Sunday, November 30, 2008

Iron Redemption: An Ironman Arizona Race Report

I went in to Ironman Arizona seeking two things, redemption and an Iron distance PR. I was determined to give it my best shot or blow up trying. Well, as it happens I did not get the IM PR and I did blow up trying but in the end I found redemption.

The morning started off well and I was feeling pretty good. The water temperature was about 64 degrees and the air temperature was about 55. IMAZ begins with a deep water start and is a single, long rectangle. I positioned myself inside and to the front and was swimming well from the start. I really didn’t have many issues until maybe the last half-mile when I started getting hit and grabbed a lot. At first I wondered why everyone was suddenly swimming all over the place and then realized that it was actually me. My relative lack of recent swim training began to show and I was losing my form and weaving from right to left. I was still able to hold on for a decent swim time of 1:11:57.

Once out of the swim I entered the dreaded IMAZ transition area, a transition area that must be the longest in the world of triathlon and appears to be getting longer and more complex every year. Amazingly I got through T1 in 7:49, much faster than I had anticipated.

Finally out of transition I entered the bike and I must say I love the new entrance to the bike course, which is a fenced off chute through throngs of people. You feel like you are riding the Tour. Out on the bike I was disappointed to find there was more wind than we had originally thought there would be but it still wasn’t nearly as bad as I faced in 2007. As I had said in my last post I was committed to trying for a PR so I pushed the bike to what I thought were my reasonable upper limits. In IMAZ 20007 I had a disastrous race specifically because I began my ride with a HR of about 176 and I kept it there even while knowing it was WAY too high. I have taken to keeping my HR in the upper 130s to low 140s for at least the first 30 miles of the bike and then I’ll move up from there as I can. This time out I tried to keep my HR pegged at the upper 140s from the beginning and every once in a while I would see it drift into the lower 150s and I would force myself to slow down.

Once out on the course I was moving pretty well and actually passing a few people, which I usually don’t do in an Iron distance race, at least not until around mile 90. As with most Ironman races the bike was a bit crowded in the beginning and there was some obvious drafting going on but during lap two something happened that really pissed me off. I was riding uphill out on the B-Line and there was a group of three cyclists just ahead of me, one of which I had been going back and forth with for the last few miles. The group wasn’t drafting each other or anything it was just some people relatively close together in a lot of empty space and I was at the tail end. Guy number three was the guy I had been going back and fourth with and I didn’t recognize guys 1 and 2. The line was moving just a little slower than I wanted so I started moving up to pass and just as I closed in on guy 3 he pulled out to pass guy 2. So it proceeded, guy 3 continued his pass on guy 2 and I pulled out a bit further and continued my pass on guy 3 and guy 2. While this was occurring guy 2 called out to me and said “Hey Pilgrim, stop drafting” (my name was on my back). I said, “I’m not drafting” and guy 2 said “Ahh, come on.” And I continued my pass and passed guy one and went on my way but I was really angry about having been accused of cheating. I actually couldn’t shake the negative feeling for maybe an hour or more.

So, let me explain what happened out on the course and why I had such difficulty shaking my anger at the situation. First, you have 4 non-drafting cyclists and cyclist 4 (me) goes to pass #3. I have 20 seconds under WTC rules to complete my pass of #3. Once I enter #3s draft zone I must complete the pass or I will be drafting. Just because 3 also pulls out to pass #2 does not matter, I still have to pass but now because #3 is moving into #2s draft zone I am now committed to pass #2 as well because I can not back out of #3s zone or else I will be drafting. It was while #3 was passing #2 and I was still trailing #3 slightly when #2 accused me of drafting, which I was not because it had not been 20 seconds. I did complete my pass of #3 once the plane of my front wheel broke the plane of his front wheel, it is now #3s responsibility to fall out of my drat zone. I then went on to pass #1 and went on my way. As far as my actions are concerned it was all perfectly legal.

So here is what angered me. The simple accusation would have been annoying but no big deal. However, as many of you are aware the recent cheater caught with fins at Ironman Florida has raised a furor in the triathlon community. This furor has lead to a post on Everyman Triathlon that was calling for an anti-cheating campaign beginning with the November IMAZ. There was a call for people to take pictures of “cheaters” and expose them by posting the images on the web. I don’t want to see cheating in our sport, I’m a ref after all, but I sure as hell don’t want to see vigilante justice running rampant. There are some situations that are very obvious, some situations that are ambiguous unless you are an observer with a stop watch and some situations that can’t be observed at all. How many armature Kona qualifiers are juiced? I would like to hope none but the fact is we don’t know. We don’t need McCarthyism in our sport. If you really want to get rid of cheating you need to put pressure on race directors to increase the number of refs at races, be more patient after races to allow refs the chance to cover the entire race. Right now there is enormous pressure for the refs to have all penalties in shortly after the bike so that by the time most runners are done the results can be ready to go. All I am saying is there is a lot that athletes should do to protect the integrity of the sport but vigilante justice is absolutely not one of those things.

Anyway, now I’m off my soap box. By the time I got off the bike I ended up with an average HR of 146 and an Iron distance bike split PR of 5:52:31…Yea! I rolled in to T2 and was out in 4:47, not too bad.

