Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Report
Coach Phil Timothee shares his experience of what it’s like to do an Ironman triathlon when the training goes right, all the way up to 10 days to go, when it takes a turn for the south….
- race preparation / training / stats
- race trip / week before
- D-4 to race day
- post race
Ironman Arizona held in Tempe on November 19th 2017 was my 6th Ironman + one HITS long course, same 140.6 distance but cheaper and for a lot less $ unfortunately not as well organized.
I signed up in November 2016 giving me good visibility and time to plan and tune my training.
Note: on a A race timing in a year of training: I have alternated doing mid summer races (Nice, Boulder, Tahoe, Whistler) with November races (Cozumel, Havasu (HITS) and Arizona) and I think that the June to August time frame fits me better.
Reason being that even though there is, somewhere in my Ironman coach folder, a 24 weeks plan, I just can’t wait six months before the race because I love training so much. Hence generally starting, even only base training, end of January, I must say that I am a little bit on the burn side come Thanksgiving.
More on that later because I think this time it came back to bite me with a vengeance before IMAz.
So what were my stats before the race?
in 2016 I did Whistler in July so from August to December I was pretty much free wheeling and doing off season swim, ride, run for the fun of it (but for what else anyway?)
Other stats (according to Garmin)
Notes on training
A couple things I did really well and got me really excited before the race:
- tweaked a number of items on the stroke
- hand entry, focus on middle finger entry
- better roll and half goggle breath in (also emphasis on both sides while I clearly prefer right)
- sync that damn two beats kick
- more long rides with TT bike, working on aero positioning conditioning
- more steady and sustained 90/100rpm very long spinning sessions
- better running form aka “run like Crowie”
- more brick, plain and simple
- better nutrition and hydration strategy, including less solids
- definitely, 200% less stress due to changes in work life.
- capacity to do a heck of a lot of double sessions (ride/swim or swim/run) during the week
Race trip and the week before
Being a bit OCD for logistic, everything was thought and planned pretty much from race registration.
I want to make sure this is done and set long before so that there is no surprise, no hiccup and I can focus on everything “A race” only.
I picked a hotel not far from start and finish, that’s my preferred choice, for me on race morning and to drag my sorry bottom post 140.6, but also for my wife and the boys because it obviously makes it much easier for them to be around if they want during the race at T1/T2 and the finish line.
Considering how much a big part they are in this adventure with their patience and support, I owe them at least that attention. Special kudos to Erica for being awesome and a master of split time and tracking.
Race being in Az while we live in Sacramento, the first choice was for me to drive on Tuesday morning and for them to fly down on Friday evening, school vacation being for one week starting that Friday.
The plan was also to do a family road trip on the slow way back home, so I left with all my tri gear
but also all the family vacation things for the week ahead, including Tiago’s scooter and helmet that ended up never being used. Something to keep in mind next time, I am asked to go back home after I left to pick this up, “sorry Dad, I forgot to ask” 🙂
Everything was looking good, preparation and tapper wise up to two Fridays before D day except for .. Erica being badly sick with a nasty cold. I knew what was coming but I could not reasonably abandon her with her runny nose+cough+throat on fire and work, kids to school and all so I stuck around and naturally, by the second Friday, I was hit too. Same symptoms she had seven days before so I knew I was in for a ride.
By Tuesday when I drove on Highway 5 south, my throat was a furnace. I decided to make it a one day drive thinking I would be very tired reaching Tempe but hoping a full Wednesday doing nothing would make it up.
That did not work well. Wednesday evening I was starting to get a little worried. I must add that I was not taking anything, just fluids, warm chamomile tea and tons of fruits according to the unwritten rule that states that untreated cold = ten days and treated cold = also ten days, I was hoping I could avoid putting any drugs in the system but by Thursday morning I realized that was not panning out well.
Hit the local CVS and explained to the pharmacist who recommended to try and go easy on Mucinex,
also suggested by runner friend on Facebook 🙂
That somewhat worked but the secondary effect was to be completely restless so I stopped after 24h thinking “rest more important, must rest”.
D-4 to race day
Thursday morning I picked my race package then proceeded to forget the envelope with the bib and stickers at the chip checking station 🙂
and headed to the hotel to change, pick up my Cervello P2 and recon the ride loop.
