Ironman Arizona: The battle of Good vs. Evil

Every triathlon I’ve done starts exactly the same way.

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With an alarm. At a very miserable hour. It’s always still dark outside. And I always have the exact same thought shoot through my brain as I roll over under the warm blankets:

“Man alive, this is such a stupid sport.”

Ironman Arizona? Absolutely no different!

(Good: I got up and and left the hotel room. Evil: It was oh-dark-thirty).

The lead up the this race was pretty great. My training had been consistent (which is pretty much a first – I have traditionally been the queen of just “going with it” and not following schedules and plans too closely). My body held up, with the help of regular physio and massage. I caught a cold in the week before the race, but I gagged down lots of oil of oregano (officially the most disgusting substance on earth), and I found that I was pretty excited to hit that start line in the hot Arizona sun (foreshadowing!)

We flew into Pheonix on Thursday and settled into the hotel and got on with the usual logistical stuff that goes along with these races. Packing, organizing, last minute workouts, eating and resting. All things I am pretty good at and yet I really dislike the day prior to the race. Nerves are rampant, there’s too much to think about and I just want to get on with it already. I did get to meet my Team TRS teammates, so that was cool (and not as awkward as I’d expect, this merging of social media and real life).

Tucked myself into bed with one last swig of oil of oregano, and I drifted to sleep by trying to daydream about anything non-triathlon related.

(Good: I am ready! Evil: I have a cold, and I have an alarm set for 4-something).

The alarm rang at 4:23AM and I dragged myself into the shower and mumbled to Liz to make the coffee. It was going to be a long day.

We got packed up and Christine picked us up (how in the world does this woman look so pulled together at this hour?) My stomach was feeling a little off, and I was hoping it was just nerves. We got to the venue much earlier than I normally do, so I had lots of time to sit and contemplate just how crappy I was feeling. By then, my stomach hurt like hell and I alternated between trying to curl into a ball and just die with trying to stretch, walk around and snap myself out of it. I was questioning whether I’d be able to keep down food, let alone exercise in circles all day.

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Ready to crush an IM? You betcha. Photo: coach Liz.

Eventually, I sucked it up, squeezed into my wetsuit, bid the girls goodbye and followed the masses to the start line. Arizona has a rolling start, meaning that they expect everyone to self-seed, then gradually move into the water based on their estimated swim times. I staked my claim at the back of the 1:10 corral. I had lots of room to swing my arms about (which would have to do as a warm up) and since I’d been swimming well in training, I was confident that this was where I was meant to be. I looked up, it was still kind of dark and I saw clouds. Huh, guess I won’t need to worry about the sun burning my eyeballs on the swim (foreshadowing!)

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That’s me. Bottom left. This looks A LOT lighter than it actually was.

The gun went off and so too did the herd of athletes headed to the stairs that led down to the “lake” (I use this term loosely. It’s more like a murky, brown, stagnant canal. What fun!) I jumped into the very cold water and started to swim. And then… bam! I experienced a very unpleasant and very full-blown panic attack. What. The. Hell?! My head popped up, I was cold and having trouble breathing. For some reason, I was imagining a wall of humanity bearing down on me and I couldn’t get any perspective. I was far enough away from the boards and kayaks that I knew I had to figure this out on my own, and I knew that that meant just keep moving forward. So I did. Likely in terrible form because I was stiff and cold and grumpy. I couldn’t wait to get out of the water and I bargained with myself the entire way around.

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Finally out of the swim, I was hauled up the stairs by amazing volunteers, stripped of my wetsuit and sent on my way to the change tents. I was fairly certain, during transition and during the entire time that I was getting dressed to ride, that I was not going to get onto my bike. Oddly enough, I did. Huh. Mind over matter, I suppose.

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Almost… (sorry for the language, Dad!)
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I came around. Eventually.

(Good: I did not abandon the swim. Evil: I sure as hell wanted to. And I had a personal worst).

Once onto the bike course, it took forever for me to shake the negative feelings from that swim and focus on what I was doing then, which was riding my bike around in circles for many hours while eating. Doesn’t that sound like a riveting way to spend a Sunday morning? The ride actually went by fairly quickly — likely because I was passing a ton of people, wondering why everyone was going so slowly (this sounds mean and arrogant and yet, it’s the truth!) The course was pretty boring, windy and 3 loops. I got to see friends out there and I was wearing a suit that made me feel pretty sleek. So that was neat. And then… the rain! And not just drizzle. RAIN. It didn’t bother me much but based on how quickly everyone around me slowed down, it was pretty much like the sky was falling.

It took me most of the last loop to do some race math and realize that if I didn’t let up, I’d set a personal best for the bike. And so I went for it and beat myself by 10 minutes.

(Good: My brain finally stopped dwelling on the swim and I remembered I was meant to be biking. Evil: I biked in many circles for many hours).

Into transition, I quickly changed shoes and socks and was off again. I felt totally fine and my legs didn’t hurt (whoa). It was absolutely bucketing down rain and I was kind of laughing at the conditions. I am in the DESERT, might I remind you! Where is the sunburn I came for?

There isn’t much to report about the run: it was 2, not particularly scenic loops. The first loop was uneventful. I ate. I ran. I ate some more. I saw Liz and we joked around a bit – that was refreshing. The 2nd loop was a sea of space-blanket wearing humanity and I was now in that frame of mind where everyone needed to move it, you are in my way! I may or may not have growled more than once. People were oblivious to those around them and it was driving me batty.

The wheels started to rattle loose around the 23 mile mark. I was tired. I was bored. My left leg hurt and I felt a blister pop on my right foot (gross!) I looked down and my tummy was bloated, making me feel a lot less sleek than on the bike, that’s for damn sure. Liz, waiting at the finish line, said to Chrissy that I needed to get moving if I was going to make it under 11 hours. I must have sensed that because I basically said “F#*$ this, I am done!” and busted it (relative to the shuffle I was executing at the time) to the line.

Per usual, the last mile is interminable and I eventually made the turn to the chute and the finish arch. Erin caught me as I stumbled a bit and was pretty blinded by the lights — I’ve never finished in the dark before, so that was quite a different experience. I didn’t bother to look at the clock, I was just thrilled to stop moving for a bit. A quick trip through medical and I was done, done and DONE. I’ll leave our rather poorly executed post-game plan (read: none!) for another post.

(Good: I held pace, I did what I came to do. Evil: circles are boring and space blanket capes did not amuse me. I get that I am Canadian and hardy and all that, but was it really that cold?)

Maybe the best part of the weekend was recovery Monday: coffee. Big breakfast. Nap. More food. More coffee. Hot tub. Another nap. Beer. Sunset from the top of a wee mountain. Big dinner. More beer. More sleeping.

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I take recovery very seriously. Also: I have no shame.

 

And now, I’m home and I’m ready to take a break for a bit. I’ve learned that I have to stop saying “ohmygodnevereveragain” when I cross finish lines. I didn’t do that this time because I know that soon enough, I’ll groan at the sound of a way-too-early alarm clock and head out for another start line.

(Good: All of the food. Evil: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

Just the facts: 10:56, 9th AG, personal best!

Epilogue:

Anja comes downstairs this morning and asks if I won my AG. I said no. She asks if I came second, I say: “No, I came 9th”.

“Oh, that’s not too bad I guess, Mama.”

Tough crowd around here.

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Author: Christine Cogger

I am not a writer. I like my kids, coffee, running around and reading about you. I live in the most incredible part of the world and am lucky enough to live some pretty great adventures.

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