Ironman Arizona (140.6)

 

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1 Year Prior

ONE YEAR PRIOR

Ironman Arizona 2013 had just happened and I had given birth to my second daughter a few days before that. I had been on bed rest for half my pregnancy and obviously had way too much time alone with my three year old because I decided I needed to do an Ironman before I moved out of the 25-29 age group. I’d have to do one in 2014 in order for that to happen. I considered many options (Arizona, Florida, Cozumel, etc). At the time I had a couple of teammates who were also looking at doing an Ironman so we all decided to shoot for Arizona.

IMAZ (Ironman Arizona) is notoriously hard to get into to. It’s the most popular triathlon in North America. It draws many triathletes in due to its’ cooler temps (mid 75 average), relatively flat course, lake swim, lack of humidity, among other things. In order to guarantee your spot you usually have to go down to AZ and volunteer the year before in order to get priority registration. Once the remaining spots go to the general public online they sell out in less than a minute (not even joking). I had gotten home from the hospital the day before registration opened up online. One of my biggest fears before I gave birth was that I’d still be in the hospital when registration opened and I wouldn’t be able to get in because of the hospital’s unreliable internet.

They day registration opened online I was on a phone call with friends trying to get in. As soon as the clock hit noon we all scrambled to register. I had all my info ready – demographic info, credit card, and USAT card. I immediately got in. Filling out the registration info was in itself a race. My heart was pounding and I was a little bit in shock realizing what I had just done. I remember looking in the mirror at myself after I registered thinking, “Ok, this is happening. I’ve got to lose this baby weight and start training because one year from now I’ll be an Ironman.” Easier said than done. I had 50 pounds to lose. It took me three months before I could run a 5k without stopping due to the excess weight and pelvic pain. Oh the joy of getting back into training!

I did drop the 50 pounds of baby weight though over time. I nursed my daughter until a month before the race. During my training, I usually pumped before my early morning Saturday workouts and then would loop back to my house every three hours to nurse again. As my daughter started to grow and get bigger it was always a reminder to me that this race was looming near. It’s like my dream to become an Ironman was growing as she did. I ended up logging over 3,000 swim, bike, and run miles during the year. Lots of swimming at 9 PM after the kids were asleep and when they were down for naps. My four year old got so use to me working out everyday she would walk on the treadmill while I was on my bike trainer. She looked forward to it everyday. She was sometimes the person who got me to do my workouts. Nothing quite like being called out by a four year old when I didn’t  feel like doing anything. Ha! When I realized how much work I had put into this it gave me a big confidence boost that I’d be able to at least finish the race.

RACE WEEK

Fast forward to a week before the race 2014. I was pretty jittery before I got to Arizona. I had all my things packed. My friend Chris and his wife Kathy Jo (also doing IMAZ) were kind enough to take my bike down for me. My daughter’s first birthday was on Friday, two days before the race. The thought of missing her birthday because of a race just killed me so I delayed my flight until Friday mid-day so I could at least spend the morning with her.

Athlete Check in!

Athlete Check in!

My husband Cameron and I arrived Friday at 1PM, we picked up our rental care (the rental place gave the same car to us and another couple so that was fun to straighten out). We went straight to the expo so I could check-in before the 5 PM cutoff. If I would’ve missed this check-in I would not have been able to race. I got all checked in, bought some stuff at the Ironman store and checked out the retail booths there. I LOVED IT! It was like being in triathlon Disney Land. I got to meet Heather Jackson on Friday and Mirinda Carfrae on Saturday.

Heather Jackson was great to meet. She ended up taking 3rd overall female. It was also her first full Ironman. Besties.

Heather Jackson was great to meet. She ended up taking 3rd overall female. It was also her first full Ironman. Besties :D

 

Hangin out with the 3 x Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae!

Hangin out with the 3 x Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae!

SATURDAY (RACE DAY EVE)

Friday night I had such a bad night’s sleep. The neighbors of the rental house we were at threw a party from midnight to around 3 AM. I ended up pulling out my swim earplugs to help drown out the noise. I shared the house with three other athletes (Don, Chris and his wife Kathy Jo) and their family members. We all woke up Saturday morning and headed to Tempe Beach Park for the practice swim and the mandatory gear check-in.

Bike is checked in!

Bike is checked in!

