Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 2 - Race Morning and Swim

If you want to catch up on prior reading, check out  Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 1 - Getting There first.

Race morning


I was awake at 2:30 a.m., an hour before my alarm was set.  Breakfast of champions was simple and familiar:  Gluten-free oatmeal / chia seeds and one piece of toast with honey, and I made cowboy coffee brought from home that I knew wouldn't upset my tummy.  I didn't want any extra calories by then so I just sipped plain water from a water bottle until we were ready to leave.  With bedhead and a big grin, I put on temporary Canadian flag tattoos above my race numbers, wrote my mantras on my arm and my parents added some encouragement for me too:


We arrived at the parkade at 4:50 a.m. and found rockstar parking immediately, then walked across the street in the inky black darkness toward the giant bright lights and festive sounds of the event getting started.  Normally inky black darkness rouses feelings of anxiety in me but I melted into it and toward the familiar pre-race sounds with confidence this morning.  I had watched videos of pre-race commotion before and felt like the darkness, strident voices and loud music might be sensorily overwhelming and freaky.  It wasn't.  I felt like I was part of this community and like I belonged.  The sights and sounds felt familiar.  The Ironman Tracker app was all set up to track me and my friends.


Security was good, with athletes needing to show our bracelets and timing chips before being allowed to enter or exit the bag or bike areas.  My parents waited while I dropped off my bike and run special needs bags.  Next, I entered the bike corral and loaded my bike computer, nutrition and hydration on my bike, then pumped up my tires to 120psi.  A few people asked to borrow my pump but the last time I lent one, someone mashed the end because they didn't know how to use it.  I had bought this nice Park Tools pump for my Dad and to use before my race.  If I can get it together coming from another country, and there are techs on hand with pumps, I figured everyone else should be able to be as self-sufficient as me so I just said it wasn't mine and handed it over the fence to my Dad so it wouldn't get wrecked.
Mom had already done my body marking the night before so that was one less thing to attend to on race morning.

The weather was going to be perfect!  I race best between 23-28C so my neck, shoulder, arm and leg muscles relax and my arthritis in my big toes bothers me less.


Soon, the sky was getting light and it was time to spray on TriSlide and sunscreen, then pull on my wetsuit using the rubber gloves I brought.  I had pre-filled some water bottles (a tip from Gord) to dump on my hair and face and down the front of my wetsuit before entering the water.  I shivered a bit and my mom put her arm around me and wondered if I could feel any warmer though the neoprene.  Actually I could.  I joked that it must feel like hugging a seal, sea lion or walrus through the neoprene!  I put in my earplugs and nose plug, pulled on Keith's periwinkle race cap for extra good luck and company on the swim, licked the insides of my goggles to prevent them from fogging up before putting them on, pulled on my pink race cap over them and got in line.

The Swim


I heard the American anthem and the start gun and watched the male pros, then the female pros and one guided PC athlete take off.  Then our line shuffled forward.  I started the open water swim workout on my apple watch early just to capture the map.  I had gotten in line with the 1h40m sign with others in the crowd, but realized the volunteers holding the signs were not moving forward so I started to move.  In road races, the pace bunnies holding time signs move forward with the crowd until the start line and run with us.  In this race, the people shuffled forward but the signs remained stationary so I wasn't really sure anymore if I was with my 1h40 or 1h30 group anymore by the time I reached the swim start line.

I stepped over the first timing mat at the top of the stairs and my official time started then.  That's the nice part about a rolling swim start.  There was no start gun or pushing or shoving or rushing for us age-group athletes.  I carefully descended the stairs and stepped off the bottom one into the water.  I couldn't touch the bottom but my wetsuit made me buoyant so my head was still above water.

A few dog paddles forward, then I got horizontal and started my front crawl.  The sun wasn't quite shining in my eyes yet and surprisingly it was a bit thinned out by then so I chose to stick close to the buoys on my left, even swimming close to the turnaround buoys.

