Ironman Arizona 70.3 will forever be my first Half Ironman. The race was not what I had expected, but you live and you learn. Below is a full account of my race, including pre-race.
We, my fiance and I, arrived in Tempe on Friday in the evening. The drive from Central California was miles and miles of desert with a bit of LA traffic thrown in and took about 12 hours with stops. We took our bikes on our cheapo Target bike rack on the back of our little Suzuki Aerio. I was paranoid the entire ride there. We stopped multiple times to check on the rack and tighten the straps down, but we made it bikes intact.
We were both still sick from our recent cold (2 weeks and counting at the time) but were determined to race as long as we were fever free. The cold wasn’t terrible, general malaise, sore throats, a cough, etc. Nothing life altering, but certainly not something you want to deal with on your first Half Ironman.
Saturday morning we had check-in. I went through the line and got my bib, timing chip and swag bag. The athlete briefing was short but helped calm some my nerves. I like the be in control of things, doing something for the first time always puts me on edge. There’s this element of unknown that no amount of research can really put to rest.
After the briefing we went back to our hotel gathered our bikes and brought them to transition. I had planned on using my nice polar bottles during the race, but learned during the briefing that I’d most likely be chucking bottles out at the aid stations instead of refilling them, so Chris and I headed to a local Walgreen’s to pick up some 1 liter disposable bottles.
We ate went back to the hotel to get everything else ready and headed down to the hotel pool to attempt to do a shakeout swim in their endless pool. That didn’t go over so well, lol. I kept running into the walls and felt like I was being pushed under. I ended up in the hot tub relaxing. We ate Denny’s for our pre-race dinner, pancakes, eggs and bacon, not the ideal pre-race dinner, but it was something we had both eaten before our long training days and all Denny’s are the same. I get stomach ache’s easily so Denny’s was a safe bet. We were in bed by 9, but sleep didn’t come easily. I think I got about 4 hours of sleep, due to nerves.
Morning Set-up and The Swim:
We woke up at 4:30 the morning of our race. Both still sick, but no fever. Race day was a go! We ate our breakfast, a pretzel roll (all I could stomach) and headed to Tempe Town Lake.
It was dark and transition was buzzing with athletes getting ready filling bottles, setting up their mats, squishing into wetsuits. I went straight to my transition area and got it set up quickly. Filled my bento box (more on that disaster later), bottles and got my mat set-up. I wish I had taken a picture of my set-up, but nerves were high.
We left transition and at 6:36 my fiance went off in his wave. I saw him off and then had to wait 1 hr 20 mins to my wave. I was excited to see him come out of the water and waited by the swim exit to wish him luck. I brought half of a bottle of water with me and wore my 1 dollar flip flops because I knew I’d have to use a port-a-potty and there was NO WAY I was going to go in there barefoot, even though I had seen several people do just that… My half of a bottle of water wasn’t enough to keep me from getting dry mouth, but I knew once I was in the water I’d be fine.
At 8:58 and my wave was treading water, waiting for the gun. The gun shot and we were off. I was pretty happy with the start. A bit of bumping around to get free but no real issues. I felt good the first length of the course. The water was 75.1 and I had opted to wear a wetsuit, mainly for peace of mind. I did drift to the right a bit as I was swimming, but I wasn’t too far off course. Overall my watch clocked me at 170 extra yards. Definitely not great, but I’ve done far worse.
I made it to the turn around and was exactly on pace for my estimated 43 minute time. The men’s 18-29 wave had also finally caught up to us. I was swam over and grabbed fairly hard a few times. The men definitely aren’t as nice as the ladies I was swimming with. We all did our best to avoid each other, guys just swim right over you, lol.
Around this time, I started to get pretty hot in my suit and sort of wished I had used my ROKA SIM shorts instead. My sighting was also a bit off on the last half which is where I picked up most of the extra yardage and I noticed major pain in my neck and finally realized my head had been way too far up the entire swim. In the pool I’m very conscious of my head placement but any concern for form went out the window with the gun. I tried to focus on my form for the last half of the swim, which helped with my neck and finally made it out of the water at 47:52, 34th in my division.
I kind of stumbled to the wetsuit strippers, as you can see in the picture, lol. Also shout-out to the awesome volunteers that started a wetsuit stripper station even though one had not been organized by the race, you guys are awesome! I honestly felt pretty drained from the swim. Normally I feel great after a swim. Today, I would have been happy to be done, but I had 69.1 miles and many hours to go.
T1 and The Bike:
After the wetsuit strippers, I tried to run to T1. I say tried because my legs felt so heavy it was more of a trudge/wobble. I made myself run through the carpeted area at a trot, mainly because there was a huge crowd of spectators and walked once I hit the grass up to my bike.
In T1 I got grabbed my half of pb&j and shoved it in my mouth and got my bike gear ready as fast as possible, chugged some water and ate a chia gel. T1 took me over 8 minutes. Where did the time go? Honestly I was so out of it, I don’t know. Definitely some room for improvement there.
I grabbed my bike, ran to the mount line and was off. I was so thankful transition was in a mostly grass area, it made it much easier to run with my bike shoes on. The bike course had almost 90 turns and more elevation gain than I had expected. My watch clocked it at 1,168 ft. I live and train in flat lands and picked this race because I just plain suck at hills. It was a “fast, flat course” according to the Ironman course description. *Note to self, Ironman flat is not Lindsey Flat.
