Ironman Arizona by Joshua Collins

A 140.6 mile race through the dessert sounds like fun…right?

If you like drastic temperatures, long bike rides with nothing to look, and boring runs this is not the race for you. With the perfect varying temperature from night to day back to night and its viewer friendly course it is obvious why IMAZ is rated one of the best of the all the Ironman’s around the world. It all starts days before in sunny Arizona. With the Tempe communities warm embrace mixed with the verity of activities to do to relax or get a small warm up to prepare; it makes for an easy destination for an Ironman. The organization gives you 3 days prior to race day to get prepared with bike maintenance, check in, body therapy, finding nutrition, or any of your pre race rituals. All the days prior were especially helpful for me because they offered two times each day where the race director did a “first timers” Q and A and because I got a bright orange “I will become one” wristband everyone was offering advice. The biggest thing you have to do before is your bike drop off, you have a time slot the day before the race based on your bib number and drop off your run and bike bags that have all the stuff you plan on using during each but other than that you have the rest of the time to see Tempe and talk to all the vendors.


On race day, you start by doing all your normal race morning things. You get your bike stuff ready, double check your hydration and nutrition, and look over your run and bike bags you dropped off the day before. At about 6am everyone makes their way over to the swim start, probably the worst part, where we are all caroled into a narrow walkway based on estimated swim finish. It was the first time IMAZ did it this way and I personally don’t think they will again. Everyone was jam packed together, some couldn’t get to the time zone they wanted, but nothing was as shocking as hitting the water! The line moved quick with about 3 people being helped down a small ramp into the freezing water (the temp was about 59-60) and once we hit the water we were gone! I got to about waist level into the water before I dove the rest and when the water hit my face I remember thinking “damn, this is way too cold but it has to get better”…spoiler alert…it didn’t. As you swim all the buoys are on your right which was perfect because I only breathe on that side and at the half way point the colors switch so all the swimmers knew they were halfway. Even though the water was so cold, the swim was still awesome. You pass under about 5 bridges and you can hear all the people randomly yelling for you to keep it up and how crazy we were to be swimming lol. At one point I switched to a backstroke with the sole purpose of yelling back to all the cheers! Just awesome! As you leave the swim, there is another small ramp where volunteers are to help you and your jelly legs out. I got out and just walked for a little to get the blood shuttling again and then ran to the changing tent, still freezing cold.

At T1 you are directed to your bike bag where you placed all your bike needs the day before. The bags are organized by bib number and the volunteers help out a lot in finding them. Once you have your bag you go into you gender tent to change, warm up (had multiple space heaters), or get hydrated. Once ready you put you swim stuff in that bag and hand to someone has you leave the tent and you are off to the bike.


The bike starts the same as the rest; however, you get the pleasure of riding through downtown Tempe into an Indian reservation! The bike course was a 3-loop, 18 mile out and 18 miles back route that was all uphill one way and all down coming back. The elevation was about 500-600, so nothing crazy but I felt so legit coming back increasing my pace from around 14mph to 24mph (still getting passed lol). The best part is you get the beautiful sights of the dessert. It sounds sarcastic but it was amazing. They had 3 aid stations out and 3 on the way back and several bike maintenance crews on motorcycles on the course for help; I luckily had no bike problems the entire race! The bike portion for me was the worst. I could not find a comfortable position after the first loop. Everything felt uncomfortable and I was considering stopping. I had to mentally push myself to finish that damn bike ride. I constantly thought about how hard I trained to be there and how much time I spent on this bike to stop now. I mean it’s a freakin’ bike right?!? The biggest help was all the random supports on this course, once you were close to the city people were calling me out by name, telling me to push through and that what I was doing was amazing. There were two people that I looked for every time I got near town after the first pass; one was guy that would always yell “bro that mustache is sick, no way you’re not finishing” and the second was kid that couldn’t have been older than 6 who held a sign that read “you inspire me”. This course really showed me the impact a stranger can make when you’re mentally defeated. The only thing that would have picked me up more was if my fiancée, Jessica, had been there to cheer; but I had told her to volunteer while I was biking so she could help out others who needed it and I still think that was the better thing for her to do. The temperature during the bike was awesome. Being about 74 in the sunshine of the dessert, could not have been better. Towards the end, due to me being slow, the sun started to set and the cool air of the night hit. But I was so warm from the long bike it didn’t matter. As you come to the end of the course, there are volunteers to collect your bike; you get off at the line and hand it off. This was my first experience with this and I loved it. After you leave your bike you run the running bag and into the tent again for your last change.

The run was a 2-loop course through the city of Tempe. There were aid stations every mile that had so many options for nutrition and fuel but the best part was the people. Because the run is through a community and downtown a lot of people set up their own booths to cheer people on and hype them up. It was very unique for me. Other than that, the run was pretty much the same as the half; besides seem good ole Mikey R at the end (we are BFFs now so I can call him that lol).


With only a couple half marathons under my belt, no bike history other than riding to friends houses growing up, and swimming so bad that the first 50m I swam back in Feb I was winded after I started my IM training with a goal of a full in 9 months. I started as a struggle. I had to buy a lot of gear and equipment, I had to learn to eat while I am moving and most importantly I had to learn to be uncomfortable. I had to manage time running and on a bike while getting calls at the fire house, because I had no way of skipping a day due to being at work. I had to standby and wait for the pool to open at the gym, since there are always old people walking in there. I had to figure out if I was good with open water swimming (which I did by diving off a boat for the Escape the Cape tri). Like all triathlets, there was time away from family and friends, a lot of money spent, and sacrifices made. But with the support of my now fiancé, my friends, and of course the 3 D family I completed my goal! It was a 9 month journey that came to an end in AZ. I swam the 2.4 mile. I biked 112 miles in pain. I ran intervals for 5 hours. I crossed the line. I heard my name called. I changed forever.


I AM AN IRONMAN.

S-1:38 T1-16:41 B-7:42 T2-13:13 R-5:34 Total-15:25

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