2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run November 23rd, 2008, Tempe, Arizona
My brief thoughts on the day:
Around 8:25pm on Sunday November 23rd I heard the most wonderful words ring out across the dark Arizona sky. This was all after a day in which I watched the sun light up the dark horizon over the lake while I swam chasing the sunrise, later I was on my wind cheating leg powered rocket ship and the sun had moved higher into the sky, now beating down heating up the Arizona desert, soon I left the speedy bike behind and relied on my exhausted legs to carry my into the sunset, the sun had done it’s job today but my challenge was far from over. Into the darkness I ran, but I was far from alone and any time the fatigue or pain overcame my thoughts I would find myself surrounded by people who I had never met, people who didn’t know my personal challenge of the moment, but they would call out my name with encouragement and all of this simply helped pushed me along. I was surrounded by others who had come to the desert to chase their own 140.6 mile dreams… some were lightening fast, others were slow and steady, and there were some who lost their battle with the desert today… the day ended early and along with it their dreams slipped away. The miles continued to tick away fueled by chicken broth and cola until I approached a little sign with a great message… “to Finish”. I turned left and the night sky was lit up with with the glow and glory of the finish chute. All the pain faded away from my exhausted body as I approached the finish tape stretched across the road as one final barrier… then time seemed to stand still as Mike Reilly’s voice cried out those sweet little words, “Greg Taylor, 34 years old from Redmond Washington, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”. I crossed the magical line marking 140.6 miles and the lights flashed from the camera and my legs were finally relived of their duty as I was crowned with a medal and a silver cape to wrap my exhausted body. Within moments I was joined by friends and family and my day was finally over. Today I won the battle over my mind and my body, today I endured the desert, today I became an Ironman.
And now the details of the day…
My goals for my first Ironman were simple: finish before midnight. Take it slow, take it easy, survive the swim, keep it slow on the bike, and endure the run.
3:30am – The alarm goes off… not really needed since I had been awake just waiting for it to finally signal it was time to get out of bed. Breakfast = 1 bottle Ensure, 1 bagel (cinnamon raisin of course!) and a bowl of granola. While in the car I sipped on a bottle of CarboPro and 45 min before the swim start I tossed down an espresso gel. I would have loved some coffee but I have had mixed results with coffee before a race so I just stuck with what I knew worked.
5:00am - Arrive at transition with an incredible amount of excitement in the air… this was the first time I had ever been at an Ironman event and it was just amazing to experience the buzz in the air. I dropped off my special needs bags then checked over the bike, added air to my tires, filled my aero bottle and sort of just stood there in awe of what was about to take place. With everything taken care of I returned to my amazing support crew. The JFT support crew consisted of my mom, my wife Angela, Kevin Christian and John Marquis. I ran into Steve and we both wished each other well (last time I would see mr. speedy all day.) Time flew by and it was time to climb into my wetsuit and head over to the swim start.
I jumped into the water 12 minutes before the AG start. The water was on the cool side but I thought it was perfect… certainly not cold once you started swimming. I managed to find a place along the wall where I could stand in ankle deep water and watch the pro start. With a 4 minutes to go I jumped back into the water and made my way to my start position. I had decided that I would start along the wall.. bad idea… seems everyone decided they would also start along the wall. The gun went off and IMAZ was underway. For the first 2-3 min I swam with my head above water just making sure I didn’t get kicked in the head. Eventually I was able to really start swimming but 5 min in I realized I had practiced the wrong sport.. this wasn’t swimming, it was a cross between rugby and sumo wrestling. I had an advantage in this situation since I grew up playing with my friends in our pool… you know “try to drown your friend” kind of games:)… well that is what this sort of felt like. I felt like a salmon trying to swim up river with a 1000 of my closest fish friends. Thankfully the people I had contact with were respectable and we just kept swimming without any aggressive punches, kicks, head butts or wetsuit wedgies. My plan was to swim along the wall until the lake turned, then I would head directly for the turn buoy. Surprisingly most people stayed near the wall and i found clear water with a few people to draft as I headed towards the red turn buoy. Thankfully i reached the turn just as the sun came over the horizon, which meant I didn’t have to deal with the sun in my eyes during the swim. I used a little trick Jill taught me at Lake Stevens 70.3 this year… when you approach the turn buoy swim under it vs. trying to squeeze around it with all the traffic.. it worked perfectly at both turn buoys and allowed me to have the inside line which was fairly open water. I was surprised to see how far some people swam around the buoys… I saw a bunch of people making their swim a lot longer than 2.4 miles. About 2/3rds of the way into my swim I really felt great and I was on cruise control.. HR was low, breathing rate was low, arms felt great and I started drafting and passing swimmers as we swam the return leg. I made the final turn towards the stairs and i still felt great, not sure I could have felt much better actually. I was hoping for a 1:20 but would have been happy with anything under 1:25. I was really happy to see 1:15 on the clock. I passed the JFT support crew cheering me on as i headed into the wetsuit strippers. Wow.. how there is a new experience. They tell you to sit down and the next thing you you know your wetsuit flies off :). You have to wonder if they ever pull off too many layers and leave someone sitting there naked. Yikes! Into T1 i go.
