Less than 2 hours from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona exists a race that has stood the test of time. It started in the year of Fiona and my birth; 1984 and is the 5th oldest triathlon west of the Mississippi River. Its mantra is The Toughest Race You’ll Ever Love. And it’s for all 7,000’ of Altitude of which you’ll have a love/hate/Fear relationship with this race. Absolutely, this race is not one to be missed. From the 70F fresh lake water start into a haze of fog, or the out and back ride on arguably the best road surface I have ever raced on rivaling only IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant which ironically was today (Go Dan Milton!) it climbed a total of 2,359’ over the 56 mile ride though towering Cyprus Forests, and the run that features a 1.2mile climb of 5% grade and a view over Lake Mary just outside of Flagstaff, the Race Organizers are passionate, the Olympic and Half athletes all had heart and grit, and the volunteers, always thankful to have you there. Do yourself a favor and Come to Flagstaff and the MountainMan Triathlon!
The goal was simple; Do better than last year! The expectations were non-existent but anything above 5 hours would have just been disappointing. Last year I placed 17th of 81 placing 4th in my age group going: 33:34 Swim, 2:42:12 Bike, 1:57:35 Run for a total time of 5:17:23. The winner is a Pro that I stay in touch with in social media, ironically did a half ironman where my mom was a volunteer in the Finger Lakes Region, NY and today at IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant took 10th! Jesse Vondracek. Way to go Jesse! Well, I did do better! I placed 4th of 69 Finishers and 2nd in my Age Group. My time of 4:55:13 was 22min10sec faster than last year. I went nearly 2 minutes faster in the swim with a 31:40, 8min30sec faster on the bike of 2:33, and nearly 11min faster on the Run. So, I’m over the moon with my performance today.
The Lead Up
This season is about IRONMAN Arizona. We weren’t tapering for this race but would race it through our training. Coming off of last week’s 22.7hour training week I had off on Thursday due to a late work night. Friday we swam 3K and ran 4miles before leaving Sahuarita for Flagstaff. We had our RV and Sydney and we would be returning to our inaugural RV Triathlon Trip from a year ago. This trip included nights 36 and 37 in the RV. Upon our arrival to the KOA Flagstaff we went for a 30min run through the dirt trails behind at the base of 10,000’ peaks. We also rode our bikes into Downtown Flagstaff for packet-pickup. We had Pizza and watched the really bizarre Jim Carrey movie Dark Crimes.
Saturday we rode 2 ½ hours R/T to the Race Start and had some picnic food on the boat launch. We then rode up the hill that destroyed me last year and I made note of it’s length and key spots. Then to the Downtown Diner for some grilled cheese and fries. Upon our return I started early and finished a bottle of champagne. For dinner I made white pasta with a side of asparagus, onion, and garlic, and white bread. We watched SNL Best of Will Farrell Volume 1 and hit the sack. None of this impacted my performance on the day negatively. In fact, I believe it had a positive effect as my lungs were ready for oxygen-deprivation.
Up at 4AM. Power cord out, water hose out, awning in, slides in, leveling jacks up. A banana, 1 piece of toast, and a sugar free RedBull. Off to Lake Mary 15min later. This year, we parked out 33’ RV in the Day Use area paying the $9 for entry. We took our gear to Transition and we introduced ourselves to Tyler Jordan, a Professional Triathlete we just started following on Instagram and who won the race in 4:13. He was a super chill guy and also based out of Tucson! We then headed back and Sydney had a great view of the lake. When we past the RV to the Start Ramp we knocked and saw our furchild one more time.
The race was supposed to start at 6:10AM but 4 delays due to the non-chalant Fog made the decision for the RD’s to postpone for safety. The fog existed last year as well and I still couldn’t see much out there for half the swim but it was a good decision. Standing in the water for 30-40min was actually a bit stress releasing. In all honesty, I was fearing this race. I knew how hard it was last year and I was just terrified of the Oxygen Deprivation.
SWIM 1.9km 31:40 Official (30:55 Unofficial).
I typically start on the front line in the swim now but this was a great opportunity to start behind a Pro. As the gun went off I stayed on Tyler Jordan’s feet for the first 25meters or slow probably pissing him off from touching his feet. But then the lack of Oxygen hit and it was 2017 all over again. I was just gasping for air and thought 1) maybe I should find a paddle board to hang onto 2) This is hard 3) I’m never racing at altitude again! I thought there were at least 5-10 ppl ahead of me and the line of those swimmers ahead of me sucked. Finally, after about 600 or 700 meters I finally felt good. My breathing had eased and I felt like I was moving quite well. I had a little nemo nipping at my feet and thought I made some ground. The fog had raised and I could start seeing the buoy’s ahead. I had clear and open water; I was 1-2min down by then on the leaders. My breathing was eased and I felt good. I was doing better than last year for sure. As I left the water in 30:55 I was surprised that I did better than Deuceman at ShowLow in June where I went 31:44 which was at 6,000’. The results say that I was 7th out of the water and 5s ahead in my A/G.
