My day at Ironman Arizona
I looked forward to Ironman Arizona every day since deciding it would be my next Ironman in 2013. The only time that excitement waned was during the last couple weeks of training when I felt ready with nowhere to go. Typical taper mental angst.
Race weekend started well, my anxiety level was low and I felt ready to go. The weather looked good, temps in the low 70s with a slight chance of rain. Little did any of us know that if it’s not actually sunny and 80, the weather people in Phoenix have a hard time making an accurate forecast.
Sunday morning dawned overcast with temps in the 50s. Perfect! We all knew the water would be cool (63 degrees) but it had not been too bad during Saturday’s practice session. I wore my neoprene cap and booties which helped. The rolling start (as opposed to the traditional mass start) seemed like a good idea, but the poor underwater visibility coupled with poor positioning by some swimmers caused me to get beat up pretty good: kicked in the face and stomach and struck numerous times through much of the swim.
About halfway through the swim, I felt some water come through the neck area at the back of my wetsuit. That had not happened before and I felt very cold almost immediately. I tried swimming harder to warm up, but didn’t want to push too hard, so I just bore down and got through the swim.
In T1, I was very cold and took my time making sure I had all my gear while getting warm at the same time. The early part of the bike went pretty well. I kept things easy, making sure not to push too hard while keeping my power readings in the proper range. The rain began about halfway up the long climb (about the same time I saw Chilly for the first time). It was a light rain and still fairly warm. No problems. After the turn-around, the ride down the hill was fun. I was able to maintain more than 20 miles an hour most of the way to the turn-around near Ironman Village where I saw the ET Cheer Crew of Beckie, Chris, Dave, Cathy, Jim and Cheryl. Somehow I missed my family and friends.
Somewhere early in the second loop, the rain came back and, even though it looked a couple of times like it would stop, it kept raining for most of the rest of the ride. I made it back up the climb but this time the ride down was not quite as much fun as the rain kept coming and the wind seemed to have switched to a headwind. I still felt pretty good as I began the third loop in front of my cheering family.
About 80 miles in, I vowed I would never do another Ironman! The rain kept coming and I was very cold for the second time that day. I was able to keep going, but the fun part of what we were doing was gone. At mile 99, I stopped and asked for a garbage bag to keep of the rain off and some of the heat in. That helped, but I was still shaking uncontrollably as I finished the bike and headed to T2. Again, I took my time, trying to warm up but also making sure I had everything I thought I needed.
The run went as well as it could have. I ran most of the first 16 miles, walking the water stops and walking no more than 45 seconds at a time between aid stations. At 17 miles I saw my family for the first time on the run and that perked me up. Even though I was mostly walking at this point, I now knew they were relatively warm and dry, not suffering, and enjoying the day as much as they could. Mentally, this was a huge boost for me. I just kept moving, running a little when I could. At 23 miles, I was walking along and a woman said “Oh, it’s raining again.” I said “Why wouldn’t it?!” and that seemed to raise my spirits. I mostly walked to mile 25 then ran most of the last mile.
As I neared the finish, someone said, “Way to finish strong!” I looked over and it was my son, Ben, running alongside. I actually had visualized this during training and hoped it would happen, but now I yelled, “THEY WON’T LET YOU FINISH WITH ME!” which made him laugh (for about an hour) and he ran around the crowd and beat me to the finish by about a minute! Finally I heard those words, “Bob Hammond, You Are An Ironman!” and the long day was complete.
As always, Ironman is not an individual pursuit. Coach Joe had a great plan and I never would have gotten through training without my Experience Triathlon teammates particularly Kevin M. and Cathy O. (Chilly Pepper). The three of us must have been a sight on some of those late season, colder rides. Jim, Cheryl, and Cathy K-B. were so supportive not only during the race but before and after to make sure all three of us were ready. It was great having Beckie, Chris and Dave there too!
Having my two sons and their families at IMAZ was unreal. They were so supportive and never complained once (and at least one complaint would have been understandable). Even my granddaughter Addison was happy at the end of the day and it was great to get a hug from her after the finish!
Most of all, this day would mean nothing without my wife, Pat. She is so supportive and always positive even when I am at my most negative. I think Pat enjoys race days more than I do! I can’t begin to thank her enough.
So will I stick to my vow at 80 miles of the bike of no more Ironman?? I highly doubt that. I’ll probably give it another shot in 2017…