Ironman Arizona 2014, Race Day Report, November 16, 2014, Tempe, Arizona
My name is Judy Graham-Garcia. I am 54 years old and live with my boyfriend Adam in Ipswich, Massachusetts, a quintessential New England town about 30 miles north of Boston on Massachusetts’ beautiful North Shore, where I do most of my training. Our town is famous for Ipswich Fried Clams and Crane Beach/Crane Estate. I moved to northern New England from the deep South almost 10 years ago; I am originally from the small town of Belton, South Carolina, but had lived in Augusta, Georgia, for 15 years before I moved here. I have three grown children and two adorable grandsons. I love the sport of triathlon, but more than the actual races themselves (which I do enjoy), I love the training journey. Triathlon changed my live, I love the community of amazing people that I have met and befriended through this sport. I am proud to be an Ironman…again!
Ironman Arizona (IMAZ) 2014 race morning, Adam (my Sherpa, my love, my ‘coach’ when I let him be) and I woke up at 4am. I was still sick but started feeling better on Saturday evening when my fever broke; I ran a very low grade fever for almost 24 hours. I never checked it but the advanced practice nurse in me knows it was there; my heart rate was elevated from normal about 30 beats per minute. My body was fighting it hard. What if I got sicker or still felt like this on Sunday morning, what in the world would I do? Only I can be sitting in the recliner on Friday afternoon, not even two days before the big race, and notice that I am congested—what the heck, then by 9pm be running a low grade fever. Probably viral—I know—but emergency Z-pack just in case (which is taboo, no antibiotics for viruses, but just in case…). Couldn’t breathe—nasal spray—medicine for fever. How in heck is this happening to me? I had been taking Emergen-C for two weeks to help prevent a cold—airplanes are petri dishes, and I am sure that I was immunocompromised from stress—the stress of traveling, and the stress of training, and the stress of the actual upcoming race itself. We were staying at Adam’s family’s vacation home in Scottsdale, Arizona, so we planned on leaving home at 445am to be in the parking garage at the race site by 5am. I had decided to wear my gray Coeur chevron kit; Coeur clothing is so very fashionable and comfortable, the chamois pads are perfect. I was disappointed that I could not wear my Kick Cancer Betty kit as I am a breast cancer survivor, and I have a friend undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer now—as well as other friends with various cancer issues, themselves or their families. I had lost almost 30 pounds since I bought that Betty kit, and the shorts just did not fit quite right anymore. I would still wear my pink Cancer Sucks socks on the bike, though! I pulled my gray B positive pants over my kit and put on my Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) Finisher’s (2011) jacket, my throw away socks, and my 2014 Boston Marathon Adidas flip flops that I love. I would be warm in this until the time came to don the wetsuit.
Adam prepared my steel cut oatmeal and ONLY one cup of coffee—I needed to plan on minimizing bathroom breaks because I knew I would certainly have to stop, it is my history. He also made me three peanut butter and banana (PB&B) sandwiches—upon arrival to the race venue, I would place in my Bike Gear Bag to eat after the swim; the other two would go, one in each, in the Bike Special Needs Bag and the Run Special Needs Bag—these are bags that you drop off down by Tempe Town Lake (TTL) on race morning, and they end up at the halfway point of the run and on the return loop of the three loop bike course (and even though you pass the Bike Special Needs Bag more than once, supposedly you can access it only once). These are the bags in which you put anything you might need during your race—but do not include valuables, because there is no guarantee that these bags will be returned. This race morning, I also had prepared two Ziploc baggies of Honey Stinger Energy Chews (ONLY cola flavored) with a few salt/caffeine tabs added to the baggies, one baggie to put into my bike bento box (a small zipped box on the top tube of the bike frame) when I checked on Uga (my awesome ride) before the race, and the other in Bike Special Needs Bag to refill my bento box around the halfway point. I had everything but the kitchen sink in those two Special Needs Bags—extra socks, blister Band-Aids, Carmex lip ointment, Rolaids for my heartburn, Aquaphor ointment if my feet blistered, Tylenol, extra Electrolyte Fuel System (EFS) gel, handkerchiefs. I also had my Ironman issued Morning Clothes Bag that presently contained all of my swim gear—my sweet wetsuit that I adore, tinted Aqua Sphere Vista goggles [best things ever for open water swimming (OWS)], Aquaphor ointment for my underarms & neck; Carmex for my lips; one energy gel for 30 minutes before the swim; Rolaids for the last minute since I do have reflux and even though I took my Prilosec earlier, I can still get heartburn when I am horizontal in the water for 2.4 miles); ear plugs to help conserve body temperature during a cold swim and also to keep the lake water from aggravating me; throw away socks for my feet to stay warm until I entered the water; neoprene booties in case the water temperature was 65 degrees or less and I would be permitted to wear them; my neoprene swim cap with a strap; my Ironman issued swim cap; and my Timex Ironman watch on my right wrist. My race timing chip had been strapped to my left ankle since I picked it up on Thursday!
Adam parked quickly and easily in the parking garage that was a block away from the US Airways parking garage. So many cars were waiting in line to enter the US Airways garge for race parking—he decided it would be better to walk the extra block than sit in the traffic. I could always jump out of the car and let him park if we were running late, but we were fine for time. I really had to go to the bathroom by this point, and any of my triathlon friends know that ‘I POOPED TODAY’ before a race is a great thing. I spotted three little blue houses by the finish line as we walked up to Ironman Village but two were still locked up; there was only one person in line for the open one so I waited. I went in, success, and then as I was preparing to get out of there, I heard a guard screaming at the other folks now waiting in line, Adam included, saying these potties were for the finish and were not open yet, that there were potties for us down in the race transition area. Whew—lucky for me—that was behind me, literally. I was set with the bathroom. Most everyone pees in their wetsuits—that I would do if the urge returned. I do NOT poop in my wetsuit as I have heard some folks do, I am not quite that competitive —which is one reason I do not want to volunteer as a wetsuit stripper/peeler LOL just wear gloves like we do in the medical tent if you sign up for that job!
