The one with all the wind
Well, IRONMAN full distance number 19 done and overall I think it went well and enjoyed a fair amount of it despite what was a tough day during the bike portion.
This was my sixth time taking part in IRONMAN Texas (2015,16,17,18 and 19 done previously) so I felt very comfortable with the course and logistics (which are very simple) which helped minimize stress ahead of time. Leading up to the event the weather looked good in terms of temperature, maybe 85 high and no rain. It looked likely it would be wetsuit legal. All good. As the days got closer it was looking like it was going to be windy though. That is not good for the completely exposed 80 miles on the toll road. This would end up ruining the day for many people!
Prior to the event an athlete check-in time was selected online via the Active website. As normal the check-in was available on Wednesday and Thursday (3 and 2 days prior to the event day). You also received a QR code via email that you presented at the onsite check-in. You were not told your bib number ahead of time. Like 2021 they are allocated at athlete check-in which also means your name is not on the bib.
I arrived at the Woodlands about 10am and even though my scheduled check-in time was 1pm I checked in straight away and they didn’t say a word. It’s all digital now, no more paper forms. You show your QR code and ID and that’s it. If you had any waivers to sign you sign them on the iPads the volunteers have. First they gave you your chip. Then you walked to another table and they fetched a packet, I was 1004, just 3 away from my dream 1007 (Bond, James Bond) and they were going to switch if for me but they had already scanned it. So close. They put on my wrist band, quickly ran through the packet content, wrote number on a swim cap then I went on and collected the event back bag, the 5 event plastic bags for gear and yes the flag was back! Awesome. This whole process was less than 5 minutes.
As you exited you picked up a ticket for the bike and gear check-in time on Friday. This was to simply spread people out but as it turns out they didn’t pay any attention to this at all.
The exit from check-in did not lead straight to the merchandise store which is the norm but I walked through the village and bought a few things. They did not already have the finisher gear out which they did for the races in 2021. And that was it. All told I was there for about 15 minutes. I did run into Kevin who I chatted to at Ironman Tulsa in 2021 and was nice to catch up and we grabbed a bite to eat that evening. I really just relaxed the rest of the day. Pasta and chicken for lunch then egg white omelette, potatoes and toast for dinner at Cheesecake Factory (it just sounded really good). To bed at 7:30.
I slept well and woke up around 3am (my usual). I did a bit of work, laid all the gear out for the bike and run bag. Put stickers on the bags, bike and helmet, packed up the bags and got things ready to take to the bike and gear check-in at transition at 10am. It’s just shy of a mile walk from the finish/athlete village so I set out about 9:30 and they never asked to see the check-in time ticket. They didn’t take pictures of the bikes this time (like they have at previous Ironmans). You just racked your bike then gave the volunteers your bike and run bag at the two bag stations (you didn’t place them on the floor yourself in the rough position like at other events). Like athlete check-in it was very fast and efficient.
It is a shared T1 (swim to bike) and T2 (bike to run). The swim is a point-to-point with an out and back for about 1.5 miles then the remaining down a canal to get to transition.
I bought a few things at the HEB opposite the transition then walked back to the hotel. I had to have lunch in the room (was staying at the Westin which is at the finish line) as I had a work call so did room service pasta which a chicken breast on the side which while tasty was a tiny portion of pasta so was still hungry. I had bought some little Debbie oatmeal crème pies which I intended to eat during the bike so a couple of those helped numb the hunger 😀
I watched some movies and then had my traditional pre-race evening pizza for dinner. I wanted to try something new with my goggles that often fog up so I sprayed the anti-fog solution on and decided to just let it evaporate over night and not mess with it again. Totally worked! Back at the room I showered, applied a layer of sunscreen then put on my race tattoos. Chatted to my family then to sleep. While I woke up a few times I actually slept the best I ever have before an Ironman and got up feeling pretty good at 3am when my alarm went off.
I ate a bagel and drank a chocolate milk (my regular pre-training food) then browsed Facebook etc. I saw a great post with a way of thinking about the day:
“Make your race a playground not a proving ground”
I really liked that and decided to make that my motto for the day. I would focus on enjoying it. Transition opened up at 5am and so I decided to leave the room at 4:30. I packed my drinks to put on the bike and had a Powerade I would sip on till about an hour before I was due to start and another half a bagel to nibble on. I also had my gel and 5 hour energy I would take 45 minutes before due to start.
I walked down to transition and even though it was not 5 it was already open. I went straight to my bike, they had the regular technicians and bike pumps available but my bike neighbor offered me his pump so I pumped both tires up to just below 100, put on the drinks and set off on the 1 mile walk to the swim start which is a pleasant enough, easy walk and helps you relax. At the transition they also announced water temperature was 75 and wetsuit legal. Woo hoo!