T1: Since my goal for IMAZ was to simply finish I planned on taking a very relaxed attitude towards transitions and i valued comfort over speed… therefore i made my way into the sweaty naked man filled tent and changed into my cycling shorts and jersey. I put on my pointy elf helmet and headed out to find my trusty QR.
My goal for the bike was simple… go slow and consistent, ride 112 miles and keep the legs fresh for the run (my weakest discipline.) My wanted to keep my wattage around 140-150 during the ride and I managed to come close to this. The course was 3 out and back “loops”… the ride out was a climbing false flat into the wind with a slightly more significant climb just before the turn around.. unfortunately not really enough of a climb to get you out of your seat. I rode aero for most of the 6+ hours ride which really took a toll on my back, I simply didn’t have enough long duration aero riding in my training. My nutrition plan went well but it became clear that i was overhydrating and had to make a pit stop on each of the three loops. I didn’t really let this bother me since they were very short stops and i kind of needed the opportunity to stretch my back out a little. I did learn a very useful bit of information out on the course… when they tell you during the race briefing that water bottle at the aid stations will fit in your cages that doesn’t mean they will actually STAY in your bottle cage! On one of the course corners i ejected a full bottle of water onto the course… luckily it rolled well out of the way. I grabbed another bottle but it too ejected out of my cage.. after the second torpedo launch i elected to grab a bottle, fill my aero bottle, then toss the bottle before reaching the end of the aid stations. I was a bit shocked at the number of things i saw littering the course… countless baggies full of salt tablets (bummer for them), water bottles still in cages, aero bottles, gloves, sunglasses, and other random bike parts. I had my own “bike part ejection” near then end of my second lap. I hit a bump and my PowerTap computer flew off my bike and skidded across the pavement. My initial thought was “just keep riding” then i came to my senses and pulled off into the median. One of the course volunteers grabbed my computer and ran down handed it back to me. My special needs bag contained a small brownie and some Fig Newtons… a much needed relief from gels, blocks, and CarboPro. Overall i was happy with the calorie intake and felt like my nutrition plan(mainly CarboPro and Accelerade) was on track. My legs felt great the entire ride… I was really not pushing very hard and the legs felt about as good as they did when i headed out on my bike… my butt on the other had was screaming at me. One of my largest concerns headed into IMAZ as my seat comfort on the bike. I have been playing the “find a comfy saddle” game and i still haven’t found one that works for long distances. About 2 months ago i had to just pick one and go with it for the race but i knew i hadn’t found a long term solution. Around mile 80 I was really feeling the seat and i couldn’t get comfortable… I am sure if you were following me you would have thought i had ants in my pants because i just kept moving around on the seat attempting to find something that worked. Eventually I cruised down the final stretch of the course and into T2… very happy to be out of the aero position and off my seat. Overall it was a good ride and i was feeling fresh headed into the run. My back was sore but i was hoping that getting off the bike would solve this problem.
Bike: 6:13:52 18.0 mph
From PowerTap (numbers omit my pitstops!)
Ride Time: 6:04:50
Average power: 134 watts
Avg speed: 18.46mph
Work: 2943 kJ
Distance: 112.21 miles
Avg HR: 129
I jumped off my bike and once again the JFT support crew was right there to cheer me on (I couldn’t have asked for a better support crew out there!) I ran into the tent, changed into my tri top and running shorts, then headed out on my 26.2 mile asphalt pounding journey.
