Sunday, December 1, 2019

Ironman Arizona 2019 Race Recap

Last Sunday, November 24th, I completed Ironman Arizona in Tempe, Arizona. It was my 2nd official “You are an Ironman” finish line moment, but my first time getting to complete a full Ironman as a “triathlon” since last year in Chattanooga, the race had the swim portion cancelled due to flooding in the river.

The race was an amazing day and I am so happy with how I did. It was more of a victory than I had thought it would be and am really proud of myself for how I finished.

But first, how did I get here?

My journey to this start line was different for me than other big “goal” races. This year, life came first for me, and I wasn't willing to make my schedule completely around training as I have in the past. I had signed up in November 2018 when I was unsure what races I wanted to do on my 2020 calendar, thinking I could transfer my entry if needed.

Flash forward to July 2019 when I decided that a full Ironman wasn’t in my priority list for the year. However, when I tried to transfer, I realized I’d misread the fine print and wasn’t able to transfer as I thought I could. So, after talking to my coach and some encouragement from the “Cacti Crew” of athletes already registered for Arizona, I decided to go for it. My coach was okay with my approach to training and the availability I told him I would have. He said he could make me ready for the race and with that, official training was underway in late July!

---- Race Weekend ----

I flew out to Arizona on Thursday, November 21st with a bunch of the ITL Coaching & Performance crew. We had 10 people doing the race and a number of others coming to do their own adventure at the Grand Canyon and to spectate. When we arrived in Tempe, my friend Karen and I went right to the Ironman store to register, buy Ironman goodies, and then ate some delicious Mexican lunch, and checked in to our AirBnB. I was staying with 3 other girl friends doing the race plus my boyfriend, who was acting as our de facto Sherpa for the weekend. Thursday and Friday were about getting together all our last minute things for the race. Saturday we did a practice swim in the lake, checked in our bikes to the race, and dropped off our gear bags.

As race day approached, I started to get a bit nervous about the lower amount of training I had done for this race compared to last year's training for Ironman Chattanooga. In 2018, I did TEN training rides of 100 miles or more, whereas in 2019, I did ONE. It made me nervous, and I had a few moments of pure panic in the 2 weeks before race day, but my coach constantly reminded me that I had been working hard and that I was going to be fine.

One thing I felt really good and happy about was that I did not at all feel burnt out. I was excited for race day and I was also excited to keep training for other things afterwards! Usually as a target race approaches, I am ready for it to be over so I can take a break. However, for this, I thought of race day as another long training day and was excited to recover from that and then continue with running, boot camp, etc.

I also went into Arizona feeling incredibly grateful. Last year’s race had been a huge disappointment and shock to me when the swim was cancelled. I had a lot of emotions around whether or not I was earning the “Ironman” title and felt like I had something to redeem. Weather was looking great for Arizona's race day and there was a threat in any portion of the race getting cancelled, so I was excited to get the full experience and truly call myself an “Ironman” without feeling the need for the tiny fine print around it that I hadn't swam.

Ironman Arizona is known for a cold swim and windy bike, but being an all around "friendlier" Ironman course. The talk of how cold the water would be made me a bit nervous, but I wouldn't even allow any thoughts or concerns about that enter my head. Any time it was brought up, I just thought, "I don't care as long as I GET to swim!" I turned my mantra for the end of training into “I get to swim. I get to swim. I get to swim.” I told myself that over and over in my final swim workouts and anytime I felt nervous about the water temperature or the river being gross or how I would feel after swimming 2.4 miles. I just kept reminding myself how it felt last year to have that element taken away, feeling grateful for this race, and that “I get to swim. I get to swim!”

The Saturday night before the race, I spent a little bit of time writing out my thoughts, mantras, things to remember and race strategy. It was very different prep than I have had before other races. My goals were simple – to finish – and to feel strong/good during and after. Because I wasn’t feeling burnt out and was excited to keep with training after the race, I wasn’t looking to necessarily burn every match I had. I didn’t want to push myself to the point of hurting/damaging myself. If I needed to take breaks on the bike to stretch a bit, or slow down/walk the run, that was something I was prepared to do. I cared about finishing, but not necessarily about the small margins of difference between if it were 14 hours or 15 hours.

My race thoughts, exactly as I had written them down were below:

I went to bed early and although had some struggles falling asleep, got in a good few hours of sleep the night before the race. We left the house at 5:00 a.m. to drive the 15 minutes over to transition. There was huge amounts of traffic gridlocked as we got close to transition, so the 4 racers hopped out of the car with our bags while Jonathan waited to park the car.

Transition area was open from 5-6:30 a.m. and that is your opportunity to revisit your bike, add your water bottles and nutrition, drop off your special needs bags, and recheck your gear bags. “Special needs” is essentially an aid station about half-way through each the bike and the run, where you pack your own aid/items that volunteers will have available for you.