When Adam and I arrived in Ironman Village, we parted company, with plans to meet up prior to the race start so that I could give him my phone. I first went to my Bike Gear Bag and added the PB&B sandwich so that I would have it in swim to bike transition (T1) following the swim. I knew that I would be hungry when I came out of that 2.4 mile swim, and I did not want to start a 112 mile bike ride hungry. Then I went to my awesome Uga in the transition area—I put the Ziploc bag of Honey Stingers and salt/caffeine tabs in my bento box (ensuring that the Ziploc bag was OPEN in the bento box so that I could reach in and just start eating—no time for opening bags on the bike!); double checked that my water bottles were still full (I had a new Torpedo bottle system on the aero bars and one frame cage with a bottle); then took Uga from her rack to have air added to her tires. For a moment, I was sorry that I did not have my own pump, but I was just too nervous to deal with borrowing one and inflating the tires myself. I knew where the Tribe Multisport Tent (plug here for Tribe—they rock! See them in Scottsdale for all of your race week bike needs!) was located in the transition area from the day before when I checked Uga in, so I went straight there for air—it was a lot less painful than I had imagined once I realized that I was in the line for mechanical issues rather than air and then got into the appropriate line. I returned Uga to her spot where she would wait until I picked her up following the swim, and then I needed to go to my Run Gear Bag and drop my eyeglasses off. I did not know if I would want my glasses on the run, but I wanted to have them just in case. Finally, it was time to go to body marking, don my swim gear, and drop my Morning Clothes Bag off in transition. Full distance Ironman races are a bit different than other triathlons in that you do not set up your transition areas for T1(swim to bike transition) and T2 (bike to run transition). When you come into transition, you have your bag waiting—you grab your respective gear bag and go to a changing tent. Next, I found the body markers and had 3213 written on my bilateral biceps and my age as of December 31, 2014, 54, written on my left calf. I should also add that I had my Cactus Buddies Facebook group temporary tattoos on my left bicep and my right calf; this is how we would identify each other out on the course.
I then went to the wall by transition, found a place to park myself and my swim gear, which was still in my Morning Clothes Bag, and called Adam. He was able to make his way to the wall by me and I gave him my phone. No pictures, not even me. I listened for the water temperature announcement, and I knew then that I could not wear my neoprene booties since the temperature was 66 degrees; we had missed the 65 degree cutoff. I put on the bottom of my wetsuit, made sure my timing chip anklet was under the wetsuit on my left ankle (again, I had put it on my ankle on Thursday at Athlete Check In and had not removed it—definitely did not want to lose that!), then put my throw away socks back on. I applied the Aquaphor ointment heavily to my underarms and neck and pulled on my wetsuit. I love my Blue Seventy Reaction wetsuit. We have been through some crazy swims together. I made sure that the wetsuit was pulled up securely under my arms and that I had access to the zipper string on my right side; that string is there if you need to get out of the wetsuit. I put it under the Velcro closure at the nape of the neck so I knew right where it was. I had my Timex Ironman watch on my right wrist so that I could put my Garmin on the left when I transitioned for the bike. I set the Timex to the chrono mode so that I could time my swim. I then put Carmex all over my lips so that they would stay lubed for that long swim, and I put on my two swim caps. I put my goggles on top of my head and tucked my wax ear plugs under my sleeve so that I could hear announcements just until I jumped into the water. I always use a neoprene swim cap underneath my race issued swim cap as the cooler water temperatures can aggravate my right Trigeminal Neuralgia (irritates the facial nerve in my temporal/right forehead area and it can be very painful during a flare up); I was a little disappointed that the water temperature was only 66 degrees and not 65 or below as now I could not wear my booties. One of my friends thinks that the booties slow her down, but I love my neoprene booties, and I think that by keeping my lower extremities as warm as possible during a long cold swim, I do not cramp as badly in cold water. I tend to develop some wicked Charley horses during long distance cold open water swimming (OWS). (Don’t I sound like a New Englander??? Until I open my mouth—) I am so very thankful for the cold ocean water that is only four miles from our home (the temperature never increases over the high 60s), the ten buoys that are placed there from Memorial Day through Labor Day that provide me with excellent sighting experience, and the 20 dollars per year Ipswich resident pass to access beautiful Crane Beach!!
I began my walk to the water after a goodbye kiss to my guy—no pictures again—yep, I know that is impossible for Judy not to take a picture—but I was nervous. Period. I must have cried a dozen different times. I now had full wetsuit over my Coeur kit, and I put my swim gear along with my sweats, jacket, and shoes into my Morning Clothes Bag so I would have warm clothes at the finish. It gets cold in the desert at night, and I knew that I would finish late—yes, finish—no time to think DNF (Did Not Finish). The Morning Clothes Bag drop off was easy to find right in transition; however, in retrospect, I could have saved myself some stress if I had known ahead of time exactly where it was located. I had given Adam the extra gear retrieval ticket which is issued at Athlete Check In, in case he got bored, he could put Uga in the car after 6pm when transition reopened for bike removal. I began my walk to jump into Tempe Town Lake (TTL) and swim to the start line, about 120 meters. I knew exactly where to go on the dock beside the Swim Medical Tent. I had been there on numerous occasions, working as a volunteer at swim medical, racing in my DNF year 2012, practice swims both race years, and simply exploring the venue.
