While it probably wasn’t the most ideal pre-race situation to involve driving a total of nearly 1,400 miles to get to the race, I think it worked out well and most importantly, saved us a heck of a lot of money over flying. My wife and I drove with Ashley Robota in her car (thanks Ashley!) and she raced as well, her 7th Ironman actually!
We got to The Woodlands, TX before noon on Thursday, went to packet pickup, and then headed out to a section of the course for a short brick workout. I was actually happy with the location we chose because it was right at the 90 mile mark of the bike where the course turns from south to east. With the race day forecasted wind to be out of the south at 10-20mph, that 90 mile turn would presumably be a welcome sight at the end of 25 miles of straight headwind. The legs felt great for the 40min ride and the base 3mi run averaged 6:15s, but it was certainly noticeable how freakin’ humid it was! I don’t think I’ve ever dripped like crazy like that in just a 40min ride.
On Friday, we did an 800m open water swim at the race site and I was stoked I was able to stay on Ashley’s feet without very much trouble because she swam 1:01 at Ironman Arizona. If only I could follow her feet for all of the race’s swim (a virtual impossibility when you’re starting with 2,000+ other people at the same time…)! We checked in our bikes and T1 and T2 bags and the rest of the day I focused on resting up and hydrating like crazy. I even got in a wicked good 90min nap.
I got in the water, oh, 3 minutes before starting after *barely* making it into a porta-potty shortly before the start. The ONLY race I’ve ever been to that had enough porta-potties was the Boston Marathon:
I lined up pretty far right and more than anything else, felt excited for the day ahead. Serious violence ensued when the cannon went off and it was pretty gnarly for a while there. Less than a minute in, one of the hundreds of flailing hands around me managed to pull down the zipper on my swimskin. Ah, crap. It was WAY too crowded at this point to stop to try to zip it up unless I felt like drowning from being run over by the masses. I would guess I was close to 800m in when I was finally able to successfully zip it up, and I definitely felt it catching water up to that point. Freakin’ A man! The rest of the swim was smooth and the last 800-900m were in a pretty narrow canal, which was neat because of all the spectators and easy for sighting.
I got out of the water at 1:11 and I was mildly okay with that. It was a minimum of a two minute improvement over my other two Ironman races, it was without wetsuit, and I assume I was slowed that first half mile. It was still at least four minutes slower than I think I should be swimming for that distance based on training and my half iron swim times. I plan to practice more open water swimming this year.
Swim time – 1:11:36
Overall – 369 of 2,046 = 18%
Out of 30-34 age group – 59 of 285 = 20%
T1 – 3:19
Transition was uneventful and I was excited to head out for a 5hr jaunt on the ol’ hobby horse. After I was settled in, it became clear that things were moving along pretty quickly for the effort level and the average speed hovered around 24mph all the way through 50 miles. The course is one lap and heads in a NNW direction on the way out and in a SSE direction on the way back. Given the wind forecast, I did expect the way out to be quite fast and I hoped the average wouldn’t dwindle TOO much on the return trip into the wind. The hills were rolling at worst and I went through 56 miles/half way in 2:21, nice! Due to my swimming prowess, I had plenty of folks to pass in the first half and the number of people to pass started to drop in the second half. I mainly kept the focus on drinking plenty and sticking to my nutrition plan. The headwind in the second half was not as bad as expected and also more variable than expected. The spring in Flagstaff is incredibly windy though (gusts above 40mph are pretty standard) so that may have helped me desensitize a bit.
After the aforementioned turn (brick workout) to the east at 90 miles, the road ahead was suddenly wide open – not a rider to catch in sight. I saw this as a good sign as I had probably moved myself pretty far up in the overall field. This stretch was the hottest but I expected to feel this warm much earlier in the ride. As far as being completely alone with no one to pass, I also saw this as a good thing because I do the vast majority of my 5+ hour rides completely solo. I was perfectly comfortable just plugging away with no external stimulus. In the final 10 miles or so, there were a lot more turns than I thought the course map had shown, but it kept it interesting.
My thoughts turned to T2 and I realized I didn’t know if we were allowed to get out of our bike shoes before getting off the bike – we weren’t allowed to leave the shoes on the bike for T1 and I failed to check the rules on T2. I ended up asking the last couple of guys that I passed whether they knew if it was okay and they all seemed confident it was fine, which turned out to be correct. I thought I had a sub 4:50 split in the bag based on pace and distance to go and I hopped off the bike right around 4:50:10 – ha! I probably lost those 10 seconds asking people about that shoe rule…
I really enjoyed this course; the greener areas, scents, and humidity reminded me of my home state of Ohio, the road was much smoother than I expected, the trip through the National Forest was AWESOME, and it was great to only have one big loop instead of an out and back or multiple laps.