I wanted to check the pressure in my tires in the morning but since I flew to the race, I didn't bring my own bike tire pump. A girl next to me was pumping her tires, so I asked to borrow hers, then quickly realized I had no idea how to use it. I had let a bunch of air out in the process, so now really needed a pump, borrowed a second one that I didn't know how to use, but this time, instead of just letting air out of the tires - I bent the stem in half on the bike tube.

I freaked out a bit and called one of the ITL coaches, Adam, who calmly told me to bring my bike over to the mechanic in transition. They changed the tube for me and pumped up my tires to the air pressure that I wanted while I nervously waited and watched, feeling like a moron. The whole thing rattled me. After that was over, I obsessed over my bags a bit more, added in some warmer clothing to my gear bags, then dropped off special needs before returning to the area where my friends, teammates and coaches were huddled up. Jonathan was just arriving at this point and when I saw him, I broke down and started sobbing as a last minute release of the nerves before pulling myself together to get ready to get in the water.

I put on my wet suit and booties, grabbed my cap and goggles, gave last minute hugs and head over to get into line to start the swim. The last thing I said to Jonathan and my coach, Jerome, before I went to start was, “Alright guys, I’m going to take my time out there!”

1:18:34 official time
19th in AG
166th Female
730th Overall
2:02 min/100m

The race has a self seeded start and I got into line between the 1:10 and 1:20 times. At the encouragement of Adam, I stayed with one of the other ITL athletes, Jim, and that's where he wanted to be. I had no real frame of reference beyond that I had swam a 1:20 in the pool the year before.

The water temperature was about 62 or 63 degrees on race morning and looked calm and smooth. That was a welcome change from the day before when the swim start had been really choppy. They lined us up 5 at a time to enter the water and start swimming.

Once I started, my triathlon instinct kicked in. My body seemed to fall in line that I've done this plenty of times before and I know how to do this. I had been reminding myself in the days before to not overthink things and that I know how to do a triathlon, this one was just a little bit longer. I think one of the things that had caused me to be more anxious at Ironman Chattanooga the year before was because of the last minute switch to just a “Bike-Run.” It had a different format and different start line feel that I wasn’t used to. With Arizona, I felt like I knew what to do.

And that, was just swim.

We swam out to the left, took a right turn around a buoy and swam straight down the lake. There was a bridge in the far distance I knew I would swim under before turning around, so I just focused on swimming from one buoy to the next, then from that buoy to the next, keeping my focus short and my stroke long.

After going under the bridge, we turned left, then left again, and started swimming all the way back, past where we started, under 4 more bridges, before exiting. I just kept focused on one buoy then the other, knowing that I just needed to keep my head down and focus until those bridges were past me. The race started as the sun was rising and it was beautiful to see every time I took a breathe.

A few times I paused to do a stroke of breast stroke and once I de-fogged my goggles but otherwise stayed pretty head down. I tried to draft, but mostly swam off to the side a bit keeping to myself. It was a very aggressive swim and any time I tried to get into the main pack I was getting kicked, punched, and pushed around much more than I have in any other triathlon I have done. Many others commented the same when we debriefed after the race. The water in Arizona was extremely murky and you could barely see your own hand 2 inches in front of your race, so one thought was that it was so aggressive truly because people just couldn't see the other swimmers around.

Whatever the reason, I made the choice that I would rather lose some draft advantage rather than start the day by getting beat up. According to my Garmin, I swam 700 extra yards, but I don't even really believe the Garmin distance is accurate so who knows.

The water felt calm for the first half but started to feel choppy about half way through. I imagined it as a force pushing me forward vs. being a challenge. In the second half I also needed to pee and figured it would be best to do it before I got out of the water. I am not someone who can go to the bathroom while my body is in motion, so I almost came to a dead stop floating face down to get my body to relax and go. Once I was, I started pulling, but laughed a little to myself, half expecting a kayak to come and check on me because my transition from swimming to doing a dead man’s float was so drastic.

The swim route was a bit confusing to me because it was different from what was published in the athlete guide. I heard from others who have done this race multiple times that the exit setup was changed quite a bit. We exited the water in a different location than usual which was speculated to be because where the normal exit was, there was a lot of dead fish that were collecting on shore. With the change, we had a .4 mile run from the water exit to transition that I started to prepare myself for as I neared the shore.

The last stretch seemed to take forever, but before long I was out of the water and onto the next part of the day!

11:38 minutes

As I exited the water, I chose to have the wet suit strippers help me take my wet suit off which was a huge help. I wore a long sleeved wet suit for the first time in a race, borrowed from a friend since I only have a sleeveless (thank you Karen, sorry about the pee!) The suit made me feel like a damn super hero and I absolutely loved it. The strippers were much needed though, especially in getting the sleeves off and over my watch, something I’ve never had to worry about before.

I wore neoprene booties for the swim (borrowed again, thank you Kat!) and left them on for the run into transition tent to protect my feet during the .5 mile run.

