My hunger for endurance sports started in 2008 when I ran my first race, the NYC Marathon. Since then it has literally changed my life, inspiring me to chase goals that at one point may have seemed impossible. One of these goals was to race an Ironman.
Earlier this year I began my training for Ironman Arizona, which always takes place in late November. After a few runs and a bike here and there I started to think that maybe my lofty ‘train when I feel like it’ plan might not cut it on race day. That’s when I recruited the help of Sonja, a 6-time Ironwoman, to coach me. her and I have similar outlooks on racing and life in general so I thought she would be perfect. I was correct. She whooped me into Ironman shape and although it was far from easy, it made all the difference on race day.
I arrived in Arizona on Thursday night before the race. It was late and I needed to rent a car and get to our hotel. Did I mention that the last time I drove an automobile was over a year ago? One of the pros and cons to living in mighty Manhattan, you don’t need a car! Exhausted, and quite excited to see some desert terrain the next morning, I went to bed.
Waking up to a dessert sunrise is amazing. I had some coffee and watched the news before setting out for the athlete check-in. SIDENOTE: Ironman isn’t as important to the people of Arizona as one might think. The news cast went something like this… “Tomorrow looks to be an exciting day here in Tempe as ASU gears up to play! Sunday is the Ironman race so watch out for traffic delays.”
Check-in was relatively painless and within 15 minutes I was all set. The Expo was bumpin’ and very full of energy. It’s very different from a Marathon Expo, I don’t know why. Actually, I’m lying—I do know why. I have a breakdown for endurance sports, but it might offend some people, but that’s life. Remember, I do all 3 of the sports I am about to bust on.
Level of laid back, most sportsman like in order:
Bikers = Total assholes
Runners = for the most part, very cool, with 50% being anti-social jerks
Swimmers = laid back hippies, always friendly and willing to chat before a race
Triathletes = 99% laid back friendly with a 1% asshole ratio because there are bikers involved
Next I went to ride the bike course! From my hotel it was a straight shot out onto the Beeline Highway, where 80 percent of the ride takes place. I was in awe of the scenery! There were lots of other riders looking very serious, but here I was with a huge smile looking this way and that, trying to find the perfect cactus (I’m such a city slicker). One thing I did notice was the heat. I could tell that even though I wasn’t sweating, I needed to keep hydrated.
Back toward the hotel I was feeling a bit hungry so I went in search of food. What did I find? A deli that made a hero-style sandwich that was very close to New York City standards! I gave it 8 out of 10. After which, I chilled out at my hotel before picking Abbe up from la aeroporta.
On Saturday, we both went for a leisurely run (me having a leisurely bike ride before of course) before heading out to pick up one of my best friends from college, Alex. We then dropped off my bike and transition bags before hitting a local venue for some tacos!
After lunch I just had to drive them out onto the bike course, it was THAT cool! We went out to the Red Mountain (the turn around on the course) and explored a bit.
The rest of the day was spent by the pool before we headed out to Old Scottsdale for some pasta!
In bed and asleep by 9PM! (I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that there were a few beers thrown in to help me sleep!)
I awoke without my alarm at 4AM and set about making coffee, oatmeal and preparing my Special Needs Bags for the bike and run. We were out the door by 5:15 and I was in Transition by 5:30.
SIDENOTE: I look like crap. An Ironman? Really?
The energy was beyond amazing. It was pitch black out and everyone was going about their business setting up T1 and dropping off Special Needs Bags. I was done with those tasks by 6 and had an hour to chill, so I busted out my oatmeal and people watched. One thing I noticed was how disorganized some people were, cutting it really close with all the drop-offs! I mean, c’mon people, it’s an Ironman, punctuality should be the least of your problems!
Thirty minutes before the start I went into Transition and started changing into my trusty wetsuit. The water was 61 degrees, but from swimming in the Hudson in early May every year I was ready. We all huddled together (very March of the Penguins-esque) and slowly moved to the swim entrance.
The Pros went off at 6:45 and we had 15 minutes to get in the water and swim the 200 meters to the Start Buoys. Some people were questioning whether we would set off on time. Personally, I wasn’t too concerned, knowing that the water was icy cold, the less time before the start gun the better even if I was in the back. I was actually extremely calm and relaxed.
I jumped off the dock into the lake and was hit with a cold water shock. Knowing that I simply needed to generate some heat I started calmly swimming up under the bridge. I was to the right, midway back, right where I was supposed to be. I floated on my back to conserve energy and because I was really happy. In my head I thought, “This is really happening, I am at the start of the Ironman…”
Without warning the cannon (yes, a cannon) fired and the piranha attack began. I put my head down and started easing into the masses. I was almost immediately kicked square in the eye socket and had to fix my goggles. Arms and legs were everywhere, a giant swimming ‘Rush Hour’ if you will, where the only place to go is forward. I have been beaten up pretty bad in a swim before, but never like this. I was also in no way scared, which is night and day from my childhood swimming experiences. For the whole swim I was elbowing or being elbowed, shaking off hands from my feet (thank God I’m not ticklish). Within 300-500 meters, I found a groove and stuck to it. I knew that my swim time would be the worst, but I also knew it’s part of the protocol and had to get done, so that’s what I did.
