Saturday, June 1, 2013

Massive and Awesome IronMan Texas Race Report

So where to even start?

I guess I’ll start with the truth, which is, simply, that I had such a fantastic day I doubt that I will even begin to do it justice in this race report. Sure there were times during the day where I felt like I was on fire, literally, and there were times where I felt nauseous, and tired and sore, but throughout the day, and in the end, I had the best time ever. So now that I’ve given away the ending, let’s roll this thing all the way back to the very beginning and I’ll get started telling my story.

Well, actually one more detail before the story.  I need to thank the very best wife and IronFan - Cath! Thanks for supporting me in all of this and thanks for spending all day out here in the hot sun cheering me on and taking pictures. I love you the most. Also, thanks to Sarah and Ben and the kids for their cheering as well. Love you guys! Ok, so now the story.

My last days of taper were focused on two details, packing and confirming my nutrition calculations. I have always packed in piles and I saw no reason to treat this trip differently. Right from the start I had a pile for each of swim, bike, run and nutrition. I also had my street clothes pile, which included the things I would need for the vacation portion of this trip.

 My bike packing went smoothly, after a momentary melt-down about the bike case that I borrowed being too big. It was not and everyone at @SouthWestAir was super friendly and helpful regarding the bike.

My nutrition confirmation also involved quite a bit of hand-wringing. I think the stress of the event was starting to really get to me during those last days of taper. Obviously, I’ve been thinking about and practicing my nutrition plan during my training. The wrinkle and the source of stress, was that I had been training in 50 – 70 degree weather and I would be racing in 90+ degree weather. Thus, I wanted to make sure that I would have enough liquids on board to not get dehydrated. Of course the good news with extra liquids was that meant I could plan on fewer solid calories. As is typical for me, I totally over worked the planning on this, but I came away feeling prepared which was comforting.
The flight to Houston was uneventful. TSA opened my bike case, but managed to get everything put back without too much issue. Getting everything and everyone into my daughter’s car proved to be quite the challenge, but we managed.

The first order of business once we arrived at the house was to build my bike and get it to the local shop for a quick check. The guys at West End Bikes were great. They even identified and fixed a couple of problems that were leftover from my training ride crash the week before. I had gone over everything after the crash, but it turns out I missed some important details. No worries though, West End took care of it.

Thursday I drove up to The Woodlands to check-in and walk through the expo. Check-in was quick and efficient and the swag was pretty good.  The expo was kind of underwhelming, but I guess I really had no idea what to expect, so maybe that was just me. I can say for sure that if you can put an M-dot on it, they had it for sale somewhere in there!

Friday started with the on-course swim. This is the first time I’ve actually participated in this type of pre-swim and I found it helpful. The water was darker than my previous open water swims and there was more chop as well. Neither turned out to be an issue, but getting to experience both before the crush of a mass start was a good thing! After the swim I got in a quick ride and run and then I checked my gear into transition. Once this was done, there was nothing left to do but wait!

My transition bags, all layed out before I started to fill them up with my stuff. 

My bike and bags, ready to head out to transition. 

My little corner in transition!

Did I mention that it was Hot!

Saturday morning started nice and early with breakfast and then the drive back up to The Woodlands. Cath and I struggled a bit with traffic and parking, but really it went pretty smoothly. I found my way back to transition, added nutrition to my bike and my run bag and then we started the long walk over to the start. We stopped on the bridge just long enough for me to point out the details of the swim course for Cath so that she could try and take a couple of pictures later.

We waited together in the line for body marking and then I handed off my shoes and shirt and I got into line to get into the water. I was trying to focus all of my mental energy on execution and having fun. I was still in line when the pros went off, so I had a pretty good view. Very exciting!

T-minus 10 minutes and counting! After almost a year of training, the victory lap was about to begin. I managed to get past the choke point at the swim entrance and then I doubled back onto the sidewalk on the lake side of the fence so that I could stretch some more before I got into the water. I remember that they played the national anthem while I was standing there stretching, but the actual timing of it all is a little blurry. I think I finally got into the water at about five minutes to seven. I swam around a bit, tried to relax and clear my head and then I worked my way to where I wanted to start. I was still thinking calm, peaceful thoughts when the cannon went off and my victory lap began. Holy shit, I’m actually doing an IronMan!

I had a couple of goals for the swim – finish and work hard enough to know you’re in a race but not too hard as to burn out early. I was successful on both counts. The swim was crowded, but not in a violent or painful way. I swam up on many people and people swam up on me as well but in my experience it was all handled in a friendly, sorry about that, sort of way that brought with it a sense of common purpose and good feelings. It was nothing like the IM swim horror stories that I had heard. Although I am not a good swimmer, ha, I have always been calm and comfortable in the water. I think the biggest reason for this is my background in whitewater kayaking. Compared to being in a kayak, upside down, in a class IV rapid, the IM swim was calm and peaceful. Of course I ended up at the back of the pack pretty quickly, so I can’t speak to what it was like up front.

