So I thought I would do a little follow-up race report as to how my race at Ironman Texas went down. If I had to quickly summarize the race I would say overall it was a success. I finished the race with a smile on my face and feeling pretty good. I kept the mental demons at bay and reminded myself of all of the support and kind words I had received from so many of you before the race. Sure, I would have liked to have gone MUCH faster, but I have learned that with Ironman you never know what the day will bring and it may take MANY races before you ever feel you got it just right. I think the race as a whole was a huge learning experience for me and there were a lot of things I can take from the race to help guide me in my training as well as helping to make me a better coach.
We left for Houston the Sunday prior to the race driving about half-way to Amarillo Texas. Many thought we were crazy for driving, but we love road trips. It gives us a chance to see the country, to visit new places we've never been and well... let's face it, if any of you have ever seen how Matt and I pack we'd end up paying several hundreds of dollars in excess baggage fees. We always get just a wee bit excited about all of the things we plan on doing and throw in lots of extra play stuff (usually in the form of bicycles) just in case.
Since we were going to be setting up camp in Amarillo (okay not really camp, but more like stealth camping in our Sprinter van at the truck stop. Ever brushed your teeth and gotten ready for bed at a truck stop??) we couldn't NOT stop at "The Big Texan Steak Ranch" for a big hearty steak. To our surprise our steak also came with a lovely bluegrass serenade.
On Monday we arrived in Houston. I was hoping to get somewhat acclimated to the hot & humid weather. It was in the high 80's and VERY humid so I knew it was going to be a slight shocker to the system having come from Winter at 7,000 feet elevation. While true acclimation probably would have taken two weeks or more to achieve this was as good as it was gonna get this time around and I was thankful to be able to get there this early.
On to the race...
It seemed like a long time for race day to finally roll around. I think by Friday Matt and I were both ready to get the show on the road. Matt was not very impressed with the lack of bike lanes, sidewalks or mountain bike trails in Houston and he wasn't exactly happy being cooped up with me in a hotel room being forced to watch a marathon of HGTV's "Flip or Flop". (We don't have cable at home so I just love when I have the chance to watch some of my favorite shows. I'm slightly addicted to watching people renovate and flip houses and am seriously considering this as a second career :) ).
Everything went smooth race morning and before I knew it we were lining up for the swim. Ironman has recently changed how they do their swim starts for full distance ironman. It used to be that we would all (usually around 2,000 people) go off at once at the start of the canon which can mean a lot of kicking, elbows, etc. Now, they do what's called a rolling start where we line ourselves up based on our expected time and they slowly flow us into the water. I wasn't sure if this was going to be better or worse as it doesn't quite allow you to take position the way you would if you were already in the water. I made sure to get to the corral area early enough to get a position up front which I was able to do. (Yes, I use the word corral because it's really not too different from the way you might envision cattle being penned up). As the race start neared, more and more athletes kept showing up and continued to push their way around those of us that were already there to get in front of us. I didn't mind it at first, but it started to get to a point where I was so claustrophobic as there was a barrier in front of us not allowing us any closer to the water until the pro race was off. I started envisioning those soccer matches where people are literally smothered to death from all of the pushing. It was quite uncomfortable and when you've got nerves about the race in addition to visions of being smothered to death it's just not a recipe for calmness before a race. Before I knew it I was being pushed aside again by two very large males who were trying to get in front of me. I'd had it at this point and asked that they please just wait until the barrier was removed. One of the guys then proceeded to talk to his friend very loudly so that I could hear him about how he was going to just swim right over the top of me since I wasn't going to let him move forward. People, if you are reading this and you race, don't be an ASSHOLE. I have made a lot of friends in the sport and have met a lot of very nice people, but I have also met a lot of cocky assholes. Your lesson for the day, "Don't be that asshole".
Before I knew it, the canon was going off and we were flowing into the water. It took me about 10 seconds from the canon to get into the water and get swimming. To my surprise no one dove over the top of me and people were actually quite gentle. Yes, I will use the word gentle because it really wasn't that bad. I was off and the race had finally started. Time to get rid of those butterflies. Almost immediately I saw a flock of birds flying over me as I turned my head to breathe which sent a calmness over me. I thought of my two baby budgies back home playing with their grandma and grandpa which helped me to relax and smile. Ok, well maybe I didn't exactly smile. I remembered to do my best not to take any water into my mouth. I kept hearing Matt in my head telling me not to swallow any water. We weren't exactly sure about the quality of the water we were swimming in. After all, Ironman ended up changing the swim just two days prior to the race telling us that the water quality in the canal (which was connected to the lake we were currently swimming in) did not pass inspection and was deemed unsafe to swim in. I did my best not to allow too many E. coli critters into my mouth although at one point I did get what felt like a small twig or a reed stuck in my mouth.
