Ironman Arizona Race Recap

Ironman Arizona Race Recap

Posted by on Dec 10, 2016 in Gina's Blog |

I can’t believe the season is over, gone, poof, there it goes… I’m happy and sad at the same time.  My body needs a chance to recover from what I hope are minor injuries. I have been dealing with sciatic pain or piriformis syndrome for a few months, which really seems to worsen when I pick up my pace in either cycling or running but mostly running.  I stopped running a week before Ironman Arizona in hopes I could reduce the inflammation and pain in my butt.  My friend Kelly and I set out for the 11 hour drive to AZ on Thursday morning after I taught my 5:30 a.m. cycle class at JRRC. Thankfully another friend let me borrow a small inflatable pillow so my butt didn’t hurt so bad during the drive, that sitting can be brutal on the ‘ol tush!

This would be my third Ironman distance race in Arizona.  My first IM distance race was in AZ in 2011, I went 11:14 for 5th place. I raced IM AZ again in 2015 and had my all-time fastest IM at 10:39 and placed 4th.  I had a really bad swim experience in 2011 so I spend too much energy worrying about not drowning on the swim.  There was a major change in water temperature from AZ 70.3 in October to November, I couldn’t believe how much colder the water was when I got in on Saturday for the swim warm ups.  The open water swim on Saturday was pretty awful, not only was the water cold, murky, and choppy but the athletes were super high strung and I could feel myself getting anxious. The 800 yard swim felt more like a mile… not sure what happened but my eye was stinging and got super red after the swim.  I was worried that I got some sort of infection because my eye was red and swollen and tears continued to stream down my face for the next 24 hours.

The AZ volunteers and IM staff are really awesome! Bike and gear check in was pretty fast on Saturday. I spent most of the day in my hotel room waiting for Jeff (my husband) and Nat (my youngest daughter) to arrive. We stayed at the host hotel, Mission Palms Inn because it’s the most convenient.  After my usual pre-race meal of fish and rice I crawled into bed for the night around 9 p.m.  I didn’t sleep well on Saturday but by now I know not to worry as I never sleep well the night before Ironman.  After breakfast (rice cakes, bananas and peanut butter and a cup of coffee) I was off to the race start.  I lined up with the 1:05-1:10 swimmers hoping I wouldn’t get swallowed up. My plan was to swim straight to the inside edge of the buoys because I don’t like to be smashed with swimmers on both sides of me.  The gun went off with a huge BOOM and we slowly walked to the stairs and jumped in the water.  Even though I was scared and feeling anxious, the sun was rising and the sky was the most beautiful red, orange and pink colors you could imagine. I could see people standing on the bridge and knowing Jeff and Nat were there gave me a sense of calmness.   That calmness soon left as my heart rate spiked and I felt like it might come right out of my chest. People swam on top of me, knocked me in the head and grabbed my shoulders on both sides. I stopped and looked behind me to see a sea of heads and arms coming at me… PANIC… I surged ahead and swam to inside edge of the buoys as planned and I took a second to stop and collect myself, this is not the time to lose it, trust me.  A volunteer on a kayak yelled out to me to make sure I was OK, I said yes, put my head down and got busy moving forward one buoy at a time.  The wind was pretty intense first thing in the morning so the swim was a lot like being in a washing machine. I exited the water and glanced at my watch with disappointment… I knew I had some ground to make up. My time was 1:13, I was 6th in my age group… not as bad as I thought, I guess the other girls were also impacted by the conditions.

Ironman is a long day, I told myself to be patient and to not rush things.  People seemed to pass me on the bike with more ease than I’d like.  I felt like I was pushing hard and I shouldn’t or couldn’t go any faster.  AZ IM is a triple loop course and with each loop I felt it harder and harder to find my “give-a-shitter”.  I placed 8th on the bike at 5:53, much slower than in 2011 and 2015;  some of this was due to my training, some due to the wind, but I think most of this was because my head was really not in the right place…I didn’t feel as mentally strong or prepared for this race as I have been for others. I could barely walk when I got off the bike, my back and hips were locked up for sitting on my bike for close to six hours. Interestingly enough, this is when I started to really gain strength again mentally, I became very calm and focused on the task at hand… I needed to finish this race once and for all.

My strategy was to run steady, stay fueled and hydrated and be patient! I tucked behind larger athletes whenever I could because the wind was pretty fierce for sections of the course.  I ran very steady and never once felt like I needed to give up.  I found my “give-a-shitter” almost immediately… “Oh, hello there, glad you’re back, now we need to make something happen here”. Nat and Jeff kept me updated on my progress, who was in front of me, who seemed to be slowing and who I had a chance of catching (see video below).  It was very exciting to be close to getting on the podium and I knew every step counted.  I was hurting pretty bad for the last 3 miles of the run.  Around mile 23 Nat and Jeff found me on the course. Nat said “Mom, you can do this, you’re the strongest woman I know”. I choked back tears and gave every ounce of energy that I had left.  My quads were starting to lock and the hamstring felt like it might give out, leaving me hobbling for a few strides every half mile or so.  The sun had set and the darkness brought coolness to the air.  I ran in the dark for the last few miles, hearing athletes approaching and hoping and praying they were not in my age group.  I came around to the finish line, the glorious finish line… to hear people screaming and cheering me on.  I ran as fast as my legs could take me until the end where Kelly was waiting to catch me as my own personal finish line volunteer.  I ran the marathon in 4:08, 5th in my age group.  I finished 11:23 for overall age group 5th place.

Thank you Freeplay Magazine, Nature’s Bakery, Folsom Bike, Sacramento Running Association, Fluid Nutrition, Salming Running, Rudy Project North American, XX2i Optics, and Hoffart Chiropractic for your sponsorship! Looking forward to more fun in 2017.