I Messed With Texas

As you probably know, unless you just stumbled into this blog looking for street signs, I moseyed into Austin, Texas this week to compete in the Longhorn Ironman 70.3.

When I first signed up for this race I was coming off a Hawaii 70.3 race in June that saw me get a 38 minute personal record, but also suffer a major mechanical failure that cost me about 25 minutes.  Keen to see how fast I could really go, I sought out, and signed up for, this mid-October race.  At the time I was setting a goal to try and go sub-7 hours.

Well, then we moved to Flagstaff, Arizona and a big chunk of training time just didn’t get done, with all of the hubbub of the move.  I probably lost 3-5 weeks of solid training. But once we got settled into Flag, I eventually found a pretty good training rhythm, did some good bike rides, got in a couple of weeks of good swim training with a new coach at a new facility and generally started to get on track.

So I rolled into Austin with some revised goals.  First and foremost I wanted a PR (Personal Record) so that meant beating the 7:48:38 I did at Ironman Hawaii 70.3 in June.  To be fair I was pretty confident I could do it – that 7:48:38 included the mechanical which I was pretty sure wouldn’t happen this time.

Second goal was to go sub-7:30.  According to my Garmin I should have had about a 7:25 at Hawaii and I wanted to at least validate that in this race.  Third, I was hoping to go in the low 7s, 7:15 or faster.  Finally, I still had in the back of my mind that sub-7 was possible if everything came right on the day.

Pre-Race

The race is a wave start and my wave was the very last one, at 8:45AM, so I didn’t feel compelled to get to the venue TOO early.  The site opened at 5AM and body marking ran until 7:15.  I needed to drop off my transition bags before the race and get marked but otherwise I was ready to go.  I’d laid out my gear the night before, like ya should.

Chris and I got up at 5AM, got dressed, gathered my stuff and headed for the race.  It was a little foggy (and so was I) but the temperatures were comfortable and it looked like it would be a good day to race.

Arriving at the Arena that would serve as T2 and the finish area we encountered the usual pre-race traffic jam, but it flowed pretty well and in no time we’d found a parking space and made our way to T2.  I dropped off my Run Gear bag in my allotted spot and we boarded the shuttle to the start.  The start line is only a mile away so we were quickly there.

NOTE: One thing I had heard about Keith Jordan races (he’s the Race Director) was that there were usually ample (and very nice) porta-potties at the start area.  That was definitely true.  The couple of times I used them I had zero wait time and they were pretty clean and nice (for portas).

Once at the start area I dropped my bike gear off with Keira (she’d been checked in the day before), filled my Spiz bottles and strolled down to the lakeside to relax and await the start.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: At this point I was going to insert some pictures of the race venue and me relaxing and waiting for the start. But WordPress’ online editor is so crappy at inserting images in the right place that I gave up after several minutes of frustration.]

The water looked calm and peaceful, the buoys were laid out in a big triangle and the support boats were making their way out onto the course. I have to say…the course looked BIG.  I know it’s 1.2 miles, but somehow the distant buoys seemed awfully distant.

During the pre-race we just hung out, chatted with other racers (and their loved ones and supporters) and listened to the race announcer. Just before the start the National Anthem was sung and a couple of skydivers from the Texas National Guard(?) swooped in carrying the flags of Texas and the United States.  It would have been a lot cooler if I wasn’t so focused on the upcoming race, I’m sure.



Going Swimingly

The pro men got started in the first wave at 7:30AM.  Watching them swim away just made the course look that much bigger…it seemed like it took them a while to reach the end of the first leg, and I knew they are faster swimmers than me.

One by one different waves with distinctively colored swim caps entered the water and were sent off.  Finally (literally, since we were the last wave) my merry band of maybe 100 men aged 40-45 (with last names beginning K-Z) waded out into the water and waited for the horn.

AND WE’RE OFF!  I settled into a comfortable pace, trying to pay attention to my form and sighting every few strokes to make sure I was on the right course.

It didn’t help that every time I looked up to sight I saw most of the other yellow swim caps disappearing further and further ahead.  I was glad to have the clear water, but it just made me feel that much slower to see the gap increasing steadily.  A quick glance around me reassured me that I wasn’t last, there were a handful of other yellow caps to my left and right and behind, but still…looking forward to seeing Coach Sonja and that pool when I get back to Flag.  I still have a lot of work to do, clearly.

