4:00AM Alarm goes off. I jumped in the shower to get the muscles warm and fresh. I ate 2 bagels and my Naked Juice (brand of fruit puree). Tanya and Danny (my bro) drove me down to Tempe to get the party started. Once I got there, I went into transition to check the tire pressure on the bike and put all my food and water bottles on the bike. Once that was done, Tanya and Dan took off to pick up the rest of the family to get back to watch the swim start. While alone, I found a quiet place to get away from all the other contestants. At the beginning of these events, there's so much nervous energy that's extremely contagious. I was as ready as I was going to be at this point and hearing someone else talk about something that I might not have considered wouldn't help--not now. I stretched and massaged the muscles. I began to meditate on my race strategy. I was confident in my swim and bike but wasn't sure how the knee would hold up. At that moment the knee felt good, but I hadn't run for upwards of a month. I figured I'd give everything I had in the swim and bike and see how the run played out.
At 30 minutes before race start, I pulled on the wetsuit. I put my goggles on with my swim cap over the top. I made my way to the dock. There were 2,300 athletes making their way to the pier jumping in to the water. We were like lemmings jumping in. When it was my turn, I tried to hesitate for a moment, but with so many people behind me, I had to go. We were like soldiers jumping off a boat to storm a beach. There was a palpable trepidation amongst the athletes. The initial shock of the water took my breath away. I moved forward as the next athlete jumped in right behind me. As I began to move, I started to warm up and gather my senses. I made my way to the start buoys, which was 200 meters away from the dock. During that 200 meter swim, I began to get comfortable. I started with an easy breast stroke then gradually started swimming freestyle. I felt good. When I did Boise, the water was so cold and choppy it took me a third of the swim course to finally be comfortable swimming freestyle. This had cost me a lot of time. In the 10 minutes before the race started I swam a few hundred meters getting used to the water and getting comfortable with my stroke. I was really happy because I knew I could start the swim right off the bat in freestyle. I made my way to the front of the line. I figure it's better to make the faster swimmers swim over you, than having to swim through the slow swimmers if I had started in the back. I looked at the spectators from bridge looking for my family. I waived hoping they might see me. Then someone sang the national anthem from the shore. Then "Boom" a gun was fired and the race began.
The first 200 yards were swum all out. I was just trying to keep up with the front group. That pace caught up with me and I was winded. I slowed down to catch my breath. People swam over the top of me, which made it harder to catch my breath. I kept swimming still trying get the heart rate back in check. Then, after I calmed down, I began to swim at my optimal pace. I focused on my stroke gliding with each arm before starting the next stroke. No one was swimming over the top of me anymore. I began to catch people. The difficulty of catching people was they weren't alone but in pods of many people. I physically had to cut through them--push them aside--to get through them. There were times I could feel myself kicking other swimmers. I jammed my fingers on anther swimmer. I spent the bulk of the swim moving up from one pod of people to the next until 3/4s of the way when I caught up to the people swimming at my optimal speed. There were about 4 of us and we stayed together until the end.
During the swimming event, I sustained my worst injury. My zipper strap on my back kept wrapping under my arms as I swam giving me the equivalent of rope burns under both my arm pits. It's not that big of a deal, but gosh does it hurt. This morning, I have a bunch of scabs all over my arm pits. I can't wait to put on deodorant.
When I swam to the finishing dock, I put out my hand to the volunteer to help me out. He yanked me right out of the water. I ran up the path towards T1. Some other volunteers, aptly named "Strippers", stripped off my wetsuit. As I made my way, I kept hearing the volunteers shouting my race number ahead to the other volunteers to have my T1 bag ready for me. As I got to the change tent, a volunteer handed me my bag and another was eager to help me change into my bike clothes. Most of my bike clothes were on under my wetsuit, so there wasn't much I needed help with. But the volunteer put my socks and bike shoes on for me as I put my helmet on. I stuffed my wetsuit and swim stuff into the bag and ran off to my bike. Another volunteer grabbed my bike for me and ran along with me to the beginning of the bike course. I jumped on my bike and took off. I cannot say enough about the help the volunteers were for the transitions. I have never seen such help in any of the prior events I've done.
When I started the bike course, I had no idea of my swim time. Turns out I swam a 1:07, which is much better pace than anything I've done previously at half the distance.
On the bike, I slammed it in to the big gear dropped into the aero bars and went to work. The course was well marked with an open road. I was amazed at how many people were in front of me from the swim. I had a lot of time to make up.
