Friday, December 25, 2009

IMAZ: The Novelization

Note: OK, Here's the last post. I give you the full "War & Peace" version of the IMAZ Race Report.

Wow! This event was so huge and I have so many thoughts that have gone through my head before, during and afterward, that I almost can't formulate a coherent explanation. To some degree the ironman must be experienced directly by the individual to truly understand the enormity of it all.

Mad Men (Not as in "angry," but as in "crazy," "overly nervous," or "insane")

I'd like to say that the flight from Fort Lauderdale to Phoenix was uneventful, but would ignore the fun event that Southwest puts on with its open seating process. John & I both forget to check in early and end up with dreaded "B" boarding passes. By the time we get to board for our connection in Nashville, the only seats available on the plane are those dreaded middle seats. I end up in the very last row of the plane.

The flight itself was uneventful, but at the rental car building the rental car agent makes the mistake of asking me how my day is going and I go all Larry David on her about the Southwest boarding system. She tells me that she likes Southwest and looks at me like I'm nuts. John chimes in that we are in Arizona for the Ironman and I'm clearly on edge with nervous energy for the event, which is probably a dead on psychological analysis.

We get to the Mission Palms Hotel to check in. We lug our bags across a courtyard, up the elevators to the 4th floor to go to our room. On getting out of the elevators, we can't help but notice that the floor is a dusty mess with crew of about 6 to 8 construction workers tearing out the wall paper in the halls and pasting up new wall paper. We go to the other end of the hall to where our room is to see if its far enough away from the wall paper job in place, but decide this is unacceptable. John has an asthma condition and doesn't want to risk inhaling dust and smelling wall paper paste. I concur. We go back to registration and get a new room in the front end of the hotel on the 3rd floor. Don't get me wrong, the Mission Palms was a lovely hotel and definitely the place to stay for this event, but it was another of those hurdles on our travel day that made us wonder what else could go wrong. I found out soon enough.

We decide to go over to Tempe Beach Park, the site of the transition area, the registration area, shopping tent, and where TriBike Transport has our bikes. We go through the registration area and pick up our race numbers, chip, and sign away our right to hold anyone legally accountable for our choice in doing this event should we become injured or worse. Since this is the first of 2 days to pick up registration packets, the lines are tolerable and we get through the lines fairly quickly. As we mill about the area, you get the feeling that you are at a superhero convention. There are so many extremely fit people on bikes and walking around that you wonder if you even belong in this group. This does nothing to ease our nervous energy.

We stop by the clothing sales tent and browse the goods. There is every conceivable shirt, bike jersey, tri clothing, sweat shirt and tee shirt containing the Arizona Ironman logo. Pretty cool stuff and you could spend a fortune. Unfortunately, John got to the tent a bit before me and informs me that one of the sales staff informed him that there is lots of inventory and that everything will be available throughout the next three days. John suggests that we not waist our time making purchases at this time, but wait until after the event. I think that John is somewhat superstitious about buying logo wear before completing the event. In order to support my buddy, and on his assurances that there will be plenty of inventory in the next several days, we leave the tent without making any purchases.

We go over to the TriBike Transport tent to pick up our bikes. I'm the kind of guy that likes to "pack his own parachute" as they say, so having given my bike to a third party company to ship across the country to the race sight along with my gear bag felt like letting go of a trapeze swing, flying through the air and relying on another high wire artist to catch me on the other side. I'm happy to report that the guys at TriBike Transport are top notch and our bikes and gear bags arrived as promised and in good shape. John & I pump our tires and John has the TriBike guys put on his pedals and check out his bike. Having berried my peddles deep in my gear bag, I decide to walk my bike the 7/10ths of a mile back to the hotel to work on. As I walk my bike back, I hear what sounds like a gun shot and realize my back tire has blown out. I later realize I must have pinched the tube in putting on new tires just before shipping the bike out. Not TriBike's fault, but another in what looks like a series of unnatural warnings regarding the event if I were superstitious, which I'm not.

We go to dinner at Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant at which we do not sample any of the micro brews. John, being single, chats up the young college aged waitress. Not wanting to seem like a deadbeat, I join in on the banter. As the waitress departs with our order, John chastises me for cutting in on his banter with the waitress. Hey, harmless banter is all we married guys are allowed, but I apologise anyway. I got to learn to be a better wing man. After 23 years of marriage, I'm way out of practice. Anyway, the food was good and I catch the Dolphins beating the Carolina Panthers on the TV that I can see over John's shoulder.

After dinner, we head back to our room. I work on getting my bike and tires in order, while John works on sorting out his nutrition bags and starts comparing both his own notes, our friend Jerry's notes and the nutrition section of his "Bible," Going Long by Joe Friel & Grodon Byrn. He starts doing careful calculations of the goos, electrolyte tablets, Cliff Bars, and other assorted food products and drinks he will carry and have in his "Special Needs Bag" at drops on the bike and run courses. When I'm done getting my bike in order, I start to take note of the vast volume of food, drink and nutrition products that John believes we need to ingest in order to survive this event. Its a boat load of stuff that looks like it could sustain a family of four for a month. As I start to question John about such a large number of calories, he starts laying out the calculation of per hour calorie consumption predicted by the Bible and the actual calorie count of each product.

