Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 Recap/IMAZ 2012

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.老子 Lǎozǐ (Lao Tse)

Disclaimer: If you came here to read a race report, you’re in for a long ride. You may want to skip to the Race Day heading.

It’s 6AM on IMAZ +2 and the torrent of 2012 whirls furiously in my head, so I’d better get this written before all these wispy thoughts sink to the dimly-lit basement filing cabinet of my mind.

Well, that's when I started writing... I came back to it a little later.

This year (my 40th), though not quite over, has been the most noteworthy and eventful year of my time here. It’s the year I married the most beautiful and fascinating woman I have ever known; the year I lost a job I loathed and finally began a career that fills me with pride and satisfies my thirst for creativity and passion. It’s the year a willing (and willful) outsider found a group and a real sense of belonging. It’s the year I got out of my own way and began living life on my terms, rather than remaining sedated, numb, or just aloof.


When Rose and I first started triathlon (she went, and I followed curiously) neither of us were prepared for the magnitude of change we would experience. OCTri in May 2011 marked my first race, and I was immediately and forever a different person. I remember saying to Rose, “One day I’ll probably race a half, but I’ll never, ever sign up for a full ironman – that’s just stupid.” 4 months later I completed a 70.3 at the inaugural Orangeman, and 2 months after that I was volunteering at Ironman Arizona intent on racing in 2012. Quite a lot can change in a few months.

We entered 2012 enrolled in a handful of 70.3 races (Oceanside, St. Croix, Lake Stevens, Soma), and Pacific Coast Sprint for a little fun, with IMAZ for dessert. Oceanside was here before we knew it, and I knew I’d have to aquabike (and take my first DNF) or suffer further setbacks with my existing injury. Then came St. Croix 70.3 where Rose and I got married. When we got back to the real world, we decided to drop Lake Stevens 70.3 from the calendar rather than over-extend ourselves. In June, we had a fantastic (and life-changing) experience at the Team FC Mammoth Training Camp, where I was laid off from my job via phone call while on vacation – don’t get me started on that. We figured life was throwing us a fast-curve-ball and rolled with it, enjoying what remain the best rides we’ve had to date. We can’t wait to go back in 2013!

Back at home, I was intent on finding work that would maintain my interest, so I started looking for something in the triathlon/action sports industry armed with my existing marketing/design/IT skillset. Anyone who’s looked for work in the last few years knows the job market is a pretty bleak place unless you’re highly specialized; particularly for someone who has never had, shall we say, an overwhelming concern for authority figures. A couple weeks later, Rose and I discussed taking Bite Me Kitchen from pet project to full-time status, and we began doing the legwork required to effectively launch the business. In early September (as ironman training was really ramping up) it became a full-time job. Rose? She now had two jobs, and was training for ironman as well. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight at that initial leap of faith, it’s the best thing that could have happened to either of us, and we now have a small, but loyal (and growing) client base, and are finally on the path to being fully independent!


We progressed into peak ironman training right as Bite Me Kitchen was becoming seriously viable, and the volume of cook/deliver/swim/bike/run were all going up while time to rest/relax/sleep was going down. Social life was the first to go. In late October, being active on my feet almost every minute was getting to me, and I burned out pretty badly. I resented not having any waking free time, and would sacrifice sleep to have a little time in the evening to read, or play a mindless game on my iPad. I’m sure any ironman finisher will tell you that’s just the nature of the beast, but I wasn’t taking it very well. Before we knew it, it was time to head for Tempe for Soma Triathlon (errr, I don’t think I actually did a race report for that. Sorry Joby!). That race went well for me, and was my first successfully executed, catastrophe-free 70.3, but that’s another story. From there it was back home for one last week of real training, and then time to taper.


On October 30th, less than 3 weeks before IMAZ, I had a swim/run brick scheduled on a surprisingly chilly morning. We usually swim in an outdoor pool, and it was a fairly brisk morning swim. Halfway through the run I had some Achilles tightness and pain (from running on cold legs in cold weather) so I cooled it on the pace and cut my 5 mile run a mile short. That day was where the trouble started. From then til IMAZ I dropped all my runs but 2, and even those were truncated. Nothing was in terrible shape, I just wasn’t 100% and this was not the time for that.

