Ironman Arizona (World Triathlon Corporation)
There is no denying the fact that the World Triathlon Corporation knows how to put on a good and solid Ironman race.
They have the people, places, and expertise to put together a seamless weekend of pre and post race festivities, along with a safe and fun race day experience.
And yet, somehow Ironman Arizona is missing the soul of a great race. There is nothing wrong with this race per say. There is no sentence that can be uttered ending in "if only the race were...."
So yes, the race certainly has all of the elements that could make for a great race such as:
- It is located in the heart of one of America's newest and dare I say sexiest and youthful cities. Yes I know the race takes place in Tempe, but I'm really referring to Phoenix, AZ which surrounds Tempe in such manner that the race could be said to take place in Phoenix.
- The weather is almost perfect---especially now that the race has been moved from the spring to the fall.
- The course is laid out in a fashion that places aid stations, family, and friends within easy reach of all of the athletes.
I don't have the hard numbers to prove it, but this race seems to draw an older crowd of triathletes. It could be the warm weather, or the large retirement community around Tempe (such as Sun City) but it certainly seems to be a race for the more mature triathlete.
BTW: As one might expect the race had the largest number of athletes from nearby California, followed by Arizona, and Colorado. In fact most all of the states are represented along with a fair share of European countries, and Mexico.
So not only are the racers older, but they also seem to be a well traveled group that come from both near and far. With such a healthy mix of states, countries, and nationalities represented one would think the race would be an ideal venue for the well healed international triathlete.
I'm so happy to be out of the $@#$$# water---were just some of the hurried comments I overheard about the one counter-clockwise loop in Tempe Town Lake by athletes in the T-1 transition.
The official race day water temperate was 63, or perhaps as high as 64 tropical degrees. This is maximum shrinkage temp, take your breath away, it hurts your exposed hair and/or scalp---cold water. This was especially true when entering the lake in the early morning twilight hours.
How can you easily tell at an Ironman race when the water is cold?
Almost every athlete dilly-dallied as long as possible before taking the plunge into the deep, dark, fidgid water.
BTW: There is no wading into the Tempe Town Lake. Athletes must jump in feet first from a set of stairs that disappear into the dark abyss.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that the start of the race is your typical Ironman melee of feet, fists, and fingers. In other words, it does not take too long for the cold water in your wetsuit to warm up.
I found the one loop course perhaps a bit short this year as many pros had 2 to 3 minute PR's on the swim---strongly suggesting a shorter course..
This was also the case for many amateur athletes which, on the bright side, made for many personal best swim times.
The transition area in Tempe is a exposed and sprawling open air park. There are of course tents to change in when you want privacy to conceal all of the cold water shrinkage, but otherwise everything is wide open for fans and athletes alike.
About 19 miles, that's the magic number to remember when you are thinking about the bike course.
Because you'll bike that same 19 miles six times during the course of the race.
What's really amazing about the stretch of the bike course up the Bee Line Highway is just how quickly you'll leave downtown Tempe for the arid cactus covered stretch of the Arizona Sonoran Desert. It really is both amazing and daunting to be biking in the middle of Tempe one moment, and within a matter of minutes be surrounded by nothing but cactus, sand, dirt, and dust.
The bad news about the 3-loop course is that you'll fight the wind and the hills all the way out of town.
The good news about the 3-loop course is that you fly back into town, and that you are never far from an aid station.
If you like loops, you'll love the run. This time the magic number is three. You'll need to keep in mind because you'll basically run six four mile loops in a misshapen figure eight to cover the marathon distance.
Once again the good news is that if you love repetitive loops, you'll love this course. If you hate running the same way, over, and over, and over again, you'll hate this course.
I found it especially daunting to see the mileage signs with the three different numbers that represent my progress on the run.
For instance, when you see a sign that says 1, 9, and 17 on it, you'll be either thrilled by the 17-mile marker, or terrified and disheartened, if you happen to be only at mile 1.
A word to the wise. The run is mostly on concrete and very hilly. For some reason the run course has a reputation for being flat.
Don't believe it for a second. You'll either be climbing, or descending up hills, down hills, up ramps, down ramps, up bridges, down, brides and so on, and so on, and so on for 26.2 miles.
On the plus side the aid stations come fast and furious. So if you love to chat with the volunteers, and just enjoy the run as a easy way to cap off the race day experience---this is the race for you.
Once again the Race Expo is the expected Ironman affair with usual suspects. And yet the central question remains. What keeps IMAZ from being a great race, as opposed to just an OK one?
Unfortunately in my opinion, all the parts of this race just don't come together for greatness.
At the end of the day it feels more like a business decision to hold the race in Tempe versus a decision made for the love of the sport. There is very little, if any, local support outside of the great volunteers. Don't get me wrong, I could expect nothing more from the over 200O people that volunteered for the race, but the rest of the locals didn't seem to care one way or another.
This could be because of the relatively large size of the community. Unlike almost all of the other North American Ironman races, Phoenix is a big and sprawling metropolitan area with a large population. It's hard to get just under two million people excited about a goofy Ironman race. At least that's how many local non triathletes perceive the race from my personal experience.
I wish I could be more specific but the magic, just like all the sand that surrounds the city, just seems to slip through the fingers of this race.
FYINTKS (For Your Information Need To Know Secrets):
- This race has a reputation for being spectator friendly. With three bike loops and three run loops the athletes are always near the transition area.
-While this is certainly true, getting to the transition area in a car can be a huge traffic nightmare.
-The best plan is to get to the race early, find a parking space, and just hang out. You'll find it expensive (paying for parking) and problematic if you decide to come and go on race day.
- The bike course can be dangerous. Be very careful as you approach the aid stations because on a three loop course that's just about 19 miles long, in one direction, with over 2200 cyclist, you'll always be either passing or getting passed. This means that bike accidents are just a fact of life.
- Flats are another fact of life on the bike course. There are razor sharp thorns and cactus needles that litter the bike course. Best be prepared to flat, and be prepared to change your tire as well.
- I was told before the race that this is not the case on this course, and that many athletes have exaggerated the puncture problem. All I can say is race this course without sufficient spares at your own risk.
- Drafting is a big issue on this course. You can either see this as a problem or opportunity. It really depends on how you roll.
- The water is very cold. If you don't like cold water, either come prepared, or don't do this race because you'll hate the swim.
- Be ready to fight the wind on the way out of town on the bike. Imagine pushing hard into a gusty 25-mile an hour headwind up a gentle hill. If you are fast you'll average around 15 MPH. Now imaging flying back into town in your tallest gear at 30 MPH. Image that six times and you'll be ready to race Ironman Arizona.
EveryMan Rating: 2 Brewskis
Rating Scale (based on the amount of beer needed after race)
• 4 Brewskis So excruciatingly painful and lame you’ll need a full year of recovery just to forget this race
• 3 Brewskis The best thing said and remembered about race is; I finished
• 2 Brewskis Challenging race in a masochistic I’d could do it again sort-of-way given enough time and Ibuprofen.
• 1 Brewski Good solid race that exceeds your expectations
• No Brewski A must-do annual event for both friends and family
Follow on twitter @everymantri