This was my second go at Ironman Texas and fifth time racing an Ironman. Last time, 2013, was a brutal day that saw a high temperature of 91 degrees, high humidity, and a DNF rate of 17%. I couldn’t help but think signing up again was kind of a silly idea…However, I now live in Austin, only 2.5 hours from the venue, and I’d presumably be more heat acclimated (yeah, yeah, acclimatized) this time.
Our friends, Travis & Sarah, invited us out to stay at his parents’ house in The Woodlands for race weekend. This was incredibly helpful since we were only 1.5 miles from the lake, had homecooked meals, and laid back, easygoing people to hang out with! Janée and I would’ve been staying at a Motel 6 twenty miles away otherwise…
On Friday, we intended to ride to the practice swim, but this guy got a flat tire about 3min into the trip there. At least I got that out of the way before the race, right? We were already running a little late to the swim, so by the time we got there, it literally ended up being a 5 minute swim.
I have been disappointed with my swim split in each of my previous IMs after coming out of the water 5+ minutes slower than expected. Travis consistently swims close to an hour for Ironman distance, so I asked him if it would be alright to follow him into the water on race day to see if I could hang. I saw this as maximizing my chances of achieving the swim I was looking for (1:05 or under). He was totally okay with this and I was happy to learn that it wasn’t too difficult to stay on his feet during our short practice swim. It was announced that the water temperature was 81 degrees, so no wetsuit for this one.
Later on, we did a short ride to make sure everything was running smoothly, prepped our bags, and checked the bikes in. Dinner involved a ton of pasta and garlic bread for me (thanks, Falda!), and I was in bed around 10pm.
It rained all week leading up to this race and transition was an absolute mud-fest. After some thought, I decided I’d put my shoes on the bike and carry my socks and a towel to wipe my feet off before getting on my bike. I didn’t want to risk getting mud stuck in my cleats and I didn’t want to carry my shoes while wheeling my bike out of transition. After pumping the tires, adding nutrition, etc., I speed walked to the swim start, which is quite a hike. Time always seems to go twice as fast on race morning, and I found myself waiting in the bathroom line all stressed out about getting to where I wanted to start. After the bathroom, I went to morning clothes dropoff where I planned to meet Travis so we could line up for the swim together. Since I was feeling the pressure to get to the swim corral, I unsuccessfully looked for him for a short time before deciding I’d just look for him in the corral.
Rather than the usual mass swim start, this year they used a rolling start where they feed everyone into the water in a steady, continuous flow. Leading up to the swim entrance, there were people holding signs with projected swim times and where you lined up was self-seeded. Your time started as soon as you crossed a mat at the water’s edge. It was difficult to work my way up to the 1:00-1:10 section because all of the smart people were there already and there were fences on both sides. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find Travis, so I had to suck it up and be hell-bent on swimming what I knew I was capable of.
The map for this course shows that it’s a perfectly straight shot to the first turn buoy, but if you stand on the bridge overlooking the course, it is obvious it bends to the right. The straightest shot to the first buoy is to stay right, far from the guide buoys. I aimed for a piece of land on the west shore that stuck out, and after that, I sighted off the turn buoy.
Following this route, I had virtually no contact with other swimmers and it was smooth sailing the whole way. I would occasionally draft off someone who would slowly go by, but none of them worked out for particularly long either because I wasn’t happy with the route they had chosen or I simply couldn’t hang. After the second turn, someone next to me yelled my name – it was Travis! Ha! He just so happened to pass right by me during the swim, and I promptly got on his feet. This lasted probably less than five minutes until he pulled away, but what a great guy to risk a mouth-full of water just to get my attention.
I hugged the right shore all the way into canal, and we were in the homestretch. The canal is great because the spectators can see their swimmers, plus it’s relatively narrow, so you don’t need to sight often. Janée spotted me from the side (which is pretty easy with a red swimskin among mostly black ones) and I gave her a quick wave and that was a nice boost!
Before I knew it, I was climbing out of the water and, no joke, I was actually afraid to look at my watch after being disappointed so many times before. I worked up the nerve, glanced down, and saw 1:05…Yes! About damn time!
Official time: 1:05:48
Division rank: 34/257 = 13%
Overall rank: 210/2,587 = 8%
IM swim PR by 4:11
IMTX swim PR by 5:48
Transition was uneventful and so-so time-wise. I assume running through so much mud slowed us down a bit. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had pools of water at the transition exit and the volunteers were even holding athletes’ bikes; I didn’t need my towel after all. I sloshed my feet around in the pool, threw my socks on, grabbed my bike, and off I went.
