2010 – Trained like crazy, was in the best Ironman shape of my life, got hurt the day before the race at the practice swim. Weather was also a factor, with a crazy crosswind on the bike. IMAZ 2010
2011 – Somehow managed to register after the race was ‘closed’, started to train. Training sucked, went to doctor. Needed surgery. Had 89 training days prior to race and was pretty sure I’d die on the course. Managed to make it to the start line and finish ahead of my 2010 time. IMAZ 2011
This being the third IMAZ in a row, to some degree I was burnt out. So in April I decided to try some shock treatment and signed up with my local Crossfit gym for a few months. Holy cow! What a shot in the arm that turned out to be. I got more from 3-4 hours at Crossfit per week than I was getting with twelve hours of Ironman training. I saw improvement in core strength, flexibility and balance. It also brought into strong focus where I was weak. Along with this stint at Crossfit, I did a Whole 30 challenge by turning to a paleo diet for four weeks. Michael joined me in this particular adventure and we both found it to be very positive. Better energy, sleep and mood and I was down ten pounds from 2011.
Once July hit, I dropped the Crossfit for the pool, bike and running shoes. There simply wasn’t enough time for both to co-exist. The diet had to be modified as well. Strict paleo-diet works, but for me doesn’t co-exist well with exercise that takes longer than 90 minutes at a time.
Mid-summer I went away from my usual long TT rides and focused on some of our local climbs I hadn’t been able to enjoy the past few summers (due to IM training). In September I hit a strong point with my bike by setting new PR’s on three major climbs over the course of ten days. Would this translate into a faster bike time? Had to get on the TT bike to find out. In Oct / Nov my long TT rides were ‘fine’ but not as fast as the ones I had thrown down in 2010.
Taper / Race Week
Got to Tempe nine days ahead of race day. There was a 3k-swim race eight days out from the race and it would take place in Tempe Town Lake. After two days of driving I wasn’t sure how this race would shake out, but any open water swim practice has to have benefits. Managed to make it through the race without dying. Found the water to be ‘warm’ (67) by comparisons with other years (59) and rather clear. After that a Phoenix friend and I went out for a one-loop ride of the bike course (37 miles). Roads were good; wind was just like 2010, we felt like gods on the way out and like gnats on the return. The next day I did one loop of the run course (8.6 miles).
A few 20-30 minute sessions the rest of the week around the usual hoopla of registration, family arrival, gear bags, blah, blah, blah. I managed to get a lot of quality sleep race week due in some part to the race hotel mucking up our reservation, which they corrected by giving us a SECOND ROOM FOR FREE.
I wake up at 2:38am, lay in the dark for an hour and get up for good after that.
5:15a leave for transition. Drop of liquids at the bike, check tire pressure, drop off special needs bags (Bike and Run) and head for the change tent. While wandering around I run into Sarah Reinertsen the first female amputee to finish Kona (2005). She’s doing IMAZ with the help of Challenged Athlete’s Foundation, who I happen to be raising money for as part of participating in this race. I wish her well and she is genuinely bright and warm – all well before dawn.
6:20a stuff self into wetsuit.
6:40a Waddle out with the other 2514 folks dressed as seals and slip into the lake. Pee one last time while hanging onto the surfboard of a volunteer. Seed myself to the right and front.
SWIM PR 1:23:27 • Goal sub-1:30:xx • Realistic sub-1:35:xx
I set my watch to buzz every 21:30 in the hopes that I can make the far turn buoy in 43:00 and be on track for a 1:28:xx. I do this! I hit the giant return buoy (which according to Garmin connect, is the mid-point of the course). I hit 86:00 as I emerge from the Mill Avenue Bridge with the final turn for home buoy in site. And then it’s like a Hitchcock movie where the swim ladder gets further and further away. It feels like FOREVER for me to hit the swim stairs.
Time 1:34:43 :< • Overall Rank 1943/2515 • Gender 464/700 • Division 89/144
T-1 PR 8:04 • Goal sub-8:00 • Realistic sub-9:00
A thing about Ironman is that for long stretches of time you are alone in your own quiet headspace and then BAAM light, noise (so much cowbell), questions from volunteers. Just as I cross the timing mat, I hear my name screamed like someone’s life depends on it. I look through eyes that are not used to seeing very well and see fellow Ironman veteran giving me an amazing Iron-war cry!
