This is a lengthy race report, so if you are interested in only the race, skip to the section titled “The Race”.
If you’ve been reading this blog, but have not really been paying attention, Ironman Arizona was November 20th, 2011. I’ve been training for it since around June of 2010, which also happens to be when I decided I wanted to get into triathlon.
I packed up the car and left the house on Tuesday the 15th and picked up my dad on the way by (he rode down with me). My wife and kiddos, my Ironman support crew, flew in on Saturday.
Check In and Gear Drop Off
I arrived at check in around 10:30 am on Thursday morning and was greeted by the banner in the picture above. I could see even as we approached the area that something was going on there. Street closure signs were everywhere and there was a sea of white tents in Tempe Beach Park. We found a parking spot and walked towards the activity along with many others. It was noticeable as we neared that there was energy in the air…a lot of energy.
On Saturday after picking up my family at the airport we were off to drop off my bike and gear bags; another trip to the race site. Today, there was even more energy. There were more people walking around, the vendors were more busy today and somehow the energy levels were higher.
In the middle of the chaos there was some order…actually there was a lot of order. The volunteers knew exactly where we needed to go to leave all of our bags and our bikes. You can see my bags on the left. When you do an Ironman they give you to following bags:
1. Morning gear bag (clothes you wear to the race)
2. Bike Gear bag (your T1 stuff)
3. Run Gear bag (your T2 stuff)
4. Bike special needs (whatever you think you might need at mile 70 of the bike)
5. Run special needs (Whatever you think you might need later on the run, I forget when)
I waited in line to have my tires inflated at the bike station. The bike people there were very friendly and had about everything I could think of. All I needed was air. This turned out to be a mistake. After I racked my bike I was talking to a fellow athlete and he asked me if I was going to deflate my tires. I didn’t understand why he was asking and just as I was about to ask I heard a loud “POP” and he said “there went someone’s tire from the heat”. So, of course I replied, “oh yah, I’m definitely deflating my tires”. It wasn’t a big deal as there would be plenty of pumps available on race morning anyway. Check in was done and smooth. I took some time to look in the Ironman merchandise tent. Cool stuff. Long line to purchase it. I didn’t get anything.
I went to bed the night before the race at around 10pm. I think I slept an hour here and there, but overall not much; nervousness was winning the war for my attention. I stayed in bed until around and got up around 3:15. I had some coffee, a banana, and a peanut butter/honey sandwich. My uncle arrived at 4:45 to take me to the race and I was ready. My amazing wife had woken up earlier just to take some time to talk to me and pray. I was so happy she did that, it helped ease my nerves and reassure me that I was ready. I will do this! She would be arriving on the course later in the day with our wonderful children.
Setting up the final details in transition was uneventful. The area was busy with loads of normal looking, nervous people all doing similar things; pumping up tires, filling water bottles, eating, etc. After what felt like an eternity of standing around waiting I decided it was time to rock the wetsuit. Got that on no problem and was thankful it was warming me up. Did I mention Arizona is actually quite cold at 5:30 am in November? This had me scared of the swim. Next thing I knew the pros were off at 6:50 and I was almost in the water. I knew the water was around 62 degrees F and was expecting it to be awful which was magnified by the fact that my feet were frozen. Nonetheless, I got to the entry and simply jumped in…this would be the first, albeit small, challenge of the day…starting. The water surprisingly did not feel cold to me at all. I swam a bit to get near the starting line. I really wanted to line up near the absolute back of the pack, but I know I’m not a slow swimmer and that desire was only out of fear. This thought process led me to line up very much dead center. The sea of humanity around me treaded water a few minutes and then without warning I hear the gun! We were “off”. For the first 500 meters or so I’m convinced I swam the entire way with my head above water. People were everywhere. It was like swimming in a washing machine. I would just get swimming and then nearly swim over someone else or have an arm come down on top of me. There was some contact, but nothing that hurt or was noteworthy. I remember hearing the announcer (I do not know if it was Mike Riley aka, the voice of Ironman) talking the entire time. I remember seeing crowds lined up for quite some time on the shore. I remember hearing cheering…a lot of cheering. The announcer said, “keep cheering them on, they can hear you”. I always doubted that when I heard it in youtube videos, but it is true. We could hear the crowd and I was feeding off their energy. I’m 10 minutes into this race and I am having the time of my life. As we neared the first turn buoy I finally had found just barely enough open water to fit my body in and then we made the first and second turn and that got screwed up for a while. Following the second turn (we were now headed back), I discovered myself in open water. There were still people probably 6 feet away, but it felt like an ocean separated us compared to what it was before. I had passed quite a few people and found that interesting because I was purposely keeping my effort level very, very low. I was not pushing it at all. I arrived at the last buoy and made that final turn. I was having so much fun I was kind of bummed the swim was over. A fantastic volunteer helped me out of the water. I got the top of my wetsuit off and found a wetsuit stripper who quickly stripped off my wetsuit. All the while, the crowd was still there and maintained cheering! I felt like a rock star. I had completed the Ironman swim in 1:11:15, faster than I thought. Overall I was 580th out of just around 3000 and in my age group (one of the most competitive groups) I was 92nd. Not bad.
