Monday, November 23, 2015

Becoming an IRONMAN

How about we start at the end...


Saturday morning was beautiful and we started with the "practice swim". I got into the 63 degree water for about thirty minutes to get in one last workout while hanging out with my fellow triathletes. Afterwards I checked my bike into the transition area and dropped off both my bike and run gear bags. Then headed home to rest up. Late in the day on Saturday, the weather forecast for Sunday began to change and suddenly rain appeared in the forecast with the best change of rain hitting around 9:00pm. Saturday night ended up being the only night I had a hard time getting to sleep, but I eventually managed to get some sleep before the 3:00am alarm.

I got up with the alarm on Sunday morning and began to get ready. One of the first things I did was to check the weather forecast, which had now shifted to show a chance of rain spreading across the day with the best chance being at 11:00pm. At this point I started to think about what I might need if it rained and decided to give Dawn my rain jacket in case I needed it during the second half of the run. I figured she would be able to hand it to me as I ran by at some point of the course.

I got to the transition area at about 4:40am and the morning was nice as there was no wind and high clouds. If just felt like the day was going to be a fast one. The transition area opened up and I went through my routine as planned while feeding off the energy of the volunteers and other triathletes until it was time to line up for the swim. Mike Reilly announced that the official water temperature is 63 degrees and that we were "going to be an IRONMAN today."

The sky begins to brighten and it appears that the high clouds are trying to clear up. Finally we start to "self seed" for the rolling swim start and I decide to get in front of the 1 hour 50 minute group. At this point all I can do is stay loose and wait the cannons to fire.  The first cannon went off at 6:40am to start the professional men with the second cannon firing five minutes later for the professional women.

Swim (2.4 miles)

Finally the third cannon fires at 6:50am, it is time for the age-groupers to begin. Over 2,600 of us begin to quickly descend the steps into Tempe Town Lake, jump in, and swim off. It takes about 12 minutes for us all to get into the water and I entered the water at about 6:58am which is exactly what I was hoping for.

I began the swim very strong and quickly pass a number of slower swimmers. This concerns me at first as I am trying to keep my heart rate in check and not over do it, but I feel good and continue to swim my race.  I occasionally check my watch to see how I am doing and it seems that I am on track. Despite the lake being as big as it is, I am continuously hitting and kicking other swimmers and getting kicked or hit by others - but that is just how it goes in open water swims. Then about twenty minutes into the swim, the sun gets above the clouds on the horizon and blinds us all. At one point I look up to spot where I am going and I can see is water spray from swimmers and bright sunlight.  At some point here, someone hit me very hard in the side. The only thing I can figure is that they were doing a backstroke and their goggles scraped me on the side under my arm where I was not covered by my wetsuit.

Finally, I go under the Scottsdale/Rural Bridge and then continued east to the first turn. After the first turn I headed north across the lake to the second turn. When I made the second turn I checked my watch and I was just at 50 minutes, right on time. Now it was time to swim back under both the Scottsdale/Rural Bridge and the Mill Ave Bridge. Of course I kept hitting other swimmers and other swimmers kept hitting me, so I knew I was pretty much where I wanted to be. When I got past the Mill Ave Bridge, the kayaks and boats had formed a chute to guide us all in. I swam down the chute knowing I was running almost exactly where I wanted to be. I swam to the stairs, climbed out of the water, and stepped across the timing wires. I was very happy with a time of 1 hour 51 minutes 51 seconds.


Every time I come out of the water in a triathlon, I have severe tunnel vision and I just go through the transition process. But this time, I realize the my feet are very cold while trying to get out of my wetsuit.  I get the back unzipped in time to get to the peelers. I lay down on my back and with one volunteer grabbing one shoulder of my wetsuit and a second volunteer on the other, they pull the wetsuit right off.  I get up, grab my wetsuit, and run to my bike gear bag. 

After grabbing my gear bag, I decided to avoid the changing tent as much as possible and head to one of the chairs outside the tent. A volunteer comes up and he starts to dry my feet off and get the grass off since I had accumulated a lot of grass clippings on my feet as I grabbed my gear bag. As I was trying to put my bike shoes one, I had some problems at first due to how cold my feet were, but I eventually manage to get them on.  As the volunteer packs up my swim gear, I put the bike jersey on and load up the pockets with "food", put on my helmet and sunglasses, and then take off for my bike. As I cut through the changing tent, I see a bunch of people in there who are in a daze after the swim.

I find my bike, which was not hard considering how slow my swim was, and push it out to the mount line. I get on the bike and ride through the chute to take me out of the park. I try to take it all in as I exit the IRONMAN Village, but in the back of my head I acknowledge that I just finished what is the hardest part for me. I cross the line to start the bike after being in transition for 7 minutes and 5 seconds.  I am just over a minute a head of schedule.

