“It’s man’s nature to take what he wants. That’s how were born.” – Ben Wade
And so, after a thankfully uneventful first battle, it was time to pull out the heavy artillery. The weather was perfect for hard riding – cool with a light breeze that built in a relatively stiff wind as the day wore on. But for the first lap, it was wide open trails of black asphalt in front of me. A few small tweaks to my trusty steed in the weeks leading up to the race made a solid difference in overall comfort. While there is a consistency to how I approach races, I do think that in the case of IMAZ, knowing the bike route offers some advantages. The course in Arizona is a challenge for a few reasons. The first lap, there is less wind, but clear roads. Each successive lap, the wind builds and the course gets more congested. The building wind is problematic, in a way, because it makes it harder to hold your power up on the way back into town. The nature of the course is that it’s uphill on the way out into the headwind and downhill with a tailwind on the way back., at least if the winds blow in the prevailing direction. So the most effective strategy, I believe, is to punch it a bit harder on the way out of town and then you can relax more on the way back in. As the wind picks up, there is also a lot more traffic to contend with. You get the incidental draft of passing people, but you also have to pay a lot more attention to not getting your reigns tangled up with some city slicker out for his first pony ride. So despite the fact that my pace looked extraordinarily even, I actually rode a fair bit harder on the first lap than on the second, and a fair bit harder on the second lap than on the third, and in each case, I also dug my spurs in deeper on the way out of town than on the way back in. Despite feeling like I was herding the masses in front of me each lap with calls of “onyourleftonyourleftonyourleft” seemingly issuing forth in perpetuity, I still managed to make my way steadily through the field. At each time check, I was getting closer and closer to that steam train of escort vehicles at the front of the race. Rolling into transition, I knew I’d closed time, and after a relatively quick transition – I’ve finally learned the key to Ironman transitions is to have a clear plan about what you want to do and what order you want to do it in – I headed out onto the run in third place, less than two minutes from the two leaders.
I was, however, running like an outlaw on a jailbreak. On a fast day with good conditions, I knew there would be a lot of fleet footed folks tracking me. I hoped that I could rely somewhat on “out of sight, out of mind” and that with a good first lap I might demoralize them somewhat. To be truthful, I also wanted to put my own nose in the wind and lead the race. Risk taking is not something that usually goes hand-in-hand with successful Ironman racing, but I also didn’t want to be too patient, something I thought I was in April. I figured I could run 2:55 or so relatively “comfortably” (at least as far as running a marathon in an Ironman is concerned). I was also pretty sure that would not roll me across the finishline in first. I thought a low 2:50’s (2:51/2:52) run would do it, but that was also truly enemy territory for me. How do you pace for something you’ve never done? I’m not sure, but my instinct was, “You go for it.” So I rolled on the pace like a tumbleweed in a hurricane and blew through the first four miles or so at 6:00/mile pace. Right around five miles in, I caught Chris Lieto and the satisfaction of actually being at the front led to me settle down for a few miles. Coming through the first lap, I put in a surge and pulled away. I still felt really good, and once I’d pulled away, I settled into what I’d hoped would be a reasonable pace. I’d run the whole first lap at about 2:40 marathon pace, which was much too fast, but at the same time, I thought if I could settle into just under three-hour pace for the last two laps, that’d net me a 2:52/2:53 marathon, which just might be good enough to win.
Leading the race was an incredible experience, right up until the time I realized I’d blown the motor and Andreas Raelert rolled by me like a locomotive and Chris Lieto rolled back by me like the wise old trailhand who hasn’t whipped his horses into oblivion. For a while, I prayed that the hand of god would smite me then and there. (If you haven’t seen 3:10 to Yuma, rent it so you’ll get that reference.) My legs felt like I’d been stabbed with an Arkansas toothpick in the middle of each thigh. I was paying the price for opening my lips too wide to start the run. This was my own destruction. Fortunately, it appeared that several people behind me were in the midst of their own self destruction as well. Gritting my teeth and hiding behind my sunglasses, I soldiered on, focusing on one foot in front of the other. With about three miles to go, Coach Joel, who’d been great at giving me good tips throughout the run, told me to use my arms, and I started to pump my arms in an exaggerated fashion like a sprinter, but with legs in slow motion. For whatever reason, this seemed to helped take some of the load off of my legs. Combined with seeing the 40km marker a little later, the smell of the barn took over, and I started to pick up the pace. In the last two miles, I closed from 2:30 seconds down to Lieto to within 20 seconds, but fell short of last second sprint heroics in the race for second place. 140.6 miles later, and I was in almost exactly the same spot I was in April – 3rd place, just a whisker out of second. So I ain’t no one legged rancher, but I’m still one tough son of a bitch…
Total 140.6 mile race time: 8:19:45 (broke old course record)