When I got out of the water, saw 1:18 on my watch and was really happy with that. I didn't have a real frame of reference but I have only been swimming 1x a week, if that, and knew I didn't have a lot of my normal swim speed and endurance going into this race. Although it isn't anything amazing, I felt good about that time.

As I started running to the tent to get ready for the bike, my HR felt super low. I didn’t feel winded or tired at all from the swim, but happy and ready to go. The entire .4 miles was a tight tunnel of people and I loved the energy and my excitement of finishing my first Ironman swim!! I almost cried after I passed Jerome and Jonathan because it just felt so special.

As I was running I felt super comfortable, like I was flying, and I thought to myself, “I wish I could swap the order of the bike and get the run over with now! I feel like I’m floating!”

I had a feeling wash over me that said, "Today is going to be a good day."

As I grabbed my gear bag and went into the tent, I didn’t have a ton to do since I was planning to wear my one-piece triathlon kit all day. I grabbed a chair and a volunteer came to help me. I had rolled my socks up so they’d be easy to put on, but as the volunteer dumped all my gear out of the bag, she then immediately unrolled them (which annoyed me a little.) I gave her some instruction at that point and asked her to help take the sleeves off my jacket as I had decided I just wanted to wear the vest. While she did that, I put on my socks and shoes, stuffed some nutrition in my pocket, put on Chamois crème, ate a mini Snickers bar, and put on a buff and some throw away gloves. The volunteer helped me get my vest on and zipped up and I was off!

BIKE (17.53 mph)
19th in AG
208th Female
1180th Overall

We had driven the bike course two days before so I knew what to expect with the course, which was great. But it is always different seeing it from the perspective of being on a bike vs. in a car. The course consisted of 3 loops of an out-and-back route on mostly highway roads. Each section of the out-and-back was about 18 miles. There were a few zig-zag roads before making your way to the Beeline highway, with beautiful desert scenes on both sides.

The first section taking us out of town was lined with crowds, I saw Jonathan again who must have run over after seeing me get out of the water, and all the ITL spectators screaming their heads off, which was awesome. Once I got out of the in-town section, which was a bit bumpy and full of construction (which proved to be very unfortunate for the sake of pictures), I started to tell myself to just get into the aero position, put my head down and ride.

I had heard from people who had done this race in the past that the outbound portion of the route was net uphill, despite seeming to be flat, but that the inbound section, being net downhill, was fun because you can ride fast. I had also heard about it being windy on the Beeline Highway, but wasn’t sure what direction the wind would be in on race day.

Despite hearing the rumors and reports of what to expect, that outbound route was worse than I had anticipated! I felt like I was CRAWLING moving forward in the last 8 miles of the first outbound loop. The choppiness I’d felt in the water was pretty significant wind that was hitting us head on as we tried to push through the false flat uphill. I looked at my watch once and saw 10 mph and slightly panicked that I might not even make the cutoffs if I kept this up. All of my training had been plagued by really slow bike rides and I had in my mind that I was going to be on my bike an excruciatingly long time... but 10 mph??

Before, that though, at the 2nd aid station on the course (there were 2 aid stations going out, 2 coming back, so this was maybe 10 miles in?) I stopped to use the bathroom. It was early to stop, but part of my approach with this race was what I'd last said to Jerome and Jonathan, and that was to take my time. Use the bathroom if I need to use the bathroom. To pause and stretch/take breathers if I needed them. Not rush through special needs, etc. I was willing to spend those 2 extra minutes on the course to have an overall more comfortable and happy day.

The challenging outbound portion was challenging for everyone, and luckily, others seemed to be in the same position I was. I started to see some of my teammates making their way BACK and they looked to be much happier on the bike.

After a last little climb, I saw and made the U-turn, and started SCREAMING back into town. And I cannot stress this part enough... It was AWESOME and so much fun!

I am a pretty strong flat/downhill rider. I really enjoy it. While on training rides, I often end up getting dropped from my teammates because I am so much weaker on the climbs than them and then I’m so far back I can’t catch up / lose the motivation to catch up. This course was suited really well for me because the climb out was truly not that significant but then on the way back in, you can just fly.

I started to look for my teammates as well, wanting to see where everyone was stacked up after the swim. I saw Jim, who I’d started the swim with, and Todd, another in our group, shortly after the U-turned when they passed me. I smiled and screamed as I saw Lindsay, Laura and Karen out on the course. I also saw another Atlanta athlete who had joined us for a late season ride, Meg, and passed her on my way out. I’d end up seeing Meg quite a bit on the course and afterwards.

I kept my water bottle filled and ate when I felt I needed to, as I did in training. Last year part of my plan was “eat early and often” and force fed myself a bit, and ended up feeling sick. This year I wanted to pay attention to what my body was telling me vs. a calculated number of calories to take in. I tried the orange Gatorade Endurance at one of the aid stations and it just didn’t interest me at all, so I knew the only calories I would drink were the ones I had with me, which was Tailwind and Lemon Lime Gatorade.