Overall, the swim was quite uneventful. No angry elbows or kicks to the face. I felt like I had a nice flow and was to the turnaround before I knew it. I thought for sure the swim was going to be short. I sang to myself for pretty much the entire first half of the swim. Have you all heard the new song "Lost Boy" by Ruth B? I absolutely love that song. I know what many of you are thinking... "that's not exactly pump-up music". But for me the music that helps me is music that inspires me. Sometimes it's a song that makes me want to jump in the mosh pit (do people still do that or am I aging myself), and other times it's music that brings tears to me eyes. This one was the latter. For me the song symbolizes my journey to finding my "Neverland".
"Run, run, lost boy," they say to me,
"Away from all of reality."
Neverland is home to lost boys like me
And lost boys like me are free
He sprinkled me in pixie dust and told me to believe
Believe in him and believe in me
Together we will fly away in a cloud of green
To your beautiful destiny
This is my favorite part of the song. Give it a listen if you haven't heard it yet. Ok, back to the race. Remember when I told you I thought the swim seemed really short and how quickly I got to the turnaround?? Well, the way back seemed NEVER ending. I kept thinking we had to be coming up on that final red turn buoy and was trying to spot it, but every time I spotted I saw just another orange buoy and knew it was time to put the head back down and "just keep swimming" (that's for any of you Ellen fans out there ;) ). At one point on spotting I almost felt as though there might be a current going against us which might help to explain the fast out, not so fast in.
Finally the swim exit came and I had multiple hands helping to lift me up out of the water. I looked at the time and realized I'd swam a little too slow. Oops!! I was hoping for something a little closer to the 1 hour mark, BUT, I have learned that it's all relative. You never know if the distance is exact and since the water was so warm we weren't able to wear wetsuits so my time is always slower without that added buoyancy. I pulled my goggles up and went to unzip my swimskin only to realize my swimskin was already fully unzipped. Ugh! Which can only mean one thing... the thing I was wearing to actually help me to be more hydrodynamic in the water, was probably actually filling with water and creating drag. I'll never know if it was like that during the entire swim or perhaps that asshole that promised to swim over me... maybe he pulled on my zipper. Highly unlikely, but it makes for a better story so let's just stick with that version :)
So the bike was a HUGE topic of discussion before the race as I learned about a month prior to the race that Ironman had yet to secure a bike course. And when you're talking about needing to find 112 miles for a course, that's kind of a big deal. There were all sorts of rumors surrounding the lack of a bike course. One was that there was construction on the old course, but when I later got to Houston and talked with the locals they said the community was not happy having us there and having their roads shut down for the race. This only made me more nervous for the new bike course since it turned and twisted all over the busiest parts of the city where traffic (as I could see before the race) was VERY heavy. But to my surprise, the bike course went off without a hitch (or at least for me). The course was well-marked and the cops did an amazing job holding traffic. I actually thought the support out on the bike course was wonderful. I am used to races where the cops are either too focused on controlling traffic to even look at you or just look at you like they're pissed off because they have to spend their Saturday controlling traffic because of your stupid race. I didn't get that feeling here. In fact, a lot of the cops were smiling and cheering which I thought showed a lot of support from the community and it made me smile as well.
The one frustration I did have with the race, was the blatant drafting being done by several of the male competitors. This is ALWAYS a constant frustration of mine when racing as it does affect me and my race, but this race took the cake for some of the worst drafting I have ever seen. I was being passed on SEVERAL occasions by packs of men that were 20-30 men deep. It was such a joke. I actually sat up just about every time and basically talked smack to all of them as they went by. I had some really ugly words in my head I was so pissed, but I did my best not to be the asshole. Instead I reminded them this was an individual time trial race, not the peloton at the Tour de France. I feel like I could have had a better race if it wasn't for constantly having to sit up to fall out of the draft zones of the men. The last thing I would ever want is to be accused of drafting and the only way to avoid it is to sit up and let myself fall out of the draft which means I have to completely stop pedaling. Ugh! So frustrating. The other thing that would often happen to me is I was constantly being passed by a group of 3-5 men who were drafting and every time the last guy would come around me he'd decide it was time for him to sit up and take a break which means I was once again falling into his draft. At one point I yelled ahead at the guy asking him if he would keep pushing so that I wouldn't have to either stop pedaling or spike my power to get back around him. Just as the words had finished coming out of my mouth, up comes the motorbike. They drove straight to the guy and flashed him a blue drafting card. YES! Victory. Finally, someone was penalized for drafting, but I'll tell you there were probably at least another 100 men I spotted that all deserved a drafting penalty.
Overall, I tried to ride conservatively, but looking back I'm thinking I probably should have pushed a little harder on the bike.
Let's just say my run was less than stellar. But, this is the part of the race where lately I have been mentally falling apart, so I am happy to say I didn't give up!