IMAz is a three loops fun ride
So doing it once was more than enough to gauge the “climb” and spot the cracks, potholes and other pitfalls. On that day, winds were light but there and I got a good sense of this portion of the race.
But I was a bit worried because I did not have much leg power for one loop and clearly in the state I was, repeating that three times + running 26 miles off the saddle was feeling like climbing Mt Everest w/o O2.
I had nothing and I wasn’t feeling better, and still having a lot of trouble sleeping well between the intense coughing and the Niagara like runny nose. Not good.
Friday morning, I went for a quick run before the athlete meeting and it felt a bit ok but my HR was thru the roof.
my RHR is normally 47 but for a week now it had been in the 60s and when I ran at a easy 8’55 for 4 mi, I should have been in the 135/140 .. I was at 150 and feeling like I just completed 10 mi.
Clearly, something was wrong (duh!)
Finally some huge mental relief came in the form of my crew making it to Tempe and the joy of being around and surrounded by the loved one.
Saturday was the day for bike drop off and swim recon.
Both went well, or at least the bike drop went great.
Something I must say is that I was less than excited with the swim location and settings.
On Saturday morning there was a lot of wind and the reservoir/river was super choppy.
The setup was one short 750 yards loop and I just could not get into any groove until I passed the first turn around buoy.
The water is disgustingly murky (honest to God, you can’t see your lead hand !), taste absolutely awful and the channel is a death trap for counter performance with a current created by the wind or the other swimmers.
Added to that the entry being scary as hell with a “ladder” that suddenly drops because you can’t really see the last step (is there a last step?)..
My least favorite OWS location without hesitation.
As karma normally does, it will end up being my worst swim ever.
I was starting to feel a little better so maybe things were turning around and to be honest
at that point, I had decided I would not panic and should just take it as it comes, do the best I can with what I had, not being upset with the voided good months of training and just enjoy the moment.
I went from plan A = potential for PR to plan Z = just get it done, it may be your last Ironman so enjoy it and be happy you can even start that thing.
The rest of the day was spent in the shade at the hotel pool where I met Clint Kimmins, a absolutely phenomenally nice guy from Down Under. I did not know is full name before the race but I started to suspect we were not boxing in the same category when he concluded our chat with “see you tomorrow afternoon here for a beer, mate” .. afternoon ??? who is this guy ???
I hit the bed around 9pm and since everyone was super nice in the unique hotel room, only reading and not watching the Cartoon Network 200th episode of Teen Titans, I could get a relatively good night sleep.
When I wake up around 4am (depending on race location) on race morning my first reaction is always:
why am I doing this?
Then I find some coffee (but not too much), eat my feel good oat cereal with raisin + banana and spend a good 47′ in the bathroom fiddling with my contacts and .. you know what. I am not a big fan of the porta potty thing so I’d rather wake up 30′ earlier and .. you know what (again, I think by now you KNOW what)
Erica kindly dropped me in front of the village with a “have fun and a kiss” and I was off to transition.
For me, everything goes automatic pilot and zen from the moment I step in the area. I was already not particularly nervous because I was so bad with the cold that nothing could go more South but this time, man, I was like the Dude !
Chatting with my bike neighbors, giving some advice as one of them was a Ironman virgin, inflating my tires to 104 in front and 112 in the back, filling up my water bottle, getting race marked, putting on the wetsuit, chip, and walking out of transition 5′ before closing time to make sure I get a good spot in the timed start area, just 10 feet back of the 1h15 marker.
I usually seat down and relax, belly breathe and wait for the National Anthem, the pro start (they could get a warm up swim, I LOVE getting a warm up swim), everything was going well and according to plan.
Finally, bang, and off we go ..
Entry was allright, surprisingly but to the credit of the Ironman people, they really slow down the sea of athletes going in so you end up jumping in only by pack of maybe 20/30 at a time (?) so the first 100 yards are not the usual battle. I found my groove quickly, making sure I was breathing slow and deep, exhaling well and not rushing into a high stroke count. That was perfect for 3′ until I hit a patch of swimmers in front of me (could not see it coming because .. you know, the water is BROWN) and quasi simultaneously got hit by 200 swinging arms and someone literally climbing OVER me.
