In a nutshell, this was a pretty good race, but far from a perfect race. It started off a bit of a disaster when I was putting my bike together the day we arrived in Arizona. A small piece of aluminum in the fork snapped, which meant I couldn’t attach my aerobars and left me in a bit of a panic. I quickly called some shops and actually found one that carried Argon 18’s about 30 minutes away from the hotel. I was travelling with Brian and Cynthia Scott from Waterloo, so that meant we all packed into our van with my bike and were off to see what could be done.
In the end, everything worked out great. Argon was super awesome in having a warranty replacement fork overnight-ed to the shop in Scottsdale which arrived Friday morning. The shop, Airpark Bikes, did a great job of getting the new fork on and I picked my bike up Friday night and put it together.
Saturday morning, the day of bike check-in, I did a short 20 minute ride to make sure everything was ok, which it was, so I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, the day before the race.
Dropping off the bike (with new fork) in transition
I was up at 4am race morning to get some food in me, which consisted of some oatmeal, coffee, half a bagel and a protein drink. At 5:15 we all headed to the race site, which was already very busy prior to the 7am race start time.
I quickly got everything setup in transition and made my way to the very long port-o-potty lines. Without any time to spare, I dropped my morning clothes bag off, finished up with my wetsuit and made my way to the lines waiting to jump in Tempe Town Lake. There was a lot of talk about the water temperature, but after jumping in, I found it just fine. The clarity of the water on the other hand was the exact opposite. You could barely see your hand in front of your face in the water.
Near the start at Tempe Town Lake. Notice the beautiful water color
I swam over to the start line and had only about 5-10 minutes before the start of the race. As per instruction from my coach, I started over to right, about 10 or so meters away from the wall, pretty much right at the front. At 7am sharp, the gun sounded, and a very long day had begun.
The start of the race had the usual full body contact sort of action, but this came as no surprise, given it was a mass swim start. I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t last too long before I could actually get some open water and begin something that appeared like a normal swim stroke. It was at this point that I thought I might have a shot at an hour swim time.
Not long after this though, the contact began to pick up again, and this time, it felt like I just couldn’t get out of it. I had to completely lift my head out of the water just to find people to try and draft off of, as it was impossible seeing anything underwater. Just when it seemed like I would get on somebody’s feet, I’d either lose the person, or someone else would come in and bump me off them. This pretty much happened all the way out to the first turn buoy.
After making the left hand turn at the 2nd buoy, I immediately noticed how much easier it was to see, now that we were heading back and not looking into the rising sun, as we were doing on the way out.
Coming back, I again found it difficult to consistently stay on people’s feet for various reasons, or maybe I just suck at drafting. Either way, I was making ok time and feeling good, so I just kept on pushing. Eventually we made it back to the bridges near the swim start and it was only a few hundred more meters to the exit. I took a quick peak at my watch which already read just over an hour, so my sub 60 minute swim was out the window.
I made the final left turn and swam fairly hard to the swim exit steps. These steps were a bit tricky, as there was nothing to step up on, so you basically needed to drag yourself, with the help of volunteers up onto the steps. I was a bit dazed from the swim and didn’t even notice the two steps down at the top and almost went for a loop into the crowd. I took a quick peak at the clock which read 1:05 something, so I was a bit disappointed. I was really hoping to be closer to 1:02 or 1:03 at least. Oh well, another day perhaps. I finished the swim in 42nd place in my AG and 312th overall in the race.
After a quick exit from my wetsuit via the wetsuit strippers, I worked my way to the change tent to get ready for the bike ride. T1 wasn’t lightening fast, but I felt like I wasn’t wasting any time. 4:29 and I was on bike bike about to begin the fast 3 loop, mostly flat, highly congested bike ride.
The plan was to go out and hold about 230 watts on the bike, but at the beginning, everything felt easy and I had a hard time keeping the watts much below 250, despite telling myself I need to slow down a bit. It just felt like the right pace and effort, so I carried on.