On my walk out of transition, I noticed an athlete ‘traffic jam’ and heard an announcement that the lake water level was low and, rather than jump into the lake from the dock, we would need to go to the stairs at the swim exit and enter from there. This was taking a little longer to get everyone into the water. I saw a sign in the spectator crowd that had Lindsay Jacobs name on it; the lady holding it looked like her; it must have been her mother. There was no time for hesitation getting into the water like there usually is when you enter from the dock. The stairs were crowded and once you got onto the stairs, you did not have the option of hanging out. I removed my throw away socks and tossed them up against the fence. My timing chip was in place under my wetsuit on my left ankle, I put in my ear plugs, double swim caps, strapped the neoprene swim cap across my chin—not my neck unless I wanted nasty blisters, goggles in place, and down the stairs I went. I jumped; it was cold. I swam off to the side, took some deep breaths, told myself to relax, and then began an easy swim out to the start just past the Mill Street bridges. The swim to the start was probably an extra 70 meters so not much at all, probably a total of 190 meters, just a little farther than the usual entry spot. I never saw my good friends Dan Maguire or Lindsey Jacobs that morning; I hoped that they were OK and actually I was a little happy that my nervous self was alone with about 2700 strangers other than my virtual friends, Dan, Lindsay, and a few participants I had met at Athlete Check In. I made the short swim to the start line, and wisely, decided to position myself about four sixths of the way back. I wanted out of the way of the fast folks but ahead of that last one six of the crowd that swims like I bike and run. So if you divided the swim start crowd into six parts, I was in part five out of six (I learned this strategy from a local Arizona coach). IMAZ is a mass swim start—a washing machine—you tread water once you reach the start line until the gun goes off—it is cold.—no, it is not—it could be—one year I worked in the swim medical tent and it was 59 degrees in the water—yep—in Arizona. You see, TTL is not a lake per se, it is a river, part of the Rio Salado (Salt River) with a rubber bladder, man-made, contained, the water is stagnant, non-flowing, and the air cools off a lot faster in the desert at night due to the low humidity—so the water cools off, too. I do not care if the afternoon high is 85 degrees—it is mid-November—and it gets cold at night, and it is an arid climate that I am not acclimated to—and the heat leaves the lake. For those triathletes that live locally or those that have the means to arrive in Tempe nine days before the race, 4 Peaks Racing hosts a swim on the Saturday morning eight days before the race. The longest distance available is 4000 meters which is a tad bit longer than the 2.4 mile Ironman swim distance but is perfect for a feel for TTL. Their swim course (Splash and Dash) is different than the IMAZ swim course, but it is the same cold murky lake! If the pH of the lake water reaches 9.0, the swim will be canceled because of the potential for, or actual, growth of blue-green algae.
I reached the swim start probably ten minutes before the race began. I do not know what time it was and I was not going to look, I already had my watch on the chrono view, and I was not playing with it. It was ready to begin in timing mode when the swim started, so I would just have to tread water and wait patiently. There was a jet ski hovering right in front of me, and several folks were hanging on to it, rather than treading water. I was fine treading water, plus I had the added flotation from the wetsuit. I felt like the wait was much longer than it should have been. I remember looking back under the double bridges toward the stairs, and there were still a lot of pink and green caps waiting to enter the water. We must be starting late, but I never knew if we were or not, I never looked at my watch, and I would not learn until much later that night that we did in fact have a five minute delay; we began at 705am so the race would end at 1205am. This would become very important to my race later.
The gun went off; the swim was on. It was a battlefield, and I was disturbed because I realized that I was a female in a green swim cap and not in pink like the other females!! Oh the things we tend to focus on in these races. I was hoping that World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) did not have my incorrect gender on my registration, I had already had registration issues and did not appear on the original bib list, and therefore I did not have my name on my bib. But my gender really did not matter anyway because I would never place in my age group, much less get a qualifying slot to Kona (any Ironman’s dream)—but the number of participants in each age group does affect Kona slot allocation, and I surely did not want to mess with that for anyone! I swam defensively—I always do in OWS events. I would not take anything for all of the experience I have gotten over the years by registering for every OWS that I can get myself into! We are very fortunate in New England to have so many choices. OWS is nothing like swimming in the lane of a pool. And TTL is not a difficult sighting venue if you have experience—until—the sun rises. The swim goes about a mile east and up the lake—wear tinted goggles—they definitely help. And follow the crowd. My goggles did great in the swim—no leaks, no pressure points—swim caps were fine. I had my neoprene strap across my chin, not my neck, so no rubbing—and I just swam, and swam—bilateral breathing, every third stroke, minimal kicking, into the sun. I spotted the left red turn buoy at about the one mile point, and left I went. There are yellow sighting buoys periodically all the way to the first red turn buoy; the course is very well marked. Left I went at the turn, the swim still crowded, everyone bunching up at the turns. I was face down and feeling for bodies with my hands—watching for bubbles as I could not see anything in this water anyway. I got punched, kicked, hit, and scratched. (Ladies & gents, be nice to your fellow triathletes and trim your nails!), swam over, pushed under, but not too badly because I fight back. A couple of times, I just literally had to swim away from annoying people—anyway, I made the left turn to head back west in the lake for the final long one mile or so stretch (the shape of the swim is a rectangle), and I swam, and swam. I was probably at about the 1.5 mile distance when I noticed how rough the water still was. I was perplexed and this becomes important later—but I observed that the crowd had thinned out—the faster folks were long gone, the slower ones were behind—there were not enough swimmers around me to make the water this rough??? I felt like I was in a choppy ocean swim—which I love—but it definitely slows me down. The Ironman swim cut off time is 920am (WTC imposes several cuts that you have to make by certain times throughout the day to continue). I have never really worried about making that swim cutoff—what I was most concerned about in this swim, or any long cold swim, was the potential for leg cramps to occur, especially at the last turn, and, the exit—the IMAZ swim exit deserves special attention.
