This finishing photo was taken April 13th at the first of two Ironman Arizona’s back in 2008. That’s right, after three years of high winds and temperatures, Ironman decided to permanently move this race to the fall and better weather. November 23, 2008 was chosen for the second event and has held this spot on the Ironman calendar ever since.
I can only say from experience that it was a good choice for Ironman to make because our race that April was over the top, difficult!
Winds that blew hot across the Arizona desert at 100 kms per hour brought huge tumbleweeds, clouds of grit, desperate riding conditions. I had a great experience as I rode up to the turnaround timing mat, of it blowing completely off the road and into the ditch just when I needed it. Thankfully it was quickly rescued and put back down for me as I tried my best to balance my bike.
Even with the wind at your back there was no real relief because the pavement was so darn hot it just radiated up and cooked you in the calm. I was looking forward to making great speed with the wind on my back but because it was so hot I almost looked forward to turning back into it.
Where this Ironman (my fourth) came to light was when Christine, one of my most experienced Ironman athletes, decided this would be her next and because I was retiring that March 1st chose to make it a special race for myself.
There was nothing common about this Arizona Ironman training except maybe the training distances but that was it.
We were in fullon winter indoor training because of the April race date, we couldn’t get the bikes outside, it was a cold winter, so say “hello” to the lap pool, bikes on trainers and plenty of treadmill running.
Training began in September 2007, the time of year when all our teammates were shutting down from triathlon because the racing was over and it was time to rest. For us it was time to begin the long winter’s journey to be springtime ready for the Ironman.
Christine and I had trained together for many years so our workout routines fell together easily. She has such a great work ethic there was never a worry that the training would ever be poorly handled. 10 km is 10 km not 9.9 kms!
To say Arizona was a special race for us and our families is an understatement. The planning just to get there was a big job and as it was set out, there were plenty of areas where trouble might happen.
Christine had a big team all set to come. Her husband Rick, their young twins Meg and Ruthie and Rick’s mom Ivy. They would all fly together from Buffalo Airport and at Arizona Airport pick up their rented RV for the duration of the trip.
I decided to drive by myself taking my truck, our 30’ toy hauler RV, my motorcycle and all our triathlon equipment. Patty was still working at the time so she would fly to Arizona for the race and enjoy some good downtime.
Our training went pretty much according to plan and we felt as good as any time we raced before. So now the time had come to taper off and prepare to leave.
We had reserved our sites in a campground right in Tempe for the race dates but other than that I just need to be there on those dates, the rest was up to me.
I left on a beautiful spring day about 12 days before the race so I would have plenty of time to rest after my epic road trip. Pulling a large trailer takes its toll so staying alert and awake after hundreds and hundreds of kms, day after day, is tiring to say the least.
As the days rolled by I was doing just great.
One afternoon in the middle of rush hour traffic, caught in a rain storm from hell that made visibility almost zero, I remember barely seeing funny arrows painted on the road in front of me and just at the last possible moment I realised they were splitting the lane, the concrete divider was “now”.
I swung hard over to left hoping for room and how I missed that thing is still a mystery to me. Crap!
Then there was the night in the sketchy RV park where endless lines of cars made quick stops at one trailer, all night. In Missouri I had a couple of helpful guys suggest I follow them a couple of streets over to an open gas station from the closed one we were at. I happened to notice the “no exit” sign where they turned so off I went back to the Hwy.
Then the time I was in the back hills of Oklahoma running on fumes because my GPS decided we could do better off the main Hwy. I hadn’t seen a gas station from a full tank until well after the low fuel light came on and it was becoming evening.
It was pure luck that I rolled up to the pumps in a tiny town at 5:45 pm because closing including Sunday the next day, was 6:00 pm sharp!
Lesson learned, always stay on the main highway!
In true fashion I crossed Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and was into Tucson Arizona late on day four. About 3,700 km’s. Safe to say I was very tired but loved the drive and now had lots of days to rest and recover.
The reason to stop in Tucson was because of Mont Lemmon a famous bicycle route that is 25 miles up to the top and of course to scope out Tucson a very triathlon friendly place.
I rested for a couple of days just washing the road grime off my stuff and riding my motorcycle in the hot desert sun but the lure of Mount Lemmon was hovering overhead.
Finally, I was running out of time and had one last day to try so off I went with the idea of riding maybe 5 miles up and see how I felt.
Riding in my desert sun clothing at the bottom of Mont Lemmon, with 2 bottles of water and 5 dollars in hard cash, I began.
Got to 5 miles and kept going up, it was fantastic as long as you stayed within your limits and let the others do their thing. There were no downhill breaks, it was steady uphill pedalling to the 23-mile marker where there was snow. The last 2 miles into Mount Lemmon had some roller hills and ended with great strawberry pie!
The trip back down was heavenly! Imagine riding 23 miles without having to pedal, but good brakes are essential.
Off to Tempe, it’s about 100 miles or so and then get setup at the RV park to await the arrival of our team!
Patty flew in without issue from Toronto, but fully packed and heading to the Buffalo airport Christine and family suffered a terrible crash on the Hwy that left their vehicle destroyed and needing settlement once they returned to Canada.
Thankfully no one was seriously injured and they still made their flight to Arizona.
Their rental RV picked up, everyone settled into the Apache Palms RV Park we stand by until our Ironman schedule kicks in!
Of course there are lots of stories leading up to race morning but all in all everything was wonderful and we were ready to get going.
As it is today, Arizona Ironman had loops after the swim, 3 on the bike and 3 on the run which means you will probably see everyone in the race at some point, maybe.
Christine and I started side by side at the tread water start, bang went the gun and that was the last time I saw her until after the finish line where she came in about 15 minutes ahead of me.
We were out there some 16+ hours by the end of it and it was still 85 degrees at midnight.
The first time in all my years of triathlon I suffered huge blisters on my feet that took a very painful month to heel up, but I finished!
Stats showed there were some 300 riders that called it day because of heat exhaustion and the medical tents were filled to the brim all day trying to rehydrate the masses.
We both finished which is always the goal and we did suffer bigtime for it but to say you did that particular Ironman, the last ever April Arizona Ironman!
Now that’s an Ironman!
There is much more to this great story, but I’ll save it for another time because it’s worth writing about and I think you might enjoy reading it.