Heading out of transition I felt like I was going so slow, but I looked down at my Garmin and was happy to see I was moving at about 7:30 min/mi pace. I tried to just settle in and keep my mind calm which led me to the realization of how much plaque I could feel on my teeth. Ugh! I really wanted a toothbrush. I started thinking about how maybe they should give out toothbrushes at aid stations. And then I thought of that little twig that was in my mouth earlier that day in the swim. That twig would have worked great for scraping that plaque. I know, I know, how in the world am I thinking about these things when I should be focused on my running? I have one of those minds that NEVER shuts off and I think I've learned that distraction sometimes works best for me. Usually I do complicated math equations in my head. This time, I was stuck thinking about teeth. Which lead to my next thought. I had a chia seed stuck right in between my upper right premolars. I kept trying to fish it out with my tongue, but then that became so distracting that I realized the chia seed was going to need to stay for now and my focus needed to be back on my run. (The good news is, the chia seed eventually became dislodged about lap two of the run and I tried to trick myself into thinking that little seed was going to provide me with a burst of energy).
Back to the run. No more distractions which led to me realizing how hot it was. Oh man was it hot! I started to have those thoughts about walking, but then I made a promise to myself that if I continued to run the miles between aid stations I would give myself permission to walk the aid stations to get enough water in and to cool myself down. My pace had slowed pretty quickly but I did my best to keep it somewhere around 8-8:30 min/mi pace. Unfortunately, the walks drastically reduced that overall pace. I totally milked that promise of walking those aid stations and spent just a little bit too much time getting through them.
I never allowed myself to think any further ahead than the next mile. I just focused on one mile at a time. You absolutely cannot allow your mind to think about the fact that you have to run 26.2 miles. It's just a slight mood killer if you know what I mean. This wasn't hard to do as all I could think about every mile was getting to the next aid station to cool off.
The good thing about the run is you often start to catch all those blatant drafters from the bike course. When the sissies have to start doing the work themselves it seems to all fall apart. No more cheating!! (I know, now I'm being an asshole :) ). However, I did find myself running next to a guy that had his own personal bike escort for the entire run. Yes, the ENTIRE run. Again, for those of you that don't know, this is illegal. You can't have someone pacing you and coaching you on the run. I was just slightly annoyed by this, but it pushed me to try to stay a little in front of the guy so I didn't have to be distracted by his bike buddy.
The other blatant cheating going on on the run course were the people that had their own personal aid stations. Again, for those of that don't know, you cannot take anything from your friends or family members or anyone that is not a part of the race as it gives you an unfair advantage. You must use what is provided on the course at the aid stations. Well, some people clearly don't read the rules or they really just don't give a fuck. Their teams were giving them their own cold sponges, food, drinks, etc. The funny part about that though... they were getting the water for those sponges from the canal. Yes, the canal.... the place we were not allowed to swim in because the water was so unhygienic. All I have to say to that is "Karma's a bitch man, especially when you have a bad case of the shits the next day". Hehehehe :)
Before I knew it I was on my third and final lap of the run. And then suddenly at about mile 20, the black clouds rolled in, opened up and let loose with all of their fury. It was some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen and there was some crazy thunder and lightning. I thought I might be struck down it was so loud and hitting so close to the LAKE that we were running around. There's the logical thing that pops into your mind like, "Maybe I should take shelter", but then the competitor in me says, "Screw that. I'm racing". The streets started to flood as there was no drainage and I was sopping wet. My feet were so wet and before you knew it we were running through several inches of water. There was a side of me that wanted to cry, but the other side of me reminded myself of how much I LOVE running in the rain. So, in my best surfer/skater-boy accent (in my head of course) I told myself, "This shit is epic dude" and I rolled with it.
I had waited to use any caffeine until about mile 20 of the run. (I've overdone the caffeine before in a race and ended up with bad case of the shits so I was trying to be very careful this time around. I figured if I had to shit it would hopefully be at the finish line. Okay, well hopefully not ON the finish line, but you know what I mean :) ). Well, let's just say that caffeine worked and I was off and flying. Ok, in my head I was off and flying. Now that it was no longer hot, I didn't need to stop at the aid stations so I was actually able to run in the last 6 miles of the run without stopping. Small victory!! The timing doesn't reflect that, but I'm pretty sure there were a lot of things that were screwed up when it came to the timing as I later learned that the race director did indeed decide that the competitors needed to come off the run course. They stopped the clocks and pulled everyone off the course until it was deemed safe to run again. Thank GOD I had made it to the finish line before any of this happened.
I wanted to write a little about how I've changed my race-day fueling and what a success that was for me, BUT I think I've clearly already written WAY too much for one blog. (If you stuck with me up to this point, thank you). So, I will spare you all the details and save it for another time. Let's just say I was NOT projectile vomiting as I witnessed one of the other competitors doing. Poor guy :( It's been a long time since I've seen vomiting at this level. I'm talking Herculean!!
In closing, I just want to throw out a big THANK YOU to all of the volunteers on course that day and to the community for all of the support at the race. BUT, since none of those people are probably actually reading my blog because I don't know them and they don't know me, I would also like to say thank you to all of you that sent me so many kind words and messages before the race.
"Winning has nothing to do with racing. Most days don't have races anyway. Winning is about struggle and effort and optimism, and never, ever, ever, giving up." --Amby Burfoot
Here's to never, ever, ever giving up,