Ironman Arizona Swim: race report

Graham and I hit the road on Monday afternoon just as a big snowstorm was starting to roll into Boulder.  Choosing the road trip over a flight plus a rental car was exactly what I needed for this race.  I was completely content to drive on my own schedule.  I stopped when I wanted to (almost never), chatted on the phone with friends and spent plenty of time singing at the top of my lungs.  We made it into Scottsdale early Tuesday afternoon where the weather was sunny and (womp womp) breezy and warm.  Good friends of mine let me use their empty condo for the week, and it was brilliant.  Quiet (Graham being the strong and silent type), I could sleep as much as I wanted, be picky about food, throw my triathlon shit everywhere and generally rock the 1% of my soul that is introverted (it's not much but it's in there).
I did most of my pre-race workouts with my also-addicted-to-overpriced-running-shorts friend Krista, who lives in Scottsdale and was happy to let me hang out on her wheel and in her gorgeous pool for the week.  I didn't feel that bad while traveling, but when I got to the condo, my body crashed.  Hard.  I slept 10-12 hours every night, I napped almost every day, once for over four hours, I could barely keep myself upright long enough to swim bike run.  I couldn't stop eating, I was eating well but the volume was staggering.  And I didn't worry about any of it, I figured my body knew what it needed and the best thing I could do was hand it on over and stay the fuck out of the way.
So that's my body.  My brain does best staying quiet on race week.  I kept off social media because all the chatter stresses me out, I don't think I even opened twitter for 4-5 days, I might have dropped a couple of hit-and-run photos on the Facebook but mostly I hunkered down into my shell.  I was at athlete check-in when it opened Thursday morning and then got the F out of ironman village, I didn't do the practice swim or attend any of the dinners or parties or events that were going on or even bust out the cowboy hat and show up to let my gut hang out at the underpants run.  Instead, I hid in Scottsdale, hung out with Graham (and Krista and Mary and Shane who were all super chill and perfect to be around), read, slept, let my mind unwind.  No worrying about the race at all, I had a plan, I talked through my nutrition once only to make sure it was solid in my head, and I let it go.
The day before the race was nice, the poet and Erin flew down in the morning, I did a short swim in a WTF-is-the-length-of-this pool and then set a personal record for fastest bike & bag drop-off with the least amount of interaction with other busy buzzy triathletes.  We stopped at Teavana so I could pick up my I have something really hard to do treat, made a quick stop at the yoga pants mothership and then climbed back in the cave of the condo to rotate eating, chatting and napping for the remainder of the day.  
In the days before the race, I worked my way through the last two Harry Potter books but also took the time to revisit some of the good stuff I've read this year.  I have absolutely no idea which book it was in, but one of the segments I reread talked about watching a little kid run at a track.  He ran as fast as he could, a few times around.  When he was done, he didn't stop running but instead went tearing off in search of the next piece of fun in his life.  The author was trying to make a point (I think) about how being in the zone isn't a crazy intense focus, but instead, a feeling of freedom.  That's where my head was, going into this race, I didn't want super crazy blinders down focus, I didn't want explosive joy, I didn't want anything but to quietly set my body free to perform.  To find my way into the gap, between the two trapeze.  I had some really great talks with a few people in my circle in the days leading up to the race, and one of them said to me early in the week, why not?  I love that thought, I've read it in other race reports, the idea of going into a race thinking why not me? why not today? and it finally got through my thick skull and sank in.  Why NOT me?  
And the truth.  This is it.  The only reason I haven't run well in ironman in the past is because I didn't believe that I could.  It had nothing to do with training or nutrition or sleep or selfies or shoes or lifting heavy things with my ass or coaching or how many times I posted on twitter per day or how many broken bones I had during the marathon or much I weighed or talked or if I had cupcakes for dinner or if I was a die-hard NSNG dairy-free Paleo super fiend.  None of that actually matters.  What matters is that I believe in myself.  Life is a constant state of flux, people float in and out of your journey all the time, but if there is one thing I have done right this year, it has been surrounding myself with a support system that believes.  In me.  And the second step, feeling secure in my circle, that has developed into confidence in myself.  I had no goals for this race.  Not a time, not a PR, I was chasing nothing, I did not give one single shit about the clock, I wanted my splits to show not slow or fast or hard or easy or anything else other than simply: I BELIEVE.
Race morning was calm.  I got in and out of transition in minutes and then headed down the lake to sit by myself, far away from the madness.  I took the moments I like to take before any race, listening to my groove tunes and soothing my mind, watching the sunrise.  I didn't start to feel excited until I squashed into the packed swim corral, and I smiled as I listened to people around me say things like it's only a long training day and just take it one minute at a time.  There were no nerves, I wasn't worried or anxious or thinking about anything other getting into the water and starting the day.

