Well the muscles have healed, I’ve had some sleep so it’s time to write-up my race report for the 2017 IRONMAN Texas which was on 22nd April 2017. This is my third straight year doing Texas and it was awesome. The course was great, the other participants were all great and friendly, the IRONMAN team were great, the volunteers amazing and the spectators awesome!
I went into this IRONMAN feeling optimistic about setting a new Personal Record (PR). My previous best was 14 hours 30 minutes for 2016 Chattanooga (I don’t count the time for 2016 Texas as the bike course was shortened). I had changed a few things:
- I had focused more on running. Completed a number of marathons. Did more running post my long bike ride on Saturday. More hill running (on treadmill)
- I changed my drink from water with Nuun to Gatorade. When combined with the Gu and waffle this raised my hourly calories from about 230 to 400 an hour. I think previously I was not consuming enough during the bike leaving me short on energy for the run
- The temperature was to be between 70 and 75. Much cooler than the 95 all three of my other IRONMANs had been
I still did all my training on the treadmill and spin bike but had put in more mileage. The only time I trained outside was the few marathons I did and a 10 minute bike test I did following the new tires I had put on my bike the week before the IRONMAN (this turned out to be a huge disaster that I’ll talk more about later) as part of a tune-up I had done by a travelling bike service.
In terms of timing, the onsite registration is 2 days prior to the event while the bike and run bag/bike bag drop-off is 1 day prior. I live near Dallas which meant the Woodlands (the location for the IRONMAN) was about a four hour drive. I got up early Thursday, went to the gym for some light cardio and weight training then drove down to the Woodlands. I went straight to the IRONMAN village which has the registration tent, store and partner tents.
Registration is fast. You give your state ID and they write down your bib number on a card. You then go into the registration tent, go to the waiver desk where they give you two forms. You check the details, enter some contact information then give them back in. You then pick up the transition bags, grab your bib numbers, get your IRONMAN bracelet put on which has your number on it and will stay on you until after the event and your timing chip which will attach round your left ankle (grab a safety pin as well to help really secure it on the morning). You will also grab your fancy backpack (or whatever the style is that year) and a few other goodies. You exit registration to the store which does not have the finisher gear yet but will the evening of the event and the next day.
I then popped over to TriBike Transport to make sure my name and bib number was on the valet list. Normally I ship with TriBike but for Dallas I just drive the bike down with me but the valet service is $40 and simply gets them to pick up your bike and run/bike transition bags the night of the event and bring it back to the IRONMAN village for the next day. This means you don’t have to worry about it after finishing the IRONMAN and worth every penny to me!
Then off to Macaroni Grill for my ritual pre-IRONMAN diet of marinara pasta with grilled chicken breast on the side for lunch with water. I will have the same for dinner, the same for lunch the next day finishing off with a cheese pizza from Grimaldi’s for dinner the night before the IRONMAN.
I checked into my hotel (which I had the bad luck of a room that had a door to adjoining room which had a young family containing a toddler that screamed and shouted all 3 nights I was there till midnight which because of the door seemed like was in the room with me meaning I didn’t sleep till the kid did) and laid all my gear out in 3 piles on the floor: clothes for the morning, bike transition bag content and run transition bag content. When I think about the content I need I run through in my mind getting dressed from feet up to head to make sure I’m not missing anything. The 2016 Texas athlete guide had a great checklist:
Remember if you are not wearing a trisuit you also need to pack things like bike shorts/shirt, run shorts/shirt etc. I packed the bags and set them aside for drop off tomorrow. I don’t use the special needs bags (these are available on the course for things like extra nutrition, spare inner tubes etc but you don’t get these back at the end so put in nothing of value). I then proceeded to veg out and just watch reruns of The Office.
On Friday I had a bagel for breakfast and some fruit then went to the transition point with my bike, run and bike transition bags. Everyone is super helpful and will direct you. Find your row for the bike (don’t have the tires fully inflated, you pump them up the morning of), hang it up by the saddle then drop off the bags. Then off for pasta, pizza and more The Office reruns.
Friday night I only got a few hours sleep because of nerves and the loud kid next door but at 3 I got up, had some apple sauce, a power cake, packed my morning bag and just hung around. At 4:30 I headed out. I park at a garage by the IRONMAN village then walk to the transition area which officially opens at 5:30 but they normally open earlier. Here you go pump up your tires to race pressure (100 for me) and there are technicians up at the front to do it for you but also people bring their own who always share. This is where my bike nightmare begun. I pumped up to 100 PSI and my front tire no longer spun. The new tires they put on were bigger and when pumped fully were hitting the frame. I’m not a bike expert at all. This was stupid on my part to change tires the weekend before and even though I did a quick test I hadn’t pumped to 100 and the company that did it never thought of it either. My solution was to lower the wheel slightly which seemed to fix it however I suspected gravity would be my enemy over time when I started riding but nothing I could do at this point.
I then walked to the swim start where they do the body marking and you can drop off your morning (white) clothes bag which will be moved to the finish line available when you finish. You also drop off the special needs bags if you have them and then wait.
