This was the race in the weather conditions that I hoped would never happen. I knew there would be trouble…
I had known ever since I first competed in endurance events 20 years ago, that I wasn’t built for the heat, especially on the run. I can survive on the bike in a certain amount of heat, probably due to the cooling effect of the wind but running – no way José.
I had decided to return to Ironman Arizona as I still felt I had to put in a better performance than the previous year’s hypothermic induced poor result (in terms of time and my feeling about how the race went for me). Initially there were a good number of Page Peeps signed up, but as time progressed the numbers dwindled and in fact by the time the race came up, had almost evaporated completely. Sissy and Alynn came along to watch and Rayman too, had already booked his travel arrangements before he broke his collar bone in an infamous wipeout during some last minute training in California with Aero (another Page legend). The upshot of people pulling out was that I took the chance to take Belinda’s (Bee) room at one of the closest (and also most expensive) hotels to the race start. I figured that I didn’t want the hasssle of renting a car and driving around or long walks when I could splash the cash and be half a mile from the race start. David Kerr was over from Hawaii to compete and Kerri had come to watch as well. There were more Peeps watching than competing!
It looked like it was going to be warm for the race – I was hoping that a front would blow through and the temperature would drop – but it didn’t. At least the water was warmer than last year lol…
I still got dropped in the swim – again, the course just doesn’t seem to suit my poor technique (my brother Iain has hypothesised that we needed swim courses with lots of turns as they cause the swimmers to funnel and hence bunch up again – and we soooo need the draft…) proven again by a split of 1:29:03 which was a couple of minutes faster than 2005. With the temperature at 8:30am already 20 deg C (a warm summer day in Scotland!), I was dripping with sweat as I bent down to start putting on my bike gear. Considering I was standing outside the change tent – I guess I already knew it was warming up…
At least there wasn’t so much wind on the bike this year. I cycled and cycled and the temperature climbed and climbed. Luckily there was some occasional high cloud to save us from some of the intensity of the sun but it doesn’t really make much difference in the desert. My buddy Mike said he would be coming up to the race to support me and he said I will spot him easily – he was smiling cheekily as he told me – I know he means it so I enjoyed the intrigue – all is revealed as I come up to complete lap 1 on the bike and ride back round the block at the start/finish in Tempe – there amidst a sea of closely packed spectators, signs and brouhaha, I cannot fail to see a lone Scottish Saltire (the Scottish Flag) waving for me (well and for my fellow Scot Bella Comerford!) – the only Scotsman in the race again is me, ‘The IronScotsman’ – Mike was right – I could not have missed it – my eyes fill with tears – how wonderful and on a day when I really do need the support…where did he get that flag?!? Not bad for a guy who’s never even been to Scotland!
My drinks were warming up and I noticed that the Gatorade at the aid stations was in baths of iced water. As I started to feel really hot after 4 hours I grabbed a Gatorade Sport, chugging down all ice cold 500 ml in less than 10 minutes – alarm bells were already going off in my head. I pick up my 2 extra bottles of carbo just past half way – when I try to drink one it was so warm that I just barf it up straightaways. Even although I’m not built for the heat – I have trained in the desert for years – problem is, as ever, time – after 4 or 5 hours my body gets sick – for the first time ever in a race I grab an ice cold bottle of water from an aid station and stream the contents over my head in a vain attempt to instigate some cooling – it helps for a few mins – so I repeat again. I’m not feeling good at all – it’s hard to believe that I’m in the same state as I was last year – yet in entirely different weather conditions – the temperature on the bike is now 28.5 deg C in the shade. I’m talking to the desert – asking her to protect me and keep me in one piece – we’ve come to know each other over the past 15 years I’ve been visiting Tucson. I had been going quite well timewise but now it’s all slipping away as I’m concentrating on reaching the turnaround for the 3rd and last time and then I can tell myself I’m heading home. It’s difficult to explain to others just how it feels to ride 112 miles in an Ironman. It really is about discomfort and pain management and then a whole bunch of miles where you just keep telling yerself to pedal and pedal and it will all be over soon.
Halfway back into town on lap 3 a guy passes me and then crashes into an orange road cone in front of me, launching it into my lane…he then performs an incredible save, steering his bike back into the lane in a fraction of a second and does not crash. I somehow manage to avoid the cone in front of me and continue on – focussing only on turning those pedals round and round – telling myself that if I keep doing that I will make it back to transition. I’m a little dizzy and know I need to drink but I can’t….
