Ironman Arizona by Kathey Carreiro

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 by admin

I hadn’t planned on doing a second Ironman, but my best friend Allene’s 50th birthday was the day after this race and she was doing it and she invited everyone she knew to do it with her. A person’s 50th birthday is a big deal and I wasn’t going to miss it.  I could have gone as a spectator; cheered her on as she completed her “Birthday Ironman” and attended her birthday dinner…that would have been ok.  But I had watched my friends begin the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred bike rally without me (when I separated my shoulder from a mountain bike accident) and that feeling of being left behind was awful.  I didn’t want to feel that again.

But I also didn’t want to give up my entire life to Ironman training again.  I had two main goals: First, I wanted to put in minimal hours of training.  I was employed full time now as opposed to being unemployed during my first Ironman.  I didn’t want my life to consist of just working and working out and never seeing my husband Russell. So just one workout a day during the week and one long day per weekend.  Second, I wanted to concentrate on just improving my swim time.  I didn’t care about getting faster on the bike or run, and I didn’t care about a particular race goal time other than finishing before midnight.  What I did care about A LOT was not getting hypothermia again.  The water temp for Ironman Arizona was expected to be in the low 60s which could still give me hypothermia if I stayed in the water for an hour and 45 minutes like in my first Ironman.  So my goal was to improve my swim to 1 hour, 15 minutes.   I asked my coach Kristen if those two things were possible.  She said yes so I told Allene I’d do Ironman Arizona with her.

Ironman Arizona is one of the races that sells out really quickly so the only way to guarantee that our whole group would get in was to volunteer at the 2012 race since we would then get priority registration for the 2013 race.  Another great advantage of volunteering was getting to see the courses – I saw the swim start, drove the bike course, and ran the run course.  For the next year, I had a clear mental picture for visualizing my race.  The swim start looked calm, the roads weren’t too hilly and the run course was pretty easy.  My second Ironman was going to be better!Shortly after signing up, I found out I was going to need thumb surgery on my left hand.  I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis which had eaten away all the cartilage in my thumb joint causing excruciating pain when the bones would rub together.  Three month recovery period including 6 weeks in a cast – well, I could still do my bike workouts on the trainer, doctor said I could run if I wanted to, and I could get a waterproof cast after 4 weeks – not an ideal situation but not devastating.  Just gotta roll with it.

A few weeks later, I began to feel the same pain in my right thumb.   Well, let’s get that one scheduled as soon as possible – I’ve got a walking pilgrimage across Spain coming up and an Ironman to train for.  Bottom line is that I didn’t really start training for the Ironman until late June – hmm, this was not the plan. Now I was going to have to do two workouts a day most work days plus Saturday and Sunday. And it became clear that it would be a challenge to get my swim time back down to what it used to be — forget trying to improve it to 1:15. First priority, make sure husband is ok with not seeing me for the next 5 months – thankfully he is understanding and supportive.  Second priority, regain previous swim fitness and come up with a Plan B for avoiding hypothermia.


In the week leading up to my first Ironman, I was a nervous wreck and extremely worried that I wouldn’t finish the race in the required 17 hours. I didn’t participate in any of the pre-race activities; I locked myself in my hotel room and tried not to think about the race. But for my second Ironman, I was confident that I could finish it in under 17 hours as long as nothing catastrophic happened (and even if it did, I already had my tattoo!), so I let myself relax and enjoy all the pre-race activities…shopping at the Ironman store, walking around the expo, eating dinner with friends, attending the athlete’s banquet, etc. It was really fun!

The Swim

Goal:  1:30, Actual:  1:30:58

The swim went really well.  It started with Allene, Denise and I jumping into the lake together holding hands. That simple act of solidarity, that we’re in this together and we’re here for each other — it started the day off so perfectly for me and I knew everything would be fine.  I swam towards the start line, trying to get used to the cold water, and looked for Kristen and Russell and my team mates on the right side where we agreed to meet. But there were so many people everywhere that I couldn’t find anyone and suddenly the cannon went off. Time to swim! So I started swimming.  But I didn’t get far before I started getting bumped into from both sides.  My goggles got kicked. I got swum over.  It was total chaos – which is NOT what it looked like last year when I watched from the bridge, or what the YouTube videos looked like that I watched over and over during my visualization exercises.  It totally felt like swimming in a washing machine.   The combined efforts of 2600+ swimmers created so much chop, and it was impossible to swim more than a few strokes without running into somebody.  All I could do was keep trying and know that it would eventually be over.

I gradually made my way left towards the buoys and then swam from yellow buoy to yellow buoy.  At the athlete briefing earlier in the week, we were told the buoys were 100 meters apart.  So I started counting my strokes from buoy to buoy: 166.  I knew from my many workouts in the endless pool that I swim at about 1 stroke per second.  I did the math and got a little discouraged at how slow I must be going.  Then I noticed the buoys were numbered.   The swim course was basically an out-and-back with the back being slightly longer, so there should be about 20 buoys before the turnaround.  I just passed  Buoy 6…swim swim swim…Buoy 7…did the math…swim swim swim…Buoy 8…did the math…OMG this is gonna take forever!…swim swim swim…I see the red turn buoy! Hallelujah!  The buoys must be 200 meters apart!  I’m making great time!  This is so awesome! Swim, Kathey, swim!

