Ironman Texas 2017 Part 2

Race Morning

I woke up at 3:46am and headed downstairs to the lobby at 4am to get coffee, a bagel and a banana. We stayed at the Hyatt Place and they were kind enough to have a full breakfast spread available starting at 4am. I stepped outside to check the weather and it was already warm and humid.

I went back upstairs and finished eating, prepped my bike bottles and got dressed. Megan came to my room at 4:45am and we left the hotel at 5am. We found a great spot in a public lot at the corner of Lake Robbins and Six Pines that was about halfway between the finish line and the transition area.  

Transition opened at 5:30am and we headed in to drop off our fuel bottles on our bikes and check the tires. My tires felt fine and I didn’t want to risk over inflating them. I heard a few tube explosions and felt bad for the folks who had to start their day with changing out tubes.

We finished up in transition and started the mile walk to the swim start at North Shore Park. Once at the park, we got body marked, dropped off our special needs bags, hit the restroom a few times, and then made our way to the swim start. Everything up until this point felt like an out of body experience...and that feeling would continue throughout the whole day!

Megan and I were excited to get going, but I don’t remember feeling nervous. One good thing about doing a race the magnitude of an Ironman is that there are so.many.tiny.details you have to stay on top of that you really don’t have a ton of time to sit around worrying or getting nervous.

We lined up for the swim and seeded ourselves with the folks who hoped to complete the swim in 1:30 - 1:40. Our main goal for the swim was to stay together. We wanted to do the entire race together, and we knew the one place that plan could really go south was in the swim.

The Swim

At 6:40am, the cannon went off and Ironman Texas was officially underway! It took us about 10 minutes before our group got in the water, but once we got in we started swimming tried to stay to the right. After just a few seconds I saw Megan tuck herself into a ball and go underwater - turns out her timing chip was really loose and she fixed it quickly. I was laughing so hard and took in a few mouthfuls of water.

We got into a good rhythm of swimming and it was actually really easy to stay together. Megan was on my right, breathing on her left side - I was on her left breathing to my right, so it was very easy for us to see each other during the whole swim.

I would do two strokes, then lift my head to the front to sight, turn to the right to breathe, and then put my head back in for two more strokes. Any time I felt myself lagging behind a little I would do two or three powerful breast strokes to get myself back up to Megan. The course consisted of swimming out to a buoy, turning left at the buoy and going back down toward the start, and then taking a turn into the canal that runs through the Woodlands Waterway.

There were a few times where men swam up under our armpits, or tried to swim over us, and a couple of times my tri shorts were on the end of someone’s down stroke and got pulled down, but thankfully I had on Nike Pro shorts under them.

The swim went by really fast and I kept thinking “We’re really doing this!” and “This is so easy to stay together!” and “I have taken in A LOT of water.”

I drank so much lake water that I have no idea how I didn’t get sick. It definitely wasn’t on purpose and looking back I’m not quite sure how I did it, but I took in so much water through my mouth and nose. At one point the water went up my nose so violently I thought I could feel it filtering through my brain. Here’s to hoping for no brain-eating amoebas.

Once in the canal, there were a lot of spectators which was a good boost. Until we noticed that a man with a cane walking at a very leisurely pace was walking faster than we were swimming. We swam for what seemed like forever down the canal, grabbing fist fulls of debris in the water and taking in the scent of freshly laid manure all along the banks. It was something! Little did I know that about 15 hours later when I took off my watch I would find a piece of algae that hung around for the entire race.

We exited the water right around 1:40, which is what we figured our time would be. Thankfully tons of volunteers were on hand to pull us up the steps. We were pretty wobbly after spending almost two hours in the water!  

We grabbed our bike bags on the way to the changing tent. Megan had given me a mini can of Coke to drink after the swim for a jolt of energy. Plus, based on what Coke can do to a rusty car battery, I think it probably took care of any lingering bacteria from the water.

