Ironman Arizona Race Report by Bill Davis
Ironman Arizona 2010
By: Bill Davis
This race report documents my experience and activities related to the 2010 Ironman Arizona race. I have included information that will enable readers to share the experience that I had at this race and I have also included information that will document important issues and details that will help future racing, i.e. “lessons learned”.
Before the actual report commences I want to thank all of the people that have helped me get through this and supported me throughout the race day. First thanks go to my wife (Mindy) who endured all of the long training activities and provided unwavering support throughout the entire process. Next thanks go to my coaches (Joby Guitterrez and Martha Szufnarowski) that have helped me learn how to become a triathlete, train properly and execute a race to the best of my ability. I don’t know whether I should blame or thank this next person, but special thanks goes to Greg Stannard for getting me into this whole triathlon thing – you have been a great mentor and teacher of the sport and you are a great triathlete .
Ironman training requires a lot of time and dedication and I had a great group of training partners that helped execute the training activities each week – thanks to Clegg Porter, Tina Olinger, Bob Littrell, Jenny Ames, Mark Donovan – we had some great workouts together and when you have good people around you, good things happen.
Thank you to all of the athlete supporters that were at the race or tracking on line – I can’t say enough good things about the Tri La Vie team. When I am racing you guys make me feel like a rock star; nobody cheers louder or better than TLV. The TLV members that were at the race cheered so loud that that the other spectators thought I was somebody famous or important – it really makes a difference when you are out there fighting through each leg of the race and you hear your name being screamed from people that you know. For those of you that didn’t make it to the race, but tracked me during the day, I want you to know that you can feel the support each time you step on the mat.
Finally, I have to say thanks to both of my children, Eric and Scott – they are inspirational. I also want to dedicate this race to my son Scott – he was an incredible athlete that trained incessantly and became a champion wrestler during his short lifetime. At the final moments with him, our family made a decision that we would not dwell on the tragic event, but rather embrace the inspiration of Scott’s life and achievements. On November 21st, 2010 Scott and I became Ironmen.
Pre Race Activities
We arrived in Tempe on Thursday and checked in to our hotel – Endurance Sports Travel arranged all of our accommodations. This company takes care of all of your travel needs, including ground transportation, bicycle assembly and mechanical issues, race entry slot, etc. I would definitely use them again for traveling to an Ironman event.
Friday is the first day that you start to experience the Ironman event. This is the day that you check in, get all of your transition/special needs bags and it is also the first day that you shop. You buy the IM branded clothing so that when you are out there on the course suffering you will have some motivation to finish – nobody would wear the clothing unless they truly complete the race.
Later that day we all met for a BBQ in Scottsdale where Jenny was staying. This was a great pre-race activity because all of the people that trained together and our coach sat down in a relaxed environment and had a great dinner that was cooked by Jenny’s husband Steve.
Saturday morning is a pre-race swim at the lake. A lot of different water temperatures were being quoted for the lake and I wanted to get in and find out for myself. IM race personnel were telling people that the water was 71 and other people that had stuck there foot in the water said low 60s. When I jumped in I knew that low 60s or high 50s was the correct number. My swim was about 20 minutes long and I concluded that I did not need a neoprene cap, but that booties would be a good idea. The need for the booties was to ensure that my feet would not be frozen during the bike leg – this turned out to be a good call.
Saturday is also the day that you can sign up for next year if you are a registered athlete in the current race. Tina signed up and she recommended this to me but I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the race again next year or even do an IM again since I had not completed this race yet. I wasn’t planning to do this, but as we were leaving I noticed that there was no line and I knew that if I didn’t sign up now it would cost a lot more if I wait. I signed myself up for IMAZ 2011 and I thought ‘this better be a lot of fun’.
Saturday evening we met up with Greg and his friends from LA Tri Club that were doing the race. All of these people had done an IM race before – Cheryl had just finished racing in Kona this past year, her husband Lou had done several IM races and Lynne had raced at IM Wisconsin this past year. I was the only one at the table that had never done a full distance race. We had a nice pasta dinner and then went back to the hotel to pack and go to sleep.
