A good race report is intended to recap the events of a race and how it went for the athlete. A good race report is also intended to express sufficient gratitude to those who helped get the athlete to the starting line, as well as across the finish line. The very intent and nature of a race report, then, is to be optimistic for not only what has transpired but also for what is planned for the athlete going forward. Unlike my intents for Ironman Arizona, then, this race report should be successful on all three counts.
Arizona was my third Ironman, and the decision to enter was somewhat hasty. Granted, I had been itching to do a long-course triathlon for some time, but when I received the text from friend, neighbor, and now fellow-Ironman Josh, events were set into motion.
At the time, I was an at-home dad, taking care of the preschool boy and few-month-old girl, while also searching for a new job that would allow Nicholle to resign and be at home. One morning, I off-handedly sent a text to Nicholle, telling her that Josh had gotten into Arizona. Given the prospects for our long-term plan of my returning to work and her resigning were looking positive, she asked if I wanted to go, too. After a few more exchanges and a visit to Ironman.com, I found myself registered to race.
The training plan for Arizona was intended to mimic that of what I used for Texas in 2011: Steady base building until four months out, then begin focused training of one key workout per week while sustaining work across three disciplines. For example, week one would be swim-focused, with one, long swim set thrown into regular workout sessions; week two would be bike-focused; week three, run. The fourth week would have no long sets but regular sessions of swimming, cycling, running before starting the focused weeks over again. Additionally, there would be strength training, as well as indoor rowing and stretching.
Such was the plan.
Like all best laid plans o’mice and men, this plan was rapidly riddled with complexities, ranging from a return to full-time work for both me and Nicholle; balancing time with family, work, and working out; as well as living with the complications of MS. While I do not have multiple sclerosis, Nicholle does, and when her symptoms are exacerbated, they often will ripple throughout the family. These symptoms can manifest in her experiencing feelings of extraordinary lethargy, difficulty with balance and/or walking, or even outright paralysis. While that last one happened only when Nicholle was fighting an infection and her fever spiked, any one of the symptoms surfacing meant training time took a back seat.
There was a lot of back seat time.
Still, I managed to get in some regular riding and running—and even swimming—the first half of 2016, but then I went back to work, teaching and coaching at a nearby high school. The lack of a swimming pool meant early morning practices in a neighboring district and late nights in the classroom or at home grading papers; family time took priority to training time in what little free time I was afforded. Non-swim meet Saturdays meant running in the morning and house/family stuff thereafter. Sundays offered early AM rides and then family and prep work for the week ahead. Ironically, triathlon helped prepare me for the constant juggling of so much with so few resources.
The Wednesday prior to race weekend, Josh and I piled all of our gear and bikes into his truck and hopped on I-10 West for the next fourteen hours until we hit Tempe. It was a long, punishing drive to Tempe that we hoped would take us longer than it would take us to complete Sunday’s race.
Once in Tempe, we got ourselves settled in for what would be home for the next few days. There were some difficulties with the condo setup to sort out, but I think everything got sorted out fairly OK-like. We had a place to eat and sleep and store our bikes until race day, so, in-all, we were good.
The race village at Ironman Arizona was a more lively, interesting experience than either Texas or Coeur d’Alene. Over the next few days, we were treated to pneumatic massages from Normatec and Rapid Reboot, great on-site food and talks by pros (including Kelly Williamson, with whom I have shared a running dialogue on subjects ranging from running to MS advocacy for several years; there is no better ambassador for sport), as well as the merchandise tent. Without question, WTC took lessons from Yogurt himself.
💩 = real pic.twitter.com/KN9qTHDmvc— Dale Seiler (@off242) November 17, 2016
On Saturday morning, Josh and I checked our bikes and gear bags before dipping into Tempe Town Lake for a practice swim. I felt fairly relaxed and comfortable with the 66-degree water temps. Despite my wetsuit showing signs of aging (beginnings of tearing around the arms were present in the previous two swims I’d done, but I just hoped the suit would hold), it performed flawlessly as before, so I held off on buying a new wetsuit from any of the vendors present. Besides, most didn’t have my size on-hand.
Once all gear-check, practice swimming, and whatnot were all wrapped, it was back to the condo for nourishment and an afternoon of resting. Talk about challenging but worth it.
Racked. Marked. Ready. @joshadms79 @CobbCycling @IRONMANtri #imaz #neverstop #curems pic.twitter.com/K0cbtugqGO— Dale Seiler (@off242) November 20, 2016
Come race day, I found myself both fatigued and nervous. Despite several days away from challenges and demands of work and family life, I found myself unable to sleep soundly, for my mind was typically elsewhere with what I was missing out on from work and family alike. It was quite the conundrum I was (fortunately) able to set aside once my feet hit the water and the timer on the Ambit3 Sport was ticking. Sadly, such calm would be short-lived.
Within 100 meters of the swim, I knew something was wrong. I was experiencing a difficult time in controlling my breathing, which, as I continued to swim, I learned to be caused by excess water seeping into the suit through those tears around the arms. These tears would cause the arm to fill with water as I entered the water for the catch and pull; as the arm exited the water for recovery, there was additional weight of water. Every stroke was executed as though I had a bucket of water strapped to each arm. For 2.4 miles.
As I exited the water and peeled the wetsuit off, I felt much better due to being out of the water and being out of the water faster than expected. The trot to T1 was much quicker than I had anticipated and left me feeling ready for the 112 miles ahead. That was, of course, before I tried to tuck into my aerobars.