You have to climb up those metal stairs—the ones we went down earlier today to get into the lake for the swim start. It is an ordeal—at least in my mind—and now even more so with the low water level. The bottom step is up out of the water. So you have to pull yourself up onto the step. This is where I say thank goodness for three things. First, the swim clinic, sponsored by wannatri coaching, which was held prior to the 4000m OWS that I attended eight days before IMAZ—there, I learned that if I start kicking at the final turn buoy with about a tenth or so of a mile left, it will help get the blood flowing back through my legs that are vasoconstricted from the cold water and compression of the wetsuit. Second, the practice swim the day before the race—that is where I learned to pull myself up by the rail as I exited and put my butt on the bottom step, spin around, and pull myself to a stand. (I was sorely disappointed eight days earlier when I realized that the 4000m swim was on the opposite side of the lake, and I could not practice the stair exit. I guess I should read the ‘race details’ section more closely when I register for an event!!) Third, Volunteers—you just cannot say it enough—IMAZ volunteers ROCK! They are positioned on the stairs, several of them—once I had my butt on the bottom step; they pulled me right up and out! I almost cramped, as I usually do, but it was very mild—I got my bearings and land legs back on, and continued (2.4 miles is a long time to be horizontal and then to start running to my bike); I also was cold. I looked at the clock and the time was 1 hour 35 minutes 44 seconds, wow, I’ll take that, sort of where I was hoping to be, and definitely better than I expected in the rough conditions of today—AND, the amazing Mike Reilly gave me a shout out when I exited the water!! Thank goodness for wet suit strippers…as I ran from the stairs I had my arms and torso out of the wetsuit; I then chose one of the most distant (from the stairs) peelers and sat down very carefully, paying special attention not to fall out, for them to pull my legs out—I once fell flat on my butt and herniated my L5-S1 disc—I can’t do that again!! Wetsuit off—vertical again—made a special note that my timing chip was still on my left ankle and did not come off with my wetsuit—that is why I put it on under the wetsuit—had my wetsuit over my arm (in love with my wetsuit almost as much as my bike Uga!), swim caps and goggles in my hand, lost the ear plugs and did not care, and off running I went to grab my T1 Bike Gear Bag—it iss a ‘long run’, expect your T1 time to be doubled—and there was Adam standing up against the rail as I ran past!!
As I ran into the Bike Gear Bag area, I was screaming out my race number to the volunteers, and by the time I entered the Bike Gear Bag area, there was my bag—I took it from the volunteer and headed toward the Women’s Changing Tent—it was the second tent just past the Men’s Changing Tent—do not go into the wrong tent—lots of naked bodies—LOL! As I approached the tent, I ran into the pottie, then came out and sat in a chair outside the tent—I did not need to go inside the tent to change since I would continue the bike race in my Coeur kit that I had put on at home earlier and wore underneath my wetsuit. As I sat outside in a chair, an awesome volunteer helped me put on my black shrug—maybe this wasted a little time, I do not know, arm warmers would have been faster but I wanted my shoulders covered too, it was cold out of the water, and I felt like I needed this for the first bike loop (first out of three loops, about 37 miles). It is just hard to get clothes on a wet body, even after I had dried them off a little with my Ariel towel that was in my bag. I got the shrug on my left arm, threaded it under my shoulder straps, then right arm. Then I turned on my Garmin so it would detect satellites and put it on my left wrist, I turned the right wrist Timex Ironman watch to time of day mode. Pink Cancer Sucks socks on each foot and bike shoes; liquid EFS gel in my pocket; solid orange, of course, Bondiband (another brand devotion) on my head, helmet, sunglasses; pink Betty sweat band on my wrist to wipe my nose (regardless of what the fellow says about them slowing you down and being extra weight—whatever!!); cycling gloves, yep I’m a nerd—and throw away gloves over those. I was dressed perfectly and quickly enough, I then ate a half of my PB&B sandwich, drank a bottle of water, and off I I had to run through the changing tent to get to the exit for bike transition, shouted out my number so that the volunteer could grab my sweet Uga, ran her to the Bike Mount line, T1 time was 10 minutes 40 seconds, though I did not know that at the time, I just knew that it was about 851am and Uga and I were off on a three loop, 112 mile bike ride, through the desert, and I was thrilled to be on Uga before 9am, out in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, a course I was fortunately familiar with—and NOT ‘flat and fast’, as some folks like to say! (Don’t let me hear you say that, it could be dangerous!) The ride out of Tempe is about seven or so miles until you hit the Beeline Highway; once you make that turn onto the Beeline, you climb gradually for eleven miles to the turn around and head back down to complete one loop. The last four of that out portion of the loop prior to the turnaround of each loop is a small grind. The ‘flat’ course actually has a total elevation gain of 2577 feet for all three loops combined.