I think it necessary to point out at this time that John & I take different approaches to our training and preparation for this event. John reads everything he can get his hands on, speaks with several people who have done these events to get advice on every aspect of the ironman, and takes copious notes on all of this information. In other words, he is very focused on detail, does thorough research and takes copious notes along the way. Very analytical. Too analytical in my view. I take more of an intuitive approach to the event. I practiced the pieces of the event, tried the level of nutrition I felt I needed to get through the bike and run portions, and planned to repeat this level of eating and drinking for the event as done in practice. But with John showing me hard data, I begin to seriously doubt that we have any idea of what consumption is necessary for an ironman event.

OK, time for panic mode. I start gathering together my food and nutrition products and start to separate the various groupings I'll need to eat during the early portion of the bike, the restock of goods to place in the special needs bag, what to put in my run belt, and what to put in the run special needs bag. We are both overwhelmed by the amount of food it looks like we will need to consume for this event. It suddenly feels like we gathered supplies for the pioneer crossing from St. Louis to California and under purchased. I have my various nutrition parcelled between my various bags. John puts all of his nutritional goods aside to do another set of calculations the next day and reconfigure his goods. Before turning in for the night, I plug my Garmin 305 into the bathroom socket to charge it for the run portion of the ironman.


When we awake Friday morning, I discover that my Garmin 305 appears to be dead. I ask John whether he saw any Garmin booth at the expo the last 2 days, but he reminds me that he noted the absence of one and I had informed him that with Timex as a sponsor, Garmin was probably not allowed to set up a booth at the expo.

After a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee at Starbucks, we pack our triathlon gear bags with our wet suits and towels to go down to Tempe Town Lake to practice the swim. Its not that we need to practice swimming at this point, its that we know the water is supposed to be pretty cold (around 63 degrees) and do not want to be surprised at the coldness of the water on race day. As we approach the water, we start asking other swimmers how the water feels. "Really cold" seems to be the common response. No real help, but about what we expected to hear. I start talking to a woman in a wet suit who turns out to be from Pompano Beach, Florida, a mere 5 miles north of where I live. John & I make friends with this woman named Maria who has previously done Ironman Florida. While changing into our wetsuits, we meet another experienced woman named Kim from Colorado. I jokingly mention that doing the half ironman led us to doing the full and wondered what the full opens the door to doing. Kim replies, "Oh, that's easy: Ultra marathons." "I don't know about that," I reply. "OK," Kim says, "How about the rim to rim run of the Grand Canyon?" I had just read an article from John's copy of Marathon & Beyond magazine on the flight over about the rim to rim run. "Sounds like fun," I say, "but I'd want to go with someone who has done it before as a guide." "Oh, I'm in a group that goes every summer," Kim responds. I give her my card to contact me, but I'm not sure I could handle to rigours of the altitude or temperature change.

After suiting up, along with a dive hoodie, I note that John is still talking to yet more people asking about the water. Assuming that this is simply a delay tactic for what he knows will be unpleasant, I head to the waterfront along and walk down the steps to the water. As I jump into the water, it feels like I've jumped into a glass of ice water full of ice cubes. I swim just to get over the cold. While somewhat startling at first, I start to acclimate to the water. I swim east in the direction of the start buoy for Sunday's swim. I swim 10 minutes out and 10 back. Good enough to get the feel of it I think. As I come out of the water, I can't find John and figure he made it into the water for his swim. I change back into shirt and shorts and spy a guy wearing an Alaska bike jersey. I introduce myself and inquire if he knows any of my Anchorage running buddies (he doesn't). He introduces me to his wife and twin 18 year old son and daughter. He has done one other ironman event, and his wife and son are joining him in this event. I tell him that there is no way in Hell that my 18 year old son would join me in this endeavor.

After dropping our swim gear back to the hotel, we walk over to Hooters for lunch. On the walk over, John announces that he doesn't think he'll join me in my search for a new Garmin. I express my disappointment in his lack of support for my situation. He asks if I'm going to get all teary eyed over the issue. No, I inform him, I just have to factor in his lack of mutual support when his snoring has me awake for another night. Perhaps I'll not resist the urge to smother him with his pillow. This leads to a whole bit about who will smother whom with a pillow first. I tell him he may be doing me a favor by smothering me with my pillow prior to the ironman on Sunday. Our humor this day is based on little jabs against each other that is clearly based on nervous energy and the fact that we've been training together for an entire year. I tell John I've already got training buddy divorce papers drafted to be served on him when this event is over.

