Race Lead Up
The weeks leading into the race seemed about typical for a late season Ironman for me. This is the third year in a row that I have chosen a full Ironman race in November. With our season here in the northern hemisphere starting in April/May, racing until November (for me) can be a bit long. And this year felt no different. I felt like my body was getting tired, and slow to recover from typical workouts. My heart rate wasn't dropping as low at night, my legs felt heavy and weaker than usual, and my frustration level with all of it was going up. To help deal with all of it, Kristian was making adjustments to my training (cutting workouts and reducing efforts). Thankfully, my two training partners for this race were enthusiastic and kept my attitude toward training as positive as it could be. I wasn't hitting paces that I wanted to see (mostly with cycling), but I was still enjoying my workouts, especially with them.
The week of the race was fairly smooth, but not without a few race week hiccups. Luckily, these things are somewhat expected now for race week and don't get me stressed out like they once did. On Tuesday, I left Grass Valley with my Mom and made the 9 hour drive to Manhattan Beach where we stayed the night with some friends. I managed to get there in just enough time to enjoy a short, easy ride/run on the boardwalk as the sun set over the ocean. It was GORGEOUS and exactly what I needed after a long car ride.
Later on Tuesday evening, I broke out in a rash all over my abdomen. I still don't know what from, but with 5 days to figure it out, I didn't panic. I had packed all my own food from home for the road trip, so I didn't suspect it was a reaction to someone I ate. I had started a few new mineral supplements the week before, so I thought it might be that. I stopped all of the new supplements, and within 2 days, it was gone.
On Wednesday, we completed the additional 5 hour drive from Manhattan Beach to Tempe, Arizona. I hopped on the treadmill that evening to loosen up the legs with a 5 mile run. It felt amazing. My thought when I finished that run was, 'I could do that all day.' I was feeling good.
On Thursday, I did a 2,000y swim in the morning before we picked up Mike and Jim at the airport. We headed over to the race venue and all of us got checked in for the race before doing a short ride that evening. On the ride, my legs felt heavy, but I knew that race day was a whole new day and I didn't stress about it. We used the rest of that evening and the following morning to set up special needs and gear bags so we could spend the next 2 days prior to the race relaxing. Friday was spent lounging by the pool, and doing some minimal food prep for the support crew for race day. On Saturday, the remaining support crew flew in and met us in Tempe. We did a mini bike/run that morning, checked in the bikes, T1 and T2 bags, and rested at the hotel for the rest of the day. We did an early dinner at the Keg Steakhouse and I was back to the hotel and in bed by 8:30pm. I slept most of the night, only waking a few times to check my clock, which finally went off at 3:40am to kick off race day.
Ironman race morning is relatively easy since most of your gear is dropped the day before. I was up at 3:40am, and headed out of the hotel (ALoft Tempe, located around mile 6 and mile 21 of the run course) at 4:10am. The four of us racing that day (Jim, Mike, Peggy and I) met at our Gold Country Triathlon Club pop-up tent near transition while we waited for transition to open at 5am. Once transition opened, we headed in to set up all our gear, add race day nutrition, pump tires, drop special needs bags, use the restroom (multiple times...nerves), and wait...and wait...and wait. The professional men started at 6:40, professional women at 6:45 and finally the age groupers started at 6:50am. I didn't get a run warm-up in on race morning, and there is no access to the water until the cannon goes off and the race starts. I still haven't decided if this mattered on race morning. I was in warm clothes (so I wasn't cold), and I was moving all morning. The way the swim corral was set up, I knew I needed to get in to it early in order to be toward the front. My fear was running early, getting sweaty, then cold, and having to stand around waiting for swim start with bare feet in my wet suit. So I chose not to do a run warm up. I don't think it changed anything for me on the day. Around 6:30am, I found Sean (who was volunteering near the men's changing tent) and he helped me get into my wet suit. I dropped my morning clothes bag and made my way up to the 1-1:10 area of the swim corral. It was crowded up there and I was one of very few pink caps toward the front. NOW, I started getting nervous. I watched the pro men go off, then the pro women, then just tried to keep my composure until it was our turn to start. Sean (with his volunteer shirt on), was able to make his way up to swim start right outside of the corral and found me. It was EXTREMELY comforting having him standing there waiting with me.
