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Ironman Race Recap

This is a guest post by the Ironman himself…Brandon Kuhl!  A proper race recap to put an end to this great story.  Here goes (it’s long but worth full read!):

The week started with nerves of excitement as Ironman Arizona quickly approached.  After a short swim, some garage spin and my last Montclair Path run, I was ready to head to Phoenix.  As I started to dis-assemble my bike, the butterflies started to fly around as memories of Canada surfaced, could I do this?  I had prepared for an additional 2 month with the Ironman Canada poster, bib number and bracelet staring at me, my mental game was as strong as ever, YES I COULD!  With the bike, wetsuit, all my running and biking clothes and the family packed in the car, we headed to the airport.  This was no ordinary Griswold Family Vacation; I brought the family along to watch me conquer Ironman AZ!

As the plane was landing at Sky Harbor, I could see Tempe Town Lake out the window, now it was starting to get real.  First thing we did when we landed was get my bike to Landys Cyclery as my gears were giving me problems, last think I needed was an excuse on the bike.  After that, it was home to Lauren and Josh’s for some much needed R&R, this weekend was about to get busy.  We arrived at Tempe Town Lake Park Friday morning around 9:30am excited to experience all Ironman Arizona had to offer.  Check in was smooth and I received my swim cap, bib and bike numbers and timing chip.  Then we moved onto the merchandise tent.  For those of you who haven’t experienced an Ironman, it is a marketing machine.  Through both races, I have had once simple rule, you don’t get to buy anything until you finish.  So after Erica finished buying gifts for everyone else we head back to the Simon’s house so I can get changed and go for a bike ride.  I take off for a 30 mile bike along the desert stretch of the course.  I was feeling good checking out landmarks but also going at a pretty fast clip, a clip I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain for 112 miles. It is easy for your mind to get lost in the AZ desert with the Superstition Mountains in the background, the canals criss-crossing the road and the dry air making sure I know, this is Arizona.  After the 30 mile ride, I knew I was going to have a great bike leg of this race, legs felt strong and I had dialed in my nutrition over the past few weeks. Friday night was a mellow night with a nice pasta dinner with the family, in-laws and close family friends, time to fuel for Sunday.  When we got back to the house, it was time to pack all my bags for Sunday as you have to drop off your transition gear for Sunday.  Having laid everything out, I kept feeling like something was missing, but I was sure I had it all.  And to be sure I had no problems on the bike, this Ironman’s secret weapon, Lay’s Stack Potato Chips for the Bike Special Needs.  If I had stomach issues on this ride, my comfort food would surly help me through it.

Saturday morning started off great as the event held an Ironkids 1 mile fun run that I got to run with Sidney.  Sidney has taken an interest in what I am doing and has always wanted to run with me, this was her chance.  Sidney started the race in a full sweat suit but quickly shed layer after layer as she continued to get hotter and hotter.  She was even more excited that she got to run on daddy’s race course, including the finish line chute.  In the end, she did awesome and got her own Ironkids medal, GO SID!  From there we met up with the in-laws who were going to watch the kids while I did the practice swim.  The practice swim was only from 9-11am and you had to have your timing chip in order to get into the water.  Guess who forgot their timing chip at home…ME!  Time to start stressing, I needed that time in the water, I hadn’t focused on swimming since Canada and was feeling most nervous about my swim.  Luckily Lauren still hadn’t left the house to come and meet us so she saved the day for me, Thank You Lauren!  To make things more interesting, jumping into Tempe Town Lake for the first time felt like jumping off the San Francisco Belle for the Escape from Alcatraz, the water is cold and who knows what lies underneath the surface.  After about 30 minutes in the water working on sighting, strokes and breathing, I headed for the stairs exit ready and feeling o.k. about Sunday.  Once out of the water, Erica, Lauren and I went for a 5 mile run on the course to get my running legs under me.  The weather was perfect, sunny and 70, if race day was like this, no problem.  Feeling good from the run, it was time to go to the car and get my bike and all my gear to check in for Sunday.  As we walked back to the transition, the excitement and realness started to set in.  After having my bikes picture taken (I believe this is for marketing research to see what people are riding), I find my rack, Row #30 and put my bike on it, all set.  As you look up and down the rows of bikes, you know this is not a cheap sport, in my rack alone, I probably had the cheapest bike.  Then it is off to T1 (bike) and T2 (run) to drop my bags full of gear.  As we are leaving, I still have a feeling that I left something out of the bags, but what?  As we head back to the house for dinner and to relax, I run through my morning routine in the hopes of squashing that feeling that I left something behind.  Upon arriving back at the house, I realize that I did forget to put something in my T2 bag, my running shoes which I was wearing.  So back to the event we go.  Check in for your gear bags was from 10am – 3pm, I realized I was wearing my shoes at 3pm and about 20 minutes from the event.  So we haul butt back and I run down and ask a volunteer to put the shoes in my bag which they happily did, crisis adverted.  Now back to the house to relax.  The night before a big race I always find hard to relax and sleep, this was no exception.  I hadn’t been sleeping well in Arizona due to the dryness and a little allergies that had hit me, and sure enough, I didn’t sleep that well.