Bike (112 miles)

I typically do the first part of the bike portion too fast.  This time I was determined to keep my heart rate steady and not over do it on the bike. As we head out to the Beeline Highway, I notice that the winds are stronger than anticipated and that they are head winds. At the first aid station, I reach out and grab Endurance and water to load up my bike with fluids. Then I get into my aerobars and work my way up the hill, it is also about this point that I got the feeling back in my feet after that cold swim. After the turnaround, I start to go down the hill at over 30 miles an hour; however, I had to take a quick stop at the aid station at Gilbert Road so I could get some of the lake water out of my body. As we head back into town, I notice that the winds had shifted some and was wondering what it would mean.  I roll back into Tempe and the Rio Salado/Mill intersection to finish the first lap in 2 hours 3 minutes 10 seconds, just slightly slower than what I wanted by about 2 minutes. However, I am very happy with the time and I am ready to really push things on the bike.
The second lap starts off well and I managed to pick my speed up some. When I get back on the Beeline, I look out to the south and I see rain is hitting the southern part of the valley.  By the time I get back to Gilbert Road, the rain has reached us (approximately 11:45am). It is a steady cold rain with shifting winds. Suddenly I look up and I see a cyclist who was coming down the hill slip on the wet road, fishtail, and crash. I think he was okay, but I am not sure. I get to the turnaround and the rain stops. The aid station here had a duck hunt type of display setup with netting and duck decoys rocking back and forth. The object if for us to throw our empty bottles at the ducks. If you hit a duck, the volunteers rocking the ducks will all blow their duck calls in unison.  On the way down the hill, the winds have gotten colder and have shifted to become a headwind. During this cold ride, my right IT Band starts to tighten up so I decide to abandon all goals at this point and just grind it out on the bike by maintaining a pedaling cadence of 73-78 RPM. By the time we get off the Beeline, a steady rain returns and puddles are forming on the roads. Volunteers are warning us to go slow through the corners. As I go under the 101, I see that the rescue squad is loading a cyclist in to go to hospital. Despite all of this, I finish the second lap in 2 hours 7 minutes 23 seconds. This is only 4 minutes off my from the previous lap.

The third lap begins with the sun trying to come out. As I am going up McClintock to get out of Tempe, a rainbow forms to the north east. I work my way toward the Beeline, that rainbow began to look "angry" as only a shard of it remained and you could see gray streaks through it. Then I realized that it meant that there was more rain on the course. I stopped at Gilbert Road to use the porta potty again and while in there started to hear a thumping noise - a hard rain had begun. I slowly grind up the hill and make the turnaround in the pouring cold rain. When I make the turnaround, I see cyclists who had had enough of the weather and was wrapped up in space blankets in the SAG trucks. As I am going down the hill I see water flowing across the road and down the sides of the road. Despite this, I was able to pick up some more speed going down the hill as the swirling winds were briefly in my favor. It was also beginning to get dark out. I am beginning to get cold, real cold. The only time I had feeling in my feet at this point was when the water was sloshing in my bike shoes. It was raining so hard that rain was getting between my helmet and sunglasses.  I reach for my last "meal" on the bike and my hands were so cold, numb, and, weak that I could not open up my GU pack or my Fig Newtons. I guess that I am about twenty minutes from being done with the bike and decide that I can skip this meal. Despite these conditions, I never went to "the dark place" and I think in part it was due to all of the well wishes from everyone from the previous couple of days. Also, I later heard that at some point other cyclists had experienced some sleet/hail in the rain, but I did not see it.

As I came into town, I see cyclists who are heading out of town that just barely made the cutoff to begin the third and final loop. I am wondering what they will have to endure as it is getting dark early due to the clouds and rain. I finish the third loop only ten minutes slower than the second loop for a total bike time 6 hours 28 minutes (average bike speed was 17.3 MPH) and total race time of 8 hours 26 minutes 56 seconds. I am only twenty minutes behind my goal for the race, but my brain could not calculate that fact at the time.


The nice ramp into the park now has a carpet over it to make it less slick. I get off the bike and hand it to a volunteer and ask them to give it a wash and a wax. I then run in my bike shoes through the mud to find my run gear bag and then head back to the outside chairs to change.  I am cold, very cold, probably hypothermic cold (the temperature started in the mid 50s and only got into the low 60s). I am told that the changing tent is warm, but that does not sound like a good idea to me. The rain jacket I have given Dawn has magically appeared in my run gear bag and I quickly put it on over my wet bike jersey. I take my right bike shoe off and see that my toes, especially my big toe is white, and that they have no circulation as if they were frostbitten. I take a towel out of my bag and dry my foot off as quickly as I could so I could get my sock and compression sleeve on before anyone sees it as I am afraid they will make me go to the medical tent. I see things are only slightly better when I take off my left shoe. I quickly pack up my gear, eat my last solid food for the race - a Fig Newton, stop in the porta potty (the cold is making me pee more often now that I am off the bike), and finally cut through the changing tent to get on the run course. As I run through the tent, it is a warm, steamy, muddy mess that if full of people who are wondering if they should continue. One of them is shaking uncontrollably and being checked out by medical. I get out of T2 slower than planned at 11 minutes 1 second.

