Wednesday, December 2, 2009

IMAZ '09 Non-race Report

I've been remiss in getting my report from my Ironman Arizona trip. Blame Thanksgiving and work for that.

Originally, I hadn't planned to attend this event. I figured I'd sign up for next year's IMAZ on the web. All the Ironmans so far this year have had online registration, so I figured there wasn't any need to go down there. It turned that going there was a really good idea, but more on that later.

It started when a bunch of my friends floated the idea of going down there to volunteer and to cheer on our friend D, who was doing her first Ironman along with her family. That sounds like fun and I figured it would be a good idea to see an Ironman in action before I actually did one. I also wanted to get a feel for the course. In particular, the "lake" that the swim takes place in looks more like a river or a canal and I was having trouble visualizing how we'd all fit in there for the swim. I also wanted to see how feasible driving there would be.

So I reserved a hotel room, told my boss I was taking some days off, and started recruiting people to stay with me and/or drive down with me. Four of us ending up going, of which I was the only one intent on signing up for next year.

The ride down was pretty uneventful and easy. RS rode down with me. My RAV4 is too new for me to be comfortable letting anyone else drive it, but having someone in the car to talk to helped a lot. We got there in 11.5 hours even with a stop for lunch and two stops for gas.

This is when I discovered that there is a one hour time difference between us and AZ this time of year. I had completely forgotten about that.

Our motel was decent. The room was actually spacious and had a microwave, fridge and coffee maker. The free breakfast included things like eggs and sausage, not just stale muffins and toast. The pool was tiny but the hot tub was warm.

On Friday, our friend RG joined us and we bummed around town checking out the expo and meeting up with D and her buds and another friend, C, who was staying nearby with her mom.

I was supposed to go swimming in the "lake" but was too tired from the drive and decided not to get up that early. The exp was okay. Newton was there selling their POSE-styled running shoes and I bought a pair wanting the "expo special". Which turned out to be a free technical t-shirt. Because you can't have enough white t-shirts that are slightly too big for you, right? I could have gotten a 10% discount if I'd waited and bought them at home from a club sponsor. Bleh.

Next we had a late lunch at a place that was completely overwhelmed by the IMAZ traffic. (Or maybe that happened on Sat? It's kind of a blur now.)

Then we went off to buy some supplies for our "margaritas". We had decided to give all our friends a "margarita for their special needs bag" as a "Congrats on doing an Ironman" present. (It was kind of an inside joke between us and D, but we figured everyone else would be amused even if they didn't know the back story.)

Unfortunately, we couldn't find any margarita flavored Clif Shot Blocks. So we settled on Lemon-Lime products (Gu gels, Clif blocks and Sports Beans) and Endorolyte capsules for the "salt" in plastic Margarita glasses. We wrapped them up in sparkly cellophane and tied them with green ribbons and, voila, a triathlete version of a Margarita!

On Sat., I was determined to swim and even brought my wet suit. But first I had to cheer on RS and C, who had signed up for the the Ironman AZ 5K fun run.

But I didn't swim after all because it turned out I'd left my Garmin turned on and the battery had run down. I was afraid I wouldn't know when to turn around in order to get back in time for the Volunteer meeting. (Plus, frankly, it was freezing out.) I did check out the swimming area and it was wider than it looked and clearly marked so that alleviated most of my concerns.

At the volunteer meeting, we learned how to "catch" someone at the finish and practiced a bit. Then we went back to the Expo and went on a bike ride. Instead of riding my bike that I hauled all the way down to Tempe in the back of my car, I decided to test ride a Cervelo just like everyone else. They all stuck with road bikes but I told the guys at Inside Out Sports to give me "whatever fit" and I ended up with a Tri bike. An S2, to be exact.

I was nervous about the aerobars after my first (and last) bad experience trying to bike with them, but I decided to suck it up and see what happened.

They weren't too bad. I had a lot more trouble getting into the Speedplay pedals than I did shifting with the aerobars. I was a bit wobbly in them, but I liked how riding with my hands on the hoods felt (there really weren't any "drops" with the configuration I had) and I did play with laying down in the areobars and I liked how that felt when I was stable. I think I could get used to them, if the rest of the bike was fit right.

The Cervelo was a sweet ride, by the way. I had Dura Ace components on mine and they were SO SMOOTH. This made me excited for my new bike, which will have a similar grade of components, but a different brand.

Next, we went out on the run course to leave chalk signs for our friends. The place we chose was really hard to chalk. We used up our entire box of chalk on our signs and they were still kind of faint.

Then we went on a quest to find more chalk and a Whole Foods to buy stuff for dinner. We ate in the hotel room and made our signs to wave around the next day. Making signs was fun, but I don't think ours ended up being big enough. Also, you need to use Sharpies as regular magic markers aren't bold enough. But we did have pretty ribbons on ours. That has to count for something!

The next day, we got up at the crack of dawn and made our way over to the race. It was freezing out. RG had to go to her volunteer station right away but the rest of us got to watch the swim start. C and I missed the pros start but got to see the age groupers right up close as we stationed ourselves right by the side of the "lake."

It was pretty shallow there and some of the Age Groupers actually stood up and walked. A bunch also ended up stuck behind a ramp and had to walk around it. Note to self: when I do this next year, stick to the middle of the lake, not the edge.