It felt quick getting back into town and heading out on my second loop. The ITL crowd was just as enthusiastic when I passed them and I loved them for fueling me up in a different way for the next loop.

At this point in the day, it was starting to get warm. I had thought about taking off my vest and arm sleeves even earlier, but did not want to give up the momentum I had on the inbound section so stopped at the first aid station going outbound for a wardrobe change. I took off my arm sleeves, vest, and buff and shoved them into my back pockets and the gloves I tossed on the ground. I started to feel like a mule with so much crap stuffed into my kit.

As I started riding again, not long after leaving the aid station, I hit a bump in the rode and my back bottle fell out. I looked back and it was in the middle of the road. It took me a couple seconds to decide what to do and I did what instinct told me, which was to turn around for it. I rode to the side, turned back and rode to where my bottle was, waiting until there was a break in riders, and trotted out to grab it and then until it was clear to push off and keep moving again. As I was on the side, Meg passed me and shouted if I was okay, to which I said yes. Once I was moving I caught her pretty quick and explained about my bottle and how I hadn’t known what to do so opted to stop.

You can get a penalty or disqualified if you drop bottles (accidentally or not) outside of the designated areas and I didn't want to risk that. It is one of those rules that I don’t think many people follow, but I hate the idea of getting in trouble. Plus, my dropped bottle was a risk to other athletes as it sat in the middle of the road, and worse than getting in trouble, I didn't want to impact someone else's day in a negative way, so I stopped.

The second loop I knew exactly what to expect so it felt easier to manage through. I told myself once I got to the turn-around, the race would be half way over and 2/3 remaining sections would be easy. Breaking it down like that made it feel so simple. I never thought about mileage during the first few loops of the course, I just thought of completing each of the 6 sections of the course.

I didn’t make the mistake again of looking at my watch again on the outbound section. I knew I wasn’t going fast, so I instead focused on riding smart. I kept my head down a lot, made sure I was in the right gear (although I never left the big ring all day), sat upright when I felt I needed to, and just pedaled on. I focused on the yellow/white lines on the road, staying focused and trying to zone out and find a meditative state that I could just let the time pass.

Part of the course on the Beeline Highway goes right by a landfill. Until you are on the bike riding slowly past it, do you realize that it smells terrible. I planned a snack break before passing the landfill and as I was digging around for a snack, all of a sudden I heard my name being called and saw our friend Sondra cheering! It was such a fun boost to see someone out at this point on the course and was totally unexpected. I was able to give her a wave before digging back into my snack bag.

On the way out I started talking to as many people as possible. Everyone who passed me I told them that they were doing a great job, and I said something encouraging to everyone I passed.

In the days before Ironman Arizona I read Christopher McDouggall’s book “Running with Sherman” (which is a really cool story that I would highly recommend!) and in one of the tangents he talked about ultra runner, Krissy Moehl, who was incredibly dominant but only when she followed her 3 rules of racing.

1. Smile from gun to tape
2. Make someone else smile
3. Race like a demon

The first two really stuck with me and were on my mind a lot throughout my 13 hours on the course. Whenever I felt down or in a darker spot I thought of 1 and 2. Smile and make others smile. I made it a point to cheer on everyone, even the people that were passing me, which helped me pass the time and have some good smiles myself while complimenting and commiserating with others.

I was a little caught off guard when I was passed right before the turn-around by someone seemingly moving with barely any effort and when I looked up I saw the “P1” on her calf. It was Heather Jackson, one of my favorite pro athletes who was competing that day. She was gone faster than I had the chance to say anything to her, but since we were right at the U-turn as she came back towards me I shouted to her “Keep it up Heather!” and thought I saw a smile on her face, which made me pretty happy. Mission accomplished!

Before long I was at special needs, which was a little bit after mile 60. I really appreciated thinking about the race in the 6 little sections because I can’t say enough how much that helped me. Had I thought “Oh my gosh I am only at mile 60 and have 52 left!” that probably would have freaked me out. However, I knew I only had 3 sections left and 2 of them were going to be fast. That felt like nothing.

As I got to special needs, I was still fully sticking to my plan of "taking my time" so when the young volunteer starting quickly shouting to me “WHAT DO YOU NEED?” I told her that I needed a little time and asked her to just hold my bag for me. She said of course, and we laughed for a bit as I dug through my bag and made decisions of what snacks I wanted. I refilled my nutrition bags, taking more Clif bars and Oatmeal Crème Pies. I ate some Pringles and some peanut butter M&Ms, threw some Stinger Waffles into my back pocket, put on chap stick, and took the mini Chamois crème packets I’d gotten and shoved them in my back pocket.

My nutrition plan for this race was like a kid let loose in a gas station convenience food. It was basically all junk food! Part of my goal with training was to try and use up the food in my pantry and after Ironman Chattanooga last year, I went home with about 4 boxes of Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies, so that became this years bike nutrition! Along with leftover Halloween candy and other stuff we had in the cabinets.