As I headed out from transition on Uga, I was so excited, I failed to notice something very important—WIND—crazy wind—now it makes sense—rough lake water—it was all adding up—I had not checked the weather forecast—at all—since Wednesday. I heard an announcement at Thursday’s mandatory Athlete Meeting that I attended (the first of three that you can choose from, there were two more on Friday) that the weather for race day looked perfect with no wind. I just took that for granted. I was just thinking how thankful I was that the air temperature was cooling off; 85 degrees would have been hot for cycling in the afternoon when the sun is at peak, I do not care how dry and non-humid it is!! What I did NOT know was that along with the temperature drop in the desert down in the valley comes—the dreaded desert crosswinds! As I headed out onto the bike ride, I saw Diane Jackson sitting alongside the road watching the race and that distracted me for a minute; but after I went on for a few miles and made the turn onto Alma School Road, only six or seven miles into the course, a pancake flat leg, and my speed was only 10mph—seriously??? How could this be? Where did this wind come from? I started thinking—Adam and I had not even discussed the weather. I had avoided my Cactus Buddies group since earlier in the week because the race chatter was stressing me out. And even though I had met up with them Saturday morning before the practice swim for a group picture, I did not hear any weather discussions. Weather—me the weather stalker, for any race I do—ignorance is bliss—how did this happen? And what did it matter anyway that I did not know to expect the wind?? It did not matter—I turned onto McDowell Road and the wind force decreased—good—maybe it is just that one road. HAHA fat chance—then I was on the infamous Beeline Highway—wind in my face—bad wind—all the way to the turnaround in Fountain Hills—10mph—dig in—hard to eat and drink—last four miles out, grind—8mph—really? How could this be after I had gotten so strong training on the Computrainer? I only hoped I could make up this time on the return—since it is a descent. The return was fast—crazy fast—30+mph—wind bouncing poor Uga around—could not stay aero—afraid—held onto handle bars for dear life—no eating and drinking—but I finished the first lap in one piece—getting warm now—need to take off shrug—will stop at the bike aid station that is on the way out on each loop. I saw Adam as I was coming in on loop one and screamed out that the wind is horrible—he replied, what wind?!?! (I later learned that his reply was actually, It is a Northwest wind—however, as I soon would learn, that wind would only become worse as it moved from the Northwest to the Northeast). I saw Aaron from Tribe at their mechanic tent at the turnaround and yelled hi to him. Then back out on the second loop. Same wind—shucks—only worse—yep—worse—is that possible??? Why yes, it is happening—brutal—stopped at mile 40ish aid station and voided, removed shrug, filled water bottles (the volunteers did), talked briefly to volunteers—two young girls wanted to know how old I was LOL then off into the wind I went! Second loop—gradual climb going out the Beeline—shoot me—running nose—Uga jumping—giving it my all—wiping my nose on my wrist sweat (to the guy who said it adds extra weight POO POO I need to wipe my snotty nose). On every loop, there was a smell—it smelled like potties. It was after the aid station so I knew it was not our potties. It soon occurred to me that it was the landfill where I had flatted last weekend; the wind was blowing so hard that it was blowing all the stink around from the landfill! I continued pushing hard through the wind up the climb, got to make it back down to begin the third bike loop by 3pm—Ironman rule—no exceptions, not even by one second—go Uga go—do not want to get pulled from the course—plenty of time—I think—maybe —yes—I will make it up on the return leg. Finally, at the crest for the turnaround—mile 56—halfway there—wondering if my friends that are tracking me will realize that I am really faster than doubling the first half time would indicate, as the first half consists of two climbs going out and one returning descent whereas the second half consists of two returning descents and one climb going out the Beeline—very good for me to know that the second half will be faster—boom! I was still able to do math—second return—wind completely out of control—totally afraid to let go of handle bars—decided to stop at Bike Special Needs, void, drink and eat half of my PB&B sandwich. That is where I met some awesome folks! They were amazing there at the Bike Special Needs station, and my bag was at the far end. As I approached, I shouted out my race number, the volunteers called it out down the line and boom, there was the bag, and the sweetest ladies (who I later found on Facebook!!!!) who had my bag ready, helped me with my sandwich, took my picture eating my sandwich with one of them, and told me that they had accidentally called out my number beforehand and had been waiting for number 3213 HAHA!! I whined about the wind, and off I went again on this crazy descent. I finished the second loop in plenty of time to beat the 3pm cutoff for the bike—I think it was around 230pm or so, and then back out into that darn headwind I went again for my third and final loop. I was so over it, I just prayed that I could make it to the Fountain Hills turnaround by the next cut/course sweep of 415pm. I stopped at the same bike aid station where I had removed the shrug on the second loop (close to mile 80 now), saw Lindsey Jacobs but could not give her a hug as I dared not lose my place in the pottie line—refilled my bottles—did not see the girls again that were curious about the old lady’s age at my last stop, they must have ‘changed shifts’ LOL—and back into the wind…just ready to hit that turnaround at the top of the Beeline. Somewhere along this stretch, another Cactus Buddy came up beside me and cycled along with me for a few minutes; she told me that the wind had been predicted by a meteorologist that belongs to our group—information that I missed by staying off of Facebook group for a few days, probably for the better. It is also at this point in the race where you start seeing the same people for many miles—all of us were doing the same pace, exhausted from the winds, and passing each other back and forth. It gets very aggravating at times. I made it up to the turnaround at 355pm, 20 minutes to spare before that 415pm cutoff—and now, my next point of concern per Ironman rules, I needed to be off the bike by 530pm. I have got this—unless I crash—unless I flat—unless a dog gets me—unless unless unless. There were flats everywhere I looked—folks—there are cacti in the desert—quills blow—onto the roads—and they were really blowing on this day in this crazy wind. Get Gatorskin tires and inject sealant into your tires—invest the extra money—you have already invested a small fortune to get to this point, so why not??? What I remember most about my final descent—other than the crazy fast speed and the wind, was the large number of cyclists climbing the Beeline up their third loop that could not possibly make the 415pm time cut—made me sad—very sad—it was a lot of people—trucks waiting to pick up the bikes—police picking up cones—preparing to open roads back up—boohoo—but I should be OK on this leg—SHOULD! Finally, I was back in before 5pm—boom—now, I had seven hours left to change clothes and run/walk a marathon—I got this! I hope—but lots can happen over a 26.2 mile run/walk after a long day of swimming and cycling. So do not get too overconfident at this early point. Nutrition plan was dead on my goal—I felt good—a little tired from being beat by the wind but pretty good! Now, I just needed to make the run cutoff points—Ironman rules include a midnight race cutoff—period—not one second over—17 hours is the maximum time allowed, and the race is over.