The goal= <01:06:00
The age group cannon finally went off right at 6:50am and it took me about 5 minutes to get to the front. They were forcing us through a gate 1 at a time. This made for an easy walk down the stairway into the water, where I had a clear area to dive in and get started. I got into a steady groove immediately. As soon as I cleared the first 2 bridges, I stayed far to the right and had clear water the entire first mile of the swim to the first turn buoy. Ironman Arizona is a 1 loop swim in Tempe Town "Lake" which is a long, narrow, man-made (completely disgusting) canal. The water temperature that morning was 65F and felt comfortable. The water, however, is extremely dirty, so you can't see anything or anyone around you underwater. You also swim straight into the rising sun for the first 1/2 of the swim. Usually, it's pretty blinding. This year, there was a pretty good cloud cover, which blocked most of the bright sun and produced an AMAZING sunrise to glimpse at occasionally when I sighted. The way the canal is shaped, I chose the shortest route, which, on the way out, is close to the "shore" far to the right. There, I had the lake to myself. There were MANY times during the first half of the swim when I thought it might be better to get into the mix of athletes so I could hop on some feet and get a draft, but I also was enjoying the peacefulness of the calm waters. In the end, I stayed right and chose clear water over the benefit of a draft. I know Garmins aren't always correct, but in the end, my watch read 4,303 yards swam (79 yards long).
Anyway, back to the swim...once I hit the first turn buoy, I was in the mix with everyone else. The bumming and jocking for swim positions was on (which I hate), but it wasn't nearly as bad as other swims I've been in. Once I made the second turn and was headed back, I was back in a groove again. It wasn't long after the second turn, that my foot started to cramp. This is how it starts. First the foot, then the calf. And that is exactly how it went. Right after my watch buzzed at the 3,000y mark, my right calve was fully cramped up and I had to stop (for the first time) and rub it out for a few seconds. From that point on, I was 100% focused on my pull, letting my legs drag behind me so the cramp didn't get worse. This is typical for me. A frustrating part of open water swimming that I have yet to figure out. At the final 100y of the swim, I closed my eyes, relaxed my lower body completely, and was able to release my bladder completely so I could avoid a pit stop in T1. This year, I didn't have to wait at the base of the stairs to be helped out of the canal. I had a volunteer available to lift me out right away. I stopped at the wet suit strippers (I had 2), who helped me get my wet suit off quickly and allow me to get into the changing tent.
When I got into the women's changing tent, it was fairly empty. I had 2 volunteers come over to help me get into my cycling gear, which was: socks, shoes (us age groupers weren't allowed to have them clipped to our bikes), glasses, helmet and a few packets of Huma gels into the back pockets of my kit. I already had on my cooling sleeves (under my wet suit) and held onto my VESPA junior. I handed off a thank you card and small gift to one of the volunteers who helped me (I had it in my T1 bag), and ran out of the tent. I skipped the sunscreen and headed straight out to grab my bike while I sucked down my VESPA.
The goal= <05:36:00 (going into this race, I felt like this goal wasn't possible. Mentally, I decided that if I got off the bike <05:45:00, that I would be happy.)
The bike course is a 3 loop out-and-back course that has approximately 2,500' of elevation gain total over the 112 miles. It's notoriously windy once you get out of town and onto the Beeline Highway. This year was no different, but it was nothing compared to Ironman Cozumel, so I was glad. I could see by the flags that we were going to be dealing with a head/cross wind on the way out of town, so I decided to skip looking at my watch and go off perceived effort for the first 18.6 miles (to the first turn-around). I was afraid if I looked at my pace, I would push harder than I should to try to keep my goal pace (20 mph) when, in reality, it might be too much. I also knew what the timing gap should be between Jim and I (assuming that we were both having a great race), so as I approached the turn around, I had my eyes peeled for him. I spotted him a few miles from the turn around, checked my watch, and when I hit the turn around and checked my watch again, Jim and I were both right on track. That made me feel good. It was his first Ironman, and I wanted him to have good race (not that I could do anything about it...but I definitely feed off off my friends and knew that if he was doing well, it would push me to do the same). I checked my average pace at the turn around and it showed 17.8mph. I thought that was a good pace, considering the head/cross wind. As soon as I turned around, I felt the wind at my back and flew (or at least it felt that way) back to town. When I checked my watch in town at the next turn around, it showed 24.4mph. Boom. The best part was, it wasn't feeling that hard. I was comfortably uncomfortable, but feeling like this was going to be do-able. The average paces for the second loop were 18.1mph outbound, and 23.0mph inbound. When I made the final turn around to start the 3rd loop, the wind had changed. At first, I thought I was making an excuse for my drop in pace, but I took note of the flags and the airplanes landing at the Pheonix airport, which had changed their take-off/landing direction. The average paces for the third loop were 18.5mph outbound, and 20.0mph on the return. In the end, I average exactly 20.0mph, finished at 05:33:24, and managed to move myself from 21st out of the swim, into 12th in my AG. I was thrilled. I was also excited that I was able to stay in aero for almost the entire ride. This course is generally flat, and I've had troubles in the past staying comfortable in the aero position for 112 miles. My neck was certainly tired, and I was happy to be getting off my saddle, but over-all, I stay strong and manage the discomfort of being in aero very well.