After lunch, John decides to rest while I gear up in bike gear to take my bike for a test ride. I ride over to the bike course and hook up with a group of riders from California. As we ride, I note that even in this early afternoon heat, my arms are kind of chilly. Good, I think, it won't get too hot on the ride on Sunday. As we return from the outward portion of our ride, one of the guy riders tells me he did this event last year when it was held in April. He informs me that he did not finish. This causes me a little concern in that he looks like a very capable bicyclist. He explains that he got behind the cutoff time in the swim and was working hard to avoid the bike and run cut off times the rest of the day. Knowing that John is concerned about the swim cut off time, I choose not to discuss this story with him upon my return to the room.

After a few hours rest in the room, we had over to Tempe Arts Park for a welcome dinner that is part of the registration fee and package. We meet other athletes, get our pasta and salad and head over to a large group of tables in front of a presentation stage. There are 2,800 participants registered and along with family and friend support there are probably 3,500 people at the dinner. Mike Reilly, the announcer for all of the Ford Ironman events, is the MC for the evening. Mike informs us that there are over 1,000 participants doing a full ironman for the first time. He informs all us newbies that come Sunday night, we will be ironmen. All us newbies laugh nervously, not so sure that we will get the job done. Mike then calls up the oldest and the youngest participants. The oldest male is a guy named Ed who informs us that "Half of my friends are dead, the other half are in assisted living facilities, and I'm here having fun!" The youngest male turns out to be the 18 year old Alaskan I met that morning. Mike also plays "The Biggest Loser" game by having everyone stand up that lost 10 pounds in training for this event. He then starts to up the ante by 10 pound increments. The winning weight loss ended up being over 110 pounds. When Mike questions the guy, he offers to show Mike his driver's licence showing him the before picture. Of course, we are all amazed and applaud this guy. The prize: a year supply of cookies. Health cookies mind you, but cookies none the less.

Mike then introduces the crowd to Rudy, a double leg amputee that took up triathlons because he started trying to do activities that they said he wouldn't be able to do. He had worked his way up to the ironman distance and had just attempted the Hawaii Ironman in Kona in October. Rudy had failed to meet the 17 hour cut off in Kona and was in Arizona to give it another shot. We give Rudy a standing ovation. After Mike Reilly is done inspiring us, the race director and sub-directors give us briefings on the course and various ways the we can be penalized or disqualified from the event on Sunday. After returning to our hotel, we finalize our gear bags and special needs nutrition bags for drop off Saturday morning.


John heads over to Starbucks for breakfast before me. I take a shower and get to Starbucks a half hours after John. I find him talking to a woman that I think he's just met. After ordering food and coffee, I approach and ask if the other seat at their table is taken. It turns out the woman is Maria from Pompano Beach whom I didn't recognize in normal clothing. People definitely look different in a full wetsuit and hoodie. We get advice from Maria who had previously done Ironman Florida and arrange to meet for an early dinner.

After breakfast, we return to our room and gather our gear bags and bikes for drop off at the transition area. I oil and lube my chain and gears before heading out. I offer John my oil and lube bottles, but he refuses my offer wanting to rely on the professional bike mechanics at the transition area. Suddenly, the lubes and sprays that we have shared over the last several months doesn't seem like a good idea to John. "To each there own," I think. I pass it off as a nervous mistake on John's part. Why rely on your buddy when you've got professionals around? After dropping our gear bags and setting our bikes up, we talk to an athlete that informs us that he was told that what was at the souvenir tent was all the stock that was available. When we return to the tent, we find most of the clothing that is not in odd sizes is gone. Oh well, at least I got a few items the day before.

We decide to go shopping for some extra food and supplies we will need for Sunday. We stop by a bike shop for extra tubes, air cartridges, and a pair of arm warmers for me. We find a pizza joint that serves spaghetti with meatballs, a find a store for food, and a running store where I get a Garmin 310 (the new waterproof ones you can wear during the entire ironman event). On our return to the hotel, I get a call that my family has arrived on their flight out to Phoenix and will meet me in an hour or so. John decides to take in a movie.

When my wife Salome, son Alex, and mother-in-law Kiki arrive, I walk them to the expo and show them the lake we will swim in and the transition area. Salome will volunteer to give out metals to finishers with the hope of hanging one on John & me. We look for the volunteer coordinator, but are unable to locate anyone in charge. I take them to a burger joint for their late lunch and send them on their way to our friends house in NE Scottsdale. I go back to the room and take a nap. I have a short dream in which I am an eagle gliding over the lake course. I feel very confident and awake feeling that this dream is a good omen. John thinks I'm nuts and starts singing "Fly Like an Eagle."

We get a call from Maria to get together for an early dinner that we agreed to schedule when we met at breakfast. We meet and decide to go back to the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant. As we are sitting down, I note a table of about 10 that looks like it contains several athletes. I ask for show of hands as to who is participating in tomorrows event. Once the athletes reveal themselves, I ask what they ordered for dinner. Chicken with pasta seems to be the order of the evening and John, Maria and I all follow suit. We top it off with desert as we need the calories for tomorrows event. At least that's our story and we're sticking to it.

