In short, off on the swim from a headwind, current, and heavy water, brutal winds on the bike with a throbbing left leg, off the bike and the body struggling to move. After a pit stop at mile 4, I started to have strong pain in my sternum in which I would only be able to run for 2-5 light poles before I had to walk. My slowest marathon and my slowest Ironman ever but happy to be called an IRONMAN for the last time by Mike Rielly who is retiring after 33 years of announcing half a million finishers since the 1989 Iron-War.
My race recaps are all about detail so that others can take, adapt, and understand what really goes into such an endurance feat.
We woke up at 3:50AM, 3 hours before the start. I had 2 Imodium, 2 pieces of toast with butter and jam, 4 single servings of applesauce, and 2 Red Bulls for around 800 calories. We hung out, got our stuff in order and left around 4:45AM for the car-park. Of course, a line to get in but once in we headed to transition and as soon as we came to where the finish line was, the wind hit my face and I said, “It’s going to be a windy one today.” Off to the bike. Pump up tires to 100PSI, 1 Bottle Gatorade, 2 Bottles of LMNT salt with 1G of salt per bottle. 3 Packs of Clif Shot Bloks worth 600 calories and half with caffeine. Wahoo Bolt on. The bike looked great and was ready. Tom at tomsbicyclerepair.com in Tucson had cleaned up the bike, went over the whole thing, and put a brand-new UFO Ceramic Speed Chain on with white powder dust.
I put my Oakley Prescription sunglasses (24K lenses that are amazing because they only let in 11% of visible light in) and 3 GU gels in my T1 bag.
Then, we hung out by the bags and found Jo and Pete Coombe, our Australian friends that had been staying with us for the last week. I went for a 1 mile run in 8:41 past the swim start and came back. I was wearing some warm clothes since it was in the low 50’s but HR was a bit high on 132 which is IM Race Pace… maybe it was the nerves, but I felt calm, collected, and ready to go.
We dropped off our bags and put our wetsuits on, then walked down to the swim start. Fiona lined up in the 1:05 area and I lined up in the sub 1hour area. I saw 6’4 Pete towering over all and waved to him from a far. I saw the pro’s practice swimming in the cold 60F water and listened to the National Anthem. First the Pro Men, Pro Women, and then it was me with 6 other athletes going off every 10 seconds.
2.4 Mile Swim: 1:03:07, 16th A/G, 119 Overall
I lined up to the right for the most direct route to the first buoy. The buzzer went off and I ran down and dived into the water. It felt a bit chaotic at first with lots of bodies all around but I was working pretty well. It was a bit dark but I could still make out the buoy’s with my dark-tint goggles on. The 2nd buoy and 90 degree turn came a few minutes later. Soon, I saw Pete’s bright orange wetsuit. I jumped on his feet touching them a couple times and tried to hold on but he slowly pulled away into his 59:04 swim, 3rd 50-54 A/G and 63 Overall swim. I kept sighting well and working to what I thought was a strong pace. It soon withered out and I really wasn’t getting past at all. I also saw some females around me that I thought were going quite well so I sat in their drafts for a bit on the return.
Over the last quarter my feet started to go a bit numb from the cold. Coming out of the water, I was near the edge of the dirt ramp within the water, I sort of fell over into the buoy, and a volunteer had to grab my arm so I could get up. It was a bit funny. I looked at my watch to a 1:03 just thinking, “What the hell happened there?”. I mean when you know that you are in strong shape, and you feel like you swam well but then you see a time totally off, it can be very frustrating. At 70.3 WC only 3 weeks earlier I swam 29:13. And then at IMAZ’17 and ’18 I swam 1:01:23 and 59:18. Even in my past 2 Konas in ’16 and ’19 with a swim skin in salt water I went 1:03:21 and 1:03:03. Although Tempe Town Lake is a river, there is not much current because there is rarely active water flowing in Phoenix. All I could say is that the headwind on the day took it’s toll along with the “heavy water” and maybe just swimming in 59F water (Garmin reading) made everything stiff and not very fluid. Compared with 70.3WC which was one of my best ever swims, my cadence of 34 was consistent but water was 63F, 4 degrees warmer. I wore 2 caps in both races. But peak 10min and 20min speed was 1:23/100yrd vs 1:25/100yrd and 1:25/100yrd vs 1:27/100yrd.
