Breakaway Athlete Derek Owens IRONMAN Arizona 2018

Derek had an exceptional race at IRONMAN Arizona,  breaking the 11 hour barrier on his first attempt at the distance, a great finish to his first year of triathlon racing. He shares his big day here.

Race Morning

I had a pretty hard time sleeping, and woke up at 2:45 am to my alarm having slept probably 4-5 hours. I had coffee and the race breakfast I had been preparing for, 2 blocks of chicken ramen noodles (760 calories, 3320mg of sodium, 104g of carbs). I also had a banana right before we left for Tempe Beach Park. I got to transition, put my nutrition into the corresponding bags and on my bike, got body marked, got into my wetsuit, and headed to the swim start. It was cold, and I forgot to bring some throwaway shoes, so my feet were freezing as we waited. I lined up in the 1:00-1:10 corral and stood in other people’s pee while waiting to get started. I saw and shook Mike Reilly’s hand right before getting into the water, which was super cool!

Race Strategy

Swim – find fast feet, swim smooth and relaxed, come out of the water fresh

Bike – Keep HR at around 145, try not to let it spike

Run – 9 min/mile pace for the first 10 miles or so, slowly cranking up if I feel good, let loose on the last 10k if I have anything left

Nutrition – 60g of carbs per hour on the bike; water, base salt, and coke on the run at every aid station

Swim – 1:14:21

I lined up in the 1:00-1:10 corral, hoping to find some fast feet to hang on to and to avoid any of the weak swimmers who may overestimate their ability and hop into the 1:15ish group. I was hoping to finish the swim in under 1:10, but it had been a while since I had swum in open water and I wasn’t prepared for what turned out to be the toughest part of the race for me.

I felt good for the first 500 yards, averaging 1:30 per 100yd (around what my goal was for the duration), but my form very quickly deteriorated and I found myself stopping completely trying to sight the next buoy every few minutes. There were small buoys and larger ones, and that actually made sighting *really* difficult because it sort of threw off my depth perception. I couldn’t tell which buoy was in front of the other because they both looked the same size, but in reality, one was smaller and much closer to me. I found myself pausing and stopping way more frequently than I’d hoped, and every time my watch buzzed to indicate that I’d completed another 500yd I was doing math in my head to figure out how much distance was left. 30 minutes in and not even half way was tough, and I hated how I was feeling. Every time I got onto some feet I’d hang on for a bit, but always wanted to stop swimming after 3-400 yards.

I ended up averaging 1:41 per 100 yd for the swim, which was kind of disappointing for me, but I was happy to get out of the water. Swimming non-stop for an hour and 15 minutes was not something I did at all during training and I was feeling miserable by the end of the swim. It honestly felt never-ending. Overall though, and looking back, 1:14 for my first Ironman swim is something that I’m proud of, and I only have room to improve from there. Goal for next full distance race – break that 1:10 mark!

T1 – 7:08

I got out of the water, and while I wasn’t stoked about my time, I wasn’t upset either (plus I was so happy to get out of the water). I jogged to transition, got my bag, and got all situated outside the changing tent. I didn’t realize the tent was heated inside, but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t change inside because I wouldn’t have wanted to leave the warm air. It took a really long time to get my arm warmers and gloves on because I was wet and had sunscreen on, but I’m really glad I took the time to do it. I didn’t end up tossing them until 2/3s the way through the bike.

Bike – 5:46:14

The bike at IMAZ is 3 loops of about 37 miles each. The out section of the loop is a slow steady climb, making the way back mostly downhill. I wanted to make sure not to kill myself on the first two loops and end up sitting up into the wind on the third loop. I was a little worried that doing the same loop 3 times would get boring, but I actually enjoyed it because I always knew where the next aid station was and it allowed me to mentally break the ride section into thirds in my head. Plus, my support crew was waiting at the bottom each time, which gave me a huge emotional boost after each loop.

I did a fairly good job of executing my nutrition plan, but around the start of the 3rd loop, I could feel my stomach was a little tied up in knots. At that point I stopped eating and drinking anything but water, hoping to dilute whatever was giving me GI issues. This turned out to be a good plan because I felt much better by the end of the bike. 

I also executed my race plan pretty well, keeping my HR below 145 for the majority of the ride. There were a couple times when it spiked, but I was always able to calm it back down after a short surge to pass a group of slower riders. My overall HR average for the bike leg was 142, and I averaged 19.4 mph (17.5ish going up the hill, 23ish coming back down). There was a headwind going out for the first two loops, but then the wind turned and the headwind was coming down. I was happy to be able to stay in the TT position throughout the bike leg and found myself passing quite a few people on the last loop. It felt good not to blow up on the third loop, which I saw happen to so many people. It was annoying to have to constantly go around them the whole time though. I think it might be nicer to have a point to point or one loop bike because there would be way less traffic. I really did like having the loops as checkpoints though.

T2 – 2:59

T2 went really well – I basically just changed my socks and shoes and took a quick pee break hoping to not have to pee on the run. I grabbed my base salt, two emergency gels, my hat and sunglasses, and took off.

Run 3:45:19

I did most of my brick runs throughout training at a much faster pace than 9 min/mile, so it was a little tough to slow my legs down right at the start of the run. I settled into my planned race pace though and knocked off 8:57 min/miles like clockwork for the first 18 miles. The run course was also really spectator friendly, and I saw my support crew what felt like 10 times throughout the run – a huge motivational boost. When I hit mile 18 I felt too good – I started to say to myself, “you’ve trained for 11 months to hurt during this race, and you aren’t hurting enough.” I decided to go for broke and start kicking towards the finish line. I started running faster and committed to going as hard as I could until the end of the race. It was also around this time that I did the math and realized that if I kicked hard enough I could break 11 hours, so I went for it. I did my last 3 miles in 7:12, 7:10, and 6:58. I felt so proud to have broken 11 and run a 3:45 marathon. It was an amazing feeling to finally cross the finish line.

My HR sat right around 150 for the majority of the run, but once I picked it up my HR obviously increased. Nutrition on the run went well also, didn’t need to eat anything besides coke.

What’s Next?

I need a little break from big Ironman training blocks – I’m running the Big Sur International Marathon in April, and I’d like to do one of those SwimRun events at some point in the 2019 season. I’m also thinking about doing the Leadville Trail Marathon, possibly building up to a 50k or even 50 Miler in 2020. I want to race a 70.3 in 2019 as well, but I’m not sure which one. I’m not sure where I’ll be living for the entire year, and could end up moving around June. Maybe 70.3 Superfrog or 70.3 Boulder. I will return to Ironman, but maybe not until 2020, or possibly even 2021. I feel like I could bike MUCH harder and run a little more consistently throughout the marathon instead of going so slow most of the time and fast at the end. I plan to join the Tower 26 swim program to improve my swim and be more prepared for open water. I’d also like to get a power meter to help me train and race to a higher target on the bike. Overall I’m really proud of what I was able to accomplish in my first season as a triathlete. I see lots of room to improve, and I’m excited to continue with the sport in 2019.