I figured it best to allow a day or two to decompress the physical and emotional madness that was Ironman Texas 2016 before deciding what to put down in writing for a race report. So much to consider,… The last minute swim course change from flooding in the canal that led to a 2 Transition race. The highly anticipated, debated and MEME’d 95 mile bike course that included 83 turns, creating immense draft packs, resulting in penalty tents filled with age groupers and pros, three times capacity. The craziest transformation of a run course I’ve ever experienced, from heat stroke to hypothermia in a flash, that left competitors stranded and unaware what to do, divided between finishing or taking refuge from the elements for significant safety concerns. Or the spirit of the athletes and volunteers who overcame it all to make the best of what the day could throw at them.
Ironman Texas was intended to be a retribution race for me after backing out in 2015 due to injury. I wanted to see how I would do with an early season Ironman, having traditionally raced late Summer Full’s that had me feeling beaten up after early season success. In addition I was encouraged by multiple friends/teammates who committed to pulling the trigger in 2016, as well as a good friend in Houston who offered a bed to sleep on and transportation to and from Houston to the Woodlands (thanks again Shawna and Chris!).
The drama began about a month out from race day when it was determined a bike course was yet to be established, later found out due to a districts rejection, but then exasperated by torrential flooding that wreaked havoc on the Woodlands and left transition under water. The comments and MEME’s that ensued on the Facebook group – Ironman Texas 20XX were enough to impact productivity at work for weeks.
Adding insult to injury Ironman was forced to change the swim course the day before due to flooding in the canal. This meant a quick adjustment to add a separate T1 at Northshore Park, about a mile from T2 (adding back another mile to the 18 mile short bike course J ). A flash flood warning, ensuing rain, wind and even hail was the final steak that quite literally blew the top off this race. They say if you don’t like the weather in Texas wait 5 minutes. The truth to this statement was never so obvious as when the sky opened up on the last loop of the run course unleashing hell –
The honest truth is although I wish any of these variables had been justification for my performance I cannot make excuses. In the end it was most likely the unavoidable heat and humidity that did me and almost everyone I knew out there in.
Swim (1:06:26 non-wetsuit) 28th
My goal for the swim was simple – don’t leave any unnecessary energy in the water. I wanted the day to be a bike, run instead of the traditional swim, bike, run with a relaxed 1 hour wetsuit/1:05 non-wetsuit swim. I was thankful to my swim coach Gerry Rodrigues and all the work we’ve been doing at Tower26, along with some added speed in my new Roka swim skin to exit the water in 1:06 feeling fresh and ready to go. Nothing really note worthy about the swim course except that the 83 degree water temp was much hotter than I have ever experienced before. Although it felt good it may have helped contribute tomy downward dehydration spiral. Humidity at the swim start = 100%.
Bike (4:13:07 22.6mph) 34th
I learned a couple lessons here. Immediately as I pedaled out on the bike I noticed my left piaraformus seize up (realizing I had skipped my typical pre-race warmup/stretches). The pain only got worse and worse until I decided “F-it, I’m not going to let this happen to me in a 3rd Ironman!” I stopped my bike, handed it to a volunteer and lied down on my back to stretch both sides for a good 20 seconds each. The pain went away!! Lesson #1 – It’s never worth it to suffer for hours to save a few seconds. If something can be fixed take the time to fix it.
My plan was simple, 220 watts avg (I knew my lap avg would be less due the turns but wanted to focus on my 10 sec avg and max). My power goal was only intended to be secondary to my HR which I wanted to keep at or below 150bpm. In all my training I had found HR at or below 150bpm at that power, some mornings in the 130’s. Today it was immediately in the 160’s. I hoped it would go down but it didn’t, it only grew higher, up into the 170’s for the last hour plus. At that high HR it is almost impossible for me to consume nutrition efficiently. I knew my race was screwed, but I thought I would keep going to turn a decent bike split, despite my uncharacteristically high HR and relatively low power. I fuelled meticously and kept my sleeves, jersey and head cool with water from every aid station, and despite my HR felt ok, until about the last couple miles.
Lesson #2 – Ironman pelotons. I don’t know what the lesson was here. I have never seen so much blatent drafting before but the 83+ turns brought everyone together into what seemed like a first 40 mile criterion, before the race officials penalized as many riders as they could grab. I remember hearing “once you enter the draft zone you have no more than 10 seconds to pass” but there were more than 30 riders strung together, were we expected to move up all 30 at once?? Ahead of the pack I was at 300 watts, inside about 170 watts. Only reasonable option was to drop off and let everyone pass. This did not seem acceptable. Though I was one of the few not to receive a penalty I am guilty. Funny thing is that I was caught again by the same wave that served their penalty less than an hour later. Seemed like no real penalty after all considering.