We were swimming into the sunrise and it was a very beautiful thing. The light was almost like a blinding guide to the turnaround point, which actually came quick.
This (I think, anyway) is where my swim turned to garbage. As I made the giant turn to come back home I felt some slight fatigue set in. It also didn’t help that people were swimming over top of me. In fact I was so annoyed at one point that I literally pushed someone on my right with my foot and sent them 5 feet to the right, Ninja style, punk. You can’t train for that move, can you?
The bridges at the Start just weren’t coming fast enough. I felt slow and sloppy. I had been swimming for 1:30 now and the cold had now set in and was affecting my performance. “Get it done, Chris,” I told myself. I even thought about quitting for a hot second, before flashing back to what happened to my Dad. He sure as hell didn’t quit his fight with cancer. This was just a silly race—a race I chose. So I swam.
Popping up onto the stairs, I went right to the wetsuit strippers. My guy yelled at me, “Lay down man!” and in one swoop had me stripped of my wetsuit. Wow, if only I had that at every triathlon! Thanks guys!
Running along I suddenly realized that I was shaking from the cold. Run, just run and get the legs warmed up. Arriving in the T1 tent I was happy to see it was heated. I slowly pulled my arm warmers on as a volunteer checked on me. “Hey man, how we doing you okay?” “Y-y-yes. J-j-just freezing.”
TIME: 1:44:01 PLACE: 2293 out of 2500 (yikes)
Riding out of T1 I saw Abbe and Alex (who snapped this amazingly timed picture!). A gal next to me looked over as we were getting moving and said, “So. Cold. So very very cold.” I, also freezing, yelled at her, “Hang on, we are almost in the sun!” Hours later we would all be wishing for that cold back as the dessert is no moderate place to race.
The bike course is a 3 loop out and back, and when I say out I mean it! You ride 19 miles out into the dessert to the Red Mountain! SO sinister sounding right? The beauty of the course is that it is relatively flat.
My body was hurting for the first trek out to the mountain. I even said to myself, “Wow. That swim kicked my ass.” I couldn’t get comfortable and my lower back hurt right from the start. I just followed our plan and kept my heart rate up and steady, drinking my EFS every so often. I was told not to focus on passing people, but I was passing everybody.
Arriving at the Red Mountain is something out of Mad Max. Here you are riding along this desolate (very desolate) dessert highway and then, ‘Blam!’ you round a corner and it’s like an aid station party in the middle of nowhere! People cheering and handing out everything possible. As I turned around I dropped it down to a low low gear and blasted back toward Tempe. The return is more of a downhill, so you can really crush it. I think I was pushing 35 MPH.
Somewhere along here I ran into my friend Michelle who races with Tri2Be. We had a quick chat before I kept going. I saw many Tri2Be racers out there and cheered them on every time I saw them, yelling “Tri2Be NYC Go!” I even yelled to their coach, Ramon, and said hello, confusing him. (I looked into joining their team a year ago so I had emailed with him a few times.)
Back in sunny Tempe, Arizona I was roughly 2 hours into the bike, 1:50 to be exact. The crowds were thick (as thieves) but I was soon out of their sight as I looped around and headed back towards the sands. I really had to pee so, remembering what a few Ironman friends had told me, I started peeing. I would have lost 10 minutes easy by pulling over to pee. That’s right, I peed my pants on the bike. The funny part is (not to anyone around me) is that I was moving at 20MPH. That’s right, lets put the facts together. Peeing your paper thin Tri Shorts while moving 20MPH… it sprays EVERYWHERE behind you! The funny thing is I didn’t realize it was leaving a wake until I looked back and was like, “Oh my god!” I chuckled and thought, “It’s the Ironman, could be worse.”
Back on the Beeline Highway heading North by Northwest I felt 100 times better than I did the first lap. I was drinking my EFS, water and munching on Clif Bars, maintaining my pace. Every now and then a group of the Pros would blast by at like 25MPH. Totally bad ass.
As I rounded the turn about, this time I pulled over, grabbed a water bottle and jammed it into my aero bottle. Also in my peripheral was this box of mini-Powerbars. I grabbed one. I emptied it in and sped off with speed, much like a Formula 1 racer might do at pit stop. I was quietly proud of myself.