I scoot off to grab my bag and throw myself down in the grass to change. I implore (if shouting is imploring) a volunteer to help me. She gets the can of SPF 100 sunscreen, and I do everything else. Swim socks off, Injinji socks on. Shoes, race belt, jersey. Wait! Jersey, then race belt, helmet. Volunteer is gone. I shove my wetsuit in my gear bag and leave it in the grass (I figure, it will find its home somehow). Glasses in hand I run through the women’s change tent (UNSEE! THE HORROR!) and to my trusty steed. What the fuck? Where did all of the bikes go? Damn you swimmers! I will hunt you down…
Bike PR 6:13:47 • Goal 6:06:00 • Realistic sub-6:10
The bike route is three loops of 37.33 miles, out and back. I’m looking forward to taking back some time on the hoards of people who swim faster than me. Shortly after the start, I pass Sarah Reinhertsen. We exchange a few words, wishing each other a good day.
I have enough fluids onboard for 56 miles (34 oz of Perpetuem) and reserve powder to refill that afterwards. For the first time out to the turn-around I try to calm down and stay within myself. Toward the turn-around (18.66 miles) I pull out my 7.5oz can of Coke Cola – liquid victory. The last three miles out are a bit of a climb, so while climbing I slurp down this sweet nectar of the gods. Someone laughs at me at the turn around as I’m holding the mini-can with my teeth so I can ditch it after the turn. Look lady, I’m trying not to wreck at slow speed and I don’t want to litter. Make the turn in 1:06:xx. I’m glad I didn’t know this in the moment, cause I’d hoped for 1:02.
Relaxed and in my element I pour it on and head back toward town. Getting passed by the pro men = cool. Getting passed by the guy with the prosthetic leg = cooler. Getting passed by the guy wearing Crocs = not so much (I pass him every time we go uphill / he passes me back as we go downhill).
Back in town – lots of noise and shouting. I keep calm and don’t take too much energy to search for my family. I figure they will find me. Goal of the day is to focus on the task at hand. I don’t see them and as I would find out later, they miss me entirely during the bike. I make the turn in 50:41 (1:57:30) an average of 22.1 mph for the leg. Might be able to make a six-hour ride if I focus!
Shortly after the first loop is over, my power meter stops showing up on my Garmin. Drat. Okay, adjust. I focus on keeping a cadence of 80-90 in the highest gear possible. Also in here my race number comes undone from my race belt. It’s clinging to me by one snap and flapping in the wind. In an effort to reattach it while biking it comes off the belt, so I stow it in my pocket and hope to remember to reattach it in T2.
Half way out on the second loop me and two other guys (this race is 75% guys) are approaching a right hand turn. Coming the other way, completing the turn from the other direction is a lady rider. Just as she completes the turn, with no one around her front wheel pops up in the air (throwing her hands off the handlebars) and turns 90 degrees. At about sixteen miles per hour she is thrown to the road landing heavily on her left side. She doesn’t move as we pass. First guy in front turns around; next guy starts to sprint to the aide station 100m ahead. A volunteer is already jogging back toward us. WTF just happened?! Second guy and I have no idea. From our perspective she just went down. On the way back through that intersection I would later see a 75m long and three-inch wide gash in the road. Her front wheel must have fallen into the crevice and then locked up on the sides. Note to self: Stay attentive. Second loop done in 1:59:07
During the final bike loop, I focus on being aero as much as possible. I see many bikers who have spent thousands of dollars on expensive triathlon bikes but are unable to hold the aero-position. Yo, do some ab work, elsewise the slow-swimmer broad will pass you. Somewhere in here I go to look at my Garmin on my wrist and accidently hit LAP (@#$%^&*()! My Garmin now thinks I’m in T-2, while I’m at mile 85 of the bike. Fuck it, gotta let that go.
On the way back in we see the aftermath of another crash. The ambulance is parked partially on the racecourse and traffic cones are squeezing the riders into a narrower area heading out toward the far turn around. The guy next to me and I share a few words because the accident looked rough.