It didn’t take long to realize that the wind must really be blowing from behind because it was easy to hold over 25mph at a pretty conservative effort. For the time being, I just focused on calories (4oz First Endurance EFS liquid shot + 1/4 Clif bar per hour), hydration, and patience – the name of the game at Ironman distance! Due to the rolling start plus my improved swim, I spent less time passing people this year and I was completely solo for long stretches with several miles between passes sometimes. I did encounter some other riders every now and then who were of similar fitness, which is out of the norm for me because I’m usually further behind out of the swim. I eventually caught up to people, though, and it took too much attention and mental energy to be sure I was at the legal distance (which is 5 bike lengths nowadays, fellas, not four!) so I always opted to continue on and find my own rhythm. This is what I thrive on – I can plug away solo at a steady effort for long periods of time and I enjoy it.
The high-speed outbound trend continued and I went through 56 miles in 2:16:19 – yeesh! The crosswinds during this westbound stretch were very bad (wind overall was definitely worse than 2013) and the focus turned toward mentally bracing myself for a battle in the second half when we’d be facing the wind. At first, it was quite bad in the wide-open country with little protection. As the course continues on, the trees become more prevalent, offering a little bit of relief. Don’t get me wrong – we certainly still had a headwind – but it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected after feeling the crosswinds mid-way.
Making the turn to the east at 90 miles, it starts to feel like you’re nearing the homestretch and it’s easy to forget you actually have around an hour left… I was very pleased, though, with how the speed was staying up and I knew it’d take an incredibly slow stretch to not PR this bike. No other riders were in sight for a lot of those final miles into The Woodlands, so it felt like I was far up in the race. Soon, there was fencing on both sides, which signaled that I was approaching the bike finish, but I was paying attention to race distance to determine when to start getting out of my shoes. Well before I expected it, holy crap, there was the bike dismount line just ahead. I managed to scramble and get one foot out, but I had to stop and unclip the other foot at the line and run with one shoe on me and one shoe on the bike, ha!
I got the bike distance at 111 miles instead of 112, which might be why I was so surprised to see the dismount line. I don’t know if that’d be the case if you actually measured the course with a wheel or something, but either way, I know it would’ve been a PR even if the GPS is spot-on.
Bike time: 4:43:09, 23.5mph
Division rank after bike: 3
Overall rank after bike: 41
IM bike PR by 7:04
Through the slip-and-slide-like transition I went, grabbed my bag, and entered the changing tent. I had two awesome volunteers helping me out and I asked one of them to dump water on my head two different times – it was so freaking hot in there. I took my time; I think I kind of needed to gather myself for what was about to begin.
I was out onto the run at 5:56 total time and the legs felt fine but I had to check myself when I saw the pace was 5:4X during the first 200m. Ha, after spending so much time at a higher speed on the bike, any pace on the run feels slow at first. After a first mile of 6:24, I made a quick bathroom stop in the second mile, which ended up at 7:02. I concentrated on keeping the HR around 150 for the first lap, but I noticed it seemed to be getting kind of “touchy.” This usually signals dehydration, which concerned me because it’s not easy to catch up on hydration. The average pace hovered at 6:40/mi for the first lap. I was content with this, but it was also a little slower than expected. In training, 6:20-6:30/mi is basically programmed into my legs at a similar HR. Around five miles in, I passed Lionel Sanders, who was on his second lap. This was a surprise, as the guy can run like the wind. He looked a little bit rough around the edges, but when I glanced back at his bike-lead, it said 2nd overall male. Oh wow. Perhaps this was going better than I realized.
As I approached the end of my first lap, I passed the overall leader at the time, Joe Skipper. He looked over as I passed and I made sure to let him know I was an age grouper because I can imagine there’s some anxiety that people are coming for you when you’re leading a huge race like that. Shortly after this, Matt Hanson took the lead from Joe and I could kind of hear it all going on behind me. I then expected Matt to absolutely blow by. He ran a course-record 2:41 here last year, after all. When he came up to me, the pace differential was small – another indicator, to me, that 1) this was going better than it seemed at the time, and 2) the heat/humidity was a huge factor and was slowing everyone down. I first matched his pace to tell him nice work and that he’s been an inspiration to me ever since he ran 2:59 there in 2013 as an amateur. To see him go from that only two years ago to now leading the Ironman North American Championship is simply amazing. Well, what I thought was going to be a brief period of time of me running near him turned into several miles. I was very conscious of the motorcycle/camera because I felt awkward about the whole situation – I figured all of the viewers were thinking, ‘Who’s this yahoo amateur thinking he can run with Matt-effing-Hanson?’
