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Ironman Arizona 2015 Race Report

(This should be read as somewhat tongue-in-cheek)

This past Sunday was the Ironman Arizona Triathlon (IMAZ) in Tempe (Phoenix): a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run in under 17 hours.  When looking at it as a whole, it seems fairly incredibly impossible.  I certainly felt this way not too long ago.  I had a friend do Ironman Wisconsin back in 2009 and that’s when I was first introduced to triathlon and specifically to Ironman racing.  IMAZ 2015 would be my third full-distance Ironman (having done Canada/Whistler in 2013 and Wisconsin in 2014) and I had high hopes for the race.  My training had gone quite well, no major hiccups, no injuries, and really pretty minimal-to-no work travel keeping me away from my bike.  This year was also different – for the first time I’d be racing Ironman with teammates from the Seattle Green Lake Triathlon Group (SGLTG).

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Phoenix Botanical Gardens with Mom and Alicia 

We arrived in Phoenix on Thursday and joined in on the second annual Underpants Run – which is a bit of a knock off from a tradition in Kona (the most well-known Ironman) – it was pretty fun actually, plus a good way to shake out the legs from the flight.  Did a practice ride on Friday, practice swim on Saturday morning (63 degree water, kind of cold!), final run on Saturday afternoon. Weather was looking great as well – forecasted a high of 70 degrees with a 20% chance of rain.  Everything was great, expectations were high for a strong PR time.  

12232750_490573444435485_8858398947581977291_oMost of the IMAZ Seattle Racers

Get to transition around 6:00am, add my nutrition to my bike, set up my power meter, attach bike shoes to pedals, throw the wetsuit on my legs and start warming up my arms with stretch cords.  Lots of music is played in transition, and the song “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten comes on (more to come on this), then I see Tracy Gayler in transition and she snaps a picture of me with the thumbs up!

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G
ood morning! Headlamps are key in dark transitions!

Swim

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S
cott Gayler and I.  He beat me by 7 minutes on the swim - maybe I should have tried to stay on his tail for the swim!  And yes I double-capped it, for "protection" ;)

For the first time, Ironman Arizona employed a rolling start (kind of like large running races, your time starts when you cross the starting line) vs a mass swim start.  In the corral I met up with Scott Gayler and we chatted a bit, talking about how perfect the weather was going to be.  First the male pros go at 6:40, female pros at 6:45, age groupers at 6:50.  I was in the water by about 6:53.  Tempe Town Lake is a bit murky – visibility is quite poor.  Normally you can see 5-6 feet in any direction – people to your side, people in front.  This is useful for drafting off other swimmers to go faster and save energy.  Nope, not here.  Going to have to sight (put your head up out of the water and look where you’re going) a lot.  Plus, it’s still dark out – the sun doesn’t ride until 7am, so it’s a bit of mayhem.  The course is rectangular-shaped and a single loop. It’s not uncommon for songs in your head to play back while I swim.  Well that damn “Fight Song” gets into my head… Stroke, stroke,  “This is my fight song”, breathe, stroke-stroke “take back my life song”, breathe, stroke-stroke “prove I’m alright song”, breathe, sight… repeat.  I’m thinking seriously?!  This song??  After about 35 minutes into the swim I make the first turn, another 3-4 minutes turn 2, head back towards the starting line (“This is my fight song…” ugh!), make turn three and then climb up the stairs after 1:20 and head into the Swim-Bike Transition (T1).  

Nutrition consumed: 1 gel with caffeine ~7-8 minutes before swimming.

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Get this damn wetsuit off me!

Bike

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One spends a LOT of time in the aero position at IMAZ

After a quick-ish four minute transition I hop on the bike.  Take my first gel and am on my way out to start the first of three loops to make up 112 miles.  The course is flat, really flat – probably a big reason why IMAZ is so popular.  People tend to think flat = easy.  While I agree to a large extent for those trying to complete a race (vs compete in a race), flatter = faster.  How fast depends on how hard you push which is the opposite of easy.  My general strategy was to use my bike power meter to closely gauge my effort and basically negative split each of the three loops.  Loop one was easy (as it was expected), and then during loop two it starts to rain, and then pour.  What?  This is the desert, and it wasn’t supposed to rain until 6pm!  WTF?  Now, given that we live in Seattle, cycling in the rain is not that big of a deal, need to use caution on turns and braking but otherwise … game on!  The problem is … I’m starting to get cold.  Really cold at times.  The rain does let up a bit, only to pick back up when I start loop 3.  My power numbers are lower than expected.  I try to push a bit but my body isn’t responding – could it be because of the cold?  I decide to follow my perceived effort and not try to kill it to maintain my targeted watts.  Closing out loop three and getting close to town, it’s raining buckets again, and I’m somewhat miserable.  This is ridiculous, it’s not fun, this is really stupid.  Then, one of the spectators is yelling at the racers encouragingly: “Bring on the rain, now THIS is racing!”.  This snaps me out, I say to myself, “he’s right, this IS racing… expletive expletive”.  I close out the bike course with a 5:53, which is right around where I wanted to bike.  I see Jonathan Nield at the bike transition and head off to T2 to switch to my run gear.

