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Unofficial Spectator and Athlete Guide for Ironman Arizona

Any athlete looking to bag an Ironman PR should go to Arizona.  It is really that simple.  Yet just because the course is relatively easy (for a 140.6 mile race) and predictable, it doesn’t mean it there aren’t some quirks and challenges for you and your Iron Sherpas.  Here are 15 things you hopefully already thought about in your plan for IMAZ.

1) Hotels within walking distance to Ironman Athlete Village double their prices and require a three night stay.  Remember that ASU is largely a commuter university and the race is adjacent to a major business district.  This means that within 2 miles of the start of the race are tens of thousands of parking spaces.  Bottom line:  Rent a cheaper hotel on the other side of town and commute in for the race.

2)  Speaking of parking… Spectators should park on or south of University Drive if they plan to come and go during the day.  Much of the through roads north and east of Tempe Town “Lake” area closed because of the bike, and to some degree run, courses.

3)  This race is late in the year.  Have a contingency plan for your last few weeks of training.  What will you do if you absolutely need to – physically or mentally – crush that final century ride the first weekend of November and it is 45 degrees and rainy?

4) The swim entry is a mess.  Triathletes – all 2,200 of you – have to enter a narrow dock then jump down from said dock into the water.  From Madison to Lanzarote, every water start race struggles getting swimmers in the water on time.  The whole dock situation makes it worse at IMAZ.  Do not wait until the last minute to get in the water.  If you hear the cannon boom for the pro start and you’re not already in the water, you better hurry up.  Did I mention that you have to swim about 250 meters to the start once you get in the water?

5)  Once you jump of the dock you need to expect cold water.  Really cold water.  Desert nights get really cold so don’t be fooled by the reported water temps in September or day time air temps in October.  Phoenix is in the desert.  Nights get cold.  Cold nights make cold water.  So, have a strategy for cold water on race day and be sure to push your fall OWS season longer than you usually would.

Coach Bees at Ironman AZ 2010 assisting athlete Sam T. in T1

Coach Bees at Ironman AZ 2010 assisting athlete Sam T. in T1

6)  As mentioned above the swim start is in water.  If you’ve done an in water start before, then skip to #7.  If you haven’t done a water start you need to know that every swimmer will go from treading water in a vertical plane taking up about 2 square feet each before the gun to horizontal swimming taking up 14 square feet after the gun.  If you are not comfortable with full-contact swimming, now is not the time to come to terms with it.  Stay in back and stay wide (i.e. to the right).

7)  In danger of not making cut off on the swim?  Little known fact:  In addition to the 2:20:00 swim cut off there is a 2:35:00 T1 exit cut off and athletes racing in Physically Challenged division are not given an exemption to either.  This was the case through 2012 at IMAZ, though I cannot find reference to the T1 exit cut off on the official Ironman Arizona website. (pictured left, Sam and I narrowly making the 15 minute T1 cut off)

8)  The first hour or two on the bike might be really cold from a combo of hypothermic water conditions and cold, dry, morning air.  The average lows on race week are around 50 degrees.  That means there is a reasonable chance you exit the water in 40-something degree air.  Plan on riding in sleeves/cap/gloves for an hour or so.  Then plan on discarding them as it often quickly hits the average high of 75 degrees and sunny.

9)  The bike course is flat as flat can be.  While this might seem like a blessing for those of us who train in the mountains, it can be really taxing on the back and other body parts not used to being in the saddle for that long.  If you live in the Midwest you need to train your back for being in aero for 6 hours by riding through every pancake flat farming town with good roads your can find.  If you’re in the mountains by me, you better get out to the Sierraville Valley or Davis and do the same.  And if you’re my client, plan on a good bit of planking, dynamic warrior repeats, scap depressions, and other lumbar and thoracic spine exercises during pre-season training.

10)  The sun goes down early but is really intense when it is out.  If you’re one of those people that have been training at 5am, plan on loading up on the sunblock.

11)  Don’t rely on speed as an accurate measure of effort.  This is a topic I’ve written about at length in the past.  Though the roads are flat, a head-/tailwind will really impact your speed.   Focus on your goal power or heart rate and settle in.  Its a three time out and back course, so what you lose on the out, you’ll make up for on the back or vice versa.

12) Some athletes experience a bit of intimidation with the out and back course as they see faster athletes nearly a full lap ahead of them.  Find inspiration in this, not defeat.

13)  Sunset is around 5:25 p.m. on race day.  When that sun goes below the mountains the temps drop pretty quickly.  Use your Run Special Needs bag to include a skull cap, light jacket, and extra liquid calories (your stomach won’t want solids at this point).  Just trust me on this one.  You might not need the calories or  clothing.  If you do it could save your run.

14) Stick to your goal heart rate on the run!  This is the most spectator friendly run in all of Ironman.  The good news is that this means you will have ample crowd support.  The bad news comes if you let the adrenaline get the best of you and nuke the first 10k to 13.1 miles then slowly blow up.  Also, generic Ironman run advice:  On the last mile of the run, don’t speed up.  Slow down, pull your tri top down, wipe the crusty sweat off your face, adjust your visor.  You might not think so now, but you’re going to pay $40 for that finishers photo.  Might as well make it look pretty.

14b)  Note to all Physically Challenged athletes racing “Tri 1” PC classification:  For the last several years there has been a very short stretch of the run that is not paved.  It is part hard-packed dirt and, some years, pea gravel.  Other runners will help push you through without penalty, but don’t plan on getting through it in your racing chair.

15)  After the race you need calories.  For a quick sugar hit, Palettas Betty on Mill & 5th is open until 11:00 p.m. and serves, well, pallettas of course, which is a Mexican popsicle that they often make savory and naturally sweetened.  If you need something more substantial go for a ‘za at Mellow Mushroom (also on Mill St.), a pizza chain that does gluten free and vegan pizzas and has a lot of microbrew beer options if you can stomach it.

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