2013 Ironman Arizona – Mike Alzona
So the only reason why even I got involved in triathlons (in 2012) was to complete an Ironman. So I was extremely excited to finally get a chance to put myself to the test. A month prior to the race, I did Soma 70.3 as a trial run to preview portions of the IMAZ course and to pace myself similar to what I would do at IMAZ. Unfortunately, going into the 2nd mile of the run, I rolled my ankle and should have DNF to avoid any further injury. Instead I went against good judgment and ran the last 12 miles of the race. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake. But I never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed.
One week before IMAZ, I was out for my last open water swim and got stung (on the heel) by a sting ray on the same foot as my bad ankle. I thought , “Man, the triathlon gods are really trying to put me to the test”. Too turn into a positive thing, I thought that maybe, just maybe, the sting ray was a good thing. Just like Peter Parker getting bitten by the spider and turning into Spiderman. I believed that I’d swim faster now that I got stung, just call me Stingrayman. Corny right, but hey I’ll take anything to make my ass swim a little faster.
To say the least, I had some concerns about how my ankle and heel would feed during the race. If you are wondering if I saw a doctor at any point during these injuries, the answer is no. I wasn’t trying to be tough guy and show how that I could suffer through just about anything. In fact since getting into the world of triathlon, I’ve gotten to know my body pretty well, and know when it’s time to really shut things down versus just dealing with some pain. So in reality, the main reasons for not seeking medical help is because I really didn’t want to hear any bad news or be instructed not to do the race. I trained way too damn hard to not fulfil my goal of completing an Ironman, so I would basically have to ignore any discomfort and take care of things after the race. Worse comes to worse, they can chop the foot off after the race, because I would become an Ironman one way or another. That’s how much I wanted it.
Fast forward to the Saturday before IMAZ, Joby and Jillian did a course review, gave us final instructions, race tips, whether to pee or not to pee on the bike, and other fun stuff. The main things that came out of it….enjoy the moment, don’t hammer the bike, and understand that there will be voices in your head that will tell you to slow down and look to the next race.
Pre Race dinner was at Olive Garden where we ran into Michelle Seidel and her crew. We did our pre race dinner there for Soma, so it just seem fitting to go back. I felt good for Soma, so no reason to change things up. A few breadsticks, a bowl of minestrone, and chicken marsala with potatoes.
In bed by 9:30, but didn’t fall asleep till 12:30. So typical.
On race day, I arrived at Tempe Town Lake at 5:15, plenty of time to chit chat with friends and other first timers setting up their bike. There was so much excitement and nerves all around. For myself, I wasn’t nervous at all, my nerves were based on two things: Going sub 12 hours and whether I’d be able to stay with Marc Vermill on the run. One of the best things about triathlon is that even though I’ll ever come close to getting on a podium, I can always find somebody of similar or better abilities to help motivate me to keep going. Since Marc and I were similar in each of the three legs of this race, he would be dubbed as my zebra, and I, the hunter.
So I got all my stuff set up and dropped of my special needs bag, then went over to the TEAM FC tent to hang out with teammates and family to arrive. So far so good. But then I realized I spoke too soon.
As everyone headed over to transition and made their way under the arch to jump into the water, I was still waiting around to see my family. I end up finding out that they were not going to be there on time because my wife decided to go to Starbucks. Really??? It was the biggest day of my life since having kids and getting married, and she couldn’t wait till after the swim start to get a cup of coffee??? After a brief argument on the phone over what time they were supposed to arrive, I hung up the phone pissed off and disappointed. And now it’s time to jump in the water without hearing good luck from anyone in my family. This was not the mindset that I envisioned prior to the swim start.