I began my run feeling surprisingly strong with no discomfort at all. I actually had to force myself to slow down a number of times in the first three or four miles because my HR was getting to high. I made it through my first of three loops in record time but I was beginning to slow down. Because of my knee injury I have been only doing runs of 5 to 6 miles on dirt trails knowing that if my knee got better I stood a better chance of a good run than if I went to IMAZ injured. My fear was that I would wear out too fast and that is basically what happened. About 80% of the IMAZ run is on concrete sidewalks and I was also de-conditioned to running on hard surfaces. I felt pretty beaten up during my second lap but was able to stage a bit of a comeback during lap three. At some point, maybe two miles from the finish, I was done. My feet and legs were hurting and I couldn’t do much more than walk. My final run time ended up being 5:55 and a few seconds, not my worst IM run but not my best.

My total time was 13:12:25. Out of 7 Ironman finishes this is my 3rd best time so I am pretty happy. I have been doing these for a while and I knew my four races were slower than my potential. My last three races have been this one at 13:12, Vineman at 12:47 and IMCdA at 12:31. I am thinking that these times are about what I should expect from a “standard” course. I could probably go faster if I trained harder and raced less but I’m not sure I am all that motivated to do that. I do not think I can cut off enough time to qualify for Kona so what’s the point. There are some people who are mostly driven by a need to do better and so they train hard, rest properly and race the same courses always going for a better time. Me, I’m really about the experience and while I want to do well I mostly want to see lots of places and people, which brings me to the last thing I want to say about my race.

This is the second time I have raced IMAZ and the last time I had a terrible race so I was out for redemption, revenge on the course so to speak. I got that but here’s the thing, I really didn’t get any pleasure out of it. I was just out there for 13 hours working. I got a little charge the last couple hundred yards of the run heading in to the finish chute and of course I appreciated the volunteers but my enjoyment was low all day. I have raced IMAZ twice and Soma, much of the same course, two or three times. I am just sick of racing in Tempe, which kind of sucks because I have some good Tri buds in the Phoenix area, but there it is. I don’t think I’ll be back for a long while, at least not for triathlon.

I can recognize that I had a kick ass season and despite some of my negativity about this race it really was a pretty good ending. Even with a body that was totally beaten down and motivation that was stretched to the breaking point I did pull off a decent time in a season ending Ironman. I also got to see fellow Outlaw Cody complete his first Iornman and while I missed their finishes, fellow Outlaws Michi and Hartly also became first time Ironmen.

Next up, Bandera 100K on January 10th. Some have said it is the hardest trail race in Texas…we’ll see.


  1. Congrats on another IM finish, especially considering some of the issues you faced out there.

    I think I understand what you feel about racing in Tempe, since I feel the same way about racing here at home. I've done all the races I really want to do many times over and it feels more like work than fun.

    If you're not in it for the money, it needs to be for fun, so go with what will make you happy.

  2. Yay! I realize that as first comment and the most pesty person about getting a race report I look like a complete stalker. Sorry about that.

    Nice close to a great season!

    "I’m really about the experience and while I want to do well I mostly want to see lots of places and people..."

    That is what it is really all about. You already have a pretty great job, you don't need to make a living doing this. ;o)

    That really pisses me off about that guy accusing you of drafting. I think you are 100% right and it is an overreaction to the fin guy. I think it is rude to accuse someone of cheating in that situation or really, in my opinion, in any situation of you are not a race official. 1. You were clearly NOT cheating and 2. even IF the dude thought 20 seconds had elapsed what disadvantage was 2 seconds of drafting giving him?

    Sounds like a guy whose race was not going as well as he would have liked and he decided it must be someone else's fault and he chose you since you were dropping his ass. :o)

  3. Ha! My comment took so long I wasn't first comment! So I am not a stalker just verbose.

  4. Anonymous12:22 AM

    Hey thanks so much for this. Keep em posts coming, find them so interesting. Anyways where did you take your swimming lessons ? I'm keen to take it up while I'm still young.

  5. Very well done SB!

  6. Great job out there.

    I like your perspective on it.

    "I’m really about the experience and while I want to do well I mostly want to see lots of places and people..."

    That is what it is really ALL about!


    Rock and Roll Phoenix?

  7. Anonymous5:51 PM

    I know what you mean about going and racing different places. I've only done 1 Ironman, but my next one won't be the same race... where's the excitement in that???

    Well done on a fantastic season - it sure has been long... in every sense of the word.

  8. Well, that's beat, Baboo. Congratulations on keeping your cool, and delivering on your race plan.

  9. Don't worry about others shouting about drafting. If you felt you didn't draft, you didn't. There was some really blatant peloton action going with refs hardly calling penalties. On another note, running with a bum knee sucks. I did the same and was happy just to finish.

  10. Congratulations on your 7th Ironman!

    Quite honestly I'm still confused about the whole drafting thing. I've seen the start of the bike on Ironman Wisconsin twice now, there's too many people not to draft! Anyway, is cheating that rampant? I know all about the fin guy but a case like that hardly means "everybody" is doing it. Those calling for pictures are ridiculous, a picture can make everybody look like their drafting if taken at a time when passing or something.

  11. I am impressed that you were able to even compete with the number of miles in your body this year. Truly an endurance machine.

    You had me laughing.

    What's up with all these people grabbing and shoving me while swimming? Don't they know how to hold their line?
    Opps! Its me, not them.

    Funny stuff!

  12. Glad you got so much out of it - you more than deserve to based upon what you've put in!

  13. I live in AZ, and I won't race here... All our races are the same! I had a brief moment of desire to do IMAZ after seeing all the crazy fast splits, but again it was brief!

    Congrats on a crazy/sucessful racing year!

  14. Hmm... a little birdie said something about some REALLY good news, yet, I see no mention of it here.

    I am bummed that I can't do Rocky Raccoon this year. Honestly I don;t think I could get ready by then and if I don't get my swimming and biking up to par I will have a VERY short day come IMCdA.