Ironman Arizona Race Report Part III

And the thank yous go to...

It's such a cliche I guess when I say there's so many people to thank. There's no way I could have got ready for an ironman by myself. So here are those I am indebted to over these past several months:

My coach
Kirsty has been amazing. I accomplished all my race goals because of her coaching. She totally got what I needed to do. She has been where I was (in fact, her first ironman and my first were exactly the same time to the minute, although a few years apart), and since then excelled in triathlon. Her training programs were perfect for me. Yeah, there were a few times I was pretty skeptical, but I put my trust in her and it all paid off. There's no way I can really repay her! She understood me, understood what I needed to do, and understood how I needed to do it. I don't think I would have done as well with anyone else at the helm.

My "Director Sportif"
Jason was pretty much in charge of all gear, as well as coming along on a lot of training rides. He was support in pretty much every way imaginable. When I wasn't sure about the training, he always encouraged me. He helped plan my race schedule and Year of Alison. He never hesitated with picking me up when I fancied a point-to-point run (my fave for long runs). With 18 ironmans in his past he is an expert, plus a total gear junkie. There was also a lot of moral support thrown in, including scraping me off the floor after a few nervous breakdowns (oh yeah, Kirsty did that too when I cracked in Colorado in August). Not to mention handling all the dishes and house tasks once I was in taper mode. Plus, he lent me his bike, which was the perfect race machine!

Training Partners
Tim, Catherine, and Corinne were occasional training partners, and it was great to have company at times. Tim and Corinne were always a go for a hard swim, and I think the TSN Turning Point of my swim training was the 40X100 on my birthday. Tim repeated it with me in the fall and I kicked butt! All three came along on some bike rides and the time goes a lot faster when someone's out there with you. Catherine even sucked it up near the end on a tough interval ride. Their encouragement made my long hours of training fun. No fun fun of course!

Norm and Sean were always keen to answer my questions. Even when my questions were pretty stupid. They are both experts in training and gear stuff, and always had advice when I needed it.

Super Fans
I had the best fans on the course at Arizona. I even heard that their loud and crazy cheering may have freaked out some others in the crowd. But Jason, Kirsty, Candace and Heidi were incredible cheerleaders, even sporting custom t-shirts and signs. Sweet! My run was so much more fun because of their crazy antics when I was going by! My parents even stopped through Phoenix on their way to Palm Springs for the winter, and my Dad was cheering me on out on the course as well.

So thanks everyone! I couldn't have done it without my peeps!

Ironman Arizona Race Report Part II


I was awake before my alarm, which was set for 4 a.m. I don't think I slept for much more than an hour at a time the whole night. Even still, I was pretty groggy as I pulled on my race kit and made breakfast. Kirsty and Jason were up and helping me get what I needed, which was a pretty easy job as most gear had to be checked in the day before. Jason and I headed down to transition for about 5 a.m. as I wanted lots of time to do everything I needed to do and not feel stressed about it.

Since Jason was volunteering in the transition area, he came right in with me and his first job was to do a final check of my bike. Tires inflated, proper gear selected to start, everything nice and tight and dialed. I walked over to drop off my special needs bag, check my gear bags and add bottles to them, and got body marked. Incidentally, body marking took less than a minute, a much better use of time to standing in an eternal line in the days before.

I was pretty much ready to go by 6, an hour before race start, so I sat down and just hung out and waited. Jason was busy helping scores of others with their bikes. At around 6:30 I pulled on my wetsuit and went down to the start area. The pros were started at 6:50, so we weren't allowed in the water until they were all at the start line. Once they were all assembled, I jumped off a dock and did a bit of a warm-up swim. The water was still cold (duh), and dark (you literally couldn't see your hand when your arm was outstretched due to the silty, murky water). The sun hadn't emerged as it was cloudy, so with my tinted goggles I couldn't really see anything. A few of us laughed about having to swim blind until the sun was high enough to provide some light.

