Lee Gruenfeld's IRONMAN Arizona Wrap-up and Slideshow

Every time I go to an Ironman race I come back saying the same thing: This is the greatest place in the world for an Ironman. I’m always right, by the way, but I do see the problem.

Whatever. Arizona is the greatest place in the world for an Ironman.

Wait a minute. I think I get it. They’re all the greatest, but for different reasons. In Arizona, there are a number of great features, including some spectacular desert scenery for about twenty miles of each of the three bike loops, and for a lot of the run leg as well if you happen to still be out there after sunset. Two bridges span the river at the start/finish area, one trimmed in small lights and the other sporting panels of shifting blue, red and green. They’re at once futuristic and cozy, kind of like Christmas at the Jetsons.

But that’s not what makes IRONMAN Arizona so great. What does is that this has to be the most spectator-friendly race on the circuit when it comes to being able to see a lot of your PALPORI (pronounced "pal-pourri,"  it means "pal or partner or other racing intimate"). First of all, if you’re willing to walk 2.4 miles at a very leisurely pace, "leisurely" depending on how fast your PALPORI can swim, you can watch the entire swim as it proceeds parallel to the shore, with plenty of time to stroll onto some bridges and catch it from above. After the swim exit, you can catch him or her sixteen more times during the bike and run by essentially standing in one spot, which is just dandy if standing in one spot is your idea of a hot time in Tempe. If, like mine, it isn’t, there are three dozen eateries within a four-iron of that spot, to which you can repair for anything from a smoothie to a porterhouse and still get back in time to convince your PALPORI that you never moved.

But that’s not all that makes IRONMAN Arizona so friendly. Despite fielding nearly 2,500 competitors, the race retains a small-town feeling, with nearly invisible security and very few restricted-access zones other than the transition and finish areas. With an expo and food joints sitting smack in the middle of all the action, walking around the race site is like strolling through a European piazza, except for those 2,500 athletes flitting in and out in every direction.

Weather for the race was the kind you'd order off a menu if you had the choice: bit of a chill in the morning, then warming up to stay in the 70s and low 80s all day long, with mild winds. After Andy Starykowicz broke the course bike record by six minutes, it looked like a record-breaking day for sure. Surprisingly, neither of the pro winners managed that. Starykowicz faded out of the top five on the run, leaving the victory to Nils Frommhold, but the pro story of the day was Linsey Corbin. After coming in second here three times, the Missoula Mauler finally cracked the top spot, and did it in style with an impressive five-minute margin over her close friend, Meredith Kessler.

IRONMAN Arizona is a top destination for Iron Virgins and there were over 1,000 first-timers here this year, including five ladies from the Tri La Vie triathlon club in Orange County whose smiles lit up the course from start to finish. The girl power at the conclusion could have solved the energy crisis had there been a way to bottle it. Speaking of tri clubs, Friday night saw a large gathering of club members from around the country, hosted by WTC's new kahuness of tri club relations, Liz Kollar (originally of LA Tri). It's a novel approach to winning new IRONMAN participants at the grass roots level that we'll be hearing more about.

Here are some photos of the day. By the way, for those of you who were there and wonder what those loud explosions were on Saturday that could be heard twenty miles away and set off car alarms over town, it was a cannon in the Arizona State football stadium that was fired every time the home team scored. When the home team scores 47 points, as it did Saturday, that cannon gets one helluva workout.

Best selling author Lee Gruenfeld is a regular contributor to Ironman.com.

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