I set the alarm to get up at 3:30 so that I could eat breakfast early and get myself going – I ate 2 packages of Oatmeal, 2 yogurts, 2 glasses of Orange juice. This was a perfect breakfast for me as I had no stomach issues all day – this was the last protein and solid food (other than fruit) that I ate until after the race. Everybody is different, but straight carbohydrate fueling seems to work good for me. This is something that I am still experimenting with and need to continue to learn more.
The night before the race I had filled all of my bottles and fueling sources on my bike so that I would have it ready. I was using my new tri-bike and when I first got it I couldn’t figure out where to put the fueling sources. The frame is very small and the bento box doesn’t fit on the head tube or stem. Large bottles do not fit on the cages. I discussed this with Joby and he recommended bike Gu bottles. I was able to strap 2 of these to the top tube and then I looked at the bento box and realized that I could strap this to my seat. When I was finished I had 900 calories in the 2 Gu bottles (3 E-Gels in each bottle), 600 calories in each water bottle, 800 calories of peanut butter filled pretzels in the bento box – this was back-up in case I wanted solid food. The pretzels were eliminated later during the race for reasons that I will explain later. So now I had 2300 calories on my bike and had not really added very much weight to the bike – Clegg said to me ‘you turned that Ferrari into a chuck wagon’.
We packed up the car and drove to the event – we got a perfect parking place just across the street from the finishing area. We unloaded everything and headed over to the expo area and just as we were about to enter the gate to the expo we looked up and saw Greg, Cheryl and Lou walking up at exactly the same time. This was great because now Mindy could stay with Greg and we didn’t need to spend time trying to find each other.
The weather forecast for the day was 40% chance of rain and it looked like it was going to hit us for sure.
I went and dropped off all of my transition bags and then made my first stop at the rest room. An event like this is very different from other triathlons in terms of getting transition ready. You drop off everything for the race the day before so there is not a lot to do in the morning – the bike is already in transition in a pre-assigned spot, your bike gear goes into a bag that they are going to hand you (you hope) when you come out of the swim, your run gear is in another bag that they get for you when you get off the bike – everything is ready and organized. The only thing you have to do is use the bathroom and get your wetsuit on.
Tina called me to come over and see where they were setting up the pop tent for their families in case Mindy wanted to go over there during the day. I started to go over there and never made it. I wandered around for a while trying to decide when to put my wetsuit on and I made my first stop to the restroom. I ran into Shane Williams from OC Tri Club and we talked about the race – we were both doing the race for the first time. I sat down to put my wetsuit on and noticed one of the restrooms was open and nobody from the line was going over to use it so I took advantage of an opportunity. I got my wetsuit on and then decided I needed one more bathroom stop, but it was getting very close to race time and the line was still about 10 people deep. I got in line and waited – the pros went off and I was still in line. I finally got in, got out and ran out of transition to the swim start.
The swim start at AZ is very interesting. All of the racers are herded out of transition to the edge of the lake and then you have to jump off of the edge into the lake. It is about a 6 ft drop down to the water and it really looks hilarious to see all of these people going to the edge of the lake and jumping off of the edge. Mindy took some great video shots of this. After you hit the water you have to swim about ½ mile to the start. Once you get out there you are bobbing up and down waiting for the cannon to go off. Everybody keeps pushing forward and I really didn’t want to be too far up, but the longer we sat there the closer I was getting. I was probably in the front 1/3 of the pack by the time the cannon fired.
The kayaks cleared, the power boat cleared and the cannon went off – suddenly there were arms flying, feet kicking, bodies sliding over and under, etc. Total mayhem – forget about swimming any kind of smooth, fluid stroke. I just kept my head out of the water as much as possible and went with the pack. For about the first 500 yards the swimming is a mess, but then it starts to settle down. Really did not know the course and it was very difficult to find anything to use for sighting. I had picked a hotel out during the practice swim as a sighting point and this worked pretty good at keeping me going down the middle of the lake, but it really wasn’t the shortest way to the turn buoy. I ended up finding the yellow course buoys and sighted off of them, but I think this added a lot of distance to my swim. At Tempe Town Lake you start swimming at one bridge and you swim down to the next bridge, plus a ways past the second bridge. These bridges are about one mile apart. When I arrived at the turn buoy I looked at my watch and it read 41 minutes, which would have been perfect, except I really wasn’t at the half way point. Coming back I swam right at a building that was above the swim exit because this was the shortest distance. However, I eventually ran into orange buoys that directed me back out to the lake edge – the course was moving you out and towards the edge. This added some more distance to my swim. When I finished the swim my time was 1:38:48 – not too good, but I was out and ready to start my favorite part of triathlon.
