So off I go out of transition. People are doing their normal crazy business and I’m settling, chilling, and doing my thing. It’s quite chilly out and I’m a bit cold with the only dry thing on me being my arm warmers. The IM Arizona course is three loops that are essentially uphill out and downhill back. I rode the course two days prior so I know it, but I have no idea what kind of pace to expect at my Ironman heart rate range. Everything I had been told was that it is a VERY fast course. Going out I was pleased. At the bottom of my Ironman heart rate range I was seeing some pretty fast numbers for going uphill, like 24mph. I’m thinking “wow, I’m going to FLY today if I’m going 24mph uphill”. I got to the half way point of the loop which is the high point of the course and made the turn around. Thank You Angela for letting me borrow your helmet, it had fast PRO mo-jo!
Chuckie and Angela were up there cheering and it was really cool to have them there. Chuck said “Good Sonja Good” and it was like a mental check mark. I made the turn and instantly it all becomes clear, a major “Oh no” comes out of my mouth. The head wind was INSANE. I wish I could put it into words, but I know I’m not going to be able to. It rivaled some of the stiffest headwinds I have ever ridden in. I start downhill and I’m pushing pretty hard. My heart rate starts to get into the top of my Ironman range and I’m going 21mph, which is about 3mph slower than I went UP the same hill.
It was really brutal. Brutal on the heart rate, brutal on the psyche. Usually I am really good at just picking a heart rate and riding that. But for some reason I was off. I was struggling to control the execution of my race, something I typically consider a strength of mine. I found myself battling the wind, when really I’m going to loose that battle everytime. I would push harder and harder and see heart rates that I just wan’t allowed to ride in an Ironman. I would tell myself to simmer down if I wanted to run well. It was like when people get caught up in the energy at the beginning of the race and go too hard. Well I was getting caught up in the battle that the wind was dishing out on me and going too hard.
I will say it was nice to see Michelle doing so well in front of me, maintaining even splits about 8 minutes ahead of me. That did motivate me to continue to ride smart. We’ve been through lots of hellacious rides together and this was just another one...but we were 8 minutes apart.
And so it went for three laps. The wind picked up on each lap. The downhill portion of the first lap I averaged 21mph, the second lap 19mph, and the third...a whopping 17.2mph. The wind continued to pummel us out there with everyone taking an equal beating, and at many points that was my only solace “Everyone is in the same boat”. I tend to thrive on adversity, and while I don’t think “thrive” was quite appropriate, “go to battle” would be apropos.
My throat was holding together pretty well. I had several bouts of coughing out there and there was one spell that had me wondering if I was going to be able to run with it. Every time my throat got raw and sore I sipped on my Fruit Punch EFS and that brought it down. The cold actually helped me with my nutrition. I think a lot of people didn’t drink because they were afraid to take their hands off their handlebars.
Some highlights were the end of lap two where it started to rain, then pour, then drench, then hail on me. That was a definite “Oh crap” moment. Arm warmers weren’t going to cut it for another 2 hours of hail. But luckily it subsided.
I was still taking splits on Michelle and noticed that at the end of lap two she was now about 4 minutes up. So I was very surprised to see her just 100 yards ahead a short 5 miles later. I caught her and asked how she was doing, she said she flatted. Goodness, like the girl doesn’t have enough to think about with it being her first Ironman, Plantar Fascitis, and these conditions. I told her “You are WAY ahead, don’t worry, stop at the mechanic, fix your flat, you’ll be fine”. It was a total lie, in my head I was like “Crap, there went her Kona slot”. Little do I know!
Onwards I went. I had been preparing for the third lap all day. I wanted to ride the back half of the lap with the downhill and headwinds really strong to set myself up for a good marathon. The up was easy, the down was BRUTAL. I exceeded my Ironman heart rate ceiling several times. This is something I never do, I’m always very careful. I got tossed around by the wind, but I rode hard.
At the end of the final lap I was reunited with Jenny. She was with me at the end of lap 2, and then we didn’t see each other the entire lap 3, but there she was again at the end of 3. She was a great motivator, and just a really friendly rider. Jenny qualified for Kona too, so maybe we will have a bike course reunion on the big island.
Coming in on the final lap our cheering crew was screaming and cowbelling up a storm and I actually motioned at them to “quiet down”. With the swimmers beating me up to high heaven and the wind screaming at me and brutalizing me for 5 and a half hours I was totally tapped from a sensory perspective. I was overwhelmed and hurting. I was feeling beat up, but I was still pushing as hard as I knew how. It hurt more than normal, but I wasn’t letting up.
I grabbed my T2 bag, ran into the tent, had two volunteers to help me and I just started crying. Nothing big, just little sniffles and whimpers. The ladies were asking if I was OK and I just said “That was a really hard ride, really hard”. They gave me a few pats on the back and nodded a lot. They did a great job getting me into my compression socks and my sweet fast hot Pink Kinvaras and up and out of there. I also took my spare long sleeve warm top in case it started to rain again.
Bike: 5:35:01, 20.1mph.