The alarm goes off at 4:20am and I was already half up.  Time for my pre-race meal, coffee, granola with Almond Milk and a banana, I had to have enough fuel to get me through the pre-race nerves and swim.  After breakfast, I go through my remaining gear to make sure I have everything, wetsuit, goggles, ear plugs and swim cap.  5am, time to head to the race, nerves really starting to set in, I had been here once before but not quite this nervous, again, could I do this?  Once I arrive at the race, nerves are gone, its game time.  I take my time getting ready, this helped calm all nerves or anxiety.  Luckily, I had my biggest supporter, friend and wife with me to help keep me calm, but inside, I kept wondering, who is keeping her calm.  She too had been in this same situation, what must she be thinking.  No time to think about that now, I needed to get down to the water and finish getting ready.  After a few hugs and kisses, I tell Erica I love her and start my trek down to the lake.  As I get close to the lake, I finish my pre-race routine, Hammer Espresso Gel, and Lemon Lime Gu Bru drink, apply sports lube to my neck and arms, zip up my wetsuit and hand off my morning clothes, time to get in the water.  Just as I am handing off my bag, the race volunteers start yelling at everyone to get into the water, apparently it take a lot longer to get 3000 people through a tiny chute and into the lake.  They tell us to “jump” in where ever we can, so I oblige and brrrrrrrr, GOOD MORNING TEMPE LAKE!  Who needs caffeine when you have 62 degree lake water, as the shock went through my system; I started to look for my spot on the starting line.  The key for me was where won’t I get trampled, drowned or kicked and I thought I found just the spot.  BANG, the canon goes off and mass chaos ensues.  As I start into my stroke, I immediately feel like I am in a bee’s hive and Yogi Bear has just shaken the tree, body’s bouncing everywhere off everyone.  If there is one thing I did remember from my other Tri’s it is swim wide and hold your ground.  After a few hundred yards the field starts to spread out (well actually just move past me) and I find my groove, time to settle in, you have 90 minutes of swimming left.  As I approached the turn, a big sigh of relief comes over me, I am on my way back, keep concentrating and let it flow.  I get under the last bridge, look to my left and see the stairs, adrenaline starts to kick in and I don’t think I have ever swam that fast, I did it.  Exiting the swim in Arizona is pretty interesting as they have stairs that drop into the water and you have to climb out and onto the sidewalk, luckily they had people helping because my arms were toast.  After having my wetsuit stripped from me, I run off to the changing tent and T1.  As I arrive, I see Erica and first thing I ask is, “What was my time”…1:31 she responds, right on target, I was happy.