Transition – Swim to Bike
I ran over and got my T1 bag and into the men’s changing tent. I was expecting it to be more crowded, but maybe it wasn’t too bad yet because I got out of the swim when I did. I was already wearing my clothes, no changing for me. I slapped on my cycling shoes, arm warmers, helmet and sunglasses and headed out to get sunscreen from another fantastic volunteer. I got my bike, ran to the mount line and mounted. T1 was complete in 8:49.
Biking on the Bee-Line
The very beginning of the bike was through somewhat of a chute. It was narrow and again…lined with cheering spectators. Once again, I was absolutely amazed by the amount of people out there cheering. I kept my gear very easy for the first 30 minutes as was my plan. I absolutely could have gone faster, but held back. I didn’t know what today had in store and I didn’t want to push it yet. I got passed by what seemed like everyone in the race, but I kept to my plan. I was having trouble getting my heart rate to settle in. In training I did long rides around 130 bpm. I couldn’t seem to get below 140, but it was stable there so I went with it. The first lap went by fairly quickly. The ride out to the turnaround was somewhat uphill with a headwind, but not a strong one. I really enjoyed the ride back to town. I was able to ride very fast with little effort. Somewhere in the middle of the “hill” on the way back out, my right quad began to hurt. This has never happened to me in training, ever. Nothing I did helped it and as a result I had to slow down. The real bummer about this is I’d planned to ride my 2nd and 3rd laps faster than my 1st. I couldn’t do that now and every pedal stroke hurt. In an IM race, expect the unexpected. I was mentally prepared for this. I was hoping it would be something *else*, but it is ok. I will get through this as long as my leg maintains the ability to work and I wasn’t sure about that. Arrived at the second turnaround and was excited for the downhill. The wind had changed, however, and the downhill felt more like a flat. Luckily it wasn’t a strong wind. I had not seen my family at all yet and when I was riding back into town I kept looking for them. Finally, just before I got to the turn around I heard them yell my name. It was difficult to hear because spectators were still cheering…amazing! They were waiting on the other side of the street for me and all wearing orange shirts my wife had made. I hit the turn around and rode over to them where I stopped for just long enough to give high fives and kiss my wife. By now I was hurting bad and having some doubts because the pain in my leg was all I could think of. Seeing my family gave me the strength to go on that third lap. I was also feeling demoralized because I knew I was riding much slower than I did during training. It was frustrating. Somewhere out there I decided it didn’t matter. What mattered was I am going to finish this and have fun with it. Time doesn’t count for me, not this time. Got near the end of the third lap and began to think about transition. I was still hurting and fighting off frustration constantly, but winning the battle so far. I’d just completed the Ironman bike in 6:42, which was much slower than I’d expected.
Transition – Bike to Run
Handed my bike off the a volunteer and got my bag. Ran into the changing tent again. Off with the helmet, cycling shoes, and socks. On with fresh sock, running shoes, visor, and amphipod water belt. Ran out the door and got more sunscreen. Done in 7:09.