I put on my socks, cycling shoes, helmet and sunglasses and then shoved a few gels/Honey Stinger chews in my jersey pockets. We hit the port-a-potties for a quick stop, grabbed our bikes and headed out onto the road.

The Bike

Getting started on the bike...Megan is behind me in blue.

Getting started on the bike...Megan is behind me in blue.

The course was super smooth and pretty flat for the first 20 miles as we made our way to the Hardy Toll Road.

Before getting into the bike, here is a quick overview of the course: once we hit the Hardy Toll Road, we rode 20 miles out, then 20 miles back, then did the loop again to bring us to 100 miles. Shortly after the 100 mile mark, we got off of the Hardy Toll Road and started making our way back to The Woodlands. Here is a quick visual of the course from Strava:

We didn’t have any problems sticking together on the bike, and tried to be very careful to not draft off of each other or anyone around us. The first 40 miles of the bike were actually pretty great. We had an amazing tailwind pushing us along at 20mph. We made quick pit stops at the aid stations to refill our water bottles and reapply sunscreen. One slight mishap occurred when I accidentally dropped my fuel bottle somewhere along miles 20-40. So we are cruising along on a beautiful morning and I was thinking “This is great! This is really not too bad!”

And then we hit the turnaround point and rode directly into what seemed like a brick wall. The awesome tailwind that had been ushering us right down the Toll Road turned into a TERRIBLE headwind on the way back. We and others were using the words “demoralizing”, “brutal”, “soul sucking” and some other choice words to describe it. I've read reports that say they were 10-20  mph sustained winds with gusts up to 31mph. Sounds about right!

But, mind over matter. We all had the same wind to deal with. We made our way for the next 20 miles averaging 12-15mph. And working hard to get it! It was pretty demoralizing. But we pumped ourselves up by saying “as soon as we turn around, we’ll have the tailwind again. And when we hit this stretch again, it will be our last stretch on the Toll Road.” That worked for a little while, ha.

We also had the challenge of being in the mix with both riders on their first loop and riders on their second loop, so things got pretty crowded. I just kept telling myself “don’t take out a pro, don’t take out a pro” - I definitely did not want to be the reason for someone (pro or age grouper) having to end their day.

We did see people collapsed and bloody from crashes, dehydration, heat exhaustion, etc. on the side of the road. Some of those people got back up and went on to finish, which is amazing.

Throughout the ride I kept looking at my bike computer and watch - but seeing the hours stack up didn’t really register in my brain. Both on Saturday and looking back now, most of the day felt like an out of body experience.

So back to the bike...we hit the turn around near mile 60 and made a stop at the special needs bag area around mile 62. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Pringles and Sour Patch Kids. It felt so good to be off the bike and eating solid food. My gel/chew nutrition plan had gone out of the window a long time ago at that point. We sat in some volunteers chairs and put on some of their sunscreen that we found - thank you volunteer, we hope it is ok that we used your stuff! I also contemplated drinking a half-full bottle of frozen root beer that was on the side of the road but decided to draw the line there.   

We got back on the bike, thankful that we were almost halfway done, but fearful of the headwind to come. We cruised along courtesy of the tailwind to mile 80 and then bam, turned right back into the brutal headwind. The last 20 miles were incredibly tough. Megan had a breakdown at the mile 93 aid station but pulled it together and we continued on. We knew we were so close, yet so far from the finish. We were exhausted and calorie depleted and had a few spats in those final miles on the bike, but we knew it wasn’t personal.

Slowly but surely we made our way back to transition and the dismount line that we had been dreaming about for hours. As we pulled into transition we saw Chad and our sister Michelle cheering for us, which gave us a nice boost.

Chad with "Fathead Emma" was definitely a highlight!

Chad with "Fathead Emma" was definitely a highlight!

We immediately took off our helmets and cycling shoes and began making our way to our run bags and the changing tent.

Up next...Part 3: The Run, the Finish and Post-Race!