On Sunday, April 6th, I finished my sixth half-distance triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) at Ironman 70.3 Texas in Galveston. Thanks largely to favorable winds on the bike and my stomach holding together, I improved my personal record for the distance (previously held by my last triathlon in Kerrville last September) by nearly 12 minutes. I had PR bike and run splits, and finished in a time of 5:33:38. The weather was both challenging and beneficial: The wind made the swim very difficult, but somehow gave more on the ride out than it took away on the ride back; the threatened rain fell pretty much only on the far end of the island; the air temperature was warm enough, but not too hot, helped by the cloud cover. I finished 140th out of 297 in my age group, leading to my new tagline ("I'm a very average athlete, and I have the data to prove it"), which I mean as an encouragement to others, ie you don't have to be extraordinary to do the kinds of things I do.
I drove down to Galveston after work Friday afternoon. Well, not so much work as the mini-golf outing my group had. Unfortunately I got off late in the afternoon, not helped by having to swing by the bike shop to get my derailleur adjusted, which put me in awful rush-hour traffic. It took me an hour just to get out of the Austin area, and almost 3 hours once I finally did. Not that I had any need to be in Galveston at any particular time, it just sucks to waste time like that. Saturday morning I went for an out-and-back 5k run along the seawall (half a block from my hotel). I started out heading NE with the wind in my face, for a little push on the return. After the run, I went for a short spin on my bike, mainly to make sure everything was in proper working order. After getting cleaned up I drove over to Moody Gardens, the race venue, to get checked in. I arrived before registration opened, so I wandered around to check out the course. Registration was open and there was a decent line when I got back; by the time I made my way through packet pick up the line was at least twice as long. I wandered around a bit more before heading back to the hotel. I found an Italian-style place for lunch and had seafood pasta. I had swim kit with me, with the idea of getting in a practice swim. The protected bay we would be swimming in doesn’t allow swimming normally, and there wasn't an official practice swim to get in “legally.” I contemplated getting in the water on the Gulf side, but the waves scared me off. In retrospect, it would have been good practice for the conditions on race day. I went back to Moody to drop off my bike, and then chilled out at the hotel for a while. For dinner I met up with my Big Pistachio teammate Tom (who also did the Enchanted Rock duathlon the previous weekend) for pizza. The place was pretty small and totally full, so we wound up eating outside at a table with two other triathletes, neither of whom either of us had ever met. It turns out the more experienced guy (Gabe) is also doing Ironman Coeur d’Alene this year, so I might see him again there. We all parted ways and I went back to my hotel to chill out and eventually get some sleep.
I slept about as well as I ever do before a big race, ie not bad but not as much as would be ideal. I had a muffin and Dr Pepper, the breakfast of non-champions. I loaded up and drove over to Moody; apparently I was on the early side as I parked about 50 meters from transition. I was a little concerned about parking there, as it was inside the run course and getting out could be problematic; as it turned out they let us get our bikes so late in the day the run course was pretty sparse and it wasn't too bad getting out. The parking spot actually turned out to be ideal when it started drizzling while I was milling about after getting my transition area ready- I had a place to hide out from the rain. It had been looking like it might rain, so when I did set my shoes out, I put them in plastic bags to keep them relatively dry. The rain didn't last, but it stayed pretty chilly. I didn't want to take my jacket off, and maybe my only complaint about this race is that morning clothes drop is beside transition, not near the swim start half a mile away. I put my wetsuit on before I had to surrender my warm clothes so I wouldn't get chilled. I ran into one friend on my way to transition, then two others when I decided I had enough time I could duck inside for a few minutes more warmth. Closer to the start line I found my swim wave and moved with them as all the prior waves got their start. For this race I did something I should do every race- carry a disposable bottle of water to sip on and discard at the last minute. I saw Gabe for the last time (he's fast) as we got onto the dock. Once the prior wave was off, we all jumped in for a deep-water start. I should mention that this was only my second race in salt water (after Corpus Christi 70.3 last year).
