Monday, February 8, 2016

Ironman Arizona Race Report - Chapter 2: Don't Crash

As I headed into transition, a volunteer passed my T1 bag to me as I went by (Thank you awesome volunteer!). From there, I was sheparded into the women’s change tent. I admit, it was nice to know exactly where the change tent was from volunteering in T2 last year – it meant I had one less thing to worry about.

I finished around 1/3 through the pack of swimmers  – so during the peak of the swim-exit curve I think. That's probably why the transition tent was a bit of a zoo with people blocking paths to all the chairs. Rather than try and find a seat, I dumped my bag of gear on a table at the front of the tent and changed while standing. This was incredibly awkward, but it also meant I didn’t get comfortable in transition. If I’d sat down, maybe I would’ve wanted to stay awhile!

Several volunteers asked me if I needed help, but I didn’t need any. My simple plan was to methodically go through what I needed and take my time so I didn’t forget anything. It was going to be a long ride after all.

For months I’d debated whether to do full changes in transition or to just stick with my tri-suit. In hindsight, I am extremely glad I decided to do full changes even if it took a lot of time. Given the day’s weather, putting on dry clothes was nice – even if my run gear was not so dry by the time I got to T2.

Got to love foreshadowing, right?

On the funny side, putting my dry sports bra on was a comedic challenge I wasn’t expecting since I’ve never had issues before. One volunteer noted me struggling and helped pull it down in back. What a lifesaver. (Thanks awesome volunteer!).

I put on my LPC bike jersey and shorts, got my socks, shoes, gloves, sunglasses and helmet on, and then started stuffing my wetsuit into my bag. When I was done, one of the volunteers said not to worry about the bag and shoed me out the tent flap.

I let the sunscreen volunteers put a bit on me – just in case the clouds cleared up. After all, I had this happen to me at Barrelman in 2014. It poured before the start and then got incredibly sunny on the bike. I was hoping for something similar at IMAZ.

Insert maniacal laugher here.

Outside of the change tent, I quickly got my bearings and started jogging toward my bike. I had a fantastic place in transition, practically in front of the Bike Exit sign. Thank goodness for that because transition was massive. I can understand how people can get lost in there. It only took me a second to find my bike and to start my ‘extra’ watch. Then I just had a few steps to get to the bike exit. 
T1 Time: 8:54

After seeing a crash right out of T1 last year, I was very careful riding out of Tempe Beach Park. I figured the first 500m would be the most difficult part of the ride and if I got out of there, I’d be good. And I was.
The exit onto Rio Salado from Tempe Beach Park...I'm not in this pic.
Once I hit Rio Salado, I stretched my legs for a bit and got into a comfortable groove. I was cheerful and full of energy. There were smiles.
First Loop: Felt great!

The ride out to the Beeline Highway went by pretty quick. As I made my way up to the turnaround for the first time (it was a 3 loop course), I felt very good despite a bit of a headwind. I was settled, confident and happy with what I was doing.
My big goal early on was not to push too hard – so I tried to slow down when I found myself riding faster than my goal average. It wasn’t a warm day, so I had to remind myself to drink regularly to get my CarboPro calories – and to eat a honey stinger chew once in a while as well.
Cactus giving the finger...foreshadowing of the weather to come?
The miles after the turnaround on the Beeline were the best part of the day. After spending 10 miles or so going uphill, I got to go downhill with the wind at my back. Because the Beeline isn’t very steep (it’s basically a false flat), I didn’t have to worry about the descent. I just held on a went as fast as I could go with the same effort as I’d been riding all the way along. I felt like I was flying.

I made it back to transition to start the second loop. Of course, I saw Barry Richards and my friends Paula and Karen out there. So great to know people – it really makes a difference!

I can’t remember exactly when it started to rain to be honest. I feel like it was right around the beginning of the second loop. I could see the clouds in the distance and they just kept on coming closer…grey, ominous and not very friendly looking given I was on my bike. I hate riding in the rain.

I started to hear little plinks on my helmet. That’s when I realized it was raining. Very quickly, those plinks got louder and louder, practically reverberating in my ears. For a little while I thought I was hearing hail given the sounds were so loud – but I’m pretty sure they were just rain drops. Looking at the road, the water droplets were bouncing it was hitting so hard.
Of course, there were no photographers on the course at this point. I swear all the official pictures make it look like we had a beautiful day.

Very quickly, the road became a wet mess. As I climbed the Beeline, I was hoping the rain would hurry up and stop. No such luck. I kept drinking from my Camelbak and got started into my honey stingers since the rain was filling my bento box. Lucky for me, the honey stinger chews didn’t melt into goo with the rain – they just became slippery.

