I know this post is late, like several weeks late. Between the chaos of getting back to TX, working, Thanksgiving and the stupid sickness I have that won’t go away, I’ve unfortunately been busier than I’d like.
I don’t remember exactly how B and I got it into our heads that we should do two IM’s next year, but we discussed AZ. Timing was great to train for TX, take a break and ramp back up. Conditions for AZ also look favorable and completely different than TX, which would be a nice change. Not that I don’t love me some IMTX.
We kept an eye on flights and they just never seemed to drop, so for two of us it’s actually cheaper to drive from Dallas. So, that’s what we did after work on Thursday. I’m not afraid of a good road trip. As a kid I constantly spent a lot of time in the car, exploring the world around me. And we did it without movies going on, just looking out the window enjoying the world.
While taking shifts, we ended up driving straight through to Arizona overnight. We stopped shortly in Tucson to have breakfast at a Cracker Barrel we’ve stopped at before (guess now it’s tradition), but otherwise headed straight in. We got lucky because apparently within an hour there was a nasty dust storm that closed the highways. We immediately went to the hotel and begged for a room – luckily they took pity on our story and gave us one way before check in time. Score! We sat in the room for a few minutes and decided that we should get our run in before we showered, so we changed clothes and headed out to Papago Park. I didn’t do much research ahead of time, so this was a total guess and we had no idea where a trail started or ended. So we ended up running small circles around and had a great time.
That ended up providing us with a bunch of pep. So we showered, changed clothes and headed out on the town. We walked around Main Street for a while and had a beer. I love college towns that have happy hour every day including weekends and beer was cheap! After the beer we checked out the Smashfest Queen event and saw Susan and Neil there. We headed to dinner and called it a night.
The next morning we headed out in search of coffee – they have Dutch Bros in Tempe which all started in the town I grew up. So it’s fun to stop and get coffee there. That ended up taking us a while and getting back to the area of the volunteer meeting proved difficult. We showed up a few minutes late but didn’t miss much. There was a brief addressing of the entire crowd and then grabbing our “golden ticket” wristbands for our volunteering spot. IMAZ is an extremely popular race and the only way to guarantee your entry is to volunteer for a shift, as volunteers get priority registration the next morning on site. They also threw in a special for volunteers who take the even uglier shifts – speedpass volunteers who get to register ahead of the rest of us who took more fun jobs. Headed to the expo afterwards and checked out the area. Also found some Triple Threat peeps who were warming up with the morning swim. It was great to see them!
We had a super fun brunch with Jason, Neil, Susan and her family. It was great to meet her mom and her sister – definitely people I hope I get to see again! Headed back to the expo and ended up hanging out at the QR booth for the rest of the day with Mac and Kristi. I can’t say enough how much I love having the support of QR. As a regular old athlete who strives to be a better version of me – but not quite up to the winning races standard, they support me the same. I’m not a sponsored athlete but a regular age grouper that knows if anything happens, they are there to help me and will do everything possible to make sure my bike is running perfectly. It’s a huge relief. B and I basically tried to help sell bikes for the rest of the afternoon, I also tried out my first set of recovery boots! Very interesting feeling, that’s for sure. We went to dinner with Mac and Kristi and headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before the super early morning!
We arrived race morning early, but got stuck in traffic. After we parked, we bundled up and headed to the start line. There is nothing like race morning and the tension in the air from the athletes. It’s electric. Found the wetsuit stripping area, but decided to venture back out and get some coffee. Luckily a few of the vendors were open and had some coffee. I was more than happy to pay $5 for a regular cup and it kept me warm! It was quite the chilly morning. Headed back to swim start and got in the designated volunteer area and watched the racers get in the water. Got to see a few of the athletes we were there to support hop in and it was great to get a quick hug from Susan. Cannon went off and they were off!
There was a bit of waiting and meetings before the first swimmers were out of the water. This time was also filled by us cleaning up all the shoes and other items the athletes left behind to be donated. Then we waited and the pros and most of the really fast AGers just run by you and you try to cheer really hard. Then our work began. At first it was slow, several volunteers to an athlete, then it became pairs of volunteers to an athlete then in the midst of the chaos we were all on our own and had people lining up waiting for us. Let me just tell you it was exhausting. Super fun and totally worth being covered in pee and cold water, but exhausting. I also hurt for days from the motion of using my fingers to get under the neoprene and my arms/shoulders from the motion of ripping those babies off. For the most part every athlete was grateful for the help, I even had one guy get back up and hug me thanks before he ran on! Once the cutoff happened, there were several swimmers that didn’t make it. It’s hard to see that part – that’s the part of this sport that people don’t like to talk about. You see all of their hard work gone in their eyes and emotion and disappointment just takes over. Your heart literally just breaks for them and there is nothing you can do to fix it.