The Swim

The gun for the pros went off, and then the rest of us swam up to the start line. I actually got a bit choked up for a minute, then that gave away to excitement as a countdown started. The gun went off and I sprinted off the line. My plan was to go hard for the first 500 metres so I could get a good draft. I went too hard though, and pretty quickly was gasping for air and had to take a couple of easy strokes to settle in.

Early on in the swim.

Not being able to see much in the dark water made the swim a bit strange. It was difficult to draft as you couldn't see feet in front of you. People were banging into each other (more than normal in a mass-start) because we just couldn't see anything. I felt like the Ganges river dolphin, which is blind, or like we were all playing bumper boats with each other. The other problem with the swim is that the turn-around buoys were red, and guess what colour the mens swim caps were? That's right, red. So I really couldn't tell if I was sighting properly for quite a while.

I didn't feel like I was having a great swim and figured my goal of 1:10 wasn't going to happen. But I told myself it was a long day anyway, and not to lose focus in the first hour of the race. It seemed like a long time until we turned around, and then bumper-boated back to the swim exit. I finally hit the stairs (made a bit easier to negotiate as they had volunteers help to pull everyone up) and figured I would be lucky to break 1:15. I was pretty surprised when the clock said 1:08 (my official swim time was 1:08:52, and 16th out of the water in the women's 40-44!). Yay, swim goal acheived!

Through the wetsuit strippers, and around the transition area - about a 400m run - to the gear bags. I dumped out my bag and immediately a volunteer was my personal assistant to help me get my bike stuff together. I then went through the sunscreen volunteers, where they smeared approximately an entire bottle of sunscreen on my shoulders - no chance of burning! Jason handed me my bike and I was out onto the course.

The bike

The calm conditions from Thursday were no more. It was windy, and the bike course is mostly out of town and quite exposed. The first of the three laps went by in a blur, and I rode really well and passed quite a few people. The bike course gradually gains some slight elevation to the turn-around point before descending back into town. Thursday I rode in from the turn-around in my 52X11 for a bit, but with the wind right in my face on race day, that gear remained unused. I knew I was riding much faster than in training, but my heart rate and breathing were under control, and my legs didn't feel like they were pushing hard, so I figured I was all good. I knew I could push harder but didn't want to blow myself up.

It didn't seem that much time passed before I was back in town, making the turn-around in front of the transition area. I saw my super cheering crew of Jason, Kirsty, Candace and Heidi, and headed out for another lap. The winds were picking up and becoming quite gusty, with signs being blown over and some athletes not able to hold their bike in a straight line during the gusts. As time passed, the winds grew stronger, so I just tried to stay low and aero. I rode really well on the headwind sections and it seemed that is where I passed people most frequently.

At the special needs pick-up, I grabbed my bag but it was smack in the middle of a fierce headwind section. So I quickly changed out my bottles and then stuffed some food down my top to get later, when I wasn't heading straight into the wind. On the crosswind sections in and out of town, I tried to lean a bit so I was using the disc wheel as a sail to help push me forward. In the headwinds I relaxed and just tried to make my arms heavy on the aerobars to hold the bike steady in the gusts. It was the tailwinds where I ate, stretched, and did anything that would have taken me out of the aero position.

Heading out onto the third lap.

I had to laugh at the weather. It was a perfect end to my season of getting pounded by storms when I was out riding during training. Pretty fierce winds, rain, and even hail! But I did get it all, as there was also some sunny parts. Mother Nature decided to play all her cards that day. But fine, because after when I had trained through this fall, I could handle just about anything.

Riding smart paid off, as I smashed my goal of sub-7 hours by coming in under 6:30. Turns out my bike split was 6:26:43, and I was 25th in my age group (out of over 160 of us) back to transition! Solid! I was pretty pumped with my time, but kind of laughed to myself when I realized that I would probably be running the 42km slower than I rode the 180.

The run

Again I had a personal assistant in transition (the volunteers at IMAZ were amazing!), and headed out onto the three-loop run. The run was this weird figure-8 which I couldn't quite make sense of when looking at the map in advance. After three loops, I definitely get it now!

Off the bike and onto the run.