I cannonballed off the bottom of the stairs (start as you mean to go on) and then worked my way up to the front, wide right of the buoy line.  I bumped into my friends again, Krista let me know that she was going to draft off me as long as she could and I warned her that she would be drinking slightly-used PreLoad the whole way if she did, there was a bit more banter and then my favorite sound in the world: the cannon.
I went out hard, fast, strong.  See, the thing is, I love swimming.  And I swim a shitload.  In any given training week, it's fairly likely that I'm well over the 18K if not the 20K mark, and for no other reason than it makes me happy.  Life is short, bikinis and bodies wear out, so why not spend time doing the things you love?  And the by-product of how much I love to swim is that in ironman, hell, in any race, I should be able to swim pretty goddamn hard without blowing up.  I'm not sure I actually have the ability to swim 2.4 miles hard enough to make a true dent in the day (although back in the summer I did an open water 2.4 where there was my goal).  So I went off the front, and I went off hard, and the only thought in my head was WHEEEEEEE!!!!

I couldn't find feet, for whatever reason I am a semi-decent open water swimmer that completely sucks at drafting, but I was surrounded by thousands of people all thrashing in the same direction so sighting was easy.  I was counting my strokes, singing my boom-boom music inside my head, and I was most of the way to the first turn buoy when my right goggle popped off.  My eye filled with water, so I paused for a moment (and three men crashed straight into me, I'm glad someone knows how to draft) to empty then reseat the goggles on my face.  I started swimming again but when I breathed to the right, I noticed that my vision was blurry, and that made me stop dead in the water.  I thought I had lost a contact lens into Tempe Town Lake, and that thought wasn't even completely formed before I was cursing a blue streak.  My eyesight is completely horrendous, and losing a contact lens would mean my day was over.  There is no possible way I could ride safely without depth perception or shapes or colors out of one eye, and my contacts aren't disposable so I didn't have a spare set in my T1 bag (like a lot of people do and recommend).  
I smashed the goggle down, squeezed my eye shut and then looked around.  There was a kayak about 100 yards away, so I doggy-paddled over and grabbed on.  I wear my goggles under my cap, so I took my cap off, carefully got my goggles off and looked into the goggle to see... no contact lens.  But there was a weird feeling in my eye, so I pushed the eyelid around (contact lens people know this movement) and whooped gratefully as the lens slid out of my brain and popped into my hand.  I put it in my mouth to "clean" it, put it back in, got all my shit back on my head and swam off, waves of adrenaline and relief crashing through me as I went.  I knew there was no point in trying to make up time, I just paddled back into the masses and spent the rest of the swim leg making my way back through the field, saying over and over in my head, OMG.  That was close.  That was so close.  OMG.  Holy shit.  OMG.  OMG.
Swim: 2.4 miles, 1:06:55, 10/112 AG

I made it to the stairs without further mishap.  A volunteer hauled me out of the lake and I immediately ate shit on the stairs and fell right back in.  I finally managed to get myself up and out, got the wetsuit ripped off and zipped around into the tent.  I sat down on the grass to deal with all my bike detritus, took my time to get everything into the right pockets and my helmet loosened and facing the right direction.  Ran out, a volunteer handed me a bike but it wasn't mine so I handed it back and went to find my QR, clomped down the grass and mounted up to roll out.  
The end of the swim had a bit of chop to it but it didn't really register because I was so preoccupied with my close call.  I wasn't on my bike longer than a minute before a gust of wind sent me flying and hastily getting out of areo to correct, and that was the moment I knew that we were in for, quite literally, one hell of a ride.

T1: 4:30


  1. It's exciting reading about this course from another person's perspective! This course and I go way back as it is the closest to where I live so I've done 4 endurance races on it. So exciting you hadn't lost your contact!! I'm definitely interested in hearing about the bike! My dad was out there that day and had to DNF on the bike because the wind blew a cone into his bike that knocked him off and broke his derailleur!! The mechanic couldn't fix it!

  2. From your description I assume you wear hard contacts. Maybe if you're that near-sighted you should have prescription glasses or a set of spares just in case? I know hard contacts are $$$ (my boyfriend wears them), but might be worth it if losing one means an end to your day. On a positive note, that's a HELL of a swim time for all the trouble you had. All those meters of swimming obviously paid off.

  3. I always love reading your recaps!!! I hate that you had a contact incident - glad it wasn't a race ending one!!! Can't wait for the rest of the recap.

  4. Good God, I have never even considered the possibility of a contact lens issue during a race. I'm adding that to my mental list of "crap to worry about during open water swims". Right up there with sharks.
    I love your recaps! This one makes me want to ditch work and go to the pool (where there are no sharks). Can't wait to read about the bike & run.


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