2.4 MILE SWIM (1:43:34)
If there’s one part of this race that I was not looking forward to it was the swim start. Although I’m not a strong swimmer, I’ve had really good open water swims as the last month plus I had that sting ray sting to make me even faster, so I expected to finish the swim in 1:20 – 1:30 range. My original plan was to line up with Marc Vermil on the buoy line more than half way back. So after jumping into the murky waters of Tempe Town Lake, I swam under the bridge and out towards the buoy line. As I was busy scanning the bridge hoping to get at least get a glimpse of my family, I somehow ended up in the first 10-15 rows of swimmers at the front. HUGE MISTAKE! By the time I realized where I was, the cannon went off and away we went. I expected a lot of contact, which normally doesn’t bother me, however what I wasn’t prepared for was how churned up the water would be. Our coaches had told us about the rough waters, but I still wasn’t prepared for it. Within the first 400 yards of swimming, I was constantly taking in the nasty bacteria laden water with each breath, and it was difficult to extend and get a long strong in. I soon would have to stop and catch my breath, but that only compounded the problem as a stampede of swimmers climbed all over my back or wacked me on the back of the head and shoulders. I would start to swim again, but that just delayed the ensuing barrage of punches and just plain punishment. It was first time ever in a race where I felt really uncomfortable and on the verge of panic.
There was no easy way to get way to get to a kayak or paddleboard, so I thought “just breathe and rotate a little more on your breathing side”, not even knowing if that was the correct thing to do. After several minutes I finally regained my composure and found a little bit of room, and finally got into a rhythm. I was able to stay on the buoy line, however my right google kept leaking which caused me to stop a few times before the turn around. After a few attempts to seal the google, I gave in and just dealt with have lake water in my eyeball.
So instead of having good thoughts of long strokes and sighting frequently, instead what was going through my head was “Starbucks…really”, “I should have waited under the bridge during the start”, “I lost so much time, and I’m not even at the turnaround yet”. This mistake #2, as these thoughts distracted me from keeping track of where I was in relation to the buoy line. I finally got my mind straight when Kristie Dodge popped into my head (maybe it was because she was passing me…hell everyone on TEAM FC passed me at some point during the swim). Anyway she told me that during her first IM swim, she actually stopped for a moment to enjoy the sunrise. That was her most memorable part of the swim. Now I obviously didn’t want to stop, but that thought alone calmed me down and set my mind right. Thanks Kristie.
So I finally made it to the turn around and started to head back…..I’m half way there baby! Soon after that thought, my right calf started to twinge, the notorious sign of a cramp about to set in. “Oh no, don’t do it, don’t do it, please don’t……aaaahhhh cramp….cramp!” WTF!!!! I’ve never had a cramp in any of my swims so naturally didn’t have a back up plan had I got one. Trying to think back to tips that Joby and Jillian gave, I didn’t recall anything relating to this. I stopped and flipped over to my back to try to massage the tight ball of muscle that caused me to pull that leg up to my chest. Cramp went away, but as soon as I started to swim again, I could feel it start to tighten up again. The only thing that seemed to help was to not extend my toes and instead do the opposite. This toe position would create a lot more drag in the water, but at this point I was starting to think I need to keep swimming or there’s a chance that I may not make the cut off time if I cramped again.
So I finally made it to the final turn and was so relieved that this nightmarish swim was over. Coming out of the water, I got the wetsuit stripped off, and ran away from that nasty lake. Within the first 50 yards of running towards transition, I unexpectedly see my family waving me down. That is exactly what I needed to get me going. I ran over to grab their hands and told them “I made it….I finished the swim!” They had stunned and confused looks on their faces as there was never a question in their mind that I would not finish the swim. What they didn’t realize was that I had experienced the most hellish swim of my short triathlon career. 10 yards further and I see my buddy Tom, the Ladera Ranch Dentist, cheering me on. A little further down I see Michelle and Amanda from OCTRI screaming out my name and waving. I was really feeling good!
I grabbed my bike bag and sat down in a chair outside the men’s changing tent, I then hear Karen Gale’s (OCTRI) voice behind me, “oh you decided to come change in the womens area??” There’s a women’s changing area? OH well. I was so anxious to get to my bike, that I didn’t care if that I was lubing up my crotch. During the process I saw Michele and Amanda yelling my name as they were talking pictures or video. This will make a great pic for OCTRI! “Mike Alzona buttering his crotch”
112 Mile Bike (5:44:27)
If there was one thing that I promised myself to do, it was to “enjoy the moment.” Last year, I remember standing there on the other side of the fence thinking that I better show my appreciation to all these strangers cheering you on. And that’s exactly what I did. As I was pedaling through the chute lined with people on either side, I was giving high fives, “Wooo Hooing”, and just soaking it all in. It was the most incredible atmosphere to be in.