At 7:35 the gun went off, and it was the typical fight for position. It spread out, or at least I got myself out of the scrum, by about the second marker buoy. It seemed to take forever to get there, however, as we were heading right into the wind and waves, making it seem as though I was barely moving. It wasn't quite as terrible as I thought it might be, I somehow found a rhythm of breathing when I was in a trough before plowing into the next wave. I managed not to swallow too much water. The first turn buoy turned us so that the wind was now behind us. There were just as many waves, but now they pushed us on. It was still work, it’s not as though I just floated along in the current, but then I tend not to give a tailwind as much credit as I blame a headwind. This stretch also seemed to go on forever, largely because I kept thinking I could see the final red turn buoy just past the next orange buoy, only to get further and see the “red” buoy was actually orange, and there was at least one more past it. Once I did get to that turn buoy and make for the shore was the worst stretch for me. Now the waves were coming across the course from my left, which is my breathing side. Not only were these waves doing their best to drown me, the water smelled distinctly of fuel, possibly diesel coming from the paddlewheel boat docked to the left. I was really worried the water I did end up swallowing would make me sick. Another concern, although more for Coeur d'Alene, was that my face was feeling cold from the ~68-degree water (CdA is at least as cold, and obviously twice as long). Finally I got to the “gang plank” over the much of the shoreline at the swim exit. I wasn't especially in a hurry, unlike some people; I was working my wetsuit off and let the strippers get it the rest of the way. I'm not sure exactly where the timing mat was, but it recorded a split of 42:25- okay but certainly not my best. Once I got to my bike I sat down and put on my socks and shoes. I gave a quick once-over before fastening my helmet, mounting my bike, and getting under way.
Far too much of the bike was spent convincing myself just to continue and finish the ride. 2 miles in I passed within a block of my hotel and had a brief thought of turning in, but figured since I didn't have my room key it wasn't a great idea. 20 miles in I thought again of just bailing out, but figured it wasn't that much further to the turnaround, I could at least go that far. The real struggle came at mile 40 when my hamstrings were screaming in pain. I did what I could to stretch my legs; at first that actually made it worse, but they started to come back around. Not helping my motivation was that it was raining at the far end of the course, enough to soak my socks and keep them wet through the rest of the bike leg.
Other than those moments at the depths of my psyche, the bike went reasonably well. To me (and I'm not a good judge), it felt like a tailwind on the way out, and more of a crosswind on the way back. I averaged 24.2 mph for the first half and 19.2 mph on the return, which included nearly stopping. The course is dead flat, so the variation was entirely due to the wind and my effort, and I wasn't working harder on the way back fighting the wind to make the pace I did. The biggest issue I had with the wind was coming back across the causeway, it was a fairly strong crosswind and I had to work to maintain control. There was also an issue with visibility; with the wind at my back, my visor fogged up. The fogging actually wasn't a problem for the most part, except that I didn't see the rumble strips at the start of the causeway until too late. On the way back, with the cross/headwind, my visor was clear and visibility was about as good as it could get on a gray day.
After the hamstring incident at mile 40, I was able to ease back onto the gas. I regained enough strength that I was able to repass a few of the bikes that had gone past me in my distress. Finally we were back in town for the final few miles through town. The end of the bike course goes across a runway that has seen better days. Much like the numerous bumps at the start of the course, the bumpy joints in the tarmac claimed dozens of water bottles. I thought that whomever designed the bike course must have a side business in used water bottles.
As I said at the top, my split of 2:36:57 is my personal best for 56 miles. I survived to get back to transition, but I really doubted what my legs could do on the run. The best idea I may have had all weekend was to bring a second pair of socks in case my original pair got wet. My socks were still wet when I go to T2, so I took the time to swap them. It may have been the largest factor in my not getting blisters on the run. I gave the old legs a stretch and started making my way toward the finish line.