My first loop felt great, and although I am a slow runner, I knew I ran the first loop well. I got lots of great cheers from my crew when I headed out of transition, and then Jason and Candace were freaking out as I came through the first loop of the figure 8. At the end of the lap, my whole cheering crew were setting some sort of decibel record as I ran by and out onto the second loop.

Part-way through my second lap, Jason met me at the beginning of the bridge and ran alongside for a couple of minutes. Then I met everyone else, including my Dad who had come to watch some of the day, and got some great encouragement as they cheered me on. I didn't feel like I needed anything in my special needs bag yet, so I left it for my third loop.

Heading towards my cheering section on the bridge (second lap).

It was about half-way through my second loop that the run started to get hard. That makes sense, as that was about as far as I ran in training, and of course I had swam 4k and biked 180k (and run 21k) already that day. It was also dark, as sunset was around 6pm. It made it feel a lot later since it was so dark, and some of the "other side" of the course wasn't lit. But I kept going and moving forward, only stopping briefly once to slather some vaseline on my toes where I could feel a blister starting.

Coming back through transition at the end of my second loop, Kirsty ran with me for a bit to remind me of our plan and training accomplishments. That was really great as it gave me a boost, as did running through the crowds with everyone calling my name. I love that your name is on your race number, as I get way more out of hearing "Go Alison!" being called from complete strangers, especially when things are getting tough.

Mentally, the third run loop was really difficult. It was dark, and I went over in my head all the places I still had to run before the end. That loop took a long time. Additionally, the run was almost all on concrete, and the bottom of my feet were starting to hurt from the impact. I grabbed my special needs bag that time, but gave some of it to Jason as I didn't want a few of the things I had packed. I did want my long-sleeve shirt, as it had cooled off quite a bit once the sun went down, and the wind coming off the lake was getting uncomfortable. Jason walked with me for about 10 minutes, then I headed off into the darkness of the other side of the course. I knew I had to keep it together, so I tried to keep a rhythm and concentrated on my run goal of moving forward.

Final corner.

I was headed back towards transition at the end of my third lap, and Jason, Kirsty, Candace and Heidi all met me just before transition to cheer (scream actually, they were pretty jacked on caffeine by that point) me on before my final mile. That last mile was awesome as there was a crowd the whole way, so I ran probably the fastest mile of my day. At the corner just before the finish line, I saw my Dad waving again, and then I was running down the chute and crossing the line. A volunteer grabbed me and walked me over to my super fans, and I was done. Run split was 6:33 (about 13 minutes slower than I thought I would run - but goal achieved as I kept moving forward the entire time). The icing on the cake was my finish time: 14:20:51, a whole hour faster than I did in Penticton an entire decade ago. Yeah!



I didn't want to hang out at the finish line, so I was loaded up into the car and delivered back to the condo. The ice-cold pool came in handy, as I sat in it for about 10 minutes icing my legs. That actually felt pretty good, but my blood pressure dropped and I felt like I was going to pass out. But Kirsty, being a nurse, knew what I needed and got some fluid and food into me, and I went straight to bed. We all chatted for a while, and then it was lights out.

I'm really happy with how my race went. I accomplished all my goals! Thoughts start to creep in - should I do it again... I don't know if I'm ready to make that decision yet, but I have to admit I'm not ruling it out at this point...

Ironman Arizona Race Report Part I


We arrived in Phoenix the Thursday before the race (which was a Sunday). Since we got there early afternoon, I went to check in at registration and lucked out because there was no line. Right away Jason and I noticed that athletes were walking around with their race numbers on already, along with their ages on their calves. Hmm, triathletes never cease to surprise me with their weirdness. At registration I was told you could get body numbered before the race, or in transition on race morning. I asked a fellow racer why anyone would get numbered beforehand, and he said "if you get numbered early they use a stencil, but race morning they only use a sharpie" and the look on his face told me that should explain everything, obviously. Uh huh. Another guy said he was getting it done early in case it comes off, so then he can get it done again. Right. I did find it amusing that the line for pre-body marking was really long, and athletes seemed ok standing around for up to an hour in the sun, just to get ink smeared all over them. Probably not the smartest thing to do pre-race.