So my plan was to negative split each of the 3 bike loops, and not to surge or burn matches. Given that I was in the bottom 20% of the field coming out of the water, I knew that there was going to be a lot of passing on the bike without pushing the pace. I was having such a good time on that first loop as I able to say hi to a bunch of my teammates and a few ladies from TriLaVie. In fact within the first 2 miles I came up right behind Marc Vermill. I was so excited to see my first teammate, Marc, that I nearly smacked him on the ass when I was passing. But then I thought twice and preferred not to wreck because I was trying to be playfull. I’ll have to add “bike ass smacking to my training” so I feel more comfortable doing it next time. Next I would see Erika Vermil, Kristie Dodge, Laura Booher, and later Willie Sanchez.
So it normally takes me about 30 min for my heart rate to come down to the correct range. On this particular day, it took me about 45 min. Although I was really excited to be out on the course for the first time ever, I knew to manage my effort and not surge. The slight climb up Bee Line Highway was not as bad as I had expected. In fact coming back down Bee Line was an absolute rush. Next to going through the crowd coming out of T-1, the downhill was my absolute favorite part of the course. At the completion of the first loop, it was the coolest thing as a group of TEAM FC was there yelling my name. I yelled back and gave them a fist pump in appreciation for their support. Freaking awesome! Go FC!!!! Loop 1 (1:56)
It was time to go to work on the 2nd loop, but still not outside of my abilities. My legs were feeling incredible and I was loving this ride. To keep myself entertained, I was singing Marvin Gaye “Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough, to keep me from getting to you baby.” Loop 2 (1:52)
Last loop to go, and it was time to put in my best controlled effort yet still not exceeding my abilities and remember that it was all about setting everything up for the run. On this final lap, I was so sick of eating Honey Stinger Waffles and Cliff Bars, that I decided to take a couple Cliff Shot mocha gels instead. I made one stop to use the rest room and to grab my special needs bag for another bottle of electrolytes. Winds picked up quite a bit on this last loop, but it was still manageable and did not frustrate me at all. Loop 3 (1:55).
Although I didn’t negative split the last loop, it was mainly due to the stop I made. All in all, I was pleased, as I anticipated the ride to be in the 6+ hour range. And this was my first ride real ride over 100 miles!
Final bike time 5:44:27 (1:56, 1:52, 1:55)
I was so stoked with that bike time and finally getting off it that I completely missed my family yelling for me at the bike chute entrance, apparently they were waiting for a long time. Sorry guys.
Getting off the bike, my back felt tight, and legs felt slightly heavy (but not bad). Normally this would be a quick transition, however due to my ankle injury, I had to wrap it with KT tape to give it some support. There was a volunteer that help me dump all the stuff out of the bag, put my helmet and shoes in. Before taking the bag away, he asked if everything I didn’t need was in the bag. I told him yes, and he was gone. I had to wrap the ankle, put new socks on, put the shoes on, wrap the hydration belt around my waist. Seemed like an eternity as the clock was ticking and it was taking forever to wrap the ankle. As I was about to leave, I then realized that I still had my arm warmers in my back pocket and an extra sock. Damn, where’s my bag? Too late, I would have to run with this stuff in my pocket. On to the run.
Marathon Run- 26.2miles (2 Loops) (5:08:47)
Eyeing my watch, I needed to run about a 4:15 marathon if I was to meet my goal of Sub 12 hours. Just need to run 10:00 min/mile for the first few miles, and eventually average 9:30 miles for the entire marathon. In my mind that was very doable.
The original plan was to run the first 10 miles easy around 9:45-10:00 min/mile, push up the pace by 15-20 secs per mile till mile 20, then give whatever I had left in the tank from that point forward. The run course itself is relatively flat with a few hills, nothing major. I had run most of that course during Soma, so I was pretty familiar with the terrain. So I thought a 4:15 marathon was definitely in my wheelhouse.