Once I got to the swim start I just hung out. The age groupers were starting at 6:40 and it was the regular self-seeding into 10 minute groups based on your estimated swim time. I always swim 90 minutes so go to the 1:21 to 1:30 group at the back. This means I would be getting in the water about 7am. Within each group they let in 4 people every 4 seconds (or something like that). It helps spread everyone out and takes a lot of the stress out of the swim. It’s also a very wide course so its easy to just swim on the outside (which is what I do) to avoid most people. It was a very clear day so sighting was super easy. At 6:15 I put on my wetsuit, dropped off my morning clothes bag, ate my gel, drank my 5 hour energy and joined my swim group.
I had not done a huge amount of swimming leading up to this race just because of, well, life. I had done a few 30 minute swims in the pool over the past couple of weeks and that was it. At dinner with Kevin he had given some swim tips (him being a good swimmer) that I had decided to focus on during this swim.
- Thumb and index finger enter the water first. This then encourages elbow up since already in that direction
- Be long, i.e. reach out for the apple then put it in your pocket as your hand exits by your hip
- Rotate your hips with your shoulders when you breath
And that is what I did. I treated the swim as a training exercise and just tried to focus on those 3 things. I took it SUPER easy. I finished in 90 minutes as usual and felt great! The out and back in the lake was uneventful. They added an arch near the turnaround on the swim that you swam under (to make sure didn’t cheat). I also focused on keeping my head relaxed. Often on the bike my neck aches looking up and I realized a lot of it is from straining during the swim. This helped greatly during the bike portion and didn’t get a sore neck.
I kept to my plan of swimming out about 20 feet from the buoys and no one got near me. When you turned down the canal part for some reason people turned into idiots. People were swimming all over the place, I got punched in the face twice but kept telling myself they didn’t mean it and were likely stressed. The canal was dirty as ever and with each swim stroke you got stringy crap in between your fingers. I mean the main lake was solid brown and you couldn’t see anything but the canal was worse.
One problem I commonly have on previous Ironmans was needing to pee during swim and having to pee constantly on the bike. My new sipping on Powerade and stopping hour before solved it. So thats my new routine! They had wetsuit strippers to help remove your wetsuit then a short run to grab your bike bag, into the transition tent to apply the various lubes, PR lotions and sunscreen. I took a really long time (15 minutes) but honestly not a worry for me. Lots of volunteers in the tent and most of talk was about how brutal the canal portion was with people flinging fists everywhere. They had sunscreen available in transition (1 and 2) both pumps and individual packets you could take which was great.
Then out onto the bike course which is about 22 miles to get to the Hardy toll road where you repeat 2 out and backs of 20 miles each way (so 80 miles on the toll road). The toll road surface is smooth, has a few rolling overpasses but is completely exposed. There was plenty of aid stations on the course that were well stocked and as always the volunteers were awesome. The weather forecast had not changed. It was expected to have 25mph wind coming head on for the outbound but then would be tailwind for the 20 miles back. Obviously, twice.
Sure enough as soon as you got on the toll road the wind hit you and it was pretty discouraging putting out 200 odd watts and going 13 mph. Within the first 5 miles one of the good people on their second loop shouted out “do you have bike tool?”. His aero bars had fallen off and were dangling down. I pulled over with him and spent 7 minutes getting his aero bars back on and he was on his way 🙂 7 minutes was really going to make little difference to my total time but he was very stressed. I kept telling him to relax, it’s OK, we’ll fix it. We did and he was on his way.
It took about 80 minutes to go Northbound as you battled the 20-25 mph headwind and was pretty miserable. BUT, then you turned round and weeeeeeeeeee. Many times I was going vroom vroom as I effortlessly went 30 mph and completed the southbound 20 miles in 40 minutes. Then you did another u-turn and had to repeat for another 80 minutes misery but at least you knew you had 40 minutes of awesome coming. Another bright spot was only had to stop to pee once at about 30 miles. I drank the on course Gatorade and then water with Nuun. I stuck to the planned nutrition.
- Ate an oatmeal crème pie (170 calories) in T1
- Half a waffle at minute 20 and 40 of the hour
- Tootsie roll snack bar (50 calories) at minute 30 of hour
- Mauten gel on the hour
- Another oatmeal creme pie at mile 56 and another at T2 before the run
That’s a lot of calories. With the Gatorade likely about 400 an hour on average but I felt great. Never struggled on the bike. Heart rate never went particularly high. One good thing was while it heated up to maybe 80 on the bike, the sun was not super strong. I alternated Gatorade and water with Nuun every 10 minutes.
