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  • Jennifer Vollmann

Ironman Arizona Race Report

A race I didn't plan to race with a day I never saw coming.


Kona was supposed to be the end of my season race, but when it was pushed to 2022 (again) I was happy I procrastinated in deferring my IMAZ spot. This is my hometown race and while the course doesn't suit me, I could probably race it blindfolded. I had loads of time to ease into a big build, starting with a week in Kona training on the IM course to kick start what I thought was going to be a massive 6 weeks of training. What actually happened was an ear infection, swim cords, tears, frustrated texts to my coach, self-doubt, the strangest build to an Ironman I have had, and finally letting go of expectations.


The Build

When Kona was postponed to 2022, I still decided to go. Airbnb and plane tickets were already purchased and it was over my birthday so we decided to make the most out of it and enjoy the island. I rode the full IM bike course on what would have been race day. Dear God, the wind. I have no idea how I could have raced the road down from Hawi, I was literally just trying not to die that day. I ran the course. Guys, it's hot. And I swam the course with dolphins! Now that was spectacular! I had such a great time training in the morning and beaching with family in the afternoon that I ran myself into the ground and ended up with a massive sinus infection that turned into the most horrible ear infection. My eardrum ruptured the day I got back from Kona and I was down for the count for the next week trying to find the right antibiotics and manage the intense pain. I had no idea an ear could hurt like that! I didn't train for a week. Once I could start moving again, I was still on heavy antibiotics and pain meds. Four weeks out from IMAZ and I couldn't finish a 3 mile easy run. I was freaking out. I also didn't know if my ear would be ok to race. Once I finally got the doctor's ok to swim and race, I had spent 17 days out of the water and almost a month out of the pool. It was the longest time I have been out of the water since I started triathlons almost 5 years ago. I didn't learn to properly swim (properly swim for a triathlete, I hear all you swimmers chuckle at my flip turns) until I started triathlons and that is a huge amount of time for me not to “feel” the water. I did swim cords to help keep the muscles activated, but swimming is more about feel than power.


So 4 weeks out from IMAZ, I thought I would be racking up 20+ hrs of training a week. Instead, I can’t get in the water, I can't run 3 miles, I can’t ride my bike outside (I had zero hearing in my left ear) and my power was down by at least 25%. Definitely not the build I expected. I had tears after a few runs in the lead up to IMAZ. The swim would be what it was and I know I can always count on my bike legs. But my run… my most feared of all three disciplines. It's where it all comes together or falls apart. It's when the pain happens, the dark spots, the questions of "can I do this?". Every build I had before an Ironman, I had at least 5 runs of 15+ miles with large chunks at faster than marathon pace. I was going into this one with a 14 miler trail run and a chill15 miler 1.5 weeks out from the race. They were only 3 days apart which gave me a little boost of confidence. But all my off the bike runs were slow and felt like shit. Anything over six miles and my legs felt heavy and achy. I finally had to just accept that this run was going to really hurt and it will be what it will be.


What my strange build did give me was a chance to really work on my bike position. Before Kona, I spent some time with Marilyn, my coach, on learning how to make TT bikes go fast with changes in seat position, head and neck position and feeling the road better. There is a big difference between riding in your TT bars and race position. It is a difference I never really got until that session. I had instructions to practice it. But I am the first to say, if I have a power target for an interval, my position tends to go out the window to meet the target. In the weeks leading into IMAZ, I didn't have power targets to hit, because frankly I couldn't hit them. What I did have was many hours of easy riding. I took advantage of the time and found a safe stretch of road and practiced my race position for miles and miles. I knew if I didn't have my usual watts, I would have to be smarter and make up the time by getting more speed for the power I did have.


Thankfully in the midst of all the tears, frustration and fear, I had a clear headed coach that kept the eye on the prize when I was freaking out. I had years of training, 3 Ironmans in my legs (Ironman CDA in June), and some solid training in Kona and in Costa Rica with the Pura Vida Cycling Challenge. Fitness doesn't happen in the 6 weeks before the race, it happens with consistency year after year.


Of course, all of this is much easier for me to see now, when I am not staring down the barrel of the Ironman gun. In those final weeks leading up to an Ironman, you want to know you have what it takes. If it's your first one, you want to know you can complete the distance. If it's your 2nd - 100th you want to know you can withstand the pain it will take to complete the distance. Ironmans hurt. Like a lot. They hurt physically, mentally, and emotionally. They just do, but that is why we do them, why I do them. I like the challenge, I like who I am on the other side. But fuck is it scary going into one! And even more so when you don't know what fitness is in your body. Of all my races, this was the most I have ever stepped into the unknown.


Putting Dragon to sleep for the night.