Back at our room after dinner, John & I lay our gear out for the next morning. John excuses himself from the room so that he can go down to the hotel lobby and review his notes and otherwise get mentally prepared for the next morning. I hang out in the room and channel surf. I prefer trying to not think too much about the coming event. Its just too big to get my mind around. I've planned and planned for this event. I'm ready. Distraction works better for me at this point. After an hour John returns to the room and we turn in for the night.

Sunday-Race Day

We awake at 4 AM and start getting ice and start mixing our bike bottles. After eating oatmeal, bannanas and a power bar, we finish gearing up and head out for the transition area. We drop our special needs bags and go check out our bikes. The transition area is abuzz with activity and pre-race nervous energy. After getting our tires pumped up and our water bottles onto our bikes, its time to body marked. After that, we do the port-o-potty shuffle. As I wait in line for a
port-o-potty to become available, I notice a German athlete who takes off his sweats and starts showing off his condition to his friends just outside the transition area fence. The guy looks to be about my age, but is clearly in much better physical shape that I can ever hope to get into. He has the sculpted body of a body builder, which is only enhanced by his stretching and jumping exercises that he is doing to both warm up and impress his lady friends. OK, enough of that. If I start comparing myself to other athletes in this crowd, I might as well withdraw and go back to the hotel.

After taking care of bodily functions in the port-o-potty, John & I find a bench and get into our wet-suits. Geared up for the swim, we start heading over the crowd of other wet-suit wearing athletes nearing the start mat that we must all cross to register our chips for the event. As we approach the start mat, we down a goo and drink a final bottle of water. My body's immediate response to the goo is to want to vomit. As David Byrne sang: "Warning sign of things to come." I fight the urge to vomit and wash the goo down with water. With 2,800 participants all gathering towards the double-wide gate just feet before the waterfront, I can't help but feel we look like lemmings jumping off a cliff to an ocean below. We had been advised to wait until the last minute before jumping into the 63 degree water, but the crowd kind of forces us all toward the seawall.

Before I knew it, we were on the edge of the seawall. I turn to John and ask "Jump now?" "Jump," he replies. In an instant, we are amongst literally thousands of other swimmers in the dark swimming toward the start area. The water is indeed feels cold as ice, but the fact that we are actually in the water with all these people prevents the mind from event thinking about the cold. This is one boat load of people in the water. A look back towards the seawall only reveals thousands more lemmings awaiting their turn to jump into the icy water. Images of the movie "Titanic" come to mind.

John & I stick together as we swim with this hoard toward the start. When we get about 100 yards from the start, the crowd around me stops moving. As I look toward the start area, I realize this is as close as we will get to the start. I turn around to make a comment to John about this fact, when I realize that he is no where in sight. Little did I know that John had gotten claustrophobic with the crowd of swimmers and had headed back towards the sea wall near the start line to get out of the water and away from this mass of swimmers. I realize instantly that we have come to the end of the line as far as buddy training goes. I'm now in this on my own. I also realize that I have inadvertantly placed myself smack dab in the middle of 2,800 swimmers. Given that the sun is just coming over the horizon and the National Anthem is now being played, I realize that there is no time for me to extricate myself from this start position that I had no intention of placing myself in.

The Swim

Immediately after the conclusion of the National Anthem, the start cannon goes off with a "boom." The previously calm water becomes a sea of thrashing arms and legs. Again, it brings to mind the scene in "Titanic" where all the passengers are in the water trashing wildly about just after the ship finally goes underwater. Except that everyone is moving in the same direction. I put my head down and try to start swimming, but who am I kidding. Its too crowded to actually swim and I'm getting hit from all directions. The close quarters also makes it hard to get fully lateral for proper swim position. I take several strokes, swallow some water, and pick my head out of the water to cough. This is what I call the "What the f#@k" moment of the ironman. Prior to this event, all of my triathlons swims have gone off in waves of 20 to 30 swimmers. If you get jostled too much, you can simply drift slightly back from the swimmers hitting you and find some open water. There is no drifting back and finding open water when you are surrounded by 2,800 swimmers. You just trade off one set of highly motivated and self centered swimmers for another group of highly motivated and self centered swimmers. You also feel like there is the very real possibility that you could drown in this pack of lunatics and no one would take any notice, much less render assistance. You realize the only way you will survive this mob, is to swim for you life.

While I'm in the middle of this human mayhem, John is off to the right near the sea-wall. Thus, instead of getting whacked on four sides (left, right, front and rear), he is only getting whacked from 3 sides. Fortunately, this truly insane portion of the ironman only last about 5 minutes before the crowd spreads out enough for you to find decent room to swim and stop thinking about other swimmers. That doesn't mean the bumping. climbing over the top, and whacking stops, its just that its now at least mentally manageable. The fear of drowning subsides and you can fully focus on the business of swimming.

Once I'm able to focus on my swim and get a decent rhythm going, I note that my new Garmin 310 keeps beeping at me. I'm not sure if its because I'm not wearing my heart rate strap for the swim or if something else is going wrong with the watch. Since I can't stop swimming long enough to get a decent look at the watch, I decide to ignore it for the swim.

