Journey to Ironman Arizona

by Randy Held


They say the hardest part of competing in an Ironman is finding the courage to sign up for one. It took a lot of thought, planning, and commitment but I sat by the computer one year ago anxiously waited for the registration to open for the 2009 Arizona Ironman. I had the computer all loaded and ready. I even took the day off from work to be sure I was available since all of the Ford Ironmans close shortly after opening. As soon as the registration opened it was very frustrating. I kept getting messages saying the website was full please try again or I would get into the site only to be kicked out a minute later. Persistence pays off though because after about 10 minutes I was finally able to make it all the way through the registration. As soon as it flashed the message “Congratulations” a cold chill went down my spine. What the hell did I just get myself into? As much as I tried to hit the cancel or back button it was no use, I was signed up for the 2009 Arizona Ironman! I think I went out and did a hard work out since I took the day off and realized there were on 364 days left to train.


The winter was a good time to build a base of swimming, running and biking. I don’t mind running in the winter because I am such a big heat producer and a big time sweater. The running apparel is very good with all the new under armour and polyesters. Gone are the days of the old heavy nonwicking cotton sweat pants. Thank God. Thank you Springfield Running Center. I remember a lot of winter runs where my hat was one big ice cube. Biking in the cold is a challenge to stay warm and stay motivated but winter is a good time to do LSD(Long Slow Distance). Being on the trainer in winter is so boring despite all of the available media options. The best thing to do in winter is to go to Bike Tek and see what is new. Of course if I am going to make this commitment to an Ironman, I have to have a quality bike. Right? The boys at the Tek set me up with a cervelo p3c. Wow, what a sweet ride!

I read Joe Friels book on “Going Long” and picked up a lot of good information. Joe says that triathletes do more reading and research than any other athlete. I think I would have to agree with him. I tried to read and review all that I could. I wanted to do my homework and try to learn as much as I could. After contemplating online coaching I decided to use a free online program. Online coaches can be very expensive. I basically used the Beginner triathlete 20 week program. It was based on the goal of “just to finish.” The workouts were twice a day with long days, short intense days, and rest days. There were build weeks and recover weeks. I have to honestly say it was a moderate program but I was unable to follow all of the workouts. There was simply not enough time in the day to get them all done and still be a father, husband, and income producer. I did however do a lot of the workouts, was gone a lot, and tired most of the time. Just ask my wife. I think at times she felt like the triathlete widow. The training was good and I have to honestly say I enjoyed the workouts. It was a feel good hurt if you know what I mean. I never did lose much weight though only about 7-8 pounds but I will say my body did transform, more lean and more muscle definition with less bulk. None the less I am still a “footpounder, heavyweight, cyldesdale, or fat boy as they say.

randy_bikeI arrived in Tempe on Wednesday and started to settle in. The weather in Tempe is simply outstanding!!! High of 78, low of 47, no humidity, no clouds, perfect beautiful sunshine. I met up with the other Springfield participants Jon Erikson. Amy Doehring, Kelly Dixon, and Connie Dicenso. Jon and Amy got married a week before the race. Congratulations! We did the practice swims on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The water was cold, approximately 60 degrees with the air temp being about 50 degrees at 8 am. The water clarity was not too bad,a little clearer than Lake Springfield and certainly no leptospirosis.

Saturday was a day of complete rest and trying to settle the nerves. All day I pictured how I was going to tackle the race. I replayed the race strategy scenario in my head over and over. Questions kept popping up in my head. How fast do I need to be on the bike? How fast is fast enough but not so fast that I trash my legs for the run? How fast should I run? When should I start to do the race walk concept? How much do I eat and drink? When do I eat and drink? What is the temperature gong to be? How will the transitions turn out? All of these questions would soon be answered.

After a surprisingly good night of sleep it was time to wake up at 4:45 am and make my way the the transition area. It was dark and cold. A lot of people had headlights and flashlights. Darn, did not think of that one. I had to get all five of my bags to the the specified areas, get marked, and make my way to the swim start. The swim start was a mass deep water start. It was very crowded and a very anxious moment. I think I was in the water less that 10 minutes before the cannon went off. I could not believe it, me doing an Ironman. I started this whole triathlon business when my cousin Tim Healy and Bret Carney got a group of people together(we called ourselves the “Splinter Tri Group”-a less serious more casual group than the old ironhorse team) to workout and have a race to train for. My first Tri was the Stoneman in 2004. I have to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. The white caps were coming off the lake and guys were struggling asking for help in the middle of the water. It freaked me out. Do I stop? Will they drown me? Fortunately everybody survived the swim. I finished the Stoneman in 1hr 22min. At the time it was an amazing accomplishment. I had never run 3 miles before in my life. Why would anybody do that? Running is so hard and so stupid. Little did I know where all this would eventually take me.