Here comes the wrestling game..
This is where I made a big, big, tactical mistake by leaving the inside line near the buoys and moving to what I thought was just 5/10 yards in calm waters to the right.
Number one, you end up swimming longer obviously. And I made it worst because along the way I thought maybe the field was stretching and I tried to come back to the buoys only to get beaten up again, so I left the line again hence covering even more distance.
Number two, when you are outside the pack, you get their waves, maybe you don’t really feel it but I guarantee it makes for a really choppy swim.
So I was swimming in my tempo and actually enjoying it a lot (I LOVE swimming) but I was not moving as fast as I thought.
So the one loop went “well” minus the attempts to come back to the buoys and, oh yes, I have to mention the time where I slammed in the far away bridge outside pylon scraping the top of my right hand.
Actually to be fair, I laughed. Who HITS A BRIDGE during a Ironman or a OWS ???
And so when I got out, up the stairs, checked my watch and saw 1h29, I was
stunned, gutted, “wow what?” and “how far did I swim? 2 loops?”
I am usually a 1h16 guy, and the way I had trained this time, I was honestly feeling like I could go under 1h15 and secretly hoping for 1h11 or 12 so imagine the chock.
This is the course:
and this is what I did :
Anyway, now the wetsuit strippers are screaming at you, the audio is blasting and you are like a fish out of water, so, moving on .. here comes T1.
Nothing special, I know I spent too much time (11′) but I had some troubles with a long sleeves bike suit I had decided to switch to on race morning because the temps where going to remain fresh until noon and I have a tendency to shiver on the bike when cold which is not the best, handling wise.
It turned out to be a wise choice. so no regrets.
They say it’s flat and fast. yeah. On a non windy day. Smack out of the village, head wind where there much stronger than Thursday and completely unexpected as the forecast up to the evening before was for light wind after 2pm. What a nice surprise.
First loop was alright except for a guy hitting a cone and endo-ing hard 30 yards in front of me, I slowed down to check on him but a Police Officer and a volunteer were quickly attending and helping.
It was not easy to deal with non drafting and this has to do a lot with the fact that they are a lot of people who seem to enjoy passing you only to stop pedaling and start chomping on a bar or drink way too much fluid if you ask me. Now according to the rule, you must drop out of the zone THEN only you can pass but it would be much easier if the guy who just passed was stretching the zone up in front. Now you have to stop pedaling too, wait for 6 bike lengths and then pedal harder to pass him. Not fun.
Also, where were the course Marshals for the first 2 loops ???
I saw trains of bikes, like 10/15 bikes rolling as a compact pack, a good number of “couples” taking turns all the way to Shea Blvd .. I don’t like it when people don’t play by the rules and I saw a lot of that on this bike course.
There was another gruesome accident at some point which is tough to see and is an important reminder that race or not, closed road or not, you are still on two wheels doing 20/30mph (sometimes) and you really need to stay focussed.
Got zapped by the pros, of course, and it’s a sight to see when you are struggling at 16mph uphill in a strong head wind and they zoom by as if they were going downhill, with tail wind and an e-bike.
The uphill was rough with constant and sometimes gusty winds, but of course the downhill was a fun, with some sections with enough slope and tail wind to get some sense back in the legs. Cool.
Hydration and nutrition wise I was going on Gatorade sips every 15′ and a banana or a gel at every station, until I grabbed my special bag and my peanut butter bagel + secret special drink formula.
During my long rides, I discovered that I get a nice jolt from drinking iced coffee which are easy to find at the three millions Starbucks stores we have around Sacramento.
So Erica got me some Starbucks Via Instant espresso, (the Columbia one with a strong dark taste), I got a water bottle, mixed it up and sipped on it until the end of the race. That worked great.
Finally in the middle of the second loop, at the second turn around at Shea, just as the winds where actually getting stronger, the cold, the empty tank, the bad swim, everything sort of lifted and I just took off, having a great second half of the ride. For a moment I thought I would go home under 6h30 but when I realized it was not happening, I slowed down enough to keep some under the hood for the run.
Overall I was rather pleased with doing 6h48 in these conditions.