The water temperature was wetsuit optional which means you can wear a wetsuit but you start after the people who don’t wear them and you are not eligible for age group awards. Not a concern for me 🙂 so I opted to wear a wetsuit since I’d injured my shoulder in training and my entire swim training consisted of 2 half mile swims and 1 one mile swim! Everyone is super friendly and generally happy to chat. The lines for the restrooms were super long so make sure you give yourself enough time. It was a rolling start with athletes self-seeding which means people are constantly entering the water and you choose when you enter. If you are slower don’t try and get in first as people will be swimming over you so put yourself in the right place. I entered the water about 6:50 and the water was great temperature but solid brown. You could not see ANYTHING in there at all. I settled into a very easy pace and I tend to stay on the outside as I don’t want to get kicked in the face and an extra few minutes is not going to significantly impact my 14 hour time. It was a straight up and down course and then a right turn into the canal. The canal portion was disgusting. I was constantly getting long strings of something in my hands and on my face (last year the swim course was changed as the canal was too polluted to swim in) but was still swimming easy and felt good. Then at the end its a sharp left just before getting out where everyone funneled together and got knocked around a bit. People were on hand to help you get out the water and undo the wetsuit. 1:28:15 for the swim which for me is good and I got out feeling great with very little energy expended.
Now a run up, grab the bike bag and into the changing tent. I get changed into my bike gear and this took a while. My next IRONMAN (Santa Rosa) I’m going to try a trisuit to avoid the changes from swim to bike to run. I then run up to the bike and its very muddy. I grab the bike and walk it to the mounting line. I got on the bike and my shoes would not snap in to the peddles. The mud had clogged everything up. I pulled over and stomped my feet to get the mud off then my feet clipped in and off I went. The first 20ish miles were on normal roads before going onto the closed off highway on which I would ride two loops.
About 60 minutes in I started to hear a very loud screeching noise and could not work out what it was and I noticed my legs were getting tired. Noise went and came back louder than ever. I pulled over and sure enough my front tire would barely move. I had been fighting the tire as it had slipped up again so was rubbing on the frame. Damn. I loosened it again, pulled it down a few millimeters and tightened. It spun and off I went again. About 30 minutes later the massive screeching again and I saw one of the mobile mechanics on the side of the road (there is great on course support with motor bikes roaming helping cyclists if you have a problem). He basically told me what I was doing was not going to work (as I had found) and the only solution was to let air out the tire. He let out a lot of air until it no longer rubbed on the frame. So now I’m on a tire without enough air pressure but better than it was and off I went no longer worrying about the tire. Lesson learned here is to not make changes just before an event and test in the same circumstances as the actual event. Stupid but not a mistake I’ll make again.
The part on the highway (80 miles of the 112) was basically 20 miles South in a straight line, 20 miles North back and then turn and repeat once more. There were a few small rolling hills but nothing bad and as soon as you went up you would go down straight after it. After completing the first Southbound 20 miles, turning and going North and with about 10 miles until I was going to turn to go South again a strong wind started that was blowing almost directly South which means straight against you which slowed down and was getting stronger but in my mind I was thinking in 10 miles it would be behind and then yay! I turned and with the good tailwind I was going about 23-24 mph for bits and the wind was only getting stronger. As I neared the turning point I was filled with dread and sure enough a massive headwind slowing me to about 15 mph for the remaining 20 miles of the highway. I saw people by the side of the road bloodied and heard the wind had blown people off of bikes. For once being heavy worked in my favor 🙂
Once you left the highway there was about 12 miles left which was all still going North which meant all still had the massive headwind and sucked and was so happy to see the transition area. Bike was 6:10:15 which was slower than I had hoped (6 was my goal) but with the tire problems and the massive headwind I was fine. In my head I was thinking I had to do 5:30 for the marathon to hit 13:30 which was my hopeful goal.
My nutrition went well on the bike though. On the course they have stations every 10 miles giving out 750ml bottles of water and orange Gatorade in addition to bananas etc. There are also restrooms as the stations and amazing volunteers. I took Gatorade at every stop and occasionally a water. Every hour I ate a Gu (that I took with me) and at 20 minutes and 40 minutes I ate half of a waffle (which I also took with me). About 400 calories an hour.
At the transition they take your bike and re-rack for you and I went and grabbed my run bag, went to change tent and changed into my running gear. Then out I went (after quickly getting another round of sunscreen from the volunteers outside the change tent). On me I had 5 Gus and 5 waffles along with two small bottles that I planned to fill one with water and one with lime Gatorade (that they have on course). I ate a Gu quick and while I initially planned to walk at first I felt pretty good so decided to just easily jog and looking at my old running watch was going about 6mph. At the water stops (which are every mile with water, Gatorade, red bull, coke and then every few miles have Gus, blocks etc) I would ask them to fill up my bottles as needed which they always did.