As I prepared to enter Mach 3 on the downhill portion of the bike, a new factor presented itself… the Mighty South Wind! It was easily gusting at 20-30MPH and slowed me down to 17 MPH from 29. It angered me. In fact, the wind always angers me when it rears its head because it’s this invisible thing. Where does it come from? How does it start? Is the jet stream this constant roller coaster of air? I don’t know because I went to art school, but I sure can decorate a house.
Bike Special Needs is your opportunity to refill on any goodies you might have used up on the previous 3 hours of the bike. You pull over by your number and they bring you your bag, which you hopefully filled with something appropriate. Mine had 2 fresh water bottles and a Clif Bar. I swapped out the old stuff with the new and took off, excited to drink more EFS! It’s so good, especially the 3rd and 4th bottle of it! That was an example of sarcasm.
Back in sunny Tempe, I (once again) turned around and headed back toward the dreaded (once mighty) Red Mountain. I needed to destroy the One Ring in the fires of the Red Mountain, wait, wait, different race. I did however have to pee again and—no joke—peed right on the same stretch as before. I’m like a cat.
Out on the Beeline for the last time I changed my strategy. Instead of taking it steady up the highway, I blazed a path, knowing the wind was at my back. It worked and I made up a lot of lost time as evident in my quicker split.
Looping around for the last time I had never been happier to be returning to sunny Tempe. My ass hurt and the wind was really pushing me back. I wanted to run. I had drank all of my EFS, loads of water, eaten a Clif Bar, Powerbar and a Honeystinger Waffle. I felt great as far as nutrition was concerned.
Pulling into T2 a nice volunteer grabbed my bike and said, “I got it, go!” Before I could tell him to be careful, she is a delicate (and yet ferocious) bike, I was off barreling towards the changing tent. My volunteer laughed when he saw I had 2 different colored New Balance running socks, but before I had a chance to tell him about my Laundromat’s Sock Vortex, I was gone.
TIME: 5:43:57 PLACE: 1139 (catching up!)
The sunscreen girls would not let me leave before smearing me with zinc oxide saying, “You Sir, are a prime candidate for the sun screeners!”
Passing the 1st aid station, I grabbed loads of water and a sponge in which I attempted to clean my messy self up with. My legs felt a bit worn out, but I knew it wouldn’t be until mile 5 before they would kick in. I was running my 7:30 pace as Sonja and I had planned, taking it easy compared to a normal marathon pace. This was also a 3 loop course and I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with the monotony. I was consistently passing people now and would never get passed (unless looped by a Pro). In my head I thought about my poor swim and my semi-decent bike, wondering where I could improve for next time. Then I almost said aloud, “Lookout people, we’re running now, you’re on my turf!” But I didn’t. That’s unsportsmanlike, after all.
At aid stations 4 and 5 I thought it wise to get some salt in me, so I slammed down some Ruffles with Ridges (seriously). They were delicious and my body immediately felt better. SIDENOTE: The aid stations in Ironman are like giant buffets. Each mile marker has one and they are identical. Sponges-Water-Gatorade-Powerade-Poweraid Gels-Potato Chips-Pretzels-Cookies-Bananas-Apples-Powerbar Gels-Poweraid-Gatorade-Water-Sponges. It’s an all you can eat aid station buffet around every corner! (Sometimes with a DJ, sometimes with hot girls dressed as cops)
At Mile 4 and 8 Abbe and Alex were cheering me on! Abbe asked how I was and I told her I was doing well. They had a great spot by one of the bridges where they could see runners on the out and back.
As I finished up the first loop I started to feel good. Not great as if I woke up from a nap on the beach, but I was feeling peppy. My hat was bothering me as I never run with a hat, but seeing as how I’m really pasty and have a crew cut I though it wise. Oh yes, and it’s the desert!
Miles 10-12 were uneventful aside from the fact that I was longing for the 13th mile so I could be halfway done. My nutrition was on par and all I was taking in at this point was water and Gatorade. Right around this point I saw Hillary Biscay cheering and I yelled to her, “Hillary, I love reading your blog!” like a good dork blogger should to which she replied, “Thank you! Good luck!”
When I saw Abbe and Alex on the second loop I gave them my heart rate monitor which had been annoying me. I also told them I wanted an In-N-Out Burger when I was done! I also yelled, “It’s about to get REAL.”
As I came back around to the start to begin my 3rd loop something strange happened. I kept telling myself that when I hit my wall at mile 17 or 18 (when it happened like clockwork 2 weeks prior in the NYC Marathon) I would walk to ease the pain. Guess what? I never hit that wall. In fact this would be the only marathon I have ever run where I didn’t walk! Instead I had this crazy sense of urgency to finish. I was rocking an 8 minute pace, far from my typical running times, but this was Ironman and I’ll take it. The pain in my legs seemed to dissipate as I cruised forward passing groups of people. I had heard about the ‘Ironman Carnage’ and now I was seeing it. 90% of the marathoners were walking. I am by no means criticizing, because it’s every man’s individual race, it was just wild to see the end of a long day and what it did to all of us.