The practice swim went great. The water was murky but not bad at all. I had swam in much worse water than that. The water was cool enough to keep you cooled off while swimming but not cold enough to need booties or a neoprene cap. It was perfect! By now my nerves had almost completely calmed down. I was ready. I felt great in the water. I did a 20 minute easy swim and then biked another 20 minutes after that. It was wonderful to be able to check out the swim prior to the race and a little bit of the bike course.

We didn’t hang around the expo very much on Saturday. We went to Walmart to get some food supplies to cook dinner and rest up. We had grilled chicken, sweet potato, and roasted cauliflower and broccoli for dinner. It was delicious. All of us were in bed by 9 PM. Right about then the neighbors decided it would be a good time to blast some tunes so I grabbed my earplugs again and hit the couch that was on the other side of the house. I slept from 10 PM – 3 AM. From 3 AM – 4:30 AM I thought I was awake but realized I had dreamt about the race. I had a dream I was riding my bike to the start and couldn’t quite make it there.

RACE DAY

4:30 AM – alarm goes off. All of us are out the door by 5 AM. I ate my trio bar and banana on the way. I wasn’t nervous at all. No room for fear or anxiety. I was ready. Ready for this day to start and ready to give it my all. Cameron, my husband dropped us off about three quarters of a mile away from Tempe Beach Park because the bridge was closed. Walking across the bridge all lit up while it was dark was surreal. As soon as I got into the transition area I dropped off my special needs bags and put my water bottles on my bike and pumped up my tires to the correct PSI. I ran into the Hardy brothers (Scott and James) in the transition area. They are also BAM (Balanced Art Multisport) athletes and I have been training with them the last few months. We walked over to the porta potty line together. I made it out before both of them. I told them that’s probably the only thing I’m going to beat them at today and I should probably get a medal for it. ;)

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Bridges before the start. Eerily beautiful

 

Transition area an hour before the start.

Transition area an hour before the start.

We then made out way over to the body marking area; got body marked, dropped off our morning gear bags, and got our swim gear on. We had no time to lose because we got in line to get in the water just in time. As I was milling about in the huge crowd of area group athletes I looked to my left and low and behold my friend Tommy was standing right next to me. We had a good short nervous laugh that we were standing right next to each other. As we were standing in the herd of people we heard a loud BANG! Looks like the pro race started.

SWIM PORTION

I made my way down the half flight of stairs that ended in me jumping feet first in the water. When I did the practice swim the day before the volunteer said I’d probably hit bottom jumping off the stairs. Yeah, no. I sank about 10 feet and popped back up (thank you wetsuit). The athletes had to swim under two bridges to get to the starting line (about 300 yards away). I made my way to the middle of the pack on the right side towards the wall. I spent the next 2-3 minutes listening to Mike Reilly talk while trying to get my goggles to clear up.

My nerves were rock solid. I was ready to get this party started! I faintly remember Mike Reilly saying, “may the wind always be at your back”, right before the cannon went off for the age group start. I laugh now at what he said because all of us in the water had no idea what kind of wind we’d be experiencing that day. My husband (where’s waldo grand master) managed to find me in the water before the start. Check out this video of me during the mass start!

I started a bit fast and then settled into a consistent pace. There were people all around me. No big open pockets of water. I LOVED IT!! I could feel the energy in the water. It was as if we were all sharing one mind, one focus, like swimming in a school of fish.

I made it to the turnaround point and checked my watch. 45 minutes. Not bad, not bad. If I keep it up I’ll make it back in 1:30 (my best goal time). That’s when things started to get crazier. People were veering left instead of straight and were swimming outside the line of buoys. I felt a big wave and popped my head out of the water to see what caused it. No boats, just volunteers in kayaks yelling at people to get back on the right side of the buoys. Again, I hit a decent wave in the water. It was the wind. The wind was starting to pick up and we were swimming directly into it. At this point I was going under the bridges and was close to the swim exit. I was ready to be out of the water. I rallied my strength and pushed to the swim finish. I was clawing the water, hungry to start the bike portion of the race.

I put my hands on the metal stairs and boosted myself out of the water. The volunteers helped me up the steps so I didn’t slip and fall (thank you volunteers!). Swim time – 1:45:25. My goal time was 1:30-1:45 so I was still happy with the swim. My watch also said I had swum 2.84 miles instead of 2.4 miles. Looks like I wasn’t the straightest swimmer myself! Ha ha!