Registration complete, souvenirs purchased, so we headed out to the Beeline (highway 87) so I could go for a ride. I wanted to get my legs moving after sitting on a plane all morning, and make sure everything with my bike was working. It was a super-calm afternoon, nice and warm with no air movement at all. Of course I got all excited thinking conditions for race day would be perfect. Ha ha on me! Anyway, I went for a spin up and down the Beeline while Jason hung out waiting. I really like the bike course, it is well-suited to the strengths I have cycling. I'm not a good climber but am content to pedal at a pretty steady effort for a long time.

Pre-riding on the Beeline.

Back at the condo, Kirsty and Heidi arrived so we hung out, unpacked, and visited. Friday didn't have anything on the daily program besides some pool time and the pre-race dinner. Candace arrived in time for that busy schedule, so once we were done lounging by the ice-cold pool (which would come in handy later but was kind of disappointing that afternoon), we headed to Tempe Town Lake for the dinner and pre-race meeting.

Dinner venue at Tempe Town Lake.

Saturday was the only day the race organizers had scheduled a practice swim, and swimming in the lake wasn't allowed any other time so Candace and I headed to the lake that morning. I got my wetsuit on and jumped in, and holy crap was the water cold. My feet and face were instantly frozen! Apparently the water temperature was 61 degrees F (16 C), which isn't the coldest water I've ever been in, but a bit of a shock when the air temperature is so warm. I didn't swim for too long, but mainly wanted to check out the swim exit as it seemed a bit of an issue.

The water level was lower than the stairs out; in fact the first step at the swim exit was just above the water line. That meant you couldn't step or even kneel onto the ramp at the end of your swim. I found the best thing to do was grab a few steps up and haul myself out of the water until I could get a knee on the bottom step. Not the most graceful manoeuvre, and I was wondering how that would go race morning when there would be dozens of swimmers all hitting the stairs at the same time.

Practice swim over, it was back out to the Beeline for another quick ride and then a run. Then check in the bike and gear bags, and back to the condo to relax (read: try not to freak out too much) and get some sleep before the really early wake-up call race morning.

Desert evening.

Where Are We?

Jason and I are on our way home from Arizona. Race was a success (report to come). We are waiting in the Seattle airport for our little puddle-jumper connection to the island. It feels as if we are somewhere else, however, as there is snow everywhere.

We only get a few days of snow each year, and it seems that it's come early this winter. I was hoping we'd miss it altogether. We need a good day of rain to wash this stupid white stuff away. What's the point of living in the area with the warmest average temperature in Canada if we have to deal with weather like this? I don't mind driving up to the snow when I feel like going skiing, but I don't want to live with it. Perhaps it's time to start looking for jobs in Australia...

Race report will be posted soon!

Pimp My Ride

In August I introduced you to my new bike. Of course, it's borrowed from Jason since he's not using it right now, but I'm calling it mine. I have a very important pre-race ritual, and that is cleaning every minute part of my bike and getting it all shiny and race-ready. I do it before every big event, and I find it almost meditative. So yesterday I spent some time cleaning the Transition.

Jason, unbeknownst to me, ordered some pink bar tape and flower stickers to personalize the bike and make it feel more like mine. It's now all "decorated", and at this point I don't see how he's ever going to get the bike back. He was, however, quick to point out that the stickers will come off easily and he's got spare red bar tape for when he takes the bike over again. Hmm, we'll see. I've spent so much time on this bike since August that it really does feel like mine.

The Transition is all cleaned up, tricked out, and race ready.


I am one week away from Ironman Arizona. One week! In some ways, it doesn't seem that long ago that I was a whole year away. However, I have come a long way in this past year and am glad this race is finally almost here! As with every big event, I have been thinking about what I want to get out of it. Additionally, of course I've had to answer "so, how long do you think it will take you?" about a thousand times, so should probably give that question some serious thought as well.