Because my arms were so fatigued from the 2.4-mile bucket swim, I had a difficult time getting comfortable in the aero position—which was crucial for the brutal headwind we had to fight on each of the outbound portions of the 3-loop bike course. Fortunately, there was a tailwind on the return of the first and most of the return on the second loop; any wind advantage had disappeared as the desert winds shifted with the wearing-on of the day. The saving grace were the overcast skies and a mercifully pleasant air temperature. Having such well-stocked aid stations and stupendous volunteers helped keep the mind focused and balanced as I fought to maintain my balance on the bike in a mostly upright position; getting aero was just too painful on sore arms, but the trade-off would come in form of legs sore from being forced to work differently than much of training had demanded. Being so fatigued and in less-than-idyllic shape didn’t help matters any.
Despite all of the seeming disadvantages though which I toiled, I still managed to hit T2 with a sub-6-hour bike split. If I could manage to eek out a 4-ish hour run (one of my goals), I could still manage a sub-12 hour finish (yet another of my goals). Such lofty goals, however, were put to pasture within the first 10k of the run.
Sure, I started out at what I thought was a good pace, running what I thought was just shy of a 9-minute mile. But, because the Ambit3 was not shifting sport modes thereby allowing me to see things like pacing and heart rate, I had precious little to go on to reliably track my pace mile-by-mile. By the time I hit the first turn-around on the run course, I found myself utterly drained, demoralized, and in full-on damage control. Still, as I shuffled along at little more than a walk, I vowed I would finish, no matter the time. I would not stop. I would fight on because Nicholle and so many others impacted by MS couldn’t.
Finishing the first loop left a large temptation in the form of splitting off and just accepting a DNF, but it was not for me. I all but literally limped into the special needs section of the run course and applied a bit more Chamois Butt’r where needed and downed a gel. Within seconds I felt like fresh and began a brisk trot. My hydration belt kept slipping down past my hips, making running uncomfortable, so I unclipped it and wrapped it around my left hand; this helped—a lot. As the sun set, I began to sprint the sandy portions along the trail and used the paved portions as recovery, kind of like a ramped-up variant of the Galloway Method. Miles ticked by much more quickly, and I continued to feel fresh through the first half of the second loop. By 20 miles, though, I was hurting. So it was back walking along for a few more miles.
With 5k to go, I found myself in a good stride, chatting with and encouraging others along the way while also being encouraged. We were all miserable and ready for the race to be over, but there was only one way for that to happen: Get across the finish line as quickly as possible.
The split into the finishing chute was a most welcome site, running onto the carpet and across the finishing line. Hearing my name (mispronounced, again) as an educator and father and 2-time finisher announced as I approached the finish line put spring in my legs, as I crossed the line, right arm held high and three fingers held higher. While the third time was not exactly the charm, I did finish. I was and am, again, an Ironman.
Suffering through this race, now one month ago, made me very aware of just how much of a toll the past five years had taken on me, physically and psychologically. A couple of days before the race, I chatted with a friend about my preparation and how I felt going into the race, joking that this race would be mostly run on muscle memory. Fortunately, there was a lot of memory in what remained of my muscles, even as five years’ worth of life with small children and the ripple effects of multiple sclerosis multiplied what would have been considered normal on someone of my age and ability.
At the time I crossed the finish line, I considered Ironman Arizona to have been my worst race ever.
No. 3 is in the books. (Even if it was my worst. Race. Ever.) pic.twitter.com/PkroyTfb9A— Dale Seiler (@off242) November 21, 2016
Looking back, and taking into perspective that I was even able to cross the line, it was miraculous what was managed to be accomplished in a little less than twelve and one-half hours. While that finishing time of 12:24:19 (and the abysmal marathon time of 4:48:04) kept me way outside of my time goals for this race, I cannot lose sight of reality: I finished.
The race would not have been possible without incredible motivation and support from Nicholle, as well as Josh (who had a fantastic first-time Ironman finish in just over twelve hours!), a great friend, neighbor, training buddy, and now fellow-Ironman. Additional on-site support came from Jen, Sharon, and Leah, as well as their respective entourages; it was incredible and incredibly helpful to have so many on-course to cheer and help smooth things out race morning.
I totally have to say thank you to pro triathlete Kelly Williamson for taking the time to talk at the race expo, as well as recording “You-Go-Girl” video for Nicholle. Again, there is no better ambassador for sport.
Another shout-out goes to Rudy Project (who sponsors me in the form of discounts on Technically Cool eyewear and helmets) and my rep, Ryan Marts, for hooking me and Josh up on aero helmets when it became clear that the Boost 01 helmet I ordered at the beginning of the year wouldn’t arrive in time for the race. The Wing57 totally served its purpose and is worth well more than its weight in gold, given how ultra-light the helmet is.
Thank you, also to the countless volunteers on-course and behind the scenes. You make Ironman happen.
What’s next, I cannot really say. I’m toying with the idea of selling my trusty Cannondale Slice (and a few other bikes in the stable) in order to get a nicer mountain bike for tooling around and maybe even some Xterra racing, but Nicholle has asked me to put the idea of Ironman Boulder on my back burner. Probably not for 2017, but maybe in 2018. The kids will be older and more manageable (ha!), Nicholle’s DMT (disease modifying therapy) Lemtrada will be going into its third cycle meaning hopefully continued improvement for her (thereby us), and her folks live in nearby Denver means an extended vacation of sorts. But then there’s the whole paying for it (and at the very least a new wetsuit), to say nothing of actually training for the race. Yeah. Me, train.
Much like the race itself, making it through this race report was quite the endeavor. No, it didn’t take me an entire month to write it; rather, the delay in writing and publication came about as a consequence of what kept me from adequately preparing for Ironman Arizona: Life.
Thanks for reading.