Having that space did mean I had a relatively uneventful swim.  One erratic fellow ran into me a couple of times, slapping at my feet and calves on a couple of occasions, but nothing too serious.

About 3/4 of the way around the course a fellow swimmer caught my eye to my left.  He seemed to be having a problem and I paused and asked if he was o.k.  “No!” he replied “Cramping.” “Do you need help?” I asked, glancing around for a lifeguard.  He seemed to nod, so I waved to a nearby kayaker and gestured towards him.  As she paddled over I told her “He’s cramping up a bit.”  She seemed to have it under control so I continued on.  The whole episode maybe cost me 30 seconds, no big deal.

The rest of the way in was fine, I pushed a little now that the swim finish was in sight and passed a few more swimmers in the last 150 meters.  Exiting the water I felt pretty good.

Swim Goal: 49:59.  Swim time: 51:02. (still 2 minutes faster than I was in June at Kona)

Swim Notes

  • The water temperature was announced at 73 degrees, wetsuit-legal, and felt fine to me in my DeSoto Liftfoil.  Cool but not cold.
  • Unlike Hawaii where you can see the bottom 70 feet deep, in Decker Lake you’re lucky if you can see your hand as you stroke.  The entire swim was conducted in a murky green/brown, which probably contributed to it feeling slow to me.
  • I had some soreness in my left shoulder during the swim and wondered quietly if perhaps I hadn’t tapered enough, but it didn’t really affect me.
  • It was odd swimming in a lake.  In recent years all of my swims have either been in the ocean or the pool.  So when I get water in my mouth I’m used to it either being salty or clorinated. Was odd getting water that actually tasted o.k.
  • Even though the BlueSeventy PointZero3 swimskins are supposed to be illegal at WTC races (since Sept 1) I did see at least one athlete wearing one.  No idea if there were consequences for that.
  • Even though there were a bunch of kayakers and a couple of jet skiis on the course for support, I didn’t see very many of them during the swim. Not like Hawaii 70.3 where every time I turned to breath I saw a kayak or paddleboarder. Austin felt a lot more like doing the swim alone – though I know I wasn’t.

Change is Inevitable – T1

The exit is a little rough and muddy but they have a phalanx of volunteers there to help you out of the water and send you up the grassy slope towards T1.  Jogging up the chutes I was glad to be on dry land and looking forward to the ride.

As I jogged thru T1 to where Keira was parked there were a number of fellow racers there all transitioning too and I cheerfully called out to them “Whaddya say fellas, let’s go for a bike ride!”  They responded with a hearty cheer (well, as hearty as you can manage part way into a half-Ironman) and I arrived at Keira.  Off with the cap and goggles, on with the heart rate strap, race number, sunglasses, bike shoes and helmet….and jogging to the exit of T1.  On the way out a nice volunteer offered to slather my arms with sunscreen, and I gratefully accepted.

Let’s go for a ride!

T1 Goal: (loosely) 5 minutes.  Actual: 4:42

T1 Notes

  • The jog up from the water is largely on grass, with some carpeting. Unfortunately there are also patches of dirt and even mud.  By the time I arrived at Keira my feet had accumulated quite a bit of dirt, mud and even bits of grass.  I quickly wiped them as best I could but they went into my bike shoes largely that way.  I was mildly concerned that would cause problems later but it was o.k.  If I do this race again I’m definitely putting a towel (maybe even some wet wipes) into my bike bag to clean my feet off quickly before I set off.
  • Putting on the heart rate strap was easy, but pulling my wet LiftFoil back up afterwards was not.  Need to practice with that.  I probably lost as much as 45 seconds wrestling with that suit trying to get it resecured.

I AM THUNDERBEAR!

As some of you know my favorite pro triathlete is Torbjorn (“Thunderbear”) Sindballe.  And like Torbjorn I tend to be a little bigger than most of my competitors (203 pounds currently) and my strength is the bike.  Also like Torbjorn I’m not an exceptional swimmer or runner – among our peers.

I headed out onto the bike course, having driven it a couple of days earlier, hoping to go 3:15 or better.  And I had a pace-per-mile number in my head to let me know how I was doing.  At every mile my Garmin would chirp at me and display how long it took me to cover that last mile.  And I would think “Good, I put 23 seconds into the race that mile” or “Hmm…the race took 7 seconds out of me on that mile.”  It was an easy way to get a mile by mile sense of how I was doing, without having to stare at my Garmin the whole way.

