2015 Ironman Texas Race Report – 1st Amateur!

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.

Pre-race

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.

Race Day

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.

The Swim

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.

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Left purple line is the first stretch of the swim

Left purple line is the first stretch of the swim sighting off the point of land

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!

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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

The Bike

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.

Photo credit: Meredith Gardner - thanks!

Photo credit: Meredith Gardner

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!

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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

The Run

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?’ 

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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.

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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.

Photo credit: Nick Morales

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!

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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!

Ironman Texas Race Report, 5/18/2013

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.

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The Race

Swim:

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:

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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.

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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

Bike:

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…

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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

Run:

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.

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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.

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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%

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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.