Ironman Arizona Race Report Part I

"So, how was your Ironman?"

That was the question I was greeted with from our well-intentioned office administrator as I opened the door to the lobby this past Tuesday on my first day back from completing Ironman Arizona.

You'd think that 12.5 hours plus the ride home would have given me more than enough time to practice and rehearse my canned response to such a simple question.  Yet, upon being presented it, I could only muster an amused stare as my jaw dropped.

How could I possibly sum up an Ironman in quaint morning conversation?

Almost a week later, I'm still struggling to find the words, but I will try below.  From the comfort of my office den at home. In sweats.  Workout clothes and race kits neatly folded for the time being.  Wetsuit flopped over my rocking chair, apparently done for the winter.  Browned, dirt-stained running shoes placed in the closet. Tri bike still at Coach Gerardo's house, waiting patiently for me to retrieve it (this weekend I swear!).

So far, the quiet is the strangest part.  No workouts to log.  No bottles to rinse or prepare.  No early morning or late evening workouts to schedule around. Nothing.  Swim, bike, run has been replaced -- somewhat reluctantly -- with eat, sleep, rest.

And plenty of time to reflect on a yearlong journey that ultimately was blessed with good luck, good health and plenty of good results. Culminating in my first Ironman, but certainly not my last.  Despite the commitment, the pain and the sacrifices, I can't wait for my next M-dot race, Coeur d'Alene. The countdown is about to begin anew but before it does, here are my thoughts on Ironman #1.

I hope this helps a first-time Ironman competitor somewhere out there.  Also see this post for more basic tips and lessons learned


As I wrote in the days preceding the race, I was surprised at how calm and relaxed I felt. The best way to describe my emotional state is that I simply felt like I belonged at Ironman Arizona.  All the hours spent alone training, and with my AMAZING Fortius Racing team, had melded and forged my mind and body into something hard.  Not one part of me felt ill-prepared for the day and as a result, I could enjoy every moment going into race morning.

Around 6:40 a.m., after some photos with fellow IMAZ competitors, LA Tri Clubbers and teammates, I plopped into the chilly, murky lake water. The temperature was never a factor, as several ocean swims in Santa Monica, Marina del Rey and Malibu were actually colder than the announced 64 degrees.  Bob and I found a spot together towards the middle-left of the pack.  Upon seeing the massive volume of people in the water, we both realized the likelihood of swimming together was slim. We wished each other a great race, hugged, and treaded water silently for a few minutes absorbing the moment.

Then, Black Sabbath's "Ironman" started blaring through the loudspeakers.


I whooped and hollered, dropping my rock horns in beat with the music.  This was it!  The moment was here, and it was perfect.  The bridge lights above us twinkled overhead, the moon was still out.  And then, the cannon blast signaling the race start.

All hell broke loose.

The lake simply erupted into mass chaos.  Arms churned and legs kicked.  Elbows struck, hands grabbed.  Those first 500-1,000 yards are a total blur.  I just kept my focus and surged forward as best I could without panicking.  Which is hard to do as competitors claw at you to find better position in the water.  I zig-zagged all over the place to find any opening I could for a few strokes without drinking water or being pelted by body parts.  Others weren't so fortunate.  I remember seeing out the side of my right goggle lens a man floating on his back, appearing to hyperventilate.  I'm somewhat ashamed to admit I kept swimming forward.

It took around 30 minutes, by my estimation, before I found enough room in the water to swim at what felt like my race pace.  That would have been roughly 10 minutes before the 1.2 mile turnaround buoy.  I remember feeling incredibly relaxed at this point and somewhat surprised at how fast the morning was going.  After all the waiting, I was in the middle of an Ironman!

The rest of the swim was fairly uneventful.  I did veer off course, straying inward to where an official in a kayak had to gently corral a few of us stragglers back to the main route.  I probably lost 45 seconds correcting myself but wasn't too rattled.  I'd prefer to veer inward anyway as I can track an inside line towards the final turn to the finish.  The only real dilemma at this point was whether I could coax my body to pee while I was swimming. I had to go for a second time even though I pee'ed prior to the race.  I was in such a swimming zone that I didn't want to disrupt my cadence to stop.  This would turn out to be a mistake.

After essentially sprinting the final 500 yards of the swim to reach the stairs exit, I'll never forget looking at the event timing clock while running to T1: 1:12:53. "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!???" That's all I could think to myself, I had shattered my best-case scenario swim goal by two full minutes.  I had swam at a 1:43 pace, a full :04-:08 faster than usual.

This was going to be a great day, I thought.

Part 2 tomorrow: The Windy Bike Ride From Hell