Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ironman Texas 2013 Race Report

Ironman Texas 2013 was my third Ironman race. After a first race that left me less than fully satisfied in 2011, I had a much better race in 2012. The early signs (at least from my point of view late in the last training year) were that I could beheading for another big improvement for 2013. Of course that all changed when a car swiped me and caused an extended period of recovery that continues to this day; however, as that has already been well-covered I will not say much more about it for this report.

For me the final preparations for a big race begin with greatly reduced workouts and a changed diet on race week. Cutting back a high volume of workouts can leave you feeling like their is a gaping hole in your schedule and suddenly leave you with more free time than you've seen in months. During this time I allowed myself to eat more carbohydrates than I usually do to make sure my body was fully fueled--this included my regular pre-race Wednesday burger and fries, as well as other healthier selections during the week. On Wednesday, I was at the expo to check in shortly after it opened. I met up with friends for this process and then spent some time looking around the expo and Ironman shop. After all of this I had to to work to finish clearing my schedule for the week. If there is one downside of a local Ironman, it is that you may still have many of your normal life distractions.

On Thursday, I spent a bit of time around the expo before resting most of the day. Thursday evening was the Athlete Banquet, which is always a great highlight of Ironman Texas. The evening included good food, as well as good times with friends, teammates and fellow athletes all around. After spending so much of my training time with many of these people (particularly Karen, Amber and Angie) it was a lot of fun to have some pure social time with them before the race.

Friday was the last day before race day. While this was to be my third Ironman race, it was the first time I participated in the practice swim the day before the race. This proved to be as much social time.  as practice time, giving me the opportunity to meet a large number of friends. After the swim I completed my bike preparations and got ready to take my bike and transition gear bags to the mandatory check in. I met Karen and Amber for lunch and then we all headed to turn in our gear at the transition area (well, except for Amber who had already turned hers in, but she still came with us).  After this there was no more to be done around the race area until morning, when I left the area I went home and completed preparing my special needs bags and bike nutrition bottles. Then I finished setting my morning gear that I would wear aside and then I was done. After several months of training I was done with every bit of preparation and could only wait. After a quiet evening at home with my wife, I went to bed and slept well until my alarms began to go off.....race day had arrived!!!

I woke, ate some oatmeal, put my bags in the car and headed out. I arrived at transition and checked my bike and loaded up my nutrition and water bottles, and then headed to the swim start area to drop my special needs bags. I carefully monitor my intake of calories, liquid and electrolytes during the pre-race hours according to my plan throughout this time. Given the heat of the day, I remind myself that I need to be conservative in dealing with a very hot day and then I have one last meet up with some friends and before I now it, it is time to enter the water for the last bit of waiting for the non-wetsuit wave.

Swim - I began by entering the water and staying near the second pier back on the right side. I move forward in the 30 seconds before the gun goes off. Unfortunately, I find that I am behind a large group that entered the water and then stepped off to the side of the water at the pier ahead of me. This forces me to slow down and try to get through and around this mass of non-swimming swimmers walking along and into the water from the shallow areas to the side. I manage to make my way through and get to work trying to find my stroke and pace. Once I clear the group I try to keep right a bit and angle towards the first turn buoy about 1500 yards into the course. I don't push too hard but feel like I swim a pretty straight line for this part. I get into a bit of a crowd at this buoy and work my way through a bit of a crowd as I head back the other way. For the most part I stay clear of packs and comfortably swim through the next 1500 yards to make the turn for the final leg of the swim up The Woodlands Waterway canal. The more I head down the canal, the greater the crowd support becomes. There is an awful lot of cheering through this part and I allow this to help pull me along. As I get near the end I maneuver towards a  more open path to the ladders and come up and out of the water. I finish the swim in 1:44:49. Not quite where I wanted to be but I felt good coming out of the water, in fact I felt better at this point than during either of my previous Ironman efforts.