26.2 More Miles….really?
I was mentally drained from dealing with the pain in my leg and trying to keep a positive attitude. Starting the run was fantastic for me though because I seem to feel more comfortable with my running ability. It’s not fantastic, but it is at least consistent and I know my body well when running. I ran out of the tent and onto the run course through a million cheering spectators again (how do they keep cheering all day?). Within a few feet I see my family again! I was so happy to see them. I kissed my wife again, high fived everyone and was off. I had a long way to go and was just enjoying every moment…ok, not the leg pain, but everything else. My poor daughter thought I was done with the race and didn’t understand why I had to leave again. I didn’t know that at the time of course because I was running. I’m thankful I didn’t know as it would have made me sad. I ran at a nice slow pace and allowed my heart rate to stabilize at just around 140. That was slightly high for a run, but considering what I’d done as a warmup it was better then I expected. I’ve never run a marathon going into this. My longest run ever was only weeks earlier at 20 miles. The really cool thing now was I realized that even if I had to walk 26.2 miles I was going to finish! This helped me really settle in and enjoy the race. I would cheer along with the volunteers at the aid stations and was having a fantastic time! My desire was to run the entire marathon. I didn’t know if this would be possible or not, but I set out with that goal in mind. I had my amphipod water belt on for this purpose. One thing I learned in Boulder was that my body doesn’t handle hydrating once/mile very well. I need to be sipping water and gatorade all day when running. At 30 minutes in I took my first gel. I learned that if I started gel at 30 minutes after a long ride and did one/hour my stomach was fine. In this case my stomach did not agree with the gel. I was able to keep it down and didn’t have to walk, but decided I may have to go with all liquid nutrition. I’d wait an hour to find out. My leg continued to hurt, but didn’t really get any worse, so I just kept running slowly and by about mile 6 my running legs finally woke up and my stomach settled down from the gel. Coming around to complete the first lap I was made once again to feel as though I was in the lead of this race due to the amazing spectators! They lined most of the finish line side of the lake and were constantly cheering. I even saw the cowbell guy out there drumming a rhythm like he’d done all day on the bike course. Amazing. I was really beginning to feel fatigued by now. The sensation is interesting. My entire body wanted to stop moving and the desire was nearly all I could think about at times. I just had to focus on the box I could control which was generally comprised of the next 50 feet or so. Just keep moving, except to stop and fill my water bottles, which I did once/lap along with one visit to the porto john. This was a good sign. I was staying hydrated. I’d ditched the gels every hour and was sticking with perform and water. By the way, the lemon line perform was disgusting. I don’t know if it’s because it was warm or what, but it was not pleasant to drink. I told myself I’ll drink stuff that tastes good tomorrow. Today I swig this down. Eventually I got to mile 13 where at some point during those first hours I’d decided I would let myself walk. I ran past the sign and decided to walk at the next aid station. I didn’t walk the next aid station. After that particular aid station there was a hill. I began to run up the hill and my right leg refused. I was forced to walk up the hill. It took me maybe a minute, so I’m not counting that as walking especially since I didn’t want to, my leg just would not run. Got to the top of the hill and my leg returned to the normal level of pain so I resumed running. When my lap three started I got a surge of energy. I was already feeling strong except for aches and pains, but starting that last lap I remember thinking only 8 miles to go. That’s like a medium length training run. I AM going to finish. It got dark. People were walking everywhere. I passed a lot of walkers with my consistent, slow running. I got to the hill I had to walk the last lap and ran right up and saw the 23 mile marker! At this point I observer my heart rate was still 140, my stomach was fine, and I felt great with a 5k to go. I picked up my pace significantly. I wasn’t running with a gps so I don’t know exactly how fast I was running, but probably around 8:30-8:45/mile. My leg screamed, my feet hurt, my body nearly made me stop. I ran the last 5k at this pace which under these circumstances was very fast.
Becoming an Ironman
I got the the start of the course and got to turn left this time. One thing I wanted to ensure I did was come up that finish chute essentially alone. To do this I had to pass more people so I ran a little faster. I got through the parking lot and rounded the corner to ever increasing cheers and crowds. People were hanging over the barricades and I was running through slapping hands and cheering. The crowd really got loud at this point. I suspect it was because I tried to return a small fraction of their energy. I am smiling ear to ear. I am really struggling at this point of writing this race report because there are not words to describe the feeling of elation I am feeling at this point in the race. The crowd is giving me the feeling that I’m winning this race. I see the final timing mat. I run over the last mat! As I come under the final archway I stop and flex…I am so happy I don’t know what else to to. I’m looking for my family. There are people everywhere. I can’t hardly see straight. All this is happening so fast! I completed the marathon in 5:05:30. As I’m flexing I hear Mike Riley, “Brien Delgado of Centennial Colorado…yah buddy! You are an Ironman!”
A finish line catcher gets me and throws a medal around my neck and a mylar blanket on me. He asks me if I’m ok. I tell him I’m great, but really tired! He stays with me a few seconds then moves on. I go to get my official finisher picture and then finally find my family who has been waiting there for quite some time. I spend some time with them, give the kids their medals and then head over to grab some water, etc. I’m feeling fine…very sore and tired, but fine. I’ve done it. Over a year of training. Unbelievable transformations physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually have taken place to make the past 13:15:00 possible and I’m a stronger person for it. What a journey!!
I could not have done this without my support crew. They put up with countless hours of me being gone training and many more mostly boring hours sitting at races waiting to see me run by for 3 seconds. My family is amazing!