“Beth Ulibarri, you are an IRONMAN!” Unfortunately I did not hear Mike Reilly say those words, however, I did finish the Arizona Ironman! I’m still a little sad that I didn’t hear those iconic words, but I won’t let that take anything away from the awesome day I had at my first Ironman.
The morning started with a short walk from our hotel to the start. I had to drop my special needs bags off and then went to my bike to inflate my tires. I lost my husband at this point, but fortunately found him in time to get our wet suits on together. The entire area was so crowded that we never found our other friends that were racing. I was just happy that I had my husband with me as we got ready for the start of our day. We held hands as we were herded like cattle into a narrow space where we descended some steps to enter the water. We wished each other luck, had a quick kiss and the next thing I knew I was jumping into the cold water and swimming a few hundred meters to the starting line.
I was definitely nervous, but had to put that aside and just suck it up and get going. After a few minutes of treading water, I heard Mike Reilly say to us over the loud speaker “May the wind be ever at your back” and the cannon went off (these words would run through my head later in the day when the wind was doing the exact opposite!). There is much to say about the swim, but I’ll keep it brief and say that it was brutal. I was hit in the eye, the temple, punched, run into, swum over, and even took a kick to my wrist that I didn’t realize until later in the swim had turned my Garmin off. I did my best to remain positive and used my favorite Nemo mantra “just keep swimming”. The good news is that I got out of the water intact after a 1:16.50 swim and was ready to get on with the rest of my day.
Once I got out on the bike, I began my fueling (Bonk Breaker bars, gels, Skratch drink mix, and Klean Athlete Endurance tabs and Electrolytes), and told myself to bike smart. I didn’t want to ride the bike course too hard and put my legs at a disadvantage for the run. I think I did a good job of really holding back the first of the 3 loops, and I’m glad I did, because the wind kept getting stronger and more punishing throughout the day. We rode up a 9 mile stretch of the Beeline Highway each loop directly into a 20-25mph headwind, with occasional crosswinds that pushed me a few feet to each side. I had to stay alert and focused all the time for fear of a gust blowing me over. I saw 4 crashes throughout the day, which scared me, and I hope that everyone was alright. Around mile 30 I hit a bump in the road and the right side of my visor popped off my helmet. At first I tried to fix it (as I’m riding down the road) thinking I just need to pop it back into place. When it wouldn’t reattach, I had to figure out what to do. I tried riding with it hanging on by one side, it must have looked hilarious hanging titled across my face. When I realized that wasn’t going to work and that I could not reattach it (the screw had popped off), I pulled the other side off and completely detached the visor. Then I stuck it in my back pocket, but a gust of wind came and blew it away. After messing around with that, I was happy to be rid of it and settle back down into my ride, fortunately, I was wearing sunglasses under my visor!
I stopped once around mile 60 to use a porta potty and refill my aero bottle with the drink mix I was using. Other than that, I was on my bike, getting water bottles at aid stations while riding by and staying on top of my fueling strategy. It was a welcome relief at the end of each lap coming back into Tempe where my friends and family were cheering us on. It gave me a burst of energy to go back out and tackle the uphill into the wind each time. 6:37.47 later I was off the bike and never so happy to put my running shoes on!
Time for my favorite part of the day, the marathon! Even though I have run 11 marathons the past few years, with this being my first Ironman, I had no idea what to expect after biking 112 miles and swimming 2.4 miles. My number one goal was to cross that finish line, and I hoped to do it feeling strong. My strategy was to run much slower than I would in a marathon, so I started out at around 10 minute per mile pace. I walked through every aid station and took water and poured ice and water on my head to keep cool. Luckily the temperature was in the low 70s, so the heat was not a factor for me at all.
I made a few new friends along the run and enjoyed chatting with them as the miles passed. I saw my husband for the first time all day on an out and back section of the run. I was around mile 2 and I guessed that he was around mile 4. I was running on a path on top of an embankment along the lake and he was down at the bottom, but with his awesome MS-orange shirt on, I saw him and yelled and we waved, so happy to see each other and know we were both doing alright. The run course crosses to the other side of Tempe Town Lake and about an hour and a half later we got to see each other again and managed to stop and kiss before heading our separate ways. It was so comforting to know he was having a good race and was out there on the course getting it done. I saw one of our friends on the run course, but I never saw our other 3 friends that were racing, despite knowing we had to have passed each other at some points throughout the bike and the run!
Out of nowhere, my knee started bothering me around mile 11. It was on the outside and felt related to my IT band. I think it was from running on the hard concrete path. At points it almost felt like it was going to give out on me and I got a little concerned. I debated stopping to get some ibuprofen, but never ended up doing that. I just kept telling myself only X more miles to go and I can put some ice on it and I don’t have to run for weeks!
Other than my knee, I felt great the entire run. I stayed on top of my fueling, and continued to walk through each aid station. Sure it got tough toward the end, but it never felt insurmountable. I think that since I biked and ran very conservatively all day, constantly afraid of pushing too hard and hitting the wall, I was able to maintain a decent pace and push through the rough parts of the run. Around Mile 25 I started to hear Mike Reilly’s voice at the finish line calling people in and at that point I knew I had done it. I knew I would become an IRONMAN. I knew all the training and sacrifices had been worth it. I was so happy to be feeling good and present in my head (no brain fog like when I push hard in a marathon sometimes). I couldn’t wait to hear Mike Reilly call my name! I began passing people the last half mile and even managed to pass a few people in the finisher’s chute, it was like I was sprinting on air, it just felt so good! I finished the run in 4:27.54 and crossed the best finish line of my life. My total race time was 12:32.46, which was good enough for 24th in my age group.
The journey of the past year has come to completion and I could not be happier. Ironman is about so much more than the twelve and a half hours I was out there racing. It’s about determination, perseverance, hope, dedication and proving to myself that the impossible can become possible. I want to give an enormous thank you to my family and friends for their unwavering support and their huge part in helping me reach my goal. I was blessed with an incredible race experience and am grateful to Klean Athlete for the opportunity, encouragement, and of course, amazing products that helped keep me healthy through hundreds of hours of training to get me to the starting line in top shape.
Some people have already been asking…Am I going to do another Ironman? Geez, can a girl have a few seconds to just enjoy finishing an epic race? Maybe my friends know me too well and think I already have the “next” race planned! While it is a bit soon to figure all that out, what I can say is that I did not get my goal of hearing Mike Reilly call my name at the finish line, and that irks me just a tiny bit. Possibly enough to do another one…