In all seriousness, I started the day with 2 or 3 Oatmeal Creme Pies, 1 Clif Bar broken into tiny pieces, and Salt Stick chews in my bag with 1 bottle of Tailwind and 1 bottle of Gatorade and water in my aero bottle. I added 2 more Oatmeal Creme Pies at special needs and 1 other Clif Bar and a Stinger Waffle. I ate some M&Ms and Chips and that was about my nutrition plan for the day. The year before I focused so much on eating real foods and tested out all sorts of different things and ended up sick and unable to eat on the bike during the race. Although it is somewhat embarrassing to admit, this junk food approach seemed to work pretty well for me (my stomach has many more years of training eating junk food than it does doing Ironmans, that's for sure.)

I needed to use the restroom again but they didn’t have one at special needs, and knew it would be pointless to put more chammy crème on until after I used the bathroom so just brought it with me. I had put an extra CO2 cartridge and tube in my special needs bag and hated the idea of the tube just getting tossed (you don’t get your special needs bags back at the end of the race, so you just have to be prepared that whatever you put in there you won’t get back) but I already had a buff, vest, etc. in my back pockets and didn’t want to feel even more like a mule!

Before I left, I gave my volunteer bracelet to the girl at special needs and rolled out feeling refueled and ready for the next part of the ride.

I made it back into town, saw Adam and Doug at the turnaround, but missed seeing Jonathan or Jerome and felt slightly annoyed at that. I later learned that they were all out to lunch at that point, which I will forever tease Jonathan for. He also missed seeing me at one point on the run because he was in the bathroom, but I’ll get to that later. Ultimately it made me so happy to know that Jonathan and Jerome (my coach) spent so much time together during the race and love that my boyfriend and my coach, arguably my 2 biggest supporters, were running around all day cheering for me and having fun themselves. I am thankful that Adam and Doug were there, cheering me on! With such a long race like this, it is hard to put into words what those few moments of encouragement, excitement, and energy do to keep you going. You only see that person for a few seconds but that boost of adrenaline stays with you for a long time and I am so appreciative of everyone who came all the way to Arizona to help keep me and the other athletes energized throughout the day. It is truly amazing that we had such a large group of coaches and athletes there to support.

Finally, I was out on my 3rd loop. It felt like it had gone by quick! I stopped at the first aid station to use the bathroom again and reapply chammy crème. I saw my teammate Zach at the bike tech tent and checked on him but he said he was okay and ended up rolling out at the same time as me after I used the bathroom. We chatted for a minute and saw Lindsay coming in the other way on the course, and then Zach zipped off.

I made the plan to just stay focused for the last loop out, pause at the turnaround, eat something, and then readjust for the last 18 mile push in. I hadn’t eaten at all since special needs but didn’t feel like I needed to and didn’t want to force it. I figured if I hadn’t eaten by the turnaround, I’d pause to take in some calories and keep going. That plan worked out well and the last loop went by quickly.

The last section I did count down the miles, ticking away at 95, 100, 105, and then the last 7 miles in. I thought it would be fun to see how much I could push my speed on the 5 mile increments on the fast return. Looking at my watch data later I did those sections in 26.3 mph (miles 95-100) and 22.5 mph (miles 100-105). Those were my 2nd and 3rd fastest 5 mile stretches on the course! Only beat by miles 20-25 on my first loop which clocked 26.5 mph. Those slower sections did suck, but man, I had SO much fun pushing it and going fast on that bike course. All in all, I really loved the bike course at this race. I felt strong and comfortable the whole bike course which was so different from how I had been feeling in training rides. I'd worn a triathlon kit on this race instead of cycling shorts and was nervous my "seat" would be hurting at the end since I usually do long rides in cycling shorts because of the extra padding - however, I felt great and happy the whole ride!

One last thing to note was that throughout the course, I saw so many people with flat tires. Apparently it is common on this course because of all the cacti and the wind, the quills will blow off and into the road. I was so thankful that I, and my teammates, made it through without any issues with tires (for the most part!!) but I felt I saw far more people with flats than at any other race I have done.

Finishing up, coming into town, you had a fun “shoot” you rode through to get to the dismount which I really enjoyed. I passed off my bike to the catcher and made my way into T2.


Coming into T2 and hopping off my bike, I just said a silent wish to myself, “I hope my legs feel good when I get off the bike!” I was thinking back to last year in Chattanooga where I felt terrible getting off the bike and seriously questioned if I could finish in first 3 miles of the run.

When I first got off the bike in Arizona, my ability to run was hindered a bit by my bike shoes and so I grabbed my bag and made my way into the tent to change into sneakers, anxious to test out my legs.

I went to the bathroom in T2, this time pulling down my onesie completely (when I had gone to the bathroom on the bike, I just sort of pulled the leg to the side.) Thankfully, it was easy to put back on and unlike the experience I had in Augusta where it was so hot and sticky that it took me an extra couple minutes just to pull it up. The weather in Arizona was absolutely perfect - cool, dry, and a high of 70 - so I wasn't as sweaty wet and sticky and easy to get the onesie back up.

