Coach Jim’s Ironman Arizona Race Report 2017

My mantra going into Ironman Arizona was “perform within my abilities.” No matter what anyone else was doing on the course, I was going to race MY race. Too many times in the past I had come out of the swim last in the professional field, put in too hard of an effort on the bike, and, in turn, cooked my legs for the run. Ironman Arizona was going to be different. I wanted to swim at my pace. I wanted to keep my IF (Intensity Factor) at 80% (280 watts) at the most on the bike, and run the way I knew I was capable of running.

My run has always been my strength, yet I have rarely used my run as the weapon it is. In the past, I was so focused on improving my swim in training that my bike and run often took a back seat. Going into Ironman Arizona, I had been putting in 40-60 miles a week on the run and 12-14 hours a week on the bike. I was also swimming 2-3 days a week, a drastic cut back from the 6-7 days of swimming that I was used to.
So when the gun went off Sunday morning at 6:40am, I was in no rush to try to get after it with the higher caliber swimmers. Time and time again I’ve gone hard at the start, overexerting myself and faltering early in the swim. Instead, at Ironman Arizona, I built into my effort and let the other athletes swim away from me. I kept my effort consistent. I focused on my breathing. I kept my mind in the moment. As soon as my thoughts started to wander, I acknowledged the thoughts and brought the mindset back to the present. This not only helped me stay positive and present, but I believe it also set the tone for the rest of the day.
I exited the water in 1:02. I knew this would be quite a ways back from the other professional athletes, but I also knew it was a LONG day and a lot could happen before any of us crossed the finish line.
Here is a link to my swim file if you’d like to take a look:
As I made the first left hand turn on to the bike course, I was met by a stiff headwind. Being one of the first riders on course this made for a LONG, lonely 18.665 mile ride out to the turnaround. The course consisted of 3 x 37.33333 mile out-and-back loops. The 18.665 miles out to the turnaround was a slight uphill all the way out. Then, after the turnaround, there’s a slight downhill all the way back.
The issue this year was that the stiff headwinds gave you no reprieve the ENTIRE way out. Even when we turned a different direction we were handed a cross-headwind. This headwind is not only physically trying, but it is also mentally defeating. You feel was though you are working so hard, but still going nowhere. It was a major effort to keep the body pushing into the wind and to keep the mind focused on the process and not the misery I was enduring.
This is where my mantra became very important. No matter how hard I pushed, my power would not get up to the numbers I was targeting. The wind was just too strong for my muscles to push any harder than they were pushing. In the past, I would have dug deeper and deeper trying to hit my numbers. I would have become frustrated and let the negative thoughts creep in. NOT THIS TIME!
I repeated my mantra “perform within my abilities” and I kept the effort within my means. I never pushed to an effort that I found was not maintainable. I disregarded my watts, I tried to keep my cadence around 80rpms, and I focused on the present effort. Every time I began to think of anything but my current actions, I brought the focus back never allowing my mind to go negative. Upon turning, the tailwind and slight descent allowed for some great speed on the return trip to complete each 37.33333 mile loop.
In the past, I would have worked HARD to keep the watts/heart rate up on the descent, but after a great discussion with Joe Friel at Training Peaks University last week, I came to the conclusion that it would be much harder on the body to try to push that hard on this descent with the tail wind. Instead, I pedaled but also coasted when I could. This allowed me to get some legs back for the next two miserable ascents that were awaiting me.
I consistently got my in my nutrition in the form of my own Infinit drink mix formula, Powerbar Gels, and Base Salt. Around the start of the third loop I began to feel lethargic. My eyelids felt as if they weighed 200lbs each. Knowing this is a sign of caloric and electrolyte deficiency, I upped my salt intake, ate a gel, and downed some extra water at the next aid station. This did the trick! I perked up and completed the last loop in approximately the same amount of time I completed the 1st and 2nd loops. This was exactly what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to keep the effort consistent the entire ride without ever going outside of my abilities. I ended up riding 4:38.
Here is a link to my bike file if you’d like to peruse:
I ran into the transition changing tent, dumped out my transition bag, and saw that I had forgotten to turn my compression socks inside out in order to slip them on more easily. Being rushed, I attempted to slide them on as I would any other pair of socks. Not happening! I struggled and struggled before completely removing the socks and starting over by correctly turning them inside out then putting them on the right way. With the socks finally on, I put on my Skechers GoRun 5’s, grabbed the rest of my stuff (sunglasses, race belt, Fuel Belt, Skechers headband), and put it all on while running out of transition.
As expected, the first 10 minutes of the run were miserable. I was questioning if I’d be able to complete the entire run. My legs were spent from the extremely difficult bike ride. I stuck with it. I began drinking my Infinit mix from the Fuel Belt and I took a caffeinated PowerGel. By mile 1, I was starting to groove again. I tried to keep the stride long, keep the upper body relaxed, and keep the mind focused on the present. I paid little attention to paces or distance as I ticked off the miles. I just focused on my current effort and stayed present in the moment. I owe most of my ability to focus to the app Headspace. My commitment to daily practice of Headspace taught my mind to stay clear and free of distractions. This allowed me to dial in the pace and keep the effort within my abilities.
Every time the mile split beeped on my Garmin 920xt, it was in the low 6min/mi pace range. I took a gel every other mile and Base Salt every other mile with sips of Infinit from my Fuel Belt in between. Around mile 17 mile legs started to feel pain from the constant pounding of the concrete running path. The muscular fatigue was beginning to build up in the legs. At that point I saw my good buddy Matt Miller of Base Nutrition who was standing there with 2 fresh bottles of Base Salt for my consumption. This is exactly what I needed to drive me through STRONG to the finish.
At mile 23 I noticed a fellow professional 300 yards up the road. This is THE WORST time to see a fellow competitor. The last thing I wanted to do at this point was to put in an effort to pass someone, but my competitive nature got the best of me. I dug deep and passed him. I dropped down a hill, turned right. Here saw my 2 athletes, Mitch and Danielle, who were out supporting on course.
They yelled, “He’s only 30 seconds up on you!”
I thought, “NOOOOOO! There’s another guy up there!”
I turned the next corner and I saw him. Ugh! Ok I put in another effort, caught up to, and passed him. By now we were at mile 25. Although I liked moving up in the field, I really disliked working that hard so late in the race. As I ran the last mile, the only humans I saw were the Balestra clan supporting on course who informed me that I was in 10th Place. I had run from 20th Place to 10th Place with a 2:56 marathon.
Here is a link to my run file:
In the past I have gotten so caught up in racing other people’s races and trying to achieve other people’s expectations. At Ironman Arizona, all I had were my own expectations. I checked my ego and stayed present in the process. An Ironman can be overwhelming if you look at it from a bird’s eye view. If you break it down to the fundamentals and stay engaged in the process, the day goes by pretty quick, as Ironman Arizona did for me.
I am happy with my 10th Place performance. I am excited for 2018. Let’s get started!
Thanks to all of the supporters on course who helped push me through. Of course I couldn’t do this without my sponsors: Skechers Performance, Infinit Nutrition, Powerbar, Alto Cycling, Altus Health, Tower 26, Giant Bicycles, Performance Bike-Santa Monica, Topical Edge.

One thought on “Coach Jim’s Ironman Arizona Race Report 2017

  • Kevin coyle

    Great job man!!! I love Joe Friel! Been using his books for years


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