As I turned to head back down the Beeline, I had an interesting choice to make…slow down or do what I did the first time – and just pedal as hard as the wind would carry me. The wind was picking up now – but it was still a tailwind.

Despite being a bit terrified, I decided to go with it.

This is where riding in the rain several times during my training really helped. First during a drafting clinic and triathlon clinic, then while on various rides over the summer - and finally when I did 80km as part of a cold, windy and very wet PwC Epic Tour in September.

With this experience going for me, I hunkered down over my handlebars and held onto my brakes for dear life. I zoomed down the Beeline at a similar speed to my first loop. I didn’t let go for anything. There was no eating, no drinking…just focusing on what I could see in the few feet ahead of me – and trying not to do anything that might surprise people coming behind. Interestingly, I actually passed a few people (not many) – which I thought was awesome. I smiled, laughed out loud a few times, and kept a running playlist of songs with the word ‘rain’ going in my head.

I kept reminding myself that I was there doing an Ironman in the desert and it was pouring rain. Blame it on me. I picked this race because it was going to be dry. I should know better!

On the way back into Tempe, I started to feel bad for the volunteers. The weather was not what any of them expected either. I am sure they were much colder than I was, given they weren’t moving!

I am pretty sure I saw Barry again on this loop – and, as I went around the turn to start my second lap, there was my dad! My friend Paula actually got a picture of him in the Bike VIP tent - although when I saw him, he was outside braving the wet!
My Dad patiently waiting to catch sight of me
I admit, seeing my Dad made my day and got me revved up for my last loop. I saw Karen and Paula again on this lap as well I think. In fact, Paula got a picture of me.
Proof it was raining - Thanks Paula!
On the way up the Beeline for the third time, the rain stopped for a while. This gave me a nice (if short) reprieve – although the wind was picking up, so I felt my pace dropping on the uphill to the turnaround. I figured that was okay though since I’d still have the wind at my back on the way down.

Around this time, I saw a lovely rainbow in the distance. That made me smile and push a bit harder. I took it as a sign I was going to finish. Wish I could have taken a picture of it!

Midway through the last loop was when I started to feel incredibly stiff. It was a chore just to let go of my handlebars at various points. But I peeled my fingers off regularly to stretch them out - and did my best to keep fueled and hydrated.

I am proud of how far I’ve come with respect to eating and drinking on the bike. Less than 6 months earlier, I still wasn’t able to take my hands off my handlebars. Here’s to my coach’s diligence in keeping me practicing that skill until I finally, finally had it.

As I approached the turnaround for the last time, the rain started up again. Yippee! As I turned around, I decided to do the same thing I’d done on the second loop: I pushed as hard as I could down the hill and ignored everything but the road in front of me.
Official pic from near the end of the bike.
At one point I passed a bike crash. Several people had already stopped to help. I was given a wave so I kept going. As I glanced at the girl on the ground from the corner of my eye, I felt badly since it was pretty clear she wasn’t going to be finishing the race that day. I just hope she was okay overall.

Needless to say, I was a bit more cautious the last stretch. My hands felt glued to my handlebars at this point and my elbows and forearms ached a lot – no doubt from tension (what a weird thing to hurt during an Ironman, right?). My legs felt pretty good oddly enough.

A few kilometers from town, I approached the bridge over Tempe Town Lake. I went to shift gears but my fingers weren’t moving very well. A second later, I felt the tell-tale looseness that said I’d dropped my chain.

I quickly came to a stop, jumped off, quickly flipped the chain back on, then got going again. The entire incident took maybe 30 seconds.

Aside: Getting my chain back on was the only time I stopped during the entire IMAZ bike leg. To be honest, I was so afraid that if I stopped in the rain, I’d have a problem getting started again.

The last few km into transition were almost surreal. I teared up, knowing that even if I suddenly had 3 flat tires, I could walk my bike to transition.  Every km closer that I got, I breathed a bit easier.
Official picture...close to the end
As I approached transition, it must have been the cut-off time for people starting the third loop of the bike. I had to watch as two different people were stopped from proceeding by an official. Watching them made me realize how lucky I was to have no real issues on that bike ride, despite the rain.

Riding into Tempe Beach Park, I realized that I was going to do this.

As I wobbled to a stop at the dismount line and handed my bike off to a volunteer, I knew that I had enough time to walk every step of the marathon and still finish before midnight.

I knew – regardless of what happened on the run (and I certainly tested that out as you will see in the next chapter) – that I was going to do this.
I was going to be an Ironman.

Final bike time: 6:48:05 (48/120 AG, 285/765 women, and 1484/2676 overall)

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