I got out of my shoes on the way into transition, leaving them clipped on my bike. Since I didn't have my rear bottle cage on, I did a flying dismount and handed my bike off to a volunteer to re-rack it. I ran into transition, where a volunteer handed me my T2 bag, and I ran quickly into the women's changing tent. Just like T1, it was relatively empty in the changing tent, so there were plenty of volunteers to help me. I had a wonderful volunteer who helped me get my race belt on while I put my shoes on. My racing belt was pre-loaded with all the nutrition I wanted for the run, so I had nothing else to add to my pockets. I grabbed my hat, my VESPA and was out of the changing tent quickly.
I came into this racing feeling good about the direction my run was going. I was hitting run paces for all of my training runs, and I was hopeful that this was going to be the race that I finally ran the marathon under 4 hours. When I left T2, I went out too fast (as usual), but felt like I was holding back. My average pace for the first mile was 8:38/mile. I had been training for a 8:45-8:55/mile pace, so I was actually quite please that I hadn't gone out faster. When I hit the turn around at mile 2, it started to rain (which was AWESOME!). The clouds had rolled over, and we had (what I would consider) PERFECT running weather. The rain was VERY light, and came and went throughout the whole run. I managed to keep my goal pace from mile 2-11 (minus a small drop in pace at mile 10 when we had a small hill to climb). After mile 11, the wheels started to come off. My stomach was unsettled (not nauseous and no digestive upset, I was just feeling uneasy) and I was struggling to get any food in. I tried huma gels, honey stinger gummies, coke, and even pretzels. Nothing was sounding good. I finally settled on water and salt tabs. This definitely hurt me. I was out of energy, my legs were heavy, and I was highly unmotivated to keep a pace. I was holding a 9:30/mi pace while I was running, but I was walking every aid station, which was dropping my average pace very quickly. Finally, around mile 19 1/2, I looked down at my watch and saw my race time was just shy of 10 hours. I made a deal with myself: if my watch alerted at mile 20 and I was still under 10 hours for overall race time, I was going to pick up my pace and push hard to get in under 11 hours. At mile 20, my watch alerted. When the alert cleared, my watch read 09:59:50. I'll be honest, my first thought was: Oh, SHIT! I knew the next hour was going to hurt...bad. I was going to have to dig deep to make it happen. So I did. And it hurt. No more walking through aid stations (which also meant I wasn't even trying to get food down...only water), just head up, shoulders relaxed, and stride rate high! I stopped looking at my watch, and just started focusing strongly on a high stride rate. I had 4 miles into a head wind, and the hill to climb, but in the end, I managed to keep the pace around a 9:30/mi, even up the hill. At mile 25, I connected with a 41 year old male who asked me, "are you going for a sub 11 finish?" I said "yes" and he and I helped push each other for the last mile. The finish line was bright, and loud. I couldn't find my family, but I knew they were there. For the first time in 3 years, I actually heard Mike Riley announce, "Tiana Rockwell from Grass Valley, CA, YOU are an Ironman!" That sound/feeling never gets old. Ever.
I was greeted by a wonderful volunteer who made sure I stayed on my feet, and connected with my supporters immediately on the other side of the finish. I was happy. Happy with my race, happy to be done, happy to see Jim and how happy he was to be an Ironman, but most of all, I was happy to have found a place deep down inside to be able to push at the end of the marathon. I have never had the ability to do that before. I have never been able to find a carrot and dangle it in front of myself. It was a new feeling that I want to feel again (only much earlier in the race next time).