I was back in bike to run transition (T2) by 5pm, (my total bike split was eight hours seven minutes 30 seconds, which I did not know at this time) simply thrilled that I had 7 hours remaining to change clothes and complete the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. I took a Celebrex; yes I did; it was 100 mg and I had taken one in the morning; the maximum daily dosage is 200 mg. I was fine; just wanted to do anything I could to prevent any potential inflammation. I decided to remove my Coeur kit bottoms and put on my Mimosa Sparkle Skirt. Sparkle Skirts had pulled me through a lot of marathons in the past couple of years, so I was certain that the time lost in changing into a Sparkle Skirt would be worth the comfort gained by having on fresh bottoms! I left the Coeur kit top on, grabbed my long sleeve Clemson Tiger Paw shirt and tied it around my waist; donned my running shoes, that of course still had the four charms and two wings that Adam had determined to be of negligible weight (you HAVE to know my boyfriend!), grabbed my Bondiband, IMAZ visor, Tylenol, Carmex, Clinique orange lipstick, yes, true story, at every race, usually in my bra, but this time in my pocket; Aquaphor, Rolaids, orange handkerchief, eyeglasses, and off I went. Oh, and I had a super sweet volunteer who helped me change in T2; she was amazing. I wish I knew who she was! I did not care about my Garmin anymore—I do not know why I did not take it off—I never looked at it once on the run—it just aggravated me, and I almost threw it down on the ground. It was not accurate on the bike. I did, however, care very much about my little Timex Ironman watch with the interval timer. This brand/style watch was my first running watch ever when I started ‘Gallowaying’ back in 2003. I trained for my first marathon ever with former Olympian Jeff Galloway’s program in Augusta, Georgia. I had my watch set for the marathon leg on run:walk intervals of 4:1—Jeff would tell me that, based on my pace, and the fact that I just rode my bike 112 miles, this is too much running. I probably should have been at 1:1—but I did not want all of the starting and stopping, it gets to be tough on my knees, hips, and back. I did most of my marathons at 4:1 so that was the pace that was in my brain, though. And anyone that has ever done an Ironman understands the significance of the mental component.
I headed out on the run, and how well I know that there is a lot of concrete on this run. It is a two loop course around TTL, and a lot of it is on sidewalks. There are several places where the terrain changes and you run onto dirt and asphalt, but there is a lot of concrete. And concrete is hard—pounding on concrete generates a lot of forces through your bones, muscles, and joints, and especially through your spine. This was my only concern about making a revenge attempt at this particular Ironman—not the distances involved, but the impact of the concrete on my back.
There were a lot of spectators when I headed out on the run; it was about 5.06pm; I think I saw Jeff from Tribe as I headed out of transition. As I began my long trek around the lake into the sunset, I was so happy—off my amazing bike, folks everywhere cheering us on, and out to the concrete I went. I do not know why, but I was surprised to see the Run Special Needs station very soon into the run. The run is a two loop course around TTL, & I knew it would be located about halfway; so it made sense I guess that this was where it should be located, but at that point I was like whatever, I did not really want my sandwich yet. Who knows why I was so confused about seeing it there within the first mile; I had been out there for a long time. I felt like my nutrition was still dead on, and there would be a lot of nutrition on the run course at every mile. I had my EFS liquid shots on me, and other than feeling a little thirsty, which I know is an important cue/indicator, or maybe even symptom, I felt good. After a couple of miles, running with 4:1, I noticed that my neck and shoulders were really sore from the bike. That was a rough bike ride; the wind beat me up. Even with all of my wind training—my hands were tired of white knuckling the handle bars—sort of like driving a car in a Boston blizzard or South Carolina thunderstorm. My eyeglasses were annoying me, so I took them off and put them into my front zipper pocket. I also saw Adam somewhere in this early stretch, at about mile three to four; I really do not remember where, I just remember that he had his camera in selfie video mode and he held it up and told me to say something and I was like hey to my friends, kiddos, not really sure what I said, but I just remember I wanted to get going, and I wanted him to go find a bar and watch football. The Patriots were playing the Colts at 630pm AZ time, and Adam is a very passionate Pats fan; there are some really cool restaurants and bars along Mill Avenue across from Ironman Village, so I knew he could find a sweet spot to chill. That is a plus about having this Ironman right by the Arizona State University campus! At this point, I did not know, of course, that I would not see Adam again until the finish line, but it was probably best, because even though I was nice to everyone that encouraged me along the way, I may have been a spitfire with my boyfriend in the latter miles—funny how we do that with those who love us most!!
I decided to change my interval timer on my Timex Ironman watch to 2:1—this 4:1 wasn’t working; I was walking every hill/incline, geez they seemed like mountains, and they were not big hills. The volunteers at the aid stations were amazing; I saw the Super Heroes station where Adam and I had volunteered in 2013. One of the Mesa, Arizona, bike shops had a bacon station; I love bacon but I passed it by—it did, however, bring sweet memories of my Endurance Sports Connection friends which kept my mind occupied for a few minutes. Many of them were in Las Vegas running the marathon or half marathon at the same time that I was now out here running. By this time the sun set and it was dark and, of course, without the sun, the desert starts cooling. I guess I was colder than I realized, but I didn’t put on my long sleeved shirt yet. I got a lot of compliments on my Sparkle Skirt. The Tylenol pills were shaking in the container and one girl told me I had sparkles and jingles. I couldn’t respond LOL! I also had a headache—not a dehydration type headache but I felt like my headband and visor were squeezing my head. First I removed the visor and hung it on my race number belt; then I also took off the headband and stuffed it in my pocket—another plug for Sparkle Skirts—pockets for days, and the shorts do not slip. My hair was everywhere, but I had an elastic hairband around my wrist, so I pulled it back. I decided I would put the visor on within the last mile of my run so that I would have it on for the finish. The run aid stations were all well stocked with water, electrolyte drink, potato chips, pretzels, cola, chicken broth, gel, gel chews, fruits, and who knows what else. I took random stuff; I figured if my primary fuel on most of my long bike rides had been a lobster roll, then what could it hurt! I had my own gel; I mostly took their water, electrolyte drink, and cola. I think I only had chicken broth once when I got cold. I love cola at this point in a long day/race. I had my own salt tabs too, with caffeine. I did not know if I needed them. BASE salt tabs had a booth on the course; they rock!; but I was not sure if I should take theirs since I had my own, so I passed them by. But one of their guys did walk quite a ways with me on the second loop and for that, I am forever grateful. There are amazing people in this world and triathlon community; he is one of them. Miles ten and eleven were especially emotional for me because that is the point where I developed chest pain after becoming severely dehydrated and had to drop out of this event two years ago. I had made it past the devil; I could do this.
