Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ironman Texas

I haven't done a race blog entry in awhile.  Race blog entries have been annoying me lately and I've questioned what value they provide, other than for the author to use it as a way to  list out what went wrong with their race.  Even the pro's seem to be getting in on that action lately.  If you don't win a race apparently the appropriate response is to write an entry explaining how your training wasn't good enough, you mentally failed or whatever the various other reason might be for performing below the apparent expectation of winning every race.  I wasn't even going to write anything about my first Ironman experience until I read Devashish Paul's IMTX race report on the Slowtwitch forum.  Reading his report I was reminded that it is possible to recount your race experience without making it all about what went wrong.  Even if things don't go perfectly as planned it's still a special privilege to be out on any race course.  That positive far outweighs any negative experience because a time goal or AG placing wasn't accomplished.  Not to say those goals aren't important and one of the reasons I am involved in endurance sports, but falling short in that aspect doesn't take away from being able to enjoy the Ironman, or any, race experience.  As much as IM hurt, at least I think it did since I've already forgotten all the pain, I can't wait to have another crack at the distance.  5 days out from the race all I seem to remember are the fun moments and their were plenty of those.
IMTX was my first full distance triathlon.  Looking back at my race history this week I counted up 23 70.3 distance events I've completed and almost 50 total triathlon events.  I'm pretty sure I'm not the norm in this sport to have waited so long to do my first full but it's a path I'm happy I chose.  The 2014 version of IMTX wasn't meant to be my first full though.  I've actually been registered for IMTX in both 2012 and 2013 as well as IMMT in 2013, but was unable to race any of the 3 because of the foot injuries I've been dealing with the past 2 years.  8 months of uninterrupted healthy running had me hitting the start line of IMTX this year completely uninjured.  Something I remind myself to be thankful for every time things start to go badly in a race or there's a run on the training schedule I don't feel like doing.
Starting with my flight into Dallas and the ride down to The Woodlands with Wattie Ink teammate Ron Schmidt, the entire weekend was one of the most relaxed I've had.  The ride down from Dallas flew by with Ron and I discussing home brewing beer for the majority of it.  Based on our talk I think I'm going to have to add another item to my already long list of things I'd like to learn.  We got into town Thursday afternoon and spent the rest of the day hanging out at TheRealStarky booth or on various restaurant patios around the expo/finish line area.  Friday was much the same after a bike drop of that literally took 5 min.  Honestly the Ironman transition setup is the easiest and most relaxing of any race I've done.  Drop a couple bags off, throw the bike on the rack and walk away.  Race morning you air up the tires, put your nutrition bottles on the frame and off to the swim.  Setting up at a 70.3 takes far more thought and effort I feel like.  Friday night was a great dinner with the Moxie crew from Austin.  Got to meet a bunch of people of knew from twitter and Facebook as well as make a few new friends.  One of the best part of triathlon is it's almost impossible to walk away from a race weekend without having got to know a few new people who enjoy the sport as much as you do. 
Race morning was a relaxed as I described above.  Parked across from transition and walked over to drop off a few nutritional items for my run bag and put bottles on the bike.  Found a local volunteer with a pump so I managed to avoid the long line for the official bike techs, calibrated the powermeter, stopped off at a long row of porta-johns that apparently zero people know about and walked to the swim start. 
What had been a great morning so far went quickly downhill upon arriving at the swim start.  Seriously Ironman?  You're going to play 30 min of Jack Johnson before the start of the race?  I've felt more energy in a crowd or race start for small town sprint triathlons than there was at IMTX.  Nacho said it best:
The pro's went off with something like Adele playing and the amateurs were allowed into the water.  I went to where I had started the swim last year when I had done the swim/bike portion even though I couldn't run.  Starting far right beside the dock had led to a pretty chill swim and I was hoping for the same to allow me to build into the effort.  The water actually felt fairly cold and I was glad for the wetsuit.  I had been worried about overheating in it but never felt uncomfortable the whole swim. 