randy_runAn Ironman swim start is an amazing spectacle. You are in the water with 2500 of your friends all trying to make your way to the finish. I thought the swim was brutal. The course was very tight. I never could find a good swim line. I was constantly getting kicked or punched was constantly kicking and hitting people. I don’t think I took more than 20 strokes at any one time before I was getting whacked or slapped. Overall the swim was not that hard. It was just very frustrating not being able to swim smooth. I finished the swim in 1:21. I was thinking I could go 1:15 but with all the traffic, I was pleased with my time. After getting out of the water I was not prepared for the next event to take place. I unzipped my wetsuit down to my waist and then some students from Arizona State University tell you get on the ground and lay on your back. They grab your wetsuit and in less that one second they peel you like a banana. It was over before I really realized what had just happened. On to the race. If I thought the swim was a cluster, I did not realize that the transition area would be just as bad. There were guys running around yelling barking out orders, naked bodies, volunteers running around, everybody trying to get out as fast as possible. I had a slow transition but very methodical. I knew I wanted to be ready for the long bike ride and I wanted to be sure I was set and ready to go before taking off. I even had to wait in line for the bathroom. No peeing on the bike for me, too gross.

randy_run2The training plan for the bike was “Don’t push hard, don’t push hard, and above all do not push hard.” I kept this in my mind the whole time. I wore my heart rate monitor and kept my rate below 120. It was painful at times to go so slow but I knew that the marathon run would be very draining. In USAT triathons there is not suppose to be any drafting but let me tell you I saw some peletons that would make Lance and the Tour deFrance look like neighborhood kids with training wheels and streamers from their handlebars roaming the neighborhood. Drafting is very real, you just have to be good and not get caught. Overall the ride went as well as I expected. I ate and drank what I had planned and actually felt pretty good getting off the bike but now the real race begins- the marathon. Yuck!!

I started running and actually had what is a good marathon pace for me 9:30. I stopped at every water stop which was every mile. I made sure I was good on hydration and used it to bring my heart rate down and rest the legs before heading out. The first 10 to 13 miles were decent but then the back half of the race was very challenging. The course was a 3 loop 8.7 mile setup and had only one significant hill. The pain and suffering really started to take hold at mile 18 to 23. Those were some really tough miles. The heat of the day is peaking and it is really starting to be a long day. Your body goes through some serious physiological changes with such a long race and your mind goes crazy with all the emotions, strategies, calculations racing through your head. It is very confusing. Am i drinking too much or not enough? Am I eating enough or too much? What should I be eating/drinking? Several experienced Ironmen told me that the chicken broth was really good and helped a lot. Not so for me. It made me nauseated. I discovered the purple grapes and orange slices to be the best food for me. They tasted good, settled in my stomach, and seemed to satisfy my mind and my body. At mile 20 my feet and legs were really hurting. Blisters were settling in and my legs were just simply tired. I knew I would finish so I just kept pressing on and by mile 23 I refused to not stop anymore. I just wanted to be done, plain and simple. I found some energy somewhere and was back to race pace. It actually felt pretty good. The last 0.2 mile of the marathon was amazing. The people lining the chute were cheering, clapping, and throwing out high fives like it was candy in a parade. The finish was awesome, to hear the words “Randy Held you are an Ironman” was tremendous. In 2004 when I did my first Stoneman I would have never dreamed of finishing an Ironman. Thanks Tim and Bret and the Splinter Triathlon training group.

randy_finishI finished in 13 hrs and 12 minutes. My first goal was to simply finish and my second goal was to go between 13 and 13.5 hrs. I was disappointed to find out that they did not have a heavyweight or clydesdale division this year. In looking back at years prior, my time would have been a top ten time for the fat boys. My age group place is unimpressive but at 6’2″ and 210 lbs I have a hard time competing with the typical triathlete. In my mind I was satisfied. I finished, met my goal, did not crash, did not get injured, and overall had a good time.

In looking back it was an amazing journey. All the workouts, the fellowship between area athletes, and all the support I received from family and friends was tremendous. Will I do it again? I would like to do it again now that I have one under my belt. I really do enjoy the training, staying in shape, and being outside. I enjoy the multisport aspect of triathlons, never doing the same thing over and over, cross training and mixing it up. It takes a lot of time and dedication and if you are short on time like most mortals you have to have quality workouts, stay out of the gray zone. If you have the slightest inkling, I say go for it!

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