I changed my socks, put on a visor, my bib, threw my salt and chews into my pockets, grabbed some chap stick again, shoved a headband in my pocket, and went out on the run!


Shortly after coming out of transition, I saw my friends, Jonathan and Jerome cheering along the course. I’d wondered where they were as I came in off the bike and was happy to see them. In that first mile, my salt and chews kept falling out of my pockets, which was frustrating to have to stop and turn back for it. That hadn’t happened to me in Augusta when I wore the onesie and carried things in the pocket. I quickly realized it was due to how the bib was positioned that my waist belt was pushing things out. Once I got that adjusted, I was good for the rest of the race.

I was able to run well immediately and my legs felt good, which I was thankful for! However, it was warm and my HR was getting higher than I felt it should be in those first miles. I distracted myself by finding someone to talk to and spent the first 3 miles with a woman I’d seen in transition who was getting bandaged up because she’d had a spill on the bike course. The first part of the run course is 2-mile out on a path that turns around onto crushed dirt along the water. I could see all the dead fish lined up along the shore and put the thought out of my mind that this is where I had swam earlier! I walked the aid stations and a little bit more in that 3rd mile, but ran through seeing my friends and the high energy cheering sections through miles 4-5.

After the out and back, you passed transition again, more cheering sections, then head into an isolated portion of the course still on the path by the water, before making a right turn and crossing a bridge. There was a slight downhill coming off the bridge and I was started to get some cramps. It felt like a long stretch of not having an aid station, but that was probably just in my mind. 

I took some Base Salt from that tent as I passed, feeling cramps and knowing I needed salt to correct it. I had salt tabs with me, that I'd been taking, but wanted to see if having the salty taste in my mouth would have any different impact. I started to take quite a bit of salt to help with the cramps I was starting to feel.

I passed by my cheer section again, who had crossed a footpath bridge right by the transition area. Jerome told me to keep up with the salt and water at every aid station when I told him I was cramping. I was slightly concerned at the amount of salt I was taking but what I was doing seemed to be working and the cramps started to go away.

The run course on the other side of the river continued on the river path, U-turning, looping around a park, then returning to the river path to head back over the same bridge you'd originally run on.This time you kept going straight off of the bridge and down an abandoned side street with one aid station on it, before returning to the transition area to start your second loop.

It still felt warm outside, although the sun was starting to set. It was a beautiful sunset coming in but the sun was still so bright and high in the sky I was ready for it to go away. I had asked a volunteer what time it was when I left transition and they'd said 2:52. I used that as a calculation that the sun would set 2.5-3 hours into my run and figured once my watch died, if needed, I could use that knowledge of when I started the run to calculate how long I'd been out there.

I enjoyed spotting other athletes I knew on the course. I saw Meg and Meg’s family (I assumed it was her family by the fact that it was a guy in a Dynamo shirt who said “Go ITL – yeah Atlanta!”) and I passed my teammate Jim on the first loop. It was his first Ironman and he was walking a bit saying that he had knee pain he had never experienced before. Jerome has helped me with some mid-run stretches just the week before when I had knee pain so I encouraged Jim to ask Jerome for help when he saw him in a couple miles before running on. I wished him luck and continued on. He later told me that the advice had helped him so much and he was able to meet his goal time for the race, which made me so happy to hear. You never know when something you do is going to have an impact on their day!

I tried to tell myself that I just had 26 different 10-minute runs to do, with catering stops in between. I really tried to push myself to only walk the aid stations but at times I did walk when there was a slight incline or on the one true hill on the course, around the park.

As I came back in to transition to start my second loop, I really tried to take in how beautiful it was around me and the fact I was racing in a new place. Doing Chattanooga as my first Ironman was the right choice for me and helped me feel confident to race in a location I was familiar. But, this was incredibly cool to be on a course running in a new place. The sun was setting in the desert and the light was reflecting along the mountains in the distance. Meanwhile the city of Tempe started to light up against the night sky. I commented on it to a few other runners and tried to keep others smiling, as part of my race plan.

I jokingly asked people who had the best snacks in their Special Needs bag on the run (knowing I had a candy bar in mind!) but everyone else just said they felt too sick to eat. I still felt like I was going really strong and was so happy with how my day was turning out. Especially my stomach. I did remind myself that there was still a lot of race left, but my stomach was feeling good and I had no urges to use the bathroom at all. I ended up not using the bathroom once on the run course.

Every time I passed a mile marker on my first loop of the run that was for the 2nd loop mileage, I thought to myself, “Not yet – but soon that will be for me!” and I thought the same thing as I went passed the split to go one way for the finish, but another direction to start your second loop.

I got to special needs and felt a bit of indecision about what I should take. I knew I still had 2.5 hours on the course and the sun was setting quick. It gets cold fast in the desert when the sun goes down so I’d put a throw away shirt and gloves into my bag and I wasn’t sure if I would need them. I continued my day as a pack mule, shoving my candy bar, gloves, and buff into my pocket and carrying my long sleeve, still trying to make a decision about what to do.

