Ironman Arizona 2016…..what.a.day.
I had really tried my hardest to go into this race with the same amount of “calm” I felt 2 years ago. I didn’t want to be mentally stressed or upset about what “might” or “might not” happen, specifically about performance. Lots has changed for me in 2 years….my work/career ambitions aren’t the same, my body isn’t the same, my fitness isn’t the same. Beyond that, I knew I needed, no, WANTED, to cross that finish line…..even if I was the very LAST person of the night to do so. My family and friends had seen me finish an Ironman since the IMAZ accident in 2014 (completed Ironman Chattanooga in 2015) but this race was different. This was the monkey I had to get off my back. And the best way I knew how to do this was by being vulnerable, which isn’t easy for me. I’m much more comfortable with keeping things close to the chest, being the coach/therapist that extends to others, and not showing my fears or weaknesses or mental mindset. But in the 7 days leading up to IMAZ 2016, I threw caution to the wind and tried to be different. Thus, the Facebook Live videos each day. That was a BIG deal for me to be that open. It really helped me set up a good head space for heading into race week, because unlike the response I thought I’d have, I was warmly received and supported. It meant the world. So maybe this vulnerability thing isn’t so bad after all.
Thursday November 17, 2016: I was picked up and headed to the airport with my buddy Wils. Wils cracks me up and has always, 100% of the time, been in my corner, no matter the situation or the challenge. He was excited for me and made me laugh HARD all the way to the airport. I was super grateful. I needed that laughter. Arriving in Phoenix and picked up by my Dad, we made a short quick trip to the Ironman expo where I picked up my race packet and goodies. I wanted to get this done so I could focus on Friday to getting my final workouts in, working my Arbonne business for a short bit, then getting my transition and race bags ready. I needed the time and space to do this.
Friday November 18, 2016: In the morning I had the honor of getting a short 20 min swim done in a heated outdoor lap pool alongside a small pep talk from Frank Sole, a highly respected swim coach in the Phoenix area. I had wanted to meet Frank for a long while and many of my personal Pure Bravery athletes have worked with him. I felt pumped leaving the pool! I went to get my bike and bike bag from the expo, delivered perfectly via Tri Bike Transport. I FINALLY got to meet long distance Tri pals Susan McNamee, Pamela Batungbacal and Chris Holley!!!! Later that afternoon I got to meet up with pro athlete Meredith Kessler for her book signing and some last minute positive words, which I cherished. Meredith gets what redemption races are all about and she had her own goals for this race as well….so I felt a partnership with her in kicking this race, and it was super helpful to have that time with her. Visited a local tri shop with some tri friends (Jill, Sean, Diane) later that evening and lastly picked up my pal Christine from the airport, who came into town to see me race! It was a full day. I was ready for bed.
Saturday November 19, 2016: In the morning I had a short run workout around my parent’s neighborhood and I remembered how much I love running in the desert. Gorgeous. After getting all my stuff set up and separated out and packed into my parent’s car, after reassuring my mother that I’d be ok and that this year would be different (she was anxious but what parent wouldn’t be!), I headed down to the expo to drop my transition bags off and my bike off before attending an athlete briefing and then checking into the hotel. After I dropped my gear I noticed someone behind Christine….and BOOM! My dear pal Ann Kurtenbach showed up! Unbelievable! Ann was with me 3 years ago when I volunteered in 2013 at IMAZ. I then signed up for IMAZ 2014 and after my accident Ann was there when I discharged from the hospital, which was beyond helpful for me. Ann brought cards and notes from Ohio with her when she visited and I needed that. Was beyond thrilled she’d be there to cheer me on and spectate. That girl is all heart. After the athlete briefing, I checked into the hotel about .25 miles from the expo and began my pre-race hibernation. I read cards given to me before the race and did my last Facebook Live video. I AM A PHOENIX. Early bedtime and at this point I still felt somewhat calm….I gave myself the mindset that it was going to be a good day, no matter what happened.
Sunday November 20, 2016: It’s race morning. It’s early. And my stomach is in knots. I'm anxious and this wasn’t expected. I’m not sure what to make of it so I try to relax and get my morning routine done. I’m getting in my head and I’m nervous. I tried to stay calm and do one thing at a time. I walked down to the expo with all my gear and got my bottles on my bike, dropped off my bike/run special needs and parked myself in the pre-appointed meeting place for my parents. Then the Just Tri peeps and Ann (who is hard to miss in her pink wig and tutu) find me and give me last minute cheers and hugs. I’m beyond lucky to have so many cheering folks with me. My parents found a parking spot and made their way to me. I have about 5 min to get into my wetsuit and start making my way to the swim start. I hug my parents, and promise to see them at the end of the day. Here we go……..