I left the water, took off my Garmin and put it in my mouth while the wetsuit stripers helped me out. I ascended the boat ramp and over to my bike with head down just looking down not to fall; always the same. Helmet on, Visor Up, Slammed a HotShot, and Go. The guy who won my A/G passed me in T1.
BIKE 56miles 2:33:46
I drank ARO a Caffeine supplement during the first 20min, had most of my 4 packages of Clif ShotBloks split up with 3 shots every 20-30min, and nearly 2 bottles of Gatordade. I took nothing from aid stations. It took me 27minutes to pass the first person. At the 28mile turn around they told me I was 4th. I had seen Tyler and the other top male but didn’t see 3rd. Also, looking back, looks like I passed 3 ppl in T1. My power was OK for the first 90minutes holding around Ironman Pace of 250+watts. But then the oxygen just continued and power dropped to Zone 2 of 234NP/220Avg. 72% IF and very weak for me. I was averaging 21.2MPH and on the largest decent on the course I grabbed the handlebars, and put my head where I had removed my Torpedo Bottle. My Garmin on my wrist measured 46MPH and I felt like Sebastian Kienle. The roads were smooth as a new parking lot and the forests were gorgeous. I did see a cow that was pulverized recently by a car and I saw many of my fellow athletes coming and giving their best efforts like my wifey! I had put in 5minutes into the guy I passed by the turn around but other than that, I saw no one. Over the last 20minutes I increased my pace from 21.2MPH to 21.7MPH on average and was very happy with a sub 2:35.
Visor up, feet on top of shoes, riding dismount, by the time I put my bike on the rack I was peeing as I took my Tri Suit off and put on a USA Singlet with my Bib attached. Socks on, Altra shoes on, FuelBelt on that had an extra HotShot I didn’t use and an M&M Container filled with salt tablets of which I used 4. Kona Visor on and out as the Olympic athletes were finishing.
RUN 13.1miles 1:46:39
Lately my run has been lack-luster but on this day it was my 2nd best discipline. 7th overall swim, 4th overall bike, 5th overall run. Last year as I crested the road 1 min into the run I said “Holy ****, this is tough and this is going to be a long day”; I was already walking. But this year I knocked out a 7:50 opening mile and felt decent. After another half mile the HILL was there. But I was ready. Our Treadmill Hill Repeats over the last 2 weeks of 5min at 5% grade helped. I just kept working keeping light, quick feet, looking 10 feet in front of me. I knew I had a half mile to the turn. The aid station volunteer had a cup of water and through it on me; I was expecting a drink. Then, another half mile to the end of the guard rail and the best views of Lake Mary. I gave a high 5 to the guy in front of me in the half. Another quarter mile to the crest, then another quarter mile to the coldest bottle of water in any triathlon; ever. Amazing. On the head, arms, wrists; it was perfect. The next place male was 8min back; I had put in at least another 3 min on him in the bike/run and I thought “you have to run this entire thing; there can be no walking. Do Not give this shit up!” Honestly, I told Fiona later that I just didn’t want to get run down again. I saw the 3rd place female running up, just smashing it. A new friend who was a former Professional Triathlete winning IRONMAN Malaysia and coming 3rd as a Pro in IMWA and racing Kona back in the 2000’s. I love this sport!!!
I continued running and felt decent. Miles: 7:50, 8:40 (hill), 8:52 (hill), 7:38, 7:33, 8:02, 8:06, 8:09, I took water and Heed from the aid stations running through them. I remembered the shitty time I had last year where I was forced to a run/walk of 4:30/30. This was better. Sure, the oxygen debt was there but I was mentally present, checked in. Some head wind and I started to feel it. 8:22. I saw my wifey but she was 5th female overall. Last year she finished 3rd female overall but these women brought the heat this year! Damn! 8:18, 8:19. I thought sub 4:55 was in grasp but I was losing it. 8:09 and into the finish.
Headed to the RV, grabbed Sydney and went back out to wait for Fiona. I handed Sydney off to Fi and she ran through the finish with her! We both took 2nd in our A/G and met some amazing people on the day. Compared with Show Low in June, I was 4s faster in the swim, 1:43 slower on the bike which makes sense from the extra 1,000’ of altitude, but nearly 3min faster on the run just by training and eating better. 13 weeks till IRONMAN Arizona and I know this is good. I know what things I need to continue to work on and will do so with ZWIFT and Treadmill Running.
Next up? 4 weeks from now. Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Sandia Crest Marathon with the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon 2020 where I will need to run sub 3:08. PB is a 3:02 but I am fearing this run. It starts at 10,000’ descends to 5,000’. On the hill today I was holding 7:30’s thinking, how the hell am I going to run 6:40’s for 26 miles in 4 weeks? Fuck if I know! ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.