Bike time – 4:50:13 (23.16mph)
Overall place after bike – 59 of 2,046 = 3%
Number passed during bike – 310
Age group place after bike – 14 of 285 = 5%
Bike split – 8th overall amateur
T2 – 2:19
The legs felt so-so immediately off the bike and they felt great after transition, which I got pretty excited about. Just like in Kona, I had to hold back quite a bit to run a little under 7min/mi pace and I averaged right around 6:50/mi for the first of three laps. At the end of that first lap, Janée informed me I was 15th in my age group off the bike and the leader, James Chesson, was 20 minutes ahead. Holy crap. That was a blow to the confidence. I did a poor job of pushing the negative thoughts out for the majority of the second lap and the pace lagged quite a bit. But, at the end of that second lap, Janée told me I was now in 5th – Heck yes! That alone made me feel better and Janée could even tell a few minutes later when she saw me again.
The competitive drive (instead of feeling sorry for myself) came back and I was looking at calves for all of the final lap, hoping the 30-34 AGers I was passing were on the same lap as me. I was still suffering quite badly though, and my only explanation for my poor pace (relative to what I know I’m capable of) was simply that the heat was taking its toll. The high temp for the day (likely while I was running) was 91 degrees and the average humidity for the day was 75%, putting the heat index between 98 and 100 degrees. It’s funny, you’d think you’d be super excited to get to the 20 or 22 mile marker of a race so long since you’re practically in the homestretch with “only” 4-6 miles to go, but at the time, it feels and sounds awfully, awfully far.
I knew I was no further back than 5th in my age group during the last lap because no one passed me, but I signed up for this (incredibly expensive) race specifically to try to get a Kona/Ironman World Championship slot again. I also knew there was a possibility my age group would only have four slots, and there was a lot of uncertainty of whether I passed anyone from my age group since the end of the second lap when Janée told me I was 5th. I basically knew I was on the cusp and I was suffering so incredibly badly simply trying not to slow down. I saw Janée again less than two miles from the finish and she told me I was still in 5th. Ugh, seriously!? I really had been praying that I passed a few during that lap, but it turns out I hadn’t. I thought I may not have another shot at Kona this year afterall. The focus turned to getting to the finish without stopping and as fast as my body would allow. In the last half mile or so, I passed two guys that were in my age group and they were both walking. I thought, ‘Eh, they’re probably on a different lap’…I finally got to make that turnoff that said “Finish –>” instead of “<– Laps 2 & 3” and I found myself in the longest freakin finishing chute in the world, with a cruel section that passed right by the finish line before you had to run a few hundred meters away from the finish, make a 180 degree turn, and then you were finally facing the finish and the true final chute.
Afterward, a few folks sent texts to Janée saying that I was 3rd in my AG when we thought for sure I had gotten 5th and possibly no Kona slot. It turns out I was, in fact, 3rd – the two guys that I passed in the last half mile were on the same lap! I couldn’t believe it and I had surely clinched another slot to Kona. I was also extremely pleased to have placed 7th overall amateur.
Run time – 3:08:13
Finish time – 9:15:43
Overall place at finish – 7th amateur, 21st with professionals of 2,046 finishers = 1%
Number passed during run – 52
Age group place at finish – 3 of 285 = 1%
Run split – 5th overall amateur
DNF rate – 17%
Some cool stats from runtri.com: Ironman Texas 2013 Results Analysis
I’m really pleased with how this race turned out considering the extreme heat and humidity and having to train through the winter and our cool spring to prepare for it. I’m also stoked I met my #1 goal of qualifying for Kona again and I can’t wait to have another shot at that race!
A huge thank you to everyone who helped me while preparing for this race, especially:
My incredibly supportive, understanding, amazing wife, Janée; my coach of nearly 9 year now, Bettina Warnholtz (Racelab); the constant support and encouragement of my parents, Joe and Cindi, and my sister Kaylee; Kym Wilkens for taking care of my (previously) seriously messed hamstrings; Stephanie Del Giorgio for a fantastic race week massage; Allie Nath for letting me borrow all kinds of things…; Frank Smith for letting me borrow more things; Ana Carlson for coming all the way to Texas just to support Ashley and I; Ashley Robota for letting us drive out with her; Alex Kaufman for stellar text updates to Janée during the race; Triple Sports, Rudy Project, First Endurance, Pactimo, Nathan HPL, Doctor Hoy’s, Guayaki, Polar Bottle, Michelob Ultra, Genuine Innovations, Skins, and Ceepo.