I asked for it, and I got it; the good, the bad, and the ugly at Ironman Texas.
After my crash in late February, my coach and I had to reevaluate my training plan. I had to take 11 days completely off of running and biking and was out of swimming for 6 weeks. I eventually gained all my fitness back and I was very confident going into IM TX. The crash was more or less a very painful blessing in disguise.
I also recently competed in a few road races. I did the 4 mile Trolley run and Kansas City Corporate Challenge 5k. The plan for both races was to train through them and just do them for fun and feel what it’s like to race again, even if it is just a road race. The day before Trolley, I did a 90 mile bike with the last 20 miles at tempo with a short transition run. On race day, I warmed up 7 miles, ran the 4 mile race (5:10, 5:14, 5:14, 5:12, for 20:48), then cooled down back to my car for a total 16 miles, which is my longest run since freshman year of college (nearly 8 years ago). I won’t go into detail about my displeasure of being outkicked at the finish line after running 4 miles alone into a headwind the entire time (point-to-point race), but needless to say, I wasn’t happy. KCCC 5k was 6 days later and I placed 3rd overall. I finished with a time of 16:38 for 3.17 miles, winning my age group and scoring maximum points for Black & Veatch.
In the weeks leading up to IM TX, I was very excited; beyond excited, in fact. I would get butterflies just thinking about it. I knew I was ready and was looking forward to the challenge and experiencing the good, bad, and ugly that comes with racing 140.6 miles. What’s odd, though, is that when I arrived in Houston, my nerves went away. Maybe it was seeing the expo, or transition area, or picking up my race numbers that made me realize that this is just another race. Yes, it’s an Ironman and a long day of racing, but ultimately, it’s just another triathlon. There’s still a swim, transition, bike, transition, and run. I actually saw this as a good thing. I think too many people can get too hyped up or excited for an Ironman and eventually negatively impact their race.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn after the race that I swam sub 1 hour and was 5th in my AG. After taking 6 weeks off to heal, and only having 6 weeks to get back into swim shape before the race, swimming was the one big question mark for me coming in to race day. I started off easy and just wanted to find a nice rhythm and plug away. Early on in the swim, I realized I was swimming next to my teammate Tim Perkin (who qualified for Kona! Congrats!!). I eventually tucked in behind him and other swimmers and caught a nice draft. My initial plan wasn’t to draft, but when you’re swimming next to 3 or 4 others at the same pace, it made sense to conserve some energy and draft off them since I have never swam 2.4 miles straight before. I lost touch with the group in the second half of the swim as my tiny runner arms started to get fatigued. I just tried to stay focused and keep pushing on, taking it buoy by buoy. Big thanks to Roka as their Viper swimskin was perfect for the non-wetsuit swim (80 degree water temp) and helped me to a sub 60 swim in my first 2.4 mile swim ever.
Way too slow compared to others. Whoops.
I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect heading into the bike. My longest bike rides prior to this were 101 and 100, and both trashed my legs for a few days. I wasn’t overly concerned as I figured the race setting and mindset would provide the additional boost I needed. I knew we’d have a tail wind for first half and head wind for the second half of the bike as it is one big loop heading north and west then south and east (SE wind). With that in mind, I made sure to start conservative and not burn too many matches early on. For a 5 hour bike, it was relatively uneventful. Thankfully I didn’t get a flat and really wasn’t around a ton of people to have the chance of getting a penalty, so here are some of the highlights. I played Picky Bar roulette for 3 of the 5 hours. My nutrition plan on the bike was to eat real food. I didn’t want to fill up on gels and chews as I was planning to use those for the run. Picky Bars have worked really well for me in training and they worked great again on race day. I divided each bar (All-In Almond, Blueberry Boomdizzle, and Cookie Doughpness) into 1/4ths, mixed them up pre-race in transition and grabbed 1/4th a bar every 15 minutes on the bike. If you followed on race day, you may have noticed that my second split for the bike was much slower than first. Well, I made a pit stop at mile 42. I know I know, all the experienced IM racers have told me many times you just have to go on the bike. I’ve tried, it doesn’t work, so a porta potty was best. It only cost me 1:15 as my Garmin said I went 5:00:01 for the bike leg but IM officially has me at 5:01:16. Lastly, around mile 90, I got a second wind and started feeling great. I wasn’t feeling bad by any means, but I started feeling really really good. Decided to pick it up a little bit and push it a little harder than anticipated the last 20. My watts stayed close to what I had been riding, but I easily picked off 10 riders in the last 20 miles. This definitely got me excited for the run. By the end of the bike, I could tell it was starting to really heat up and get very hot. My Garmin thermostat said it was 88 degrees. I was staying on top of my electrolytes, nutrition, and hydration during the bike in anticipation for the rising temperatures. I actually consumed more of all 3 of those than I originally planned.
Way too slow compared to others. Whoops.