Nutrition consumed: 2 gels, 2 clif bars (cut up in 1/8s), 800 calories Carbo Pro + 2 Nuun, 1 pack Clif Bloks, half a pack of Gu Chomps (and water)

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Finishing Lap 1 of the bike

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Yes, off the bike!  Yes it's wet out.

Run

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Smiling on the run, you're not allowed to have fun while racing!

First steps off the bike – whooooa legs.  That feels funny.  Not terrible, but just crazy.  The rain is letting up a little bit, but transition is really muddy.  I didn’t throw a hand towel into my T2 bag with m running shoes because I wasn’t expecting it to be raining!  Try to wipe my feet off onto my legs, throw on my socks, running shoes, visor, race belt and am on my way!  I actually did not have a super-detailed strategy for the run, mainly just to not walk and to pick a point in the last 6 miles where I would “go”. The first two miles are super easy, and I try to go as slow as I possibly can, but I can’t get any slower than 8:00 miles.  OK sure I’ll hang out here at this pace for a bit.  After two miles, we make the first turn and onto a dirt path, which would normally be really nice on a regular day.  I see Jim Burho starting his run and Scott Gayler shortly after Jim.  But, since it poured it was basically a mud pit.  This seemed to completely zap my energy and never felt the same after that.  My form still seemed good, I seemed to good bounce/flow, but my pace gradually started to slow.  I did cramp slightly at the start of the run, so I took in gatorade near the beginning and the cramping never got bad.  Around mile four I saw Cortney (and someone else, who was it?) cheering me on and gave a high-five as I passed.  At mile six I passed Aid Station #5, which is exactly where I volunteered last year!  That was a nice mental boost and I continued to trudge along.  For a two-loop run course, there is a sign that says “Loop 2, LEFT, Finish line, RIGHT”.  The person in front of me is finishing, the volunteers at the sign cheer her on.  I head to the left and the volunteer says “We’ll see you soon”.  Aw, thanks. I finished the first half in about 1:57  Well – there goes my goal of running a 3:45.  Let’s at least try to stay constant and maintain a sub-4 hour marathon.  Running along lap 2, I still feel quite sluggish – I look down at my watch and am seeing 9:15’s/9:45’s, and sometimes above 10:00.  I can’t believe I’m running this slow – I can’t even TRY to run that slow on my own.  WTF body?  Why aren't you cooperating?  To further annoy things, I had to pee a lot – I visited the porta-potties a total of seven times on the run!  It’s like I had broken the seal!  The good news is that I’m passing a lot of people on their first loop, which is always a mental boost.  Around mile 19 I see Scott Jozi for the first time of the day.  I come up to him, chat for a few, mention I’m struggling, but doing better now that I’m chatting with him.  After 30 seconds or so I leave him and then hit those last 6 miles of the marathon.  

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Less enjoyment on the face, probably a good sign I'm not slacking off. 

Continue to battle through and then at mile 23 I decide that I am going for this.  I pick up the pace.  It feels like racing a 10k but at a really slow pace.  I continue to pass more people, get some good encouragement from the crowds, and I remember the absolute best moment of the day – getting back to that same sign towards the end with the decision point, but this time, “Finish Line, RIGHT” – I still remember that moment like it just happened and brings me such elation.  Maybe a quarter mile is still left, I see Alicia there, blow her a kiss, then enter the finisher’s chute.  Lights are on, music blaring, Mike Reilly says “From Seattle Washington, Eric Fahsl, you are an Ironman!”. This is actually the first time Mike has announced my name.  I see my parents, Alicia, and Loren (who rocked a 9:28!).   Fellow SGLTG Kirsten is there at the finish line to help me get my medal, finishers shirt, hat, pose for pictures, and helps me find athlete food and massage (Thanks again Kirsten!).  

Nutrition consumed: 6 gels, ~6 small cups gatorade, a lot of coke, a few sips of red bull (blurgh) and water

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Worst finishing line photo ever?  

My run time was a somewhat disappointing 4:07 (my slowest ever Ironman run time … whaaa?), but it ended up with a final time of 11:29:25 – a 30 minute improvement over my previous best time at the distance (last year in Wisconsin was a 11:59:49).  It placed me in the top 20% of all finishers.

Total calories consumed: ~2600 calories in 11.5 hours.

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My goal was to be on the lower end of 11 hours, which I suppose technically I did!  Very happy with the overall effort, still not quite sure why the run was so slow, I think perhaps being cold from the rain must have sucked out some of my energy and left me with a little less in the tank to not be able to run to my potential.  But I can say it was a real blast to be there with a number of teammates, both racing and volunteering.  It was always a pleasure to see each other on the course, encourage each other, and tell war stories after the event.  Finally, for anyone who has ever aspired to do a triathlon (from a super-sprint up to an Ironman), I’d say go for it!  Everyone starts somewhere and we all seem like idiots the first time we “tri”.  I was a downright terrible swimmer, a mediocre biker, and a untrained runner just three years ago, and now I’m finishing in the top 20% of one of the toughest endurance sports in the world.  If I can do it, anyone can.  Just start small.  Oh, and have fun.  Unless you're trying to compete to the top of your age group, then stop having fun you slacker and go faster!

11223568_490822754410554_2990670045770544714_oAlicia and I at the SGLTG after party - Fat Tuesdays!