Race Analysis: Ironman Arizona

Ironman Arizona

Ironman Arizona boasts deep fields in both the men’s and women’s races, the norm for this late fall race. Most athletes are looking to get some additional KPR points for the 2016 season, capitalize on lingering fitness and possibly make up for poor performances in Kona. The men’s race has a lot of firepower on the bike with Starykowicz, Twelsiek, Rapp, Tollakson, Albert and Sanders. There could be some great bike splits but the race will be won on the run. If McMahon is recovered from Kona he is the favorite, he ran a low 2:40 last year to take the victory.

The women’s field features a face off between the 2013 and 2014 champions in Gajer and Kessler. If Michelle Vesterby is recovered mentally and physically from her breakthrough race in Kona she will be dangerous. As the bike course record holder she can definitely do some damage during the ride. Melanie McQuaid is strong and showed at IM Whistler that she can be strong at this distance. Sarah Haskins is the wild card this Sunday. She is almost unbeatable in Olympic non draft and developing into a 70.3 star, but how will she handle a nine hour race? If she has some beginners luck the other women better look out because she is strong across all three disciplines. Finally, if anyone falters up front Lisa Roberts will be storming from behind and waiting to capitalize in the later stages of the race.


Lionel Sanders

Why are you getting right back into Ironman racing after IM Kona when you wrote about maybe doing to much before?

I more or less meant the volume of training that was being done at a moderate intensity.  Fortunately, I caught this error about two months ago now, so I feel like the over-training symptoms are starting to subside.  I feel like I made a lot of mistakes in Kona and Arizona will give me a chance to correct some of those errors and get some KPR points for next year.  Plus, I love racing.

Are you approaching the race to win or gain KPR points to help start the year off right?

I have not had an Ironman this year that I’ve felt was executed well from start to finish.  I would like to execute a good race from start to finish.  Wherever that gets me, Ill be content.  That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever done a race without having the intention of winning it.

Are you looking at getting a coach for 2016? Any big changes for 2016?

I learned a lot in 2015 and I think I will continue to be self-coached in the bike and run for next year.  I have no idea what I am doing in the swim so I am looking to find a swim coach.  Gerry Rodrigues of Tower 26 is someone I’m currently chatting with.  Kona gave me the kick in the ass I needed to get serious about improving my swim.  2016 will be the year of swim improvement and polarized training.

Melanie M

Melanie McQuaid

IM Whistler was your first Ironman and was done in what I would call “perfect Mel McQuaid racing conditions.” Ie, raining and chilly. IMAZ will definitely be a little different with more sun and higher temps. Have you changed anything in your approach to the race due to the different climate?
Yes, Ironman Canada was crazy.  I don’t know why my breakthrough races have been on rainy days – Oceanside 2012 was rainy but not freezing by any means especially not on the run.  So I think maybe I am just better at putting the weather aside and getting on with it?  Or planning my outfit for the day better?  Not sure, I was frozen in Whistler and my numbers were low but I think that is generally just what happens in the cold.  I had a good day there maybe because I figured Ironman was supposed to be hard and the weather was just the cherry on top? 
I have melted in many Ironman events but I have won XTERRA events in the hottest days on record.  However, I have passed out at the finish more than once so I definitely have issues as the time ticks towards 3 hours.  I know it must be fueling/hydration.  In order to manage heat in these longer races (and gearing up/fact finding for a bid to go to Kona next year) I spent the fall experimenting with approaches for heat prep and hydration at both IM 70.3 Vegas and IM70.3 Cabo (mixed race results/lots of data).  I learned a lot from these races and will be in Arizona just under 2 weeks to get ready for this race.  However, it feels downright COLD to me here so either I am super acclimated or 78 degrees is just not hot enough to melt this Canadian.  Looking at the weather forecast I don’t imagine the heat will be much of a factor, for me at least.
Haskins and Kessler are two strong swimmers and cyclists. Will you play a patience game or do you want to catch up to them for riding companions?

I think given my limited experience in Ironman I should stick to my own race plan and maybe consider racing in the last hour, not the second hour, so I will be happy enough doing my own thing.  I never expected to ride alone at the front at Ironman Canada so having those girls up front with time splits will be awesome for me and I am confident in my plan.  I hope to one day be confident enough to race an Ironman from the gun but for now I am going to try to execute a solid time trial rather than participate in a road race.
Is there one big takeaway/lesson learned from Whistler that makes you more confident in your 2nd IM start?

Ironman is such a giant challenge that I think the attitude of having fun did me a great service at Ironman Whistler so that is my approach this time as well.  I chose Arizona because I know people here, I have heard the aid stations are a good time and I love this city.  I am going to have fun out there and then see how that stacks up with the other girls.  J  I can’t control how fast they are I can only try to be faster than my first attempt – so here goes nothing!

Jordan R

Jordan Rapp

I had expected to be done for the season after a strong performance in Kona, with Arizona only a possibility and more as a sort of end of year celebration, a way to punctuate a great season at a race I loved, but without maybe the same pressure as in other years. Of course, Kona didn’t go as planned, with my first ever mechanical failure during a race in 19 Ironmans. I felt good on the day in Kona, and after a DNF in 2013, I really wanted to finish. So I did my best to conserve as well as I could while running a marathon on what was the hottest Kona in 20+ years, but it still took a lot out of me.

My very best performances have always come on the heels of focused builds, and this was definitely not that. But I’ve also had some great races that came out of bad luck at another race, and I’m looking forward to doing that again. Regardless of how I finish, I look forward to delivering another batch of burritos to the late-night volunteers at the finish.

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About the Authors

Zach Miller
Zach Miller is a sports enthusiast and age group triathlete living in the The Woodlands, TX. He is the Host of The Triathlon Preview Show. Follow @trifantasy The Triathlon Preview Show: iTunes Podcast
Emily is a professional triathlete and swim coach living in Napa, CA. Emily swam for the University of Michigan and completed her first tri in 2004 at the Chicago Triathlon. She worked for seven years as a paralegal, followed by three years as an Assistant Swim Coach for the University of Illinois-Chicago. Presently, she lives and trains in Napa, California while working for the Napa Valley Swim Team and coaching several age group triathletes.

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