Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fight For Air Houston/Ironman Texas preview

This past weekend, I went down to Houston for my third ever stair race, up the 48-story 1001 Fannin building, in the Fight for Air Houston event. Like the first stair race I did last May, this event is a fundraiser for the American Lung Association. While I was a little disappointed with my performance, I was much more disappointed to not get any kind of prize or recognition for coming in second with a time of 7:39, a mere 28 seconds behind the winner. One of the main reasons I did this race, though, was so that I could go The Woodlands, a town north of Houston, which will be host to Ironman Texas in a few short weeks, to preview the course. All in all, it was a good weekend, I just would have liked at least some cheap bauble for my efforts.

I drove down to Houston from work on Friday. It was 9pm by the time I got checked into my room, so I just spent the evening watching TV. I was a little short on event details, so I jogged from my hotel to the venue at 7 Saturday morning to get checked in. Once I found out I was scheduled to run at 9:08 (based on an 8:30 start and sending one climber every 10 seconds), I picked up some breakfast as I walked back to the hotel to kill some time. I jogged back to 1001 Fannin at 8:30 to see people starting. For reasons I never heard explained, the race started about 20 minutes late. I managed to make a couple of new friends to kill the time. Sarah and Robert are on the West Coast Labels stair racing team, and I recognized their jerseys from the other races I've done. After all the groups got their start, I finally had my chance about 9:30.

I started out pretty well. I was going at what I thought was a sustainable pace, pretty quick, two stairs at a time. That lasted about 15 flights before I was panting and had to slow down. There was a water station every 10 flights, so I grabbed one at 20, took two sips and set it down. That gave me a brief surge, going two-at-a-time for a flight before going to a steady one-at-a-time pace. I stayed around that pace to the 40th floor, had one more sip of water, and picked up the pace. Unfortunately I sprinted too early and couldn't maintain that the final eight stories. I slowed down briefly, gathered myself, and ran up the last two stories and across the finish mats. I took a lap all the way around the building to cool down and catch my breath before getting a drink and queuing up to take the elevator back down.
The "traffic" on the way up wasn't that bad, nothing even close to the Austin race. There were a lot of people in the stairwell, but since they were spacing everyone's start, they weren't all bunched up. Most people got out of my way, or didn't say anything as I shoved them out of my as gently and nicely as possible. Early on, I was going so much faster than anyone else, maybe they didn't hear me coming. Most of the time I passed on the left (the inside), but for the most part I took whatever path seemed to have the least resistance. The biggest obstacle was a couple of people hanging on to both rails. The first one, I was going a good bit faster than, and I kind of pressed on his left shoulder to get him to drop the one rail. The second guy was only going slightly slower than me, at the point I came up to him. I caught him at a landing, and he stopped there to take a break while I continued on.
After I finished and went back to the lobby, the timing company had a computer set up to check times. The results were misleading, since they didn't give real overall results, just results by division. So what I saw was that I was first male. Unfortunately Robert's slip also said he was first male; at least I knew I was a few seconds ahead of him. I didn't have any way of knowing whether I really was the first male, so I stuck around for the awards. I can't say I was surprised I wasn't the fastest overall, but the website said there would be age group awards, and I figured I should be at the top of my age group. Well, they didn't give age group awards, and Robert and I went home empty-handed. Sarah was first female overall at least, and it was nice to meet them and "talk shop."

After the race, I went back to my hotel for a quick shower and to check out. I drove up to The Woodlands, arriving at my hotel about noon. They had my room ready, so I decided to wait on getting lunch and go run the Ironman course. The actual race is three loops around Lake Woodlands, but I only did one loop. Fortunately the course was relatively well marked, as even after studying the course map I could have easily gotten lost. The first four miles had arrows at intersections, and even mile markers (starting from transition, I actually started about a quarter mile in). When it got to the more populated shopping area, there were no markings, but it was pretty easy to get the gist of it. I may not have covered every inch exactly, but I got a pretty good feel for the course, and had a pretty good run. Probably because my legs were a little stiff from the stair climb, I started the run relatively slowly and built my pace up, which is the opposite of what usually happens on my longer runs. The course itself is pretty nice, a good portion is a sidewalk through a wooded area just off of a road. Thanks to it only being 75 degrees, it was a rather pleasant run. If the temperature on race day is anything close to that, and my time on any of my three loops is anywhere close to the ~1:10 on my preview lap, I will be very pleased with my Ironman Texas time.
I got some lunch at a restaurant I had run by earlier, making sure to sit outside so my stinkyness would be less likely to offend anyone. I went back to my hotel, thinking of taking a nap. I did doze off briefly, but I was already hungry again and thinking about dinner. I held off until about 6 before heading to the shopping district, where I got a steak salad. Because I didn't really have anything else to do that evening, I hung around watching the basketball game for a little while. I have very little interest in basketball, but it was the penultimate game of the college tournament, and I feel a vague connection to Louisville after doing the Ironman there.

Sunday morning I ate some breakfast and checked out of the hotel. I had no intention of riding the entire course, so I started about 10 miles in, near where the course reconverges back on itself. I also intended to cut out about 10 miles of a loop in the middle of the course. The course includes a lot of turns, and I was really hoping to find some markings on the roads. I was very glad to find that the turns were pretty well marked. However, there was not much warning for the turns. A few times I had to turn pretty quickly. One turn came right after I passed a few cyclists who were not doing the Ironman course and were not turning. In addition to the turns being marked, there were mile markers every five miles, for the first 50 anyway. There were numerous times I hadn't seen any marker for a while, and I was a little worried I was off course. Other than two missed turns, I stayed on course pretty well. The first missed turn was sort of a dogleg that probably only really serves to add a few miles. I only realized exactly what happened when I looked at my route afterward. I knew something was wrong when I came to the 50-mile marker too early. The second missed turn came a short time later. I was pretty sure I should turn right, but I didn't see a marker, and every other turn (or so I thought) had been marked. So I went straight on a small road, all the way to a dead end. I backtracked, and a little further on the correct course I came to the town of Richards. I was just over 40 miles into my ride, and was ready for a break. I got a soda and a snack and checked the maps. There was a turn marked in town. I was pretty sure that turn wasn't on the Ironman course, but it was the turn I had intended to take in order to cut off a few miles. I made a second stop at a gas station about 15 miles down the road. From there it was a fairly flat 20 miles back to my car.
Overall, the course was flatter closer to The Woodlands/the Conroe area, and was a little hilly out in the Sam Houston National Forest. Most of the roads were pretty good, other than a couple of the very small roads in the forest area. At least the scenery was the best in the hilliest area with the worst roads...
I briefly considered a short run once i got back to my car, but decided not to bother. I packed up and started toward home. I thought about getting some lunch right there, but didn't. I wound up driving all the way back to Austin and finally getting a burger a few miles from my house. I was snacking the whole drive, but I probably would have been better off getting a meal earlier.

On Tuesday evening, I did my first South MoPac TT of the year (I skipped last month's since it was just a few days after the Gusher marathon). Despite feeling like my cycling hasn't been where it should be/where it once was, and my legs feeling heavy on a short run that morning, my time was a mere 8 seconds slower than my best time all last year. Maybe the winds were a little more favorable than they sometimes are, but I was pretty surprised when I heard the time of 19:22 (also because I failed to properly time it myself).

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