Scott Gamboe, author

Ironman Arizona 2013

November 17, 2013 marked my first Ironman event.  2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run.  And you only have 17 hours to complete it, if you want to be an Ironman.  The pros can finish it in 8-9 hours. 

The night before the race, I sat down with my wife, Jill, and mapped out my expected times for each event, along with the times that I would pass certain points where she could see me.  I told her that for the swim, she should look for the guy wearing a black wetsuit and a green swim cap.  She didn't think that was too helpful. J  So I told her the swim would take me about 90 minutes.  The bike course was 3 loops, and since I was expecting a 6 hour bike ride I figured that 2 hours per loop was pretty simple.  I wanted to get under 5 hours on the run, but since the 2-loop course doubled back past the same area multiple times, predicting when I would be where was a bit harder.  As for transitions, I planned to take my time.  I wasn't trying to qualify for the world championships at Kona, so I planned on going easy and not rushing.  I expected about 8-10 minutes for both the swim-to-bike transition (T1) and the bike-to-run transition (T2).  The goal: get done in under 13 hours.  I knew I could get closer to 12, but with this being my first Ironman my primary goal was to finish.

We spent the last ten or fifteen minutes before the race treading  water and waiting for the cannon shot that would announce the start.  Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, gave his pep talk and announced that his son, Andy, was among us doing his first Ironman.  I guess if your dad is Mike Reilly, you pretty much have to do an Ironman.  The first 20 minutes or so was pure chaos.  Got hit, kicked, and elbowed until the crowd finally thinned out a bit.  Of course, each time we got to one of the turn buoys it got worse, because everyone (including me) felt like we had to cut the corner as tightly as we could.  As I climbed up out of Tempe Town Lake, a song popped into my head.  Police: Synchronicity 2.  "Many miles away something crawls to the surface of a dark Scottish Loch."  That little earworm stayed with me the rest of the race, with 2 short breaks.  The first was when I rode past an aid station where they were blasting out the Bee Gees.  It took me a few minutes, but I finally got that one out of my head by getting the Police back in.  And later, on the run, I passed a station that was playing very VERY slow Christmas music.  Ummm… not the most motivational sounds you'll hear during a race!  Expected swim finish time: 90 minutes.  My watch said I was out of the water in 87 minutes.  One final adventure: as I ran away from the peelers, wetsuit in hand, a girl flopped down across the path right in front of me.  Somehow I managed to jump over her without kicking her.

Spent 10 minutes in T1 before heading out on the first loop of the bike course.  My race plan called for taking it easy out to the turnaround on loop 1.  I wanted to give my body a chance to recover from the swim.  The elevation headed outbound is a very slight incline, barely noticeable, until 4-5 miles from the turnaround.  At that point, you climb the side of a small mountain before looping back.  Coming back down the mountain was fun.  Gave a few good strokes, then coasted up to over 30mph until it flattened out.  Made the first loop in good time.  But then the winds kicked in.  We had a 16 mph wind that blew at our backs on the climb, which helps a little, but it eliminated most of the advantage of the downhill.  I barely got the bike up to 25 mph on loops 2 and 3.  Finished with my legs still in pretty good shape.  Expected time: 6 hours.  Actual time: 6:04.  One failed experiment to pass along.  In a race as long as Ironman, you need to take in about 100 calories every 20 minutes, or your body will fail you.  For variety, I alternated between fig newtons, bananas, and energy gels.  I can't safely peel a banana and ride a bike, and I didn't want to count on finding 1 at an aid station at just the right time.  So I peeled 6 of them right before the race and sealed them in Ziplocs.  Worked great for about 3 hours, before they got brown and a little mushy.  I need another banana plan!

After an 8 minute transition in T2, I hit the run.  The first thing I noticed was that my lower back was very displeased with my decision to spend 6 hours on my bike.  The pain went away after a few miles.  But what didn't get better was my stomach.  I couldn't eat once I started running.  So I held back, afraid I would run out of gas and end up bonking.  After the first of 2 loops, I started drinking cola and chicken broth at the aid stations, which helped.  I saved way too much energy, as I found out near the end.  After 5 miles, I started walking the aid stations and some of the steeper uphill portions, although I ran through the last 2 stations before the finish.  During the first loop, there was a place where we had to jump over a curb.  My foot landed badly and nearly ended my race.  On lap 2, they had adjusted the cones so that we went around the curb instead of over it.  After passing mile 25, I picked up the pace a bit.  I never saw the sign for mile 26, but my watch buzzed and told me I was close.  Then I looked up and saw the building that I knew was right in front of the finish line.  I had maybe 200-300 yards left.  I picked it up to a dead sprint, only slowing down near the arch.  I heard Mike Reilly call out my name--mispronounced, of course J--and crossed the line.  Later, I downloaded the info from my watch.  During that short sprint near the end, I put up a 4:52 mile pace.  Might want to spread that out across all 26.2 miles next time!

The aftermath wasn't even close to what I expected.  Of course I was sore and tired that night, and had trouble eating.  I slept badly, because the pain in my legs kept waking me up.  The next day was a lot better, with only minor soreness.  Jill and I climbed the baby mountain behind our hotel Monday afternoon.  By Wednesday, I was pain-free.  I never saw that one coming!

I'm sure I'll forget some people, but I want to throw some acknowledgments out there.  Lefty, for all the hours spent coaching us at 5 Points.  Ann, Kip, Kim, Rich, Jen, and everyone else who threw some suggestions at me during our open water swims.  Ann and Kip especially--even though this was your first Ironman, you guys sent a lot of good advice my way.  Rich, that was a good call on switching to a Garmin watch.  That Timex GPS watch wouldn't have lasted through the bike.  The Garmin was on for the entire race and still had half of the battery left.

Future plans: I'm not done with racing Ironman.  I probably won't do one in 2014, but I have a few on my radar.  Wisconsin and Louisville, since they're close.  The more I think about it, the Wisconsin race might actually happen in 2015.  Panama City Beach, because we have friends we could stay with down there, which would make things easier.  Cozumel for sure, because then I can turn the race into a vacation.  We love Playa del Carmen, right across the water from Cozumel.  And for my 50th birthday: Nice, France.  If I can get to 12 races, I'll throw my name into the hat for a Legacy entry to Kona.  As it is, my only chance is through the Kona lottery.  Unless I find someone who has $26,000 they don't need.  Then I can buy a Foundation entry off eBay.  Riiiiiiight…  Until then, I'll race in several Olympic distance races in 2014, maybe a half or two if I can find them.  And of course there’s always the two Peoria marathons to run in.  But those are easy.  They’re just marathons. :)

Now for the tattoo…

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