The morning of Ironman Arizona was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster with nervous feelings mixed with so much excitement. I was on my way to the start line of my second Ironman. In the car ride over there I was joined by Jackie who was taking on her first Ironman as well as Liz, Jenn and Bryan who were our Sherpas for the race. The jokes and laughter were a pleasant distraction for what was to be a long day of racing.
We arrived at transition, and I dropped off my special needs bags and double/triple checked all my gear. Seeing all the athletes getting prepped is something special. Athletes from all over the world here with the same goal, we all have spent countless hours training for this day. Although we are all competing against one another were also racing together and supporting each other’s efforts. I walked around giving hugs and saying good luck to friends and team mates before I walked over to the swim start. So many familiar faces out there, I was blessed to take on the next 140.6 miles with such great people. I lined up at the swim start with the one hour and twenty-minute swim finish crowd. This is usually where it all hits me, when they start to play the national anthem. It’s when my mind catches up to the reality that I’m about to what only few in the world have completed. I think about the road that lead up to this and all those who supported me along the way. I take my pre-swim energy gel and make my way to the steps that lead into the water. Goggles are on, I let out one last “Let’s Do This!” and I’m off. The water was calm, and I was able to find a nice rhythm. Tempe Lake is large, so the athletes were spread out. During the swim I was going over my next transition making sure to go over my mental check list for a successful bike. The water wasn’t too cold, but the taste was not as pleasant as other lakes. I got to the turnaround in 40 minutes, right on schedule. Heading back the other athletes were a bit more aggressive, I got punched in head a few times but nothing I couldn’t shake off. The swim was done in 1:28:08 and I was off to T1.
I hopped on the bike, what I think is my happy place. The bike course was three loops, with heavy wind and heat in the eighties. Each loop is a gradual incline of about 7-8 miles and then a 10 mile climb full of head winds. You then turnaround hammer as fast as you can back to do it all over again. I was feeling good on the first lap, taking in nutrition and climbing the hill strong. on the second lap heading down the hill I noticed that the wind had started shifting and maintaining the speed I once had was not easy. I always get freaked out going fast down a hill with crosswinds, going fast is not worth injuring myself. As I started the third and final lap I felt a slight pain on my right knee. Not sure what it was but it wasn’t allowing me to climb up the hill as in the previous laps. I had to climb in a lower gear and that slight pan shifted my focus away from my nutrition intake to being concerned about this strange pain. I got to the turn at the top and started to push as much as I could down the hill to make up for some time. I finished the bike in 6:09:14.
It had been a long day and there was still a marathon to finish. I sat in T2 changing into my running gear and taking some deep breaths to calm myself. I was off on the run and noticed that the pain in my knee was still lingering. I was able to run the first 6-7 miles at goal descent pace but after that I had to slow down and get into a walk/jog rhythm. The inability to run really started playing mind games with me, I had worked on my run so much this year and having this happen to me was devastating. I would stop to stretch and then tried to run some more as this was happening I didn’t even realize that I was ignoring my nutrition, this was going to come back and haunt me later. I finished the first lap and was starting the second and final lap. I saw my friends cheering for me and I went over to hug them. I told them of the horrible time I was having, Bryan said don’t worry you have plenty of time to finish. Jenn walk with me to my run special needs bag and helped calm me down as I got some nutrition. They all noticed I needed more electrolytes and had me chug a bottle of rocket fuel to get me back in it. I was off walking a lot more then jogging now but still moving forward. I was at mile 14-15 and I started feeling my stomach and body calling it quits on me. I felt weak and wanted to throw-up but couldn’t. At mile 16 I saw Natalie and she was having a tough time on the course, we shared a hug and encouraged each other to keep going. I took a few more steps and started throwing up into Tempe Lake. All the nutrition was gone at this point and I still had a little less than 10 miles to go, how the hell was I going to get this done.
Mile 18 of the run was the turning point for me. I got these massive cramps on my legs and had to sit. Volunteers from a nearby aid station came to help me, they brought chicken broth, pretzels and water for me. It was at that moment that I knew running was no longer in that game plan, every time I would run I would throw-up or have horrible cramps. I decided at that point that I would walk the rest of the marathon and refuel my body slowly. “Time Is On My Side”, those became the words I would repeat over in my head for the next 8 miles.
I learned a lot of what becoming an Ironman is as I walked. It is the most humbling run I’ve ever done. As I walked I started to develop blisters on the ball of my feet, but I kept moving forward. I told myself that I didn’t come all this way just to come all this way, I had to finish. I had spent many hours away from my family to train and I owed my daughter that medal. I knew my wife was tracking me online and she knows exactly when things go wrong but respects that I never stop. I had to finish for the patients I represent on my Team Phenomenal Hope race kit that I represent, my sister Liz Blanco being one of them. I thought to myself that they go through their entire lives unable to walk a mile because of shortness of breath, so for me being able to walk the last 8 miles of an ironman is a blessing. Finally, I needed to finish for two loved ones that passed away this last year, Alicia Arechiga and Daniel Jimenez. I finished the run in 6:27:07.
At the end I did not reach my race goals, but I was reminded on why I race. I race to give back. To show others that it is possible. To push my body to its limits and then continue to move forward because the heart and mind are stronger. And to grow from new experiences so that I may be a better father and husband to my family. I finished Ironman Arizona in 14:20:37.