On the first lap, the only people I was passing were swimmers who had faster times than me obviously, but just aren’t as strong on the bike. I found that I rather quickly got into a good group with a bunch of other riders and tried to keep it legit at all times. Of course, when people are passing each other and then easing off the pace at the front, there was a lot of moving around. I seemed to think that the marshals were doing a good job of keeping things in check, as they were almost always around our group, and at times, I swear one rode right beside me for 5 minutes!
I made it to the turn-around point on lap 1 in about 53 minutes with an average power of approx. 260 watts, definitely ahead of plan, but things seemed to be going well. After making the turn, we had a nice tailwind and downhill section and the speeds really picked up. I was doing about 34.5kph average out to the first turn, but as soon as we turned, I was easily doing about 50kph+ for at least a few K until we got down out of the steeper part of the climb up to the turn.
At this point, I was still working mostly with the same group and things were going well. I let the power come down on the return trip to town where I averaged 42.5kph with an average power of 239. I was really working a high cadence at this point, and I averaged a cadence of 97 for the return trip.
Just before getting back to town, we went through a bumpy section where my Profile Design Aero bottle (for the first time ever) popped right out of it’s cage. I had to slam on the brakes and make a quick U-turn to pick it up, as it held almost half my nutrition for the bike (it was a double Infinite solution).
At this point, I lost the group I was working with, but I just kept my cool and started making my way through the other riders. I reached the turn-around back at transition in just over 1 hour and 35 minutes for the 60K loop. My average speed had popped up to 38kph and my power had dropped to 250 watts and things were feeling really good.
Only about 10 minutes into the second lap, I caught back up with the main group of guys (and some pro women) that I was working with previously. Everything continued to go pretty smoothly, but as we started the climb up to the turn-around for the second time, we started catching other racers on their first lap. This started making things a bit tricky and you had to really stay alert, as sometimes you would come up on racers doing only about half the speed we were doing. They come up quick, and at least twice I almost ran into the back of somebody else going significantly slower than me.
The overall power on the second loop dropped to 233 watts, as I found myself stuck in a bunch of packs at times with no place to go. It was quite frustrating when you make a good effort to get away, only to get swallowed up by others sitting right behind and not content to just stay there. Once they pass however, I swear they would slow down and then I’d be sitting in the middle or back doing really low watts.
The second lap was just a bit slower in about 1hr and 36 minutes, and as we started the 3rd lap, the congestion on the course was crazy. My power for the first 30 minutes of the third lap was only 220 watts, as I was in and out of packs and trying to navigate around the slower riders. About halfway through the final lap, me and another guy seemed to break away from the pack and we were working well together. As we made the climb up to the turn-around for the final time, I was trying very hard to keep my 7 or 8 meters behind him at all times. Just then, a marshal pulls up and flashes me a red card for drafting. I asked where this took place and she said at one point (likely when we were passing the slower riders) that I got into the draft zone of the guy I was behind, and then dropped back without making the pass. I knew there was zero to gain by arguing with them, so I just shook my head and acknowledged the penalty. At this point I was feeling a bit deflated, but I tried not to let it get me down.
The next penalty tent was right at the turn-around point, where I quickly pulled in and started my 4 minute penalty. I was in with another guy who just pulled in, so I used it to get some fluids and calories in for the ride back to town.
As soon as the 4 minutes was up, I got a nice push from one of the volunteers, and I was immediately hammering hard down the hill to get back into the game. The ride back to town was a bit lonely, as I was totally not working with anyone else at this point, and was passing hundreds of other racers.
I eventually made it back to town and handed my bike off to another one of the great volunteers.
In the end, I rode 4:50:45 (including 4 minute drafting penalty) or 4:46 excluding the penalty. This brought me home with an average speed of 37.5kph and an average power of 239 watts for the entire ride. The plan for the ride was to ride about 230 watts, so I did end up going a bit harder, but in the end, I still felt good and didn’t feel at all like I over-cooked things. After the bike, I had moved up to 9th in my AG and 81st overall in the race.
Once off the bike, I quickly grabbed my run stuff and made my way to the change tent. In the tent, I got some more sunscreen applied, shoes on, grabbed my salt and visor and was off. T2 took 1:30 which wasn’t too bad.