Now the fun part, well, initially. Starting off the run, I remained calm, in control, and kept my pace easy. I went through the first mile in 6:49 and felt amazing with zero lingering tiredness in my legs from the bike. This wasn’t like last year at Kansas 70.3 where I felt amazing and knew I was going too fast for the first 3 miles but refused to slow down. I was in control, had a low HR, and most importantly to me, my legs felt fantastic. My excitement was high and I was eager for what was to come as I knew my fitness was there and I was ready for this marathon. Miles 2-7 were all in or around 7:1X pace even though if you followed on race day it says my first 7 miles were all in 6:5X pace, not sure how they got that since I only did 1 mile all day under 7 minutes. I was still feeling good by the end of lap 1, sure legs and hips were starting to ache some, but that’s expected and it wasn’t anything unmanageable at all. My sister and dad told me I was 10th off the bike in my AG but had moved up to 5th after the first lap. Perfect. Exactly what I wanted to hear and knew I could make up more ground on lap 2 and 3 since I was still feeling pretty good. Miles 8-10 all slowed to the 7:4X range. I thought it was odd as I wasn’t hurting pace wise nor was I cramping at all but didn’t think too much about it. Shortly after though, I had to walk for the first time. Miles 13-18 were brutal and I walked 90% of them. I would try to run but that would only last for 30-60 seconds before I had to walk again. I wanted to run, mentally I was still there, but I physically just couldn’t run, my body wouldn’t let me as it was so depleted of electrolytes. I wasn’t even trying to run fast anymore, I just wanted to run 10 minute pace and I physically could not do it. I finally stopped at Aid Station 1 at mile 18 and sat down, told a volunteer who came over that I was done. Fortunately, she wasn’t going to let that happen, and in hindsight I’m thankful she didn’t let me. What I’m most disappointed in is the fact that quitting crossed my mind. I knew deep down that there was no way I was going to give up. That’s not an accurate reflection of who I am as an athlete or as a person. I was staring straight in the face of another 2.5 hours of walking at the current state I was in and based on the pace I went the previous 4 miles. I just needed time to reflect, to take off Salazar Slytherin’s horcrux locket I was apparently wearing, get Lord Voldemort’s conniving thoughts out of my head and refocus. Besides, I’m too competitive and too passionate to just give up. I’d be letting down my family, friends, teammates, coach, and myself by taking the easy road and just turning in my timing chip. My fitness or the pain of running a marathon after swimming and biking wasn’t the problem; it was the heat and humidity causing me to stop sweating and have a severe imbalance in electrolytes that was forcing me to walk and have irrational thoughts. As it turns out, after talking with 2 doctors, I found out that I was on the far side of heat exhaustion and borderline having a heat stroke. No medical attention was needed as is with most heat strokes, but no longer sweating despite a 94 degree heat index, nausea, splitting headache, couldn’t handle much food or drink — all symptoms of a heat stroke. So in hindsight, sitting down in the shade for almost 20 minutes to cool down a bit was the smart move. In fact, after I started running again, I hit an 8:39. Whoa, where did that come from? This won’t take 2.5 hours; it could take like 80 minutes, sweet! Next mile, 7:58. Wait, was that a 7 at the beginning of that? Next mile, 7:12. Dude, this is exactly how I should have been feeling at mile 21, keep rolling. Unfortunately, the good vibes and pace slowed around 23 miles and I was resorting back to the walk run method again. When I was feeling good (20-22) I was consciously checking my face and arms for sweat and I was getting a lot of it. However, when the pace slowed, it started to become very spotty and non-existent in places again. I just tried to keep it together and make it to the finish line, which I thankfully did in 4:28:43 (Garmin says 4:09:01 because I stopped my watch when I sat down at mile 18).
Not the result I was looking for, but overall, very happy I finished my first Ironman. I have a new level of confidence and I know I will do another (maybe soon).
First, I have to thank my family for supporting me throughout my journey and doing a better job of managing the heat and humidity race day than I did. Thanks to Every Man Jack and all our fabulous sponsors that helped me out in training and the race: Roka, Enve, GU, Louis Garneau, Rudy Project, Felt, NormaTec, Boco Gear; couldn’t have made it through all the hours of training and racing without top quality products and support. It was great to meet with the Roka and GU reps at the expo prior to the race. A huge thanks to all my teammates racing TX IM and their families cheering for me out there and supporting me through my struggles on the run course. Many thanks to Elite Cycling for making sure my bike was mechanically sound for race day. To all the volunteers at IM TX, thank you, especially to Sarah and Greg who helped get me back on my feet and finish the race. To everyone who texted me and followed me on race day, thank you so much for the support. Thank you Barney Butter and Health Warrior Chia Bars. Quality, healthy food is always key with the amount of training required for IM’s. And finally, thanks to my coach, Ryan, for adjusting training plan after crash and getting me in great shape heading into the race. Sorry I couldn’t produce the race you and I know I’m capable of. I’m currently in discussion with my coach to figure out what races I’ll do the rest of the season. I will hopefully have something updated after the Memorial Day weekend.