Right from the start, I was riding pretty strong.   I found myself passing a steady stream of people – in fact not a single person passed me whom I didn’t repass during the entire bike segment.

Around mile 8 perhaps there is a 90 degree right turn, followed by a short but steep climb.  Coming around that turn I found 2 guys actually walking their bikes up the hill.  I opted to stay on the bike and ride it.  That was easily the steepest hill of the ride.  Just before mile 14 was another tough hill…not as steep, but longer.  I rode that one too.

Overall I really enjoyed the ride.  It was a little rolling, but I felt fast and strong the whole way.  As I passed other riders I’d greet them by name (our names were printed on our race numbers) and give them a word or two of encouragement.

I could also tell that I was riding up through the age groups – our ages were written on our left calves – and as I rode I was passing younger and younger folk.  I have to say…there is something rather satisfying about blowing past a guy with “26” written on his calf, especially when you have “42” written on yours.  But I tried not to be smug about it as I encouraged him (while overtaking).

About halfway thru the ride I had to do a little strategic thinking.  I could tell from the feelings in my stomach that my nutrition wasn’t getting absorbed as well as I’d hoped.  I was almost done with my first bottle of Spiz, per plan, but too much of it was still sitting in my gut.  And a quick check of my heartrate solved the mystery – I was too high.

Decision time: Do I back off a bit on the bike, get my heart rate down, and save more of my legs for the run.  Or do I keep pressing on the bike, get the best ride I can and see what’s left for the run?

Ultimately I decided that because I didn’t know the run course and even my own run fitness was a bit of a questionmark that I’d stick with what was working.  I was riding well, the course seemed well-suited to me, and I’d ride smart but not back off too much. Any minutes ahead of goal I could get on the ride would come in handy on the run.

The second half of the ride went just as well as the first, still passing folks and putting time into the race.  Then, right around mile 54, I dropped a water bottle.  ARGH…decision time: ride on, or circle back?  Since it was my brand new bottle…I decided to circle back.  Probably cost me 90 seconds or so there.

Finally, back on the road for the last couple of miles, I found myself riding just behind (but legally so) a guy named Ray.  Ray and I were obviously both feeling that familiar euphoria that comes with knowing you’re into the “home stretch” since we both turned it on and raced towards T2.  Back up 3117, right turn through the gate at the Expo Center, powering through the parking lot towards the dismount line!  We came off our bikes side by side, and immediately turned to each other and shook hands.

Off the bike, and into T2 we go…

Bike Goal: 3:15  Actual: 3:05:12

Bike Notes

  • The course is fast and rolling, but the road surface leaves something to be desired.  In some areas it’s smooth.  In others it’s pretty rough.  On Hogs Eye (and most of the roads back there seem to be named “Hogs Eye” for some reason) there’s a section that should be a 33MPH aerobar descent. But because the road surface is so rough and bumpy it ends up being an 18MPH teeth rattling push.
  • This is a non-drafting race, of course, but around mile 30 I came up on a guy and a girl.  She was riding a full disc rear wheel.  He was riding her full disc rear wheel – just inches behind her the whole time I had them in sight.  Oh well, I passed them anyhow.
  • Saw quite a few folks by the side of the road with mechanical issues – flat tires I assume.  Considering the road surface I’m not surprised. Saw a fair amount of bike debris (bottles, etc) out there too.  Again, undoubtedly jarred loose during the ride.
  • We twice had to cross railroad tracks.  Wasn’t as bad as expected.

Change I Can Believe In – T2

When I arrived at my designated rack space I discovered that the athletes on either side of me had already arrived and unfortunately their bikes were pinching into my space – to a degree that made getting Keira on the rack impossible.  I started to move their bikes over a bit, but fortunately a race official spotted the problem and quickly stepped in to do it for me.

Keira racked, helmet off, hat on, bike shoes off, socks on (feet still dirty/muddy from T1), running shoes on, Fuel Belt on…away we go!

T2 Goal (loosely): 5 minutes.  Actual: 4:16

T2 Notes

  • Whereas T1 is held on grass in a park, T2 is on concrete in what is usually a parking lot. T1 was in the morning (roughly 9:35AM for me) and T2 was right about at noon. The difference in heat and bright sunlight was fairly dramatic and not lost on me.
  • Great crowds around the T2/finish area.  Lots of enthusiasm, tents, music, signs.
  • There was another volunteer (or maybe the same one, I couldn’t tell) offering sunscreen at the exit from T2.  I once again gladly accepted.

