Ironman Arizona is a great venue and time of the year for anyone looking to carry over their summer fitness and get a crack at Kona for the next year. Plus, it is a flat, fast course, which is appealing to those going for PR. For myself, however, the race fell at the end of a pretty packed season. Ironman Canada was my A-race this year, and the ITU worlds and 70.3 Worlds proved that I had put everything into that race. My legs just didn’t bounce back as quickly as I had hoped. So with Ironman Arizona, we took a different approach. I took a couple weeks off after Chattanooga, and then started training as if I was committed to Arizona. If things went well I would race, but if it appeared that my body was saying no, then I would not. I really wanted to get a head start on Kona points, but if I ran myself down by racing when I shouldn’t, then I would spend valuable training time just trying to get my body healthy. 3-4 weeks out from the race, I decided it was a go. Training sessions were going great, and I was feeling very fit and healthy. The only hiccup was coming down with strep throat 5 days before the race. Thank God the antibiotics worked fast and I was feeling close to normal by the Friday before the race.
Photo Credit: Paul Phillips
The swim in Arizona starts before the sun comes up, and the water is so dirty that you can’t see anything…. Your hands, feet in front, or even bubbles from the feet in front. This creates a challenge for weaker swimmers like me who rely on staying on some faster feet. I couldn’t see anything, so I spent more time swim TRYING to stay on feet when I probably could have done better on my own. The group of three that I swam with swung super wide on the last stretch, but by the time I realized this, it was too late, and I figured I would waste too much energy trying to cut my way back on my own. Going into the race, I was super confident that I could swim what I did in Whistler (58min) or a bit faster, as swimming had really come along well in the last couple months. You can imagine the disappointment when I exited the water in 1:01. Yes, I did swim long, but I know I could have done better. I am used to being disappointed coming out of the water, so I brushed it off and moved on.
The bike course in Arizona is a three loop flat and fast course. There is a slight rise on the way out, usually into a head wind, and slightly downhill on the way back with a tail wind. I had made some adjustments to my bike prior to this race: getting rid of the bottle cage on my frame and going to a speedfill on my bars. We were trying to reduce any drag possible as this is really a course where aerodynamics are everything. I have a really good position on the bike already, but having the straw from the speedfill chopped only an inch…maybe two long, gave me something to consciously keep my face touching during the race. This forced me to keep my head as low as possible at all times. My goal was to ride somewhere around 4:40 (I was 4:43 last year), so each loop should be approx. 1:33. I know there were a lot of people following the race that were thinking I was over-biking as I ate up almost all of my deficit in the first half of the bike, putting over 8min into the other girls. The goal was to ride 200-210watts, with 205 being ideal. I did bike the first 30km at slightly higher numbers (211) as I had to jump over a bunch of age group men. I brought this number back down by the 60km mark, and then just focused on being steady. When I got to the first turn around (30km), I had already moved from 12th to 6th. I moved into 4th by the time I got to 60km, and then stayed in that position until about 130km. Once the first loop is done on this course, it is really hard to figure out who is who as it is just a mess of 3000 athletes crammed onto the road. When I caught the other girls, I didn’t realize that 1-2-3 were all riding together. All of a sudden I was in first… or at least I thought I was at this point. Someone was giving splits to the other girls a little farther out, which led me to believe that there was still another girl way up in front. I am not usually one to get upset, but I was a little concerned when I looked over my shoulder and realized I was pulling the girls I just passed. Staying just outside the legal draft zone is a skill, and can reap some major benefits, and this course is really hard to play that line as there are so many athletes on the road. I tried to raise the power a bit to shake them, but I was already playing with fire with the numbers being on the higher side of what I wanted. When we got to the final turn (150km), I just put my head down “flew away”. I biked controlled and didn’t raise the numbers, but was able to pull away. As dumb as is sounds, I had nooooooo idea I was leading the race. I still thought there was another girl in front, so when the volunteers were cheering “first place female” when I came through transition, I was super surprised and excited! And to those that are wondering about the numbers... I ended with a 208 average power, and a new course record of 4:38!!
I felt amazing going out onto the run, which was a reassurance that I had not pushed too hard on the bike. I knew I had some super-runners behind me, so I really had no idea what to expect for this run. At the first turn, I saw Kaisa and Helle quite close behind…. Within two minutes. I was quite surprised that I was able to hold them off for 13km. They were running together, but I knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t try to keep up. As it is always said, a lot of things can happen in the run portion of an Ironman. We were still early enough into the run, that I thought there could be a chance that I might catch at least one of them later. It was quite warm, I believe 27-28 degrees, so I focused on staying cool- using ice and making sure I took as much as possible through the aid stations. Last year, I overdid it, and ended up very sick, so I was careful to take what I needed, but not too much. Somewhere between 23 and 30km, I faded a bit, which I was able to work through by walking a couple aid stations and giving my body the nutrition it needed. I knew it was valuable time, but a minute spent doing this instead of a total bonk was worth it. I perked back up in the last 8km, but was still a couple min behind second. At this point, I had no idea where third was, so I was running scared. Within the last 5km, my hamstring all of a sudden cramped. I NEVER cramp, and OMG, I have to say I now understand the pain people are in when this happens. It felt like I was shot in the leg! I tried to take a few more steps to run it out. Bad idea. I stopped and gently stretched it out, and then gingerly took a few steps. It was ok. If I could just minimize any drastic movements like jumping up and down off curbs, I could make it. “You don’t have to race again till April” I told myself… so just suck it up and get it done! I worked through it, and then it happened again with less than a km to go. I had visions of dragging my leg through the finish line, as I tried stretching it again. Thank God it worked, and I was able to hold onto that podium spot AND come in under 9 hours! This was my ultimate goal, so I was so happy to have finished the year on this note! Not to mention that coach JonnyO made a bet that if I went under 9 hours that he would go for a swim in Skaha Lake, which for anyone who doesn’t know, is just above freezing right now;)
So of course I would have loved to have held onto first place, but I am very excited that I was able to grasp a fourth podium finish for the year! Of course I wouldn’t have made it here without the help of all my supporters, family and friends and sponsors: F2C nutrition, Skechers Performance Canada, EnergyLab, Swagman, The Bike Barn, Podium Imports, BlueSeventy, Zizu Optics, Nuvista Chiropractic and Wellness, and last but certainly not least, coach Jonathon Caron. Thanks everyone! Looking forward to what 2018 has to bring!!