Once the last age grouper passed us by, we met up with RS and stood on a bridge to watch them all come in. We also met a gal from Santa Cruz who was registering the volunteers on Monday. She told us we didn't have to come really early as there'd be slots for all of us.

After watching the pros come in and our friend D (yes, we could tell it was her even though we were far away on a bridge) come in, we went out to watch the bike course. We cheered on several SVTC athletes and also our new friend M who C and RG had met on Friday (at the airport?). We tried to cheer for everyone we knew but it was hard to pick them out as they whizzed by.

Once D flew by and turned around, we went out to another spot on the Run course and used our new sidewalk chalk to make even more signs. This turned out to be a good thing as we found out later that all the markings we'd done the day before had worn off by the time the runners got to that part of the course!

Then R and R went off to watch more biking and running and C and I went to "catch" people at the finish line. Since we were the first shift, we got to see the pros come in and I got to "catch' the first Age Grouper. He's from around here and was wicked fast, beating even the woman's winner.

Being at the finish line was very excited, but being behind the scenes does expose you to the cracks in the system. Catching people who ended up being hauled off to medical or who went off into a corner to barf made me realize how hard doing an Ironman can be. Plus, at one point, we ran out of water, and I wasn't overly impressed with the food. (Hopefully the athlete's tent had more variety and healthier stuff.) I was starting to doubt my plan to do this race next year and wondering if I should make a different Ironman be my first one.

In the meantime, C was able to catch one of our friends and I got to catch one of my GOTRIbal gals. Then our shift ended and we went out onto the run course to find our friend D. She had a blazing fast swim and bike time but was not allowed to run the marathon due to stress fractures in her hip. So she walked the entire thing!

We all walked with her for a bit and then C and I ran back to the finish line to catch her. That was a blast! Another of our friends back home captured it from the internet broadcast so we got to watch it over and over. We also were getting periodic updates from him on various athletes out on the course. This helped a lot as trying to follow them ourselves with our smart phones was just not working at all.

A few minutes after D came in, her mom came in too. They swept D up and they all went off to do after-you-finish-an-Ironman-with-your-family things and the rest of us went off to meet M and his friends at a bar. A bar that had already stopped serving alcohol even though it wasn't even midnight! Luckily M was from Tempe so he told us about this other bar and we went there.

It was an Irish bar so C had an irish beer of some sort. I had hot chocolate. (I had to drive us back to the hotel and I get drink very easily.) I pretended it was an Irish coffee, listened to the Irish music (secretly wishing they'd play Flogging Molly) and watched guys hit on RG and C.

Then we ran back to the finish line and watched that last couple of finishers before they closed down the course.

The next morning, I got up early to go sign up. In spite of my doubts of the day before, I woke up before my alarm and was raring to go. I got there around 7:05 when I was only planning to be there by 7:30. I was stoked!

The line was long but moved fast. I saw Santa Cruz, but didn't get registered by her. Technically I didn't get registered at all. I gave them money and they gave me a slot but the actual registration happened a week later at home. Anyway, they gave me my confirmation paper and I went back to the Expo.

We'd been told that "Finisher" stuff would go on sale at 7:00 am and would go fast. I wanted to buy something for D, but when I got there the line was LONG. I was wandering around aimlessly when I looked up and saw D and her family waiting in line. They let me cut and I followed D around trying to buy things for her. But she only let me buy an IMAZ Finishers sticker for her car.

I took note of what she liked though because there was a guy down there who was the Swim Spotter Captain and he said that they'd be selling whatever was leftover from the IronShop at our volunteers dinner for 50% off!

Then we all went over to the Awards "banquet" which consisted of a cafeteria quality breakfast. The two Rs showed up at some point after running over from the hotel as their AM workout.

Then we went back to the hotel and I fell asleep! I had wanted to take RG to the airport but I couldn't keep my eyes open. This also means I didn't ride my bike for my Monday workout. So I shelpped it all the way to Tempe for nothing. Oh well, I did learn something ... I'm going to have to get a bike rack for my RAV4 as throwing my bike in the back is not a viable long-term solution.

I woke up in time for the volunteers banquet and RS and I met up with C and M and his friends there. We bought more stuff for D and grabbed some things they were giving away and then sat down to eat and visit. It turns out one of M's friends was the Swim Spotter Captain who had told us about the 50% off in the morning! (But it was only 30% off and not much was there.)

Then they did the raffle and RS won an iPod shuffle! They also gave out prizes to some of the volunteer teams and then they let us have at it and grab all the leftover swag. I got some bags to hold my tri gear.

We didn't go anywhere afterwards but did spend a long time gabbing by our cars. Then RS and I went back to the motel and packed up what we could. The next morning we loaded up the car and got on the road by 9:00 am. I have to say, this is the first time in my life that I actually got on the road before I had planned.

The ride back wasn't quite as smooth. Thanksgiving traffic was starting to build up and we had some really slow stretches going through the Central Valley and also the Grapevine. We stopped one less time but it took us longer to get back.

By the way, it turned out that next year's race sold out in 25 minutes after being put on the web! So, if I'd tried to sign up at home, I probably would have spaced on the time change and logged in an hour too late and missed my chance! Going to the race turned out to a really good idea, not just a fun time.
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