The run is 3 loops of a roughly 9 mile loop which is super flat with great spectator support throughout. You run through some park areas, some nice housing areas and the canal area. The run was feeling good so I decided to just run non-stop for the first loop. The temperature was probably around 70 (the high was 75 for the day) which was amazing and I was breathing great. I got round loop 1 without having to walk and decided to keep going into loop 2. At around mile 13 my times were great and I constantly do math to work out “if I walked now at 4mph what time would I finish in” and I had worked out I could now walk and still finish in 5:30 as I was at about 2 hours 10 minutes for the half and my breathing was getting more labored. I decided to walk for a bit to recover. I guess I walked for about half a mile then started running again. In my head I was now thinking to break 5 hours for the marathon which was very doable but I knew I was slowing down. I ran for another 3-4 miles then walked again a little for about 5 minutes but then ran again. I was also getting mild tingling in my lips.
I had planned a Gu an hour and a waffle at the same intervals as the bike but was unable to eat the waffle at all as my body made it clear to me I would be sorry if I even tried. This meant I was just having 1 Gu an hour and the Gatorade meaning I was way short on my calories for the run. I also was licking base salts every couple of miles. I didn’t want to take banana, pretzels, broth or anything else as I had not trained with that.
I was at about mile 22 and was at about 4 hours and 5 minutes. I knew if I wanted to break 5 hours I would have to run the next 4.2 miles with no walk break so off I went. I don’t have a tri watch so had no clue of my overall time. I knew I was at about 8 hours after the bike with the swim and two transitions but not an exact idea. I really wish I had as if I had known I probably would have pushed just a tiny bit harder. At your final loop you split off right to the finish line which is a few hundred yards left. You down a slight decline with people cheering your on and you just find more energy and speed up (no one will ever know you walked/crawled bits earlier on). You take a U-turn and run up the final slight incline to the finish line. People high-five you as you run and you cross the line and those words you have been waiting for “John Savill, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”.
As you cross the finish line there are volunteers to basically catch you as once that adrenalin wears off you tend to collapse a little. They wrap the metal blanket thing round you and walk you to get your medal, hat and finisher t-shirt and then get your picture taken.
My marathon time was 4:55:45 which I was delighted about. Sub-5 was amazing for me as part of the IRONMAN. I still don’t know my final time though. I know its around 13 hours but not sure if over or under. You then walk to the food and I grabbed some pizza (which was stone cold) and a can of coke. I then found a chair and sat down. At this point I get a terrible tingling in my face and lips. This happens to me every time. I’ve tried to research and its either lack of sugar or lack of water. Not sure which. I just sat in the chair trying to eat but couldn’t really and had a few sips of coke and water. I sat for about 10 minutes. The tingling didn’t really go away but it does not panic me anymore. I went and picked up my morning clothes bag to get my car key and made my way to the car park where I grabbed my phone to text my wife and look at look at my final time. Sadly the tracking site still had not updated to show me finishing the run nor would it the entire night! It was not until next morning the site updated my times so I could see my final time!
Drove to the hotel while chatting to my wife on the phone. I knew it was around 13 hours which was still awesome and I was delighted. Made my way to the room, drank a protein shake, half a milky way but couldn’t really eat still. Jumped in the shower then went to bed and didn’t sleep a wink of sleep all night. I just could not sleep. Not sure because I was buzzed about the time. Maybe the amount of Gatorade I had consumed during the day. But zero sleep but that was fine. I just did an awesome IRONMAN.
About 3am I just gave up even trying and tried to check my time again which had now updated!!! 13 hours, 1 minute and 54 seconds. I just missed 13 hours but I crushed my previous best by nearly 90 minutes. I suspect the extra running training and the cooler temperatures coupled with the additional calories thanks to Gatorade was the reason but no idea what the bigger impact was. If it had not been for the bike problems I would easily have broken 13 hours but oh well. I’m happy with that.
At 6 am I got up and drove to the IRONMAN village. I got breakfast at the Westin (where I’m staying next year to avoid having to drive on the day and stress about my car key getting lost in the morning clothes bag 🙂 ) then off to the store to buy an awesome finisher jacket and t-shirt. I then picked up my bike and bags from TriBike, put in my car then drove home which I arrived at about 11:00am. Pancakes for lunch then it was III forks for dinner and a tasty steak 🙂
Next up is Santa Rosa in 3 months time. It will be warmer and the bike hillier. What will I do differently? I need to focus on my swimming, carry on improving my bike times and run times but I’ve just bought the Fenix 5 tri-watch so I’ll better know my times and will buy a tri-suit to cut my transition times. I need new running glasses as I lost them at the finish line. I also need to think about 2 Gus an hour on the run as clearly waffles don’t work at that point. I’ll be taking my bike to the bike store and getting the front wheel replaced with a smaller one!
Completely opposite to what makes sense for the IRONMAN I’m trying to gain muscle wanting to get to about 205 from my current 195 but that will probably take about a year as its slow to gain with all the IRONMAN training. I’m happy to have lots of goals and believe I can still improve all round.
In summary an amazing experience. I love the IRONMAN events. I love the volunteers and the spectators and the IRONMAN team. They are always well organized even when factors beyond their control get in the way.
Most I love my wife and my family without whose support I would be unable to train and participate in these events.
See you at the next one!