When I passed the girls cheering I asked them and Krystle said “Some people are getting cold, why don’t you tie it around your waist?” so I did, and kept running. When I hit the half marathon split, my watch was still going (I expected it to die at some point), and I knew that my time was similar to what I’d run in Muncie and Augusta this year. In Augusta, I had felt strong and like I could keep going, so I thought to myself, “Can you do the 2nd loop faster? Can you negative split?” and used that as motivation to try and run more and walk less on the 2nd loop.

Every time I passed over a timing mat anywhere on the course, I thought of my friends and family getting alerts on their phone and thought of them cheering for me from afar. I used that mental image to keep me going.

To me, some of the hardest points are at 10 miles in and 16 miles in, when you still have so much left in an incredibly long day, it feels like you are going to be out there forever. I start pulling deep for inspiration. I thought of my grandmother, my family. I thought of my friend Meaghan and our military service members. I wore a bracelet with me during the race for Home Base foundation, the group I am raising money for the Boston Marathon for. I thought of this run as a training run getting ready for Boston and thought about the greater cause that I am supporting with that charity.

When I saw my friends after the 2-mile out and back after special needs I asked Jonathan to walk with me a second. At this point the sky was getting really dark so I also took off my visor and replaced it with a headband that covered my ears. I also cared about my pictures (#priorities) and wanted to ask Jonathan if I looked okay but when I saw him, that thought wasn’t anywhere in my mind. I told him how much I was hurting and he told me I was doing great and to keep going.

At mile 16, I was tired and things were hurting, and I still had 10 miles left. I started to focus on one mile at a time, “Just get to mile 17, then you’ll only have single digits left to run.”

I kept moving crossed over the bridge to go to the other side of the river a 2nd time, and this time paused to walk it. Despite trying to negative split, I wanted to gather myself for the last section and prepare myself mentally as well as have a physical break. I knew I still had more running in me, but the lights were coming down and I started to get sentimental.

I thought about how this race was so much for ME. Yes, I did it with a group and had 9 other athletes on the course, but I didn’t train with them as a group as much as I had the year before. I did so much training alone, I had found myself caught between moving to Carrollton in the spring and away from my regular training buddies, which was hard for me. I had needed to personally motivate myself through so much of training and now this race day. I took a moment just to recognize that and allow myself to feel proud of myself for getting to this point.

This year, additionally, I have not been happy with my weight for the whole year. I have spent so much time feeling unhappy with myself and with my body. All year I have been frustrated that I wasn’t skinny enough. Wasn’t fast enough. Wasn’t where I wanted to be. Yet here I was with 6 miles left in an Ironman, doing great, and still feeling healthy and with gas in the tank, all things considered. I was so happy at this point.

Also, while I was having this little self-reflective moment, I ate a candy bar! I had grabbed a Reese’s Outrageous bar at the Dollar Store that I’d thrown into my special needs last minute. I ate it as I walked the bridge, and in true Katelyn sweets fashion, told myself, “I’ll only eat half and then save it for later…” but ended up eating the whole thing and it was delicious and a great sugar boost.

As I prepared for the last stretch, I also did some math in my head about where my finish time would be. I honestly did not think at ALL about a finish time goal for ANY of the three disciplines for the race ahead of time. I was scared I was going to be out there all day on the bike and run so my goal was really to just finish. My watch had died at this point but I started thinking, “If I did a 1.5 hour swim, 6.5 hour bike, 5 hour run… I could be right at 13 hours…” I knew I was a little under those 2 times on the swim and bike but had no idea what my transition times were. I started my last 6 miles, hoping to run as much as I possibly could, even on the hills.

Coming down the river path on the other side of the course, I passed through my cheer section again who had also crossed over to see me. Jerome ran next to me a second and he told me that I was doing amazing and I told him I was still feeling great. I felt confident that I was not going to need the long sleeve so I tossed that and my visor onto the ground near the aid station, hoping they’d pick it up (they did.)

Continuing my approach from the bike, I tried to talk to as many people as possible, even if it was just a few encouraging words, chatting more when it was someone going about my pace. When I was alone, I worked to focus and zone out and pass the time.

At this point I wasn’t feeling cramps any more but a bit hungry and I had eaten all the Stinger fruit chews I had brought with me. I started eating pretzels at every aid station, swashing them with water so I could chew and swallow faster. I took some broth at a few aid stations as well. Gatorade I am learning doesn’t sit well with me during long races (I had tried some during the bike and at one aid station and both times wanted nothing to do with it.)

It was dark, and I had shoved a mini dollar store head lamp from my special needs bag into my pocket. However, I didn't want to pull it out knowing I was in the last stretch. I didn't feel like I needed it.