I started the run feeling not too bad as we ran along concrete paths to the first turn-around point at McClintock Rd. Similar to other Ironmans I have done, I didn’t bother carrying anything other than salt. I seem to get by fine with what I can pick up at aid stations.
After making my way past the transition zone again, I started thinking to myself that this run is feeling harder than I thought it should at this point. I was not sure if it was the concrete paths slamming the quads or the effort on the bike.
I eventually made it to the Priest St. bridge where we crossed Tempe Town Lake for the second half of the run course. It was just after crossing the bridge that I popped into an aid station for a washroom break. Feeling much better after, I carried along and ran beside the lake to the second turn-around point on the run course. Shortly after making the turn, I ran into coach Wolf (Wolfgang Guembel) who ran with me for a bit to see how I was doing. I told him that I thought the run was feeling harder than I wish it did. He told me to relax the shoulders and stay light on my feet whenever it felt hard and painful. I pretty much had to think of this the rest of the run!!
Still more suffering!
Suffering big time here!
There is only a small hill on the run course along Curry Rd., and after getting through it, I hit an aid station and took in a bit of a banana which seemed to make me feel just a bit better.
I finally made it back to the transition zone in about 1hr 35 minutes, so despite not feeling great, I was still doing ok time wise.
Starting the second loop, my legs were feeling noticeably more sore, and I started taking walking breaks through every aid station. At about the 30K mark, I started taking more and more walking breaks for very short periods of time, like 10 seconds or so. These breaks seemed to happen more and more in the last 10K when things started getting very very hard. I was playing mental games by now and really having to push myself to keep running. I’d go through periods where things felt ok and then a short bit later where things felt really bad and my hamstrings were going to lock up at almost any second.
I really wanted to run at least as well as I did in Tremblant last year, but with 10K to go, I pretty much knew that wasn’t going to happen. I finally got to 37K and had only 5K to go and about 30 minutes to run under 3:30 for the run. I knew I started the run right around the 6 hour mark, so all time under 3:30 was time under 9:30 overall, which was my main goal for the race.
I kept pushing but with about 2K to go, a guy in my AG passed me. I managed to run with him for about 45 seconds until I just couldn’t hold him any longer. To this point, I’m not sure if it was my brain or my legs that let him go, but I’m sure it was a combination of both.
I finally made it to Ash Street, for the final 500m or so to the finish line. It’s funny how well you can run knowing the finish line is in sight, but when it’s 10K way, it really gets you.
The crowds were not huge at this point in the race, but there were pretty good, and I soaked up all their energy for a final push to the line, where I was able to finish in 9hrs 24min and 49 seconds. My final run time was 3:22:37, but it seemed so much longer than that!
Incredibly happy to be done!
Finishing only a few seconds behind me was Chris Pickering of London, Ontario. My father in law also managed to capture my finish on video as seen here..
So unfortunately after getting passed in the last 2K, I was bumped from 6th to 7th place in my AG out of 435 and 65th overall in the race out of approx. 2,800 starters.
After making my way to the massage tent, I talked to the guy who passed me, and he told me that the guy who got first in our AG already had a Kona spot, so assuming 6 spots in our AG, his would roll to me, which made all the pain after the race seem worth it after all.
After a little bit of food, I got changed, hooked up with Brian who unfortunately could not finish the race and then we went back to the finish line and watched Cynthia roll in at just over 13 hours.
The next day, we went down to the race site for the Kona roll-down process and it was then that I found out that there were 6 guaranteed Kona spots in our AG and the winner had indeed already taken his spot at IM Lake Tahoe back in September, so I was good to go!! Mike Reilly kicked off the roll-down process by calling my name first, and I was right there to snag the spot. After me, there were only two other Kona spots in the entire race.
So overall, I was really happy with my time and picking up a Kona spot, but on the other hand, I was a bit upset in getting passed in the final 2K and also getting the drafting penalty. Without either, I would have grabbed a guaranteed Kona spot and would have finished in about 9:20 or so. A podium spot was still about 2 minutes quicker, so it would not have made a difference there.
The good news is I now have all year to try and put together a much better race in Kona compared to what I did there in 2012. Now I’m just really enjoying the downtime and unstructured training until sometime in the New Year!!