As I got to transition and approached the dismount line I leaned down to unstrap my right cleat and my left side seized up from calf to hamstring. I could only take one food out, leaving the other shoe on. As I raised my right leg over the saddle at the line everything south of my waist cramped up. I knew I was done. I had to stand there for a stretch of time that felt like forever while some cheered and some laughed. I finally passed my bike to a volunteer and hobbled into transition.
Run (5:58 LOL)
I had passed two friends on the bike that I knew were coming up so I decided to take my time and wait so I had someone to hobble with. The dialog between me and my buddy Tim on the Bike with about 10 miles left going like this –
Me – Holy #$!@, Tim Maxon, how you doing??
Maxon – I’m completely $#%ed, how about you??
Me – About to blow up any second!! See you later.
Leaving T2 we jogged side by side the first 4 miles or so before I decided to see what I had left in the tank. It wasn’t much but it got me about one full lap of slow jogging. I sat down under a tent at mile 10 and waited, attempting to get any nutrition down until Maxon appeared again. My pee was a mutant green and glowing so I knew my body was on the verge of something spectacular it had never done before.
We instituted a 0.1 mile walk to 0.2 mile shuffle for another 4 miles before bumping into a fellow Tower26’er and female pro friend EK who was coming in on her 3rd and final lap. I decided I would help run her in despite my state and managed 3 or 4, 8 minute miles side by side. To my disbelief, even at an 8min/mile my HR was in the 180’s building to 191 before I completely lost it and let her finish. After that short effort I was so destroyed that there was nothing left but to hobble the last 10 miles.
My buddy Tim and I met up again and agreed to walk until we couldn’t any more, deciding that as long as nothing became dangerous (injury wise) we would continue for as long as it would take. As we began our 3rd and final lap the sky turned black and lightning started striking before the sky opened up with torrential rain and wind following with hail. It was so bad we decided to take shelter under a tent, helping to keep it down with 4 other volunteers by holding on for fear of it blowing away. At a point we even took refuge in separate porta-potties from the hail. It turned so cold we were both shivering, freezing from the rain. Luckily we found a couple garbage bags and hobbled along through inches of resting water.
The mental gravity of 10 miles walking no faster than 17 min/mile was simply moronic, but we did it. Only the last quarter mile did we “race” which must have looked ridiculous, but despite the pain it was fun. The day before we had said how great it was to come together to do races like this, followed by the exclamation 24 hours later “NEVER AGAIN!!”. Still, in hindsight it wasn’t quite so bad, perhaps I’ve repressed some of the anguish, but somehow grateful to have finished considering the circumstances.
The definition of insanity is completing the same action over and over with the expectation of a different outcome. Saturday was my 6th attempt at the Full distance with at least 4 bad experiences and slower times in each of the last 3. When I competed in my first Ironman, Lake Placid 2011, I hadn’t done a single century, never ran off the bike, was a nutritional mess, but managed a pretty great 10:45 considering on a hilly course. The next time I took things more seriously and ran a 3:20 marathon off the bike still feeling unsatisfied. Since I have had two renowned coaching programs including three amazing coaches, dialed in my nutrition and fueling, brought my 70.3 time down 10 minutes each season from 4:50 to 4:20, yet have suffered over the 140 mile distance, while seeing other friends and teammates have great success. I know that I’m getting fitter, more experienced and capable, my TrainingPeaks keeps getting greener and greener. I should be more distraught if it wasn’t for a growing comfort with disappointment.
As my friend and I walked those last 10 miles of the marathon, we got into conversation around is this really worth it?? My friend just completing a 4:18 70.3 weeks earlier, both of us very capable ex-collegiate runners, having dedicated so much time, energy and expense and then forced to crawl 6 hours for a finisher medal. The problem is we both idolize the athletes and the lifestyle, but the reality is the Ironman dream is alienating and often unhealthy for what we put our bodies through. I remember hearing “I’m done with Full’s, I’m sticking to 70.3s.” And why not?? 70.3’s are great! You can actually race them HARD, as in 6 minute miles off a very fast bike and swim and feel great the next day. They don’t cost $750 a pop and somehow World Championships are easier to qualify for 1000%.
I don’t know, perhaps I’m still feeling the Ironman blues. I demand to have my race at the distance once in my life, to get off the bike ready to run a marathon and not on the verge of death, but at the same time I demand to have a life as well. Friday I was pumped to be racing Ironman with my friends, Saturday I agreed to NEVER AGAIN, Monday I was looking at CdA. Perhaps I need some soul searching to figure out what’s right for me and what the next step is in search of that goal. Undeniably I love training, the friends and lifestyle, the purpose and reward. I think it would have so much greater meaning to have back the sense of achievement I had grown accustomed to in 2014.
Silver lining is Vineman is 8 weeks away, it will be a quality race filled with locals and my body is rebounding well. It is my standing PR at 4:25 (with a 1:21 off the bike). I’d like to figure out what the heck is going on with my heart but am hopeful it can all come together by then. Oddly looking forward to getting back at it!