Ironman Arizona Race Report



Gordon Bombay was the child hockey superstar turned coach in the movie “Mighty Ducks” who still had a tough time forgetting his blown championship shootout miss. He came so close with a ricochet off the goal post; he was only a quarter of an inch from making the goal and winning a pee-wee hockey championship title. It wasn’t until he was coaching and one of his players told him that if the shot was a quarter of an inch in the other direction he would have missed the goal completely. Interestingly enough I was feeling that same quarter of an inch.


April of 2008, I thought I was going to win Ironman Arizona. I passed James Bonney for the final time with 5k left to go. I was charging ahead and knew he was not going to catch me. Jordan Rapp was doing his best to run me down in third, but I knew he wouldn’t catch me. About a mile from the finish I start getting splits that Hungarian Jozsef Major was running me down and I better take off. I tried as hard as I could. I was giving it everything I had. My legs were cramping and about to give out on me at any moment. Every step was excruciating but every step mattered. I was caught by Jozsef less than half a mile from the finish in an eight and a half hour race. I sprinted to the finish chute but by the time I turned the corner I saw him finishing. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe it actually happened. After a second, second place finish at Ironman Coeur d’Alene in June of this year, I was still hungry for my first Ironman victory that I felt I lost by a quarter of an inch.


I came back to Ironman Arizona in November of this year after I was disappointed with my result at Ironman Hawaii only six weeks prior. I knew I put in the training and my body was fit; I was not ready to call it a season. I headed back to Tucson in November to prepare to race my third Ironman of the season. This time my training was up and down. I had great days, and I had horrible days. Some days I just felt miserable. I had one day I went out in the morning to ride, felt so bad I came home and slept the rest of the day after riding 12 miles. Another day I was on the track with Doug Friman doing a simple workout of 800’s on 5:50 pace, I was so tired I had to call the workout quits half way through.  I knew I was on the edge of overtraining while still trying to recover from Kona. I also had great faith in my coach, Cliff English, and that the plan would get me to the starting line ready to race. I knew my body was fit, and my mind was ready for that redemption race. My body was probably still feeling the deep seated fatigue of Kona, but my mind was ready to block out everything and attack the race with every weapon in my arsenal.


I committed to racing Ironman Arizona just days after Kona. I sent my old training partner, Doug, an email asking him what he thought. He replied with a message telling me I had no business racing Arizona against guys that didn’t race Kona. He gave me 7 well rested reasons why I had no business racing Arizona. I replied with one reason why I was going to win, ME! I told him I may be tired, but the mind is the strongest muscle in the body and if I believe I can do it, I will.


I had a minor freak out two days before the race when after sitting in a car with Hillary and Maik on the way up from Tucson, then sitting at the pro meeting, then more time in the car sitting, my left sciatic nerve went crazy. I was having shooting and pulsating pain down the back of my leg and my left calf was going nuts. I couldn’t relax. I got in the hot tub, I stretched, I put on a Compex, I stretched some more, I could not fall asleep because of the nerve pain. I finally drifted off to sleep, woke up in the morning and the pain was gone. Perfect, at least I had that behind me.


The morning of the race was a bit rushed as usual. I waited forever to get a bike pump so I could properly inflate my tires before the race. I set up my transition, then dropped off my special needs bags and headed to the swim start to put on my new TYR CAT 5 Hurricane wetsuit. Paul Huddle was screaming at us to get in the water, threatening penalties, so I jumped in the cool 63 degree water and did a short warm-up. I started all the way on the left side of the swim as usual. I was quickly out in front and swimming comfortably. On the way out, I started to get tired, and lost contact with the front pack. Paul Ambrose was on my feet and came around and I couldn’t stay with him. The pace was not all that hard, but I could tell my body was a bit tired and I was going to need to conserve as much as possible, going anaerobic for a bit in the swim could have ended my day. My swim was slow, but not so slow it took me out of the race.


Once out of the water and on my bike, I was cool calm and collected. I quickly biked towards the front of the race and just waited. I knew patience would be huge, and I also knew that Jordan Rapp would be coming hard to get in the front of the race. Jordan dictated the pace for most of the bike, and whenever he slowed I passed him but he never let me stay in front for long. I was fine with that. Jordan kept opening up small gaps on me through the aid stations since he was not fueling much. He really opened up a big gap after special needs, which he blew right through, while I struggled to unwrap my necessary fuel bag while riding. It was not a big deal, because he was not really riding much faster than me anyway, and I definitely needed the calories on the bike, I need to average 400 calories/hour and I usually want more. I will however work a bit on becoming less reliant on the aid stations and special needs since I saw how much time can be gained bypassing most of them.


I came off the bike about 2 minutes down on Jordan and quickly took off in pursuit. I was as close as 1:20 at one point but that was it. I started cramping in my left calf (maybe the nerve pain deal?) about 10 miles into the run. I upped the salt intake and kept going. I have never had problems with calf cramps in an Ironman before. My quads and hamstrings are usually the ones to cramp while running. I ran through the half in 1:26 and was still feeling good but quickly the wheels started to come off. My pace was dropping considerably and 3rd and 4th place were now catching me and Jordan was starting to pull away with the race. I was no longer racing for the win, but fighting to hold onto second. Richie Cunningham pulled within :40 of me, but I was determined to fight to the death to hold him off. I was running the last 5 miles as hard as I could, my body was screaming at me to stop, but there was no way I was giving in. I was not going to get passed at the end of this race, not again. Richie ended up fading a bit and in the last mile, Torsten Abel was closing on me quickly. I started getting splits the last mile just like April of 2008. No way, not again. Not if I can help it. I poured it out again and this time I finished 17 seconds ahead of third place, the EXACT margin I finished behind the winner the last time I raced Ironman Arizona.


A quarter of an inch one way, and I win and Ironman, a quarter of an inch the other way and I finish third. The margins are often that small so when it comes down to the end, take your best shot, and know that on the day, you gave it everything you had, even if you come up a quarter of an inch short. I hate to lose, but I hate even more, never taking the shot! So next time you find yourself getting down to the final seconds…SHOOT!


Work Hard,