Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas 2011 Race Report

Hello dear readers!

Wow, that was a tough one!  Competing in the inaugural Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas was a challenging experience to say the least.  I finished in 13 hours and 15 minutes.   I did have some issues (more on that later) though. Not what I was hoping for, but overall I was pretty happy with the race. 

Day Before the Race

I stayed up at a hotel the night before the race so that I would not have to get up at 2 in the morning to be at the race site on time.  I had a little bit of race drama on Thursday.  Turns out, I was supposed to be checked in by Thursday at 4 PM, but I got back from work travel late Wednesday night and just "assumed" I could register on Friday.  So going through the race packet, I saw that registration was closed after Thursday and I almost had a heart attack thinking I was totally screwed!  I started looking at the Ironman website for a contact number and got a hold of a race official who let me know that it was fine for me to check in on Friday.  She said that sometimes people's travel gets screwed up so they make a few exceptions to let those people check in on Friday.  THANK GOODNESS!

After successfully registering I bought a few items at the Ironman Expo and got my bike checked into the transition area and dropped off my bike and run gear bags.   

 I ran into a few buddies I train with as well as a few fellow members of the BAM! triathlon club.  Of course my Ultra Running buddies Roland and Daniel were there and yes they both became Ironmen!  Here is a pic of the transition area with all the bikes checked in for the most part.  Such a sight to see!

 I had my usual pre-race dinner at Denny's:

You may notice that this is not the usual calorie fest I normally eat.  I decided to be a little conservative this time around and not have 10 pounds of food in my gut on race morning.  I then went back to the hotel room, relaxed a bit and got everything laid out for race morning.  I actually got to sleep before midnight and had 3 alarms set for 3:30 AM the next morning.
Race Morning

All 3 alarms went off at 3:30 AM just as planned.  It wakes you up when you have to run around a room turning off alarms.  It's a nice warm up!  I proceeded to get my morning breakfast in.  This consisted of:
  • Muscle Milk
  • Nutri Grain Bar
  • 2 Bananas
  • Coffee
  • Gatorade
  • Water
With my reserves topped off, I packed up my run and bike special needs bags and headed out the door to get to the race site.

Parking was a huge pain in the butt this time around.  I had to park in a mall parking lot like a mile from the transition area.  So I kept walking and walking and was looking around me at all the faces.  You can always tell the first timers.  They have a deer in the headlights look and are so nervous they can hardly talk.  I walked with one young man and gave him some pointers to calm him down a bit.  The typical stuff such as "Just look at it as a long training day, not a race." etc. etc.

I handed off my special needs bags to the volunteers and headed out to the swim start area with some fellow BAM! members.  The race officials were supposed to close the transition area at 6:15 AM but instead moved it up to 6 AM.  I feel bad for anyone who got there last minute and had to frantically get over to the swim start.  Oh, and the swim start was yet ANOTHER mile away!  So the race hadn't even started yet and I was already 2 miles in!


Once I got to the swim start I changed into my speed skin.  I ran into Chris Hamblin (who is now a IRONMAN!) and we chatted it up a while as we got ready for the swim start.  I found some convenient bushes to avoid the hundreds of people waiting in the porta potty line.  Thank you evolution for allowing me to relieve myself standing up!

As the pros moved into the water, we started lining up at the swim entrance for the age group start.  I was just standing there and one of the event camera people told me to look at her and she took my picture.

It's a mass start so over 2000 competitors need to get into the water at the same time.  They divided the line up as two groups: Wetsuit and Non-Wetsuit.  The reason for this is that the temperature was over 76 degrees.  USAT rules state that if the temperature is over 76 degrees you may wear a wetsuit but you will not be eligible for prizes or Kona slots etc.  This is where I had my first issue of the day.

What do you mean I am not legal?

So I get into the non-wetsuit line and the race official who was checking us said I wasn’t legal. I looked at him and said, “This specific manufacturer and speed suit model is listed as USAT legal on the Ironman website.”  He would have none of it and said either take it off or get in the wetsuit line.  It pissed me off since I just dropped a good amount of change on this suit for this specific race.  If I had known that their own website was wrong, I would have warn my wetsuit!  So I obligingly got into the wetsuit line and headed out into the water, grumbling to myself how I was going to write a “Strongly worded letter” to the WTC people complaining about this.  Who knows, maybe they can comp me the cost of the suit?