Sonja had warned me of people trying to draft me once I was cooking and it happened at mile 18. This big 6 foot fall dude I passed sped up and was shadowing me. I don’t like to be shadowed, I live in New York City for god’s sake. Maybe this fella was gonna try and pinch my wallet. I punched it and was kicking some 7:30s again and before I knew it he was an after thought.
I had also heard the phrase, “Once you start on Coke, you can’t stop.” I am referring to an endurance race and not a night club. Seeing as how I had 6 miles to go I figured why the hell not, and so I had a shot of Coke. It made me feel amazing, maybe because I never drink soda! I had a shot the next 2 aid stations and then started thinking… “They shouldn’t ever give this to kids! Holy cow.”
The last 4 miles were easy. I’m serious and I’m not trying to sound like a jerk, they just were. My legs were on autopilot and mentally I was somewhere else. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was emotional. I was thinking to myself, “This is really happening, I’m going to complete an Ironman.” I was also thinking of my Dad and how six months to the day I was telling him as he lay dying that every race I do from here on would be for him.
Running the last mile I encountered lots of crowds. The sun was down now and the course looked just as it did when we started the swim 11 hours earlier. I cruised into the finish chute and held my hands up high. As always with me, the finish itself isn’t as momentus as actual key points in the race. Abbe and Alex were there in the stands and I yelled and waved to them!
TIME: 3:33:42 PLACE: 458
I finished in 11:13:56. I was very happy with my time. In fact I really could have cared less about my time as it was my first Ironman and finishing was my goal. A woman threw on my space cape and asked me how I was. “I’m good! Wow, what a day right?” She walked me over to where you get your pictures taken and once she deducted that I wasn’t going to pass out if she left me. I saw Alex in the crowds and told him to meet me by the bikes.
I cruised through a very quiet transition and made my way out to Alex and Abbe. I got a huge sweaty hug from Abbe (I was sweaty, not her). We made our way to the car and over to the hotel where I wolfed down my In-n-Out burger, chased with a beer! My throat was dry and sore from the dry desert weather and it was tripping me out. After some conferencing with Abbe and Alex we decided to go across the street to Duke’s to have dinner and some beers. I wore my medal and seriously, nobody batted an eye. The bartender did buy me a shot of Jameson once Abbe and Alex force fed her the Ironman news.
In-N-Out Burger after the race. So good.
Back at the hotel we were all asleep by 9PM. I wanted to go to the midnight finish but just didn’t have it in me, nor did I want me cheer squad to endure any more Ironman torture!
It’s been a really hard year for me. I always considered my family (who I am really tight with) immortal. Two great-grandmas who lived past 100 and my current grandmas and their brothers are still kicking it at 90. My grandma has a boyfriend for god’s sake (yeah, she’s awesome)! But my father lost a two year battle with cancer in the span of 1 week. One week from hell that I will not soon forget, as it haunts me constantly.
I was in the middle of training for Ironman when he suddenly died. I had taken on a coach for the first time and my volume was increasing in a way I had never experienced. His death set me back physically and mentally. Sonja, said coach we are discussing, told me to chill and let me know when I was ready to hit it again.
As my Dad lay in an altered state, breathing tube in his mouth, IV in his jugular, heart rate irregular, with no hope in sight (and believe me it goes against all I stand for to say hope is lost) I told him that every race from here on was for him.
This race, this Ironman distance triathlon, was for him. At every point in which I thought I couldn’t stand the pain, I thought of what my Dad endured just to try and live another 10 years with us. He suffered day and night at Johns Hopkins, looking for a cure, a cure that doesn’t exist. Still, he fought, and I thought to myself, “If Dad suffered through days and nights of pointless chemo, then I will endure this race and the pain I feel as I am alive and must be thankful for this.”
I held tears back during the race as these thoughts flooded my brain on the swim, bike and run, then my tough guy alter ego kicked in and I forged ahead. My Dad never got to see me race, but I’m pretty sure he was there cheering for the first time at my first (and not last) Ironman.
Coach Sonja: for setting me straight. I now see what all of your tricks were for! Couldn’t have done it without your supreme coaching.
Coach Sean: for my swim moves, even though they need some work.
Alex: for kicking it mafia style in Arizona with Abbe and I. Your presence was needed.
Abbe: for being the best girlfriend and Ironman Support Crew a guy could ask for.
Dad Posse: for being my die-hard triathlon teammates
Runner Army: for being awesome and killing it with PRs at the same time I was in Arizona!
The Ironman. If you’re looking for something to believe in, why not believe in yourself?