Ironman Arizona Race Report by Tarak

Tarak, one of our athletes, qualified for Kona last month at Arizona. Read about his race below:

Not originally on my schedule, this last minute addition ended up being the most significant race of my life. After racing IM TX, IM Austria, and IM Lake Placid this year, I planned to close the season out with IM Chattanooga. Knowing that this was a fast course, I strategically decided to race Chattanooga through the Ironman Executive Challenge (“XC”). The XC accepts about 15-20 “executives” for each race that has an XC division – usually 5 or 6 full IMs per year – and actually gives a Kona slot to the fastest execs: under 50 winner, over 50 winner, and biggest PR. Although I question whether I am truly an “executive,” my application was approved so I figured, why not?! I really want to race Kona. In fact, I am obsessed and can’t really focus on much else at this point in my life. My original plan was to try and get a Kona slot through the legacy program, which is why I have been doing 3-5 full IMs per year. But this plan was taking too long, and the legacy program is now on some sort of waitlist. Then I found out that Kona 2017 was on October 14, my 36th birthday, and at that point I was truly resolved to race Kona in 2017. The XC was my best shot.

I went into IM Chat XC with my game face on. Had a PR on the swim due to a favorable current. Then got on the bike feeling good, but things soon went to shit. Flatted at mile 6. This was long overdue, as I had never actually flatted during a race before in my entire life. Managed to get that changed, but then flatted AGAIN at mile 26.  This time I didn’t have a tube so I had to sit on the side of the road and wait for bike support.  By this point the sun was out in full force, and after about 45 min of sitting (there was no shade where I flatted), I knew I was toast.  Kona slot was off of the table. Once I finally got this second flat changed, I figured I would still just try and go for the finish and have a decent race. But I was demoralized and it was crazy hot – at this point over 102 deg. Kept plugging along though, but around mile 90 my SRAM E-tap derailleur battery died and I lost shifting. Decided at that point that the world was telling me to throw in the towel. Got into a sag wagon that was so packed with other people who had also pulled out that we had to leave our bikes behind at an aid station due to a lack of space. Had my first DNF.  Was not a fun experience.

So, like a true degenerate, I decided to do what I do when I am down big at a blackjack table at 3 a.m…. double down! I registered for IM AZ XC the very next day, and called the fastest person I know – pro triathlete Kennett Peterson – to get some advice and see if he could write me a training program that could transform me into a force to be reckoned with in the 6 short weeks I had to train. I met Kennett earlier this year at the Cycling House training camp in Tucson, AZ, and was blown away by how much of a beast he was on the bike; I had never before seen anything like it.

Turns out Kennett was the right guy to call. I found out that him and his wife had started a Boulder-based coaching group called Be the Beast Coaching, and he was happy to dive right in. We had very little time so after a quick FTP test, he started me on intense trainer workouts on the weekdays and long rides/runs on the weekends. When I say intense, I mean that these trainer workouts were insane. They would leave me shaking and almost crying at times haha. Within 3 weeks I could see my bike power dramatically increasing. By week 5 I knew that I was going to have a massive bike PR in AZ.

I got to Tempe on the Thursday before the race, checked in and did packet pickup, ogled some of the other XC athletes’ bikes (executives tend to have some sick, often customized rides) and met the rest of the XC group. It was a great group of people and was definitely going to be a tough field; several guys with sub-11 and even sub-10 IM performances in the bank. If I was going to get a Kona slot, I was going to have to have the race of my life.

I knew I was going to have a brutal swim (I am a terrible swimmer and have not yet made a concerted effort to address this fact), but trusted my new bike legs to get the job done. I also knew that I was going to have a fast marathon – I am currently in the best running shape that I have ever been in.

The Swim

As expected, I had a rough swim. The temperature was great, nice and cold; no chance of overheating in wetsuit. But my form started to break down about halfway through as usual, and I started to slow waaay down. By the last half mile, I felt like I was swimming through thick soupy jello. Had a bad swim. Maybe last in my Age group. One hour and 48 freaking minutes.

The Bike

Right away my legs felt strong. This was a three loop (out and back) course and I was cautioned by ever human I interacted with leading up to the race to take it easy on the first loop, and start to push halfway through loop two if I was feeling good. So naturally, I threw this advice to the wind, and immediately punched it HARD on loop one. Felt pretty good on the climb/head wind out to the first turnaround, and didn’t feel like the headwind was anything unmanageable. Then, after the turnaround, I was blown away at how fast I could go on in the tailwind/decent – averaging 37mph at times! Unfortunately, my two bottles of double-concentrated Infinit in the cages behind my saddle were also blown away. When I looked back halfway through the return from the loop one turnaround, not one, but both of my bottles had disappeared from my bottle rocket launchers. That was about 1,200 calories down the drain. And because I don’t believe in special needs bags for religious reasons, I really started to panic.  I calmed myself back down when I remembered that they had gels and shot blocks at the aid stations, and started to do the math on how many gels per hour I would need to consume to replace the missing Infinit. The answer was 4 per hour (100 calories each), which was going to be a pain in the ass, and I was also unsure what that amount of goop was going to feel like in my stomach. 

