Lucky number 7 in Arizona!! I FINALLY got to punch Ironman finish number seven in my athlete passport.  I did it.  I raced for 140.6 miles faster than I ever have in my whole life.  And I have to admit, I kind of felt like a super bad-ass coming into that finish line so strong… I arrived in Scottsdale six days before the race and had the pleasure of staying with myteammate and good friend, Andrew’s graciously hospitable parents.  I have come to know and love Anne and Gary through races and training camps I have done with Andrew.It was the next best thing to being at home.  What can I get you to eat pre-race?  Do you need a foam-roller?  Make sure you are sleeping well…  My comfort was my tri-momma’s main concern that week and it took SO MUCH tension off of my mind.  It also helped knowing that I was riding and running faster than I ever had in my life.  My left shoulder was causing MAJOR issues for me while swimming and cycling the last six weeks of training.  The discomfort was most likely due to a bike fit that just wasn’t working for me anymore in addition to an ill-placed saddle that was kind of the fire-starter.  I had a little concern that my swim was going to be slow due to the pain and subsequent missed swim workouts, but I really didn’t care too much.  I knew I wasn’t going to win IMAZ, so my subpar swim time would be overshadowed by my gained bike and run strength.  I had intended on racing with a disc wheel on the back, which would provide me with free speed (read: faster bike split).  I rented a disc wheel with a Powertap hub, but I discovered the Powertap was wildly inaccurate after my first practice ride. Try as I might to fix it, it was clear by Friday that all of my efforts were fruitless and Foof’s suggestion to bring my race wheels “just in case” was very wise.  I have so much appreciation for the guys at DNA CYCLES for patiently dealing with my bipolar switching of the race cassette back and forth between the race wheel and the disc wheel.   Race morning was preceded by five solid hours of sleep, which is a record for me.  We were staying about 30 minutes away from the race venue.  At first I was concerned about the distance, but as it turns out, it was the most peaceful outpost and I was not surrounded by the well-known pre-race nervous energy.  Foof and Sherpa Andrew were up and ready to head to the race venue at 4:30a on the dot!!   We arrived to transition and I quickly set up my bike and nutrition.  I got body-marked and exited transition while Sherpa husband and Sherpa Andrew deposited my special needs bags and helped me get my wetsuit on.  We had decided to meet at the entrance to the swim start where I would give the sherpas my shoes (I could not travel to the swim start the same way they did because it would have me on the wrong side of the fence).  Ever since nearly ending my racing career in 2010 by ripping open my foot and plantar fascia at a small race, I do everything I can to protect my hooves, even if that means I am one of few walking to the swim start in shoes.  Once at the swim start, it was clear that my sherpas were way on the outside of the fences and there was no way for me to get my sneaks to them, darn.  Visibly showing signs of panic, a WONDERFUL volunteer, Diana, came running up and said, “What can I help you with?  Do we need to get your sneakers to somebody??”  I showed Diana who to take my shoes to and then thanked her profusely.  Just as she was walking away, she said, “Kate, you’re going to have a GREAT race today!!  Love you, girl!!!”  AND THIS, PEOPLE, is one of the many reasons why I love this sport with all of my heart.  It makes me so super happy to race with such a loving, positive and wonderful community of people…complete strangers telling you they love you…seriously…no words!! The pro women were called into the water, and I made my jump off the pier deep into the water.  This was it!!!  I have waited for over TWO YEARS to put another Ironman to bed and I just KNEW today was not going to be another DNF like Tahoe.  I had been given so many different pieces of advice as far as following the course/sighting buoys on the swim course.  One person told me to swim staying close to the buoys, one person said DON’T hug the buoys, but swim with the curve of the wall…AHHHH!!!  Decided… I was going to just…follow everyone else! As we collected at the deep-water start line, the sun was just barely breaking off to the east.  BOOM!!!  Love the sound of that cannon!!  I swam hard, but was definitely conservative, needed that left shoulder to make it through 2.4 miles of swimming.  I was shooting for 62 minutes, and with the way the water felt, it seemed that perhaps it might happen.  The water was smooth and calm.  I immediately felt myself surge ahead of a couple ofladies and held onto one set of feet.  After a couple hundred meters, the feet in front were going at a slower pace than I wanted so I worked hard to get around her.  I continued to plug away at a good effort, spotting a group of five ladies all working together maybe 100-200 meters ahead of me.  With maybe 300 meters before the turn to head back to transition, I caught the group of five and easily moved passed all but one of them.  After passing four of the five ladies, the fifth decided to hang on and slap my feet every third or forth stroke.  Once we were westbound, headed back to transition, it was quite clear just WHY the water felt so smooth going out…pretty choppy coming back!! Shortly after making the last turn and heading in the last 100ish meters to the swim finish my toe tickler went around me and I got caught behind two male amateurs, preventing me to match her surge, darn!!  The lake (which was actually a dammed river) had a concrete wall all along it plunging deep into the water, so there were stadium steps set up for us to exit.  We were told at the pro meeting that the volunteers would do a very good job of grabbing our arms and hoisting us up onto the steps.  I threw my arms up, was pulled up forcefully by two strong men and slipped right through the open-back steps behind them!  OUCH!!  That DEFINITELY left a mark!