Thursday, November 25, 2010


I know its been several months since I've written anything here. Life has actually changed quite a bit, and I plan to get to that with a later post. But for now I wanted to share the experience I had of completing my first Ironman race. I don't think I've ever written a race report (a somewhat common practice for endurance athletes), but this event was so huge and the circumstances surrounding it so substantial that it would be a shame to never record any of it. So here we go.


As I mentioned in an earlier post in March, I had registered for Ironman Arizona. The race was to take place on November 21st, 2010. For a variety of reasons that I will get into in a later post, unfortunately I was severely undertrained for this event. I'd even go so far as to say that I was out of shape by the time race week rolled around. But I had already committed myself to this race and there was no way I was going to back out of it. I joked around with my friends that an Ironman itself wasn't challenging enough for me so I had to do one off of practically no training. But the truth was I felt very anxious about it as I had no idea how my body was going to react to something as grueling as an Ironman triathlon when I had grew to be so lethargic.

My friend Mike and I drove from Austin to my mother's home in Gilbert Arizona on Wednesday the 17th. At that time I think it had been three weeks since I had ridden my bike, four weeks since I swam (other than once the week before), and I had only been getting in around one short run a week. Thursday morning we went for a 45 minute run and I surprisingly felt pretty good on it, which gave me a little more confidence that I would survive the coming ordeal on Sunday. Thursday afternoon we went to pickup our race packets and stopped by some local tri shops to pick up on some final items that we needed for the race (mostly nutrition). Late Friday afternoon we drove down and parked near the race site, then went for about an hour ride on the bike course. The ride felt awesome. It was flat and fast and despite not being on my bike for so long, I felt great on that ride. After the ride we got body marked at the race site and then took our bikes back to the car.

We were parked in an open lot behind some condos near Mill Avenue and the Arizona State University campus. We had a race dinner nearby to attend and Mike was really concerned about leaving our bikes there as they might get stolen, even though they would be locked to the bike rack. I wasn't concerned about that at all, but agreed that we should drive around and find a safer spot to park in. We ended up parking at a metered spot along Mill Avenue, a really busy and lively street in Tempe. We both felt the bikes would be safer there because there would be so many people around. Mike still felt worried though, and decided to take the race wheels off his bike and stick them in the trunk, since the race wheels were not locked when they were on the bike (even though the bikes were locked to the car). I didn't have race wheels on my bike so we just left my wheels on.

Now at the end of September I had bought a new bike, a Cervelo P3, specifically for this race. I had fallen in love with that bike from the first day I rode it and fell in love with it all over again each time I went for another ride. That morning I had washed it, lubed it, and done all the final checks it needed to be ready on race day. It was also a rather expensive bike, $3,500 to be exact. Anyway, we headed out for the dinner (the food sucked IMO) and headed back to the car a couple hours later. As we got closer I started feeling really anxious for some reason and wanted to make sure that both of our bikes were okay. And when the car was finally right in front of us, I could not believe what I saw. The bike lock had been cut at the cable and my bike was gone without a trace. The bike and components that I spent nearly $4,000 on, had only owned for 7 weeks, and 36 hours before the start of my first Ironman had been stolen. Fortunately Mike's bike was still on the rack, even though it was clean for the taking as well. Of course we called the police, filed a report, and I talked to people around the area that I could. Obviously I was upset about my awesome bike being stolen, but of more pressing concern on my mind was finding an alternative bike for the race on Sunday.

Saturday morning came and the plan was to get in a quick swim and then go around the race site talking to people and trying to find a bike I could borrow for the race. I also had to get replacement stickers for whatever bike I took, since I had already put the race stickers on my bike before it was stolen. I ended up not getting in that swim because I forgot to bring my timing chip, but honestly I did not care too much (the water was freezing and I was not looking forward to getting in there anyway). Instead I started talking with officials, shop owners, and athletes in the area to see what my options were. I found three people that were willing to loan me their bikes, and I ended up borrowing a Quintana Roo Caliente from an Austin area triathlete who was in town for the race but not doing the race. As soon as I grabbed that from him, I took it over to someone I had met at the Ironman bike shop tent and he helped me change out the pedals, tune it up, and adjust the bike to fit me properly. After that was done I checked it in along with my transition bags and left the site. I didn't bother with taking it out for a test ride because I saw no point to it. Regardless of how good or bad it was, I was going to ride that bike 112 miles the next day and that's all there was to it. As soon as I got that taken care of, I headed straight home, did some final race prep work, and took it easy the rest of the day. It was the most hectic pre-race day I've ever had, but I was happy to know that I had taken care of everything I needed to for the morning.