Fresh (kind of) out of the water.

Fresh (kind of) out of the water.

I ran up to a couple of wetsuit strippers. They got my wetsuit off lickity split. During the swim my armpit had started to sting at the turnaround point. I looked down at my armpit and of course it was bleeding. Such a lovely place to get rubbed raw. I don’t think I pulled my wetsuit up on that arm enough. I didn’t let the small amount of bleeding bother me and I ran up to the chute to the swim gear bags. A volunteer handed me mine and I ran to the changing tent. I changed into cycling shorts and got on all of my cycling gear. I stopped at the sunscreen station. All you have to do is hold your arms and 3-4 people wipe you down with sunblock. It was so awesome!

I ran to find my bike, grabbed it and ran to the bike out. I made it to the mount line, got on my bike and was off. T1 time – 6:36. There were a lot of people around me in the narrow chute so I made sure not to cause a crash and be aware of those around me. As I exited the shoot I spotted Suz and Carmen cheering on the sidelines. They both lit up when they saw me and shouted my name. I had a huge grin on my face for at least 30 minutes after that.

BIKE PORTION

As I made my way out of town I loved seeing all of the spectators cheering for their family and friends. Once I got past the taller buildings and crowds I noticed an American flag on a pole standing straight out in the wind. I remember thinking, “Oh dear, that’s going to be a special treat”. The course was a three loop 37 mile out and back route. I turned north on the beeline highway and the wind hit me like a ton of bricks. I instantly thought back to the ride I did with the BAM group where we rode out to Antelope Island and back. The wind was comparable and I estimated it to be 25-35 mph (later found out it was exactly that).

Headed out of town.

Headed out of town.

I was going between 10-14 mph into that horrid headwind. I didn’t let it get to me though. There was nothing I could do to change the wind so it was a matter of mentally adjusting my game plan and just dealing with it. The pros were on their second and third laps of the bike and were passing the age groupers like the wind didn’t exist for them at all. It was awesome to see them pass by. I loved hearing the disk wheels zip past me. Although I bet a few of the pros were not very happy that they were using a full rear disk wheel. I made it to the turnaround point and caught the tail wind coming back. WOWZAS! I topped out at 37 mph. I saw lots of friends and teammates that were headed out on their second loop of the bike when I was headed back into town. I made it the turnaround and started my second loop. Cameron (my husband), my dad and my stepmom were at the turnaround and shouted for me. I loved that they were there for me. It gave me a huge mental boost as I started the second loop. I also spotted Rory Duckworth. He was holding a food takeout box and yelled at me “RACHEL DO YOU WANT SOME SALAD?!” He did it again when I passed him on the other side of the road too. So funny!

Embracing the suck that was that headwind.

Embracing the suck that was that headwind.

The second loop was the hardest for me. I tried to stay mentally positive even though the long line of cyclists out of town looked like a death ride. There were 4-5 ambulances along the course treating people who had crashed. I had already drunk three bottles of my nutrition and was completely out of my CarboRocket mix. The athlete guide said the special needs bags would be around the halfway point. Turns out it was about 10 miles past that point. 10 miles normally wouldn’t be a big deal but when you’re going 12 mph it can take nearly a full hour to get there. I was happy I’d packed a payday bar and some GU chomps in my bento box as a backup. I used that plus the water at the aid stations to fill the hour of time so I didn’t get behind on my nutrition.

Right around this time car traffic was starting to build up on the other side of the freeway. I remember a lady sticking her head out of her car window and yelling, “WHEN DOES THIS RACE END?!”. I burst out laughing. Sorry lady the race doesn’t end until midnight.

When I did make it to the special needs bags a volunteer helped me swap out my bottles. She was an awesome help. When I was headed back into town a volunteer was yelling at people to slow down because the wind was causing people to crash. I made my way back into town and saw my dad and stepmom at the turnaround point again. Again, it gave me another boost as I started the third loop. Before the race I also wrote over 100 names on my water bottles with marker. I included all of the names of family, friends, and people who have encouraged and inspired me. Each time I’d take a sip I’d see a familiar name and it brought a smile to me face every time.

Headed out for another loop.

