Thursday, November 21, 2013

Day 284 - Ironman Arizona 2013

November 17, 2013      No weight this week.

What a cool day! Prepare for a bunch of photo's.

I woke at about 2:30 am hungry, so I heated up some  brown rice, broccoli  and lemon grass flavored soy "meat". My alarm was set for 3:00 am so when it went off, I called Romeo's phone to make sure he was up. He came downstairs complaining of only sleeping three hours. Soon everyone else in the house was up and getting ready. We headed to our different rally points, mine in the marina and Romeo, Kevin, Trung and Rhonda to Transition One.
I got to the Tempe Town Lake Marina boat dock at 4:45 am and helped unload kayaks. For some reason, I had a premonition that I was going to end up in the water. We had a last minute safety meeting and took off. As soon as I got into the kayak and it into the lake, my butt and my feet were soaked. Great.

We headed from one end of the lake to the opposite end for the start. Rowing across the water with the full moon out and the bridge lit up putting the kayak'ers in silhouette  was magical. Something I will never forget. Very serene with a touch of excitement in the air. Sometimes my HD camera decides to not be in focus and today was one of those days.

The weather was perfect with the air crisp but not cold and the water wasn't very chilly. A little surprising when it ran down my butt-crack as I got into the kayak, but not bad.

All of us kayakers lined up for the Pro men start. The canon fired at exactly 6:45 am startling Mike Reilly, The Voice of Ironman. The Pro's shot past us on the buoy line. Their speed was surprising. Next came the female Pro's. Again the ladies shot past. I could only cheer and think that I have a lot of work to do! Next came the announcement for the age groupers. We saw a sea of neon green and pink swim caps swim out to the start line. If you closely at the picture below, you can see that even with thousands of people in the water. the dock still had a couple thousand waiting to jump in!

BOOM!!! The canon fired and thousands of undulating bodies were racing towards us. We were briefed about swimmers "resting" by holding onto the kayak and to dissuade them from grabbing the sides as it would capsize us. We were also told not to get the athletes attention by wacking them on the head with the oar! I watched everyone pass eventually spotting Romeo towards the side.  At that point, I "tagged" him and followed him for the remainder of the race. Soon I saw Kevin and Trung on the shore following along. My plan with Romeo from the very beginning of us working together was for him to swim as far and as steady as he could for as long as he could, but to roll onto his back as soon as he started to feel anxious. I emphasized that he needed to roll over before the anxiety kicked all the way in. I thought that as the swim progressed, he would eventually find his rhythm and get sick of wasting time rolling over.  As he swam, he began going longer and longer between "breaks." By the end, he had a steady cadence and was breathing steadily. I noticed he wasn't kicking very much and later was told he was having a calf cramp for most of the race.

At one point, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what happened, I turn to my right and SPLASH!!!, I was in the water as illustrated by the following images. That's Romeo on the far right swimming off screen. I tried to right the kayak but just couldn't get enough leverage. Plus, I had two water bottles, my car keys, the rental house keys, my flashlight, my Leatherman utility knife and a bunch of layers of clothing plus, my beloved Oakleys and my favorite hat.

As soon as I felt my Oakleys floating away, I grabbed them thankfully. Somehow, I injured my chest trying the get back into the kayak. I realized I had better just swim for the shore towing it and jump back into the boat. I had two thoughts at that point, one, I had to research how the get back into an upturned kayak and also, boy, was I glad I had been swim training as it took a bit of effort to get to the side with all that weight. A nice elderly couple came by and helped tow the boat and the man even retrieved my hat!

I got the the side where Kevin and Trung were laughing at me. A swim spotter helped me back in the kayak saying, "I knew I was supposed to spot swimmers but not kayakers. Har-har-har!"  Back in the boat and paddling furiously to catch up with The Boy. Mental note: Research techniques for getting back into a flipped kayak.

After rounding the the second turn around buoy, another kayaker tagged Romeo and followed along to the very end calling out the time left.