I find that my navagation skills on the out-bound leg of the swim is pretty spot on. I manage to keep in a straigth line and watch the buildings and mountains go by on my right. Before I know it, I can see the far bridge we have to go under and then the red turn bouy. I manage to hug close to the bouy and make the turn without getting bumped by too many swimmers. As I swim the short crossing leg north, I also hang a pretty good bee-line for the turning bouy. However, the long return leg west is another matter. The course of the river/lake/resevour that we are swimming bends slightly from left to right. The bouys do the same such that you end up swimming in a slightly northwesterly direction if you swim close to the return bouies. In turning my head to the right to breath, I end up following and hugging the northern bank of the lake. This slowly takes me more to the right. About half way back on the return to the transition area, I note that I've drifted to the right of the bouies. However, since the course bends in that direction anyway, I simply swim a straght line back. I don't know if this added distance or not, but figure it had to add something to the swim. Additionally, the north bank of the lake has fewer landmarks making the return seem longer than the outbound leg. I finally get under the bridge near the start of the swim course and make my turn towards the southern bank and the swim exit. This last little leg seemed like it too way longer than it should, but it probably had to do with seeing the exit area for this last leg. It always seems like it takes longer to reel in a finish line when you can see it from a distance.

I eventually get towards the finish line. I remember that the course marshalls had suggested not grabbing the first step of the stair coming out of the water but to instead try for the third step in so that you could stand easier. However, the volunteers assisting swimmers out of the water are so helpful that they grab your arm before you can reach for the third step in on the stairs. Thus, I'm being pulled upward with no step to be able to get a footing on. I eventually find my footing and am able to stand. I take a quick look at my watch to see how long my swim took and see my watch reads 1:44. First off, I'm thrilled that the Garmin is working properly since its been beeping at me on and off during the swim. I'm also happy with the swim time. Now, that's nothing to write home about for most swimmers, but the swim is my weakest event and I had estimated a swim leg of between 1:50 to 2:00, so I beat my estimate. John came in a few minutes later in 1:48. Given that he was worried about maybe losing time at the crazy start and maybe cutting it close to the 2:20 swim cut off time, he too was very pleased. We get it; we both need more swim lessons. We were pleased with our better than expected swim times none the less. All of you good swimmers out there can stop snickering now and get on with reading this report.

We were warned to be prepared to feel slight vertigo from going vertical after swimming horizontally for so long. Sure enough, my first couple of steps I feel like a drunken sailor. This soon passes and I'm being assisted by the wet-suit strippers. No, its not what you think. Two people grab the top of your unfastened wet-suit and peel you to the waist. They then tell you to lie down on your back and they peel the wet-suit off you legs. You look a bit like one of the dancers in "Animal House" doing the "alligator."

Once stripped of my suit, I run over to the gear bag section. The voluteers in the gear bag section are flawless in calling out race numbers and handing over your gear bag to you. I grab my gear bag and head to the changing tent. Its a large tent with a male and female sections, but no partician. No problem though as no one is doing anything other than paying attention to their gear and trying to change and get to their bike. No time for straying eyes. I find a seat and quickly change out of my swim trunks and into my bike shorts. A male volunteer comes up and offers to help me dry my feet and assist me with my socks. As I work on getting my bike helmet and shirt on, I thank the volunteer for such great assistance. He informs me that he has done ironman events and is simply giving back. I tell him that I'm so grateful for his assistance that I'll be sure to volunteer at an event to pay his kindness forward. After stuffing my bike jersey with Cliff Bars, goos and other assorted food products, I come out of the changing tent. Several volunteers offer to hit me up with sunscreen. Being subject to sunburn, I take the offer and get blasted with lotion on my cheeks and neck. Little do I realize that this lotion doesn't soak in and I look like a Massi warrior on the hunt.

I run towards the bikes. Again, the volunteers do such a great job calling out your number to other volunteers that by the time you get to your bike rack row, a volunteer has your bike pulled to the end of the row and ready for you to grab and run out of the transition area. I run my bike as best I can in bike shoes out of transition.

The Bike

After mounting in the mount zone, you have to hold your bike place for about 300 yards until you exit the park area where the triathlon village is set up. This is a bit tricky as there are a lot of riders trying to navigate this winding wide sidewalk that goes uphill out of the park. Once we emerge from the park, there is room to find a position on the road. The bike course starts with a series of right and left turns over the first five miles before reaching a straight out and back loop of about 27 miles. My math is probably a bit off here, but the bike course is 3 loops of approximately 37 miles each. For the first 5 miles, I'm able to ride between 18 to 20 mph. Once we hit the straight out and back road, I note that we are riding into a direct headwind. On top of that, the outbound approximately 13 miles is mainly an incline. At the beginning of this loop is a set of port-o-potties that I decide I must take advantage of using. I'm in and out of these toilets as almost no one is using them. Once I start riding again, I start trying to eat some of the food I've brought along for the ride. I down a Cliff Bar and wash it down with some of my drink mix. I work on electrolite jelly beans and later down a goo.