Race Morning

Wake up at 2:45am, eat and check the wind. Weather looked amazing but this course can get very windy on the Beeline. The route is 3 loops with the main work in each loop 12ish miles up the Beeline. Usually it's a headwind up the “climb” then a tailwind on the way down. The wind really matters on this course. So I used my trusty wind app to confirm a light to moderate headwind and slight cross wind throughout the day. Bawahaha! Almost as funny Mike Riley announcing race morning winds were a light breeze at 3mph.


Got to transition early (always) warm up with running and swim cords (why does no one ever warm up?). Totally missed the announcement as to where the morning clothes bag goes and I had to sprint with full wetsuit back to transition to drop it off my bag then sprint to get in line for the swim for a little extra warm up.


Swim

1:12

16th Age Group

69th Female


Goal was 1:10. In 2019 I swam 1:08. I did manage to have some really good and long swims before the race. My speed wasn't awesome, but my endurance was there. The course does get choppy. It's basically 2000 athletes in a swimming pool. I jumped in, made the turn then didn't see a buoy for the next 2000 yards. I swear there was not a buoy until almost the halfway mark. The yellow buoys were impossible to see. With the canal-like sides, it's pretty easy to swim in the general direction of the course but I ended up swimming super wide. It was hard to find feet, I wasn't the only one lost, people were constantly stopping to look for buoys, swimming diagonally, it was a shit show. More than usual. Course felt super long too. Usually I am pretty locked into the swim, but my mind drifted quite a bit. I was already hungry and had to pee. When I saw 1:12 I was super bummed. But it was what it was. At the end of the day the fact I got to even line up on the start line was a win.

Is it even possible to have a flattering post IM swim photo? No, no it is not

T1

I saw my Finding Endurance athlete Patrick run in from the swim! Whoo hoo! It was his first Ironman and second triathlon! He was the most nervous about the swim. When I saw him I knew he was going to have an amazing day (he ended up with 10:36, unapologetic coach brag) and I was so excited to share the course with him. That was just what I needed to get out of my “bad swim” drama. I did have to spend some extra time drying out my ear and putting in ear drops. Tempe Town Lake is super gross and I am not about to go through an ear infection again!


Bike

5:29

7th Age Group

20th Female


Three loops and GO! I settled in fast and got in some calories. General Ironman racing rule is if you feel grumpy, you need calories and caffeine. So I got on it quick. We headed out on the Beeline and I saw it. The giant American flag right when you get on the Beeline pointed southwest and straight out. This was not a light to moderate wind as predicted. Headwind and lots of it was coming our way. I knew the first loop would have the least wind and likely be my fastest so I tucked into my race aero position and started to hammer away.


My favorite part of the course is after the turn around on the Beeline. So much free speed! It boggles my mind how many people relax here and sit up. It's FREE SPEED!! Now is the time to tuck in and go! I got up to 40mph on the 3rd loop which is totally absurd for a 7% grade and a chick that weights 125lbs. Shows you how strong the tailwind was coming back to town.


By the third loop I was super grumpy again. I kept taking on more and more calories and more and more caffeine until I was breaking into my extra nutrition and felt like I did 3 lines of coke. I thought “ok, maybe I am just in a bad mood?” The third loop was soul crushing. The wind was pretty dramatic now and a straight headwind. My athlete Patrick caught up to me and we had another guy that was riding near us (all within legal distance). I turned off my power data screen and decided to ride the wind and course by feel and conserve. If I had a chance of a good run, I would really need to save my legs. We were riding well and even at legal distance, riding behind 2 dudes over 6ft tall gives a solid draft. At the end of the day, it takes a lot of patience to ride the IM bike well. It is about managing and conserving energy and really, I just don't have a lot of fun when I ride like that. I love to ride and I love to ride hard. It's just way more fun! But it also leaves nothing in the legs to run. I learned that lesson the hard way a St. George 70.3 this year. I knew I had to back off and fight the wind and conserve. Hitting a dark spot on the bike really surprised me. I am usually the happiest while on my bike. But the loop and the wind just sucked it out of me. I was tired and getting off the bike I was dreading the run. I have never wanted to run a marathon less than sitting in T2 peeing myself (classy) and putting on my running shoes.


Nutrition/Hydration:

3 Bottles - Skratch Superfuel + 1 The Right Stuff packet in the 3 bottles

2 packets of Skratch chews with caffeine

6 or 7 SiS gels

3 Beta Fuel SiS gels

1 package of Cliff Blocks


This ended up being I think the most calories per hour I have ever consumed, somewhere close to 380 - 390 cals/hour. It is a lot, but my gut did great and my run was well fueled.

Hell yeah! The most aero 5.5hrs I have ever had by a long shot!

T2

Took an extra minute to pour water on my body and wipe all the salt off my face. That felt amazing. I ran out of T2 and lost my hat in the wind. That fucking wind followed us to the run course! WTF?!