Headed out for another loop.

The third loop was the easiest for me. I pushed myself harder than the other loops. I passed at least a hundred people on the way to the turnaround point. I was giddy that I was almost done with the bike portion of the race. As I was making my way through the wind an athlete on the side of the road asked if I had any extra tubes with a long stem on them. I had two tubes on me so of course I stopped for 1-2 minutes to help him out. Turns out he had already had three flats that day and had been waiting 30 minutes for the sag wagon. He later caught up to me and passed me and gave me the “may the rest of your race go well” blessing.

As soon as I caught the tailwind for the last time I booked it back to town. It ended up taking me around 1:40 to get to the turnaround point and only 40 minutes to get back. That’s how strong the winds were that day. I ended up spending 5 hours dealing with a strong head wind and 2 hours cruising with the tail wind.

I loved coming into the bike chute near the transition area. The crowd was going nuts and I was so happy I was done riding in the wind. My goal time for the bike was 6-7 hours. My bike time 7:03:59. I didn’t care that I was a few minutes over my goal. Looking at my Garmin data it appears my bathroom breaks and special needs bag stop took 15 minutes of time. There was about 2,300 feet of climbing. That course didn’t have any real hills but there was some false flats on the way to the bike turnaround.

So awesome seeing so many huge cacti on the course.

So awesome seeing so many huge cacti on the course.

I ran to the run gear bags, got my bag, and ran into the changing tent. I changed into my team tri short and swapped my cycling gear for running gear. T2 time – 5:48.

RUN PORTION

Right before I finished the bike portion I realized I could walk the entire marathon if need be and still finish before the cutoff time. I definitely didn’t want to do that but it was a relief knowing I’d still finish if worse came to worse.

This was my first marathon. I had no idea what to expect so when I sent my race place to my coach (Jen Johnson) I told her I’d run for 4 minutes then walk 1 minute and repeat that for as long as I could. She told me to run very easy for as long as I could and walk the aid stations. She also sent me this –

“Know that you are supposed to feel tired….it is an Ironman. But you have worked so hard for this so don’t throw it out the window. You don’t have to win the race but don’t ever give up and continue to give it all you have. I don’t want anything left when you finish. That isn’t why you have trained so hard and consistently this last year. Sacrifices have been made so give it everything!!! You will find that strength and energy down deep.” I may have cried a bit when I read this. I HAD worked SO HARD and made sacrifices in order to make this dream a reality.

"Continue to give it all you have."  Thanks Coach Jen!

“Continue to give it all you have.” Thanks Coach Jen!

So I ran, slowly. I made myself go out slow when my legs wanted to turn over quicker. Before I knew it the first aid station appeared, and then the next one and the next one! At mile four I wanted to scream at everyone, “HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?! HOW ARE WE DOING THIS?!” I couldn’t understand why my body was still was moving. I felt good, I felt great! I was tired but it was always the furthest thought in the back of my mind. Every time I’d run past a crowd of people they’d yell “GO RACHEL!” or “BAM!!” The energy of the volunteers and spectators was phenomenal.

The course was a 2 loop 13.1 mile course that followed the water we had swam in earlier that morning. I loved running next to the water. It was weird to think that just 9 or so hours earlier was when we all started the race at that same location. I noticed my body was caked in dirt and salt from being out for so long. I would take a couple of cups of water from the aid station and give myself a mini shower to clean myself off a bit.

The sun was starting to set and the temperature was starting to drop. It was perfect. Even though the run course had no tree shade cover I never baked in the sun. The tall buildings of the inner city blocked the wind and provided some shade. It was wonderful. The miles just passed by so quickly. At around mile six I was running across a bridge and saw Chris and Don headed back to start their second loop. We all yelled with excitement and had a group hug. It was like finding long lost brothers on the course.

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Chris, Don, and I reunited on the run!

Once it was dark they started having warm chicken broth at the aid station. I could feel the warm liquid make its’ way down my throat and into my belly. Ahh… so nice. At mile 15 I started drinking shots of flat coke. That stuff is the best on a long run!! I also ate bacon, chips, grapes, and orange slices. I had a handheld bottle full of CarboRocket that I’d sip every 10-15 minutes so I was getting plenty of calories.

