So You Want to be an AZ IronMan Competitor?

Story by Allie Wdowiak


Athletes from all over the world train hundreds and thousands of hours a year preparing for some of the most physically draining competitions, one of which is an Ironman.

A full Ironman race consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon 26.22-mile run all done in that order within 17 hours. If completed within the time allotted, Mike Reilly, the “Voice of Ironman”, will announce at the finish line “You are an Ironman!”

A full Ironman weekend looks more like a week-long event rather than a couple days and includes ceremonies, thousands of athletes, hundreds of volunteers, countless sponsors and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

It all started with a Naval Officer, John Collins, stationed in Hawaii debating amongst his fellow athletes which one of them was the fittest; swimmers, bikers, or runners. By February 1978, athletes came to the shores of Waikiki to complete the Ironman challenge.

There are more than 200 Ironman races worldwide and once a year in the middle of November, the Ironman in Tempe, Arizona, or IMAZ for short, is held.

Every competitor has various stories about their journey worth telling, each one completely different from the other.


Lali Castellanos, from San Antonio, Texas, works in education as a school district’s Human Resource/Communication director. Her journey to and during the IMAZ was an emotional ride.

Castellanos, 44, was competing for many reasons but one, in particular, is her dear friend and college sorority sister, Camille Killough, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. “I’m doing this for her,” Castellanos said.

IMG-1819The full Ironman first-timer appreciates the blessings she’s been given and her ability to control her body from having Killough to put things into perspective.

Another little-known fact, Castellanos was born two months premature and doctors had told her parents she wouldn’t survive. After a miraculous recovery, several years later Castellanos would train to become an Ironman.

Castellanos trained for an entire year before the 2017 IMAZ, racing in three 70.3 races, and her anticipation had built up.

Castellanos was able to put in light workouts once arriving in Tempe, but did mention she had, “an overwhelming feeling knowing that everything I’ve trained for has finally come to pass.”

The day of the race, this female athlete was kicked in the face on the swim and seeing with one eye, her bike chain wrapped around her peddle by the mid-point cutoff causing her to finish the bike with one minute to spare, and struggled with nausea and leg pain on the run.

Any complications during the race weren’t going to deflate her resilience. “I did NOT want to have to plan a redemption race,” said Castellanos.

Castellanos finished at 16:24:55 at the 2017 IMAZ and will continue running though the month of December to hopefully compete in a couple more 70.3 races.

Forest and Jill Hansen, a power couple from Wildomar, California, compete and train together, though Jill is the one who tends to race faster.

The two Ironman started training in 2012 when Forest’s fire department in Murrieta, California competed in the 2012 half Ironman race in Oceanside, California to raise money for a firefighter co-worker battling cancer. 

After that race, the Hansens were hooked. They’ve competed in the 2013 IMAZ, the 2014 Ironman Coeur d’Alene, and two per year since. This year is their fourth time competing in the IMAZ.

Jill Hansen, 51, said that they help motivate the other to get up and go train. Training consists of three swim workouts per week of about an hour and 2-3 run and bike workouts.

During the race, Jill’s mindset is that as long as she’s moving forward, she’s getting closer to the finish line. She keeps the motto “Relentless forward progress” with her and tells herself that the whole way through the race.

Jill Hansen said during the 12-17 hours on the course, she went through every emotion from wanting to cry to wanting to curse.

“You’re nervous at the start, thankful to make it out of the swim alive, glad to be on your bike, riding across the desert, sick of being on your bike riding across the desert, happy to be on the run because it’s the last of the three disciplines, a little intimidated because you still have to run a marathon and you’re already tired and sore, exhausted as you continue to bargain with yourself to push through ‘the wall’ on your run, and elated as you get closer to the finish and actually cross the line,” Jill said.

Through it all, Jill appreciates all the people she meets through these races and the sense accomplishment she feels afterwards.

Forest, 52, remains a supportive husband and enjoys spending the time training alongside his wife Jill as well as the race itself.

Jill finished at 14:31:34 and Forest at 15:49:18 at the 2017 IMAZ and the couple is already signed up for next year’s race.

Christina Underwood, pictured, is a full Ironman first-timer from Temecula, California and got started in 2009 racing in a Super Sprint.

In 2011, Underwood was also involved in Eventing, an equestrian sport in which riders and horses compete in three disciplines, like a horse triathlon.

Underwood fell off her horse and nearly died from breaking her neck. After emergency surgery and regained leg movement, she is left with 10 screws in her neck.

For motivation, Underwood plays the video Welcome to the Grind. “I have most of it memorized and I repeat this myself to never ever, ever give up. I tell myself how lucky I am to be able to walk and I am truly grateful for a second chance,” she said.

After a couple years of recovering, Underwood raced in another Super Sprint for Mother’s Day in 2013, followed by a Barb’s 5K race in 2014 and a half Ironman in 2015.

Underwood, 53, moved from Northern California to Temecula, found a triathlon training group and registered for the Oceanside half Ironman in 2017.

Training began a year before 2017 IMAZ, spending 15-20 hours a week pushing through a swollen Achilles tendon.

Underwood was given advice from a friend and stated he had, “said to savor it and high five people so I did and saw my boyfriend and best friend in the crowd and I realized then I had made it.”

Underwood finished at 16:38:46 at the 2017 IMAZ and will continue to race and train.

Darrell Myrick from West Covina, California is a coach and competitor of Ironman triathlons with 5 years of experience.