Swim: IMAZ swim start 2 years ago was a mass start after treading water for about 5-10 min. This year it was a “rolling” start which meant about 5-10 of us jumped in the water at a given time, each of us pre-seeding ourselves based on our predicted swim time. I got in line where I felt I could finish, something I had already discussed with my coach. “Hey Amy!”, I hear from my right side. It’s Matt Green. Matt and I got our USAT coaching training together in May of 2015 and he’s a sweetheart. I was SO grateful to see him and catch up a bit. Totally helped my nerves. Then, the best part: I got to see Terra. Terra is a buddy of mine I met while in October 2014, when I was in AZ training for the race 2 years ago. She’s a SMART nurse, who gave of herself selflessly when my accident happened and sat with my family to explain things to them while I was literally unconscious. She’s been a huge gift to me. Hearing her yell “Amy!” on my left while we walked into the water was a relief! Terra was there! And into the water we went. COLD. BRR. Glad I had my swim booties on! The IMAZ swim is a boxing match for the first 500-1000 yards. It’s messy and people are everywhere. The blessings this year was that the sun wasn’t completely in our eyes and it was a cloudy day. Easier to see as we swam towards the east. I tried to get into a rhythm and kept remembering my pal Jessica Baxter tell me about her Kona swim experience. Jessica said, “as soon as I got into the water, I felt calm. I had arrived. I was there. It was amazing.” I kept repeating this to myself all the way up to the first turn. I am calm, I have arrived. I remembered tips Frank gave me on not crossing over on my stroke and remembered my swim coach Tracy always telling me to “finish” my stroke strong. I warmed up quickly. My goggles fogged but I went on. After making the second turn we were all heading west back to transition. I watched the larger bridges instead of the smaller buoys for sighting. My sighting was off at various points but I countered well and made it back. With about 1000 yards to go, I started to accidently pee myself and just let it all go. Made me smile. I pushed myself to to volunteer who helped me up the steps to get my wetsuit off and I knew I hadn’t gotten a PR on the swim, but was pretty darn close to my swim 2 years ago and I was fine with that. Standing up after being horizontal for over an hour can make anyone dizzy so Terra again found me and called my name. I told her I felt ok and I knew that if she saw anything in my eyes she’d tell me to rest a bit more. Things were good. My wetsuit was stripped off fast by awesome volunteers and I high fived Ann and my Just Tri peeps and headed to the changing tent where a fabulous volunteer literally helped change me. And then I was headed out to the longest part of my day……
Bike: This is where I knew I had to focus….I had to get my nutrition on point and also keep my head in a positive place. I didn’t feel I had to prove myself on the bike with a PR or anything, I just needed to make sure I got off the bike and finished. I needed this for myself as much as my parents needed to see it. Heading out of town I felt pretty good and it was cooler weather than usual, since the sun was still behind the clouds and it was a cooler day overall. IMAZ’s bike course is known for being a 3 loop course, which I like. It breaks it down in my mind easier. On the first part of the loop it’s a long 18 mile incline on a road that doesn’t look like it’s going uphill, but it is. You just have to spin your legs, put your ego aside, and keep moving forward, even if the speed is slower than you’d want. After 18 miles is the turn around. This is the point in which I crashed 2 years ago because, as you might imagine, what goes up then comes down and it’s FAST. I smiled and pushed myself using the free speed of a downhill and once I made it past the point in which I knew I crashed, I pushed harder. Internally and well as with my legs. I was excited to get back to start the second loop as I knew I’d see my parents and my Mom would know I had survived. Heading out on the second loop I kept a good pace, remembering now that I just had to suck it up and spin up another 18 miles. I saw Ann and my Just Tri pals on the bike course and it energized me. Made the turnaround again and got to get my special needs bag around mile 60-65. I stopped for about 3-5 minutes here. I’ll learn later that my “stopping” initially confused my Dad and he worried for a bit until the satellites on my tracking device refreshed and he saw I was moving again. Coming back to town again on the 2nd loop and heading out for the 3rd. It was still cold at this time and I was getting a bit tired on that last loop with the LONG uphill towards the turnaround. I kept telling myself “just hit that turnaround and it’s smooth sailing back to town. You’ll finish this time.” And at that turnaround it was glorious. I headed back into town knowing I’d finish AND if I kept going well, I might get a PR. It started to sprinkle at times here and I was glad I’d be finishing soon. I can run in the rain but biking in the rain isn’t my favorite idea of a good time. And I got back to the transition area and held onto a volunteer as he got me off my bike. Smiled for my Mom. Legs were aching but I got my run gear and another amazing volunteer (including pal Kat Nydegger, love her!) helped me change. I was ACTUALLY GOING TO RUN THIS TIME.