I also note on this first outbound leg that my heart rate is not registering on my Garmin. John had forgotten to tell me that I have to sync the heart strap to the watch before using it for the first time. Thus, I realize that I'm going to do the bike and run legs without the feedback of what my heart rate is doing. Oh well, I think, at least I'm getting my overall leg times for each of the swim, bike, run, and transitions.

As I get futher towards the outward turn around point on the bike, I note that my speed has gotten slower and slower due to the headwind and the greater incline. I slow all the way down to 13 mph. I look back at my back break thinking I must be rubbing my break. No such luck. Its at this point that one of the leading pro atheletes comes bolting by me. With their disc wheels, the faster pros sound like a train coming up behind you. The faster pros are followed by a camera crew on a moter cycle similar to the Tour de France. Its pretty amazing to be both a participant and a spectator of an event at the same time.

I was struggling with the outbound uphill into the wind that I almost forget to take a sideward look at the scenery we are riding through. As I turn my head, I'm in awe of the beauty of this dessert landscape. Large gorgeous cacti and wild flowers cover the planes with the beauty of the mountains in the background. If you can do this event, do so for the beauty of the bike course. It takes you through the unmolested landscape of the native American indian tribe that lives in this region just to the northeast of Tempe. Stickenly beautiful.

After making the turn around, which comes after a slight downhill that forces you to brake in order to keep from accelerating into the turn around, we get rewarded for our hard rides out. On the return, we are greeted with both a tail wind and a downward sloping course. You coast at 25 mph. As John & I planned a conservative 17 to 18 mph ride to prevent being depleted for the run, I spend the return downhill trying to do math in my head to figure out my overall ride average. I finally give up and figure as long as I don't feel like I'm red-lining my efforts, the average will take care of itself.

At the turn-around near the transition park, crowds are gathered and you get a bit excited. After completing the turn around and heading back out the right and left turning streets on the outbound again, you realize that you have to do this same course twice more. Of course this whole time, I've been trying to take in food and drink. As I come back to the first set of port-o-potties again, I realize I've got to stop again. No problem. More riders are stopping, but its still not too crowded and I'm in and out pretty fast. As I continue my outbound ride, I think I spy John coming back on the return leg of his first loop. Good. I now know that he make it out of the water and beat his feared swim cut-off. I try to shout out to him, but going in opposite directions, he doesn't hear me.

On my return leg of my second loop at about mile 66 there is an area where you can stop off and get extra food items from your special needs bag. However, by the time I get to this area and get my bag, my stomach is both full and feeling heavy. I reach into this bag chock full of food products and take out only a supposedly frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This was a product suggested to us on Friday by a fellow athlete that we picked up in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. Unfortunately, our room refrigerator didn't work so well, so I don't know how well these sandwiches kept. In any event, the sandwich tasted good, but I was unable to think about eating anything else.

As I complete the second lap, I can hear the announcer call off the names of competitors finishing their bike portions of the race. It made it a little frustrating to make the turn at the park to start my third bike leg. Now, I just want to be done with the bike portion of the ironman. As I finish up the cut back five miles, I witness a near accident wherein a female rider dropped something off her bike and makes an immediate turn around without looking behind her. A pro female athlete shouts "Look out!" and goes flying by both me and the careless rider. That could have been ugly.

I suddenly realize I've got to get to those port-o-potties. Bad! They are a few miles off, but I'm able to make it there without an accident. Unfortunately, there is now a line in front of the port-o-potties. I'm forced to burn 5 to 10 minutes just waiting in line. When I finally get into a port-o-potty, I feel sick to my stomach. I do what I can and come out feeling somewhat better. I down some more electrolite jelly beans and get riding again.

As I near the turn around point for the last time, who do I see up ahead of me but my buddy John. He must have passed me on the bike as I was waiting in line for the port-o-potty. "You are one strong Greek," I call out from behind. We are both thrilled to know that the other guy is doing OK and that our game plan seems to be working out according to plan. We spend the next couple of mile passing each other for no real reason other than one of us gets a bit of energy. No drafting mind you. We seem to gap each other and its all legal. John gets ahead of me at the turn around and seems to disappear down the inclining road. John had apparently gotten a little ahead of me and stopped off at the next set of port-o-potties. I mistook another rider for John and think I'm pulling him in only to realize its another rider. Looking down the road, I can't seem to find a rider that looks to be him nearby. "He just blew my doors off," I think as I ride on.

At this point, I note that the shadows are getting longer and it must be getting closer to sun set. As I come into the final bike turn and see the park, I'm thrilled with the prospect of getting off the bike. I coast into the park, dismount, hand off my bike, grab my run gear bag and head back to the changing tent. The volunteers are not as sharp as in T1, but they offer water and good cheer. As I'm about to finish my change, I hear buddy John's voice. He has just entered the change tent as I'm about to leave. I now figure out that he must have gotten behind me on the last bike leg. I ask him how he's doing. "Good," he replies. I look at him seeing if he wants me to wait up for him, but he waves me on. I leave the tent wondering if he is having a problem. As I leave the tent, I again get offered sunscreen. I again get blasted with war paint and head out for the run.

