In theory, moving the race date for Ford Ironman Arizona from April to November should make for a more pleasant day for competitors. But the participants aren’t buying into the thinking. At least not some of the local athletes.
“I’m expecting more of the same,” Scottsdale’s Billy Dean Johnson said. “It probably won’t be as miserable, but the wind will be the same. I know it.”
For the fifth installment of the local long-distance triathlon — which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run — organizers moved the event from its mid-April date to this Sunday. The move became necessary considering the strong winds and high temperatures that had battered and burned athletes in each of the previous races.
This past April, athletes had to deal with temperatures in the 90s while on the running course around Tempe Town Lake and wind gusts of more than 40 mph on the Beeline Highway.
Sunday’s forecast is calling for temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s, and the wind conditions are anyone’s guess. But for those who have completed this event before, they know exactly what to expect.
“It will be windy. You know it will,” said Marc Rubin, a member of the Tri-Scottsdale Triathlon Club. “That’s what you expect. That’s what you train for. It doesn’t make it fun, but you have to handle whatever is thrown at you.”
There was a little bit of everything thrown the athletes’ way this past April.
“It was a miserable day,” said Johnson, 52, a Scottsdale resident who will be competing in his fifth overall Ironman event. “But moving the date definitely takes away the home-field advantage for us Zonies.”
Preparing for this weekend’s race definitely took some different preparation techniques.
For the April race, athletes put in their 15-20 hour training weeks in December, January, February and March. Now those long bike rides and runs had to be done in July, August, September and October.
“During the summer months you have to resort to 4 a.m. rides and be done by 9 a.m.,” said Timothy Bolen, a triathlon coach for Excel and Beyond Coaching who had 16 athletes complete April’s race. “I had my athletes train on the race course as much as possible. That’s an advantage to having the race in your hometown.”
“Training through the heat of the summer is crazy,” said Bill Egan, a 48-year-old Chandler man. “I would get up at 3 a.m. to do my long runs and rides. It’s hot when you get out the door even at 3, and roasting by the time you get home six hours later.”
Gilbert’s Dan Beaver, 40, said the summer months may be hot, but the training still needs to be done.
“It doesn’t matter if you go at 4 a.m. or 6 p.m., it’s going to be hot,” Beaver said. “Every time I was out running in 110 degrees I just kept telling myself it was making me stronger. It wasn’t easy, but you have to trick yourself sometimes.”
For the most part, local competitors knew the race date switch was coming. They understand Ironman events draw participants from throughout the U.S and several other countries, where weather conditions are very different from here.
“For everyone else in the country, it’s the perfect time to train for Ironman,” Egan said. “Outside of the Southwest, summer is the racing season.”
But just because they understand, doesn’t mean they like it.
“I would much rather have the heat,” Rubin said. “This is usually my offseason. Typically I take time off right now and get fat. At least it makes me stay in shape.”
Johnson said another benefit to moving the event is the possibility he will participate with his son some day. His son lives in Chicago, and for him to train for an April race was out of the question.
“But now that he can train in the summer, hopefully he’ll be able to get out here someday,” Johnson said. “Of course if those winds stay the same, it may scare both of us away.”