Swimming in Tempe Town Lake.
AP Photo/East Valley Tribune, Toru Kawana
After preparing all year for this late-season event, athletes competing at Ironman Arizona can help themselves have a great race-day experience with these helpful tips.
Formerly an April event, IMAZ moved to November in 2008 because of the intense heat and challenges associated with racing at that time of year. The current race date, quite close to Thanksgiving, means a slightly lower chance of heat, but the day will not be any easier. In addition to an urban location, the race consists of two 3-loop bike and run courses, presenting a significant mental challenge for all of the competitors.
Here is a quick review of the top questions inside Endurance Nation about racing Ironman Arizona. In addition to these race-specific tips, please download our free race execution guide, read by over 3,800 Ironman athletes, to help you manage the overall picture of racing as well. Travel safely and best of luck on race day!
What Is the Swim Like?
Tempe Town Lake is really a euphemism for the collection of runoff water from the nearby desert and mountains. As a result, the water has a high level of silt and is incredibly murky. Do not be surprised if you can't see your hand in front of your face as you swim!
Once you get over the water quality, you are left with a very straightforward single loop swim. The lake is really no more than 500 meters wide at any given point, and as such will be quite flat for your swim. You will have to contend with the sun being up early and directly in your line of sight on the way out. Athletes have had equal success with tinted goggles and using the lakefront landscape as a marker for forward progress.
What Do I Need to Know About the Transition Area?
How you exit Tempe Town Lake is actually the hardest part of your day. You'll have to move quickly from swimming horizontally to climbing up and out of the lake on either stairs or a giant boat ramp. Either way, it's up and it's not easy.
Be sure to relax the last few meters of your swim and prepare for the quick changeover. Once you are on terra firma, it's through the wetsuit strippers and off to find your bag. They are lined up in rows on the ground, and you would be well-served to somehow distinguish your bag from the others. Colored tap, liberal marker usage, etc, is encouraged.
A Climb on the Bike Course? I Thought Tempe Was Supposed to Be Flat!
The bike course actually is very flat; part of the nature of the map is that the three loop course is actually quite short (only 37 miles per loop instead of 56 miles). In reality, the first eight miles as you wind your way out of downtown Tempe are very flat, with the last 10.5 miles on the Beeline Highway having a slight upward grade. There are a few rollers here, but they mostly help you use different muscles and will give some character to the otherwise flat course.
Your real challenge on the day will be the wind, which has historically ranged from 5 to 10mph on a steady day to crazy days of 25mph+ gusts. There is precious little cover on the bike; everyone should be prepared to stay aero and focused into the wind, and then use the sections with a tailwind to make up the lost time.
To be clear, this is all accomplished by riding at a steady effort, there is no surging. So while a steady 18mph effort becomes 12mph into a fierce headwind, it transforms you into a 24mph bullet on the return. Trust in this knowledge and don't early overachieve on the bike relative to your fitness.
What Is the Run Like?
The run course consists of three loops around Tempe Town Lake, with multiple bridge crossings and some slight hills in and around Papago Park. The vast majority of your day will be spent running on the concrete sidewalk that encircles the lake. It's not forgiving, and is somewhat rolling and even a bit twisty at times.
Like the three-loop bike, the longer you are running the more people there are sharing the course with you. It can become quite crowded at times, so do your best to be considerate of your fellow competitors.