Two weeks ago I accomplished a goal I was looking forward to for a long time and something I never thought I’d be able to do. I traveled to Texas and took part in the Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas. It was a long journey and I put a lot of effort into it and am happy with everything. Shall I get started? Okay then!
You did what!?
Yep, I drove to Houston from the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m still a bit shaken up from the nasty flight back from the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon in Las Vegas and the idea of somehow getting all my gear there was too hard to fathom. It was 1962 miles away and an extremely boring ride on Interstate 10 for most of the way.
We packed up all the gear and clothes – I know I brought too much stuff, but it was my first Ironman and thought I’d need to bring an entire bike toolbox with me! D’oh. We were able to squeeze all the stuff into the Prius and had plenty of room. The hatchback is a lot bigger than you’d think! The drive itself was very boring – I5 down into Los Angeles and then eventually hooking up with I10 all the way into Houston. We stopped in Phoenix on the first night and some Econolodge in the west Texas boonies the second night. We should have left a day sooner because we had to high-tail it for another 7 hours of driving to get to The Woodlands for the mandatory packet pickup … on Thursday … even though the race is on a Saturday!
We made it to the packet pickup, which was located pretty close to the Woodlands Mall parking lot with a few hours to spare. We apparently picked a good time since there was only 6 people in line – by the time I got my stuff done the line was probably over a hundred strong. Iron distance triathlons work a little differently than the shorter distances. All your gear goes into specially marked bags, so transition areas look and work much better. The packet also had my race Bibs and stickers to place on all my bags and gear. Here’s what our hotel bed looked like:
I didn’t have to worry about the green one since I had family with me but I used the other 4. The ‘Special needs’ bags you get to pick up at about the half way point on the bike and during laps 2 or 3 of the run.
What do you do with these puppies? Here’s a little sample:
Bike Gear: Jam my aero helmet, bike shoes, socks, sun glasses, bodyglide, food to put in my jersey pockets.
Bike Special Needs : More food: Honey Stinger waffles, powerbar gel blasts and believe it or not honey bbq fritos… salty and hit the spot at the right times!
Run Gear: Obviously shoes, visor and a fresh clean pair of socks! And more waffles!
Run Special Needs: More of the same food.
I was fortunate enough to not only have my awesome wife with me there to support me but my in-law’s flew all the way to Texas from Pennsylvania to be there! It was so awesome to have them out there and definitely helped me push along at some of my worst times.
Bike Drop Off
The day before the race you have to drop off all your bags and your bike and yep – it was pretty intense and really starting to heat up in Texas. I was dripping sweat just walking around as you can see here:
And on to the spice – the race itself!
Swim – 2.4 miles – 1:39:09
The water temperature was warm enough that a special wetsuit role comes in to play. If you wear a wetsuit you are not eligible for age group awards or to take a coveted Kona slot for the Ironman World Championships. Needless to say the only way that would happen is if rednecks shot everyone else in my age group while I was on the bike. So I opted to wear a wet suit. Swimming is definitely not my strong point and I’ve never been in a mass-start before. I wore a sleeveless wet suit for the first time to try to keep cool before the heat was on.
We all queued up into the water after the professionals were sent off. Over 2,000 of us lodged into a fairly small area of the lake. They played one of my favorite tunes to kick off the start – Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. (Click that and read the rest of the review! lol) Once it started, holy crap, it was mass mayhem. I was kicked in the face and punched in the side of the head about 15 seconds into the race. I knew it was going to be a long day.
I was hoping that once the better swimmers got further out things would spread out a bit, but that never happened. I was surrounded by people for most of the swim. It ended in a canal at the Woodlands Waterway which was gorgeous, and pretty intense with people lined up on both sides cheering us on. It felt so good to hear Mike Reilly’s voice over the speakers at the end of the swim. It was my biggest fear – not making that 2:20 cutoff somehow.
Transition 1 – Swim to bike – 10:23
I wanted to get in and out of transition and onto that bike as soon as possible but of course there was a bunch of hiccups. I double knotted my transition bag the day before and wasn’t thinking about having to open it when I got into the changing tent. Spent a minute or two fumbling with it before just tearing a hole in the side of it to get my bike gear out and jam my swim stuff inside of it. Luckily for me all of my stuff ended up in tact when I picked it up at the end. I have no clue how I spent 10 minutes there though… haha
Bike – 112 Miles – 6:22:32
The bike course was beautiful and relatively flat for 112 miles. Total elevation gain on my Garmin Edge ended up being 3,618ft. That is a bit less than some little 40 mile loop I do in California. I still tried to maintain my decent heart rate so I’d be able to run the marathon. It felt really good to be passing a ton of bikes… one of the benefits of being a terrible swimmer I guess! I kept up on my nutrition really well during the bike and felt great. In retrospect I probably should have pushed it a bit harder and aimed for 5:45 or under, but that run frightened me since the heat and humidity in Houston area is unreal. I had to stop to pee at an aid station about 30 miles in.
