Okay, first, the short version:
WINDY and HOT - in that order.
And the longer version:
So there I was, on September 12, 1974, emerging from my mother's womb, and I thought to myself, "You know, someday it might be cool to travel 2.4 miles in fluid that is not unlike the stuff I've been floating in for the past nine months, though perhaps somewhat colder, to spend 112 miles on a pretty metal thing that rolls on two round shiny things, and then to balance on my own feet and use my legs to propel myself 26.2 miles." What can I say - I was ambitious as a newborn. Okay, I suppose I should jump ahead a bit...
I was among the first in the water as they prepared to get the throng of age-groupers into position for the mass start. I wanted to get a good spot on the line, which I did, right at the front (I guess I'm still ambitious - but I'm a pretty solid swimmer, too). It was an amazing sight behind me - a sea of blue and pink swim caps behind me while hundreds of nervous wetsuit-clad bodies continued to pour like lemmings from the dock into the water. I can only imagine how awesome it must have looked for the spectators on the bridge above us.
After the national anthem (which, surprisingly, followed rather than preceded the pro start), the cannon boomed, and we were off. If you're thinking about an Ironman and want a taste of what this kind of mass start is like, do the Pier-to-Pier swim in August. Arms and legs were everywhere as everyone pushed for swimming room, and the first mile or so was spent getting sorted out according to speed - both passing and getting passed in a mass movement that I can only describe as somewhere between a dance and a bar brawl. Oh, and then there was the added challenge of spending the first half swimming almost directly into the sun. My swim was actually pretty uneventful, except for the guy I had to push away as he tried to climb on top of me (it did bring back fond memories of my water polo days, though).
SWIM TIME: 1:02:45
(average pace 1:40/100m)
At this point, I want to give a shout out to the volunteers - they are amazing, and they are EVERYWHERE at the Ironman (and they included some of our own LA Tri members - Riptide Ray, Elisa, and Lisa, thank you!) - the event really wouldn't be possible without them. As soon as you exit the water, you're sent down an assembly line - getting your wetsuit stripped, being handed your T1 bag, guided into the changing tent, helped with whatever you needed in there, guided out to another group waiting to slather sunscreen on you, and finally directed right to your bike. I will say that I took my time in the transitions - heck, I knew it was going to be a long day, so I didn't want to rush the little things. I, perhaps, could have even taken a bit longer to make sure all exposed areas were properly sunscreened, as the burn on the small of my back can attest...
T1 TIME: 7:55
For those of you not familiar with the Arizona course, it's a 3 loop, relatively flat, out-and-back course. I say relatively because the long stretch out Beeline Hwy (I think about 10 miles) is a slight incline - not a hill, but certainly an incline. And, historically, the race has either been windy OR hot, and the forecast called for a high of 95, so all of us expected no more than a slight breeze...
So as I proceeded out on the course, I immediately noticed that something was amiss. There was no breeze. There was wind. A headwind. About 15-20 MPH pushing against you. All the way out. Up the incline. And, at this point, the air temperature was probably only about 85 degrees, but you can imagine how that felt in the desert sun on asphalt. And it got worse on the second and third loops.
At this point, I should probably mention the first lesson I learned - as you pass an aid station, if you think you could, maybe, use the porta-john, just do it. It's a long race. Don't tell yourself that you can just wait for the next aid station. Let's just say that I spent a majority of the race with slightly soiled tri-shorts (fortunately only slightly!).
Lesson two: even if you don't like Gatorade now, you may be better off training yourself to like it and use it, since it's offered at all of the aid stations. About 7/8 of the way through the first loop, I still had 2 full bottles of the EFS I had trained on in my behind-the-seat bottle cages, or perhaps I should say "bottle launchers"... Right after crossing under an overpass, I hit a junction of concrete and asphalt that was not so smooth, and the two bottles I was going to rely on to get me to the Bike Special Needs (and the three more bottles of EFS waiting for me there) disappeared into the desert. Incidentally, I'm sure I'm not the only one this happened to, as, on later loops, that particular section was coned off. Fortunately, I had plenty of gel with me - enough, with water and salt pills, to get me to Special Needs at around mile 60.
