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Ironman Arizona pro race report: Rob Johnson
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Wednesday 3rd December 2008


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Rob Johnson is coming to the end of his first year as a professional Ironman athlete. He reported on his race - including the punctures - at Ironman Lake Placid earlier this year, and then recently we caught up with Rob for an interview, to find out more about his plans to jump from top age grouper to full-time athlete. His latest race was Ironman Arizona, where we are pleased to say that despite pre-race injury concerns, Rob recorded another personal best for the distance, leaving him excited about the winter ahead, and the 2009 race season.


They say bad things come in three's, and the long flight to Phoenix, Arizona, started with a security alert caused by my carry on luggage. I had set off the alarms from the security 'ion detection' machines in Manchester and after a few questions and raised eyebrows they put it down to the glue on the new tub and let me proceed. Shuffling towards immigration in Phoenix after 13 hours of travel, I found myself bleary eyed helping a lady that was having an untimely epileptic fit just at the top of the immigration escalator stairs. After helping to get her into the recovery position and ensuring help was at hand from the airport medical staff, we queued for the inevitable two and a half hours to try to get into the 'land of the free'.

Once through and into the wild wild west of Phoenix in our not so mini Minivan, we headed to the 'grocery store' to ensure I had the right fuels before and on race day. Just as we were leaving the car park late at night, bad thing number three happened. A car, without it's headlights on, swung across three lanes of traffic taking out a guy on a motorbike. I stopped the car and ran across the highway to the guy that was obviously in a lot of pain after somersaulting mid air and landing on his back and was feeling the effects of removing the speedometer from the top of his Honda with his groin area - ouch! Once all the uniforms had arrived and statements given I managed to return to the villa we had hired and finally relax. I hoped that the tally of three bad things would mean that I had cleared the bad vibes for the rest of the trip and more importantly the race.

I thought I'd pick a race that would be quite quiet and being at the start of the new Ironman calendar year, I thought it might be a small Pro field with it being so close the World Champs. How wrong could I be, at the Pro race briefing there weren't enough seats for all the male and female uber-fit, 90 pros were quoted as the start number, all keen to get their early Kona slots. Looking around there were a few top faces I could recognise but even more worrying were the signatures on the posters that we were asked to sign as prizes for the volunteers, it read like a VIP guest list at the triathlon equivalent of the Oscars, it included Chris Lieto, Paul Amey, Jordan Rapp, Kieran Doe, Bryan Rhodes and last years winner, Josef Major. I had butterflies in my stomach and exited the briefing asap and scuttled back to our villa to run through the race in my head for the 1000th time. I was conscious of my left knee holding out as I'd been suffering in the six weeks before and had opted to just water run and use the cross trainer to try to hold some level of running fitness.

Cruising lap 1 on the bikeRace day started as a very cold dark affair, despite thinking it would be a hot Arizona desert I had taken only clothes for that thought. I wished I hadn't been quite so enthusiastic on my body's natural coat with the Gillette razor! A mass of pro's gathered under the swim start and as I asked for an extra swim hat to try to maintain some warmth we were called to the water. After several attempts to get the Pro field in, a few of the brave jumped in and did that 'instant swim just add very cold water' manoeuvre, as the initial cold enters your wettie. I managed to get myself a good position on the start line in the water and had great intentions for a fast start, that was until the over enthusiastic senior volunteer in a kayak continued to shout at us to ''get back'' and didn't hear the starters call to move, and as the gun went she was lay across five of us, so a quick scoot under her kayak and we were away. I can honestly say that this was the roughest tri swim I have done yet. With all but a few of the swimmers evenly matched it made for a close quarters swim for the whole way round, a few kicks and punches were common place. I have been working on my swim technique with the help of Sheffield's World Class Swim coach, Russ Barber, and after him basically telling me I needed to start again he gave me some great tips to increase my efficiency. This practice came through in the swim as I improved my placing and time versus Lake Placid and more importantly came out of the water feeling relatively fresh. 44th out of the water in 52:59.

Exiting T1 in ArizonaAfter a brief tug of war with the volunteers and my wetsuit I was running with slightly cramped legs to the transition tent. Bike gear on and I was off to hunt for my bike in the sea of carbon and aerodynamic heaven. Still not having mastered the 'hop-on' technique I cocked a leg over the frame and I was away. The bike course was a little more challenging than I had anticipated, basically a steady gradient out to the halfway point with a head wind and then ride for your life on the way back down. My game plan was to increase the speed steadily as I went through the bike ride. Despite my increase in effort the speed stayed pretty much the same throughout and I missed my bike bag on the 2nd lap. This caused a slight blip in my nutrition strategy and I had to focus hard not to crash into any of the age groupers as I lapped them. I managed to get an earlier shout in to the volunteers for the 3rd lap and took on the secret sandwich that had been slow-cooked in the now 'mid-twenties wind-assisted desert oven'. I managed to catch a few pro's on the last lap and was now lying in 32nd overall, although I didn't know this at the time.

Rob in the finishing chuteAfter the wobble before the change of blood flow to the legs in T2, I set off at six minute mile pace due to two other pro's being near me and the 'running red-mist' kicking in. At about the same time the ingredients of my secret sandwich weren't agreeing too well with my belly and I grew a small food-baby belly over the course of the first lap.

In the back of my mind I was conscious of my knee giving way at any moment and thought best to slow the pace to reduce the belly bulge and preserve the knee. After a mental battle on lap two of three and a couple of feed station stops to ensure I took on enough water to help digest my belly contents, I was back in the game.

I gave it everything on the last lap to get it over with as quick as possible. I clawed my way back through the field as I picked off guys with 'P' written on their legs. The last two miles my knee gave in and made for a sore finish but by then the finish was just too close to stop. A couple of tight corners later I saw my wife and sister in-law bouncing up and down near the finish line.

 

An aeroplane imitation down the finish chute and an arrow into the sky imitation (a la local Nottingham Robin Hood legend), to finish and it was all over. A 3:11:55 marathon was a little slower than what I would have liked but topped off a new PB of 9:03:57, 21st Pro.

A quick smile and a wave to my wife followed by a trip to the medical tent where after not being able to stomach chicken broth as a recovery agent, I received an IV drip... magical recovery in 20 mins, love it!

I have to be honest, I was disappointed with the total time as I really wanted to break nine hours this year, but with the run prep before the race I think this was the best I could have done. I was happy with a solid swim and bike and I genuinely believe when it all clicks one day I can be sure of a great time and position. I definitely have more to come and I'd love to learn how Paul Amey runs so damn quick, 2:46:53! He passed me going the other way on a bridge half a lap ahead looking like he was out hunting down weaker pro's ready to tear their legs off as he passed!!

I'll be recovering now over the next week and back to the wizard that is my sports masseur, Paul Whittingham, to get on top of the niggles. I'll then be ready for a big winter, including a stint in Lanzarote and some testing and then the focus is on IM South Africa in April; the day before I turn 30! Celebrations are planned for post race but only strict 'robotic moves' are allowed on the dance floor due to to my inability to co-ordinate regular leg movements the day after racing.


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