When the gun went off the start of the swim was completely unlike the non-wetuit swim from last year.  I've had a few rough starts in races but this was by far the worst.  The addition of the entire athlete field into the swim start, unlike last year when it was split between the non-wetsuit and wetsuit waves, was likely the reason for this as more swimmers pushed to the front of the start.  I was swimming strong but getting pushed under so much that for the first time probably ever in a triathlon I started to have a panic attack.  I've had one once before in my life when on a night scuba dive I had my light die on me in low visibility water and stupidly had no redundancy.  That time I completely panicked and bolted for what fortunately was the surface.  Thankfully I wasn't very deep, so there were no bad side effects but it's strange what a panicked mind can make you do when you should be thinking clearly.  I recognized what was happening to me this time and managed to shut my brain down while just mechanically going through the swimming motions I'd done thousands of times.  Within a few minutes I was clear of the crush of most of the athletes and steadily moving up through the field.  10 min or so in I found myself in a group of a couple swimmers who seemed to be swimming around the same pace so I stuck with them all the way out.  According to the swim course map provided by the race the swim course is a rectangle with a hard left hand turn at the base of the rectangle that takes you through the canal and to T1.  The out portion of the swim is yellow buoys and the back portion before the turn to T1 is orange buoys.  There are 2 red buoys at the furthest point of the swim where you make 90 degree right turns.  Pretty simple course.  Stay on yellows going out, turn at reds and stay on orange coming back. 
The group I was with was hitting all the yellows going out and I felt confident we were swimming a straight line.  Something I almost never do in races but had seemed to improve a lot in my previous races this year.  Quick glances around me showed plenty of swimmers on either side so I knew I wasn't way out of the pack on some tangent.  Because of this it came as a huge surprise when we hit the first red buoy and were told to stop and turn back right.  Apparently we had swam way left and missed the first red turn buoy.  Sure enough it was way to our right and there was nothing to do but backtrack.  It only added maybe 200 yards to the swim total but the toughest part was dealing with the massive crowd of swimmers that were a few minutes back of where I had been.  The rest of the swim back to the canal was some of the roughest open water swimming I've done.  I still am not sure where we screwed up and it was a common problem as I've talked to multiple people who did the exact same thing.  Looking at the picture below it almost seems as if all the yellow and orange buoys are intermingled and I only see the on red one.  Obviously not everyone made the mistake so it was possible to follow the course correctly but one of these days I'd like to actually have a swim where I stay on course or my goggles don't come off multiple times so I can get a feel of where I really stack up with the field. 
Coming out of the water I figured I had swam around a 1:15.  I felt great the entire swim but given that I've done 99.9% of my swim training on the Vasa trainer with 2 actual times in the water all year I was expecting around a 1:10 even with a wetsuit and the detour had cost a bunch of time and effort.  I don't wear a watch in the swim and didn't glance at the clock so I didn't find out till after that my swim time was actually 1:08.  Without the course screw up maybe I could have been around 1:05.  Far faster than I had expected.  Maybe the course was short but I feel confident that I'm definitely in the best open water swim shape I've ever been in. 
Off onto the bike for what was a planned very easy ride and I was feeling good.  For the first time in awhile on a bike.  Both rides at New Orleans and St George had been terrible and I wasn't feeling very confident it what is normally my strongest of the three disciplines.  The plan was to ride 70% of FTP, give or take a bit depending on the race situation, but no extended stretches over 80%.  Naturally the first few miles were extremely easy and I had to force myself to dial down the wattage.  I let a few riders go by, but my swim time left me behind the majority of the really strong cyclists so I doubted I'd have anyone to ride with.  Around mile 15 a bike came then settled in not far ahead of me.  He was riding a very steady wattage output so I decided I would pace off him for as long as possible.  I moved back past him a few times but the wattage required to stay ahead for long was a bit more than I wanted to push at that time so I stayed in the back.  Even at 2-4 bike lengths behind there was still plenty of benefit of riding slightly lower watts.  Going through the forest portion of the course we had a couple bikes come by as well as overtaking a few small groups.  None of these guys seemed capable of riding a steady pace.  The weren't drafting but they were all surging back and forth and everyone seemed intent of being the rider in front.  It was especially annoying on a few of the rollers as they would come charging up them past me only to stop pedaling at the top when they were barely ahead of me which forced a re-pass.  I refused to spike the wattage and a few miles later a pack of them apparently got pissed with getting re-passed every time they stopped pedaling because they dropped the hammer and moved way ahead.  Not surprisingly I caught and passed every single one of them around miles 85-90 with most of them sitting up and spinning.
