I imagined Brandon is familiar with, given his propensity for being a bottom.... We all funneled forward for what felt like forever. Upon approaching the stairs to enter the water I'm sure I said something inspirational to Tammy. I can't recall specifically, but I know I'm just that type of guy--inspirational ;-). People were using all sorts of odd belly-flop-esq techniques to enter the water. I simply walked down the entrance stairs until there were no more, and then laid myself into the water like an old golden retriever softly pouncing after his favorite floaty toy. We were off.
On Rob's advice, I had switched my favorite goggles for a larger "mask". Tammy did the same. The mask proved to give outstanding visibility and make distance siting incredibly easy. For anyone considering open water swimming, I would highly recommend the mask.
The one place the mask doesn't help is where the water is opaque. I had read about this before--the near zero visibility of the water in Tempe Town Lake, especially as the early morning sun rose. True to form my visibility was nearly zero, but I was mentally prepared for it.
I'm an aggressive swimmer off the start. Head butts, elbows, fists, whatever I feel I need to keep my position and rhythm. When I'm approaching someone I have a technique I use where I tuck my chin deep under my shoulder to avoid any wayward kicks, I then effectively crawl on top of them. They generally switch direction, not me. "Comin' on through" I think to myself.
Low visibility only strengthened my resolve to forge my own path. Like a shark biting at anything with a scent, I was an unapologetic water elephant amongst the forest of tender swimming trees.
Unfortunately, it turns out the swimmer who bore the brunt of my floundering was Tammy. I have no recollection of the seemingly brutal assault I committed on her in the water, but she has the foul words and impressively large bruise to prove it. Sorry Tam, I love you....forever your hippopotamus.
The swim was a simple loop, passing under four large bridges in total, bunched two and two. As I passed the second of the first set of bridges the sun was rising; my visibility continued to be atrocious. "Man, this water is terrible" I thought to myself. "Good thing I mentally prepared for this". As sunlight hit my eyes however, I stopped for a moment. I treaded water and realized it wasn't just in the water that I couldn't see, I couldn't see anything anywhere. Like, at all! Stupid Trevor, you jumped in the water with fogged up goggles!!
500m of mental exercises and "you prepared for this" self-talk to combat the zero visibility and all I had to do was dunk my goggles in the water to clear the fog. Literally, that was it. After I did, that song "I can see clearly now" came to mind as my vision was brilliant!! The water really isn't that cloudy after all! Haha, and I can see! Well that's changed everything. Let's get going!
2800 or so athletes started Ironman Arizona. That is a lot of swimmers. Like, a lot. Also, triathletes are huge liars, and they all think they are faster than they are. So after successfully defogging my mask on the fly I settled into the arduous task of attempting to navigate through a significant number of "1:30" swimmers that were certainly not 1:30 swimmers. Tammy's story was similar. Our fault really, next time we'll push further to the front and seed ourselves with the other liars to get our correct seed position. Needless to say, I wasn't afraid to make my presence felt if necessary.
I loved this swim. I can actually say that. I've never loved any sporting experience (save for maybe kickball in fourth grade), but I was genuinely happy the entire time. I had no panics, no drama, no pains (really). My rhythm was steady and I just cruised my way along, stroke after stroke, breathing easy. Unlike Victoria where I was in a constant state of panic, cramping, and fear, Arizona felt like it lasted 30 seconds, could have gone on all day, and was nothing more than a splishy splash down at the ol' waterin' hole.
I actually laughed underwater at one point just because I was having fun.
Other than a rescue jetski almost hitting me on the head, I couldn't have planned this swim better. I came out of the water stoked for what the day would hold.
Up the stair out of the water....whoa...dizzy..... I'm always dizzy coming out of the water. Fortunately I wasn't as dizzy this time as I've been in the past. I run down the mat and grab my first bag (stupid bag) and then into a change tent. The tent was my first encounter with a volunteer. I will say right here, and I will probably say it again, the volunteers made this event. They were the absolute best part of it, and I am so grateful for their help and their commitment.