Goal Time – 1:30. Actual Time – 1:34:30. A little slower that I would have liked but hey, I’m out of the water and on my way to the bike! Winning.

I didn’t really have a goal for T1 other than just getting it done. I had packed a complete set of bike clothes on the chance that I might want to change, but I decided against it.  There was no particular reason behind that decision and I had ridden plenty of training rides in my tri-suit so I was not worried about it, but it did take a minute or two to actually decide. This turned out to be a mistake from a sunburn standpoint, so next time I will need to take that into account.

I put on my socks, shoes, helmet and gloves and started out to my bike, stopping only for a massive helping of sunscreen, slathered on by a truly helpful volunteer.

Goal Time – None. Actual Time 7:20. About what I expected and I’m ok with that.

I never saw Cath take this picture, even though she was screaming my name and cheering!

I’ve not looked at year over year data or course vs. course data, but I believe that the IMTX bike course is both easy and fast. That’s not to say there are no challenges – there are, but I’m guessing it’s one of the fastest of the Iron distance bike routes, even in 95 degree heat and wind. Probably the biggest challenge is the mental restraint required to hold back during the out section which is almost entirely with the wind. If you can manage this, you set yourself up for a good ride and a good day.  However, if you miss this, well basically, you can totally screw yourself.

I love the quote that an Ironman Triathlon begins at mile 18 of the run. I thought a lot about this both in training and on race day and I think it served me well.  However, it did not stop me from going out too fast on the bike! But seriously, how could I not - I felt good and I was turning in 14 minute splits! Fortunately, I recognized this trap early and I was able to make corrections before I did any serious damage to my day.

The other key to the IMTX bike course, in my mind, is miles 60 – 80. This section of the course is almost straight into the wind and it starts to separate the stronger riders. In this section, I tried to keep under the wind and ride small and aero. I think I was pretty successful, but I still need to crunch the numbers. I can say that my new bike and wheels are THE BOMB! This upwind section would have killed me on my road bike, so I’m super glad that I made the investment.

Generally my ride went well.  I did finally dial back my effort on the out and I settled into a nice manageable pace.  I was taking two bottles at each aid station and using them to fill my front bottle, which was empty by the time I reached nearly every station.  I took a few good sips of straight water and then I used my onboard, concentrate-bottle to replace what I just drank. My concentrate-bottles are Skratch Labs, Secret Drink Mix (SDM) that I mixed at ~6x normal strength.  Between the two bottles, I was able to carry 192 ounces worth of SDM at normal concentration.  I figured this was more than enough to get me through the day, especially since I was also drinking some straight water at each station. In addition to the SDM, I had a few homemade rice cakes.  I tried to eat some of the rice cakes on my way into the aid stations so that I could wash them down with the straight water I was drinking.

This nutrition plan worked out very well. I had not been able to train in anything close to 95 degree weather, so my total hydration needs were a mystery and thus required an educated guess; with any error coming on the over hydrate side.  The sodium balance of SDM works really well for me, so I was not worried about hyponatremia. I drank all of both of my concentrate-bottles during the ride, so I’m happy with the result.

I did have a couple of issues on the bike, but nothing really serious. I started to feel nauseous at about mile 90. I was able to resolve the nausea if I got up out of aero, or if I stopped drinking. I probably could have stopped drinking, or at least slowed down, but since I was not sure, I figured it was safer to ride a mix of aero and not while continuing to drink. One mistake that I made was not driving the final 20ish miles of the bike course. I drove nearly the entire course on Thursday, but I was running late, so I skipped the leg from Tamina Road back into The Woodlands. I don’t know if I would have recognized it on the drive or not, but from mile 100 to 112 I felt like I was making 90 degree turns almost constantly. I was not ready for this and combined with the ongoing nausea issue, I found it mentally draining. Note to self, next time be sure to drive the entire course and be sure to think like a tired biker when you hit mile 90!

One other note about the bike, or more specifically the officials monitoring the bike. From a drafting perspective, there were only ~20 miles of the bike course that mattered: miles 60 through 80. If this were my race to run, I would have had every single bike official out watching that 20 mile stretch and I would have ignored the rest of the course. I can’t remember how many times I was passed by LARGE TRAINS OF WHEEL SUCKING BIKERS in this section, but it was at least five. This was very frustrating. Other than that, I think the officials did a great job.

Goal Time 6:00:00. Actual Time 5:58:51. Under my goal time and also under my HIM bike split doubled. Without the nausea issues, I think I could have taken 10 or more minutes off of this time, so plenty of room for improvement.