I stepped on the mat and hit my lap button on the Garmin, which is supposed to automatically change to T1, but it takes a while to change and so I hit it again, and it changed to BIKE. So now my T1 time was going to be included in the Bike time. I went to where they strip off wetsuits and they said lay down and pulled everything off – the guy almost got my timing chip when he took the booty off, but I have prior experience with this and I stopped him from getting it. I ran off to get my T1 bag and get on to the bike. I found a chair right away, made a quick change outside the tent and then ran over to get my bike. Most of the bikes were gone so it was easy for me to find my bike. I hit the Mount line and was off through to the bike course.
T1 – 6:24
Joby had given me instructions for pacing the bike leg and they were tied in to a hear rate that we had developed during training. This is a 3 loop course so here are the instructions:
Limit calories the first 20 minutes on the bike. Drink water and let your HR settle as quickly as possible.
Lap 1 – effort should feel easy – like a training day. Take time to stretch a little and allow muscles to adjsut to the bike. Be patient. Keep HR at 126 and up to 130 if it feels easy.
Lap 2 – You’ve seen the course, now start building intensity a bit – still keep effort easy o moderate. Keep HR steady at 130.
Lap 3 – Don’t force the faster pace – let it happen naturally. This is where you can allow HR to climb a little bit. Keep HR below 134
Lap 1 – I am now on my bike and spinning easy. I looked down at my bike computer and my HR was not showing up – it was showing up on my wrist Garmin, but I really wanted it on my bike computer where I could see it with a glance. I had changed monitors the night before and had not paired the bike computer to the new Garmin. I went through the menu, found the HR settings and ran a re-scan. This worked so now I was ready to start racing and follow my plan. There was one problem – I couldn’t get my HR down to the level that Joby instructed. I tried slowing down but it was still hanging in the mid to high 130s and I knew this would turn to a disaster on the run if I didn’t get it down – this IM thing is really about conserving energy and HR is like the fuel consumption gage – the higher it is pumping the sooner you will run out of fuel for the race. About 10 miles into the race it finally settled down but it was definitely at the top end of the range for the first lap. I held that HR and my speed was 18-20 mph.
As I was going out the Beeline Highway towards the first turnaround point I came upon a pack of riders that were about 4-5 across and I went around them. The outside guy swayed towards the middle of the road and forced me across the center line of the course and unfortunately there was a race patrol motorcycle right behind me. He gave me a stop and go penalty so I had to stop at the first tent that I came across. I found the tent just before the turnaround, but it was on the other side of the road so I did not want to cross the line again and made the stop on the way down.
I hit the turnaround point and then realized why it was so easy to go uphill – the wind was blowing steady at 15-20 mph and as I went down the highway there were gusts that were much higher. I thought I was going to get blown off the bike. As I descended back down the highway (1-3 % grade) I tried to maintain my HR and keep my speed up as high as possible, but I was only going about 14-16 mph. The wind was coming at you and sideways which required a lot of straining in my back muscles. This ended up being a problem later when I was running.
I made it back to town for the first lap and there were a lot of people at the turnaround that I knew. My name was being yelled from all directions – I found Robin Sickles and the TLV group, I heard Jim Manton’s voice and I saw Robin Littrell and Briana. There was a lot of cheering from the group as I completed my first lap. I had rode as close to the plan as I could and completed the first loop in a little over 2 hours, including the penalty stop.
I headed out on my second lap and I was riding at a good pace following my HR instructions. As I was heading out I heard somebody yelling from very far behind me to move to the right. I looked back and it was Chrissie Wellington. She went by me and Isaid to the person next to me ‘I am not going to let that little girl pass me’. The person said go catch her and I did. I paced her for about ¾ – 1 mile and she was riding about 28-30 mph. I knew I would burn up if I kept this up so I slowed back to my instructed pace, but it was a lot of fun trying to stay up with her.
