Breaking Down Barriers at Ironman Arizona
Going sub 9… Ironman Arizona 2015 for me is one I will always look back on and think, “that was freakin’ awesome!” Perfect races are few and very far between, though this one wasn’t perfect, my execution on the day went exactly as planned and went it comes to Ironman racing, that’s the most you can ask for.
When I originally pieced together my race plan for the season I put Arizona down with a question mark. I was apprehensive about doing this race as it’s a 3 loop bike, 2 loop run and usually very, VERY competitive. I thought Ironman Cozumel would be a better option; however, after a total meltdown on the marathon at Ironman Mont Tremblant I quickly decided I wanted to take humidity out of the equation and see how I go. Ironman Arizona it was!
In the lead up for IMAZ, I raced Ironman 70.3 Silverman just outside of Las Vegas. Though the race was a train through race for Ironman, somewhere along the way I didn’t get the memo and when the day didn’t meet expectations I was pretty frustrated.
I’m very lucky in the sense that my wife is a clinical counsellor as behind the scenes this year I’ve had more than my fair share of mental breakdowns. I have to give my coach, Noa Deutsch, credit too, grief counselling isn’t listed in her coaching offerings on her website but it was certainly a big part of coaching me this year! I’m not going to get too far into this as I’m going to follow up with a post highlighting my experiences as a first year pro, but what I want to get across is don’t throw in the towel when faced with adversity. We all want and expect things to go as planned in racing but it’s not the reality. I believe when we learn this in sport, it can translate into all parts of our life. Jordan Rapp shared this quote in his recent IMAZ post that I think sums this up really well:
The highs and lows aren’t part of the process; they are the process. – Joe Maloy
Though Silverman was a really tough experience for me, it’s what I really needed to change my mentality and approach going into Arizona and I believe if I didn’t experience that I likely wouldn’t have had the race I did last weekend.
This whole year I’ve been so caught up in the end result. I became accustomed to this as an age grouper as to a certain extent I had some degree of control over it, or so I thought. This just isn’t the case anymore, I have no control over what pros turn up at a race, what kind of days they have or what type of adversities I will be faced with on the day. All I have control over is the controllables. Using this mentality early on as an age grouper helped me find consistency and success, somewhere along the line I moved away from it but I came back to it in time for the race.
It was still dark when we were lining in the water to start the race. I lined up front and center not having a plan of where the ideal position would be to start. I was right beside Starykowicz, the real one, who’s a very good front pack swimmer so I figured I was in a good spot. The gun went and it was full throttle. At IMMT I got into the second pack pretty comfortably early in, at IMAZ it took me almost 1000m’s to get into the second pack and I had to work much harder to bridge up. I had to keep focused to stay in the group but it was manageable. When I saw 53 mins on the clock when I ran up the stairs out of the water I got pretty fired up. A new personal best and a testament to what we’ve been doing in the pool all year.
I came out of T1 with a small group, I really had to hold things back in order to keep things to my power plan. The legs felt really good though and I got the sense I was going to have a great ride. About 9km’s in after riding under an overpass I heard that hissing sound that no one wants to hear when on their bike, I had a flat. I pulled over to the side of the road and instantly went for my front wheel as I assumed I had a pinch (I was running a clincher on the front). It seemed normal when I checked, so it was to my dismay when I looked at my rear tubular and realized this was the culprit. I’ve never changed a tubular before but have had some instruction on how to do it by Dave, my shop sponsor, at North Shore Road Bike. I got to work not trying to waste time. Neutral support showed up just as I was filling my tire up with air. It cost me 14 mins, something that can definitely be improved on, lesson learned. I’ve done my homework already on steps I can take to reduce the chances of this happening again, I’m also going to practice changing tubulars to get faster at this but it is what it is. My first flat in a race ever over a 5 year span.
When I got back on the bike I did the math to figure out what the time penalty was, it was more than I had initially thought but I knew if I stuck to the plan my goal of going under 9 hours was still within reach. I have no heroic stories to share about the bike. I had a plan to push a bit harder on the first lap as I knew congestion would make this harder on lap 2 and 3. I nailed my pacing plan on the bike and slowly started bringing back the pros that had passed me while on the side of the road. The ride overall felt quite conservative to me. I kept my average heart rate lower than I ever have before and I felt in total control the whole time. Taking just the mechanical out of the equation I biked a 4:28 which put’s my bike split about 10-15 mins behind what Lionel, Jordan, Maik and TJ rode (a handful of the best cyclists in the sport). I’m sure I lost a few minutes due to having a slow tire on with non-ideal air pressure and losing the draft benefit of riding around faster riders; however, point being I’m really happy to see where my riding’s at. The bike has always been my strength and we’ve had to neglect it a bit in order to develop my swim and run. Though my swim and run still need a lot of work, I’m planning to make more time for the bike in 2016 and I’m really excited to see where that lands us.
The run felt like a steady training day until mile 16. Conditions were cool with rain, a typical Vancouver day! It was interesting hearing how many people thought the conditions were tough, I felt right at home. I agree for people finishing in dark it would have been cold but for anyone finishing before sunset the conditions were good if you could avoid slipping on the wet concrete or in the mud in certain areas of the course. I kept my pacing plan in check for the first two hours.
I ran the first half of the marathon in just under 1:34 and felt like I was on fire. Naturally at mile 16, I was found out and someone dropped a grand piano on my back. It took a whole lot of grit to finish strong and get it done. I ran a 3:11, a new PR and validation that my run is going in the right direction. My bike crash in New Orleans really set my running back this year, I would say 4-5 months, so I was really pumped to finish on a high note and be back to where I was pre-crash.
Arizona was my 7th Ironman and the first to match the emotions I felt finishing my first one in Penticton in 2012. Regardless of result, there is a huge amount of satisfaction in having a race where you feel your performance matches the work you’ve put in in training. We put together the performance we trained for in Arizona and I couldn’t be happier. 46 pro men started the race and I finished 20th. Without the mechanical I likely would have comfortably finished in the top 15. At one of the most competitive Ironman races in North America this year, that’s a big confidence boost.
There are so many people to thank that were a part of this. First I need to thank Dave Corley who was my host in Arizona. The guy was an all-star from the time I landed making sure I had everything I needed, showing me the ins and outs of the course and being there cheering for me on race day.
My wife Jenna has been my biggest supporter this year. She always tells me what I need to hear when I need to hear it. My coach Noa and the Pacific Tri-Works squad have been a huge part of this pushing me all year. I’m lucky to have such a solid environment to train in year round.
I’m also so fortunate to have such great sponsors. A big part of my faster bike splits this year has been my bike equipment and fit. Felt Canada, Vision, North Shore Road Bike and my coach (who’s a bike fitter) have been a huge part of that. The crew at Sugoi have been awesome all year ensuring I’m kitted out with the best training and racing apparel. Kintec / North Shore Athletics and Nathan have had me covered all year for everything running and tri related. And a big thank you to Main Street Automotive for their support this year. A special mention to Mike Whittle at Asics Canada for getting me a new pair of Gel-DS Racers in time to break in for race day, those shoes just have good mojo! And the Moveo crew for helping with recovery in the leadup to IMAZ. Normatec Boots are going to have to become a part of the training and racing regime!
After a couple more weeks of down time it’s back to work and back to the process. I’m looking forward to 2016 and with it all the highs and lows it will bring.