It’s worth mentioning that I sustained a running injury late last year that lasted from November 2011 to June or July 2012. It seemed like forever at the time, and that experience made my decision to pull out of IMAZ halfway through the run a lot easier. (SPOILER ALERT - oops, too late) I discovered late in the game that it was a subtle footstrike issue causing the problem, and once I corrected that, I was running 20 miles with no issues. Sometimes the lightbulb goes on in its own good time.

The night before we headed for AZ, I was swapping cassettes on my race wheels and inexplicably split the (defective) flange on the freehub body. In a minor panic, I called my friend who runs the Surf City Cyclery here in Costa Mesa, where they saved my ass by having a replacement that would work in stock. The following morning, we left for Tempe.

Check-in and Expo

If you do this race, check in and do the expo stuff Thursday unless you’re the kind of person who likes to ride Space Mountain on the 4th of July. We arrived in Tempe late Thursday afternoon and breezed through like we were in line to ride the Mad Tea Party on a rainy day in March. (I can’t even remember the last time I went to Disneyland, what’s with the theme park metaphors?)


It’s not right in downtown Tempe, but I can’t say enough good things about the Phoenix MarriottTempe at the Buttes. The room was cozy (particularly for a big chain hotel), the food was excellent, and the service was truly first-class. This is a four-star resort that stays like a five-star. Oh, and we stayed there for $80 a night via Hotwire. Booya.


With bike check-in Saturday morning, the only requirement was to take our bikes for a test spin. I was about to pump our tires when I realized my crank wouldn’t turn, and my heart sank (again). I found a good LBS by word of mouth and headed to Landis Cyclery, where the mechanic found there was an incompatible press-in spacer in the new freehub that wouldn’t work with my wheel. He removed the spacer, charged me eight bucks for his time, and sent me on my way after I threw him a couple beers worth of tip. That afternoon, we ate at a fantastic vegan restaurant called Desert Roots Kitchen. The owner and employees there are passionate about when they do, and the food reflects that. If you’re in Tempe looking for a healthy meal, don’t miss it!


After bike check-in on Saturday we had a group lunch with all the people from Team FC that were either racing, volunteering, or just out there to support. I am still in awe at the people (you know who you are) who made special trips out to just root for their friends. I like to think that sort of thing doesn’t affect me on race day, but when it comes down to it, hearing people yell your name really is encouraging and put a smile on my face a whole bunch of times. Thanks to all of you. Saturday night we had a nice clean dinner at some local friends and turned in as early as we could.

Race Day

I’m usually jittery on race day with a million variations of “Do I have enough X? Did I set up Y and Z right?” whirling in my mind, but having turned everything in the day prior was a welcome relief from that. This day would be what it would be, and there was no changing it now. It was a great feeling to let all that go and be in the moment.

Swim 1:06:26

Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) prepared me for the war-zone that was the mass-start. I lined up fairly pole-position hoping to break away from the pack, but I didn’t do my math right. Here’s what I mean by that: I’m generally in the top 10% (or so) when it comes to the swim because of my rather absurdly long arms and paddle-like hands and feet.

Here’s where the math comes in:
2500 * 10% = 250

Ah, yes. There were 250 other people trying to hammer their way away from the crazy melee of the start. In my group (such as it was), there was a fair amount of grabbing, criss-crossing, kicking, etc.. I expected it to be a little rough, but was surprised at just how rough it was. A few minutes in, I took a solid heel square to the nose and was SURE I’d have a sweet-looking bloody nose for a swim out photo. I was thankfully wrong, but that’s almost a shame because I definitely would have bought that photo!

It wasn’t until the turnaround buoy that I managed to get a little breathing room (not counting the buoy itself, which was like the El Toro Y at 5:15 on a Friday). From then on it was much smoother, excepting a girl who was swimming my exactly my pace for a few hundred yards who kept trying to herd me to the left, when I was swimming a nice line to the next buoy. The things you remember… Swim out was thankfully uncrowded when I got there, and I headed into transition.

T1 5:26

Man, 5:26 seems like a LONG time, but transition is pretty huge and complex. Up the steps and past the wetsuit strippers I jogged, pulling off my goggles and head gasket, when I heard my name and saw my Aunt and Uncle! That was an unexpected surprise at that point in the race. Volunteers directed me to my stuff and I headed to the tent to throw on my shoes, helmet, glasses, and race belt, and stuff my pockets with nutrition. From there, I blew by the sunscreen people (that seems so odd to me…) and someone directed me to my bike then I was off to the mount line and the bike course. Ironman (M-dot) really does have the mechanics of big triathlons down.

