2006 Ironman Arizona race report- AJ Johnson

2006 Ironman Arizona race report- AJ Johnson

2006 Ironman Arizona

After Ironman Hawaii 2005 I had thought about turning professional. It had crossed my mind before, but I had a great day in Hawaii and it really boosted my confidence. After some serious consideration I decided to take the plunge and get my pro license. This would mean I would now be racing against the best the sports has. I knew my chances of qualify for Hawaii were slim since it is even harder to qualify as a professional. This was a sacrifice I was willing to make to make a dream come true. After getting the word from the Global Triathlon Group that I could race professionally I decided to race Ironman Arizona on April 9th. I had raced it last year and liked doing an early season race.

My training was good and steady if not spectacular. I wasn’t in the type of shape I was before Hawaii, but that is to be expected. I just wanted to have a solid day and not be the last finishing pro. While I secretly harbored dreams of winning the race or being in the top 5 I also feared embarrassing myself on the course. I had to focus on myself, do what I could on race day and let the chips fall where they may.

Race morning came and I woke before any of my four alarms could go off. I had my usual breakfast, filled my water bottles and headed to the start. My dad and wife made the early morning trip while my mom, sister and nephew slept in. I was anxious, but having done this race last year I knew where everything was. I pumped up my tires, made sure the bike was ready and took care of my transition and special needs bags. We found an out of the way spot to relax and concentrate on what was ahead. At 6 25 I put on my wetsuit and made my way to the swim start. Being in the Pro Wave, we get a 15 minute head start on the rest of the field. I dove into Tempe Town Lake and started my warm up. The water was nice, not too cold for me as I heat up quickly in the swim. After some cruising around and short accelerations I lined up at the start. It was interesting to see some of the favorites right next to me. No one seemed too concerned and it was as if everyone was at the local coffee stop. We got the word that we were 1 minute from the start and instantly things changed. No one was talking and it was time to get ready.

The cannon blasted and it was time to start the journey. There are two great things about starting up front. One, there are only about 100 athletes starting so it’s not the usual crowded, contact filled beginning. Also, the first 200-300 yards are fast, but not the all out frenzy that happens in the Age Group mass start. I think it’s because everyone knows that it’s a long day and there is no point in red lining it so early.

My plan was to build into the first 400 yards and I was able to do that. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t being left behind and I settled on a set of feet quickly. A group of about 7 of us got in a line and it stayed that way until we hit the turn around buoy. At that point I could see that there were 2-3 athletes in front trying to break away. I decided that I could bridge up to them and draft the faster group. It took some effort, but eventually I was up to the break away. As it turns out the others in the group tucked in behind me and we were all back together. At this point I was a little worried. The pace felt very easy, but when I pulled out of line to accelerate, I couldn’t pass anyone. So I stayed on the feet in front of me. I was mentally prepared to see over an hour. My goal time was 55 to 56 minutes for the swim. Rounding the final buoy I started to think about my transition and visualize myself having a smooth and uneventful T1. I was shocked to see my time. Standing up I could see my watch and it read 55 something. What a great way to start the race.

I kept that positive mentality with me onto the bike. I wanted to start at a steady pace and simply find a rhythm. I was hoping that there would be some other guys around me to key off of, but I was all by myself. The course was three loops and mostly flat with some longer slight uphills thrown in. The first loop was lonely. I passed a few female pros, was passed by two male pros and for the rest of the time I was on my own. I paid a lot of attention to the signals my body was giving me and my new Power Tap. This was my first race using the Power Tap and it was giving me a good signal. My watts were high, almost too high. I was hoping to be near 250 watts but was consistently putting out 300. When I looked at my heart rate I was right where I always am so I knew my effort was right. I figured if my Power Tap was off, then so be it. I wasn’t going to back off since the other signals were spot on. I was trying out a new hydration strategy and must have had a bit too much concentrate in my first bottle since my stomach was became a bit uneasy. It wasn’t too bad, but I have rarely had any type of stomach discomfort while racing. It was hard to get in calories and having some of my nutrition bounce out of my singlet on the rougher sections didn’t help. I stayed steady and by the 2nd loop I was surrounded by age group athletes. Despite the number of people I went relatively unimpeded toward T2. I went back and forth with a few pro men I know from Boulder but after 10 miles of close but legal riding one guy took off while the other blew up. I was racing my race so I was happy with the effort I was putting out. As I neared the end of the ride I was worried about my lack of calorie intake. I thought positively and figured that I would be able to run hard no matter what. My bike ended in 5:00, just off of my sub 5 goal.

Starting the run I knew it wouldn’t be a stellar day. I was hoping to run under 3 hours, but that was not going to happen. My pace wasn’t as fast as I was wanted, but I thought if I didn’t slow down too much I would be fine. I evaluated myself quickly and thought that I could still run under 3:10. The beginning of the run was much like the beginning of the bike, I was completely alone. I saw some pros at mile 2 headed the other way and for the next 8 miles I only saw aid station volunteers. Having no one to chase down or out run was a strange feeling and I kept trying to push myself. It is odd racing in a void. It is hard to gauge your effort and your concentration can easily leave you.

The run was also three loops and was very spectator friendly. Coming by my family I tried to look my best, but I was starting to hurt. By mile 12 I was really wondering how I was going to finish. When I saw my wife for the second time I said “I’m dying”. I didn’t listen for a reply as I shuffled past. I couldn’t get in any calories and the Coke just wasn’t doing it. I simply kept moving forward hoping that things would turn around. Then at mile 17 or so it happened. I cracked. I had never walked a step in 4 previous Ironman marathons, but I couldn’t keep running. I walked a bit and started to run, then walked some more. At the next aid station I walked through taking all the Coke and Gatorade I could. As I started to run again I began to feel better. My stride rate picked up and mentally it was a great boost. I said I would run to the next aid station, but when I got to it I was able to keep running. My pace was quickening and I knew at this point I would at least finish. I did walk another aid station at mile 22 and ran the rest of the way in.

Crossing the line I was completely spent. When I stopped my whole body just shut down and I crumbled to the ground. The volunteers came to pick me up, but I didn’t want to move. Finally the grabbed me under the arms and dragged me away to the med tent. I actually felt OK, it was just the sudden stop that made my body shut down. After lying down and getting some food I felt OK and walked out to see my family.

We went out for some food at a restaurant close by and we chatted about the long day. My family went back to the hotel while my wife and I met up with an athlete that I coach who had come with his wife to see the race. We sat in the bleachers watching finishers come through in droves. It really is special to watch them as they finish their long day. For some it is obviously their first and the excitement is incredible. Others are ecstatic because of their time, while others are just happy to be done.

Until next time…
AJ Johnson

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