Transition 1: 6:12, 0.54mile
According to https://www.obstri.com/result/571/511106, I was 3rd in Transition for my A/G which is quite surprising. Out of the water, I took a minute before I started undoing my wetsuit. I took my watch off and held it in my mouth, took wetsuit down half way and grabbed my bag, then went into the change tents. Wetsuit came off relatively easy with Body Glide spray on my legs and arms. I then put on my bike cleats without socks (because I was going to pee on the bike, I always ride without socks, we weren’t allowed to keep cleats on the bike, and I felt it would be safer and quicker to run in the cleats anyway). Helmet on, sunnies on, 3 Gels in back pocket of my Plush Tri-Top. I didn’t wear gloves because I had no grip with the ones I had, I also didn’t think it was going to be that cold and I didn’t remember being cold at IMAZ before. It was also going to go up to the high 60’s so I just went with what I had.
Bike 112 miles: 4:54:35, 4th A/G (after the bike), 240/249NP, 1.04VI, 1,200′ ascend, 2.95 w/kg, 22.9mph avg, 40mph max, 62F avg, 125 HR/Avg, 83 cadence avg, 52 Overall ~ 23 Amateur Overall of 1,980 finishers.
As I got to the mount line, Pete was right there! He yelled “Kevin!!!” haha, it was legendary. Pete’s 59min swim was also 3minutes off of where he anticipated to finish. So, this is in-line with all of us including Jo, Fionas, and many other athletes slow swims on the day. I latched in, rode out the curvy Ironman Village to the main road and then settled in passing a ton of people in the first 5miles and then it was empty. I kept looking up the road targeting the next riders to pick off. My goal was to hold 300-315 Watts to the turnaround but the wind was the strongest I had ever experienced on a bike, the roads were shit, and being blown around all impacted me applying the power. Readings were still good however, with 10, 30, and 60min power on 301, 295, and 286 watts. The 1hr reading is at 3.5W/KG which is my ultimate IRONMAN goal that I hope to achieve at some point.
So I had 100calorie Clift Shot Bloks within the first 5min. Then, I ate 100 calories every 30minutes thanks to the Custom Alerts on the Wahoo Bolt (a complete game-changer). I also setup my alerts to drink Gatorade 7 minutes, to finish a bottle every 59minutes, to finish an LMNT bottle every 135minutes, and to take a salt tablet every 58 minutes. I carried 4 salt tablets in a Fizz container from Costco. In total, I had 5 bottles of fluids, 3 clif shot bloks, 3 Gu’s, 2 Maurtens, for around 1,640 calories or about 328 calories per hour. I also had around 4.8 Grams of salt.
On the way out I just stayed as aero as I possibly could into the head wind and was holding decent speed of around 18-20mph. I was also able to see the Pro’s multiple times. My foot was numb for the first loop from the cold water and my left leg was absolutely throbbing for the first 2 of 3 loops. I never had that pain in my leg before and was actually squeezing the quads with my hand at some times just to help ease up the pain. My power balance was 49.2% vs 50.8% for the entire ride. Compared with 70.3STG I held 50.3%/49.7% and compared with IMAZ’18 which was my all-time PB of 4:44 balance was 49.4%/50.6%. So, the balance doesn’t seem out of the realm but definitely some compensation issues exist there.
As I entered the 2nd loop, I got ready to pass a ton of the people just starting their first loop. This is what makes this course dangerous. There were 2,400 starters, only 1,980 finished with a high 16% DNF rate, but nearly 800 were first-timers and most don’t know how to stay right. So passing someone with little room at 25mph+ to their 16mph,… it can be an issue. Thankfully, I didn’t really have any issues other than dodging a lot of stuff falling of people’s bikes. I can’t recall if it was my 2nd or 3rd loop but in-town I also came up on a girl on a Canyon bike, I looked for the Plush sticker, and said “I know that girl!”. Our friend Brooke was racing her first IRONMAN and also got it done on the day. Way to go Brooke! Later I saw Fiona for a 2nd time that I screamed out to her but unsure if she heard me. I didn’t see Pete or Jo on the bike. Around the 2nd lap I started to identify around 3 other athletes of all similar abilities. I worked together with this small bunch making sure to stick to the 3 marker road markings back. It was noticeable in the draft at 12 meters back with the head wind. One of the guys was Mitch Child M18-24. He rode 4:54:21 so just 14seconds ahead of me. Peak speed for 30minutes was 30.9mph, that was fun. But my 55-11 is not enough, as I have previously mentioned. So I’m looking forward to a 56-10 on the new bike. I saw Elvis out there. I also saw a ton of people sitting up into the head-wind. Not really sure what the point is of having a $10,000 bike if you’re unable to sit in the aero position.
