All photos © Eric Wynn 2015
Tempe, AZ ★ 2015.11.15
The highs and lows aren’t part of the process; they are the process. – Joe Maloy
Every thunder cloud that came was one more I might not get through
On the darkest day there’s always light and now I see it too
But I never liked the rain until I walked through it with you – Clint Black
I don’t really have a ton to offer about the race in Tempe. I know I’m faster than 8:08 on that course. But I am not sure I could have been much faster at my third Ironman in 13 weeks. 8:08 and 5th place in the best field that race has ever seen is not something I’m thrilled with, but it is something I’m proud of, and there were some really positive takeaways. It was both a better and worse way to finish the season than the race in Kona. Trying to back up another Ironman was always going to be a bit of a crapshoot with IMMT – 8 weeks – Kona – 5 weeks – IMAZ. That’s just a lot of long racing. And it showed up in the back half of each discipline.
I was in the lead group during the swim for probably 1000-1500m, typically the hardest section of the race when it comes to making the lead group for me. If I’m in the group after 500m, I typically stay in. The hard part is staying in that first 500m. But it seems like things are starting to come together on my swim, and here it was just the accumulated fatigue that saw me get popped out of that group. Swimming solo for 3/5 or so of the swim, and really solo without even a group to chase for half of it, I had some real low thoughts ranging from, “I should have DNF’ed Kona.” to “I should never have raced Kona.” to “I should never have raced Arizona.” The only thing keeping me from expecting to see 1:00:00+ on the clock was that I wasn’t getting run over by the lead women who started five minutes behind…
Getting popped in the swim made me very aware that it probably wasn’t going to be a magical day and that I had almost certainly gone harder than I thought I had in Kona. In some ways, this was good as I knew I was going to have to be more conservative on the bike than normal. I had already planned to try to save something more for the last lap than I had in year’s past, and while I didn’t really achieve my goal of a negative split, I also didn’t blow up that way I did last year. The rain that came pouring down with about 10mi/15km remaining did make me extra cautious near the end, but I doubt it affected my time much. Of all the races where I didn’t expect to face a downpour, I would have put IMAZ at the top of the list.
The rain then kept on coming, which was even more unexpected. It rarely rains all day in the desert. My heart really goes out to those late night finishers who had most of their day in the rain as opposed to just part of it. The concrete on the IMAZ run course, which gets a bad rap for being “too hard” (it’s been proven that asphalt is not meaningfully softer than concrete for runners), was actually a real issue as it was slick as ice, especially early in the run. Thankfully, the grass and dirt next to the walking path was still pretty dry, and I was able to find some traction there during the first lap. On the second lap, the grass especially was too soaked to be much good, but thankfully the initial slickness of the concrete had also faded a bit as the rain continued to fall.
In training, my running had been going really well, and I felt great for the first 12 or so miles. I’ve done the “this is way too fast” start at Ironmans, and this didn’t feel like that. But I still knew the tank was likely filled only with fumes at this point. And sure enough, my pace fell off pretty quickly in the back half. I went through a very dark patch for about four miles on the second lap before I made it to the RedBull aid station and pounded a whole can in about 15 seconds. I also started taking in some solid calories via some of Gu blocks, which worked well. Most of my nutritional strategy has been geared around my preferred racing conditions – hot and humid – and in my experience solid food is not great there. But in colder weather, solid food is a much better idea. I had shifted my nutritional strategy somewhat, mixing my EFS Pro in a more concentrated mix in order to not take in to much fluid (c.f. cold-weather diuresis), but I think I didn’t properly account for the extra caloric needs of keeping warm in cold and wet conditions nor the extra caloric needs of a body that wasn’t ideally primed via a solid build and taper.
I did have both a bottle of EFS Pro with 400cal and a RedBull in my run special needs that I did not take. Looking back – and I had forgotten this until I actually sat down to write this report – that was my biggest mistake. I should have hit both those calories, but as I ran through special needs, I just felt like I had more muscular fatigue than caloric “fatigue.” Even after 20 Ironmans, I’m still learning. I made the right decision before the race, but then I failed to follow through on race day. That might have been the difference between 5th and 4th, though of course it also might not have been. In my own defense, I think I didn’t realize the impact of the cold on caloric needs, as this was by far the coldest Ironman I’ve ever done.
Those four miles – from about 16mi (two miles AFTER special needs) to 20mi – were pretty close to the darkest I’ve had during an Ironman. I wanted to walk. I wanted to stop. I wanted to drop out. But somehow thanks to the magic of caffeine and sugar and some willpower, I was able to come good and finished with a very strong last 5k. It was a day where there were countless times when I wanted to just shut it down, but after struggling for a few years mentally, I did not. Just like in Kona. After losing at the mental game more often than not in 2013 and 2014, I feel like I strung together three races where my mental game was the strongest part of my racing to close out 2015. The timing of the races was certainly not ideal and there were some circumstances out of my control, but I felt like I had more answers than questions, especially in training as I prepared for each race, a big change from the past two years. Mental fortitude always was a strength of mine in the past, and I feel like it is again, both on and off the race course.
Looking ahead to next year, I feel some real confidence. As is typical after an Ironman and especially the last race of the season, I had been feeling a bit lost. But today I listened to the latest episode of Joel Filliol’s (my coach) new podcast, “Real Coaching.” He interviews Dan Lorang, who has been Jan Frodeno’s coach since 2013. It’s a phenomenal interview, with a lot of practical takeaways for anyone interested in excellence. The two biggest things for me were the emphasis on goal setting and also on self-confidence. In Tremblant, I showed I could still win – and win fast – as a father of three. In Kona, I showed I could still overcome adversity, once a hallmark of mine, especially in 2011. And at IMAZ, I showed I could still perform with less than ideal preparation. A perfect race in AZ, I think, would have been about 5min faster. That’s a lot. But it’s also not. If I could have been within 5min of my perfect race in Kona, I would have been very happy.
When I think about what I need to perform well in Kona, I finally feel like the answer is, once again, simple repetition. I just need more of the same. Well, maybe not quite so many Ironmans; I’ve tried that… But in terms of preparation and approach, I think I have my rhythm again. I have some mojo. For now, it’s time for some real downtime. For family time. For long put-off projects around the house. And for some overdue writing assignments. But I’m looking forward to picking up in 2016 how I closed out this year. I believe it’s going to be an amazing year.