There were two things that I was very glad I had invested in prior to the race. First, a power meter on my race wheels - by watching this, I was able to keep my power (and, thus, effort) constant, whether headwind or tailwind, incline or decline. This allowed me to watch people blow themselves up, passing me slightly, going into the wind up the incline on Beeline Hwy - they'd be so tired at the turnaround that they'd essentially have to coast down to recover. I, instead, maintained a steady 200-220 watts, and ended up blowing by them at 30 MPH on the way down, putting far more time and distance on them than they had on me on the way up. Second, and this came in handy for the run as well, was a set of De Soto Cool Wings - they're arm coolers that connect together across your shoulders - and not only did they keep the sun off, but, when you got them wet, I swear, it was like wearing air conditioning - I did the Soma half-Ironman in Tempe last October, in similar temperatures, and this was so much more comfortable.
At this point, I should probably mention the other big difference I noticed between the Ironman and other triathlons I've done - the spectators. The number of people (like Lawrence Fong, Brian Melekian, and my mom) who came out to support friends and family in the desert heat was simply amazing. And most cheered for everyone, in many cases by name, since it is printed right on your race number! It was simply invigorating to pass through the Ironman Village area, where the majority were amassed - and you got to do it three times on the bike and six times on the run.
BIKE TIME: 5:45:29
(average power 209 watts, average pace 19.5 MPH)
And, finally, happy to be out of the wind, I was back at the transition area with the amazing volunteers - I first handed my bike off to be valet parked and ran with my T2 bag into the changing tent. Here I followed a great piece of advice that Ian Murray gave me - I took an extra minute (or three) to clean and dry my feet off, put Body Glide between my toes, and put on a fresh pair of socks before slipping on my running shoes. Unfortunately, I didn't follow a piece of advice a few others had given me - that I'd hate running with a Fuel Belt, even if I had trained with it. So I put my Fuel Belt on, had more sunscreen slathered on me, and headed for the run course.
T2 TIME: 10:46
Something just lovely happened right around the time I transitioned from bike to run (yes, I'm being sarcastic...) - someone turned off the wind machine and turned up the thermostat - to about 95 degrees. At this point, I should mention that I'm not a small guy (6'4", 205 lbs on race day - officially a Clydesdale) - I don't do well in heat. And those of you who know me probably know that the run is not my event. Bottom line: the first seven miles were miserable for me. I had even laid off on the bike on the last half of the last lap to give my legs a chance to get ready for the run, but they just weren't having it, so I split this time between running and walking. Also, in spite of the fact that I was wearing it, my body just didn't want the EFS (sports drink) that I had planned to use - it wanted something else, so I started having an orange slice at every aid station, and, at the third aid station, Coke as well (and following the Macca school of thought from our LA Tri Club meeting with him last year, I had been off caffeine for 4 weeks before the race to give it an extra kick).
Back to the amazing volunteers - for about 3 or 4 days before the race, my upper back had been tight - by the time I got to the run, it was pretty uncomfortable - but there was actually a massage area set up in the first aid station. I took advantage of it on the first and third loops - they quickly loosened me up and had me on my way each time, feeling much better!
So, somewhere around mile 7, maybe the Coke had kicked in or my legs had just loosened up - I don't know - but it noticeably began to hurt more to walk than to run, so I just started running - and it felt better and better. From then on, I only walked at the aid stations, to refuel, and on the steeper rises (fortunately they weren't very long) - and, as time went on, less and less on those.
I liked Ian's advice about changing socks so much that I decided to follow it again at the Run Special Needs at mile 11.5 - I cleaned my feet, Body Glided between my toes, and changed my socks. By the way, it worked fabulously - it may also be that I now have better fitting shoes and my feet are more used to longer run distances - but I had no blisters at all at the end of the race. And I used to have huge problems with blisters, even on 10Ks! I also followed and portion of the Macca school of thought - Red Bull. And it did give me wings! By the next mile, I was running strong, slowing down only for the aid stations, and that lasted all the way to mile 22, when my legs suddenly decided that they'd had it.
The sun set as I walked from mile 22 to mile 24 - and, at that point, I decided that I wanted to try to finish while there was still light in the sky, so I started running again by sheer force of will. Knowing how close the finish line was, I had a huge smile on my face, and I moved faster and faster as I came into, and through, the Ironman Village, and the waiting crowds, to the finish line. I didn't beat the sunlight, but I did actually sprint the last 200 yards, buoyed by the cheering masses surrounding the line, and, yet, at the same time, in my own world, finishing this race against myself. I was so happy and thankful to be there, and in such a daze, that I didn't even hear Mike Reilly declare what I, in that moment, already knew to be true: that I am an Ironman.
RUN TIME: 5:21:44
(average pace 12:17/mi)
TOTAL TIME: 12:28:36