At the halfway point I got my special needs bag. I put on a fresh pair of socks, refilled my handheld bottle, took some ibuprofen, and tapped my knee with rock tape. This all took 2-3 extra minutes and made me a lot more comfortable for the second loop. My husband found me at this point and asked how I was doing. He ran a long side me for a half mile or so. It felt great to have him by my side even if it was for a short time.

Tick tick tick. Time continued to pass and I continued my slow run. I felt like I was in a time warp. I never hit the wall and was still feeling great. I just trucked along and enjoyed it. The last two hours I passed about a hundred people if not more. People who had passed me at the start of the run were now spent. The last hour was like a scene out of the Walking Dead. Not many runners left, mostly walkers. I slowly passed them and made my way along the constant stream of people. I was on cloud nine. Things were going much better than I ever expected them to be.

When I was about a half mile away from the finish I could hear Mike Reilly calling people’s names at the finish line. My heart leapt into my throat. This was it. This was what I worked for an entire year for. My dream was about to come to fruition. I picked up my pace, turned a corner and the finisher’s chute was right there! I took my time going down the chute and tried to soak it all in. I heard Mike Reilly say my name, “Rachel Butterfield, run into the light, you are and IRONMAN!” Words I’ll never forget. I AM AN IRONMAN.

Best Race Moment Ever!

Best Race Moment Ever!

A volunteer placed my medal around my neck and I got my picture taken. My friend Don had finished two hours before me but he had waited for me to come in. He made sure I got some pizza, chocolate milk and got me signed up for a short massage at the massage tent. Thank you Don! I was kind of in shock at that point. I had a couple of space blankets wrapped around me and I still couldn’t get warm. I was shaking like crazy. My husband then found me. He had already packed up all of my gear so I didn’t have to go get it out of transition. He also had my warm clothes from my morning gear bag with him. Hooray! I’m so grateful that he was there to support me for not only that day but throughout the past year. Not many husbands would want their wife to do an Ironman so soon after having a baby. He sacrificed his time and needs in order to make my dream come true. I love him for that and for many other reasons.

I look weird and gross in this pic. Guess that's what happens after 14+ hours on the course. :P

I look weird and gross in this pic. Guess that’s what happens after 14+ hours on the course. :P

My dad and stepmom then found me. They had driven 12 hours the day before to make it to my race, watched my 12+ hour race and then had to make the drive home. I really appreciate it!!

Big thank you to the people and coaches at Balanced Art Multisport! I joined their team in June and I’m so glad I did. I took their advice on every aspect of the race and it made my experience such a pleasant one! I thoroughly enjoyed training and racing with them! Coach Wes and Jen Johnson came down just to Arizona just to support their athletes. I love that they are willing to do that for their athletes. It was great to see them on the course! Coach Jen also found me at the finish line and congratulated me.

Thanks to Josh at Lostris Massage. He gives the best sports massages and had me loose and ready for the race.

Thank you to CartboRocket for sending me some product right before the race so I’d have enough. I love their product. I use their caffeine free grape and orange half evil 333 mix. I didn’t bonk or get any stomach issues for the entire race!

Congrats to my friends and teammates who also participated! Many of them crushed the course and cut hours, that’s right HOURS off their previous Ironman times. Simply amazing!

Thank you to all my family and friends who tracked me during my race or sent me notes of support! It meant the world to me! I couldn’t have accomplished this race without such a huge support system.

I ended up finishing the marathon in 5:18:32. My goal time was 5-6 hours so I was thrilled I ended up running the entire thing, even if it was a very slow run. The run had almost 1,000 feet of climbing. Looks like my bathroom breaks and special needs bag stop accounted for 11 minutes of my run time.

My goal time for the entire race was 13-14:45 hours. I finished in 14:20:20. I took 35th in my age group out of 80ish women in the 25-29 age group. I took 1,583rd place out of 3,200 participants male and female. After I finished I immediately wanted to sign up to do another one so I could see how much time I could cut off. That feeling is still there. I only got 2-3 hours of sleep that night because I was still buzzing. I absolutely loved this race and the experience I got from it. The most fun I’ve ever had during a race!

DREAM.COME.TRUE.

DREAM.COME.TRUE.

 

3 finishers with 3 finishers' jackets on.

3 finishers with 3 finishers’ jackets on.

 

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IMAZ stats.

 

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