Bike 5:32:35

I have no power meter (soon, baby, soon), so I was riding this on heart rate. The first lap was a really mellow pace, and I stuck to it, because I was here to run a marathon, and everything else was just a prelude to that. I tried my best to ignore the drafters and pack riders, but WOW is it a problem on this course. I was passed by a group of at LEAST 20 riders all riding in a peloton and just shook my head. Now here’s some comedy: There’s a mellow climb just before the turnaround that took my heart rate out of zone so I pulled back a little. In that time, (as I was going uphill into the wind) a girl passed me and I got a drafting penalty for not dropping back fast enough. I told the official I hoped he was ticketing the Sunday Coffee Rides I was seeing; he was nonplused, and we both went about our business. That first descent was a nice ride  downhill with the wind, and I began to wonder when Joby would make his appearance. He predicted he’d see me around the end of the first lap, and he was right on time. I picked it up a little to tell him my drafting story and we had a laugh – hey, I’m not racing for prize money or even a coveted Kona slot at this point – then resumed my pace and let him go. Riding through town I heard 2 or 3 different crowds yell my name, and that really put a smile on my face, then I headed back out to loop again. This ride is pretty uneventful so I just let my mind wander and kept my heart rate where it was supposed to be. At one point I let it wander too far and ran over a mostly empty water bottle from an aid station. That woke me up pretty fast! I began thinking about when I’d take my penalty, and would have taken it at the end of the third lap, but Mother Nature had other ideas. I took my 4 minute pit-stop at the end of lap 2, where I ran across the course to water a very thirsty looking shrub.

By the third lap my legs were getting a little fatigued and feeling heavy, and I actually was feeling SLEEPY on the bike. It’s a pretty solitary ride, despite all the people, and a man only has so many beers hanging on his wall to count, right? I was under-zone for my heart rate but my legs were feeling about where I thought they should be, so I didn’t push any harder. I really didn’t want to walk any of the marathon! Boy was I in for a surprise…

T2 2:38

I got on top of my shoes and rode to the dismount line and just gave some guy my bike. That was weird. Other than that, in and out pretty quick.


Ohhhhh, the run. I checked in with my legs off the bike and everything felt alright (as well as I could expect them to feel) at that point. I stuck to my pace until at about mile 3, when my left Achilles spoke up a little. “No big deal,” I thought, “it’s running! There are always little break-in pains here and there! It will pass.” I backed off the pace to see if it would hold or get worse, but by mile 6 I was favoring my left leg and run/walking, and knew the next 20 miles would be trying in a way that didn’t interest me. I had a lot of time to think my situation over, and at around mile 11 or 12 I stopped at the Tri la Vie tent where I saw my friend Bob, who gave me the go-ahead to hang it up. I really needed to hear that, because I could have done a lot of damage had I run/walked the next 14 miles. (It’s almost Christmas now that I’m getting back to writing this and I’m getting to the point where I can run again – so that’s good. There are plenty of races.) I turned in my timing chip and headed to where all the Team FC people were hanging out to sit and watch Rose go by in secret. I didn’t want my situation to impact her race in any way! I had the great pleasure of watching Rose finish her race with a solid time and mowing through a pizza with her (WITH CHEESE!).


I’m honestly not bothered by taking a DNF at my first ironman. I’m already signed up for a bunch of races in 2013, and most (if not all) of those races would have suffered at the hands of what could have been a serious injury. Having been through that in 2012, I wasn’t looking to repeat the experience.

Last, and most importantly of all, is this:

Triathlon training is my Zen practice. It is my Kung Fu; the thing that at last quiets and soothes my mind. Where I had previously (for most of my adult life) turned to self-medication through substance abuse, now I find real peace in striving for the easy fluidity of the perfect swim stroke, or that feeling you get at mile 10 of 20 that you could run forever. Cycling is a little too dangerous to get into that zone unless you’re in the middle of nowhere, but there’s definitely an aspect of sustained effort that counts. I owe a lot of who I am today to this sport, and that is why I’m wholly unconcerned with crossing that finish line. It’s not the destination that matters; it is the journey.

Oh, some serious hilarity ensued when Rose and I were selected for this interview!


Rose said...

Weeeeelll.. first you swim. Then you bike? And then you run. I'm pretty sure. All around Tempe. <3

anna said...

It really is zen! At least what I have seen so far. I still have swim brain from this morning!