The only thing that felt out of sorts was my stomach. I was on track through the first 2 miles, but during the 3rd mile my stomach really started going crazy. I had MAJOR GI problems, gas/bloating and I had no desire what so ever to take in the gel/water mixture in my hydration belt. So I played a game of “crop dusting”, always checking to see who was behind me then squeezing one out ever so carefully as I was really trying to avoid shitting myself. Women always got my respect, so I made sure that they were outside of ear shot distance and safely out of the FART ZONE. Hey, I still got be gentleman during an Ironman. Somewhere on the run course I remember seeing a sign that said “Never trust a fart during an Ironman”, this was stuck in mind throughout most of the run.
I eased up a bit after the 4th mile, hoping these GI problems would go away, but it never did, it got worse. As the miles ticked off I began to worry about not taking in any calories
After hitting a porta potty twice between mile 5-11, I started to panic about completely bonking, so I forced myself to eat a section of banana and an orange slice at a couple aid stations. I still had no appetite for the gel. Surprisingly my stomach started to settle…a little. Going into the second loop, I got to the TEAM FC tent and ditched my arm warmers and extra sock that had been soaking up all the water that I was dumping over my head and back. OK, less bulkiness now, it’s time kick it in gear. Although my mind wanted to go and my legs felt decent, my body just said “you’re kidding right”. Even though I felt like I was running a 9:15-9:30 mile, looking down at my watch I was still in the 10:xx – 11:xx range. By mile 15 I realized that my goal of going sub 12 hours was not going to happen, and my desire to push just went
You always hear the cliché that you learn a lot about yourself during a marathon (and especially during an Ironman marathon). It’s absolutely true. When I realized that my goal would not be achieve, I was extremely angry and depressed because I was about to fail at achieving my goal of 11:XX:XX. Moreover, I was really embarrassed because I felt like I let down my coaches, my teammates, my family and all the friends that came to cheer me on. All those people came out to support me and I couldn’t perform. I didn’t deserve to wear this TEAM FC kit because I couldn’t deliver. At this point if I came in at 12 hours, 15 minutes or 12 hours, 59 minutes, it was all the same, it was now just a matter of finishing, which was never in question. I lost that competiveness and drive to keep things going, but at that point it didn’t matter. I just wanted to be invisible. I was so focused on time, all else didn’t seem to matter.
So for the next 45 minutes, I didn’t say a word to anyone around me, I barely
uttered the words thank you to the volunteers, all I did was eat everything available at the aid stations. Oranges , bananas, grapes, pretzels, cookies, chicken broth, cola. I probably gained weight in those 4 miles of eating at the Ironman marathon buffet line. It didn’t matter if I stopped at a porta potty because time just didn’t matter
During those 45 minutes, I questioned what went wrong and why. Did I not train hard enough? Was it the horrible swim? Was my nutrition on the bike completely off? Was it the gel that I took when I got sick of eating Honey Stinger waffles and Cliff Bars? I stewed in all the possible reasons that lead to the position that I was in. During a marathon, there are plenty of things to think about when you are all alone and ignoring every person out there.
Then around mile 18 or 19 I had brief chat with a woman that would completely change my attitude, Bill Davis’ wife Melinda Davis who was in the 55-59 division. I had just met Bill and Melinda the day before the race, and I had seen Melinda earlier in the day on the bike. On the bike course, I didn’t recognize her from behind , I simply said “Looking Good Tri La Vie” as I passed , and she yelled back “Go FC!……I’m Bill’s wife!!!”. I gave her the thumbs up and rode away I went.
Melinda was only on mile 5 or 6 miles into the marathon. She was the first person that I actually talked to since my mental meltdown. She was doing her speed walking thing, so I slowed down to see how she was doing. She was in good spirits and knew exactly the pace that she had to maintain to finish before 12AM. I told her that I did hear her scream out “I’m Bill’s wife” on the bike and that she was looking great on the run. I could tell that she was a little nervous of making that 17 hour cut off. After telling her “she’ll have a great finish”, I was on my way. She doesn’t realize it, but she became my inspiration as she still had at least 5-6 more hours on the course.
