28th of April 2018 was my first IRONMAN of 2018 and the forth time of participating in the IRONMAN Texas event. As usual it was a great event and had good conditions, if a little on the bright sunny side (which we’ll get to). As a recap my history with Texas:
- 2015 – First ever IRONMAN. It was about 95 degrees and near 100% humidity. I got second degree sun burn on the bike and pretty much had to walk/drag the entire marathon. My time was around 15:30
- 2016 – Second IRONMAN. It was cooler but the bike course was cut short to about 96 miles (if I remember correctly) and we had a hail storm during the marathon. Time is meaningless because bike was so much shorter than normal and was stopped for a period of time during the marathon
- 2017 – My forth IRONMAN. Good conditions, managed to run non-stop the first 13 miles and finished in around 13:02. It was the new bike course on the toll-road but we had strong wind which meant in one direction of the toll-road loop (you did two loops) your speed dropped a LOT
- 2018 – My eighth IRONMAN (I did a total of 4 in 2017, Texas, Santa Rosa, Florida and Chattanooga). Also got AWA silver status for this year.
For this year I decided to stay at the Westin which is basically at the finish line. In previous years I always stayed somewhere that required me to drive and it was always a little bit of extra stress worrying my car key would survive morning clothes bag etc. This year I just decided to remove that stress completely and just treat myself 🙂
I drove down to Houston Thursday morning and arrived around 10:00. I went straight to athlete check-in which never seems to have a long wait (the AWA express line was longer than the regular 🙂 ), check the forms, sign, grab bags, duffle bag, timing chip, buy some things at the store and you are done in 10 minutes. From there I was able to check-in early so that was great. I would then begin my standard eating pattern for Houston. Macaroni Grill for lunch and dinner on Thursday (pasta with marinara and chicken breast), lunch again on Friday followed by Grimaldi’s Pizza Friday night 🙂 There are lots of things to do around the Woodlands and no end of food options.
I really just relaxed Thursday and laid everything out on the bed that I would need to pack in the transition bags and for race morning. I would later unpack and recheck multiple times including when I actually drop off the bags 🙂
Friday I woke up early, watched some TV, ate a bagel and rechecked the bags. The transition is just over half a mile walk from the IRONMAN village so I decided to walk my bike and bags to the transition which had a 10am open time. I had already let air out my tires to avoid any risk of popping over night. The check-in is very smooth. Essentially as you walk in they take a picture of your bike, they will direct you to where you mount your bike (by the seat) and then you go drop off your run and bike transition bags in the designated areas. There are lots of volunteers to help direct you. You can also access the bags on race morning if you happen to forget anything. And that’s it for Friday! I went and had lunch, saw Avengers Infinity War (which was great), ate pizza and went to bed early and actually had a good nights sleep which is rare for me before an IRONMAN. I was more relaxed than usual.
Saturday morning I set an alarm for 3am. Ate an apple sauce, protein drink with milk and a bagel along with some Gatorade. I got ready and headed out about 4:40 as transition opened at 5am to check your bike, drop off drinks, pump up tires etc. I had my morning clothes bag with me with wetsuit, googles, cap and drinks etc. I had my tri-suit on and my timing chip already round my ankle. Remember to take a drink with you to drink while you wait and I take an extra bagel as well as I like to keep eating 🙂
I arrived a little before 5am but they were already letting people in. One thing I didn’t bring which I will in future was a head lamp as it was a pain trying to check bike, pump tires etc. You can take your bike up to the technicians who will pump up your tires for you but normally I just borrow a pump from someone around me which is what I did this time. I filled up my aero bottle, put an extra bottle of water on the bike and went and checked my gear bags were still there 🙂
From transition its about a mile walk to the swim start. It was about 55 degrees so I had a long sleeve shirt over the tri-suit and was a nice walk down. Once you arrive at the swim start you get the body markings done and you can also drop off the bike and run special needs bags if you choose to use them. This is also where you drop off your morning clothes bag before the swim start. There are quite a lot of port-a-potties however the queues get big very quickly so use them early!
The age groupers start at 6:40 and for the first time in Texas IRONMAN history it was WET SUIT LEGAL!!! This was great news for me. About 6:10 I put on layers of suntan spray, some glide around my neck then put on my wetsuit, dropped off my morning clothes bag (which would be waiting for me at the finish) and took my place in the 1:30 to 1:40 self-seed location for the swim. I was in the water just before 7am. The water gives basically zero visibility (it’s gross) and I tend to stay on the outside of the pack to minimize getting kicked! I maintained a steady pace and its a basic out, back, then down a canal to the finish line. The visibility out of the water was pretty good so when you poke up your head you could see the buoys to stay on track. As always lots of helpers to get you out the water, help get out the wetsuit, short run and then grab the bike gear bag and into the changing tent. I did a 1:31 swim which was good for me so very happy there.