That night just before I was going to bed, I got a call from the Tempe Police Department. They informed me that they had arrested the thief who stole my bike. He was caught in the act of stealing another one and had confessed to stealing mine the previous evening. He turned out to be a crack addict with prior theft convictions. Unfortunately he had already sold my bike for $100 (which almost insults me to see my $3,500 bike traded for so little). So the police were still trying to locate the whereabouts of my bike. So that was some great news to receive the night before my big race.

It was difficult to set a goal for this race since I wouldn't exactly be "racing" it but rather just "completing" it given how poor my training was and what condition my body was in. My primary goal was just to finish the race under the 17 hour cut off no matter what, and then I was thinking I could finish anywhere between the 12 hour and 14 hour mark. Going into the race my strategy (if you can call it that) was to just take it slow and easy. If I tried to race the way I normally do, I could exhaust my body prematurely and I might not make it to the finish at all.


Nothing spectacular or crazy happened on race morning. Everything pretty much went according to plan, although I was a bit late getting into the water. The water temperature that day was somewhere between 58-61 degrees Fahrenheit, so I wasn't exactly excited to jump in and tread water for 10-15 minutes while waiting for the start. But I did make a big mistake when I did jump in. It was still really dark out (even darker with my tinted goggles on) and I didn't jump far enough away from the dock. I ended up cutting my foot on the side of the concrete wall. I didn't have time to worry about that though, and the water was cold enough that the pain quickly numbed anyway. Despite being toward the back when I jumped in, I actually managed to get a pretty good spot near the front on the outside. That's where I usually try to position myself for triathlon races as I really hate coming in contact with other people in the water and fighting for position. I knew that the swim start was going to be really rough though, since there were nearly 2,500 athletes in the water all around me.

Before I knew it the cannon fired and we were off. Within about 15 seconds I started having a minor panic attack. There were people all around me, flailing their arms and legs. I took hits from every direction and couldn't do anything about it. In particular there was a really heavy guy on my right side that had to be at least 200 pounds and his big arms kept coming down and hitting me on the head or pushing me on the back. I was literally sinking from the force this guy was putting on me. But I just tried my best to stay calm, keep breathing, and keep moving forward however I could. After about 10-15 minutes, the field had cleared and I was finally able to swim on water instead of on bodies. Once I established my rhythm, the swim was a breeze. I felt like it went by really fast, and I actually did not feel cold in the water at all. Even when I first jumped into the water I wasn't that cold. There were some times where traffic would get congested, especially around the turns on the course. I just did my best to stay out of the way of the other swimmers so I could focus on just myself and not concern myself with them. Swimming on the outside added a little distance for me and I wasn't really able to draft off of anyone, but I didn't care. After surviving that first 10-15 minutes of hell I didn't want to have anything to do with anyone else in the water.

I made it through the swim with relative ease though. I thought my arms would be very sore after that since I hadn't been swimming that much, but they barely bothered me at all. I had projected that it would probably take me an hour and thirty minutes to finish the swim, and my estimate was pretty close to my actual finish time of 1:31:44 (2:25/100m pace). My normal swim pace for a good race is usually around 1:40/100m, which would have me finishing around 1:05:00.

Here's a video of the swim start that morning that I found on youtube. I know I'm somewhere in that video close to the camera and somewhere near the front. That's the mess of bodies I had to deal with in the swim that caused me to have a minor freak out.

Ironman Arizona 2010 Swim Start


T1 was actually one of the scariest parts of the race for me. As I got my wetsuit stripped off and started running through transition, my body was so cold that I couldn't feel a single thing. I ran through there as fast as I could to try and warm up. When I got into the changing tent, I quickly dried off with a towel and put on all my bike clothes. But I was still freezing to death. I was shaking so hard I was having trouble doing anything. I tried to fuel up but didn't really have the stomach for it at that point. One of the volunteers saw my condition and put a foil blanket around me and started rubbing my bike trying to warm me up. It had only a minor effect. I spent a long time in T1 just trying to warm my body up enough so I could feel comfortable enough to get on the bike without shaking so hard that I would fall over.

I looked down at my foot with my cycling sock on and noticed there was blood staining it. I took my sock off and remembered that I cut my foot as I jumped into the water. I had been so cold and numb that I completely forgot about it. This was my first time looking at the wound. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't anything minor either. I could tell that it was going to be trouble on the run, but though that it should be okay for the bike. I got it treated by the medic in T1 because the sooner I had it taken care of, the better I'd be off for the run and there was no reason to really rush through and ignore it. I was still shaking when I left T1, but I was getting impatient with waiting for my body to stop and I had already spent a long period of time there. (I wasn't really trying for time anyway).