Now that I was very confident that I was dehydrated, I was absolutely loading up at the aid stations. Because of this, I would drop back from Matt a decent amount at every one, and then I would very gradually work my way to running near him again. I made a conscious effort to stay out of his bubble, let him do his thing, and try not to interfere at all. I sometimes even tried to get off to the side out of view, but it sure seemed like that camera guy was trying to keep me in the shot.
As we neared the end of my second lap, his last, he seemed to suddenly slow – I assumed that he was getting himself together for his turn for the finish: he removed the sponges, zipped up his tri suit, etc. When he slowed, I just went by to continue my race. It was funny to learn that someone on Slowtwitch said that I “surged” here….Until that point, that was the slowest mile of my race and I’m certain it was the slowest mile of Matt’s race.
My mantras during the third lap were ‘Just keep moving’ and ‘You can do this.’ The latter was a mental improvement from the second lap where some doubt started to creep in. You start thinking of excuses, what you might tell friends and family if you end up slowing a lot, etc. You’ve already begun to lose if this starts. Luckily, in the days leading up to the race, Janée made an effort to remind me that if I want to finish under 9 hours and run under 3 hours, it would probably require suffering. She pushed me to mentally prepare for it and to consider difficult scenarios. I believe this helped me in the very challenging, very painful third lap. You can do this. One step at time, one aid station at a time, one mile at a time. That, plus a lot of math after completing each mile to calculate what pace I had to run per mile to finish under 9 hours, is what pulled me through that last lap. I knew that if I did indeed get under 9 hours, there was a good chance I’d be in the top 3 amateurs overall. I had no idea where I actually was in the standings though – I knew I was probably chasing someone or a few people, but I didn’t know where, who they were, or how many.
Finally, I got to where I could hang a right where the arrow says, “Finish” instead of continuing on for another lap. At this point, there is about 1/4 mile left. For the first time during the run, a smile came across my face: I knew that I had done it – both sub 9 total time and sub 3hr run, and, even more exciting, I knew that I could soon *stop* and end the pain.
I entered the finishing chute and really took it in, allowing my absolute elation to uncharacteristically come through. I think I let out a few yells, slapped some hands, and as I crossed the finish, Mike Reilly said, “And here’s your first overall amateur finisher, Josh Terwoord, out of Austin, Texas!” That was the first time I heard where I was placed – yes! I worked the hardest I ever had in both training for this race and the race itself, and it paid off – 8:55:07.
Official run time: 2:58:52
Division rank: 1/257
Overall finish including pros: 12/2,587
Run rank: 1st amateur, 4th w/ pros
Right after finishing, a guy with a clipboard approached me and let me know he was with US Anti-Doping Agency and that I’d be drug tested. Ha, how exciting! In my eyes, it’s an honor to be drug tested because it means it was a good result and I’m glad that they’re making an effort to keep the sport clean. The “drug-testing chaperone” had to stay with me and escort me to where testing was, and luckily Janée could come with us.
During the walk over, I couldn’t believe how bad I was hurting – I was choked up in part from elation with my finish and partially from the pain. I hobbled over to a tent where the second amateur finisher, Tripp Hipple, was also waiting to be tested, as well as Leanda Cave and Lionel Sanders. We all chit-chatted a bit and I took in a ton of water and an hour and a half later, I was finally able to pee. Yes, the USADA representative had to enter the port-a-potty with me…Then I filled out some paperwork and was able to go celebrate!
Thanks so much to Bettina, my coach of over ten years now, for consistently pushing me with science-based training plans, building me up, believing in me, giving pep talks, everything. I can’t thank Janée enough for being there for me, keeping me honest with myself, knowing I can do it, and understanding what it takes day-to-day in training. Thank you to everyone who helped out along the way; Travis Rimel, Sarah McCarty, Falda & Larry Rimel, Meredith Gardner, Racelab, Jack & Adams, First Endurance, Rudy Project, Pactimo, Headsweats, Doctor Hoy’s, Skins, and Polar Bottle; and thanks to everyone for the well wishes and congrats pre- and post-race!