Ironman Arizona

Sport can be tough when you have a disconnect between what you think you are capable of and how you actually perform. Over time, It can be difficult to keep the negative thoughts like “maybe I’m not cut out for this,” at bay. That is where I was starting to get in relation to the full Ironman distance. After three less than stellar performances at the full distance this year (Ironman Texas, Ironman Mont Tremblant and Kona), I was really in need of a confidence boost. Maybe confidence boost isn’t the right word. I was confident that I had what it takes to execute a good Ironman, it was more about proving to myself and the external world, that all of the lessons that I spoke about in this blog actually had value, and that eventually they would lead to a solid performance at the distance. I vowed to myself to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” at Ironman Arizona.

I had a strange suspicion that Ironman Arizona was going to be my best race of the year. I took 5 days completely off after Kona. I then re-implemented the style of training that I was doing in 2014 (polarized training i.e. ZERO time spent at or even around race pace), for three weeks. What’s interesting is that I started to get progressively more angry as the weeks went on. I then recalled that in 2014 I was always very angry while training and racing. It’s difficult to describe what I was angry about or who or what I was angry at. All I know is that there was often a great deal of raw emotion floating around in my body. Often in training and racing I would have the desire to scream and yell and clench my fists and grit my teeth.

I lost that feeling for a lot of 2015. I remember in Racine 70.3 in late July thinking to myself, “I don’t really even want to be here,” and “I’m only going to do the bare minimum it takes to win.” That’s a really crappy attitude and one that I do not want to have. I think a great deal of this attitude stemmed from the fact that I was deeply fatigued. Fortunately, I caught the overtraining that I was doing and by the time of Ironman Arizona, those poor training habits were nearly two months behind me. The week leading into the race I was yelling, clenching my fists and gritting my teeth while training, once again. I was also having thoughts like “I want to tear the legs off of these guys” and “I want to smash them to pieces,” all good signs that I was in the right mental space going into the race.

There are a few changes I made going into this swim that I think had some benefit. First off, I swam higher mileage in the three weeks leading into the race than I had in any other race this year; about 25-30km/wk. I also started to cultivate a shorter, faster turnover style of stroke. As well, I tried to cultivate less of a catch-up stroke, and more of a windmill stroke. When the gun went, I swam very hard, with high turnover. But unlike in other races, I was a lot more familiar with this high turnover and I was able to sustain it for longer. About 400m into the race I found myself comfortably inside of a pack. We didn’t get passed by the lead woman (Meridith Kessler, who started 5 minutes back) until about 400m to go, so I knew I was likely having a good swim.  When I emerged from the water and saw 54 minutes on the clock, I knew the deficit to the front of the race was likely going to be the smallest it had ever been. And it was: about 6:55 back.

Onto the bike, I knew that I only had about 100-120km of good biking in my legs. I just didn’t have the stamina to put together a solid and consistent 180km. Thus, I decided to bike the first 80-100km a little harder than usual, so that when I did start to hit the wall, my average power would be decently high. The hope was that by the end of the race, because I got the average up higher in the beginning, I would still have a decently high average by the end. As suspected, I hit the wall pretty hard around 120km, and my power dropped off significantly at this point. In the end, my average power was 296w and my normalized was 303w, just a little bit lower than my bike ride at Ironman Texas. I ran a significantly more aerodynamic set up here than I did in Kona, so I think this is the main reason why my bike ride looked a lot better here than it did in Kona.

I came off the bike in 3rd place with about a 90 second deficit to TJ Tollakson in 2nd place, and about a 14 minute deficit to Andrew Starykowicz in 1st place. I knew I had my work cut out for me because TJ is a very good runner, and Starykowicz showed the week previous at Austin 70.3 that he too can run. I stayed focused and positive and went to work. I caught TJ around mile 4. He passed me back though when I had to make my first of many trips to the port-a-john. At around mile 5 I caught back up. He serenaded me the first time I caught up to him, so I figured I would return the favour this time and serenaded him with “I can see clearly now the rain is gone…”

The time was coming down to Starykowicz at almost the exact amount it needed to in order to catch him at the finish. We had a similar experience back in 2014 at Racine 70.3 where I ended up catching him with about 0.5 mile to go. That is one of the best performances of my life, so I am always grateful to Starkyowicz for giving me the chance to push myself to the absolute limit. After about 13 miles the time started coming down a lot quicker, and by 18 miles I entered the lead. Unfortunately, not long after, I had to stop in the port-a-john for the fourth time.

I knew the race wasn’t over yet. The last time I saw Brent McMahon he looked good, and seemed as if he was making up time. Around mile 21 I saw him again and was certain he was making up time on me. Unfortunately, I had to go to the washroom yet again. The difference between 1st and 2nd place was $10,000 and I knew that if I stopped in the port-a-john I would give back very precious time to Brent McMahon. I will spare you the details, as they can be found in my Real Starky interview here, but I will say, I decided to do the dirty deed. Fortunately, I had a very tight one-piece tri suit on, and this acted like an expensive diaper.

The final three miles were excruciatingly painful, both due to lack of stamina, as well as the terrible diaper rash I was developing. I ran scared the entire way. I was just waiting for Brent McMahon to fly by me. Fortunately, I rounded the final corner and came onto the finish carpet all alone. I finally allowed myself to believe that I was going to win a full distance Ironman. It was a very emotional moment for me. The swim was cancelled at Ironman Florida in 2014 so it never really felt like I had won one legitimately. This one was the real deal. I tried to put on my meanest, angriest face when grabbing the finish line banner, but all I could do was cry. Fortunately, Erin was there at the finish and gave me my medal and a big hug.

I really want to say thanks to everyone for cheering and following along, as well as for all the positive comments and feedback I have received throughout the year. If it wasn’t for you guys, this result would never have been possible. I am by no means satisfied with where my swim, bike or run are at, but I think this was the absolute best that I could do, with the fitness, tools and knowledge that I had. It was a great way to end 2015.

Thanks for reading and following along! Next week I will do my over-arching season review and then present what I plan on doing in 2016.

7 thoughts on “Ironman Arizona

  1. Awesome job Lionel, great race and season. Always look forward to your blog and following you throughout the season. Glad to hear you are going to keep going on your own without a coach, I think that’s awesome. I like to think my training and fitness is improving thanks to the lessons I learn from the experiences you write about, looking forward to hearing your plans for last season.

  2. Nicely done, Lionel! Really happy to see you win this race! I saw on the Infinit blog that you had a high concentration of Infinit in a single bottle. I’m really curious to hear how that worked for you, if you can share with us. Once again, congrats! I’m also looking forward to your next season. Rest well.

  3. Maybe the old (modified) ..
    “So long, fairwell My TJ say good bye- ay …do dut do la do do….”
    Great race Lionel…ya make us proud!!!

  4. Well done in AZ Lionel! Nice to see you finish the season on a high note and a good springboard for an even more successful 2016 season. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, lessons and journey with us. Enjoy the off season and Happy Holidays.

  5. I was streaming live for most of the race – loved it! So awesome to see two Canadians go head-to-head. Your bathroom breaks…oh man, too funny. Not pleasant, sure, but made me laugh regardless. Such a champ. Pumped to read what you’re up to next season! Maybe a western Canada race? Keep up that swimming!

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