I alternated taking water and sports drink at every other aid station – except skipping the 1st one and another one later on in the course. And at mile 60ish I picked up my special needs bag to replenish some of the nutrition I liked. Also in there was a note from my wife that really picked the spirits up.
The heat really started picking up during the last 30 miles or so of the course and I knew that run was going to be walking hell. I tried to ease up a little more to keep my HR down and recover the legs a little bit. By the time the Garmin showed 112 I was certainly ready to get off the bike, but it hadn’t felt like it was that far. That was a good feeling!
Transition 2 – Bike to Run – 14:13
I handed my bike and helmet off to the volunteer and headed toward the changing tent. Yep – in full Ironman’s they even rack your bike for you. Totally bad ass and I want that for sprints!
Just walking near the changing tent I really felt that Houston heat. It was like walking into a pizza kitchen with no windows or air conditioning. Holy cow. I utilized the facilities and headed into the tent. I sat down and was already downright drenched in sweat. They ran out of water in T1 and the volunteers were scrambling to get some – there was quite a number of people just sitting there staring at the tent walls. I knew then it was going to be even more rough than I thought. I took my time getting new socks on and bodygliding up all the important places. Then I took a minute or two just to regain composure and headed on out. At least I can grasp why this one took 14 minutes!
Run 26.2 miles – 6:00:29
I got out on the run course and thank god there was an aid station about 100 feet from the exit. I loaded up on water like a camel! I think my sweat rate was higher than what I could physically drink at the time. I was about 1 mile into the run course and I saw a few people sitting on the curb trying to regain composure. I saw two different people throwing up behind a dumpster and into bushes. I saw a lady crying and breaking down. I thought I accidently made the wrong turn into a warzone. The most surprising thing was that I passed a female pro (They have P’s written on the back of their leg) while running a 9:00 mile… She was likely on her 3rd lap of the run course already, but if that wasn’t a sign for things to come I don’t know what was!
The aid stations were incredible. Volunteers were very well trained, very vocal and the most supportive I’ve ever seen. I was able to keep running by shoving the ice cold water filled sponges down my back and rigged up into my visor. This was a major catch 22 that I didn’t know yet. The water from the sponges was running down my back… through, uh, a special area, and down my leg into my socks. This majorly chafed that, uh, special area, and water logged my shoes. I ended up keeping between a 10-11:30 minute mile for most of the 1st lap which would keep me on track for me 5 hour goal. The people surrounding the waterway were incredible. My name was on my bib and hearing everyone personally cheering me on really helps. I unfortunately missed my family since they weren’t sure where the start of the course was – they ended up being at the start of loop #2 and #3 though!
The 2nd loop? All hell started to break loose. My feet started to burn and I could feel the friction starting to heat my feet up. This combined with the outside humidity and heat was just killing me. I kept up my water rituals, but ended up with a pretty nasty present for it.
[[[ I made this small becuase it's pretty gross - click on it if you really want to see it. lol ]]]
I had these big guys on both of my feet. It was hurting to land on the ball of my foot but I was able to run-walk the rest of loop number 2.
Loop 3? OH MY GOD WHY ARE MY FEET ON FIRE I AM GOING TO DIE. I was contemplating stopping at the med tents for assistance but I was afraid they would take me off the course. I have no idea why but I just had it in my head that I needed to get this done by myself. I pressed on but had to walk just about the entire lap of 8 miles on those lovely feet.
Throughout the race I kept trying to thank every volunteer I saw – they made the race soo much more than I thought it could be, but by lap #3 it was getting hard to do it. I still did – but when someone said “Looking good!!!” I wanted to say some choice words back to them! hah! I was at a point where I stopped sweating and it really scared me. I was actually starting to get a little cold… I knew something wasn’t right so I started taking everything at the aid stations I could – water, sports drink, potato chips, cookies etc. I felt better 10 or 15 minutes later, but it was a bit scary to think I was only 6 miles away from becoming an Ironman and I might not do it.
During the NBC coverage of the Ironman World Championships I always found it funny that they would have chicken broth on the course when it started to get later in the run. On my 3rd loop I got to take some – and OH .. MY .. GOD it hit the spot. It was the perfect mix of salt and taste that I needed. The only thing that tasted better to me during the last month was the BBQ and TexMex that I got to eat. I slogged on and got to that finishing chute.
Overall Time – 140.6 miles – 14:26:43
I was tearing up – I think I only ran about a mile of that last loop and walked the rest, but I felt like a million bucks when I hit that finishing chute with people screaming everywhere. I felt like a rockstar or a professional wrestler running down to the main event. It made that hugely steep entry fee seem not so bad.
And my favorite photo of it all? I didn’t get here by myself – no way in hell I would have managed to do it. I had the best support and training partner someone could ever ask for… she thinks she wouldn’t have been able to do “one of these” yet? BS!
I know this post has been long enough so I’ll try to add another one with some more details of some of things that happened and how other stuff went… but for now…
I AM AN IRONMAN!