Well it’s been a week now since I finished my second Ironman triathlon, and I’m just getting my feet back on the ground!
Hmm where to start? I guess with some background info. I had done the St. George Ironman in 2010, and my goal then was to just do the race in no particular time. I finished it in 12:45, and looking back at my training I did the classic newbie “just do a bunch of endurance” training, without focusing on speed or strength. Therefore, my time reflected this in that while I was able to finish, my time didn’t match my potential.
This time around, I did a lot of studying and used a book (Joe Friel’s Your Best Triathlon), which was very helpful. I attempted to complete each workout with surgical precision as far as executing each with the proper intensity and focus on power, strength, endurance, etc.
Training for an Ironman is tough enough, but add in work and family and it becomes even more challenging. I probably missed 1-2 workouts a week which is tough for a Type A personality, but at the same time I tried to focus on doing what I could with the time I had, without making myself miserable about missing workouts, etc and more importantly not blowing off family and work. I focused on enjoying the journey.
If you’ve been reading these blogs, you also know that I focused a lot on taking extremely good care of myself. I got plenty of sleep, ate well, and used several supplements to keep my immune system working and to keep the inflammation and oxidation down. This paid off, as I didn’t catch the bugs my family had and stayed injury free by taking it easy when necessary, and treating hot spots as they arose.
My training went really well and I was performing better than I expected on my runs and on the bike in the weeks coming up to the race. My goal was to finish in under 11 hours, or if things went really well, closer to 10 hours 30 minutes. On paper, this looked possible, but a lot can happen in the later miles of the marathon – the body can easily fall apart at that point, especially around mile 18. So this in mind, I just stayed optimistic that I’d be able to hold it together on the run!
So on to the race:
The race was held in Tempe, Arizona and we had perfect weather. Race day was 74 degrees, no clouds, and very little wind. I was initially concerned about the water temperature – at 63 degrees it sounded freezing cold and I was pretty stressed about it. All the athletes were allowed a practice swim the day before the race and to my surprise I found the water to be really pleasant. So that relieved a lot of pre-race stress.
The Swim: 2.4 miles
On race day, we arrived at the venue with about an hour to spare. Plenty of time to double check the tires, add any last minute items to the bike and run bags, get body marked (they write your number on your arm, and age on the back of your calf). There was a huge line to get in the water, and not wanting to get in too soon before the start, I got in line too late and was way in the back – the last few hundred of 2500 athletes.
Once you get into the lake, we had to swim about 200 meters or so to a bridge, where the actual start line was. Well, getting in late was a big mistake, as the starting gun went off a few moments after I got in the water – they didn’t wait for everyone to be at the start. This cost me a lot of time, because I was continually swimming into slower swimmers in front of myself, and at times found my way completely blocked by several people.
The swim was a continual wrestling match; I’d swim into someone, have to slow or go around them - for the entire race. I rarely had a chance to just swim all out before I ran into another person.
Going from pool swimming, where you can see the bottom, to lake swimming is so different. The water is dark and you can’t even see your hands. Add in the chop from hundreds of swimmers, it can really be stressful. But despite all of this, I felt really strong on my swim and was able to stay focused, didn’t choke on any water, and was able to keep moving.
My goal for the swim was 1 hour and 15 minutes, but instead I was close to 1 hour and 24 minutes. Seeing this time once I got out of the water, I knew my goal of under 11 was in jeopardy, as there wasn’t a lot of room for mistakes. I didn’t dwell on my time and instead focused on doing what I had to do to make the bike go well.
The Bike: 112 miles
My bike segment went really well. Arizona is a notoriously fast course, and I had a blast. The course was a three-loop circuit, with a long downhill on each return loop. In Ironman races, the advice is to ride the bike you should, rather than the bike you could. This means that despite being able to go a lot faster, you have to scale it back so you can save your legs for the 26.2-mile run immediately after. So, with this in mind I did my best to throttle back on the bike.
My goal for the bike time was 5 hour and 30 minutes, which meant I’d need an average of 20 miles per hour. As the ride wore on, I noticed my average speed climbing and I eventually averaged 21.16 miles per hour, which put my bike time at roughly 5 hours 17 minutes, so I was back on target for my goal of under 11 hours to finish. Otherwise, the bike ride was uneventful and I just focused on my nutrition timing. I carried a liquid energy drink and just had to time it so I consumed 350 calories each hour.
The Run; 26.2 miles
Throughout my training, I did a lot of ‘brick’ workouts, which are a combination of a bike immediately followed by a run. These were paying off, as in my last few weeks of training my legs felt really fresh after my rides, and this was the same during the race. I hopped off my bike and started the run feeling great.
My goal for the run was to keep as close to 8-minute miles as possible, but also knowing that 26 miles is a long time with plenty of opportunity to fall apart. I held 8-minute miles for the first 12 or so miles, but then I just couldn’t do the math anymore as the fatigue set in. I could feel myself getting fatigued, and I just focused on running to each aid station (they’re a mile apart on the course) where I could get some water and fuel to keep going.
Eventually I passed the notorious “wall” of mile 18, and I was still feeling pretty decent. I knew I was off my 8-minute pace, but I was also pleased at how well I still felt. That soon came to an end around mile 20, when I really started to feel bad, getting dizzy and nauseated. The next few miles I concentrated on making it to each aid station, taking 20 brief steps (it feels oh so good to stop at walk at this point!) drinking some water and fuel, and then getting moving again. So I walked a bit more in the aid stations and just focused on reconnecting, watching my form and focusing on moving faster.
The run course was loaded with spectators and they are what really keep you going at this point. With your name on the race bib, you have total strangers shouting words of encouragement followed by your name – it feels really personal and was a big lift for me.
Knowing you’re close to the finish is always motivating and I really sprung back to life with 2 miles left, so much so I skipped the last aid station and just went for it. There’s nothing more exhilarating than entering the finish chute, and it was really cool this time because I was basically alone, with no one around me. I saw my time was under 11 hours, and then went crazy celebrating while running the last few yards down the chute. It was a good release of months of training and the stress that comes with it! It’s also really cool to hear the announcer blare out “Jason Barker, YOU are an Ironman!”
I finished in 10:51:06, nearly 2 hours faster than my previous Ironman in St. George! My run time was 3:54:26, or 8:56 minute miles, which is far off my goal, but I’m still pleased with the time because I gave it my all. I had a great race, and really enjoyed it, as I was able to stay focused and positive the entire time. I learned a ton about racing this distance, and someday hope to do another one with a better marathon time.
P.S. My brother wasn’t able to train for this race due to a hamstring injury, but he did it anyway and walked the entire marathon, finishing in 16:30. I rode out to meet him about mile 24, and then he wanted to run the last mile. It is so lonely out there, in the dark and everyone was walking. He started running and grunting like a water buffalo he was in so much pain. But it was so fun to ride along with him, watching people turn around hearing him coming, wondering what the heck was making that noise. He got huge ovations from the crowd!