By the time I climb off my bike (in reflection I’m happy with my 5:53:31 split under the conditions) tired and dehydrated as I hand it gratefully to a volunteer, the temperature has reached 31 deg C. I haven’t been able to drink for over an hour and I’ve no saliva – I’m in trouble and I need to manage the transition and run to give myself the best chance of getting through a marathon in 30 degree heat. It always makes me emotional when I know my family will be watching my T2 time and again they will know that because it is slow I’m regrouping, the slower it is the worse condition I’m in – this is going to be slow. I never consider stopping or quitting. It’s all about what I have to do to make it to the Finish.
I change and drink a little iced water then I gingerly set out of transition and try and run into the wall of heat.
I manage to run for only 20 mins before I take a long 3 min walk at an aid station. Again I manage somehow to resume a run for a further 25 mins before my body says no more. Sure it’s saying no more to running, but I’m gonna make it walk now
It is soul destroying to be in this race and having to walk and walk – it takes soooo long to cover the miles – I drink at every aid station and still am only holding dehydration at bay. I end up walking 20 miles farther than I have ever walked anywhere, anytime in my whole life. Sissy, Alynn and Rayman offer encouragement and support as they sit in the shade under Mill Avenue Bridge. On lap 2 I stop and sit on a wall and chat with the girls for a brief moment while I eat my Shot Blox (they do work well for me, in the heat!) and then I’m off again walking…walking…walking…
As I’m walking up one of the small hills – I commiserate with a fellow competitor and apologise for the fact that all I can do is walk in this heat – that it is too much for me – he makes me feel better by telling me he is a local and it’s too hot for him! Another fellow competitor advises putting ice cubes down the front of ma shorts – I am a desperate man trying to ameliorate my overheating body so I try it – but hey frostbite isn’t much better lol!
I see TBone (Troy) as he cruises past me – he says he is feeling awful but he is 2 laps (and 18 miles) ahead of me on the run and looks good – in a tough race in the heat maybe he is struggling but he is powering his way to an 11:46.
Mike encourages me again as he waits for me on Mill Avenue Bridge – where again I apologise for the fact that all I can do is walk and he’s stuck out here in the heat, supporting me while we all will me towards that Finish line.
One of my friends, Seton Claggett (a super fast sub 10 hour Ironman) and owner of Tri Sports has the rocking’est aid station – definitely the best support on the run…how difficult it was to spot him with that wireless microphone lol. I see his wife Debbie on one lap as I pass through, I shout hello, she doesn’t really need to recognise me – she knows there is only one guy in this race with THAT Scottish accent! Last lap as the temperature cools down to 25 degrees C and I can actually start to run a little – Seton again acknowledges my efforts – I smile, as he knows that I’m not made for this kinda heat. As I traverse under the Ford mist cooler, it causes my body to retch uncontrollably – apparently it does cool you down but it is too much for my frail condition. Walking walking walking.
Eventually in the dark, I’m suckered into some belief that it’s cool enough for me to try to run again and I set off running with 7 miles to go – temperature has now dropped to 25 deg C!!! I manage almost a mile but then reach an aid station and I walk for a while, then again I try and run. I manage a mile but it is futile as my body again reverts to trying to empty my already empty stomach contents – I’m 4 miles from the Finish and doubled over once more, I pause to regain my composure just as 2 Firefighter Paramedics arrive on a quad bike and ask me if I’m ok – I smile and say yeh I’m done with running and I’m gonna walk it in from here…knowing you can make it home is a huge reassurance.
Even though my progress is embarrassingly slow, it is forward nonetheless and it brings the lights, sounds and Finish line salvation closer… I trot a little round the block as I would dearly love to be able to run down the Finish chute – but whatever, I’m going to finish, I’m proud of what I had to do today to complete this race in the heat. It’s never ever bad to cross that Finish line. I am grateful to have made it. This was my slowest ever Ironman at 14:22:43 – my marathon time (I can’t really call it my run time) a heat damaged 6:32:14.
Over 200 starters did not finish – a high (11%) drop out rate confirming the tough conditions. I walk unsteadily, not wanting to stop completely until Mike manages to find me and helps look after me. I have such amazing friends. Wow. At least I’m not going to get cold so soon with the temperature this warm! Again, I’m tired beyond tiredness and yet there is that amazing glow from deep inside – that everyone, including me, recognises that, today, I did something beyond normal limits.
Mike, Sissy and Alynn take my bike and gear and the poor frazzled Scotsman back to his hotel room. What wonderful friends. Thank you.
The following day DK (David Kerr) meets me for lunch, having promised me a frozen margarita, something he said I needed to experience. I did and it hit the spot! My thanks again to the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community for letting us use their land as part of the race course.