I passed mile 23 and my cheer squad again. Jonathan was nowhere to be seen (… maybe he is getting my backpack from the car, I thought?...) but Jerome was there and told me I had 2 miles to go! In my head I knew he was wrong but didn’t say anything about it.

Later I learned that Jonathan had been waiting there with Jerome for me, but was in the porta-potty for the literal 10 seconds I came through. I had run right by while he was in there peeing, having no idea. Apparently, Jonathan and Jerome legitimately thought that the point where they were cheering on the course was mile 24, not mile 23. Jonathan had thought he had another 10 minutes before I came through so used it as a bathroom break. The two of them had such funny stories and such a good time together throughout the day, running around supporting and cheering me on, that after the race any annoyance I had about Jonathan missing me at these points was wiped away. These two were the best cheer squad I could have asked for and I loved hearing their stories from the day.

Jerome gave me a hug and told me I was an Ironman and that he’d see me at the finish. For the last three miles my mantra became “Be proud of your legs. Your legs are strong. Be proud of your legs. Your legs are strong.”

My legs still were moving so well and I was so proud of them, sending positive thoughts as a way for making up for all the negative self talk I usually have about my body. I was so proud of my legs and my body for holding me up and powering me through the day. I honestly had no idea I had such a strong day in me. I spent this time truly appreciating and recognizing the strength and power I had within me.

I had seen Lindsay on the bridge right after I ate my candy bar. I had purposely eaten it away from spectator eyesight but proudly shouted to her, “I just ate a candy bar!” when we passed (side note – I also laughed to myself thinking about me accidentally getting chocolate all over my face and kit and what it would be like to round the corner to see my cheer squad that way if it had happened.) I saw Zach ahead of me when I was running along the river. And at my mile 25ish I saw my friend Dane. I could tell he was hurting and struggling to stay positive so I did my best to encourage him before continuing on. I sent positive vibes and thoughts to all of my friends who I knew were still out on the course.

I ran the last 2 miles without stopping. I skipped the last aid station just wanting to get to the finish, which somehow felt longer away than the first loop. My watch was dead so I don’t know my mile splits but according to the app I went 10:00 min/miles the last two miles. I still felt so good.

I kept trying to smile and make others smile, knowing around me were a lot of people who still had their 2nd lap left (Dane included.) There were tons of people all throughout the course on motorized scooters and skateboards and in my last mile someone zipped by shouting “You’re almost there!” to which I yelled back laughingly “Easy for you to say!” He seemed more annoyed than anything and yelled back, “OH I’ve done plenty of these!”

I hoped that maybe I made some of the runners smile by saying what they were thinking. The people scooting by my slow run had been annoying me all day to the point that I was tempted to push them off, haha.

As I rounded the corner to the finish I looked behind me a number of times to give myself a solo finish. Everyone I’d been running around turned for their 2nd loop and I was alone as I ran into the finishers shoot.

I saw Jerome and Jonathan, the two amigos together all day, and thought about how lucky I was and how much I loved and appreciated them both (in different ways, obviously.) I saw the ITL ladies cheering and yelling with the same enthusiasm they’d had all day. I gave high fives (at least I think I did) and soaked in every moment, running into the finish triumphant, emotional, and so happy.

The finish line catacher asked me how I was doing and if I needed anything but honestly I felt great. I told him I was good. I felt so happy, my HR didn’t feel high. My legs were still moving great. I returned my chip, got a picture, and spotted Doug taking pictures.

Doug is my teammate Jodi’s husband and a professional photographer. He always documents the most amazing Ironman moments and it made me so happy to see he’d been at the finish! I ran over to him for my official Doug finisher photo.

Then I walked over to see Jonathan and Jerome where they gave me hugs and we chatted for a bit. Jerome asked me if I knew my times and I said I did not since my watch died. He told me my finish was 12:51 and I had cut 8 minutes from my run from the year before.

I was so, so happy. I felt calm and collected and on top of the world. My goal had been to finish feeling good and I felt so good.

Even a week later, I still struggle to shortly summarize this race and what the feeling was like to finish my first FULL full Ironman. I was grateful. I was surprised at myself. Proud. Happy. Confident. Thankful to my coach for all the time he has told me "You can" and all the times he has talked me off of a ledge. Appreciative of my boyfriend who supports me (and my friends), cares for me, and is patient and kind with me. Inspired by the ITL ladies who did one of the hardest things in their lives, but then brought energy full force to the course all day long. The ITL crew is truly like no other and I was so proud and thankful to have our coaches, teammates, and other athletes all over the course throughout the day. I felt lucky. Indebted. To Jerome and his wife who came all the way out to Arizona to cheer for me and support me. It is something that is so above and beyond but meant the world to me. Having a dedicated coach and a loving boyfriend chase me around all day, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world (even though they missed me on that 2nd loop of the bike ;) ...)

I surprised myself, and I think some of my teammates too. It was a lesson for me to trust more, be more appreciative of my body, and that when you keep the focus on having fun - everything else that happens is just icing on the cake. November 24th was a good day!

More to come :)