The Run

Since I've been prone to leg cramps in other marathons, I had a water bottle filled with Pedialite, an electrolite drink for sick babies and small children that I've found helpful in past marathons. As I start my run, I open the bottle and try to take a swig. My body immediately rejects this sweet concoction and I want to vomit. Oops, that's not going to work. I toss the bottle aside. At the first run aid station, I try to sip from a cup of Coke, but get the same violent rejection from my stomach. Oh oh, not good. I try a cup of water. My stomach feels like I've got food poisoning and wants to reject plane water. I'm suddenly seriously worried about being able to run a marathon without being able to take in any fluids.

A mile later at the next aid station, I am offered warm chicken broth. "It can't hurt to try this concoction," I think. Luckily, my stomach seems to accept this warm salty drink. I spend the rest of the marathon mixing chicken broth with as much water as I can without my stomach rejecting the mix. Its a fine balancing act. Too much water and I can't drink it. A 70/30 mix of chicken broth to water seems to work. I'm also able to get in a few pretzels or potato chips. I subsist on this lite fare for the remainder of the event.

After about an hour of running, the sun starts to set. The run course is a 3 loop course that winds around the triathlon village, the surrounding industrial park areas and over to the other side of the lake into residential areas. The volunteers at the aid stations are again most helpful and cheerful bunch of people you could ask for in support. As I run by the triathlon park and surrounding bridges that are near this area, the spectators are very encouraging of all athletes efforts. I know they are probably supporting a friend or family member, but their cheers and encouragement meant the world to me. I literally sick and tired of this event, but I have no intention of stopping. The cheers and encouragement of both the spectators and volunteers at the aid stations were key to getting through these miles.

The confusing part of a 3 loop marathon course is that the mile markers read somewhat as follows: you pass a mile marker that says "Mile 9," shortly thereafter you pass a mile marker that reads "Mile 18," finally you pass a mile marker that reads "Mile 1." A little confusing, but on subsequent laps it becomes a little more encouraging. On the second lap, I see the mile marker that I finished, and in seeing the ones to come for the third lap, I think next time I see this marker I'll be on mile 18. Near mile 5, 14, and 23 was a sign that read "Don't think of how far you have to go, think about how far you've come." This was encouraging for the first 2 laps, but by the time I saw it on the 3rd lap, I thought, "Screw that, I'm thinking about the miles I've got left."

As I pass the triathlon park at the end of my second lap, I see my wife Salome on the side of the course. I yell out to her. She is excited to see me and asks which lap I'm on. I tell her I have one lap to go and she is estactic to know that I'm OK. She goes off to work giving out metals while I run my last lap.

By this last lap, the competitors out on the course are mostly walking. I've been taking some walk and potty breaks, but refuse to simply walk this thing in. I come from a running background and I'm going to run this thing in if its only a shuffle.

As I get to about mile 18, I look over and notice I'm running along side a guy that is dressed up in a Forrest Gump costume. Given that John had completed the Halloween Half Marahton along side a guy in a Forrest Gump costume, I laugh out loud. "You have no idea how ironic it would be if we crossed the finish line at the same time," I tell Forrest Gump. "Sorry, dude," the guy replies, "I don't think I can keep up with you." "Oh well, it would have been funny," I think as I pull away from Forrest Gump.

At some point during the run, John had gotten ahead of me. He was obviously not having the stomach problems that I had and finished about an hour ahead of me in 13:18. Salome did not see John finish, but was able to snap some pictures of him after he received his metal.

Meanwhile, I'm going thanking and high fiving the volunteers at the aid stations as I walk through drinking my last round of chicken broth/water. I keep saying, Thanks for everything, but I'm not coming around here again." Over the last several miles, I'm passing a lot of people who can only walk. At the last mile, I start picking up my pace knowing the finish is getting near. When I get to the turn off for the finish line, I see people heading out for yet another loop and feel bad for them. But not bad enough to join them. I gladly turn off for the last half mile to the finish line.

The Finish

I can taste the finish. As I come around the series of turns to the head of the park, I notice the crowds getting thicker and more animated. As I cross into the park for the last hundred yards, the crowd is screaming cheers and I'm high fiving people on both sides. The crowd narrows in on both side so that you come down an ever narrowing shoot. At this point, the excitement of the moment and the crowd have me picking up speed to the point that it feels like I'm almost sprinting. The fatigue of the last several miles is lifted and I feel elated. As I cross the finish line with tears of joy in my eyes, I hear Mike Reilly call out, "William Parady, from Fort Lauderdale, you are an Ironman!" My time: 14:19. All I can say is "Wow, what a rush!" I felt an almost spiritual sense of elation.