About 5 miles into the ride, a peloton of about 15 riders came up behind me. It was like a team time trial event and the Tour De France. They were rotating through. My cycling instincts kicked in and I jumped on the back of the group and began to rotate through. We were averaging upwards of 30 MPH. All the other riders not in the peloton were shouting at us. Then it dawned on me, this is illegal. It's illegal to draft during these events. As soon as I realized what I was doing I pulled over to the side and let them go. I felt bad. Minutes later, a referee on the back of a motorcycle zipped by and caught up to the group. All the riders were assessed a 4 minute drafting penalty. They fought with the referee but were still busted.
The course was three loops of an out and back course. On the way out it was a long drag up a gradual hill with a fierce headwind. It was tough. The turn around was just past the peak of the hill on the downside. On the way back it was great: down hill with a headwind. The penalty tent was at the turn around, and all the riders in the peloton were in the tent. On the way back, I averaged 35 MPH. It was a drag race back to town. It was great. Half way back to town, the peloton came riding past, this time the person in the back was looking back for a referee. These guys were intent on drafting during the race at all costs. Being given two penalties is an automatic DQ. Off they went, zipping by at what I'd bet was upwards of 40 MPH in the downhill tailwind. Part of me felt bad because I was part of that for a brief period of time (2-3 miles) and partly because one of these riders was taking my ticket to Kona. Furthermore, they were so brazen in their activity; they didn't care that all the other riders were jeering them for cheating.
As progressed through each loop, the people in front of me became more sparse. By the end of the second loop, I had caught everyone I was going to catch and was finishing up. By the third loop the course was littered with riders at various stages of their bike section; it was impossible to know who was in what position. I just put my head down and rode.
I finished the 112 mile ride in 5:09. I had stopped twice; once to use the porta-john and once to check a false alarm flat tire. There many riders that didn't stop at a porta-john and did their business while riding. I couldn't bring myself to do that. I may have cost me a minute of so, but that's OK.
At T2, a volunteer took my bike and directed me to the change tent. Another volunteer handed me my t2 bag. When I got in the tent, another volunteer emptied the bag, pulled off my cycling shoes and sock (and timing chip), put on my running socks, and shoes. I put my own running shorts on--thank you very much. I threw on my hat and proceeded to my wild card event: running.
My knee felt good. I finished my first mile at a 7:30 minute pace. The transition from bike to run is painful and I was suffering. You're supposed to feel good after 3 miles of running. After the first mile, my knee started to hurt. I had compression socks on, a knee brace, and lots of Ibuprofen in my system. My pace started to come down to what my knee would allow. At the first timing mat, I didn't hear the buzzer go off. I looked down, there was no timing chip on my leg. Doh! It dawned on me the volunteer at T2 pulled my timing chip off and didn't put it back on. I grabbed the next volunteer I saw and had him radio in to HQ. He told me to stop at T2 after the first loop. This is why, people following me on the internet didn't see any updates after the bike section. When I got through the first loop, they gave me a new timing chip and sent me on my way.
By this time I was averaging 10 minute miles. It was time to focus on finishing rather than qualify. I was happy though because I had confidence I'd finish--even if I had to walk. The run course was three loops of run paths and sidewalks around the Tempe Park Lake. Different organizations of volunteers manned the run aid stations every mile. They all had different themes, super heroes, country western, angels, and more. They passed out gatorade, water, ice, pretzels, gels, coke, bananas, cookies, Powerbars. When it was dark they handed out chicken broth. They'd shout words of encouragement as you passed. The miles ticked by and my pace went from 7:30 minute mile to, ultimately 12:30 mile. By mile 20, I was hobbling pretty obviously. This made the volunteers at the aid station to give me that much more encouragement. Finally, the last mile was over and I ran to the finish line. I wasn't too aware of everything going on around me. My son Ethan ran with me for a 100 yards, and my daughter Elise crossed the finish line with me. My finishing time was 11:32. I ran a 5 hour marathon, which I like to call my cold turkey marathon. I honestly think I'm good for 2 hours less--but that's another time. They gave me one of these futuristic aluminum foil blankets, my medal (the hardware), a shirt, and a hat. They snapped some pictures. Then I found the family where more pictures were snapped.
I gingerly made my way to the transitions and grabbed my bike and transition bags. We went home where Dan made some big steaks, pasta, and, my favorite, brownies. Then I went to bed.
This morning I'm sore, my knee is extremely painful, and my arm pits are killing me. We're heading back to Albuquerque, but not before a trip to Chipotle for some burritos. Let the off-season begin. Thanks for everyone's support!