The final days leading to Ironman were essentially a blur when I look back. I had prepared mentally and physically for nearly 4 months after deciding to try the distance after Lake Stevens 70.3, but as the day drew near and I was surrounded by my family and friends, the days bled together until I was being corralled by race officials across the timing mats and into the water at 6:35 in the morning on Sunday. I had managed to stay healthy all the way through my taper, and I knew I was ready physically after logging countless hours on the bike, in the pool, and on mountain trails in Durango. Mentally, I had convinced myself that if I nailed my nutrition, the weather cooperated, and raced my race, it would be possible to go 8:30. This was my Ironman debut, so there were definitely some huge unknowns, and when I tore a ten inch gash in the left shoulder of my wetsuit putting it on right before the start, it took all my mental faculties to relax and remember that the swim would only be a short part of the day. I warmed up a little with the torn wetsuit, and it immediately filled my upper body with water. It felt like I was swimming in a XL t-shirt, and every stroke was like lifting weights as the sleeves were also full of water. On a positive note, I didn't come close to overheating during the swim, which has been an issue for me at times, but probably wouldn't have mattered since the water was a brisk 63 degrees on race morning. Because Tempe town lake has some curve to it, pros were spread out at the line, some choosing to track the buoy line, and others opting to swim the tangent and try to cut the distance a little. I just did my best to settle in with a group that felt comfortably hard, knowing that my suit was causing drag, but that I had to just get through it and then go to work on the bike. Looking back, the swim was probably a touch short, and I covered the distance in 52:53. Coming out of the water well behind people I normally swim with/outswim was difficult, and I had a slow transition as I struggled with the wetsuit, but I got on my bike and felt good (always nice to come from 6500 ft. above sea level down to 1140). My plan from the beginning was to ride strong until I made contact with the leaders, and after my swim, I was chasing hard through the first loop of the bike. I passed several guys, focusing hard on staying LOW and out of the wind as we headed out on the Beeline highway into a headwind. At the turnaround, Jozsef Major and I were already making up good time on a larger group up front, and by the turnaround on lap one, I moved into the lead of a group that would stay largely intact for the remainder of the day. My biggest fear entering Ironman was that I would have trouble eating enough calories during the bike leg, so I set a ten minute timer on my watch and ate and drank religiously, only missing two of the eventual 27 feed reminders. On the second and third lap, I traded places near the front of the larger group with Frederik Van Lierde, Major, Brandon Marsh, and Chris McDonald. Race officials were following our pack to ensure proper spacing, but I took no risks and stayed near the front. Finally on our last trip out of town we caught some of the other guys who swam and biked strong, including Mark Van Akkeren, who led the group back into town until I passed him before transition. I had heard from a number of Ironman athletes that the race really begins at mile 90 on the bike, and despite feeling fatigued near that point, I had stuck to my plan and my legs felt good as we headed for the change tents. My bike split was 4:30:30, and was good enough for 4th fastest on the day behind Chris Lieto, Jordan Rapp, and Kieran Doe.My transition was pretty solid given that I took the extra time to put on my compression socks, and I ran out on the course feeling confident that I could put together a solid marathon. I immediately got away from some of the other guys who came in with me on the bike, and since the GPS watch I planned to use for help in pacing had died during the bike leg, I relied on my other watch for mile splits. My goal for the marathon from the outset of training had been a generic "break three hours," and as race day drew closer, I had honed that down to an ideal day 2:54 high, averaging approximately 6:40's. I went through the first mile feeling great, but I clocked a 6:10 and knew I had to slow down and be patient. So, I backed off the gas a little and waited for mile 2 to come. Unfortunately, as I neared the marker, I looked at my watch and realized that I hadn't slowed at all, posting 12:20 for 2 miles. Fortunately for my pacing plan, eventual winner Andreas Raelert passed me about 2 1/2 miles in looking like he was running a 10k. This helped sober me a little and I settled into something much closer to my goal, and my first 3 1/2 miles were covered in 6:26 pace. I stayed steady for the next 8 miles, averaging 6:35s, but I was battling the onset of gas and serious discomfort, stopping at port-o-lets near miles 12 and 14. My Dad was hanging out on the lonelier side of Tempe town lake, and he relayed a message via phone from my coach, saying "the guys who win these know how to eat." I kept on trying to get food down for the next 6 miles, but the two stops and pain from gas slowed my pace dramatically, as I covered those miles in an average of 7:11. It was during this stretch that I was repassed by Major, who had apparently dealt with his demons and was now cruising again towards the leaders. A few minutes later, near mile 20, I was passed by Ironman Florida champ Jan Raphael, and I was struggling to keep a positive outlook. This was my crux moment, the deepest valley I had encountered all day, but when a spectator giving splits warned me of Paul Amey's oncoming, I found new strength and told myself I would not be denied my 6th place. I ran as efficiently as I could, still trying to get calories and fluids down, but losing most of them as my stomach decided it was done for the day. I focused as hard as I could on making my legs imitate the motion I hammered into them at the track so many times, and fed ravenously on the energy from my support crew and the growing crowd. As I headed back towards transition and the finish line, I poured everything I had into my legs, closing the last 6 miles in 6:20 pace and holding off Amey by 3 minutes. Instead of elation at the line, I talked for a few seconds with Chris Lieto, and then I was wheeled to the med tent for 3 bags of saline. Total marathon time was 2:56:12, and I think that could have easily been a minute faster without the stomach problems and two stops. Total time was even better than my best projection, at 8:24:13.
Just as I suspected, Ironman is a brand new animal, and despite feeling good about my result and securing a spot for Ironman Hawaii next fall, there are countless things which I feel I could improve. Still, this is the time for rest and relaxation. I will now take significant time off structured training, and enjoy some wonderful holiday time with family and friends. Thanks to everyone who made this possible, including my wonderful parents, sister, family, girlfriend, supporting friends from Durango, Santa Fe, and Flagstaff, coach Elliot Bassett, the masters swim team, all my sponsors, my website guru Dave, and anyone who sent me a card and watched the live updates. I am deeply thankful for all you have done and recognize how important this support network is for accomplishing my goals. I'll be posting again when the spirit moves me. Until then, enjoy your winter plans, and look for me to make another trip to Pucon in January for a little summer in the middle of the Colorado cold for the Cristal Ironman Pucon 70.3.