Monica's Ironman Arizona - Race Report

December 30, 2019 7 min read

Monica's Ironman Arizona - Race Report

The weeks leading up to Ironman were nerve racking. I found out my thyroid levels were low, and I needed to adjust my medication. I fell while running with Kona, and hurt my hip and shoulder. Then I got a cold and was feeling sick, all the way up the the night before the race. The curse of the taper, I call it. I tried to combat all the negative with extra doses of tumeric, garlic, and cinnamon. I took B6 to improve tolerance of the cold water, magnesium for muscle recovery, and beet juice and CoQ for endurance. I have never taken so many supplements in my life!

I slept a few measly hours the night before the race, but I had slept well all week and felt ready. Forget about the cold, I told myself. I arrived at Tempe Town Lake at 5:15 am, dropped off by Fred who went to park the car. I never saw him again before the race. I was surprisingly hurried I was getting my bike ready, stashing my special needs bags, and adding to my transition bags. At 6:40, I was hurrying to put on my wetsuit as the pro’s were ready to start their race. Once dressed and ready, I worked my way into the line to jump in the water. I didn’t have a chance to see anyone I knew, which was disappointing. I jumped in the water at 6:52. The water felt good. Not cold, like I had feared. I think I was too anxious to notice. It took a few strokes to get calm, but I quickly headed for my planned starting place on the left side of the bouys, under the Mill Ave bridge. It took what seemed like forever for the cannon to go off. Once it went off, I started swimming a couple strokes before I realized I was trapped. Two boats had parked themselves perpendicular to the swim course, completely blocking passage for at least 30 of us. I was stuck in the middle. The volunteer on the boat said we had to go right, and they would not let us through. But with a thickness of 30+ people to the right, all treading water, there was no where to go. Two to three minutes passed, and finally people moved and I was able to start swimming. Now at the back of the pack, I had to pass hundreds if not a thousand or more as I progressed with my swim. 

The swim was as I imagined, except I didn’t envision having to pass so many people. It was frustrating at times, as it seemed impossible to get through some of the very congested areas. But I remained calm, and never panicked. Although it never completely thinned out, I eventually was able to swim at a normal pace for at least 10 minutes at a time before encountering another tangle. I was surprised by the swells on the return. I enjoyed seeing the spectators, especially those waving on the bridges. Soon it was time to get out, and I found a volunteer to strip my wetsuit. 

Transition one went slower than I wanted. At the time, it seemed fast, but my time said otherwise! I changed out of my wet tri top. Putting on a dry one over my wet bra was hard, even with a volunteer helping. We both struggled! My neck was raw from my wetsuit, I took time to apply aquaphor. I dried my arms an applied sunscreen before putting on my bolero sleeves. I struggled to get my visor on my bike helmet. I almost forgot saddle cream. Off I go!

Now for the bike! I wasn’t cold! I was so afraid I would freeze. I had slipped a plastic bag under my tri top, and that blocked out the wind. Oh, the wind. What a surprise that was. I didn’t even know it was windy, until I turned north. I was taken aback at how strong it was. I was gearing down already. My inner thigh muscles were hurting. This might be a long ride. Would I even be able to run? Deep breath, “follow your plan”, I told myself.

Turning north on the Beeline was another shock. The wind was worse, and I knew this was going to be tough. “Just watch your overall loop times”, I told myself. Don’t worry about your pace yet. I was already in my small chain ring. Oh dear. At Gilbert road I saw Bob and Carla Booker. What a nice surprise. I was passed by several cyclist who called out “Cactus Buddy”, from my facebook IMAZ group. How fun! As I headed up the hill towards Fountain Hills, my pace really slowed. Soon it was very congested. Impossible to pass in 10 seconds, and difficulty to slow any more to allow 4 bike lengths. We were all in a congested bunch. A motorbike passed and I saw the women on the back writing numbers, including mine, I presumed. They zoomed ahead and parked on the shoulder, and began calling out penalties. Just as I approached, they jumped back on their motorcycle and zoomed to the other side of the road, just up ahead. As I got closer, I realized they had gone to assist with a bad crash. On the downhill, a women had crashed. She was unconscious, bleeding from the head. It looked bad.

I tried to makeup time on the downhill, going into my hardest gear and pedaling hard. The crash in my mind, I tried to stay safe as there were unpredictable gusts and crosswinds. I remembered what my friends Lee and Jean had taught me on my first 100 mile ride on a very windy day in Flagstaff, “stay in aero, relax your arms, and lean into the wind”. I did just that. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, there was another crash. The ride back to Tempe was easy, but turning around back into the wind was so frustrating. It was getting worse. I saw Fred and this kids at Gilbert Rd. It was so nice seeing them!  I stopped at the aid station at Gilbert Rd. I had grabbed a water, and asked to volunteer who held my bike at the bathroom to fill my bottle for me. Then the trek back up the hill. Slow!! But back down was fun, and I was feeling more brave.

On my final loop, the it seemed everyone was gone. It was still a little crowded on the ascent, but once I turned around I almost felt alone. Was I the last of the cyclists? It was a fast trek back to Tempe, and I was happy to get off my bike and hand it over to the volunteer. I grabbed my T2 bag and made a pitstop to the bathroom. My last words to the volunteers after leaving transition, “so now I have to run a marathon?”.

As I began running, I was surprised how good it felt. So free. I felt the breeze, but it felt refreshing. Not agonizing like on the bike. I sipped my UCan and tried to monitor my pace, “going to fast”, I reminded myself. I struggled to stay at my 9:20 pace, my legs just wanted to go fast. The miles went so fast. I could hardly believe it. My legs just wanted to go faster, I was forcing myself to hold back.The further along I went, the better I felt. I developed a routine at each water stop. I took a lick of Base salt, a drink of water, and an orange slice. I walked through each stop, doing this same routine each time.I loved watching the sun set. I loved the enthusiastic aid stations. I loved passing so many runners/walkers. I loved the cheers. I even loved my slice of orange. By mile 16, I had decided it was fair to let go of my pace, and run by feel. I kept waiting to feel tired, waiting to feel like my legs were dead, but it never came. The run was so fun, the best word to describe it is joy. Pure joy. By mile 21, I was so eager to hear my name, I sped up more. I looked at my Garmin at mile 24.5. I was surprised to see my total time for the run was 3:46 or something like that. What? If I go fast enough, I can get a sub-4 hour marathon. I can go fast, I feel so good! So I sped it up.

monica arizona run

I wiped my face off, adjusted my hat, pulled down my shirt as I ran down the final hill on Rio Salado. I CANNOT believe its finally here. I cannot believe I feel so good. I cannot believe how fast today went. As I ran of the hill to the crowd, I saw Reyna. Then Sara was in the road, ready to give me a high five. I stopped my Garmin, I remembered I didn’t want my finish line photo to be of me turning off my Garmin. I searched the crowds but could not see Fred or anyone else I knew. I had wanted to high-five my kids and give Fred a hug. When I turned to final corner, I saw the bright light of the finish line. I high fived several kids on the way in the chute. I loved hearing my name “Monica Heinemann, you are an Ironman”. He also said I was a first time Ironman. When I crossed the line, I was quickly wrapped in a blanket and escorted away. I DID IT!

Monica arizona finish

It is hard not to get emotional after such an experience. I saw my coach, Renee, who had tears in her eyes. I saw my husband and 3 kids. My friends came to congratulate me. I was so happy to have made it, so happy it had went well. So happy to finally be an Ironman!


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