Likely looking dazed, a volunteer grabbed me and sat me down. I was trying to pick things out of my (damn) bag one at a time. "Dump it" he said, "I'll do this". "Okay" I thought, turning it upside down. As he laid out my shoes and handed me my sunglasses he told me about his first Ironman experience, how I would love this one forever, and how I should be happy. I was happy! Until I had to put on my super cool arm coolers which were proving difficult with the crippled-claw like hands I was sporting for some reason. Fortunately, a quick "can you help me with this" and on went the arm coolers before I even knew what happened. I mean the unicorn logo wasn't perfectly centred or anything, but I decided that would be a minor annoyance for the time being. "You can't tell the volunteer to centre the logo, Trevor" I said to myself, so I didn't (but I really wanted to *knock knock knock Penny).
On to the bike and I felt ready. The TUSA cheer squad was loud and in charge! You guys rock! Head down, mash those pedals, let's get at it.
I rode this race without a power meter, without a heart rate monitor, without most of those "gadgets" that triathlon people usually use (gadgets = faster don't you know). I used only two metrics, cadence and speed. If my cadence hit above 90 I would upshift (to go faster), if my cadence dropped below 80 I would downshift (and slow down). Using cadence, and a goal of averaging above 25km/h, I dropped immediately into my aero bars and got into my pace.
1km in I looked down to a solid cadence of 85, but a cruising speed of 29km/h, 4km/h better than my planned average. "This is going to be a good day" I thought to myself. I could feel it.
At this point I want to give a quick shout out to Best Bike Split and TrainerRoad. Using BBS data, I had "ridden" parts of the Arizona course a half dozen times or so. Doing so allowed me to lock in the "feel" of the course. I knew exactly where to push, and where to back off. It filled me with confidence.
I did not anticipate having to use the bathroom as much as I did. BBS didn't predict that. Let's say I was perhaps excessively hydrated. I peed three times swimming alone. Then, hitting the bike, I think I stopped at every rest stop for at least the first 50km. I desperately tried to pee on the bike after about the fourth pit stop (because I was plumb tired of stopping), but by the time I was able to squeak a little out (it was surprisingly hard to do) I was already at another rest stop, so I just pulled in and used the bathroom like a human.
One element of the course that was a suprise was the wind. Now I had read about the wind. Head wind out, tale wind back, switching directions as the day went on. But how strong the wind is does not come across well in race reports. I hunkered down on the way out, and hammered with the wind on the way back. Not technically the best pacing strategy, but one I had practiced and was prepared to execute. Plus it's fun to go fast!
Admittedly I was confused by the various techniques people used into the wind. Standing up and mashing proved popular. I'm pretty new to biking, but to me creating a bigger surface area and working harder does not seem to be the best way to get through the wind? But I'm sure they knew what they were doing being all large and in charge, as I passed them tucked into a tight little ball.
About an hour in I was starting to make a lot of forward progress on athletes who had beat me out of the water. Actually more forward progress than I'd experienced in any race before. I started to play a game I called "Dimond Hunting". Dimond is this brand of crazy expensive exotic "superbikes" (I want one!). If I could catch and pass Dimonds I was feeling pretty good about myself. In the end I only caught and stayed ahead of one (having seen a handful), but one is more than none.
Towards the later part of my race Dimond Hunting was replace with Disc Wheel Hunting. I absolutely got more than one of those, especially on the way back into town (with the slight downhill and the wind at my back). I love the look on the faces of tri-nerds when my minty fresh kit and $1000 "comfort" bike rockets past their $10,000 aero everything. Makes me laugh every time.
Anyway, fast forward to the last 30km or so. I've stuffed my belly with as much sugar drink as I can handle. Honestly, if I have one takeaway, it's that I was a little overzealous with the nutrition strategy. But better to be overfed than underfed, so I rocked the bloat as best I could. The wind had turned and was now in my face bringing it home. That was hard but I was still catching athletes, most of whom looked like they were hurting much more than I was.
That last flat section felt unbelievably good. I had energy to burn (although I didn't burn it) and when I saw the team in the transition chute I was filled with joy and so ready to run.
My only mishap along the course was a lost aero bottle splash guard thingy. For those who don't know, the aero bottle sits on the front of your bars, between your arms. That way you can sip as you go without losing your bike position. Well, the splash guard part went flying out of the bottle the first time I tried to refill. 6h30 of sugar drink splashing into my face turned my bike into a sticky gooey mess, but did I care? Not in the least, I had a marathon to run!