At the second turn buoy, I accidentally found that I had swum halfway up onto a girl's back.  We popped our heads up and I yelled sorry and kept going.  I got nudged, elbowed, and kicked a little bit, but my goggles stayed on sandwiched between the two swim caps.  My goggles didn't fog up.  In training swims with friends, we have intentionally practiced jostling each other to prepare for these inevitable conditions on race day.  I felt prepared and was not panicked.  I honestly felt like people were not intentionally bumping me, that they were just doing their best in the limited visibility in the murky water and race day conditions.  I just swam defensively with my elbows out like a hockey player like Keith had taught me.

At times someone would tap, brush or grab my toes and I knew they were drafting off of me so I would give a big breaststroke kick if they did it too many times because it was distracting.  I passed a few people and was passed by a few others.  I didn't find anyone to draft off of and mostly had clear water in front of me which was nice.  By drafting, I mean swimming in the bubbles behind someone else, which is easier and faster with less effort.  Drafting in the swim is permitted but it is illegal on the bike and will result in a penalty on the bike leg of the race.  It's just too dangerous to be all bunched up on the bike.

I could see more of the shoreline and the round buildings lining Tempe Town Lake than on the practice swim.

I could feel the warmth of the sun on the black neoprene, and feel it cool when I swam in to the shadows under the bridges.  I never saw a fish, though the lake is stocked.  Once I felt something (a weed? a string?) trailing from my right foot and kicked it off.

I could see and hear people cheering from the bridges as I swam under them.  I could see and hear a helicopter flying around overhead.

The water tasted silty but not dirty or disgusting.  People had said the water would make you sick and that you should avoid the practice swim.  I just got a prescription from my doc for antibiotics in case I needed it (I didn't) and rinsed my mouth with mouthwash after the practice swim and race swim.

People said you couldn't even see your elbow in the murky water but I could see to my wrists.  It was similar visibility to some lakes in Calgary I have swum in with algae and weeds.  It was fine.

The water was a little choppy but it was not as choppy as the time I swam in Lake Chaparral with Keith when a storm was coming in.  He told me then that it was good that I had been able to make it all the way around when others bailed because it would be unlikely to experience that much chop in a race without the race being called off.  At the time, I didn't know what I didn't know and I never thought of bailing.  I just kept going forward with intent but was grateful for his company.  I am also grateful for the challenging experience in training which prepared me for this race.

People said the water was coldest they have ever swum in and I did see some people wearing neoprene caps.  I had even packed neoprene booties but decided on the practice swim that they weren't necessary.  I heard the water temperature was 68F / 20C.  The competition pool I swim in is 28C / 82F but I have raced in open water in 16C / 61F without booties so I was fine.

After the last turn buoy heading to the finish, I got sandwiched between two guys in green caps colliding with me from both sides so I maneuvered to find open water and swam to the leftmost stair exit, then I climbed up, stepped down onto the astroturf green carpet and ran, unzipping my wetsuit with a grin as I ran.




I can normally pull my wetsuit down to my hips before I get to the wetsuit strippers but they were right there so a volunteer helped me get my arms out.  There was nothing dainty or slick about the way I nudged and tugged it impatiently down to my hips which muffined out over the top of the tight, shiny black neoprene garment, then I flopped down on the ground and stuck my legs up in the air like a dying insect and she helped tug the rest of it off over my bum and legs and get up before handing it back to me.

Throughout the race, I stayed calm.  My heart wasn't racing and I found my cruise control pace fairly quickly.  I decided to put in the same effort that would normally get me through a swim of this distance in 2 hours in the pool, suspecting that the race conditions of adrenaline, churning water and wetsuit buoyancy would get the job done faster.  Later, I was shocked to discover that I was almost half an hour faster than in the pool.  The wetsuit must have really helped my speed with buoyancy.  I didn't really find out until the race was completely over and my Dad showed me on the app.  I had forgotten to stop my watch until after T1.  T1 was entertaining.


Ironman Arizona Series:
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 1 - Getting There
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 2 - Race Morning and Swim
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 3 - T1 and Bike
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 4 - T2 and Run
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 5 - Guest post by volunteer Sharon
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 6 - Finish Line & Beyond
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 7 - Guest post by coach Keith 
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 8 - IMAZ2017 epic trailer (1 min video)
Ironman Arizona 2017 Race Recap - Part 9 - Ironman Arizona 2017 - Michelle's Day (6 min video)

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