“Renee Drucas of Del Mar, California, you are an Ironman!”
While I couldn’t actually hear Mike Reilly say those words over the roar of the crowd, it didn’t matter. I had an amazing experience competing in my first (only?) full Iron-distance Race this past weekend in Tempe, Arizona. For any of you thinking of trying that one yourself, I’d definitely recommend volunteering at the 2012 Race. General Entries for 2012 sold out online this year in 10 minutes, after the 2011 Competitors, 2011 Volunteers, and on-site general public got their chance. Also, volunteering will give you the chance to see what you’re getting into
My Race Report:
I had been packing for this Race slowly over the past few weeks. For some reason, it seemed that a full Ironman took a lot more gear than my previous half-IM and Oly distance Tri’s. Certainly, nutrition was going to play a huge factor so I had a larger pile of “goodies”. Also, since my goal was to finish—automatically a PR—I wanted to be as comfortable as possible. This meant a full change of gear in each transition. I’d developed a Saddle Sore so painful and large it had its own name, so my gear pile included several different lotions and salves to help me get through.
My Support Team included my Mother and my partner, Quyen. Mom and I drove from San Diego to Tempe on Friday morning to minimize the time just “hanging around”, but it was a little nerve-wracking knowing that we had only a few hours leeway for Athlete Check-In. We took a gorgeous shortcut through the Sonoran Desert and arrived with plenty of time to spare.
I wish that I had the foresight to have booked our accommodations immediately after obtaining my IMAZ slot in late 2010, but I held off a few months to see how my first Marathon went. That would have allowed us to stay in the official Race Hotel, the Tempe Mission Palms, adjacent to the Expo Site and Transitions. As it was, our hotel was serviceable and there was literally no Expo or Race Morning traffic with which to contend.
Since this was perhaps going to be my only Ironman, I sprung to have Mom attend the Athlete Banquet with me, prior to the Course Briefing. It was very motivational—as I’d hoped—for my Mother to see all of the other Athletes in all ages and shapes. As I had guessed, the dinner itself was penne pasta with marinara sauce.
After picking up Quyen at the airport, the three of us had a great day at the Expo and driving the Bike Course. We turned in my gear, ate an early dinner and prepped for our respective duties on Race Day. My Athletic Supporters also had a big day ahead of them. In many respects, their job was harder. While I would be fully occupied with Swimming/Biking/Running my heart out, they had the tough job of keeping me and themselves motivated throughout the long day. Their job required stamina just as mine—the stamina to stand and scan the competitors to spot theirs. They were also required to have quick reflexes to snap photos of their Athlete. Nutrition would play a big role in their day too. They would need to coordinate food and fluid runs to ensure coverage of their Athlete while maintaining their own hydration and electrolyte levels.
With all of this in mind, we got perhaps 4-5 hours of sleep the night before. Race morning was relatively warm at 55F, but we’d come prepared for all temperatures. Mom and Quyen watched as I donned my Swim gear, then sent me off on my Adventure with kisses and hugs. No turning back now!
It was a cold Swim–but I’d been watching the temperature in Tempe Town Lake online. On Race morning, it was 61 degrees F. I’d prepared by purchasing and swimming at La Jolla Cove in a neoprene cap and swim socks. I credit those with keeping me from crossing the border into hypothermia. Water was murky, but no smell or taste. To enter, we had to jump in the water from the concrete berm on the side, then swim a short way to the in-water start. I paused for a few seconds before jumping in, realizing that this was the point of no-return. Bonzai!
The swim itself was uneventful. Despite being a mass start for the Age-Groupers, I only got hit in the face once–squarely on the goggles. It was a well-marked course with plenty of in-water help if you needed it. Yes, it seemed like a long Swim, but I expected that with the distance. The longest that I’d swum continuously in training was 3000m, only ¾ of the Race distance. I took micro-breaks to sight buoys and celebrated internally at the turnaround. “What do you think about when you are Swimming/Biking/Running?”, I’ve been asked. During the Swim, I was thinking that I was a little tired and not yet getting into the excitement of the day. In some ways, that was good because it probably prevented me from going out too fast too soon. It was going to be a long day.
I was so very happy to see the red buoy that marked the final turn on the Swim. Large red flags marked the way out of the water and into T1. Coming out of the water, you have to climb up metal stairs, but there were volunteers to help you. I used the wetsuit strippers then headed off to pick up my Gear Bag and into the changing tent.
If I had it to do over again, one thing that I’d change would be to leave on my Swim Socks until I got to the Changing Tents. The ground from the Swim exit to the Changing Tents was cold grass with a little mud by the time that I got there. My feet were numb in T1, not from the Swim but from the run through Transition. I took my time in T1, dried off, changed into Biking Gear and applied a liberal coating of chamois butter and sunblock. Several other racers were shaking uncontrollably from the Swim, as I left and I wondered if they were going to complete the Race. As I headed to the Bike Rack, a volunteer asked if he could get my Bike, but I had it handled. Soon, I was over the mount line and on to the next phase of this Adventure.