T1 - I run up the path and grab my bike gear and move on to the changing tent. I take in some nutrition and put on my cycling gear and head out feeling pretty good. Leaving T1 in 6 :35 was 1.5 minutes better than my otherwise best IMTX T1 time and, more importantly, I head out on my bike feeling good.

Bike - Given the warm morning and the hot day ahead--not to mention the injuries I was coming off--I had a conservative bike plan ahead. My original plan was to cycle up to a heart rate of 155 beats per minute but with this weather I lowered this to 145 maximum for at least the first half of the bike, with a plan to evaluate after the halfway point. I make it through the 30 mile split in 1:33:00 (19.35 mph). I was feeling good through this part of the ride and trying to not push myself through this easier portion of the day. Given the weather and lower heart rate target I am using, I am surprised I am at this pace. Then next 26 miles are a bit tougher with some hills and general elevation climb as well. My split time for this is 1:33:54 (or 16.61 mph). This is pretty well on target for this day, and even a bit ahead of my hot weather plan for the day. I hit the special needs stop and I pull over for my bag and make a planned stop of about 5 minutes (though it may have been a few minutes longer, as these stops tend to be). While I stopped I changed my socks and checked my feet--these were good. I review my race nutrition--300 to 325 calories an hour is keeping me feeling strong at this point--once again, I feel my best at this point in any Ironman to date! The back half of the bike begins with the toughest 25 or so miles of the bike for the day with the worst hills and a stiff headwind as bad as I have felt all year on this course. I spend relatively little time in aero position due to the wind and my lack of feeling stable because of it. Fortunately, my nutrition plan feels strong and I press on. When I get to the aid station around mile 82 the place is such a mess of cyclists all over the place I have no choice but to pull in and stop. I use the extra stopped time to fill up on water and move my nutrition bottles where I want them. I also put some extra ice in my main bottles and pour some cool water over myself and let volunteers put some extra sunscreen on me before I move on. This probably cost me another 5+ minutes but I feel good and a bit refreshed as I head onward. What I didn't realize at this point was the number of cyclists sitting around the aid stations who were succumbing to the heat. Over the remaining 30 miles I saw a number of cyclists who had pulled over to stop and a fair number that had fallen over from the heat as well. I was starting to feel a bit of fatigue on this part of the course, though I still felt strong. I wanted to push harder but kept the more conservative heart rate guideline in place. This served to keep my speed down from where I might have liked but it also kept my from overtaxing my body. I came in to finish the bike in 6:35:28, a bit slower than I had hoped, but there was no doubt that I still felt good coming in off the bike.

T2 - At an even 10:00, it was a bit slower than I'd hoped. I took a bit of extra time to add some body lube to a few spots and probably added an extra 1-2 minutes making a last minute decision to change from tri shorts to running shorts (after I had put my running shoes on). In the end I think I'd have been happier staying with the tri shorts. I notice a couple of guys laying in the transition tent napping or resting as I head out on the course. It is only around this point that I begin to realize just how brutal the day is becoming, and how much my nutrition plan has worked to get me this far. After getting lathered with sunscreen by volunteers, I head out to begin my run.