Despite having access to unlimited calories, to get to get my requisite calories, this last minute nutritional change kinda took the wind out of my sails and deflated me a bit. I pushed on, but by the third loop my power and speed were dropping. I was also starting to worry that I was pushing too hard and might not have much left for the run. My last loop was slower than the first two, but overall I still had a massive bike PR. Finished in 5:50 – 40 min faster than my previous PR of 6:30 in IM Austria this summer. Kudos to Coach Kennett. I have never met anyone else who took 40 min out of their IM bike split and increased their average watts by more than 40 with 6 weeks of trainer workouts (including a one-week taper).

The Run

God I love running.  I strangely love running the most after destroying my body for hours on a bike. The harder I punish my legs on the bike, and the more I am nervous that I have overdone it, the deeper I am able to dig on the run. Sometimes IM running is like an out of body experience. It is truly the most enjoyable and rewarding part of triathlon for me.

This was a flat, two loop run in cool, almost cold, overcast conditions. My absolute specialty. For the first time ever, I took great care to hold back on the first loop. This type of strategy is rare for me on the run, as I am more of a “shoot out like a bullet and see how long I can maintain” type. But this time, I had a lot to lose, and knew that a bonk would mean no Kona. I therefore tried to keep around an 8:15 pace on the first loop, and then really open it up on the second loop if I was feeling good – the ‘ol “negative split” that coaches have been trying to get me to buy into for years. Figured now was a good time as any to give it a shot.

Seeing my girlfriend Abby on the run course (I saw here like 20 times. Can she teleport?) gave me a huge boost each time. The first loop went well. Around mile 8 I caught up with a pack of lady pros who were finishing their second loop. I put myself in between two of them (one was on Team Zoot, and I said something lame to her like “I applied to be on Team Zoot for 2017, and really hope I get it!” She just kinda looked at me with a blank stare for .25 seconds and then continued running. Does exercised-induced stress make anyone else say douchy things to people or is it just me??) and held on for the rest of the first loop. I then picked it up on the second loop, and began seeing my XC buddies, one by one. They are all such beasts on the swim and the bike and had smoked me on those legs. I pressed forward and began picking it up even more as it started to get dark. By the last 4-5 miles I was running around a 6:45/7 min mile.  I knew it was going to be a super close race among the XC folks so decided to give up aid stations; sprinted by them.

The finish line was a blur. Abby was waiting under the arch with my medal, but instead of letting her put it around my neck, I came in full sprint and grabbed it from her like a wild beast, and then proceeded to hold it up in front of the cameras like some kind of depraved warrior who had just scalped someone.  The only thing I could say to Abby was “I need to stop my watch.” Run split: 3:34. Overall: 11:20. This was good… a PR of almost 1.5hrs (previous PR was 12:49 at IM Cozumel 2015).

The Aftermath

After being swarmed by medical volunteers, and Troy and Frankie – the dudes who run the XC (some of the greatest guys I have met through this sport) – who were all sure that I was going to collapse, I grabbed a protein shake, hit the Normatec booth for a 20 min session, and then headed back to the condo. We ordered a pizza and watched the rest of the XC folks come in on my phone. Everyone crushed it and there were some huge PRs.  Both the over 50 and under 50 winners came in sub-10! My 11:20 got me second place under-50, but the Kona slot for biggest PR was still on the table. Because I work for slave drivers, I had to catch a 5am flight to get back to work by noon on Monday. I was therefore going to miss the XC awards breakfast where the Kona slots were to be announced, and was therefore going to just have to wait to hear by phone or email. At my layover in Dallas I had still received no news. Abby and I were starting to get nervous. Then, when I landed in New Orleans and still had no email or voicemail, I was all but convinced that I didn’t get it. The PR slot winner had clearly been notified by this point.

Then, of course, after freaking out while waiting for my bike at baggage claim and scouring my brain for any other possible conceivable way to get to Kona on my birthday in 2017 (there was no other way), I got the call. I won the PR slot. I won it by less than 1%. Every second had counted. Had I spent 3 more seconds in T1 putting arm warmers on or something, or had I stopped at one of the aid stations I skipped during the last 5k of the run, this would have gone differently. I got to my office walking on sunshine. Could not have done it without Abby or Coach Kennett, and am the most appreciative of them in particular. IM AZ is an amazing course, and I highly recommend that everyone race it. I am truly grateful to this sport, and can’t wait to race Kona.

The next day I found out that I made Team Zoot. Then, the next day we got a new kitten… and named her Kona.

Life is good.

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Image from Ironman


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