Again, volunteers are heroes. Total heroes. They grabbed my sticky disaster bike (gross) as I ran in and grab my run bag. All the while the TUSA squad is cheering loud and proud! To see them longer, I forego the the tent and grab a seat outside so I can chat with them. Socks and shoes are pretty easy, and the volunteer lady wrapped her arms around me to try and fasten my run belt around my very bloated tummy. Her arms were like a warm embrace of joy. It was great.
No time to mess around! Let's run.
I run using only pace as my only metric. I like pace. I planned to set 6:45/kms out of the gate. But the sugar filled legs of biking had other plans and basically informed me that I was going to run at whatever pace they wanted to go. Screw you brain, they said! As a result, kilometre one was too fast, kilometre two was also too fast. This trend continued for a little bit before I was able to rein it in.
But Trevor, isn't faster better? Sure, if you can sustain it. But I knew I couldn't, so I eventually was able to back off.
At about 3km me and this girl ended up running side by side at exactly the same tempo. Left, right, left, right--we could have been a marching band. I made a comment, we laughed, then she made a comment, we laughed, then we kept going, side by side, left, right, left, right, then we kept going still side by side, left, right, left, right, and then it started to get really awkward running in stride with a fellow sweaty burpee athlete. I took the initiative and dropped to a walk to give us a little "me" space. She carried on, and about two kilometres later I caught her and passed her, never to be seen again.
It's hard to describe how I felt on the run. I didn't feel tired exactly. I mean I certainly knew I was moving and had been moving for a long time. I've written before about how for me on race day all three events really feel like three individual events. My body just sort of hit a run stride, and I didn't feel the need to argue with it. Like I said above, calm was the flavour of the day.
One complaint was my feet. My feet were being absolutely pounded with each step. I blame the shoes I was wearing. I had struggled with footwear the weeks leading up and decided that the "devil you know" was better than making a dramatic change. If there's a next time, I will need to get my run footwear sorted out way in advance. Because poor shoes just straight up suck. I expect that my shoe selection probably cost me 15 minutes on the run from my optimal. But then again, new shoes may have been worse.
I saw the team a few times in my first little stretch. They all looked so happy!! It made me happy!! Ironman had also moved many of the "village" merchants from the concourse the day before to along the course for the race, so it was sort of like running through a mini mall of cool triathlon stuff. I mean distractions always help, and the crowd was totally on point. I stuck to my pace for the most part, and looked at the sweet swag as I carried on by; fans shouting my name and the occasional "Unicorn" as they gave the Ironman juggernaut free rein over their credit cards.
As the miles continued the sun began to set, and the mall disappeared, and then the spectators disappeared, and then the other runners disappeared, and for some long stretches it was just me and my pounding shoes. Zen is not the right word. Blank is more like it. No mantra, no complaints, no inner voice, no outer voice, just one step after the other, over and over and over and over.
Somewhere around the 12km mark I was making my way by some runners and I heard a "Trev...". I stopped and looked over and it was Rob. "Rob?" I exclaimed before taking a closer look. Rob was hurting. He was green, and not green in that sexy alien from Star Trek kind of way, more like that sickly alien from Guardians of the Galaxy kind of way.
I mentioned above I hadn't seen Rob at the start. I saw him twice on the bike, but not in places I expected to see. To catch him on the run was unheard of.
Rob's wife and children had been very sick the days leading up to Ironman. Rob, he told me then, had succumb the night before the start. Barely making the swim start, he spent an extended amount of time leaning against dumpsters during the bike, and had all but run out of gas on the run when I found him.
I was actually worried. My buddy looked bad.
I walked with Rob for a kilometre. Just like our cool down bike ride we talked about everything and nothing all at once. This is my favorite memory of my Ironman. At that moment race times, training, pain, hardship, they all went away. This was me and and my buddy, doing this for ourselves, for our friends, for our family. Rob's strength in continuing, even at a walk, is something that I have no words for. I was humbled and inspired all at the same time. Thank you my friend.
At a natural turn around point I left Rob. He looked better after our walk. I mean he still looked like shit, but like a better formed shit, not like the squishy squirty one he was when I first found him. I wouldn't see him again until the finish.