I stretched my back out towards the end and with less than 10minutes to go got passed by 3 Female Pro’s who I had passed at some point earlier in the day. I rode faster than 11 of the Female Pro’s but they also swim faster so I don’t know how many I actually passed riding. I also rode faster than 6 of the pro men, just don’t ask me what they ran!
Strava Results: IM 2021 Course, 8th/613 Overall, Rio Runout 4.82M and 12:38 at 31/3,462 Overall, IMAZ 2021 Back, 18.58miles and 36:47 held 30.3mph and am 17th of 2,065 Overall, and Beeline 3.96M for 7:05 17th of 8,739 Overall at 33.5MPH. You know, I was terrible at sports as a kid, anything skilled I sucked at. It wasn’t till I found marathons and Ironmans did I find something that I was good at. These rankings mean nothing to most people, but for me, I have a strong sense of pride, accomplishment, and success. It’s a great feeling to know that there is at least one thing I’m good at.
T2: 3:21, 25th A/G.
As I stopped at the dismount line, my back was locked in the aero-position and my legs felt absolutely terrible. I “ran” to my bag and then the change tents where I put on a pink BOA Singlet, camelpak waist belt carrying 1 LMNT Salt pack, a container with 4 salt sticks, and extra LMNT pack, and 2 more Imodium. I put on my visor, socks, and Altra Escalante’s. I left the tent and the volunteers put sunscreen all over me. I hit the start line and lapped my watch.
Run: 26.2miles, 5:02:29, 32nd A/G (at the finish), 238 Overall, 11:31/mile pace avg, 108Avg/HR.
So although my legs felt absolutely shitty, I went out with the intention of giving it my best go. I wiped away the thoughts of setting a PB on the day or what I need to do better for next season (IM Lake Placid and 70.3 Santa Cruz). Instead, I told myself to enjoy it, have fun, and that today, I was going to be an 18X Ironman Finisher. So, the first 4 miles were OK: 8:37, 8:43, 8:36, 8:41 and one of the many run highlights was getting passed by Joe Skipper at mile 1, his mile 14 and completely barking at him like a wild dog. The Brit is quite funny and is all about barking like a “Junkyard dog”. He said “Ah mate, I’d do it right back to you if I wasn’t suffering so much”. I got a great pic with him at the awards ceremony the next day. I’m a big fan of Joe listening to his podcast “Triathlon Mockery” and also watching his Youtube videos training out in Norwich, UK.
I ran non-stop till mile 4.4 or about 38minutes in where I felt like I had to go #2. The Imodium worked but I simply had too much food mass in my body from the 2 days of carbo-loading with up to 10g/kg. From Mac n Cheese, Ramen Noodles, white bread, and a bunch of sugar cookies, I still have too much in me. So next season I’m looking to eat even less solid foods and also not do a full 2 day carbo-loading exploit. I was quite bloated this time around and had a bit of a thick tummy on the run. An amazing volunteer was holding my camelpak for me when I came out. I was stopped for around 3min40sec.
I continued running after that yelling out to #2 Pro Female Skye Moench “Go Purple Monster” (she likes purple). I cheered out to #3 Ben Kanute and #2 Matt Hanson into his 2:35 run. But at 1:06 into the run, I started to walk for several minutes because I had a strong pain in my sternum. While I have had foot issues for the last 2 years and a partial stress fracture after IMWC StG, the foot pain didn’t exceed a 5 on the day. But the pain in my sternum and the stress I felt would not allow me to run. In the moments before that my HR was only 125-128 so I was not exerting myself hard at all. I ran another 8 minutes and then walked, I ran another 9 minutes and then walked. But by 10.4miles in, those longer bouts of running were no longer as I was only able to manage 30seconds at a time. It was going to be like this for the rest of the day. I turned around looking for Sam Long and then after he too stopped walking, he past me and I wished “The Big Unit” a good job and got a fist pump from him, about the same spot I got a fist bump from Lionel Sanders in 2018.