One thing that sort of depressed me when I left T1 was that there were so few bikes left in the transition by the time I hopped on. I had never in my life gotten to T1 and seen so few bikes still racked. But I tried not to let it get me down and just told myself to stick to the plan: slow and easy. I estimated in the race that I spent about 20 minutes in transition and once again, my accuracy was right on. T1 time: 20:11.


Now on to the real challenge. A 112 mile bike on legs that have hardly ridden a bike at all in a month, and that were experiencing a brand new bike for the first time. The bike course was three loops and I decided to just take the first way out as easy as I could to try and allow my body some time to adjust to it. Fortunately I didn't feel cold on the bike and soon my body stopped shaking entirely. I had bought bottled water with sport tops for this race as I don't like to use my normal bottles and be forced to ditch them on the course. Unfortunately the bottle cages on the bike were a little too big, and around mile 3 one of my bottles filled with Pure Sport was launched from my rear bottle mounts. It wasn't a huge loss though as I knew I'd be able to pick up other bottles at the aid stations on the course.

Going out on the first loop was tougher than I thought it would be. It was a lot more difficult than the ride we had done on the course just two days before. The wind was not friendly to any aspiring Ironmen that day and it was extremely rough after the turn around, when we were forced to fight back either a strong headwind or deal with a strong crosswind. I believe the winds were between 15-20MPH that day. That made the bike portion of the race a lot tougher than it would have been on a calmer day. There were also scattered rainstorms that hit the course. They weren't too bad (I've definitely ridden in worse rain), but they were a bit of an annoyance to deal with.

The first 25 miles of the bike were really tough on my body. I was having issues with the bike I had borrowed. My back, arms, and groin were all aching extremely bad for the first quarter or so of the bike. I also felt the need to urinate after making the first turnaround to head back to the transition area. I had promised the owner of the bike that I had borrowed that I would not pee on his bike (as many Ironman athletes do). And even if I was riding my own bike, I wasn't planning to do that simply because I didn't feel comfortable doing so. Around mile 28 I stopped at a porta potty. This was actually a poor stopping point I chose as there was a long line and only a single stall. So I had to stand in line for several minutes waiting to use the facility. I fueled up while I was waiting to make the best use of the time I had. After about 5 minutes of waiting I finally got in, did my business, and was back on the road.

And here's where the second "hitch" of my race started. I had only planned that I would need to use the bathroom once, maybe twice for the entire bike section of the course. But by the time I had finished, I had used the bathroom five times. And each time was usually accompanied with a wait of a few minutes to get in and some extra time to grab nutrition products and refuel. I don't know why I had to pee so much that day, but I did. At least I knew I was keeping myself hydrated. I wasn't comfortable using the rear bottle cages on that bike (I hadn't even practiced that much with the rear cages on my own bike), so I pretty much did bottle change outs whenever I was stopped waiting for a restroom. The stops also helped my body to take a break from all the aching that was going on from riding on an unfamiliar bike, although the aching actually got better from that painful first 25 miles.

By the time I was on my third and final loop of the course it was getting a little lonely out there. Most of the other cyclists had already finished while I was still behind. The combination of a slow swim + a long T1 + numerous bathroom stops were really setting me back, but I just kept telling myself that this isn't a race (at least not for me) and the goal was to just finish in one piece. The final loop of the bike hurt the most as my legs were feeling pretty fatigued now, especially from fighting against the wind. I was relieved to roll back into the transition area and finally get back into some familiar gear (my running shoes). I had projected that the bike would take me something like 6 hours, but I spent so much time in bathroom lines I estimated I lost between 45-60 minutes there alone. My bike time turned out to be a humbling 7:05:12, or a 15.8 MPH pace. Ouch. I usually ride between 20-22.5 MPH in a typical triathlon, and that's on my old road bike. I didn't have a bike computer or even a watch though so I had no idea how long I was out on the course for.


As soon as I got into T2 the first thing I did was go to the restroom (again). I used this time to fuel up and give my legs a short break. I felt like my nutrition was actually serving me very well because I didn't feel very tired at all. But in both of the half Ironman races I've done my legs cramped up really bad when I got out onto the run and I was afraid of the same thing happening here. My legs were feeling fatigued so I had no idea what was going to happen when I stepped out onto that course. After getting some food into me I sucked it up and headed out of there. T2 time: 18:52.