@4:00am- 12oz bone broth (which I brought from home) with 1/2 cup white rice and pink salt.
@4:30am- a smoothie, (blended in my NutriBullet, which I brought from home) which had unsweetened coconut water, small handful of soaked cashews, 1 packet mushroom coffee, 1 small banana, 1T MCT oil, 2T Great Lakes Collagen, 1 scoop Vital Proteins unflavored whey protein powder, 2T raw cacao, water and ice.
@5:50am (1 hour prior to race start)- VESPA CV25 and 6oz water.
@6:40am (10 minutes prior to race start)- VESPA junior.
In T1- VESPA Junior
Bike- 2 1/2 Go Macro Bars, 1 Huma gel and 2 packets of Honey Stinger gummies. I had an alert set on my watch to alert every 15 minutes. I took 1/6th of a Go Macro bar (40 calories), 1 Honey Stinger gummy (16 calories) and 1 salt stick (200mg sodium + other electrolytes). At the top of every hour, I took 2 Honey Stinger gummies, 1 BCAA tablet, and 1 Salt Stick. At the final turn around, I stopped eating Go Macro Bars and took a Huma Gel instead at the top of the hour. I felt GREAT with this fueling strategy!
In T2- VESPA Junior
Run- the plan was to aim for 100-150 calories per hour with Huma Gels and Honey Stinger gummies. It's hard to say what I actually ate. I think (if I'm being generous), I got about 2 cups of coke, 1/3 Huma Gel, 3-4 Honey Stinger gummies and 4 pretzels. I managed to get approximately 400-600mg of sodium down per hour and approximately 2g of BCAA's over the course of the run. It wasn't enough. I have to learn to eat, even when I really don't want to.
In the end...
I was thrilled. My goals were:
1. Finish <11:00:00
2. Set a new Ironman PR (which was previously 11:37:29 (set at IMAZ in 2014)
3. Finish top 10
All in all, I got 2 out of 3 of my race goals completed. I raced my race, learned more lessons and crossed the finish line looking forward to doing it again. I couldn't ask for much more than that. I also was using this race as a "test" to see just how much I've been able to grow as an athlete with TS Life and Kristian. I've been so happy with the direction I've been going the last 2 years, but it's always nice to see the growth on paper. And that is exactly what I see. A 41 minute PR is nothing to look over. It's just another confirmation that Kristian is the right coach for me. I look forward to many more years of work together...and hopefully another 41 minute PR in the future! But, if not, I know I'm growing with TS Life...I've become healthier, happier and, for now, faster.
1 week later...
It's always amazing to me how quickly I get onto an emotional roller coaster after these big races. For the first 2 days post race, I was on cloud 9. I was thrilled with my results and just felt an overall feeling of accomplishment and happiness. On day 3, I started analyzing my race (or, as Kristian likes to say, over thinking things). I got a little frustrated that I wasn't able to do more. Mostly on the run. Why did I let myself slow down in the middle of the marathon? I obviously had more to give, because I gave it at the end! I was frustrated with myself. It's been a week, and now I have mixed emotions. Mostly feeling sad and doubtful about the future. I love full Ironman, but I'm still experiencing physical pain from race day (my right calf still feels like I got hit by a baseball bat from the cramp in the swim) and I know that recovery from a race like this (and a long season that included 2 full Ironman races) is a long road. I know that I'm capable of so much more and I really do look forward to working on those things. But there are times when I feel like I'm dragging Sean and my family around (and myself) trying to reach a goal (Kona) that might never happen. Back in 2015, I promised myself 5 years to try to get to Kona. I'll keep pushing and challenging myself to grow more, both as an athlete and as a human. I'll continue to stick with my goal until I make it to Kona or I loose my love for the sport. Or, in 2020, I'll have decisions to make. Hopefully the decision is what hotel to stay at in Kona...
For now, I look forward to some rest. In the off season, I'll be back at CrossFit Gold Rush working with Cameron and the other coaches there to help build more power and strength specific to this sport. It's very obvious to me that I have A LOT of mental work that still needs to be done to make the advances that I want to make with Ironman. Although I'm sad that Sean will be taking the 2017 season of triathlon off, I'm SOOOOOOO looking forward to gaining a training partner who can help me with the mental aspect of this sport that I need so much. I look forward to a solid training phase into Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa in May 2017 and then back at the full distance racing at Ironman Canada in July 2017. Onward and upward...
Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!