I grabbed my bike and off I went. There was very little wind and the temperature was not too bad. About every 10 miles there are aid stations which bottles of water, bottles of orange Gatorade, gels and some food. I had my own food which was a gel every hour and at 20 minutes and 40 minutes past the hour half a waffle. The bike course is about 30 miles on regular roads and 80 miles on the toll road (two loops). It’s basically flat the entire time with some minimal rolling hills. Now this year there was a bit of controversy, packs of cyclists that were drafting at a massive level. Below are a few pictures I grabbed off social media.
There were multiple packs of 50 riders that caused numerous accidents, drove people off the road and were breaking the rules of IRONMAN where there should be NO drafting. Now I was lucky. I saw the packs but they were on the opposite side of the road (benefit of me being slow) but I was not impacted by them but there are a lots of stories about them causing accidents where people were hurt and ultimately they are just cheating themselves. How did this happen? Why did the officials not break them up and send them to the penalty tent as in every other year there are lots of motorbikes with officials that would stop this type of thing.
Based on various threads it appears the officials were all pulled off the course for athlete safety. There are 3 lanes on the toll road. The middle lane was supposed to be used for the outbound, the inner most lane (by the median) for the inbound with the outer lane for support vehicles. It seems as soon as the age groupers got on the course they/we all used the outer most lane in addition to middle lane at which point it was considered unsafe to have the officials out on the course as they may hit cyclists. The bike support vehicles were still out though so not 100% clear on the difference.
The peloton aside, the bike was uneventful and fast (except for the fact for some reason I had to stop to pee 3 times in the first 2 hours, I think I drank too much 🙂 ). At mile 80 one of my aero pads flew off so the last 30 miles sucked as I had to rest my arm on Velcro but not that big of a deal. It was also 110 miles as they had to shorten the course by 2 miles for athlete safety. I think the original turn point on the tollway was a tight turn which if you went too fast would end with a 40 foot drop so they felt that was not the best idea 🙂 I’m fine with safety first there! Bike was 5:40:40 which again was pretty good for me (especially considering all the pee breaks 🙂 ).
I felt good running to the run transition except when I took a deep breath it made me cough. This had happened to me on previous IRONMANs. As I realized yesterday its the swim. I don’t swim much and when you swim you take short, deep breaths. I’m just not used to it so I need to focus on that more in my training as that inability to take deep breaths caused me challenges on the run! I got changed and headed out. Note at every transition I reapply sun screen AND let the volunteers add their own layer as well. Better safe than sorry.
The run is 3 laps. There are areas with lots of crowd support and areas that are very quiet but its super flat and a pleasant run.
I started a steady run at about 10 minute mile pace which included 20 second walk at each mile to drink from the aid station (which are every mile and had water, lime Gatorade, red bull, coke, some food and later in the night chicken broth however I actually finished this year before that was available 🙂 ). I had my own gels which I wanted to take every 30 minutes. I managed this for the first 2 hours but after that had trouble eating.
The sun was strong. It was only about 82 degrees but there was almost no shade and the sun was relentless. My goal was to run non-stop until at least mile 13 but at mile 10 when I stopped to drink I couldn’t get started again straight away and from that point on it was a mixture of run/walk until I got to the last couple of miles when I ran as best I could until reaching that final turn when everything goes out the window and you just run trying to fool everyone that you’d been doing that the entire previous 26 miles 🙂 I’m English and the sun just saps everything from me but also my inability to take deep breaths was an issue and my body just didn’t want to eat the gel so of course I was lacking energy. I think I needed to be drinking more, taking more salt and just forcing myself to eat the gels every 30 minutes. Lessons learned 🙂 Final run was 5:12:40 which was disappointing as I’ve done better than that on other IRONMANs but overall I set a PR as the swim and bike had been good. Final time 12:47:35!
Once done the amazing volunteers helped me grab a drink, get a picture, a slice of stone cold pizza (incentive to run faster for next time 🙂 ) then I walked straight to the Westin where I was unable to sleep the entire night but the day was done.
So I was happy and a little disappointed as I felt I could have done better on the run but still overall a new PR so I’ll take it 🙂 The next morning I got to the store at 6:15 where I grabbed a chair and joined the line ready to buy my finisher jacket, polo, hoodie and t-shirts 🙂 They were all awesome this year!
I know it was 2 miles shorter on the bike but even with an extra 6 minutes of bike I’d still have PR’d. Additionally I read some people saying because it was 2 miles shorter they are not a true IRONMAN. I disagree 100%. 2 miles makes zero difference. Some IRONMANs have 110 mile bike, some 111, some 116 (damn you Chattanooga), some have downstream swims, some are hilly, some are flat, some are really hot, some are cool. You can’t compare. You did 2.4 mile swim, 110 mile bike then a 26.2 mile marathon. YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!
Now on to Boulder!