I couldn't believe those first few steps I took. I felt absolutely fantastic heading out onto the run. I estimated I was doing somewhere between a 7:00 and 7:30 run pace. I didn't have a watch though so I had no idea (the battery for my running watch died just a couple days prior to the race and I didn't bother getting it fixed). But by the time I had finished the first two miles I felt a strong need to poop, so I stopped at the next aid station to use the restroom. Only...I couldn't poop. I tried really hard because I felt like I had to but nothing would come out. I gave up after a couple minutes and continued running. A couple miles later I stopped again...and failed again. Around mile 5 I caught up with someone I had briefly met on the bike course who was from Austin. He was walking and I was in no hurry (still 21+ miles to go...) so I decided to walk with him and talk for a while. We walked for quite a ways and had a nice chat and talked about both of our situations in the race. He actually advised that I continue trying to poop and I took his advice for the next 8 miles or so. Finally though I just gave up and kept running. I did experience occasional stomach pains during the run which sometimes forced me to stop and walk it off, but they weren't too bad nor too frequent. Being constipated in a marathon run sure is no fun though.

I did walk certain parts of the race, most notably I'd walk through most of the aid stations and walk up any major uphills (I was afraid of my quads giving out on me since they were already exhausted from the bike). But I ran most of the course and I ran it well. I was probably averaging around a 7:00-7:15 pace when I was running I'd say. On the third and final loop of the run again the course became deserted as most people were finishing. It got a little chilly, but I didn't feel cold and didn't have to put on extra clothing or anything (which was good, because I didn't put anything like that in my special needs bag). The final loop was the hardest as even though my body was still properly fueled, my muscles were fatigued from the day (not to mention the whole "not training" thing I did in the months before the race). I started having to walk more frequently for the final 10K, but I saved enough so that I could pretty much run the entire last mile and sprint in to the finish. Originally I was hoping to complete the run in around 4 hours, but all of the bathroom stops and walking added quite a bit of time onto that. My run time was 5:12:50 with an average pace of 11:57/mi. Again: ouch. The marathon I ran back in February was a 3:17, so to go almost two hours slower than that hurt my pride a bit.


I sprinted through the finish and was absolutely elated to be done. Mike found me right as I finished and I got some pizza and sat down to eat. My mom had already taken care of collecting all my transition bags and returning my borrowed bike, which I was very thankful for because I really didn't want to worry about that. She really did a great job of supporting me that day and in the days prior to the race, even if she annoyed me with her pestering from time to time. It was nice to have someone there supporting like that, which is something I've never had in any race I've done before. After sitting for 15 minutes my legs stopped working and I had great difficulty walking. My mom helped me to the car and drove me back home.

When I got home I took off my running shoes and once again my sock was stained with blood (I had changed socks in T2). The wound on my foot had gotten much worse from when I last looked at it. The cuts weren't deep, but they were very broad and stretched from the middle of my big toe down past the knuckle. It honestly didn't hurt at all during the run (I didn't even notice it), and looking at it now I had no idea how it did not bother me or cause me severe pain. Below is a picture of what it looked like the next morning. Its a little difficult to see because its blurry, but that gives you an idea of what its like. I traveled 140.6 miles on that foot and I have no idea how I did it with no complaints.

I thought that I was going to sleep like a rock that night, but somehow after only being asleep for 3-4 hours I woke up and my body was on fire. I felt like I had a fever and my entire body was burning up, even after I threw off all of my blankets. I was actually scared because I didn't know what was happening to me, but after about half an hour it calmed down and I was able to get back to sleep. I think it was just my body freaking out because it didn't know how to absorb all that shock from that long day.

The next day I woke up so sore I could barely move a muscle. Which is probably how it should be. I started loosing up over the duration of the day and by the afternoon of the next day I was pretty much back to normal. But my foot wound still bothers me a lot. It causes discomfort and pain, especially when I try to move my foot in any way. Its almost like all the pain I should have felt during the race is now coming back to haunt me. But it will heal in time, as all injuries do.

I had been dreading this race for such a long period of time as I realized just how out of shape I was letting myself get. But I have no regrets about starting and finishing that day. The most important thing is I learned a lot from that race and this experience is going to be invaluable for me for the next Ironman race I do. And I'll use this sobering experience to train properly for the next race. :) My total finish time was 14:28:48, which I guess isn't too bad for someone who was not in shape and who had to face all the unexpected challenges that I encountered for that day. Without a doubt I know that I can do much much better than that, and it will be up to me to prove that next time.