After thinking about her and the many others that would finish in the 16-17 hour range, my own shitty attitude had completely changed. Joby and Jillian had warned us about that negative voices that would enter our heads during the last 5-6 miles of the marathon……”Just slow down a little bit……You’ll do better in the next race…..it’s ok to stop trying…..just walk for a little while”. It was a different story for me. Instead, the thought of Melinda Davis had triggered positive ones.
I thought to myself, “Don’t ruin the race because of these fucking time goals. You’ve trained way to hard and sacrificed way too much family time not to enjoy this race. Enjoy the moment, JUST ENJOY THE MOMENT!”. From that point on, that’s exactly what I did. I picked up the pace and just ran with a much better mindset. I had this new goal and new appreciation for those that were still running in it. Thank you Melinda Davis! You reminded me to enjoy this first IM, there will be IM later in life that I can ruin, just not this one, not today.
Throughout this entire run, my ankle and sting ray sting did not cause me much issue accept for a little discomfort and aching. However at around mile 20, my ankle basically gave me the middle finger as if to say “You’ve ignored me all up until now, and now it’s time to pay!” With every step that I took with my left foot, there was a constant reminder that I should not have kept running those other 12 miles at Soma. From that point on, the only thing that I could think about is how much farther do I need to go before I can sit down?!? It’s ironic that the Soma 70.3 actually trained me for this particular moment. I told myself that I ran on 12 miles on this bad ankle, I can certainly run 6 more.
I finally arrive at finishers chute, and for the last 100 yards of wall to wall people, all the pain in my ankle, all the GI distress, and the failed Sub 12 hour goal, was all forgotten. Within the first 20 yards of the chute, my family is there yelling my name with huge smiles on their faces. It’s an image that I will never ever forget. I’ve never seen them so happy to see me. I run over to give them a hug and I was just speechless and almost brought to tears. I jogged down the chute fist pumping, high fiveing, and “woo hooing” the entire way up to that finish line. The culmination of the countless hours training all comes down to this moment. This was the moment that I had patiently waited for and now it was all about to happen. Nobody was within 15 yards of me, so I was all by myself as I was about to crossed the finish line. I then hear Mike Riley, “Mike Alzona, engineer from Rancho Santa Margarita, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” Crossing that the finish line was the best feeling in the world, I may not have finished in the time that I was hoping for, but this experience was just absolutely amazing!
FINISH TIME: 12:53:55
Thank you Joby and Jillian, your inspiration, wisdom, and leadership enabled me to achieve this monumental goal, I can’t even begin to describe the amount of appreciation and admiration I have for you both. Thank you Team FC teammates for your support and camaraderie throughout this journey, you guys are awesome. Thanks to my family for your support and allowing me the time to train, I owe you guys big time. To all my friends that came out to cheer me on, you are the best! This entire experience was incredible!
What would I do different?
Swim: Although the plan was to start on the buoy line. I really should have position myself behind the first half of swimmers or even 2/3s of the way back. I didn’t really prepare myself for that churned up water and how to properly breathe in that type of condition. Looks like I’ll I need to incorporate some mob swimming and be really focus on the swim in the off season.
T1: Aside from getting ready in the so called women’s outdoor area, Nothing out of the ordinary happened.
Bike: Although I felt comfortable with the effort that I put in, a power meter would have been extremely beneficial to keep any surges in check and to monitor efforts. I paced myself based more on perceived effort than strict heart rate guidelines. Getting off the bike my legs didn’t feel fresh, but not heavy either. I could have dialed it back some, but in hindsight it really would not have mattered given the GI problems I had. Not sure if taking in so much of the lake water had any effect on my digestive system.
T2: Wrapping my ankle added 6-7 additional minutes to my final time. Also, I should not have let my bag get taken away so soon, as I still had my arm warmers and sock that I had to take with me on the run.
Run: The GI problems that I was having really hindered my ability to run at a decent pace. The lack of calories going into my body during the first 12-13 miles was a major mistake that caused me to slow down. Then ankle injury and mental melt down on the second loop was ultimately the major killer of the race. I know I didn’t give the effort that the race deserved, and I now regret not fighting till the end. I wanted to feel like I gave everything that I had in the tank, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.
I never realized the type of a mental battle that I would go through, and it wasn’t at the end of the race like I had antipated. Lesson learned for the next IM in 2015.