And in what seemed like just a flash of time I was headed out on the run. I was really surprised how fast the day was moving along and that fact that the only thing that stood between me and being an Ironman was 26.2 miles of running(well.. better add in some walking.) As i headed out on the run the JFT support crew once again showed up and cheered me on. There is really no way to describe how it feels when you pass your family and teammates in their JFT gear cheering you on. As i left the transition area and hit mile #1 i realized for the first time just how hot it was and i was thirsty and hot. The first aid station couldn’t come fast enough and I grabbed sponges and tossed water on my head in an attempt to cool down. It was barely enough to get me to the next aid station where i could repeat my little shower activity. This time i grabbed a cup of ice… mainly because someone handed it to me. I really didn’t know what to do with it so i poured it down my shirt… brrrrrr. It certainly cooled me off but i soon realized that it would have been better to eat the ice as i ran along.. My first few miles flew by at just over a 10min pace, I knew that would be short lived and i soon found myself managing the heat but also slowing down. Around mile 6 I began to really struggle. I felt very uncomfortable and I was having problems breathing. My lower back had a big knot on the left side and as i breathed in it would cause my back to spasm a bit. my HR was low (about 145) and i wasn’t out of breath, but i found the one way i could get comfortable was short shallow breaths. This seems to work fine but it was rather annoying to breath that way. Eventually my back pain got worse and i could no longer run while leaning forward so the only thing that seem to provide relief was switching to a heel strike and standing more upright to support my back. So there i was breathing shallow and fast while leaning back and pounding the pavement.. not exactly a pretty way to run and i am sure if you saw me you would have thought i wasn’t going to make it another 20 miles but it seemed to work and while my pace had slowed down i was still moving the right direction. I had a little party in my head when the sun finally dropped below the horizon(even found a kid holding a bowl of peanut M&M’s to help celebrate the occasion) and heat was no longer a factor in my silly looking survival run. The volunteers and the fans truly make this a great event. Each aid station was filled with people willing to do anything to help me in my quest to find the finish line… often someone would run up to me and ask what i needed, they would then quickly return with their hands full of goodies. It was simply the best treatment anyone could ask for and when i had thoughts of “what the heck are you doing out here, why are you doing this, and wow.. everything on my body hurts” I would run into someone who provided encouragement, kind words, and simply some reinforcement that I can actually do this. Somewhere around mile 12 Kevin tracked me down and ran with me for a bit offering up some much needed encouragement. At this point my body was really starting to feel the effects of my goofy new running style and i was doubting my body's ability to keep things together for another 15ish miles. Kevin took my mind off of things for a bit and that was really helpful and broke the course up. My next challenge came when i realized that my toe on my left foot felt a little funny… kind of felt like it was sticking through my sock. I just keep running (bad idea!) because it felt funny.. didn’t really hurt. About 4 miles later i realized that my shoe was loose and with each heel striking step my toes we jamming into the front of my shoe.. yikes. I stopped.. tightened my laces and kept running but the damage was done and i soon had a lot of pain. I badly bruised my toe to the point my toenail is toast and ready to fall off. Once again i adjusted my running style and just dealt with it. The rest of the race was basically a run from aid station to aid station with a nice slow walk picking up soup, cola, pretzels, and Gatorade. On Doug Thompson’s advice i stashed a bag of vinegar and salt potato chips in my run special needs bag… YUMMY!!!… they were the best. As i made my final bridge crossing i met up with John and he ran along side me and cheered me on as i made my way down the final 1.5 miles. Soon i passed the sign that stated “Finish go left" and i was on my way to the finish cute. Once again i found the JFT support crew cheering me on as i made my final push towards the big bright lights. As i turned the corner i heard my name followed by the ever so sweet “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” All the pain and fatigue was gone, my legs carried me down the final shoot and across the finish line. The run didn’t go exactly how i had planned but i managed to keep things together long enough to complete my first marathon. At the end of this blog is a video of my finish as i came across the line:).
RUN: 5:38:53 12:56/mile
Total Time: 13:24:58
My thoughts and looking forward
I met my goal of finishing IMAZ and my finishing time was faster than i had expected. I am looking forward to Ironman Canada this summer and improving on many areas and cutting some time in all area’s except maybe the swim. Except for the beating my legs (and toes!) took on the run my body survived quite well, so I will work to avoid those issues next time and hopefully raise my time and wattage goals a bit. I learned an incredible amount this time around while at the same time having a lot of fun.
And a big thanks
Okay.. so this is a REALLY long race report, but it wouldn’t be complete (or fully cheesy) without my list of ‘thank you’s’ (finishing your first IM is sort of like winning an Oscar, right?) So a huge thank you to the JFT support crew on Sunday in Arizona, that would be Kevin Christian, John Marquis, My mom Donna, My sister Debbie, brother-in-law Chris, my nieces Taylor and Dylan, and my beautiful bride Angela. Also thanks to Doug Thompson for all his advice… he is the one I blame for getting me into this crazy sport. And a huge thanks to Kevin Christian for flying down to support me on Sunday… and for dragging me out to train on those days i really didn’t want to train (and Kevin gets the credit for teaching me how to swim last year.) I also want to send out a huge thanks to our amazing team leader and coach, Jill Fry. She has provided me with endless advice and encouragement and she created the best tri team in the world. And lastly and most importantly a huge thank you to my beautiful wife who supported me through all the countless days of training and flew down to cheer me on at the race. She she is the best support crew in the world.
Here’s a little video of that glorious final few moments as I crossed the finish line:
Bring on Canada!