Run: I knew my legs would feel wobbly, but I didn’t care. I had made it out on the run!!!! I was going to do this! I could literally walk the entire marathon and still finish before midnight. Holy cow!!!!! I saw Terra within the first few miles, along with my Just Tri pals and I was so happy I couldn’t take the grin off my face! I settled into a easy pace. This run was going to be all about effort, not overall pace, so I wouldn’t let myself even look at the pace….I didn’t need that head trash. I worked on getting my nutrition in appropriately and took in the surroundings that I never got to see on the run course 2 years ago. I went past the Tri club village tents and saw Terra again. Ran past my parents and gave them a hug. “I told you I’d do it!”, I said to my Mom and Dad. They smiled and I kept going. I headed down the river and across the river to the back side of the course. The Base Performance tent came next and my teammates Tony and Eric were there alongside ANOTHER SURPRISE…..Kristina Jensen! HOLY COW! I never expected to see this Denver pal there but she had flown in that morning to surprise another pal of hers and ME! Kristina and I met 4 years ago on a shake out bike the day prior to Ironman Louisville. We have so much in common and she’s a fireball of positivity, spunk, sparkle and energy. It was a HUGE deal to see her. Again, I’m beyond blessed with the support I had there. Next up was Ann, volunteering at another spot on the run and I’m not sure who gave Ann the megaphone, but she used it! Totally helpful. Got high fived from my buddy Sean also…..so glad he was there! Sean took me on my very first bike ride over 2 years ago on the IMAZ bike course…..awesome pal. I made the last turn on the back part of the course and started to get a bit slower. Didn’t matter to me at this point, I was still thrilled to be on the course and every mile gave me another card to read that I carried with me from supporters back home. Water stops at every mile.
As I headed back towards the start of my second loop it was getting darker and colder. I got my run special needs bag and saw Terra again. As darkness descended on the desert my pace slowed again and it got harder and harder to read my cards. I kept my positivity up as much as possible. At this point I’m peeking a bit at my pace but mostly focusing again overall on my effort. Was I putting it all out there on the line as much as I could? Honestly, there were times I walked a bit more than I should have but overall I kept MOVING FORWARD. On the second loop of the run, the back side of the course, I ran into my pals Eric, Tony and Kristina again….Kristina literally sprinkled me with glitter and off I went….high fived Ann and Sean again and kept trucking forward. It’s getting much darker at this point….and colder. On the back side of the course I saw some pals again and by the time I made it to Ann, Eric, Tony and Kristina I was 3 miles from finishing. Couldn’t stop now. Couldn’t walk now. Kept moving forward. The miles felt longer and further apart. Logically this isn’t true but it FELT true. Within one mile from the finish I kept dreaming in my head how I’d finish this race AND I knew I had to keep going forward to get a PR…..a sub 13 hour Ironman was possible!!!! WOW. Literally did NOT expect that to happen. I went into this race with the sublime belief that finishing was my ONLY goal. Never expected to PR.
Before making the last turn to the finish line chute, my coach and Just Tri teammates were there to high five and hug me….then the tears came. I was going to do this! I slowed down to the my spot in the light towards the finish….and Ironman “voice” Mike Reilly remembered…..I had told him days prior about my accident 2 years ago and he knew this was my comeback race. I figured with all the stuff he has to remember he’d forget my “little story.” He remembered and shouted it out as I crossed the finish line….and without a thought in my head I started to dance for the cameras. To this day I have no clue what provoked me to do that!!!! But it was my cheesy redemption race moment….with a full smile plastered on my face….and I got my medal, found my family and was glad to be done!
I had no clue what my finish time was until later on that night. And honestly it still didn’t matter to me…..I had come back and finished what I started 2 years prior. I had the support of many behind me, which again challenged my core belief that I wasn’t “enough.” It was being challenged again with an outpouring of love and I am indebted to everyone who believed in me beyond my own challenges of the past. And will I be back to take on IMAZ another time? Not next year...I have other goals/dreams/hopes for 2017…..but yes…..I’ll be back.
“A Phoenix, according to classical mythology, is a unique bird that at the end of it’s life, burns itself and rises from the ashes with renewed youth to live through another cycle. You, Amy Avery, are a Phoenix. It’s about the remarkable way you have said “yes” to life since your accident. This is the renewed youth of a Phoenix. But it doesn’t stop there….you have brought others with you on the journey...regardless of what happens this weekend, no one can take this away from you. You are a huge reason I am rising from the ashes. Be a badass. Be Tenacious. And deal with teh shit if it happens. Be a Phoenix.”
-Card written to me from a friend; read on IMAZ 2016 race eve
Be a Phoenix. Be Brave.