Just before mile 50 I caught up to Bob Littlrell and he said that Tina was about 5 riders ahead of him. After a brief talk I went on my way to catch Tina. I gave her a stern ‘on your left” and I think it scared her until she turned around and saw that it was me. She gave me a hard time about taking 50 miles to catch up to her. We talked a little about the wind, Chrissie Wellington and other things about the race, then I went on my way. I made it to the turnaround and decided to grab a banana from the aid station as my legs were feeling a little cramped. I was keeping up with my nutrition pretty good at this point and took in the banana as some insurance.
I was starting to get the urge to pee and I went by the bathroom and noticed that the line was really long. The last time I raced 112 at Vineman Aquabike I held it the etire 6 hours, but this time I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do that. So I let it flow and the fluid went all over the seat and down into the bento box where my pretzels were located – these were now off the nutrition plan. The next time around I stood up and leaned the bike to one side and discovered that this works much better. So now when you see the pros standing up and out of the aero position you will know that they are not stretching their backs.
The second loop had more wind, but I had more power to give so I actually finished faster than the first loop. I headed out for my third loop and I could feel the wind picking up and more raining coming in. As I was heading out of town I had something fly through my helmet at strike me right on top of my head. Right away I knew what I was, but I couldn’t stop quick enough and then all of a sudden I felt ZZZZZZZZ on my head. I had been stung by a bee. I could tell the bee was still in there and I took my helmet off and shook him out very quickly, but I couldn’t get my helmet on without stopping – I really hate stopping. I should have stopped right away because having my helmet off could have DQ’ed me. I got the bee out, somebody asked if I was OK and then I got back on my way. The third loop was horrendously windy in both directions and there was dust and rain too. I continued to grab bananas at the aid stations to supplement the fuel, because I have had cramping problems in the past during the run.
The wind was really picking up and at one point I reached down to massage my right quad and a gust of wind almost knocked me off the bike. It was getting very difficult to control the bike and I was getting very worried about crashing. There were 3 crashes that I saw and one of them required a medic truck for the riders. When I finished the ride I saw that my time was very close to 6 hours – I would liked to have come in under 6, but with the wind that was impossible.
I got off my bike feeling very good and strong – I could have rode another 100 miles and I was happy with my time. I got my running shoes on and went straight out to the run course. I had grabbed one of my empty bike bottles and I was going to use it with E-Gels that I thought I had put in my bike – to – run bag, but they weren’t in there. I must have put them in special needs so I decided I would fuel using the gels on the course.
Transition time – 3:43
26.2 Mile Run
I was given a racing plan for the run just like I had for the bike as follows:
Run – first 3 miles – go really slow. Keep pace a 11:30-11:45. Keep strides short and compact. Take time to stretch shoulders or any other tight areas. Allow body to loosen up.
Remainder of Loop1 – keep pace at 11:15-11:30
Lap 2 – You have to make a decision about how you feel. Check your heart rate too. If you are great and HR is under 143 then start to drop pace gradually aiming at 11:00-11:15
If you are feeling OK and your HR is above 145 then stick with 11:15-11:30 pace
Lap 3 – Make another decision about how you feel. If you are feeling like it’s getting tough just hang onto your current pace. If you are feeling good, then you can gradually start to drop your pace. Be cautious about anything under 10:45. The closer you get to the finish, the more risks you can take.
This is my first time ever running over 20 miles and I had never made any distance close to this after a 112 mile ride. I went straight out to the run course and dialed in the pacing instructions. Before the race started I adopted/acceted a philosophy that any pain that existed during the run would just become part of the process – I knew it was going to hurt in my joints and other unknown parts of my body so I had decided that I would just make this part of the process of running. When I first started I had a lot of pain in my lower back and the faster I ran the more it hurt. It didn’t seem like it was going to go away – running seemed to make it worse. The run course has 3 loops, but the course is a figure 8 and there are actually 2 sub-loops within each loop. The first sub loop is about 3 miles long and the second sub-loop is about 5 miles long. After I completed the first sub-loop I came by the location of all of the spectators – the cheering of my name was so loud and vigorous that I am sure the other people that didn’t know me thought I was somebody famous. This really propelled me out onto the second sub-loop.