A competitive swimmer in high school, Myrick was introduced to triathlons in the 80’s. He faded away from it and competed in other sports until 2005.

The 2017 IMAZ was Myrick’s ninth full Ironman and he has 15 half races amongst dozens of other shorter races on his belt.

Myrick, 61, has never taken over five weeks off at a time and trains more than some people work. He trains six days a week consisting of 18-25 hours of training total.

He said a typical hard week consists of 15,000 yards of swimming, 250 miles of riding the bike, and 40 miles of running. Myrick also tries to squeeze in 2 hours of yoga.

It’s not a shock he felt very confident prior to the 2017 IMAZ, however, he did struggle a little with his elevated heart rate on the bike but adjusted to finish smoothly.

The advice he keeps with himself is to “Just endure and keep moving forward.  Also I have to constantly remind myself to keep to my race plan and not go too hard too early,” he said.

Only 5 days after the race, Myrick started light training again before hitting rigorous training once more just 2 weeks after the 2017 IMAZ to focus on 2018’s races.

Myrick is signed up for 3 full Ironman races and wishes to run a marathon, a couple local half marathons and a few local triathlons “just for fun.”

On the coaching side of things, Myrick coached high school swim, little league teams and martial arts most of his life. Now, he coaches between 10 and 15 triathletes.

Darrell Myrick finished at 12:16:30 at the 2017 IMAZ. 


There are many sponsors involved with the Ironman races and Orange Mud is one of them.

Orange Mud is a California-based company that produces and sells hydration packs worldwide for triathletes and other outdoor sports to eliminate hydration frustration.

Josh Sprague, the founder of Orange Mud, competed in an Ironman in St. George and noticed he wasn’t a fan of any of the hydration products he had been using.

It originated when Sprague, a competitive endurance athlete, ended up crafting his own from a gun holster, a waist pack, a tie down strap and sewed together a prototype of the HydraQuiver.

Orange Mud sells a wide variety of products, nearly all of which have 5-star ratings. From compression sleeves and a belted towel to apparel and accessories, Orange Mud makes plenty of products any outdoor athlete could need.

Sprague mentioned that this was the 3rd year Orange Mud has sponsored the IMAZ and it proves to be very positive for sales.

“The Arizona Ironman is fantastic because athletes see that it’s pretty hot and they need to think about hydration for the race and for training. It’s about double the revenue at this event,” said Sprague.

You can check out their website at



Each Ironman has hundreds of volunteers that hold very different sectioned off jobs. Kayaking beside the swimmers, transition stations, information tents, and bike racking are just to name a few.

Each station of volunteers has a volunteer captain. Each captain represents a local non-profit organization the Ironman sends a percentage of their proceeds to in order to help their cause.

The Ironman races were founded in 2003 and since have donated over $50 million and just under $6 million fundraised by Foundation Athletes.

Tommy Lunetta, a 2017 IMAZ volunteer captain or Foundation Athlete, is an ambassador for Run Far. They raise awareness about veteran suicide and PTSD while providing scholarships to the children of fallen United States Military service members who take their own life. Lunetta said “the organization is just 3-months old.”

All donations go directly to the Sergeant Sean Northcutt Scholarship, which provides help to the children of these veterans who commit suicide. 

Sergeant Sean Northcutt, veteran of the United States Marine Corps and served 8 years’ worth of deployments, was diagnosed with PTSD and depression before going back to civilian life. In July of 2015, he took his own life and left behind a wife and two children.

Sergeant Northcutt exemplified principles of pride and discipline and the organization hopes to keep his legacy alive through benefiting children with this scholarship.

CJ Schneider III, founder of Run Far and veteran of the United States Marine Corps, is an Ultra Marathon runner whose goal is to bring people together through fitness to raise awareness for Veteran suicide and PTSD.

Run Far accepts donations on their website at

One of the volunteers, Meredith Botnick from Arvada, Colorado, was helping as kayak support at the 2017 IMAZ and has volunteered at the finish line for the past two years in Boulder.

Botnick, 36, is a United States Naval Academy grad class of 2004 and first got into triathlons shortly after graduating when she received a pamphlet in the mail for Team in Training.

While she dad a guy during her time at the Academy, his company mate passed away from leukemia and caused Botnick to be further drawn to the mission of Team in Training. She had done swimming competitively in the past and it has come in handy for her training. 

Botnick has done a bunch of different races including a half Ironman, but she is still training 6 days a week for her first full Ironman, the 2018 Ironman Boulder.

The 2017 IMAZ is her third volunteering experience. “For me, it’s really important to give back to the sport when I can, because those races can’t happen without volunteers,” Botnick said.

Schedule of Events

The 2017 Ironman Arizona race isn’t just one full day of competition; it’s a whole 5 days long. It starts the Thursday before the race and ends the day after the race, Monday.

Thursday includes the course village and official Ironman Store are made open to the public for the weekend, the Tempe Friends and Family 5K registration, and the United Healthcare Ironkids Arizona Fun Run registration.

Friday consists of the Pro Panel and the Opening Ceremony in the evening. Saturday, the day before the race, the Tempe Friends and Family 5K and United Healthcare Ironkids Arizona Fun Run races start.

Race Day is Sunday and it starts at 6:40 a.m. for Pros and 6:50 for the age group athlete race start.

Monday starts off with a Celebration Day Breakfast free for athletes, an awards ceremony, a 2017 Ironman World Championship Slot Allocation and a Volunteer Banquet.