Run -As bad as this day was for this race--hot and humid--I began the run feeling pretty good and averaged under 11 minute miles for an early start. Unfortunately, I felt a hamstring twinge during this period and began to walk a bit extra in the late part of the second mile. This feeling persisted throughout most of the rest of the run. I was generally okay on flat ground, but every incline or decline brought with it that twinge radiating from the hamstring area. While this was a bit disappointing, especially since I was initially thinking I might be able to push a bit and aim for a 5 hour marathon, I knew I wanted to do what it took to finish this race. On this day, that was going to mean that I would walk more than intended.  :-/  So, I did incorporate more walking as I needed. I also took the time to stop when I came alongside friends who were walking and chat with them a bit--doing this definitely made the process more enjoyable. I probably averaged around around 13 minute miles the first of the three loops for the run. During this time, as well as the rest of the run, I was being constantly vigilant of my nutrition and fluid intake and I never got too far away from where I needed to be. When I was taking in too much water I switched to more food, and vice-versa. The period from miles 9 through 21 were a long and brutal period, but also one in which I chatted with friends along the course and friends on the course. When I lack actual friends in my vicinity, I made new ones from the people around me. I spent at least a mile with a fellow race who came to Texas from Brazil just to do this race, and also met lots of other friendly people, many of whom were having a tougher day than I. Around mile 22 I chose to stop at a picturesque bench location near a park and aid station to look over the lake to pick up my feet for a few minutes and think about this process that brought me here. This was about the time of day I had finished last year and it was beginning to be dark now and I could see all the homes lit across the lake. I considered for the first time today just how much I had really had to overcome to get to this point. Through much of this process since \being hit by a passing car last October, I didn't really know if I could make it--I was always determined to succeed, but determination is not always enough--but I knew I would do all I could to make it happen. From this point at this moment there was nothing left to stop me, a thought which still brings a tear to my eyes. I had caught the attention of the volunteers at the nearby aid station, and one of them walked over to check on me. I took the water he offered and let him know that I was about to be on my way. On this day where more than 1 in 6 did not finish, they were being careful to monitor their runners. From this point I decided I could make it to the finish line in under 15 hours if I pushed myself, so off I went. From this point on I averaged about 12:35 miles for the last 4.5 miles or so left in the race. I did slow a bit in the last full mile to chat a bit and then picked it back up for the final push. My friend Erica saw me just before the finishing chute and was urging me on to beat the clock under 15 hours. With her last bit of urging, I pushed myself harder into the finishing chute and take the turn for the final uphill. As I come near the finish line, I slap several extended hands from the crowd and look up to see that  there is still a 14 on the front of the clock and trot the final few strides in to finish in 14:59:56.

It wasn't a pretty day for me, or for anyone here on this day, but in the end I had accomplished what I set out to do. Yes, I could have finished the run faster, but I also took the time to enjoy myself and those around me during this process. In 209 days I had gone from the being carted away from the scene of being hit by a car in an ambulance; recovered from surgery, numerous broken bones and a bruised lung; and endured the road to recovery with the help of God, family and so many friends. As I said above, I spent a long time not knowing if this was possible, but the people around me never let me allow this lack of belief to get in the way of my determination to succeed. In the end I was the all by myself as I crossed the finish line that night, but it was the help of so many that allowed this dream to become reality. I offer all of these being a greater thanks than I know how to say.

Perhaps the greatest thought I take from this year's IMTX race experience is that I saw and met so many who had a more inspiring story than I in terms of what it took for them to finish this race. Completing an Ironman race is never an accident. So much goes into the race preparation and the race itself. While the race can control much of his/her preparation, the events of the actual day are often beyond our control. In the end every athlete has a story, and we all have to overcome something.

That is as it should be.


Amanda said...

You are so modest and humble. You worked so hard to get back to that race and finish it - and we all know it.

The smile on your face had better be ear to ear and you should puff up that chest and wear your finish with nothing but pride!

Never forget how much you inspire and help each person you come in to contact with. It takes a strong person to come back from the accident you had - not just physically, but mentally too. Overcoming fear of being hit would make many stop purusing the sport, but not you, you looked that fear head on and overcame it.

Congratulations on reaching this aggressive goal and taking the time to truly enjoy it even during tough conditions.

Adrienne said...

Your account of the run portion made me stop and almost choke up. What a journey you went through to accomplish something that already would be impressive.

I always enjoy your race reports, but this one gets bookmarked.

You're an Ironman in more ways than one!

K said...

Fantastic report, friend. You know you are greatly loved. Especially by me. Without you and your constant inspiration, I doubt I every would have had the confidence to push myself beyond my own limits.
I am so proud of you! You have overcome so much, not just once, but twice you have overcome what may, to some, have seemed to be an impossibility.
Phil 4:13!

Rae! said...

Richard have have no words other than you are truly inspiring. :)