Run (26.2 miles)

I have no feeling in my feet from the balls of my feet forward. However, my body is beginning to warm up as I am running with a jacket on. Traditionally warm chicken broth is not available until after sunset, but the first mile aid station already has it out and I welcome it. I also ran the first mile faster than anticipated in 11 minutes 26 seconds, so I slow my pace down to ensure that I finish this thing strong. At the second mile aid station I grab my first GU pack and plan to grab one every three miles to ensure that I am taking in enough calories and nutrition. By the third mile, I had warmed up enough to take my jacket off and tuck it into the back pockets of my bike jersey. When I get to the fourth mile, I am starting to get the feeling back in my feet. I manage to run about a 12 minute pace for the first 11 miles, then I finally feel as if I need to start to walk, but I feel great. The sun made an indirect appearance during these early miles, but by now was gone and we were experiencing occasional wind and showers on the course. When I started to walk, I resolved to make it a "race walk" pace and almost maintained a 14 minute pace from this point on.

One of the fun parts of the run is that you get a chance to see familiar faces along the course. It was great seeing many friends along the course at various aid stations and to let them know that I am doing well on the course and to thank them for being there. At some point before the end of the first loop, while talking with other runners, I realized that I was still going to finish with a sub-15 hour performance. Then about eight miles from the end, I realized that if I could maintain my pace I could finish sub-14.5. To help meet my new goal, I jogged every downhill and as many flat areas as I could to help keep the clock on my side. During the last hour I felt like I had the biggest smile on the course. When I saw Lexi at the 22-mile aid station, I told her "one hour to glory".

I reached the Priest Road Bridge and ran over it and turned down Rio Salado. At the 25-mile aid station exchanged my glow stick that I was given many miles ago for a cup of chicken broth.  As I approached the final turns, I took my jacket and hat off and tucked them into the back of my bike jersey.  I had wanted to have more space between me and the guy in front of me so we could get great individual pictures going across the finish line, but there was a third person coming up from behind. Also, my watch was telling me that I was less than a minute from hitting the goal of finishing in less than fourteen and a half hours so I had no choice.  I knew when I came down the chute I wanted to pump the crowd up so I waved my arms and high hived people. Then Mike Reilly finally said the magic words "Steven Crawford of Mesa, Arizona. You are an IRONMAN!"

My run time was 5 hours 51 minutes 26 seconds which was fifteen minutes faster than anticipated. My overall time was 14 hours 29 minutes 23 seconds, which was only ten minutes slower than originally anticipated. Considering the cold rain and wind, that was spectacular. I can only imagine how much faster I would have been had the weather been "perfect".


I could not see anything. There was so many bright lights in the finish line area that all I could do was follow my "catcher." Volunteers catch a runner and first make sure that they are doing well, if not they go to medical. Then they guide you to get your finisher medal, hat, shirt, and then finally to the picture area. After getting my post-race picture made, I worked my way over to the food tent.  Of course, it was at this point a steady rain returned.

There was a lot of choices of food and I ended up with really salty french fries (I needed the salt) and two slices of pizza.  That was all my stomach could handle.  The volunteer food tent that Dawn was in charge of was located on the other side of the fence for this area, so I went over to join my family and friends. Lindsey had used the pass I provided to collect my bike and gear bags so I was able to put on a warm jacket and sweat pants. While sitting here we watch a finisher sit down and then you could tell that her body was shutting down, they ended up carrying her to medical when she was unable to stand up. I had wanted to stay all the way to midnight to see the last finisher, but I was too cold, wet, and exhausted. I was in bed just before midnight and went straight to sleep.

The next morning I was up and at the IRONMAN Store at 7:00am buying my Finisher Jacket and other assorted items that celebrate my accomplishment. At the athletes breakfast, it was announced that 91.5% of the over 2,600 athletes who started the race, finished it. This was much more than anticipated as Mike Reilly and the rest of the IRONMAN crew expected 15% DNF rate. 250 finished the race during the final hour. Also, 676 of the starters were first timers. They also showed the two videos below, the first is a "race summary" and the second a salute to the volunteers.

  • 2,370 triathletes finished the IRONMAN Arizona and of them, I placed 1,659 (70.0%)
  • 1,760 men finished the race and I placed 1,272 (72.2%)
  • 360 in my age group finished and I placed 270 (75.0%)
While I would have liked to have been a little higher up the rankings. I am happy with my performance.

What's next?

Will I do the IRONMAN again? Yes, but I have a plan.  First, I want to run a personal best half marathon in a couple of weeks and then a sub 4 hour 20 minute marathon this spring.  Here is the race schedule for the next couple of months:
After this schedule has been completed, I will work out what comes next. Of course, I already have some ideas what that might be.

As for the IRONMAN, I want to qualify for Kona and participate to the IRONMAN World Championships. To do that, I will work to improve my swim so that I can do the 2.4 miles in less than an hour. I also will work to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which means I have to get my marathon time to about 3 hours. I will also need to spend way too much money to buy an aerodynamic triathlon bike. I am hoping to work towards these goals so that in 2019, I can register for an IRONMAN in 2020 knowing that I have a chance to win my age group. It will be tough, but if I train without putting to much pressure on myself to race, I think I can cut over five hours off my finishing time and do it.

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