I hit the dismount line, walked/ran my bike up over the sidewalk into transition and handed it off to one of the many super-nice volunteers. I walked the rest of the way around, through bag pickup and then towards the changing tent. I stopped to pee, since I really had to go and since I figured that was contributing to my nausea. Then I hit the tent and tried to decide my next move. Again, I had packed a full change of clothes and again, I skipped using them. I changed my shoes, put on my water belt, race belt, visor and sunglasses and I was off. Oh, I also put a swipe of body glide on each side of my chest to prevent chafing during the run. Unfortunately, the body glide had been sitting in the sun all day in my run bag, so when I wiped it across my chest, I ended up applying a much more liberal dose than I expected.

One final note, just like on the bike, I had concentrated bottles of SDM for the run in my run bag. These too sat in the sun all morning and when I finally got back to them, they were super-hot! I should have expected this and packed some ice or something, but I did not, so for the first few miles I had hot orange drink. Yuck. Next time I'll freeze the bottles the night before, duh!

Goal Time None. Actual Time 10:40. I have no freaking clue how I spent 10 minutes and 40 seconds in T2! All I did was change my shoes and pee. Clearly I need to think about that for next time.

I knew that I would start to feel better as soon as I got off of the bike and that is exactly what happened.  The nausea was gone by the time I hit the first aid station. Unfortunately, my heart rate data was also gone! Turns out that body glide is not a good conductor and the excess body glide from my chest melted in the heat and ran down into my heart rate strap, rendering it useless. Whoops, lesson learned. So now I’m doing my first ever marathon, in an IronMan, on a 95 degree day based on RPE, with no independent data/feedback. Yikes!

No worries, I’ll just listen to my body and run at a pace that “feels” right.

So that’s what I did, although I think I also included a pretty big safety factor, since finishing was the real goal. I walked only the aid stations, and then only enough to refill my hand bottle and maybe drink some coke. Otherwise, I ran the rest of the run. I felt good and I was passing people. Actually, I was passing lots of people. What was really satisfying was that on my third lap, I knew that every person I passed was a person I was going to beat! I’m not normally competitive like that, but after almost 12 hours of moving forward, beating people felt pretty darn good.

In the end, I felt good for the entire run and I was even able to increase my pace quite a bit once I hit mile 21.  My split for mile 24 was only three seconds over my split for mile two and my split for miles 21-26 was my fasted five mile split of the day.  I’m really happy about this as I think it points to strong planning and execution.

Notes on the run course – I loved it! The crowd was great, but what really helped me the most was the fact that it was three laps. This made planning and execution much easier. There were no surprises hidden anywhere in the last 16 miles since I had already run them at least once before! I also loved the fact that I got to see my family multiple times during the run, which was really motivating.

Goal Time 4:00 – 4:30 depending on the heat. Actual Time 4:44:39. Not quite where I wanted to be, but pretty darn good regardless. Moving forward I want to see if I am over estimating my abilities when it comes to run goals or if this was a function of the heat and my focus on finishing not finishing fast.

Final Numbers – 12:36:00, 607th overall and 77th age group! Bam!

Right after the finish and still feeling pretty good. 

About 20 minutes later and I'm starting to crash a bit. Nothing major, just needed to chill and get something to eat. 

The Good
Everything! I am so happy with the way the day turned out. I hope I’ve been able to communicate that in this piece. I hit nearly all of my goals, missing only my stretch goal of finishing at or under 12 hours. I really did have a fantastic day. Cath and Sarah and Ben and the kids were great IronFans. They cheered loud during the run and they took pictures and they were there at the finish. Did I mention that I had a great day?

I’m working on another post with a deeper look at the numbers, but I will say here that I passed a shitload of people on the bike and run! Almost 1000, to be exact! Some of this is due to the fact that I came out of the water in 1601st place overall, but mostly it’s due to the strong planning and execution in the ride and run.

The Bad
Not driving the entire bike course. This was a beginner mistake that I will not make again. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have even noticed the turn, turn, turn nature of the last 12 miles anyway. Feeling sick late on the bike was a drag, but somehow I just knew I would feel better as soon as I stood up. Running without HR data was also a drag, but I managed to make it work. I don’t know if I would have been any faster, but I would have more data to crunch for my post-race analysis.

The Ugly
Sunburn. Yup, that’s the only area where I totally failed and I really don’t understand it.  I applied sunscreen myself and I had volunteers apply it several times as well. I knew it would be an issue, but I thought I had it under control. I did not. Next time I will think differently about clothing choices and I will make an even greater effort on the sunscreen front.

So there you have it, I got to hear the magic words, “Clark Mitchell, You Are an IronMan!” I lived to tell about it and I had such a good time I will almost certainly go again.

Oh, and when we got home, Lizzie made an amazing IronCake for us all to celebrate!

How about you? How was your last race? Did you have fun? Will you go again?

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