So like, I never did my spectator report from Ironman Arizona 2009. Since IMAZ 2010 is this weekend, I figured I should probably take care of that.
IronmAnnie and I decided to walk upstream a bit to watch the swim start. Because the swim takes place in a strange man-made lake/river/bathtub, you can get pretty close to the swimmers during the race. Of course, everyone is wearing a blue or pink swim cap and goggles, so you can never find a specific athlete. There was a naive little girl next to us screaming "hi daddy!" and we thought "awwww, isn't that cute... She thinks she can see her daddy." And then we heard a voice from the water call back "hi sweetheart!" I'm supposed to be a race-spectating expert and this 6-year-old girl totally owned me.
Once the swim started I repositioned myself to watch everyone come into T1. I've been to quite a few races, and I don't think I've ever seen a colder group of people exiting the water. I didn't think Arizona was known for being a cold swim but these were not happy people. Somehow I missed Scary Gary coming out of the water, but I did see Teresa and Stephanie. And then just to keep things exciting, Jersey Jill finished the swim with just a few minutes to spare. Pretty good for someone who didn't know how to swim the year before.
Arizona has a 3-loop bike course, so there are plenty of chances to see individual athletes. But Stephanie had a pretty big entourage watching her race, and it was pretty complicated trying to coordinate positioning for everyone. IronmAnnie and I walked maybe 1/4 - 1/2 mile up the road coming into town so we could be the early lookout for Stephanie. We saw her, she looked great, and then waited to catch her after the turn-around to see her back out for loop #2.
We positioned ourselves on the median so we could easily see her coming in and then watch her again when she headed back out for loop number 2. So we were on her left. Being ever-so-thoughtful, when she came by she rode to the far left side of the lane to get as close to us as possible for good pictures. We cheered and screamed as she whizzed by, and then 3 seconds later WHAM! She crashed.
It seems that in an effort to get closer to us, her wheel caught a groove along the side of the road and took her down. I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but somehow she managed to clip out of both pedals and was lying on her stomach on the pavement with her arms in front of her like Superman.
There was a brief pause, and then we ran over to Stephanie. She was bruised and dazed, but generally OK. The people around us were fantastic: they gave her water and towels to clean up with. One guy gave her bike a quick mechanical check to make sure that the wheels were still aligned and the handlebars were secure.
Annie was amazing. She kept on reassuring Stephanie "you are fine! You're doing great! All that happened is that you have a 2-minute delay in the ride. So what? It doesn't matter. You're awesome!" Stephanie must have bought it, because she was back on her bike and back in the race pretty quickly.
Obviously I was so proud of Stephanie, but I was also really impressed with Annie. I turned to her and said "You handled that perfectly. You knew exactly what to say and what to do and I think you were just amazing with Stephanie." Annie burst into tears and screamed "OH MY GOD I MADE STEPHANIE CRASH IN HER IRONMAN!"
Oh. So that's the way we were going to spin this.
I guess the logic was that if Annie didn't have her camera out, Stephanie wouldn't have come over and wouldn't have crashed. I felt the logic was a little flawed, but I thought it best to tread lightly. The best I could do was remind Annie how quickly Stephanie got back out there. She wasn't hurt (even though I had no idea), and she still had plenty of time to finish the bike ride.
We were the only ones who saw the crash, so Annie said we couldn't tell ANYONE. She didn't want Steph's parents to worry. Now THAT logic I agreed with. So we kept quiet. I was secretly worried that Steph WAS injured a bit, or at least a little nervous and might have a bad second loop, so when we hooked up with the rest of the group I tried not-so-subtly to prepare them for a slow split: "Steph is doing great! It wouldn't surprise me if she takes it easy for the second lap, to save her legs." "It's getting hotter out there, so I bet most people will be slowing down." "Yessirreeee, this will probably be a slow lap for Steph and there will be nothing suspicious or unusual about that."
Well Stephanie still had a decent second lap. But when we saw her again, she was covered in bruises. Her face. Her arms. It was really obvious. And people started asking questions. Questions which shouldn't be asked. "Did she crash? She looks pretty banged up." Of course, I was Mr. Calm. "Bruises? It looked more like dirt to me. And it looks like the ink of her race number is running, that's what all those black marks must be."
Nobody was buying it, and by the time we saw Steph for her 3rd lap we had to come clean. At this point, it had been a couple hours since the crash and her times were still good so it was pretty obvious the crash didn't hurt her race too much.
Arizona is a crazy twisty 3-lap run, so it's actually pretty easy for spectators to move around a bit and catch racers many times throughout the course. So I spent a lot of time crisscrossing bridges. The "funny" thing is that once we could see Steph closer and slower, the bruises were really REALLY noticeable. But I think her battlescars made her a crowd favorite running through the finisher's chute. It was pretty obvious she EARNED her Ironman medal! And with a finish time of 13:25 she did awesome.
Heather, Jen and I caught up with Jill on the course and ran with her for a bit but it just wasn't her day. She missed the cutoff for the 3rd loop and faced it with a smile and an "I'll be back" attitude. She's volunteering at AZ this year and will cross the finish line in 2011.
Arizona really is a great spectator race. It's in the middle of a college town, there are plenty of chances to see your racers, and it's a fairly easy and inexpensive trip from L.A. I highly recommend it. Watching it certainly beats actually DOING an Ironman in the middle of the freakin' desert.