After taking a moment to regroup, I put on my bike gear, strap my helmet on and off I go to get my bike, this was the part I was looking forward to the most.  As you leave T1, the crowds of people cheering you on numbered in the thousands, I could have been leading the race it was so loud.  This is where I knew I had to control my adrenaline; I had a long day on the bike ahead of me.  As we set out for the desert, a lite breeze was hitting us in the face.  Arizona is known to be a windy race, this could eventually slow things down for me.  But I forge on thinking back to the swim and how happy I was, it was important to keep the momentum going, plus, in an hour, I would get to see Erica, Sidney and Miles.  This bike course is a unique one as you do 3 loops or out and backs.  I am normally not a fan but on this occasion I was for two reasons; Number 1 I was going to get to see the family 3 times and Number 2 I would see all of the pro’s ride by me for their second and third laps.  As I approached the turn around, I see Erica, Lauren, Sidney and Miles running up to catch me, there were a little late and I was feeling too good to stop, see you on the 2nd loop I yell and off I go.  The bike was where I bonked in Canada and where I focused a lot of my additional training in the last two months, I needed to dial in my nutrition.  What did I learn, my body doesn’t need as much food as I expected and cannot live on gels alone.  This race would be different, no Gu Bru until 45 minutes in, no gels until an hour in, and I would eat Clif Bars as I felt I needed.  So on lap one, I stuck to my game plan and felt great.  As I headed back to the turnaround near transition, the crowds had grown and were lining the street rooting for everyone, I felt like I had 5,000 people pulling for me, I make the turn and back out I go.  This time the wind had shifted, now more of a cross wind on the way out, time to change the game plan, I can make up time on the way out now.  So with that in mind, and knowing I will see my family, I start to peddle a little faster.  As I reach the turnaround I see the family, in-laws and friends all yelling my name, BIG SMILE comes over me.  I stop to kiss Erica, Sidney and Miles and to let them all know I was feeling great.  There is something to be said about having your family there to root you on.  Back I head to the start with the wind now in my face and stronger but I was on a family high, so I peddled through.  Back at the start, the crowd had started to thin as the racers they were supporting were done with the bike, but you still felt like rock stars and I knew I would get to see my family one more time.  The last loop was going to be the toughest, I had 70 miles down and this was where I bonked in Canada, but today was going to be different, I felt great and was prepared.  As I reached the final turnaround, there was the family as loud as ever.  After giving them one more kiss I told them I would see them at T2.  The way back was a little slower as the wind picked up and my legs were starting to get a little tired, but my mental game was keeping me going, I was about to finish the longest ride of my life, and faster than I expected, 6 hours.  As I pull back to the start, my legs felt great and I was ready to start the run, I grab my T2 bag and head into the changing tent.

As I exited the changing tent, I could tell this was going to be a great marathon.  Upon exiting the hot tent, my mouth was dry and body wanted water.  I reach the first aid station and fill up my water bottle with ice cold water and take 2 big gulps, then grab 2 oranges and off I go.  So far  I had been mentally sharp and kept to my plan, this was my first mistake of the race.  My body cannot handle big gulps of water and that mixed with the acid of the orange sent my stomach into a tail spin.  First thought was, oh shit what now.  Then I remembered that I could crawl the marathon and still make it in time, so I started doing a little walk/run to try and shake things up a bit, that didn’t help.  The only thing I could do now is to run as long as I could, walk a little to recover and then run again.  The run is 3 laps as well and I knew I would get to see the family at least twice on each lap, but I wouldn’t let them see me walking.  As I made my way through the first loop, I knew it was slow but I also knew my system was starting to rebel against me.  I couldn’t find the cure for my stomach and was now doing more walking than running.  As I came around and saw Erica, she could tell something was wrong, but I kissed her and went right on through to the second lap, I was going to finish this race one way or another.  During the second lap, the sun was starting to set and the area around the lake became magical with all the lights and people around it.  I needed this as I was starting to wonder how long a marathon this would be.  At the second aid station on lap 2, I started taking sips of Pepsi in the hopes it would calm my stomach.  Towards the end of lap 2, it worked; I had my stomach back and was feeling great.  My legs had been feeling great the whole time so I knew this would be the last chance I got to finish strong.  As I passed Erica and gave her a kiss, I told her this was it, I was feeling better and going to finish strong.  I can only imagine what a relief that had to be for her, I don’t think she could have taken any more stress from these races.  By this time it was pitch black out and there some something so serine about running in complete darkness, yet hearing the crowd cheering everyone one.  As I rounded the last turn and headed for home, that last bit of adrenaline kicked in, I was going to do this!  As I came back out of the darkness and into the crowds, I hear my name being yelled, I look to my left and it is my fraternity brother, Troy Swanson, cheering me on.  What a surprise, and what an additional adrenaline boost.  I was in overdrive now, the finish line was a half mile away, my gas tank was on empty, yet here I am running faster than I had all day.  There are 2 left turns left in the race, the first takes you into a parking lot and back to darkness, but you hear the crowd at the finish line, I pick the pace up a notch, where is this energy coming from?  As I make the final turn into the finishers chute I feel like I am on the Red Carpet at the Oscar’s, bright lights shining on me, people screaming my name, camera’s flashing, this was it, I DID IT, finish strong.  As I cross the finish line in 13 hours and 2 minutes, my heart racing, my gas tank empty, my legs ready to give out, I knew I had conquered what I set out to do 7 months earlier, I became an Ironman!  So many thoughts raced through my head at that point, so many memories about Canada, about my 5am trainings, weekends on the bike away from the family, the sacrifices my family made for me, this moment was just as much for them as it was for me, Team Kuhl was an Ironman!  As the volunteered grabbed me and gave me my finisher’s hat and shirt, I looked around; only thing I could think about was where is Erica, Sidney and Miles.  As I got my picture taken, I look over and see Erica with a huge smile on her face, I rush over and share a big kiss and long hug, WE DID IT!  Then I look behind me and there is my mother-in-law with Miles and Sidney, I got to share this moment with my whole family!  They might only be 3 and 6, but they knew what was going on and the smiles on their faces said it all, WE ARE PROUD OF YOU DADDY!

