Iron Will: ADWR triathletes take on grueling “Half Ironman” challenge at Tempe Town Lake

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Iron Will: ADWR triathletes take on grueling “Half Ironman” challenge at Tempe Town Lake
November 10, 2021
(from left) Nick Valverde, Andrew Muniz, Brian Conway, and Paul Ivanich

Editor's note: On October 17, four of ADWR’s team members competed in the grueling Ironman Arizona 70.3 competition that kicked off at Tempe Beach Park near the Mill Avenue Bridge. Arizona Water News asked one of the ADWR participants, Brian Conway, to report back on how he and his teammates did, and how they prepared for their physically and mentally demanding challenge.

Training for an Ironman 70.3, which is a Half Ironman Distance, or an Ironman 140.6 (the Full Ironman Distance) is not only a significant time commitment, but it is also a physical and mental commitment. Training plans usually include three days of swimming, and four to five days of biking and running. A training plan usually lasts anywhere from four to nine months, depending on your experience and current physical conditioning at the time of training.
Many of the days you do what is called a brick workout: a workout on the bike followed immediately by a run after you complete the bike work. This allows your muscles to get used to running right after the bike (as in a triathlon race) and building muscle memory. 
Nick Valverde running around the shores of Tempe Town Lake.
Training for Ironman Arizona 70.3 required an average of seven to nine hours of training a week. Each time we train, we train like it is a race by practicing our nutrition and hydration, so we don’t have any surprises on race day. You want to find what works best for fueling and hydrating your body. One of the reasons why training takes up to nine months is so that your body adjusts to training at a lower heart rate. It takes time to build up your endurance and to maintain a consistent and low heart rate.
For “IMAZ 70.3,” we were to pick up our race packets on the Friday or Saturday before race day, which was Sunday. This is when you receive your race number and stickers, timing chip, race shirt and backpack. On Saturday you drop your bike off in the transition area and place your bike on a rack with your specific bib number. 
On race morning, transition opened at 5:00 a.m., with the race starting at 6:20 a.m. This time in the morning is spent setting up your area around your bike in the transition area. You check your bike one last time, inflate your tires if needed, place all your water bottles and your nutrition on your bike, and set up your running shoes and anything else you might need for the run. 
It is important to note that all triathlons are self-supported. An athlete is not allowed to receive any help from spectators, except for from race-support staff and at aid stations. 
Paul Ivanich gearing up for the 56-mile bike course.
The water temperature for Tempe Town Lake was 68 degrees. As a result, most athletes wore wetsuits for the 1.2 mile swim. Each athlete self-seats themselves on when they think they will finish the swim and line up in the appropriate swim corral. Once the race starts, two swimmers enter the water every five seconds. The swimmer swims around buoys that line the course. 
The swim is mostly to the east so sighting in between the buoys can be hard at times with the rising sun in your eyes. The key is to just keep following the swimmer in front of you and if you get off course, the swim support volunteers in the kayaks and paddleboards will get you in the correct direction. Once out of the water you run into the transition area, peel off your wetsuit, and put on your biking gear, including helmet, socks, shoes and so forth. You then have a 56-mile ride to complete. 
The IMAZ 70.3 bike course is three loops with a lot of turns on the roads around Tempe Town Lake. The main objective of the bike is to keep your heart rate in the zone that you trained in and properly fuel and hydrate so your body is ready for the 13.1 mile half marathon run off the bike. There are aid stations on the bike that provide water, Gatorade, gels, and salty foods. After returning to transition after your successful 56-mile bike, you rack your bike and change into your running shoes and start your 13.1 mile run. 
On the run, there are aid stations every mile that have water, ice, Gatorade, coke, Red Bull, gels, and salty foods. The run is two loops around Tempe Town Lake and is a spectator-friendly course. You always finish down a red carpet at the Ironman events, hearing your name called out as you enter the finish line chute. 
 Andrew Muniz and Nick Valverde preparing for the 1-mile swim in front of the Tempe Center for the Arts.
Once you finish, you receive a finish medal and hat and a water bottle. There are always medical staff to assist you right when you finish in case you need help after the race. A race like Ironman wouldn’t be possible without all the amazing volunteers who dedicate hours and hours on race day to support the athletes. 
My overall experience was a great one. This is my second year in a row racing IMAZ 70.3. The race went great, except for two flat tires on my bike ride. And yes, you need to be able to change your own flats and should train on changing a flat. It was a blessing in disguise though because it allowed my fiancé and I to run the run the last 11 miles together and finish hand-in-hand at the finish line.
The thing I was most proud of was the five athletes that I coached and created a training plan for all had amazing races. 
Two of those athletes were ADWR’s own Nick Valverde and Andrew Muniz. This was Andrew’s second IMAZ 70.3 and he set a new personal record by 35 minutes from last year’s time. This was Nick’s first IMAZ 70.3 and he crushed it. Paul Ivanich also completed his second IMAZ 70.3. There are two things that I tell my friends and athletes that I coach. You put the hard work in training for the event. Just remember that race day is a catered training day and also that race day is 90 percent mental and 10 percent mental. -- Brian Conway
The courses of IMAZ 70.3:
Andrew Muniz and Nick Valverde preparing for the 1-mile swim in front of the Tempe Center for the Arts.