Running on Empty

The start of the run course was auspicious enough.  It’s a gradual downhill out of T2, through the Expo parking area and down to the road where we make a left.  TWO aid stations in that first mile.  Sponges, coke, water, ice…actually feeling kinda good.  First mile was right on goal pace.

The road back to Decker Lake wasn’t too bad either – a little rolling some up and down, but pace stayed o.k.

Then onto the grass back at Walter E. Long park…yep, we’re back to where this whole thing started.  And then the run, turned into a bit of a slog for me.  We’re through another aid station and loop around T1 (by now empty and largely broken down), then down a long grassy hill along the fence line.  And my legs, especially my hamstrings, are feeling it.  I get to the bottom of that hill and decide to take a walk break.

This is our first of two laps on this course and it’s a course I’ve never seen before so every turn is a new discovery.  Some of them not terribly pleasant.  Like the turn, just after an aid station, that reveals a long climb.

By this point, a little more than halfway thru the first loop, my run plan is out the window.  I gave a little too much on the bike, perhaps, but honestly my run strategy wasn’t going to happen on this course today anyhow.  I just don’t have the run fitness and this is a tough, hot, course.  So I adopt a looser version of the run plan…I’m going to try and run the flats and downhills, walk the uphills.  Walk the aid stations.

I also decide that I’m going to try and push the second loop a little harder than the first.  The grass surface is o.k.  It’s not great.  It’s not the golf course we ran in Kona. There are some rocks and ruts.  It’s not trail running, but it’s not really road running either.  Eventually, after the long climb past the aid station, we’re back into the “civilized” part of the park and running on access roads again.

Two more aid stations, two Alleve and an uncomfortable amount of walking later we’re back onto Hogs Eye (yes, really) and running back towards the Expo Center to finish the first lap.

Throughout this lap the course is busy.  We have folks on their first lap and folks on their second.  Plenty of company.  Folks coming back, folks going out…it’s a sea of sweaty humanity.  Somehow it felt better to be going back than coming out. You’d watch the people coming towards you and try to guess if they were on the first lap or the second.

A lot of them didn’t look too good. Was that because they were just off the bike and dreading the miles to come? Or because they were slogging into mile 8 and already had 7 hot, tough, miles in their legs.  I tried not to think about it too much.

On the run course you make friends.  People suffering just as much as you are.  At one point a nice fellow named Enrique started running as I passed him. “I’ll stick with you” he said cheerfully.  Nice guy.  From Texas.  This was his second 70.3 – he’d done Austin the year before too.  He was battling and trying to decide whether to throw up or not.

A mile or so later he apologized (no need) and dropped off to walk again.  Chris, Ray, Eric, John, Michael, Taylor…at one time or another each ran (or walked) with me for a bit and we chatted and shared our stories. Helped the miles pass a little quicker.  Most dropped back after a bit, though a couple surged ahead.

At the end of the first lap I was at 1:32:02.  About 9 minutes off the pace I had planned.  I was determined to run the second lap better and, as I came around the loop to start the second lap (Hi Chris!) I got a bit of a second wind.

The course is a lot lonelier the second time around. All those speedy second-lap people have finished.  Now it’s just you and the folks around you.  And you know what to expect, now that you’ve done it once.  I settled into a decent pace, ran the downhills.  Walked most of the uphills (with a few bouts of running) and decided that once I was back onto Hogs Eye and into the last two miles of the race that I’d give up on the heart rate monitor and just run the best I could.

Through the park and the last couple of aid stations, for a few minutes I was alongside Michael who was having a tough go of it. He was cramping and stiff.  I offered him my Sport Beans (unopened) in case the electrolytes would help him.  With just 2 miles to go there might not have been enough time, but he gladly accepted and a short time after I finished I saw him run through the finish chute, looking a little more sprightly.

The last two miles actually went pretty well.  Except for a brief walking spell right after entering the Expo grounds (uphill) I ran right about at the pace I wanted to.  Left turn past the tent city and cheering crowds I drew a lot of energy from the supporters by the side of the course.  Right turn into the loop, another right into the Finish lane. (Hi Chris!)  Finally they loop us around past a stage with a band playing and then in through the giant doors at the end of the building.  It’s a straight shot to the finish line at that point, the announcer is calling your name, and a building full of people are cheering.  I wish I had a video of that last section because it felt like I was FLYING.