Going into Canada, I had always dreamed about what it would feel like to be called an Ironman and unfortunately I had to learn a tough lesson there.  I had to fail in Canada to realize what my body was really capable of, and to better understand the stress I could put it through.  Even though Canada didn’t turn out the way I wanted, it made me that much stronger of a person and as I crossed the finish line in Arizona, it made being called an Ironman that much more special. 

I could not have done this without the support of all my family who sacrificed lots of weekends and weekdays so that I could be on my bike, in the garage swimming or at the pool.  Erica, Sidney and Miles, this race was for you, thanks for standing by me and telling me how great I was.  And all of my friends, who rode with me, helped keep Erica sane and encouraged me the whole way through this journey, thank you!  After Canada a lot of people told me it was more about the journey than the end and they were right, the journey is the tough part, the end is just the icing on the cake. 



Swim 2.4 Miles:

Bike 112 Miles:

Run 26.2 Miles:

Celebrate forever:


If you thought the Ironman was just a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run….you would be wrong.  The sadists at Ironman don’t think that’s enough so they tack on a little more the next day:

5:00am wake up the next morning (after getting to bed after midnight)

6:30 drive back to the Ironman Expo

7:00am get in an already HUGE line at the merchandise tent

8:30am run around the merchandise tent looking for “finisher” gear that’s left in your size

9:30am part with MORE money

10:00am pose with your WELL deserved finishers gear!  

About to board a plane and put this Ironman Arizona adventure to bed! Literally and figuratively!!

It’s OVER…He’s an IRONMAN!!!

Quick post because Team Kuhl is beyond exhausted, exhilarated, and excited and time to be together as a FAMILY.  All that you need to know is that Brandon is an IRONMAN!  Finishing at 13:02:36! Thank you all so much for your support - you are a huge part of making this happen!!!


And it wouldn’t be a “Kuhl” celebration without making a pit stop at McDonald’s for french fries and diets cokes to top off the night!  A perfect meal for an Ironman!!

The Run

Well we made it to the run…a huge hurdle leaped over. Just high fived the Ironman at mile 8.5 and he still mustered a smile. Not the same one we saw on the bike but one nonetheless. Hoping to see him soon at mile 12. Will report more later. Keep the vibes flowing!!

Another Team Kuhl Update

Got another Kuhl kiss on Brandon’s pass through the 3rd turnaround (mile 90). Looking strong again and still full of smiles. I hear athlete tracker is not working for all of you, but he’s alive and kicking….kicking butt too. Being shuttled to the run transition by my wonderful Daddy and meeting up with the rest of Team Kuhl later in the run loops. Ok now we go into uncharted territory…the run! Keep the positive vibes flowing because it’s working!!!

Team Kuhl Update

Just a quick update for our loyal followers. Brandon is rocking AZ so far with a 1hr 31min swim and a huge smile plastered on his face for the two bike loops I’ve seen so far. We got an amazing treat from the IM when he stopped to kiss his wifey and kids. With the full Team Kuhl almost in tears we watched him set off to finish off his second loop. While Brandon hammered away Team Kuhl snarfed Wendy’s breakfast….making us feel that much more inadequate!

Please send all positive thoughts as B crosses the mental barrier of mile 75 soon (Ironman Canada debacle) and takes this ride home.

No photos unfortunately as I’m doing this update from my phone. With all the loops on this course it makes is MUCH more spectator friendly but not as much time to get on the laptop.

I’ll be back soon!

Such a Difference.