After the last buoy, there is a sharp diagonal turn to shore about 100 yards. I knew it was going to be close and was yelling like a maniac. So was the other kayaker whom I never learned his name unfortunately. That is how focused we were. The crowd and volunteers at the end of the swim were going nuts with the clock running out. I was yelling bloody murder for Romeo to speed up in the last few yards.

You can see the dramatic finish in the video below.

He made the time limit by five seconds. There was a lady right behind him and she didn't make it. At least I don't think she did. Heartbreaking.

The last of the swimmers were picked up and we went back to the marina to pack up the boats and get our volunteer t-shirts and registration wristbands for us that wanted to race next year. I went back to the rental townhouse to shower and wash my clothes. And to try in vain to get more sleep. Everyone else stayed at the race or in Ironman village. I ate at a local vegan restaurant called Green. The food was great. Their salads were especially tasty. (I ate there twice during my stay!) Finally it was time to head for the finish line for my second volunteer shift handing out medals. That's Ironman pro Jordan Ramp in the white hat, black jacket and jeans in the photo.

I had a blast working at this post and seeing the faces of the athletes when I held up that medal to put over their heads and would say "Congratulations, you finished." The realization would sink in at that point and their eyes would light up, no matter how tired they were.

Romeo crossed the finish line in 15:45:38. Kevin and Rhonda were there to catch him. I was just a few feet away. He told me later he didn't remember me speaking to him as he was delirious! They took him away and later Romeo came back to say thanks. I don't know where they went.

The race ended at 17 hours exactly and us volunteers were released. It was midnight. I walked over to where the the line was going to form in the park next to the finish line. One of the volunteer captains came by and said that Tempe city police were locking down the park and refused to allow anyone in or to camp over night. I double checked with a couple Ironman staffers that were passing by. They confirmed it was true.
I had my stuff in the car and didn't need to drive back to the townhouse, so I thought I would just sleep in the car for a bit then line up at 5:00 am. After all the excitement and stress of the day, I thought I deserved a drink so I went to a bar a block away and had a drinky-winky until it closed at 2:00 am.

On the way back to the car, I looked toward the park and just had a weird feeling I should go take a look. As soon as I got to the registration tent, a security guy came by and said that even though no one was allowed in the park, he had set up the line in a private parking lot just outside the parks border. He suggested I get in line and said at 5:00 am, he was going to walk us back into the park in order. Heck yes! So I jumped in line with the other twenty or so early risers.

All my stuff was in the car so I didn't have anything with me to cushion the parking lot asphalt except a sheet of mylar blanket off a roll that some wonderful person had brought along. Mental note: Always bring a camp chair in these situations in the future. Even if only "checking."And buy a cheap sleeping bag.
Still, the weather wasn't bad and the stars were very clear. I had a great conversation with a couple of ladies from Spokane, WA. They spoke about the unique challenges of training in that state due to the heavy snow fall. Like doing three hour plus spin sessions in winter in a very small windowless room with thirty other riders.

By the time 5:00 am rolled around, there were about a thousand people in line. I tried but just couldn't get any photos that showed how impressive the line was.

The sun popped out around 6:00 am and the Ironman organizers decided to open registration early. The anticipation was palpable with everyone shifting the weight constantly from one foot to the other. I kept saying, boy was I glad I wasn't farther back. You see, even though you volunteer, you are not guaranteed a slot in the next years race as there are few opening left after the all the previous years athletes register again, (they get to register the day before.) I heard, but could not verify that there were about 1600 slots left. Supposedly, the previous year had sold out in 25 minutes!

Finally, at around 6:40 am I was allowed into the tent were my registration was completed at 6:45 am.


I walked around the village park one time before leaving, elated with a slight tinge of nervous. I know I will be ready. I have complete faith in my coach and my training program. Time to really focus and get everything else together.

As I left Arizona, I said a silent thanks to the state that had treated me well and that I would return to in a years time. Hopefully at the end of my first Ironman journey and hopefully as a little better person. Training for Ironman, for me isn't about the sweat or the miles or the calories burned. It's about getting outside my comfort zone and experiencing life. Something I didn't do for a very long time

Until tomorrow my friends.

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