I’ve finished eating all of my gels, clif blox, chex mix and the special mini-big hunk I’d stowed aboard and am switching to water only. I’m yo-yoing with two other ladies as we push for home. One lady is a particularly strong rider on a sweet BMC special TT bike. The other lady is a Tri-Arizona rider and an azz-hat who continues to draft off of me and BMC lady. I am displeased by this.
Last time I had a good IM race; I started the run course right at eight hours. It looks like I’m going to crack the six-hour barrier on the bike and hit the run start way under eight hours. Coming into T-2, I hear my dad exclaim my name, with a bit of surprise in his voice. It’s the first I’ve heard from my family all day. Bike done (without incident, thank goodness), I pass 729 people on my way to an eighteen-minute bike PR!
Time 5:55:45! Overall rank 1214/2515 • Gender 212 / 700 • Division 44 / 144
T-2 PR 9:04 • Goal sub-7:00
Volunteer takes my bike; I waddle toward the gear bags. A volunteer hands me my bag. Usually I use the porta potty during T2, but feel no need at this point. I run into the women’s change tent and I take the very first chair. A volunteer runs in with me and she gets SPF 100 duty as well. Shoe switch (no sock change – a gamble, but a time saver), jersey off, race number! I ask the volunteer to reattach it while I put on my second shoe and running hat. Handheld water bottle (which is now lava hot – eww). Hit the lap button on the Garmin (stupid Garmin) and I’m off!
Time 4:09 – woohoo!
Run PR 5:12:26 • Goal 4:49:38 (my 1st stand alone marathon time) • Realistic sub-5:00:00
It’s 2:42pm, which is ten minutes earlier than I had hoped for. The run course is three figure-eight loops, a 3.1 mile section and a 5.5-mile section. Plan is to cruise the 3.1-mile section and unfold the legs from the run. Then do minor cadence pick-ups for fifty meters at each mile from miles 4-24. Pixie goal will have me finish as sub-11:00 / mile pace. I can cruise at 10:40’s in almost any weather – so with a late fade, I’m hoping this plan is possible. The plan needed almost immediate adjustment.
Totally stoked I burst onto the run course. Adrenaline is flying! Holy cow, I’m so far ahead. For six hours I’ve been riding at 19mph on the bike and used to seeing the scenery fly by. Within 400 meters I notice that my bib number is still only semi-attached, my hot water bottle feels heavy, it’s 82 degrees outside and there is zero-wind (a blessing on the bike and a curse right now). Garmin buzzes at mile one and I’ve just clicked off a 9:13. Hold the bleeping phone. In a stand alone marathon bad pacing can destroy a race late in the game. In Ironman it can kill you quickly and early.
At no point did I plan to stop during the marathon, but with the 9:13 I stopped cold. Okay Gwen, regroup. Finish your transition. I pour out half of my hot liquid mixture to lessen the annoying weight. I clip my bib number on and take a few deep breaths. Before I’d stopped I was light-headed and getting the preamble to nausea from the lower regions. This stop probably takes 30-40 seconds, but it may well have saved me 30-40 minutes.
With a deep breath I resume running. I tell myself to be smart, don’t get greedy, don’t do anything stupid. A few beats later I realize that my Garmin had stopped. Fuck, did I pause that shit when I stopped? I restart it and it declares that my race is ‘complete’. Fuck you Garmin, fuck you. On the bridge at 1.5 miles I see a victim of the poo-monster. This is why I doubled down on the Imodium at 6am.
Making the right-hand turn a bit later I’m relieved to feel a slight breeze. Ahh, there it is. Okay, so in this direction there is some relief. Sweet. The rest of the first loop goes by without incident or need to stop. I grab some ice a few times and toss it under my hat. Feeling better. Toward the end of the first loop the leading women pass me. Lindsey Corbin, Meredith Kessler and eventually world champion Leanda Cave. I want to ask them if margaritas will be waiting at the finish, but I’m chicken.
At mile 11, I ask a volunteer to point out an empty porta potty. He points one out and I’m in and out in less than a minute. I pass the marathon halfway point in 2:28. Math is suddenly not my strong suit. I have Iron-Brain, the inability to calculate splits. I shake it off and keep moving forward – no walk breaks. At an aide station I hear the words, ‘Chicken broth!’ and grab some, sniffing it to test the waters. Down the hatch it goes and I start to perk up.