When someone would start cheering me on when I was walking, I would then use them to start running and they loved it. I knew my day was going to shit, I had no idea where this pain was coming from. I have felt this stress in the chest before, usually it is the night of the IM but never has it brought me to a walk in a race before. I was peeing while walking/running so I didn’t believe I was dehydrated; I also don’t believe I had too much salt but will be working more salt testing next season via Precision Hydration. On my second loop around mile 15, Jo came up on me and was like “Whoa, you ok?” We chatted quickly but I said, keep going! She told me about her tendons that flared up big time in which she was unable to put out any power on the bike. Near the IM Village I saw an old friend I had found searching blogs like 10 years ago, Jason McFaul. I saw him multiple times on the day which was always a treat. Thanks for the support Jason! I kept to Gatorade for the first half marathon, RedBull for the 3rd quarter, and the final quarter was on Coke. I also decided that I was going to have some additional fun. Remember Paula Findlay of That Triathlon Life Podcast, she said something like “Well those Maurtens are expensive, I’d be stocking up on them if I could.” Well I took it to heart and start grabbing 2 per aid station. I filled my pockets and then when I finished my bottle, started putting them in there. I finished the race with 25 Maurten Gels worth $100 hahaha. At the opposite end of the course and 18miles in I saw Jo chatting with Pete, I gave them both a big hug and we had a triple hug dance party, now that was also quite hilarious.
I continued on wondering where Fiona was but found another friend of ours who rents the house of Fionas Coach in Phoenix, Sasha. She told me she had seen Fiona earlier which made me happy. Up the 50′ hill the sun was fading and I was thinking, “Finishing an Ironman in the dark sucks!”. I finally saw Fiona who said “I thought you already finished!” I gave her a big hug and kiss. Around the final quarter the legs started to feel better but even through the last mile I still had the chest pain, walking just before turning into the finishers shoot. The last segment is just for finishers. I was coming in at 11 hours yet there was no one around me, this was so weird. Now it was dark and for the photos, I put my hat and glasses down my back. Mike Rielly called me an IRONMAN and I got to see what the finish line looks like in the dark of night.
Everything hurt as I “walked” off. I got my stuff, ate some food, then went back to the finish line and waited 30min for Fiona getting a video of her and hugs at the finish. We caught up and then waited at the finish for both Jo and Pete as well. We recounted the day, now with an ironman tally of around 56 between the 4 of us.
We brought the bikes to the hotel, had a shower, and then got burgers from Jack in the Box. We cheered the final finishers into the line and celebrated with Mike Rielly as he finished his last of more than 240 Ironmans on US Soil. Even then, I saw another one of my friends Dane Rauschenberg who is an Author and public speaker. I met him at a marathon back in 2009 and picked up his book See Dane Run, about his 52 marathons in 52 weeks. I also read his other book Ignore the Impossible a few years back and I certainly recommend them both.
Into the race my sleep score was 90, 91, 80. The night after the race, a 36. Tuesday it creeped up to a 51. Resting HR was a 40, 39, 38 into the race jumping 16% to a 43 and 44 the two days after. Thousands of calories of carbohydrates and body stress have me up at least 5 pounds and I’ve been belching for 2 days. It’s also difficult to still fully catch a deep breath without some type off feeling. Fiona always says we kill some of our heart doing this…
IMAZ, one of the fastest courses on the circuit, home to the IRONMAN world record at one point, brought me to a walk. My slowest marathon ever. Even during my two – 50mile Ultras I went 4:04 and 4:38. I was very much off on the day. Nothing about an Ironman is easy. And that is why I do it. I love this sport, I love the lifestyle. Racing next to Professionals and first timers, 18 year olds and 82 year olds, all types of people. Anyone can do this, it starts with a choice. I will continue to focus on endurance adventures. It’s fun, challenging, rewarding. It is not easy. Congratulations to all those who competed and finished. Congratulations to my wife Fiona who also earned a 2nd Kona Spot but turned it down because it’s too damn expensive ($1,500USD Entry). Thanks to the volunteers and all those that made this event possible. While this is a home race, 2 hours from our home, it will be my last IMAZ. Three times done but we’re off to new places and new destinations. Stay tuned, Ironman Lake Placid is only 34 weeks away!