Again, nothing special. Having a Marshal stop me from leaving the tent because my bib is in the back is something I experience at every single race. A real pleasure and a pet peeves of mine 🙂 but you know, the rules are what they are. He nicely asked me how I felt after stopping me and I answered “like someone stopping to put his bib in the front after 112 mi ride and before a marathon”.
To me, I don’t want to brag but when I leave T2, I feel like I am finishing this (knock on wood).
Because nothing mechanical can come between me and the finisher medal now, no accident, no snapping of the rear derailleur, no four flats when I carry two tubes + one in the special need bike bag …
I feel like, even if I have to crawl using my front teeth to drag myself to the finish line, I am going to get this done.
Usually and this time again, the strategy is to run from aid station to aid station, walk in to grab some water and poor it on my head 🙂 then every station a cup of Gatorade and every other station a small banana until 13/14 mi then keep the same schedule for hydration and have two gels at 17 and 23 to finish the race. As soon as I pass the “last chance to litter” trash can, I start running again.
The variable factor here being obviously how strong I can run in between.
This time, it wasn’t strong. I remember being in admiration of Sebastian Kienle saying that while in trouble at Kona 2017, he still wanted to run hard and finish with nothing in the tank.
My problem was that I did not have a tank. I was feeling zero power and I knew I could trot but not a lot more but that was good enough to reach mile 24 and that’s where you can smell the finish line, you can hear to roar and the music and that is a big lift to finish strong.
It was then a real pleasure to see Erica and the boys in the finish chute and hear the announcer not butchering my first name to say “Philippe, you are an Ironman” in 14h14
about 40′ better than Ironman Canada and I am a year older, yeah!
but about 40′ more than my PR at Ironman France 🙁
Post race was great, we had a meeting place plan that worked, got the bike and the bags back and headed to the hotel in no time.
We usually like to come back to cheer up the last finishers but this time the distance hotel to finish line was not that great for this final activity so we skipped and I got my usual restless post race night of redoing the swim, T1, the bike, T2 and the run, winning my Age Group and qualifying for Kona.
Next morning I met Clint and found out who he really was:
yes, you read that well, 8th place general in 8h40.
That’s what I love in this sport. Aside from the cross training and loving to swim and to ride and to run,
it’s that come race day, you’ll end up on the same course in the same conditions (just a little later) than the pro athletes who can run a 3h marathon after swimming 2.4 mi in 53′ .. FIFTY THREE MINUTES!
All that being the nicest, most approachable, not “I am a pro athlete” in your face kind of attitude and it is not specific to Clint, I met Paul Amey, Andy Potts who is the sweetest guy you can imagine, Trevor Wurtele to whom, not recognizing him and holding his bike before drop off as he was “struggling” with a stuck pedal, I gave swim advice, SWIM ADVICE, for tinted goggles and rising sun on race day, lol.
And of course how can I forget Steve Defoor and Raphael Galle, my Ironman God Fathers from France who helped me sooo much on my first full at Cozumel.
To summarize the race, yes, it is a bit disappointing to feel like being ready like never for a fast race only to come in with the mother of all cold, make a swim mistake and hit some strong winds that nullify the flat factor.
Yes, I thought I was going to do around 13h maybe break it and I did not
but I tell you what, honestly on Thursday evening I did not know if I was even going to start, and as it went better from that day on, I did not crumble, I took it easy, readjusted my objectives and expectations and at the end, I still had a good enough race which I can still, in a different non PR way :), be proud of. So be it.
I just signed up to redo Whistler in 2018 🙂
Post race family road trip
I will spare you the 400 pictures and long story. We had a blast.
Because we were together, we were relaxed and ready for adventures and also because we had zero planning. After planning a lot for the race, that was our #1 rule.
We knew we wanted to do Sedona
and the Grand Canyon West Rim
and finished in Vegas for thanksgiving.
doing an Ironman,
being with your favorite crew
visiting this great country of ours in its amazing diversity.
The following movie, does NOT show the correct way to recover from a 140.6
Thanks for sharing your story of a hard race after a less than ideal final few weeks of prep. As much as we wish we could always be healthy and on fire on race day, it doesn’t necessarily happen that way. Maybe this will help some other athletes maintain a positive attitude when their race prep doesn’t go as planned.