Hit the finish line strong and checked my watch. 1:28:47 for that second lap, a solid 4+ minutes faster than the first. I love negative splits!

Run Goal: 2:45.  Actual: 3:00:49.

Run Notes

  • This is a tough run course. It’s hilly.  The grass is tricky.  There’s not a lot of shade. I don’t know if it’s harder than Hawaii 70.3, but I’m pretty sure it’s not easier.
  • They have a LOT of aid stations on the course. But by the second lap many of them had become essentially self-serve as the volunteers started to peter out (and some of the aid stations started getting broken down). I never had to go without water or coke but there were a few times when I had to go to the table and find it myself.  Also the iced sponges that are so wonderful, only seemed to be offered at the aid stations by the expo center and the one exiting the park.  The 3 or 4 aid stations in the middle of the loop didn’t seem to have them.
  • At the athlete’s meeting they emphasized no outside assistance.  Nobody (other than fellow competitors) allowed to run alongside you during the race. At least twice during the run I saw admiring supporters running alongside their athletes, includling one lady who ran alongside her friend for the better part of a mile.
  • Sign on the run course: “Worst parade ever”  (I gave them a little parade wave as I passed)
  • Signs on the run course: “Go harder! Go faster!” then, 10 meters further “That’s what she said!”
  • Sign on the run course “Go Rangers! I mean…Nick”
  • I only used one bottle of the Fuel Belt.  I poured Gatorade in it at an aid station – the run was hot enough and I could feel that I was going to need the extra fluids and electrolytes out there.
  • For the second straight 70.3 I took no solid or semi-solid nutrition on the course. Liquids only.  I think it worked fine.  I had Sport Beans and PowerGel with me, but never opened either.
  • The finish line is great.  Indoors, it’s cool, shady, flat surface, great crowd.  A little confusing about where to find the food, but still…excellent.

Race Summary

A great race overall.  Well run, good energy, friendly folks.  I would definitely do it again.

  • No finisher shirts at this race. They give you a nice shirt at packet pickup and a hat (same one you can buy at the expo I think) when you cross the finish line. Not a big deal but I do sort of like having a shirt (and/or hat) that says “Finisher”.
  • Parking was very easy.  One of the best I’ve seen at a race; especially a race with this many participants.
  • Post -race you had to go to the other building to get your bike bag, and your bike was in T2 on the far side of the finish building. A lot of walking on sore legs to collect all your stuff. Next year I might suggest that they put the bike gear/morning clothes bags in T2 alongside your bike and your run bag. Then post-race you get it all in one place.
  • Not sure if BBQ beef is the best post-race food.  Tangy food in an unsettled stomach. I’m just sayin’.
  • Race registration was pretty smooth – just what I’m used to from WTC races.  The expo was small but pretty good.
  • The Liftfoil worked well.  First time racing in it (though I’d trained in it) and it was fine to swim, bike and run in.
  • I must not have had my Fuel Belt or race belt tight enough, each kept rotating a bit around my torso.  A few times I found myself straightening them.
  • Enrique, Walter, Heather, Chris, Blaine, Carrie (“That’s my wife’s name!”), Jason, Michael, Taylor, Eric, John, Sara…you guys did great, congrats!  Ray, that was a heck of a bike finish, way to go!
  • Big thanks again to all of my friends and family who sent along words of encouragement and cheer. I’m overwhelmed by how many of you have told me you were tracking me online during the race. And a little disappointed that you didn’t have anything better to do on a Sunday.  🙂
  • Major mahalos to Chris for being my support crew, letting me take over one of his many spare bedrooms, driving me all over Texas and even loaning me his car. I might have been able to do it without you, buddy, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as easy or fun.
  • And, of course, to my beautiful wife Carrie.  I thought of you often during the race. Thanks for posting updates on Facebook during the race and thanks for inspiring me to always be better than I am. You are truly amaZing and I can’t wait to get home to you.

Race Goal: 7:48:37.  Actual: 7:06:01  A 42 minute and 37 second Personal Record. (PR)

Next race: L.A. Marathon

Next triathlon: Ironman Texas

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