While the wind made things harder than usual I really didn’t find the bike that bad but I consider the bike my strongest discipline. I know some found it very tough which is likely why some people were drafting. On the second loop into the wind someone was trying to draft me which is where I went up a gear and just dropped the hammer and left him. Go cheat off someone else. There were quite a lot of people in penalty tents which was good to see. Also on the first loop because I start the swim later and am slow on the swim there are lots of slower cyclists ahead of me that I have to overtake and many of them were not staying on the right so I was constantly having to shout out “on your left” so I could get past safely. I heard 300 people DNF‘d (did not finish, i.e. had to stop) on the bike portion alone.
Once you finished the toll road portion I think it was about 8 miles on the small roads to get to the finish which was quick enough and soon I was at T2 where a volunteer took your bike for you, grabbed the run bag, into the tent (for a 10 minute transition as I reapplied sunscreen etc) then out for the run! The only real problem I had for the entire bike was sweat in my eyes. I’m going to try something different for St George with the little channel stick on brow thing.
My plan for the run was 2-minutes run, then 2-minutes walk for as long as my quads would take it! As it happened was for about 15 miles which I was very happy with. The run course is great. It’s flat and 3 loops of a very pretty course that has great crowd support and lots of aid stations each mile that were always well stocked. You also go through Hippie Hollow that the rule is you have to run through 😀
At about mile 15 I had some bio freeze applied to my quads which helped and I still attempted to run a little however I had so much time there was no danger for me and my goal was simply to come in under 6 hours which would ensure my total time was sub 14.
It was around this time I realized how brave many people are. Because my swim is OK and my bike is strong even on a bad Ironman I still have 8 hours for the marathon part meaning I can walk slow and would still have time to finish. I’m not really worried about not finishing (outside of a medical/equipment issue). There are many people who have very real concerns about not finishing in time but still push through for 17 hours. That is amazing to me and shows great strength of character!
For the run my nutrition was a Maurten gel every 2 miles along with a lick of base salt. I would drink Gatorade at the water stations and also had a little bottle I carried with water with Nuun that I would refill at the stations. I felt pretty good during the run. The last 8 miles was a lot of walking but i found someone to talk to who was walking at same pace as me which was great.
Mike Reilly was there to call me across the line, “John Savill, you are an IRONMAN”. YAY! As you crossed the finish line there were the catchers to ensure you didn’t fall over and helped you through the various stages. You got your medal, finisher shirt and hat. The medal is awesome and doubles as a belt buckle! Finisher picture and then I grabbed 2 slices of cheese pizza which I quickly devoured.
Because I travelled on my own I had to grab the morning clothes bag from the finish, walk the mile back to transition to get my bike and bags. I then tied the bags together, put them round my neck then rode the bike BACK to the finish which is where my hotel was at. Once in my room I ordered a burger from room service, drank a chocolate milk, ate a Twix, called my wife, showered then my burger arrived which I ate some of.
One first for me is I didn’t crash post event. Yes I was tired but I had no tingling lips, no body shaking. just, tired which was AWESOME! I will be sticking with my nutrition plan from this Ironman for every other!
Then to bed, which as usual offered me no sleep. I can NEVER sleep after an Ironman. I just laid in bed unable to sleep. At 2:15 I gave up. I got up, packed and by 3am was in my car where I drove back home arriving about 7am. On the way home I stopped at Buc-ees and ate 2 sausage, egg and cheese breakfast burritos.
Many people wrote about how brutal the event was. Yes, the bike was tough but overall I felt it was a great day. Obviously I live in Texas so I am more used to the heat and humidity. If you came from a colder climate then I’m sure the heat combined with the windy bike really took it out of you. I think many others I have done were far tougher because of the course or heat or other conditions. I really enjoyed this Ironman which is great as the Tulsa and Coeur d’Alene of 2021 I found pretty miserable.
In the end I think about 400 DNF’d. 2232 started and 1838 finished. Therefore about 17% DNF compared to 10% regular so definitely a high DNF.
So that’s it. Overall very happy with my performance and more importantly very happy that I enjoyed the event. As always a giant thank you to the organizers, police, other support and the amazing volunteers.
Only change for next IRONMAN is ensure get sunscreen on hands more (as they burnt) and on my back at shirt edges (as burnt there as well a little). Key wins from this IRONMAN
- Nutrition and drinking
- Swim technique and relax neck during swim
- Spray goggles night before
Now, St George!!!!