Memories came and went. I know I'm running my best race when I'm not remembering. If I am remembering, it means I'm hurting. So not having extensive memories to share now means that in the moment I was in-tune, and that's a good thing.
But some always pop up. The chicken broth man, who convinced me to drink chicken broth and told me "this will be your best decision all day". It settled my stomach in the best way--especially given I ran the last 15 kilometres exclusively on red bull and coca cola. My TUSA team surprising me on the far side of the pedestrian bridge. They were so wonderful to see. I loved it. The sign my love made for me, and the hilarious man-sign Tam's love made for her. I actually paused and stood at the signs as I passed them for a final time. Mostly to reflect, and also to laugh.
At kilometre 26 I smiled. I had never run further than 26kms before. With 16 more to go, I was excited. I had a grand plan to recreate the 15km race that I dominated two weeks prior. That pacing strategy lasted about 500m. Time and fatigue was starting to creep in.
Kilometers 30 - 35 or so were just plain tough. My feet hurt, I was bloated to all heck, I was no longer able to "trust a fart" and the sugar and caffeine from coke and redbull hadn't really kicked in the way I had hoped, but were working their way through my body other rather unpleasant ways.
At about the 35km mark though something happened. I got angry. Because by that point, I just wanted to go home. I yelled it in fact! "I just wanna go home!" That statement corresponded right at the start of the only hill on the course. I like running hills ever since Rob turned me onto hill butt running. So I put my head down, flexed my cheeks (yes, those ones) and started moving with purpose. And I didn't stop for the rest of the race.
"Great pace" is a wonderful thing to say to an Ironman athlete. Every person who shouted that to me gave me a little motivation to push even harder. At 35kms it didn't matter now anyway, I was ready to blow up and just keep going because I felt like it (don't tell me what to do!)!
My buddy Brett taught me the mantra "last mile best mile". I use that in my training and all of my races. Ironman was no exception. By km 36 I was cooking; to my fellow competitors I no doubt looked like an athlete possessed. My stats say I made up nearly 500 places over the course of my race. I have no doubt I made up 300 of those in the last 6km of my run.
Last mile best mile proved true. Every kilometre from 35 onwards was faster than the last. Gone were the 6:45 easy pace miles. First 6 minutes dropped, then 5:45, then 5:35. By the last mile I was on a 5:30 pace or, in my world, nearly the pace I'd race a 10k race at. "Maximum Effort" came to mind (Deadpool) and all after 12+ hours of exercise.
My second favorite memory is of Brandon running alongside of me with his GoPro filming my last 300m down the finisher's chute. I'm not a good finisher, I'm usually quite melancholy, but I was not melancholy about this finish, I was getting after it and excited!
I crossed the line to massive cheers from the TUSA team. And to those words. You. Are. An. Ironman. My volunteer grabbed me and said "you, Trevor, you are my athlete". He made the process so much more special. He celebrated with me, giving me time and energy to embrace what I had just done, guiding me through metal presenters and photographers and everything else. It was wonderful.
I couldn't wait to see Tammy. She was a little bundle of joy as always. As was everyone else.
But where was Rob?
Quick pizza and back to the chute. Brandon and Alex were kind enough to grab my bike and gear and deal with getting that sticky mess back to the hotel. I needed to see Rob.
Rob looked rough, but strong. Straight into the medical tent for him. I went in after him. He looked a little more squishy squirty than when I left him. He says he wishes I snapped a photo. I do too. I was awestruck by his will to finish, and he looked hilariously gross with his eyes rolled back into his head and a stupid grin on his face.
After confirmation that all was good with Rob, I really have very little memory of next 12 or so hours. I told what I thought was my story of the hours after to a nice couple in Mexico, only to be corrected by Alex afterwards; I really had no idea where I was or what was going on.
I know I ate a giant burrito.
I also know I could not touch the large beer I ordered.
But that's okay.
In the end, I set an Ironman personal best, and conquered the course nearly an hour faster than I had predicted. One year's training reduced into 13:06:55 of effort. One year's worth of reflection that will last a lifetime.
GRIND TO 140 ACCOMPLISHED!!
ps. If your post-race celebration doesn't involve wearing a rainbow unicorn mask in Mexico while holding a random Mexican's surprisingly docile pug, you're doing it wrong....
pps. If y'all are wondering how I did, here are the official results.