I made it to the halfway point; I needed to be starting the second loop by 9pm, and I was fine. It was about 830pm. The next checkpoint was at the twenty mile marker by 1030pm, so I needed to cover 6.9 miles within a couple of hours. Unless I croaked, or developed cardiac issues, this would be manageable. I stopped at Run Special Needs, shouted out my number and that the bag had Clemson Tiger Duck Tape wrapped around it, and right away, the volunteers had my bag—smart way to tag your bag and make it easily identifiable among almost 2700 black bags! I grabbed half of my PB&B sandwich, and off I went. I did not need anything else in the bag. No blisters at all, I could not believe it. I continued on from those awesome volunteers, 13.1 miles to go—I could do it—how many times have I ran 13.1 miles. I just hit my 100 lifetime half marathons mark in September at the Pumpkinman Triathlon Festival Half Ironman, which, by the way, is an amazing local (to New England) event in Southern Maine directed by an Ironman triathlete, Kat Donatello, who also raced at Ironman Arizona this year! And I had just ran my fifty-fifth marathon/ultra this year, too, I’ve got this—but I could hear my sweet Daddy saying to me, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.” (we were part-time egg farmers back in the day!) I continued on after the halfway point with my half sandwich. It was good. I was hungry. I also noticed that now, rather than my shoulders and neck bothering me, I was getting lower back discomfort. I knew exactly what it was—it was the arthritis I have in my lumbar region in my facet joints. I know that pain. I know when it becomes inflamed. And it was beginning to bother me—a little—but this is not new for me. I took two Tylenols—probably like spitting in the ocean, but I took them. I could not take any more anti-inflammatories—I already had taken 200 mg Celebrex today, and I certainly did not want to blow out my kidneys or even further increase my already present risk of hyponatremia that is there simply because I am slow. This happens, sometimes my back bothers me, I have not had my back injected in over a year, and I have been stable, doing fine since a fall on my rear in 2010 that really threw me for a loop. Then, the next thing that really jumps out at me along my journey was mile sixteen. Somewhere around mile sixteen, I saw myself in a shadow under a street lamp, and I looked a little tilted to the left. Denial is a wonderful ego defense mechanism because my internal response to my shadow was, no you are not tilted, and it is just the angle of the light on my shadow. Ok, on I went. Got to get to mile twenty by 1030. I got this—I made it, I think around 1015. After mile twenty, I knew I was uncomfortable, but how many 10Ks have I ran, I will get it done. And I kept going. And I kept getting a little more uncomfortable. But not too bad, no symptoms other than arthritic discomfort and yes, I had a muscle spasm in my back. It was controllable. Mile twenty-three at 11.01pm, just a little over a 5K left—some guy came up to me and told me what pace I needed to maintain to finish, I think he said nineteen minutes per mile, but who knows. It was also around this time that I heard from someone on the course that the official finish time will be 1205 am since the race did not start until 705am because of the delay starting the swim with the low water level.
I will say here that I have a prescription for a muscle relaxer, baclofen. But I only use them for extreme situations if I know my back is beginning to spasm. I have not taken one in a while. I never have run with them. They alter my mentation and make me very sleepy; I can only take one at bedtime—so no, I did not have them on me while I was running. It never dawned on me to take them with me. Well, all I can say was from mile twenty-three to twenty-four, my spasms got worse—and by mile twenty-five, I literally had to push with my spasmed muscles on the left to try and straighten up toward the right and keep moving. I was walking a lot. I had to void but knew I could not stop at a pottie again. I had probably already stopped three times on the run but very quick stops; the last stop, I was in such a hurry I peed all over my pretty Sparkle Skirt. I love running in the cold dark with a wet urine smelling skirt.
I will just say that at this point, mile 25, was the first point in the entire race where DNF entered my mind—the real and very probable possibility. I decided that I would not enter the finisher’s chute if I could not finish. I did not want a medal for almost finishing. Finishing an Ironman meant finishing sub seventeen hours, and that was the only way I would cross that finish line and accept anything. I really could not believe that this was happening to me after such a long, tough day out there. I cannot mention every person I encountered during these last two miles, many of them have found me on Facebook from the videos and our most amazing Cactus Buddies group, but what stands out was—there was a girl, I think in a purple shirt. She walked with me awhile—I was ‘running’—her walk was faster. I remember thinking a couple of times that I wished she would be quiet—but in retrospect, she knew I was in danger of not finishing. She was relentless—she kept on with me—maybe at least for a half mile. She told me, I have to leave you to go check on my athlete who is just ahead of you, but I will come back and check on you. I never saw her again, but that is OK, what she did for me in those few minutes is immeasurable. Then there was a man—I remember leaning over on him—I could not go on, and then I asked him to leave. I was maintaining my forward movement, but at this point, was so close, yet so far away, because of my back spasms. So on I went, at this point, very, very crooked. The spasm was uncontrollable and I could not maintain my pace, and I was within a half mile of finishing. I do not think I have ever looked at my watch so much, but I did not know where my watch time was in relation to the official Ironman clock—was it off by two minutes, one minute??. I took the time to put my visor on but never put on my lipstick—imagine that, me?!? Then there was the guy following me down the road in his truck. He was to my right in the open lane. He thought I was going to croak. I must have been a crazy sight. Then there was the four minutes remaining on the clock guy. I know now who he is. He was in my face—tough & stern—he may have been the one who told me I was going to DNF if I did not do something to keep going. And then there was the two minutes left on the clock guy(s)?—I think that may have been the timers that you see running in at the start of my finish line video. They were screaming at me to go. Somebody was with me—I have no idea who it was—and the next thing I remember is whoever this person was walking with me said, I have to leave you now but you are in the finisher’s chute, and Mike Reilly is coming to get you! And I rounded the corner and thought about where Adam was and if he was seeing all of this craziness and how glad I was that he had not been out on the run course. And lights, blinded by lights, and music—loud, and lots of people banging things on the chute, and there was Mike Reilly, saying my name and age, and he took my arm and told me I had 45 seconds. I just remember looking up at the clock, like wow—this is too crazy, and a lady ran up to me, at the time I did not even know it was Meredith Kessler who had earlier won the Ironman female race. And then I was finished, and Mike Reilly leaned over to my crooked level as I was ready to go down to the left, and he said, Judy Graham-Garcia, You Are An Ironman! And the lady put the medal around my neck. And I heard a guy say we are medical, and he took my left side from Mike Reilly, and they wrapped me in Mylar blankets. I was done, I had made it by twelve seconds, I was the LAST OFFICIAL FINISHER.