Heading out of Tempe on the Bike the view was beautiful. There were red rocks and saguaros on both sides of the road, after a short urban segment. The course was basically flat and entailed 3 out-and-back rides. The turnaround was at the top of a few miles of incline in a very pretty section—you couldn’t really call it a hill. The ride back into town brought an increase in spectators which helped to buoy my spirits. I saw Quyen and my Mom just pass the turnaround to begin the next lap and they looked like they were having a great time.
I actually found the Bike more psychologically challenging than physically challenging in several respects. First, because of the density of competitors on the course, you really had to pay attention to the drafting rules. On the positive side, the course design allowed us to see the Pros on a lap or so ahead. Second, the three-loop nature meant that you were seeing the same scenery each time. The middle of Lap 2 was probably my low point. Fortunately, that’s where the Special Needs bags come and I stopped to apply some more chamois butter and re-stock my fluids. I couldn’t handle any solid food by that point and was very happy to have packed an extra tube of chamois cream in my Special Needs bag that I got to pick up around mile 65.
By Lap 3, the afternoon wind had picked up, so we were fighting a headwind heading back to town. No mechanical or other problems–other than the usual saddle soreness
I got into T2 at about 4 PM and realized that I was going to be able to make the midnight cutoff even if I walked the Marathon. This helped to buoy my spirits as did a handful of Pretzel M&M’s. I took my time and performed another full change of clothes—from my Bike Shorts and Jersey to Tri shorts with pockets for Gels and a running T-shirt. I had placed a few pieces of reflective tape on my shirt—as specified in the Athlete Guide and also had reflective strips on my Race Belt. “Let’s do this!” I almost said aloud.
I headed out on the run–again a 3 loop course–with a good pace and smile on my face. As dusk then night fell, I was having a great time. Running in low humidity and upper 60F weather was great. Most of the other competitors were hurting a lot more than me, which also helped me to stay positive. Seeing my Athletic Supporters (my Family) 5 times due to the figure-8 nature of the course was also a boost. My Run/Walk strategy also helped–Run between Aid Stations then Walk to grab a sponge, fluid, and nutrition.
The Run course itself was easy to follow, despite appearing quite confusing in the Athlete Guide and during the Course Briefing. Most of the course was on the walk adjacent to Tempe Town Lake, with a few sections on crushed gravel. One of the gravel sections was poorly lit, with large stones in the middle. I definitely mentioned this hazard in my post-Race survey.
I was feeling so good on the Run compared to my experience earlier that day on the Swim and Bike that I made a decision to concentrate on Running in 2012. As with all mid-Race thoughts, I knew that I’d need to re-evaluate this one after finishing and adequate recovery.
With 1.5 miles to go, I heard one of the other Runners comment on the time: 8:36 pm. I performed a quick calculation in my head and realized that I could finish in under my “best case” time of 14 hours if I kept a steady pace. To play it safe, I actually picked up the pace. Before I knew it, I was entering the Finishers Chute…
The roar of the crowd was amazing. I’d finished more than a dozen races in the past, from small trail 5k’s to the LA Marathon. None had as boisterous a crowd as the finsher’s chute at Ironman Arizona. I didn’t stand a chance of hearing my Family over the cheering of the other spectators, but I’d communicated to them my estimated finish time at the beginning of my last lap, so I knew that they’d be there.
As with many overwhelmed first-time Ironman Finishers, I forgot to take those last few feet slowly and picked up the pace even more. Fortunately, I remembered to walk under the Finisher Arch and smile for the camera. I finished in just under 14 hours (13:48), smiling from ear-to-ear.
Immediately upon crossing the Finish, I was “caught” by one of the volunteers. Another volunteer handed me a mylar blanket, though I wasn’t really cold yet. My family had found their way past the chute and their loud cheering caught my eye. I went over to get the best prize there is: kisses and hugs
After a few minutes of celebration with Quyen and my Mom, I went over for the obligatory Finisher Photo and some post-Race snacks. Though I wasn’t hungry, I tried to get some sports drink in. I knew that my ability to get down solid food might take a few hours to return. About 15 minutes after collecting my Bike and Transition Bags, I began to feel queasy. I hurled pure Ironman Perform in the middle of the street, while walking back to the car. Though certainly not a rare sight on the ASU campus, I actually hadn’t seen anyone throwing up during the Race.
We went back to the hotel and I showered, then Quyen gave me a massage with Icy/Hot. I felt great!!! The only damage to my body was a few abrasions from clothing rubbing and a toenail that I’d likely lose later. When my appetite returned, I strangely wanted Scrambled Eggs. Fortunately, there was a Denny’s nearby.
The next morning, I was a little stiff, but in what I felt was surprisingly good shape, considering. Actually, I never got more sore or stiff. I credit Quyen’s massage with my speedy recovery.
After returning home, I was incredibly happy, but also strangely calm. I’d completed one of my “Life List” goals and was content. That feeling is still with me–and hopefully will be forever.
My goal for the near future is to help my Athletic Supporters along on their own journeys—paying it forward. I truly could not have done it without them.