That's actually the easiest thing to answer. How long? A really long time. A co-worker asked me if I thought it would take between 2-4 hours. Ummm... you can't even drive the course in that amount of time. Thanks for the confidence in me though. I did Ironman Canada an entire decade ago, and my time was 15:17. I think I can beat that, even though I'm ten years older. Aging process be damned.

The swim. I started swimming again at the beginning of this year after taking several years off. I was always an ok swimmer, but getting back in the water was pretty depressing as I was a lot slower than I used to be. Duh. I have worked hard in the pool and am pleased to report that I'm pretty close to where I was ten years ago. I think my swim will be close to 1:10 for the 4 km, especially if I pick a good line, get a pretty good draft and don't get boxed in by the 2,799 other competitors. About six months ago I was thinking I'd be lucky to break 1:20, but now I'm feeling much more confident about the work I've done since then.

The bike. Kirsty and I have been focusing on the bike, as this is where I'll spend the bulk of the race. Let's face it, 180 km is no lunch ride, even when that's all that's on the agenda. I am REALLY hoping to break 7 hours (which is a lot faster than I rode at IMC in 2000). Even if my split is 6:59:59 I will be happy! I know I can break 7 on a good day; it may be up to the wind and luck (no flats...) to help get me there. The course is known for a rather intense headwind section, repeated three times, so I have been working on staying aero and still. I will do everything I can to get back into transition in under 7 hours, except completely shatter my legs as I still have to run the marathon!

The run. I have no time goal for the run. I am not a great runner, but Kirsty and I have been working on a run/powerwalk plan that I really like. My goal here is to always be moving forward and to hustle.

My real goal... is not time related. Time is what everyone has been asking me about, so there is your answer. But if you want to know my true goal for the day: it is to soak it all in and have fun. For even the speediest athlete, Ironman is a long day; longer than most people's work day. Therefore I think it's imperative that I enjoy it. I see too many people taking Ironman so seriously that they forget that it's recreation. After all, I chose to do this (indeed, I paid a large sum of money for the ability to participate). I have a fantastic and privileged life that allows me to make that choice, and I intend to enjoy the day. There will be points that I am marvelling at the beautiful desert scenery, points that I am feeling strong and powerful, and points that I will be wondering just why I chose to do this and feeling tired and in pain. But I plan to enjoy all that. To really take it all in and get what I can from it all, the good and the bad, the fast and the slow, the strength and the pain.

At the end of the day (literally, the end of the day), there is nothing that can really go wrong with my race. If there's a serious headwind and torrential downpour - really? Can't be any worse than some of my training rides this fall. If I get a flat tire, I will change it. If I get another flat, then I will wait for neutral support to see if they have another tire or wheel. If I get yet another, or if my bike undergoes catastrophic failure and I can't finish the race, that's ok as just doing the training was my real goal. Will I be disappointed? Of course, but it would be a pretty minor disappointment when put in perspective. If I can't finish due to fatigue (pretty unlikely) or push myself so hard I end up being carted off the course by medical (even more unlikely), I still did the training to get to the start line. If some unexpected scenario arises, I will roll with it to see where the day brings me to. I have a super-duper team of friends and family showing up to support me and cheer me on, and it really feels good knowing that I have peeps in my corner.

I believe I will finish the race. I believe I will finish strong and achieve all my goals. I will have fun and enjoy what the day brings.

Humu's Best Friend

My dog's best friend is a monkey named Julius. Not an actual live monkey; Julius is a stuffie. But to Humu, he is her best friend. She carries him everywhere. When Jason and I get home, she runs all over the house looking for him, and then parades around with him in her mouth for several minutes. She sleeps using Julius as a pillow. He is covered in perma-dog gob. He has a couple of nasty scars where she tore him, and he was rushed for emergency surgery to repair the wounds. She flings him up, around, snatches him out of your hand, tries to get you to grab him, licks him, places him on the couch... she even humps him sometimes. Yes, my female dog does that.

Julius and Humu hanging out.

She loves Julius so much that we even have a back-up Julius hidden away for the inevitable day we will not be able to repair a catastrophic wound.

Caught in mid-romp.

Nap time.