Second time up the Curry Road ‘hill’ and I see my dad! I hand him my sunglasses, because they continue to hinder me when I put ice under my hat – and the sun has just set. Dad relays that my brother is waiting for me, ‘at the next downhill right-hand turn’. I thank him and move on. Left-hander downhill pours me into a very loud aide station (too much noise). A few minutes later I wonder what the hell downhill right-hand turn my dad could be referring to. I don’t see my brother until after the race. My family’s battle strategy is a bit vexing, but I love them!
I’d like to say that I was paying very close attention to my splits here but I wasn’t. I was relentlessly moving forward as best I could. Miles 15-18 are clicked off at 11:00/m pace. At 16 I manage to remember one thing I wanted to focus on. In my previous four IM’s the last 11.2 miles is where the fade happens. Fastest I’ve been able to gut out this last 11.2 miles has been 12:09 pace at IMFL in 2007. Even though my sub-11:00/mile dream is done, I know I can maintain and try to finish strong. The chicken broth allows me to try to do some math. Soon I’ll have eight miles left. At 11:00/m that’s 88 minutes, plus two minutes for the .2, plus two minutes for twenty seconds per mile to hold the pace I’ve got. That’s 92 minutes. At seven miles it’s 77 minutes plus four for 81 minutes. At six miles it’s 66, plus four for 70 minutes . . . and on and on. I keep that four minute pad in there knowing I’m gonna need it.
The drain and strain are upon me. The speedsters are off of the course now. In the final lap anyone passed is passed. Unlike other years, I don’t let myself walk with folks. No talking, just wogging. At every other aide station I’m grabbing something: ice, coke, broth or oranges. The ice is melting in my handheld and giving me cool sips in between stations.
My final time up Curry Road hill I pass the fight fighter in full gear: boots, tank, and helmet. He is doing the whole marathon like this. I thank him as I pass. Down the hill into the ultra-loud aide-station just before mile 24. I toss my handheld down and ‘take off’ as best I can. I would learn later that mile 24 was an 11:14 mile, which may as well have been a 9:13 for how if felt. I pay for it on 25 and 26. The last 1.2 takes forever. People are screaming and holding out their hands to be high-fived. I have no energy for this. The relentless sound of cowbell is caustic to my ears. I envision finishing covering my ears and pleading for two minutes of silence. Under the Mill Ave Bridge for the last time and my legs have NOTHING left. As much as I desire, there is nothing left to sprint with. Lefthander to the last 200m and the finish. My breathing is labored, I’m praying that I’ve managed the sub-5. Make the turn for home and the last 50m. I see the clock turn to 12:43 but I don’t know what it means. Everything is lights and sounds. I hold up my hand to indicate the fifth Ironman finish – something I never would have believed ten years ago. And I finish.
Run Time 5:01:00 • an 11 minute PR
Total Time 12:43:31 • Overall 1097 / 2515 • Gender 211 / 700 • Division 45 / 144
I (re) stop my watch and it says 4:59:47 for the marathon. Woohoo! I wander toward the catchers and suddenly there is HUSBAND! Holding a finishers medal in his hands. He puts it around my neck and I immediately ask for its removal, as I believe I may hurl at any second. Two volunteers grab me and after a few seconds I’m okay. Finisher photo and off for food – and tales of the day. Walking back to the hotel I’m hit by a massive wave of the chills. Teeth chattering. At the hotel I take a warm shower and then dunk my legs in an ice-bath. The ice melts in less than five minutes.
At 11:30p I meet a friend and we watch the last finishers. Walking to the finish line, my legs feel the best they’ve ever felt post-race. I just miss firefighter and Sarah Reinhertson finishing, but we see lots of other gutsy athletes complete their day.
I’m so glad to have this race in the rearview mirror. After so many challenges, logistics, and money spent it’s good to have the sub-13 Ironmonkey off of my back. I know I gave it my all.
Yes, I wish I’d been one to four minutes faster on the marathon. There were definitely sixty one-second places I could have saved time. I’m usually very good about watching splits and staying with my plan on the marathon, but I think I paid for the fast bike by having Iron-brain really early on the run. But hey, I passed 115 people on the run and only one person in my AG passed me!
I’m satisfied and looking forward to adventures that don’t include Ironman.