The ride just kinda cruised by.  It never felt like a hard effort although the last 20ish miles were extremely painful due to a significant amount of saddle chafing.  Never forgetting the chamois cream for a ride of that distance again.  It got so bad that I was actually sitting up for almost the entire last 10 miles to try to avoid the raw spots.  I was still hitting my watts but it obviously cost me a bit of time not being down in aero.  I'd always heard how bad the last half of the IMTX bike course was but other than the rough roads for a 20ish mile stretch in the middle it was nothing like I had heard.  I couple of tough windy stretches but maybe it was a lighter wind year than normal.  I did make one huge mistake on the ride that likely came into play later in my race with the difficulties I experienced on the run.  In training I perform best on around 250-300 calories an hour and I had based my race nutrition plan on this.  My special needs bag had a number of gels to refill my DarkSpeedWorks top tube box but I made a split second decision to skip special needs to keep pace with a couple of other riders.  An incredibly dumb rookie move and put me way behind on my nutrition by the end of the ride.  Finished the ride just under 5:04.  I was hoping to just crack 5:00 but based on my final wattage that exactly what I would have expected, especially sitting up the last 10 miles.
The ST aero guru himself, Jackmott, said my Ironman bike setup was "beautiful" so whatever else happened at IMTX I can take that away as a positive.
The run.  The discipline that seems to define every Ironman race.  I've been running well this year and felt that if I stayed conservative on the bike I'd have a shot at around a 3:30 or so marathon.  If everything broke right at least.  Out of transition of knew I legs would feel shitty for a few miles but would come around like they always do.  It helps that right out of T2 there are massive crowds as well as the Moxie crew which immediately takes your mind off how your legs are feeling.  Past the Moxie group there is a short dirt out and back that completely sucks and then the infamous "grass hill".  Seriously people even remember that thing?  I can't talk with what happened to me later on the run but really....?  That's a hill?  Right after the hill was one of the more fun spots on the course.  The TheRealStarky ("TRS") station.  A lot of people reading this will know that there has been a bit of history between me and TRS.  When I walked up to the TRS booth on Thursday the guy manning the booth, Lars Finanger (not TRS btw), asked both of us our names.  When I told him it was Travis his response was, "oh shit that Travis"?  The TRS spot had some of the best energy on the course with this guy, Jeremy Brown, keeping the party going.
Naturally, he started yelling my full name as I ran past and TRS, who was there but is not pictured above, immediately took notice.  I got a great shout out from him and it was a spot I looked forward to each time I came around.  The Moxie spot on the course has been a fixture at IMTX for the past few years and the TRS group needs to become another one.  The are so many great spots on the IMTX run course.  The entire canal section is one massive party and it's impossible to not enjoy yourself no matter how the day is going through there.  Even the sections out by the lake had a ton of spectators, especially on my 2nd and 3rd laps. 
For my race the 3 laps can be broken up as follows: Good, poor, terrible.  In that order.  My legs kicked in at about 1.5 miles like they always seem to and I actually started running some people down.  Around mile 5 another guy made a move to go by and I stuck with him.  We ran together for at least 3 miles through the canal section which is always fun in a race.  The 2nd loop things started to unravel.  This is the part of every race report that I hate.  Where reasons, or excuses or whatever someone wants to call explaining why a race didn't turn out like they expect start showing up.  So I'm keeping this short.  I walked most of lap 2 and almost all of lap three except for the last few miles when I couldn't bring myself to walk through the crowds no matter how bad I felt.  My issues were likely nutrition related, something I didn't do myself any favors on with my decision on the bike to skip special needs.  There were times I tried to run but each one would leave me dizzy.  So I walked.  And didn't even walk quickly. There are some seriously fast walkers in Ironman.  I think some of them were even passing the guys who were doing the shuffle run.  As much as the walking sucked I never got too down like I have at races in the past when things went wrong.  It was an experience I was going to get through and learn from.  There were definitely a few moments when I thought Ironman was incredibly stupid and I would never do another one but even those didn't last long.  I saw old friends on the course, made a few new ones and got through it.  4:35 on the dot for the marathon.  I'll take it and know it'll be improved on from there.  Crossing the finish line was fun but really didn't feel any different than any of the other races I've done.  Maybe if I had met or exceeded my personal goals it would have but I somehow doubt it.  Ironman is just another race distance.  No better than a sprint or a 70.3 or anything in between.  It's an experience to be enjoyed and an event that is going to take me a bit more time to learn how to master.  And by master I mean get through the run without walking.  Racing this distance is a completely different matter. 
A few photo's below of the run.  In order, one for each lap.  Thankfully I haven't managed to find any of me walking but I'm not exactly moving quickly in any of these either. 


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the insight into completing a full tri.. One day is one day that I attempt the Olympic distance just have to learn to swim and cycle properly first;)