I had practiced taking a gel at the half-way point (as part of my hypothermia plan) but I was feeling fine so I just kept swimming.  Occasionally it would get congested with people again but I didn’t back down.  I drafted when I could. I didn’t stop or change course when I got bumped into. I did stop to look around when a big wave passed through us that forced water up my nose. 🙂  And I did change course when a kayaker directed a group of us back towards the buoys. 🙂  But then I saw that beautiful big red turn buoy and knew that the exit stairs were close.  I could hear Mike Reilly announcing names as people exited.  I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but each time I turned my head to breathe I could hear him.  Then it would be silent for a few seconds as I swam with my face in the water.  Then I would turn to breathe and hear him again.  I swam towards the sound of his voice getting louder and louder, and before I knew it, I was at the stairs climbing out.  No hypothermia, no bloody nose, no drowning.  What an awesome swim!

The Bike

Goal: 8:00, Actual:  7:11:43

In transition I followed my hypothermia plan to a T (it’s outlined in my race plan) but it turned out to be overkill because by about mile 3 of the bike I was roasting and wanted to get rid of the hand warmers I’d put in my sports bra and back pocket .   I didn’t want to stop so soon so I tried to remove them while I rode.  I hadn’t practiced that and it proved to be pretty difficult and after a few minutes of struggling, all I had accomplished was ripping my bib number off my race belt.  OK, I’ll stop.  So I pulled over, threw away the hand warmers, took off my windbreaker and stuffed it into my camelbak and folded the bib number and put it in my back pocket.  It wasn’t mandatory for the bike portion anyway, and I was sure the volunteers would have safety pins in T2 for me to pin it to my shirt for the run.  No worries.

I got back on my bike feeling much more comfortable, soaking in the beautiful day, elated that I didn’t get hypothermia and feeling full of energy and strength.   I got to the “false flat” and then to the “hill” and realized I wasn’t going to have any trouble riding 112 miles today.   At one point, there was a long line of age groupers riding slower than I expected and as I started passing them, I realized a line of pros were passing us on their second (or third?) loop.  I know I’m not as fast as them but I shouldn’t have to slow down and let them pass.  So I continued to leap-frog around the age-groupers in between pros whizzing by.  It was kinda fun actually. 🙂  And I finished the first loop 30 minutes faster than I expected. Yoohoo!  The second loop was a lot slower — I was getting tired, plus I made a pit stop, plus it got windy.  But I didn’t care.  I was ahead of schedule, the sun felt good, the road was smooth, the volunteers were awesome, and there were people cheering everywhere.

The only thing that marred this bike ride was the blatant cheating that I saw by fast guys in pointy (aero) helmets.  During a race, I experience a fair amount of stress related to the drafting rules, especially on a short 3-loop course where there will inevitably be more passing than usual.  When I come up on someone, I either slow down to make sure I leave the required 4 bike lengths between me and them, or I speed up to make sure I pass them in the 20 seconds allowed.  To see a group of guys riding in a pack made me mad.  Mad at the triathletes doing it, mad at the officials for not stopping it, and mad at the sport for tolerating it.

I finished loop 2 in my originally predicted time, waved to Kristen and Russell as I passed them, and started on the third and final loop. I made a quick stop to refill my camelbak, joked with the volunteer holding my bike, and continued on, remembering what my friend Anu said about “racing grateful”, and what Denise said about enjoying every second of my last Ironman (I don’t plan on training for another one), and how I hoped Allene was enjoying her birthday Ironman, and about the other 16 Triple Threat Tough members out on the course that day, and about all the friends and family that were tracking me throughout the day.

I finished the third loop 20 minutes faster than predicted, a huge grin on my face, and doing crazy Arsenio Hall fist pumping in the air as I neared the dismount line and saw Kristen and Russell.  I was having a fantastic day!

The Run

Goal: 5:30, Actual:  6:30:59

I gave my bike to a volunteer to rack for me (I love that about Ironman races!) and ran to the changing tent to change clothes and run a marathon.  I asked a volunteer for safety pins and reached in my pocket for my bib number and realized it fell out somewhere along the way.  Uh oh.  But I was pretty sure that wasn’t a big deal – I still had my chip strap on my ankle and that was the important thing.  But the volunteer wasn’t so sure.  She called the race director to see what to do and implored me not to leave until she got an answer – she would hate for me to get disqualified over this.  Since I was way ahead of schedule, I didn’t make a fuss.  I changed clothes, went to the bathroom, and then waited impatiently as she made phone calls.  During all of this, I saw Allene in the changing tent.  Yay!  We’ll be able to run together.  But in the confusion of the volunteer checking about my missing bib number, Allene got started without me.  So when the volunteer finally told me that I could continue without the bib number, I ran out of the tent looking for Allene.  I could see her up ahead on the sidewalk so I sprinted to catch up with her, and then we ran/walked another marathon together (our third).

It’s always more fun to run with someone.  We talked about our race day thus far.  We saw Russell on his mountain bike and chatted with him for a few minutes and got updates on our team mates.  We saw several TTTers on the course and yelled enthusiastically.  It was great!  Allene was having trouble with her feet and lower back, and I was having some GI issues (no doubt from pushing too hard on the bike) so we did a lot of walking and a little running.  But we had plenty of time and weren’t worried.  The time flew by faster than I could believe and the next thing I know, we’re running down the finishing chute holding hands, arms raised in the air, and Mike Reilly announced “Kathey Carreiro, Allene Cashmore, you are an Ironman!”  Russell, who had volunteered for the 8pm-12am shift, “caught” us both as we crossed the finish line.  So perfect!

Allene signed us up for massages (more awesome volunteers!), we drank chocolate milk, we chatted with some team mates who finished before us, and we waited to congratulate the remaining team mates who finished after us.  I was sore and I was tired and I was incredibly happy.  I’m so glad I did this race!

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