The second time around the block has been a WHOLESALE different experience.  There is nothing more powerful and amazing than a loving support network.  Don’t get my wrong, Canada was so special and our traveling support network there was awesome too, but almost nothing can compare to having your mommy and daddy on hand to help during this high intensity time.  On top of that staying with a friend (and her stellar family) that I have known since I was 6 adds an extra level of comfort from the welcome message waiting for us upon arrival to the home cooked meals…oh and don’t forget the Iron clutter everywhere!  Everyone has been so accommodating and flexible for all the nutty things that go on in to preparing for the BIG day tomorrow.  

Now Ironman Brandon has done his warmup swim/ride/run, the gear is all at transition and it’s time to kick up our feet and relax.  Wake up call is at 5:00am tomorrow and the gun will go off at the start at 7:00am.  Just a reminder, here’s the Athlete Tracker and Brandon’s number is 1618 for anyone that wants to support Team Kuhl.

Here’s a montage of events so far:


Don’t Miss a Thing!

The whole Kuhl clan boards a plane tomorrow heading for Ironman Arizona.  The workouts are done, the clothes are washed, the pills/powders/bars/gels/blocks are laid out, the spirits are high which means it’s time to DO THIS THING!

For those of you that want all the gory, up close and personal details…I’ll be doing the same thing I did for Ironman Canada.  I’ll post pictures, update split times and give any/all information I have right here on this blog.  For those of you that want to track Brandon on your own, his number is 1618.  Just enter that into Athlete Tracker and you can stalk away.  You know I will be madly refreshing that site ALL DAY LONG!  

BIG love and thanks to Lauren, Josh and Will for letting the nutty athlete and his posse crash at their house.  Also big love and thanks to Karen and John (whether they know it yet or not) for being our IM base camp during the race.  SO lucky that they live 4 min from the 3-loop bike course allowing the support crew to catch a glimpse of Brandon THREE times.

Ok I think that’s about it….so please keep Brandon in your thoughts ALL day Sunday from 7am - UNKNOWN.  We need all the positive, encouraging, empowering, and uplifting thoughts you can muster.  

Love you all.

Get Inspired.

Well here we are again….we leave for Arizona one week from today!  I’m finding that I need to dig even deeper to get inspired and keep my tired triathlete motivated.  Quite frankly we are both pretty over it and ready to “get the show on the road”.   As Sidney (our 6 year old) would say…”MOM…you are not really getting a show on the actual road. That’s a speech figure right?” (that’s what she calls it).  

Today I did find inspiration in two random places.  First a card from Brandon’s awesome Aunt Judy.   Judy just ran her first marathon so that in itself is very inspiring, but she today she sent a card with an Ironman Prayer inside.  Most know I am not a religious person but things touch you in different ways when you’ve been pushing hard for the long haul.  I won’t recite the prayer word for word, but here’s a few highlights:

A thousand thoughts weave rhythmically in my mind, the last I dare to think….crossing the finish line.  

Crown every effort, all the training with success, I know that impossible things bring out my personal best.

Stamina and fortitude I ask upon the seat, on the many miles of biking I’ll compete.

The grace to run the race of my lifetime, and make it safely past the finish line.

The second inspiration came from a Lululemon bag.  Now if I was religious, Lululemon would be my place of worship.  I am obsessed with that place as well as their new sister store for young girls, Ivivva.  Anyway…I went today and picked up a super comfy pair of Astro pants and of course they put them in their awesome signature bag.  I have about 50 of their bags and I have never taken a moment to really read any of the quotes…today was different for some reason.  One resonated with me even though it’s a quote I have heard many times before “Life is full of setbacks. Success is determined by how you handle setbacks.”  Pretty fitting considering the year this has been.

I hope this will help inspire my haggard, sore, slightly edgy, and RIPPED triathlete to push hard for the next 10 days until he gets to that starting line!  

452 Miles.

9 months in and it’s still really hard to conceptualize just how much training goes into preparing for an Ironman. So I thought I would break it down and give you a behind the scenes look into Brandon’s training log for the last 3 weeks. So if you are wondering “how’s Brandon’s training going” or “what’s Brandon’s training like these days”….you now know!  Remember this is for a mere 3 weeks!

Miles Ran: 60

Miles Biked: 383

Yards swam: 16,000 (9 miles)

Total elevation climbed: 28,200

And for a little eye candy here’s a look at ONE of the recent rides.  Seriously.  

About Me

Erica Kuhl

An Ironman journey through the lens of of wife, mom, friend and supporter.