Run

4:00:24

7th Age Group

21st Female


Plan was to start at 9:00/mile pace then chip down after mile 3. Combine my grumpy mood, learning I was solidly in 7th (a twinge of disappointment) and not knowing what my legs had, it was a struggle. I knew I couldn't run up to 5th, someone was going to have to explode for me to place, so I thought "ok, just run what feels good and check in every aid station to make sure I don't drop to like a 12:00/mi." I looked down at mile 2 and I was exactly 9:00/mi and it felt good. Like really good. That is when I saw Jess and BJ from the Yogi Triathlete. I am a huge fan and often listen to their podcast (check it out!) on my runs. Jess shouted “let go of the resistance, just flow!” Something inside me shifted. I have never thought about that in my run. Let go of the wind, the impact of the concrete, the muscles, the breathing, the expectations of placing, the frustration of missed training, let go of all the resistance and flow. I was on the bridge at the moment looking out over the water and it all came to me at once. I am running not for a place, not for a time, not to prove something, I am running because I FUCKING love triathlons! I love racing, I love what my body and mind can do, and I love me for loving it! I do this for me! I decided to run for love, for gratitude, for the beauty that I find in endurance sports and all the crazy humans around me pouring their heart on the course and cheering us on. My pace became faster, my cadence quicker. I felt light, free and just happy!


I saw so many friends on the course and in the crowd. Seeing my daughter and husband every loop was just the extra boost of joy I needed to keep ticking off the miles. Azella always reminds me of my why. I love showing her what happens when you go after your dreams. Ironman is such a beautiful example of what makes up dreams. They are hard and messy and we don't always get it right, but we keep moving forward. This race was even more important because she saw me hit such a low. She saw me in massive pain. She saw me cry when I thought I wouldn't even be able to race. She saw me come back from my training sessions totally deflated. And she saw me keep showing up, each day doing what I could on that day. She saw me start that race with doubts of what I could do, what I really had in me. And then, on each loop, she saw me fly full of joy and love for this incredible journey! She saw me smiling, laughing and running my heart out. IMAZ was a reminder that dreams can also be exhilarating.

A boost from my baby girl!

When I hit mile 13.1 I realized I had a chance at my first sub 4 hour marathon. I kept running, ignoring my watch, who needs data when you can run from a place of flow and happiness? Mile 20 came and I decided to see what I had left in my legs, not to place, not to win, not even for a time, but because it seemed like a fun thing to do! Turns out I had so much more in my legs! I ended that last 6 miles getting faster and faster each mile. It was a unicorn run. Negative splitting a marathon is hard, negative splitting a marathon in an Ironman is one in a million. When I ran by a friend I shouted “I am having the run of my life!” And I was! It was the best run I have ever had in my ENTIRE life. I think I had the ability to go another loop at that pace. I finished running down to the finish line in an all out sprint trying to break 4 hours. Missed it by 24 secs! Ahh! But to feel that good after 10:54, was spectacular! I cried when I crossed the finish line and promptly fell on the medic. Ending an Ironman in a sprint makes you super dizzy!


Nutrition/Hydration:

Water every aid station

SiS every 3 miles until mile 16

Mile 16 switched to gatorade and water

Mile 20 coke and water and gatorade

Sprinting with a smile on my face until the very end!

All the Finish Line Feels

10:54

7th Age Group

21st Female (highest overall placing by 22 positions!)

173rd overall (important because I love beating men!)

Earned a spot to IM Worlds at St George in May. So that is 2 IM World Championships in 2022!


This race absolutely shocked me. The dark places my mind went in the bike, my calmness before the race even after sprinting to get in the swim line, my run, my final overall placing were all surprises. Usually I go into a race with lazer focus. I am prepared for battle. Ready to face the demons of doubt and the limitations of the mind and body. I am a warrior. But not this time. This time, before the race started, I surrendered to the pain and demons ahead. They would be there and I would meet them, not to subdue them with force but to embrace them and move forward with them. I started the race with acceptance of the unknown and belief that no matter what I faced, I would do so with the best version of myself mentally, physically, and emotionally. When the time came and I saw what I already knew would be there was in fact there, the words “let the resistance go” was my cue to let it all go and just be, as I was in that very moment. What I found when I let go was more than I ever thought possible. I found magic, deep joy, and a light and free body ready to go!


All races are different. And I am different every time I line up in my wetsuit ready to jump in the dark waters surrounded by athletes all contemplating the next 8 - 16 hours ahead. Every Ironman has given me an experience that changes a deep part of me. I race because I love to compete, I race because I love to see where I can push myself, I race to realize on a deeper level who I am. It's not about completing 140.6 miles, it's about who you become in that journey.