The run went surprisingly not bad, considering how bad my legs felt on the bike. It was almost decent, even. While a 2:05 half marathon is far from spectacular (I did a 1:45 in January which wasn't even close to a PR), it's my best in a triathlon and even a bit quicker than my first (standalone) half marathon in 2011.
The run course is three ~4.3-mile loops around Moody Gardens (according to my watch the total distance was 12.9 miles, there was probably at least 0.2 miles in transition to make up for it). It twists and turns and does 180s to get the course into a relatively small footprint. It's almost dead flat except for one bridge that rises about 15 feet, but felt more like a mountain to me every time going over it. The course was well stocked with aid stations (one of which had particularly cold water which was extra refreshing) and spectators. At least while I was out there, there were plenty of other runners to keep from feeling lonely, as can happen. Being fairly close to home, there were lots of Austin people, some of whom I know and some I just recognized the kit. I briefly saw a couple Austin-based pro women and a semi-pro friend of mine shortly before they finished an hour or more quicker than me. I went back and forth with a guy with a Ironman Louisville shirt from last year (I was wearing my jersey from 2012) for a stretch, and chatted very briefly.
The first loop of the run was actually pretty decent. Other than slowing down once for water, I was moving at a sub-9 minute pace. I wasn't sure I would have one mile under 9 minutes; to have three was pretty good. Four more were under 10 minutes, and the rest were 10 to just over 11 minutes. For reasons that remain a mystery to me, my legs and heart/lungs can't agree on a pace. What's been happening lately is that my legs will go the pace they want to, until my heart says "that's enough of that," and I slow to a walk. It used to be that once I started walking, I could never resume the pace I had been going. Now, once I've caught my breath and gotten my heartrate down, I can go back to almost the pace I left off at. Of course this is a vicious cycle, and I should just figure out how to run at a pace that my whole body can maintain. Which is all the long way of saying I walked a total of six stretches on the second and third loops, roughly every mile to mile and a half.
The weather was still pretty reasonable for the run. I felt hot when I started, but somehow unzipping my tri-top made it seem okay. In transition I opted to wear my sunglasses but not my visor. There was still good cloud cover, but it seemed like it could burn off. Fortunately the sun was pretty muted all day.
One of the toughest parts, mentally, about a multi-loop run is coming close to the finish line, close enough to hear the emcee calling names of finishers, and having to turn the other way and go for another loop or two. This course compounds that effect because there is another point midway through the loop where you're close enough to hear the finish line commotion.
Now that I've done all four Ironman-branded races in Texas (this, along with Austin 70.3, Buffalo Springs 70.3, and Ironman Texas) in separate years, I'm thinking they should have some prize for doing them all in the same year. Of the four races, this is the one I'm most likely to do again. Not that I won't ever do the others again, but it might take an incentive greater than a regular finisher's medal.
In terms of nutrition, I drank only water and didn't have many calories. My "new thing" is nut butter, especially hazelnut with chocolate; I had one on the bike. I've also changed gel brands recently to one that's thinner in the hopes that it will be more palatable than the more nutrient-dense ones I had been using; I had one on the run. I may have had more than that, I can't quite remember. It seemed to work okay for me- I felt like I had enough energy, and more importantly my stomach held up great.
Once transition opened up, I got my gear, loaded my car, and queued up to get out of Moody Gardens (which took a while). After a shower and a nap I met up with some friends from my gym at their hotel. It was a nice resort-type place with a big warm pool and swim-up bar. Let's just say the mood was festive and we had a good evening. I ate a tasty steak and later had a giant slice of chocolate cake. Unfortunately I said I would be at work Monday afternoon, so got up relatively early (not really early, but sleeping would have been nice) and drove straight to the office. Exercise-wise the week after was pretty lazy- an easy ride on the trainer, a 7-mile run, and some stairs. Thursday I flew to Pittsburgh and pretended to be a college student again for a couple days. The aforementioned stairs were in the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning. It's kind of funny that in all the years I was so close to it as a CMU student, and the visits in subsequent years, I never even went into the building until now that I'm a bit of a stair fanatic.