Once we were all in the water and the start time was approaching the song that all of us love started playing.  That song of course was Black Sabbath’s “Ironman”.  It gets your blood pumping every time!  Of course then the gun goes off and the pummeling of 2500 athletes was under way!

 I’ve talked about this before, but I have to mention it again.  A mass start Ironman swim is rough.  It is even rougher when the swim course is as narrow as this one was.  You get punched, kicked, grabbed, pushed and I’m not sure, but I might have been close to getting violated at one point!  OK, just kidding about the last part.  But suffice to say it was really hard for me to get into a smooth rhythm.  I’d get going and I would then run into someone which would stop me and then the person behind would run into me.  So it was a set of constant starts and stops for the first half mile or so before I could get into any open water.
After what seemed like a lifetime, I finally climbed the ladder out of the canal and headed into Transition 1.  My time at that point was about 1 hour and 28 minutes.  Not as fast as I normally would do this distance, but I felt really good and was excited to get out on the bike course.

Transition 1

The first transition took about a little under 10 minutes.  I got my gear bag which contained all my bike stuff such as helmet, shoes, body glide, sunscreen, glasses, etc.  Ran into the men’s changing tent and threw my swim gear into the bike bag and put all my bike gear on.  I then ran over to the sunscreen girls and they did a great job of coating me with thick sun screen.  Then it was off to grab my bike off the rack and onto the road!

The Bike

Riding 112 miles is hard any time of the year, but it is especially difficult in hot conditions.  Fortunately, the sun was behind the clouds so while the temperature and humidity was high, it could have been a lot worse.  We had a good amount of wind out there, but again, I’ve ridden in worse. 
I knew from the first few miles of the bike I was going to have a good day.  I was roaring down the road passing people left and right.  My heart rate was good and I was really stoked.  And then the second issue I had with how the race went happened.

At an intersection of 1488 (maybe 10 miles in), the police stopped all bike traffic.  You might think that this is a minor issue, but to me it was.  The whole point of paying the police to direct traffic is so that the bikers are the ones who have the right of way and the cars are the ones who stop.  Plus the fact that all that effort to get ahead of other riders was erased since the police made us stay there for at least 5 minutes.  I figure there were about 500 cyclists all jammed up at that intersection.  Also it is a safety hazard in my opinion because there was a 90 degree turn right after that intersection and there were some close calls for crashes since we were just a few inches from each other.  I could see a domino effect happening easily.  Fortunately it didn’t.

After the 1488 fiasco the rest of the bike portion was pretty good as far as my speed and endurance went.  I pushed but not too crazy.  At one point I went 36 miles per hour on one of the down hills.  

 That was fun.  But of course, now comes the third issue I had during the race.  The damned Ironman Perform drink.

In years past, Ironman races offered Gatorade Endurance Formula during races.  It tastes great and is tolerated well by my system.  Then last year Ironman announced that they no longer would be serving Gatorade but their own product they developed with Power Bar called Ironman Perform.  This is not a product you can buy at the grocery store, but order online or get from a specialty store like a bike shop.  So what is my issue?  Well to put it mildly, it tastes like doo doo!  Too sweet and when I drink a lot of it, I get sick.  Talking with some fellow triathletes, they know this is a common issue.  I did train with the product here and there, but I used the powder version and the ready to drink formula they used at the race was much more concentrated and sweeter.  Anyway, my first 50 miles or so was on the Gatorade I carried with me on the bike and then I switched to the Perform drink.  I started having trouble with my gut around mile 80 and I had not really peed again so I knew I was in trouble.  I tried to drink more water and so forth but my gut was just not cooperating.  This is a rookie mistake.  I should have stopped, and started chugging until my stomach emptied but I was too focused on keeping my time good on the bike and I figured I could recover on the run.  In the meantime, I had to focus on getting the bike course completed.

The last 20 miles or so were a hassle for me because the traffic got pretty bad with cars.  Some of the roads were so narrow, I actually had to wait behind cars!  You have no idea how pissed off I was that I was doing such great time and had to stop or slow waaaaaaay down several times to wait for cars to get out of the way.  I was not a happy camper!

I pressed on and finished the bike in 5 hours and 41 minutes.  That was an average of 19.6 MPH!  If it hadn’t been for all the car traffic issues, I am sure it would have been closer or over to 20 MPH!  Fastest bike split at this distance I have ever done!