As I came across the finish line, volunteers came up to me to see if I'm OK. "Yes," I tell them, "I'm feeling great now." I am handed a bottle of water and go further down the line to where the metals are being given to finishers. I see Salome, but she is talking to a male volunteer also giving out metals who is standing to her right. As I approach her, the guy tries to hang a finisher's metal around my neck. "Sorry, I've got to take my metal from her," I say as I point to my wife. Apparently, Salome hadn't expected me for a while, didn't hear my name announced as I crossed the finish line, and didn't recognize me as I approached her. She went nuts with joy, kissed me and hung my metal around my neck. She asked me why I didn't seem as excited as her. I told her that I was very excited, but with the passing of the adrenaline rush of the finish line now felt tired.

Salome got me wrapped in a heat blanket and whisked me off to the food area, bypassing the area where additional volunteers handed you a finishers shirt and running cap. She realized this error after the fact and arranged to have them mailed to me back in Fort Lauderdale. In any event, my stomach is still a little messed up and can only manage a small slice of pizza. They have a great deal of food available, but I've got no appetite. We meet up with John and we do a man hug. We both are beaming knowing the other guy made it to the finish and neither one of us needs to feel bad for the other guy.

After messages by yet more wonderfully giving volunteers, John heads back to the hotel and I go off with Salome to retrieve my bike and gear bags. On our arrival back at the hotel, we find John sitting next to a bucket of beers on ice and chips accompanied by congratulatory cards to each of us from John's sister. A very classy move. After Salome's departure back to our friend's house where she, my son Alex and my mother in law Kiki are staying, John & I spend the next couple of hours calling west coast friends that would still be awake at 10 PM Mountain Time. After recounting our experiences to each other, I head to the bathroom to shower. Looking in the mirror, I note that my eyes are quite bloodshot. On my return from the bathroom, I note that John's eyes are also very bloodshot. Its been one long day! I lay down and am out like a light at around 11:30 PM. John remains awake until 1 AM doing I know not what. Probably writing down and analyzing his splits.


The next morning, we awake surprisingly early given our efforts on Sunday. I prep my bike and gear bag for return shipping by TriBike Transport. John & I return to the triathlon village to drop my bike and our gear bags. As we walk through the park we note a long line of people lined up to sign up for next year's event. Prior year participants get the first shot at re-upping for the next year. We also retrieve most of our special needs bags from an area where they've all been placed by the event organizers. One of John's two bags is missing. We go over to the IMAZ sales tent where another line is set up to get in and buy finisher's swag. We dutifully get in line and buy shirts, jackets, and assorted other stuff that announces that we are finishers of Ironman Arizona. I normally hate marathon shirts that has the word "Finisher" on it, but for an ironman, it somehow seems very appropriate.

After we spend mo' money, we head over to the awards ceremony. They feed us a very nice breakfast and put on a great ceremony. Normally, neither of us sticks around for these types of events, but for us, this ceremony is special. While we don't know the names of the age group or overall finishers, we are amazed at their times and their physiques. The training for these events may be a form of the fountain of youth, because we saw some people in their later 50s and 60s that look extremely fit. The biggest ovation went out to Rudy, the double leg amputee who failed to finish at Kona in October. He was able to finish in the last hour at Tempe. He got up and thanked everyone. Of course, the crowd gives him a standing ovation.

After the ceremony, we went back to the shopping tent because John had left a prized warm up jacket there by mistake in trying on shirts. Fortunately, someone turned it into lost and found. Then, John made me help him search what would have been every box of special needs bags (about 50 boxes with thousands of bags) looking for his missing special need running bag. Luckily, I found it before too long and we were able to leave the park before it got too hot.

We met up with Maria for lunch back at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant to get her race report. She bested both of us with a finish time of 12:15. We all had meat products and I was finally able to drink one of their seasonal micro brews. It was a delicious wheat beer. We spent the rest of the day lounging around our hotel room calling friends and giving our race reports. We ate at a nice Mexican restaurant for dinner and turned in early for the night.

John left the next morning and Salome picked me up from the hotel. Our family spent the rest of the week with our friends in Scottsdale, we made a day side trip to Sedona, and enjoyed Thanksgiving with our friends, Dave & Sue. I was also able to have a nice brunch with my sister and her grown children on Friday. All in all, a pleasant week after IMAZ relaxing and visiting with friends and family.

I'm sure you'll agree that all this was way more than you needed to know. It was more of a mind dump for me to try to get the feelings down before they fade too much into the past. If you've gotten this far, thanks for you patience.


mjohnson said...

Congrats again Ironman and thanks for sharing ALL the details of the year long IMAZ accomplishment. We have enjoyed following your blog and will miss it. We look forward to hearing about your future adventures. Wishing you a healthy and happy 2010, Melissa & Bob

Missy said...

Congrats on such a great year! You have to be proud, really and truly. I see you have a new blog starting out there. Is this where we should go in the future?

Happy New Year to you and thanks so much for all the encouragement over this past year. It's weird how nice it is to get such nice feedback from people I've never met before. I feel so lucky. Cheers to 2010.

kizzy said...

great post! I did enjoy reading your lines..

"Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it."
-Oprah Winfrey ~mountain hardwear