For me it was neither flat nor fast. I fully admit I am terrible at hills cornering, something I plan on working on over winter. I got better at cornering throughout the day mainly because I started to care less and less about whether or not I fell, I just wanted off!
The first two loops were fine, albeit slow. I wasn’t as fast as my training, my average was almost 2 mph slower due to the mini hills and excessive turns, but I was okay. I took in a ton of water, used my salt and ate okay. My nutrition definitely needs some work. I only got 600 cals in all day, about 600 calories short of my planned nutrition goals.
Part of my nutrition issue stemmed from my bento box debacle. I have a hard time dealing with plastic baggies on the bike, so I had the brilliant (untested) idea to just stack all of my nutrition in the box neatly. My nutrition consisted of gummies, Gu chews, fruit leathers, a half of a peanut butter sandwich cut up really small and cut up lara bars. At first my plan was working perfectly, then everything sort of mixed together and it turned into a disgusting sticky mess. I grabbed gummies that were stuck to lara bars and oh man is that a heinous flavor! It made me avoid eating which really hurt my nutrition.
I also had the not so brilliant idea to keep my aero bottle, even though I didn’t have any bars mounted. I Macgyvered it to my bike, but it was basically useless. Leaning forward to drink out of it was not very easy without the bars. So if you’re thinking about doing something equally as foolish, don’t it’s not a good idea, lol.
The aid stations were great and really easy to navigate. I was slightly apprehensive about the aid stations prior to the race simply because I had never done anything like them, but they’re a breeze and the volunteers are all amazing. Just toss your empty bottles at the beginning of the aid station and grab what you need as you move through. Extra points for the naners guy at the second aid station you were selling those bananas hard!
The last loop wasn’t so fun. The course was very empty. I was in the second to last wave, so there were only a few slower athletes left along with myself and it was HOT! I grabbed extra bottles from the aid stations to dump all over myself and could not have been happier to see the dismount line as I rounded the last dreaded corner into transition.
T2 and The Run:
I finally made it to the dismount line and had never been more happy to get off my bike. I did have a hard time actually getting my leg over the stupid thing once stopped. My hip flexors seized up and didn’t want to move, but I managed. Finally separated from my metal steed I headed into transition.
T2 went okay. I wrestled getting my bike onto the full rack. Everything I needed for my run in a neat pile with my socks, nutrition and base salt inside my shoes ready to go. I took it all out of my shoes as I got ready but would realize at about mile 1 that I forgot my base salt, which really hurt me on the run. T2 took 5:32.
I headed out of transition and onto the run. For about a quarter mile I felt good, but that’s it. From there my run deteriorated. It was 95 degrees and HOT. The course had no shade, aside from a small section at the end of the 6.5 mile loop. The sun just radiated off the desert landscape and hot sidewalk. I had trained in 95 degree weather back in California and did okay. I don’t know if the AZ heat is worse or my cold had drained any power I had left in my body, but I could not handle it this time. I stuffed ice in my awesome Coeur bra at every aid station, tossed water over myself every chance I got and kept running ice cubes over my neck. I was soaking wet by the end of the race.
When I’m having a hard run, I like to bargain with myself. “Just run to that bridge and you can walk for 30 seconds.” I didn’t plan on bargaining with myself within the first mile, but that’s what happened. The entire 13.1 miles was me bargaining with myself to run. First it was, run a half a mile and you can walk, then a quarter, then a minute.
Before the race, I had planned on getting around a 7-7:15 finish time. My run started at around the 5 hour mark, plenty of time for me to come in under 8 hours, at the start of the second loop, I pretty much gave up on finishing under 8. I was mentally beaten. I knew even if I walked I’d still finish under the time limit and I was just done. The course was nearly empty, save the awesome volunteers and the heat was really getting to me. Waves of goosebumps were washing over my arms and my HR was in Zone 2 just walking. I was alone on the far side of the loop for a good mile. No one near me and it was really discouraging.
A woman I had passed earlier on the course finally caught up to me and I decided I’d finish the race with her. I might have been able to shave off 3-5 minutes had I pushed it and tried to continue on my own, but I was so happy for the company I didn’t care. I knew I was going to finish, the extra time didn’t matter to me anymore. We talked and ran/walked the final 5 miles. Suzanne, thank you for your company those last 5 miles you helped me more than you’ll ever know.
With .1 mile to go I turned the corner into the chute and saw my fiance. He finished in 7:36 and had been waiting around for me for at least a couple of hours. I was so happy to see him and that finish line. I ran over to him to wave high and then slowed down so I could cross the finish line with Suzanne. I finished at 8:13:39 with a run time of 3:14:23, second to
last in my age group and my slowest half marathon ever. Ironically the last woman in my age group was from my home town, I was quite disappointed I didn’t get to meet her.
After the race I was guided through the chute by the nice volunteers. They gave me my finisher’s hat and medal, water and took my timing chip. I was honestly pretty out of it, but managed to make it back to transition (guided by my fiance), gather my stuff and drive the mile back to the hotel before collapsing onto the bed for a good 30 minutes.
This race was certainly not what I was expecting, but this report is long enough. I’ll do a follow-up post with my after thoughts. For now, this is it in it’s entirety, my first Half Ironman.