Transition 2

I got off the bike and grabbed my run gear bag and headed into the changing tent.  

It was SOOOOOO HOT in there!  So here I am, dehydrated and sickly and I’m inside a 100+ degree tent.  I did my best to get changed as quickly as I could and got out of there.  Total time in transition 2 was 9:21.

The Marathon

Now here comes the fun part (NOT!).  In a few words, I was basically sick to my stomach the whole run.  I know it was due to my poor hydration and nutrition plan going out the window.  I couldn’t really keep anything down and I was really overheated.  I ran with Daniel for a few miles, but he was in better a better situation than myself so I told him to go for a great time and I would plod along myself.  Here's a pic of us together....

I knew I could finish, but I was not sure how fast.  I arrived out of transition in about 7 hours and 30 minutes for the run, a personal record!  I had all the time in the world to do the marathon so I could walk it in if I had to and still get done in under the 17 hour time limit.

So how did I survive?  Well the first thing you have to take care of is the overheating.  It was in the 90s at this point so at every water stop I took several ice sponges and put some down my back and in the front and then took a cup of ice and placed it under my cap.

After 10 miles or so I started feeling a bit better and could drink some cola and eat some chips but that was about it.  At this point I was doing a walk/shuffle strategy.  Walk for a while, and then shuffle for a while and I basically did this over and over again throughout the 26.2 mile run.

The crowds were awesome.  People were everywhere and there are a few miles before you got downtown during the three loops of the run that you ran by restaurants that were serving alcohol. So I had all these drunk folks cheering me on and it was all great fun!  I was offered so much alcohol during the run but had to pass.  There was one group of young women in bikinis giving away free hugs! I also remember one guy with a speedo and a grass skirt chasing us around telling us to go faster. By the time I got to the finisher shoot I was really cooking and feeling pretty good!

After sprinting against a little guy from Mexico at the finish line (you will see that we basically are there at the same time), I finally did finish the marathon in 5 hours and 46 minutes for my total time of 13 hours and 15 minutes.

I got pulled aside and given some water and a guy guided me towards the back of the area for getting my finisher picture and timing chip retrieval.  I was pretty dazed and the guy kept asking if I needed to go to the medical tent.  I said I was fine and he plopped me in front of the photographer who said "Pose!".  So I gave him a little flex and of course the flash happened when my eyes were closed.  I actually think this is really funny!

It always seems to me that the marathon portion of an Ironman is a time of reflection.  This is especially true when the race isn’t going as planned and you are going really slow and all you have is time with your own thoughts.  I thought about my training so far this year and the things I did right and wrong.  I thought about my family and all the time I spent away training for long hours on the bike and runs.  I am really thankful I have such a beautiful and understanding network of family and friends who support this obsession!

I know this post was long, but I thought you would all find this enjoyable.  That's the last triathlon I will be doing this year.  I am now switching to ultra running mode and will do some long running races and yes I think I will compete in the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile race again next year.  I HAVE TO GET THAT BUCKLE!

That's all for now. 

Tri your best!


Friday, May 20, 2011

Ironman Texas Here We Go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hello Dear Readers!

I am so excited to be racing tomorrow.  For those who need a catch up, I am competing in the Memorial Herman Ironman Texas race.  That's 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running.  I feel really good about this race.  I  have rode on the harder parts of the bike course several times.  I have swum without a wetsuit to the proper distances.  I have a much better base of running as well.  Could this be the fastest one I have ever done?  I am hopeful.  But this race will be really hot and very windy.  These conditions are not conducive for me to have a fast set of splits.  But I am going to really focus on keeping my core cool and taking it easy so that I have lots of energy left for the run.

I'd like to do a shout out to my buddies Roland and Danny.  I trained with them a bit for this race and I think those young whipper snappers will do really well for their first Ironman distance race!  Good luck guys and I will see you at the start tomorrow!

As always, I want to thank my coach, Kevin Landry, for giving me great advice and training plans to prepare for this race.

And of course, what post would be complete without thanking my beautiful wife, Denise, for all her support.  There is a reason why they call women married to Ironman athletes "Ironman Widows".  Long hours away on the bike or running, bad moods and the crazy stress of race week.  Thanks honey for hanging in there with me and I promise we will go on a vacation together sometime soon!

Well, I got the alarm set for 3:30 AM and I need to start trying to wind down for bed.  I'll post a race report later.  Until then.....

Tri your best!