Once we got our “you completed your shift and you may now register for next year” bands, we headed back to the car. Thank goodness we had a change of clothes because we were soaked, and really, really gross. Thankful for the wet wipes I also brought! After a change of clothes we headed out on the bike course a good mile out and found a spot. The three loops is great for spectators, but seeing pelotons of cyclists fly by was frustrating as a spectator. I had a ton of signs so I made sure to make some fun ones and scream out loud. We got to see almost everyone on at least one if not two loops. After we saw a set of people we hopped over to the middle to watch Beth, Sonja and Michelle come in from their last loop. We also got to see Susan head out on her last loop.
We had to head back to the main expo area – we didn’t have a real breakfast and were starving by this point! The vendors were pretty good and we ate a quick meal and headed out to the run course. We were lucky enough to see people we knew and a bunch of other people. My signs were a hit. Ironically enough everyone’s favorite sign that got the most laughs, or gasps, I couldn’t tell, was for Neil. It spelled out MTFU and I giggled when I wrote it. The other signs were a little more PG and I tried to be inspirational. I know how hard it is out there and I know what I don’t want to hear, so it was all about letting everyone know they looked great and had good form. Looking strong and all the jazz. We honestly stayed in that spot for hours. It was great to see our friends come out, we were super happy to see Susan, who let me know that she was having issues.
We also screamed hard for Sonja and Michelle. Sonja was in such a zone, I was convinced that she didn’t actually hear me, but found out later she did! Ha! Poor Michelle was having issues unable to keep anything down but was holding her lead on 1st AG. More cheering and we realized that Michelle really needed to know that she was in first and needed to keep fighting. I ran my way back along the course facing the athletes (side note, I’m so sorry, I know the glares you gave me because I felt the daggers of shame running in front of you, but I had to catch her!) and ended up around mile 25ish. It was a great spot where the runners were coming up and turning right to go over the bridge to the backside of the loop or coming over the bridge and coming home. It’s at this point I got to see both Neil and Katie! I kept waiting for Michelle, feeling anxious. Caught up to her and you could tell that she was having a tough run, but I let her know current splits still had her in 1st and she had to fight for those last miles. I was so glad that I did that. I knew that she had to have the info and what she did with it was up to her. She fought hard those last miles and finished 15 min ahead of 2nd place (oops wish I had that part of the info.)
Once I got back to B and our spot, we kept cheering through the darkness for our friends and everyone pushing forward with the Ironman shuffle. We saw Susan come back through and then I ran with her for a little bit back out on her second loop. She was having a really hard day (turns out she was kicked in the swim and was racing with a broken rib, badass are these friends of mine I tell you) and we had a little chat about the last 9 miles and that she could do anything. We stayed there for a bit more – it was already getting pretty cold and then headed for the finish to watch Susan come in.
Those last hours are my favorite – unfortunately we just couldn’t stay awake this time, but man do you see the human spirit out there. People who have been out all day moving their bodies forward are begging for just a little more time and more movement to finish their goal. It’s inspiring. We had friends who were hit out riding on their bikes who were using this IM as their first. Nikki and Kara are what Ironman is about for a lot of us. Pushing yourself past what you think you can to prove that you can. They recovered from their accident and both became Ironmen that day. Nikki, with just over a minute on the clock to spare. What a magical day for everyone out there.
After what felt like just closing my eyes, we were awake again and standing in line by 5:15 to secure our spots for next year. B was kind enough to go to Starbucks and provide coffee for Kristi and I. Big thanks to Kristi for coming out and volunteering with us. I talked her into this crazy plan months ago and we’ll be doing Texas and Arizona together. This sport is amazing with the friendships I’ve formed. I’m also convinced that Ironmans are a huge party where you get catered too all race day and get to see all of your friends. Well, we are all signed up and ready for the fun in 2014. Tempe, can’t wait to see you again.