IM AZ 2017 – Recap

Usually I’m not this far behind, but I finally have a chance to sit down, think for a few minutes, and put together a race write up on Ironman Arizona. Since I know this will be quite the page turner, I’ll give a brief summary, some lessons learned, and then move on to the full race report.

Quick Recap

This year’s race set up much like last year’s race – solo trip to Tempe, quite time to focus and prepare, and then hanging out and getting ready for race day. That’s about where the similarities ended. In 2016, I pulled together a 95% complete race and finished in 9:08, podium spot, and just off a coveted Kona qualifier spot. I went into this year’s race with an expectation to turn out a slightly better performance and see where that put me in the age group.

Swim: I’ve been focusing on the swim a lot and trying to make sure that I can settle into things without having any breathing difficulties. A few trips to a local lake in Richmond, some quality pool swims, and a more relaxed but thorough warmup were tweaks to help the swim improve. Well, all of these worked out well, I swam the whole time without any breathing issues, but the wind kicked up during the swim, waves started to come, and I was swimming up and down waves for the last 1500 yds. What felt like a good swim, quickly slowed down and I exited the water in 67+min, well off my goal time of 63min.

Bike: That wind that kicked up during the late stages of the swim just kept coming on the bike. I stuck to the power numbers but the difference was amazing. The same power on the way out and into the wind put me at an average of 18mph while the return trip was roughly 30mph. At one point, I finished 10mi in just under 20min! Unfortunately, for me, as fun as that part was, the headwind was just brutal and the pounding took a toll on my back. I was simply tired, core was shot from trying to hold things together, and I started using my legs more rather than having a fluid pedal stroke coming from the core down through the legs.

Run: My legs were whooped. My back didn’t have any sharp pains so I knew I could get out on the course but I just didn’t have any energy. I slept through T2 but remember looking at a guy in the tent across from me that looked so spent someone would have thought he already finished the race. After taking a long time to find a rhythm, I finally settled into a steady approach and started ticking the miles away. For a while, as bad as things were, I still had a shot at a sub-10hr race on a day that was clearly not mine.

Overall: 10:05+ for 14AG and 81 OA

Full Version

I guess this really starts back in July when I herniated a disk in my back. That was definitely NOT fun. I was able to compete in two races, one I won in a big personal best, the other was ok but not really what I could bring to a race. I skipped a previously scheduled race and started to rest up. That put me roughly in the 3rd week of July, unable to pick things up, bend forward, or tilt backwards. I could ride my bike and that felt good, but swimming was excruciating while running was manageable. Oh, and we were moving from NJ to VA but not into a house just yet. To say things were a little stressful would be an understatement.

I was a grouch. I couldn’t hit my workouts, I had no power in my legs, and I was just trying to find ways to move around. Little by little, I could do a bridge again and pick my butt up off the floor. I could raise my left leg more than two feet off the ground without sending sharp pains up my leg and back. And I could begin to float in the water without pain. Of course, during this time, I also got sick, had a bug bite on my eye that swelled up for 3 days so I couldn’t see, and tried to still be a dad and husband. Needless to say, it was not going smoothly.

IM 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga was supposed to be my goal race for 2017 but, as you can see, the goals had to be adjusted. I was just going to be happy getting to the start line. About a month later, so mid-August, I was able to get out of bed in one smooth motion, could push-off the wall with some force, and actually started to show some ability to pick up the tempo on the bike. Little by little, things turned around and I made it to the start line in the best shape I could hope for considering the way things had gone in the prior 6 weeks. I still feel that if I had 2 more weeks before race day, there would have been a vastly different result and I probably wouldn’t have made the late season addition to the schedule.

But, I can’t control time so the race happened, it went smoothly, but I still wanted more. I wanted to compete to what my training really was. After talking with Kim, who did just an amazing job during my grumpiness, we decided IMAZ was worth a shot. For the second year running, I was able to join SmileTrain and enjoy racing while supporting them.

Training was great but there were still some off days due to the back. Tweaks here and there or tiredness were some symptoms that I just had to deal with throughout the training. Strength work was key but man, my hamstring got so tight. It is crazy how much one thing can affect so many parts of the body.

Race – On a good day, with everything going right, I thought I could go 8:57. On a day that would reasonably represent my training, I figured 9:00 – 9:05. Hopefully that would put me in the mix for the podium and a Kona spot. Well, you’ve read how the race went. Nutrition seemed to be on pretty well but the weather definitely played a factor. It was hotter and I could feel my lips burn up early in the ride. I drank my Precision Hydration mix and used all the backup salt tabs during the ride. Looking back, I probably could have used more.

The swim was solid, I didn’t have any issues, and had a really solid start before fading with the change in conditions. The bike was good but I lacked the late strength and endurance. I could have finished after 90-95 miles and my back still would have been ok but that last little bit was the end of it for me. What’s crazy is that I backed off over the last few miles, dropped my normalized power by 5w and still finished 3w higher than last year. But, and this is a big BUT, I was 13 minutes slower than 2016. Just goes to show the change in conditions from one year to the next.

When the run came along, I mindlessly moved through transition while trying to figure out what I was going to do with the race. I crossed the start line for the run and all I could think of was “Well now I have to finish.” This might be the sign that things are slightly off in my head. I only had to take one step off to the side to stop but I’d have to take 40,000 steps finish the marathon. That didn’t matter. The one step was and always will be the toughest step and so I set out to cover the 26.2. About a mile into the race, I saw a friend and had no idea he was going to be there. We said hey and then went about our work. There was a lot of walking at first and a lot of deep soul-searching and pushing. I found another athlete struggling in the same way and we kept each other company. Little by little, things got easier and we passed some people. Finally, I had a nice rhythm and just kept plodding through the course until crossing that glorious finish line.

Lessons learned

Last year, a bathroom break kept me from finishing 4th and heading to Kona. This year, I paid more attention to nutrition leading up to the race, night before and day off, and my stomach felt fine. I didn’t have any stomach / GI distress last year; I just had to go to the bathroom. This year, with that extra attention, no bathroom breaks. BIG PLUS!!

Changed up the kit for the long course race this year and wore a two piece from Kiwami. This was crazy comfortable but I didn’t even end up needing it for the reason of wearing it. I’ll keep the one piece for short course and the two piece for long course for mental ease.

Strength work, strength, and more core strength development. One injury set me back so far almost instantaneously even though I still was working on core strength. I’ll continue to be susceptible to this injury moving forward to it is vital for me to stay on top of strength and make sure that I’m fit for training to be fit for racing.

The mind is a wonderful thing and can get you past many hurdles. Believe in yourself and you will see that anything is possible.

The craziest part about the race is that even if I finished in my best expected time of 8:57 that would have been 3rd AG and NOT GOING TO KONA!!! There were only two spots. Either way, 10:05 or 8:57, I would be doing another race.


This season had some great ups and equally extreme downs. Through all of this, Kim was there to support me, try to keep my spirits up, pack and unpack boxes, and shuttle kids around. I did what I could but sitting in cars hurt, lifting boxes hurt, squatting down hurt, even laying down in bed hurt. And yet, she just kept going. You’re a rock. Thank you so much. The kids were equally important to the season. I had a chance to break the tape with them at Williamsburg, and talk to them during the morning walk and prep for IMAZ. Their excitement is infectious and can’t help but lift me up and carry me through those dark moments of a race.

Earl, thanks for knowing me better than I know myself. Looking forward to another round in 2018.

And my sponsors. You are all AWESOME. I can’t say it enough but I would not be here without you and I truly appreciate all the support and care over the years. It’s been a great run together and I’m looking forward to more.



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