And then I saw Adam—he had been at the finish, he ran around to me. I was in a wheelchair with three medical guys. The one that helped me get my official finisher photograph also found me on Facebook. I wanted that picture; he asked me if I wanted the picture and I was like duh heck yeah!!! LOL! Anyone who knows me knows that I love my pictures. They pushed me in the wheelchair to the photography backdrop and helped me up; one of the guys had my left side and he stood me there, still holding me, and I said just be in the photo with me, he said no it is your picture. He said get in place and brace yourself for the picture and I am going to move away quickly and you will be standing on your own. He asked the photographer to be ready to snap. I stood there, slightly tilted, and I heard click, click, click. I just remember seeing Adam and the look on his face, disbelief with the entire situation, like the deer in the headlights look. I sat back in the wheelchair, already feeling better. The medical guys insisted on going by the finish line medical tent and I said fine, my friend Dr. Dave Carfagno is the medical director, and I would love to see him and let him know I finished—last. We took some pictures and talked briefly about my back; I just wanted to go home, and I knew I had muscle relaxers at home. Adam pushed me to the car, and we returned the wheelchair on our way out. By the time we got back to the condo in Scottsdale, I was able to stand myself up out of the car and go in and shower. We were back ‘home’ in about 50 minutes after I finished the race. Adam had already picked up Uga and my gear bags, and they were packed in the car when I finished. I probably should have eaten more when I got home, but I did not have a huge appetite. I just wanted to drink fluids and had already drank chocolate milk. It was all over, I had reached my goal. Sweet redemption. I was an Ironman X2!
The morning after Ironman was a whirlwind. I found out very early from one of my daughters that my friend Lisa Rohr had posted an amazing finish line video that she had pulled from livestream. There were other videos out there. A lot of East Coast family and friends that fell asleep before I finished saw the videos. A lot of my East Coast friends were awake when I finished, whether retired, insomnia or nursing babies, there were a lot of middle of the night congratulatory remarks on my Facebook page! I was overwhelmed with all of the support, it was amazing, but all I wanted to do was get down to Ironman Village and buy an Ironman Arizona Finisher’s Jacket and find out if I could retrieve my Bike Special Needs and Run Special Needs bags—those are the two bags without guaranteed return, so I was careful not to include anything that I was unable to part with. However, I did have some socks; blister Band-Aids, and other items that if I could get back, would be great. Adam loves seeing the awards ceremony and Ironman Kona slot allocations for the most talented athletes, so we walked down to the awards ceremony. Lo and behold, there I was, on the video jumbotron, crossing the finish line, crooked, with Mike Reilly and Meredith Kessler. Mike Reilly, of course, as emcee of this Monday morning awards ceremony, announced that his voice was suffering on this post-race morning because of all of the ‘You Are An Ironman’ chants to the finishers, but especially to the last two ladies that he was screaming at—I said, that was me! I spoke with him after the ceremony and offered my most sincere, heartfelt appreciation for his support of me at the finish line, then had my picture taken with him. It truly was a defining moment in my life.
Adam and I found my two Special Needs Bags; the second halves of the PB&B sandwiches were still in there LOL! Better to have and not need it than to need it and not have it. We waited in line to get into the merchandise tent. And there were no finisher jackets left, but I did learn that more were ordered. But just in case, I bought a very pretty purple finisher’s fleece that would be perfect to wear to the Purple Out Military Appreciation Day Clemson Football game on Saturday!!!
Everyone who knows me well, or not so well, knows that I love Clemson. I LOVE CLEMSON—everything about it—but especially, as much as I hate to admit it, Tiger football. I graduated from Clemson—in 1988, the 10 year plan—yep—they gave me a second chance—after I dropped out in 1982 (the year I should have graduated), they let me return in 1986 with my first two children, one and two years old. And I graduated. Sort of like Ironman Arizona—back this year for unfinished business from two years ago—and I finished—I worked hard to finish at Clemson and at Ironman, and I love them both. So, what else could I have possibly crossed the Ironman Arizona finish line wearing, other than orange, and my Clemson Tiger Paw shirt?!?!
Finishing an Ironman triathlon was a dream come true for me in 2011 at Lake Placid. I love seeing motivated triathletes take on this challenge. It is a huge commitment—temporally, financially, physically, and mentally. I wish that all of my friends who have this dream achieve it—but respect the distance. Do not minimize the effort that it takes to make it 140.6 miles within seventeen hours. Make sure you have the full support of your family members; relationships can and will suffer if this understanding is not up front and supported. If you train properly, you will miss social activities, training will probably become your lifestyle. But what a reward finishing an Ironman is, and not just the finish, but the entire journey!
I guess the only other thing I should add is that I have decided that it is best if I put this distance behind me and be happy with two finishes. I do not ever want to go through another DNF again. Every year since 2012, I have entered the Kona lottery. I have spoken at length with Adam about what I will do in March 2015 if my name is selected in the drawing. I decided a few days ago that I think I will email World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) and ask them to remove my name from the lottery. The 70.3 distance a couple of times a year, and Olympic distance, is good for me; that is where I need to focus and improve. I had often hoped along my training journey that I could keep this up and get stronger and do an Ironman in a new age group. I thought about doing Ironman Maryland next year. But that is OK, I am happy, I did what I never in my life ten years ago would have thought possible. I am an Ironman. Times two. And, I am a Final Official Finisher, too!