Tuesday, December 10, 2013

IMAZ Part Two: Countdown to Race Day

If you missed Part One of the IMAZ Race Recap: The Road to Tempe, check it out Here

IMAZ Part Two: Countdown to Race Day

Thursday, November 14
3 More Days ‘til Race Day

If touching down in Tempe was the first giant step toward race day, then Race Expo was the second one.

Ironman Cozumel Expo November 2011
Unlike Ironman Cozumel’s Expo, which had been indoors, the IMAZ Expo was a sprawling, outdoor festival at Tempe Beach Park (TBP).

Ironman Arizona Expo November 2013

We took a shuttle from our hotel to TBP and went directly to the Big Top—a huge, white tent designated for check-in, packet pick up, waiver signing, and swag collecting. Most awesome bit of swag was the Ironman backpack.  Love!!

Next stop was the merchandise tent, where Ironman everything (minus “Finisher” apparel) could be purchased. With the exception of the itty bitty XS clothes on the sale rack, prices were steep; but that didn’t put a dent in the buying frenzy going on inside that tent. I was content with my new backpack and the Finisher shirt I knew I'd be getting in just a few days J

We wandered through the venue, which featured every type of vendor you can imagine, but the only jeweler on site did not have the Ironman necklace I’ve been eyeing.

But the free samples made up for it. On the days we went to TBP, lunch was a non-issue. We simply ate our way through the Expo until we’d had our fill of protein shakes, fruit smoothies, Bonk Breakers and, best of all, full-size Chobani Yogurt samples. My favorite was the Almond Coco Loco:

When we could eat no more, we collected our bikes from Tri Bike Transport and rode back to our hotel to ditch our Expo goodies and change into cycling gear.

When I signed up for IMAZ, I was thinking mostly of the favorable climate, the flat terrain and late fall timing, and less about the marketing tagline that read, “This popular Southwestern race stands out as the most urban full-distance race in North America.”
Most urban. Hmmm. Not something that would have been a selling point for a non-city girl like me. I like my semi-country living and wide open spaces. But the urban aspect couldn’t have been more apparent as Tri Dad and I, and our friend, Erik, set out for a 1-hour taper ride along the race course.

Since Tempe is a college town, home to Arizona State University—which boasts an enrollment of more than 70,000 students—there was a bike lane available for the first mile or so. After that, it was us against three lanes of traffic. Thankfully, most motorists seemed to be cyclist-friendly, accustomed to the multitude of cyclists on campus and around town.

We weaved our way through town and out toward Arizona State Route 87, also known as the Beeline Highway. As we rode, a persistent thought took center stage in my mind--They must be doing a lot of construction here—triggered by the constant sight of dirt, rock and rubble in my periphery. Then it dawned on me: That’s just how it looks here. I’d forgotten how brown and barren it is in Arizona. Duh, it’s the desert. Where were all the cacti and mountains I saw in pictures of this race? 

These would come later. But the pre-race training ride left me unimpressed with the bike course and I was ready to head back to the hotel for a shower and some R&R before dinner with our friends Erik & Marcia at the Four Peaks Brewing Company.

The food wasn’t great (should have gone with the veggie burger instead of the pasta) but I definitely enjoyed the beer sampler I shared with Tri Dad, even though it’s not our practice to drink alcohol during training and especially not with a big race looming. But we still had three days to go so I gave myself a pass and wrote it off as carb-loading.

Friday, November 15
Two more days . . .

On Friday it was back to TBP for a mandatory pre-race meeting and a short, 15-minute taper run along the river. Then, back at the hotel, we put our feet up and ordered an in-room movie: Admissions with Tina Fey. (The hotel wanted $17.99 for new releases, like We’re the Millers, so we opted for an older, economy flick. Options were limited.)

Friday night was the Pre-Race Athlete Carb Loading Dinner at Tempe Beach Park. The event was outside, under the stars, beside the river and next to the stunning Tempe Center for the Arts building, so the location was great but the weather was unexpectedly chilly and breezy.

Tempe Center for the Arts

Tri Dad & I heading to the carb-loading dinner

In Cozumel, the carb dinner, albeit a bit unorganized and plagued by technical difficulties, was a total blast. A pep rally of sorts, a celebration that we’d made it this far, that got everyone totally pumped and excited for the race. 

By comparison, the IMAZ carb dinner was a total dud. Instead of focusing on and involving the majority of athletes, special interests groups took center stage and the entire event came across as a boring fundraising/political benefit dinner. And the food was bland, as expected. (The Chobani Yogurt was much better!). So, I must say, the IMAZ carb dinner was a bit of a letdown.

Saturday, November 16th

Tri Dad, Erik & Me at the practice swim
Saturday morning we made our fourth trek to TBP for the practice swim. And it was cold. We gathered near the lake under partly cloudy skies, the cool breeze and air in the low 60s raising goose bumps on my skin, to pour ourselves into our neoprene and plunge into the 62-degree water. Did I mention it was cold? Breathtakingly so. I swam a short out and back, probably about 20 mins, and climbed the metal stairs from the water, shaking uncontrollably. In the changing tent, I fumbled into dry clothes, thankful I’d brought a hoodie for the extra layer of warmth and to have something to cover my wet hair with.

We wandered through the Expo again. Shivering, I searched in vain for a pair of neoprene arm warmers which, apparently, don’t exist. I knew then I was a fool for going into this race with a sleeveless wetsuit. But more free Chobani Yogurt and Bonk Breakers made me feel better. (Coconut Cashew, Espresso Chip, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip and Blueberry Oat were my favorites.) :)

Back at the hotel we spent the afternoon packing and organizing our race gear and nutrition into five separate bags: Swim to Bike, Bike to Run, Bike Special Needs, Run Special Needs, and Morning Clothes.

On our fifth and final pre-race trip to TBP, we racked our bikes and relinquished our gear bags, which were lined up numerically in the transition area. 

Then there was nothing left to do but rest, eat, and try to relax.

Tri Dad & I had a low key pasta dinner at our hotel and watched Comedy Central to take our mind off the race. The alarm clock was set for 3:30 AM. It was Race Day Eve. The moment we’d been waiting for and working so hard for was just hours away . . .

Next Up: IMAZ Part 3: The Swim 

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