At this point in the run I have completed my first 3 miles and I followed the pacing instructions that I was given. My back was still very sore and the harder I ran the more it hurt so I really dropped my pace back to what ever felt comfortable. This turned out to be closer to 12 minute miles. I checked my HR and it was in the low 130s so I knew I was OK with cardio. At mile 7 I heard a familiar voice – it was Tina. She came by running very strong. I gave her a hard time about taking 7 miles to catch me. I completed the first loop _ about 8.7 miles – and I felt good, but the back was still hurting a lot.
As I started the second loop, the wind was blowing hard and I was in pain. I heard a familiar voice coming up from behind and it was Bob. He slowed down and blocked the wind for me. We talked about the back pain and eventually I told him he needed to go and run his race – don’t slow down for me. I came around the first sub-loop again and people were still screaming my name.
Other than the back pain I was OK, but I got a little behind on nutrition – I wasn’t feeling too good about eating gels all of the time and from about mile 11-13 I took in mostly water. At mile 13.1 I looked at my split and saw that I was 2:37 which was not going to get me a 5 hour marathon time, but it was faster than any of my 70.3 races. I felt like I was running a pretty good race and then suddenly I got very light headed, slightly nauseous and chilled. I knew there was an aid station at mile 14 – I had to hang in there until that point and try and get the right combination of food in me otherwise I was going to faint out there and then I would be taken off the course whether I wanted to or not. I had decided that when I get to the aid station I would take in fruit and water – no gels. I ate grapes and bananas along with water to wash down the residual sugar and I walked the next ½ mile letting the food settle. This portion of the course is also a fairly steep hill so the walking was good recovery.
Half way up the hill I came upon Lou (Greg’s friend and multi-time Ironman). He was stretching and hurting a lot. We walked together for awhile but eventually he stopped and continued his stretching. – he finished the race but he told me he walked the entire marathon. Once the food settled I felt great and I reached the top of the hill and started running again. From this point forward there was no more walking except the aid stations. I was not really checking my pacing any more – I just ran at a comfortable pace that I felt could be maintained for the distance that I had left. I came back through the spectator area and now there weren’t so many people left but I saw Mindy and Greg. I handed out a high five and continued on my way for my last loop. During the last loop I started running with a racer from Canada. He told me that his wife was already finished and that he was just trying to hang on to the end. We were going at a pretty good pace and we stayed together to start the final sub-loop. Our pace was about 11:00 and I felt very good – I was worried that it was too fast, but it was helping to have somebody to run alongside. I needed to stop and use the restroom and then he left me and I went back to my 12:00 pace.
At mile 21 somebody came up from behind me and slapped me on the back and said ‘looking strong’ – It was Jenny. She was running very good and looked strong. I knew I could not keep up with her and so I let her go on her way. My stops at the aid stations started getting longer, but I never was among the walking out on the course. I was able to keep about a 12:00 minute pace going. When I hit 24 miles I knew I had 2.2 to go and I started picking up my pace. I felt very strong and I ran the 24th mile at about 11:15 pace. Then when there was 1.2 miles to go I picked up the pace, skipped the last aid station and came into the chute running 10:40 pace. I know that you are supposed to wait until there is nobody around so you can get your name shouted out as an Ironman, but I was feeling strong and just ran right through and past everybody. When I got to the finish line I felt relieved and excited – I knew that I had ran a very good race. 13:23:45 was a respectable time and I felt like I had executed everything properly.
My wife, prior to the race, gave me one instruction and that was to not look at my watch when I finish. Old habits die-hard and both of my finishing pictures are of me looking at my watch. After I did this I remembered to put my hands up in the air. I walked through the reception line and had my own personal escort making sure I was OK. They gave me a fresh hat, t-shirt and a reflective blanket. Shortly, I started to see people that I knew and we gathered around and took pictures and congratulated each other.