Ironman Texas 2014
An Ironman in May…. possibility of early qualification for Kona…. somewhere nice with a course that’s not too slow…and still has spaces available…
That was how the decision was taken for Mark and I to go to Texas. Lanzarote was of course the other option – it being on the same day. However, we like to use Ironman as an excuse to visit new places, meet different people. Texas seemed like a good option. Especially once we discovered that we had contacts in Houston and the Woodlands who very kindly offered to host us.
Notoriously hot and humid as a venue, people did think we were a bit mental heading for the Gulf of Mexico. But both Mark and I have raced two Ironman events in 30+ degrees C conditions, and have managed reasonably well. The truth is you take the weather risk with any event you do – and I would rather gamble on hot weather than risk hurricanes.
As it turned out, Texas experienced some unseasonably cool weather in the days before the race. This lead to much cooler water than normal. The day before the race we went for a swim recce, only to be told that the lake water temperature was looking like it would be low enough for a wetsuit legal swim. Gutted. Mark and I had not taken wetsuits to America having been told by the race organisers that those hoping to qualify for Kona would not be allowed to wear them. In retrospect we should have packed them anyway – lesson learnt. So we hopped in the lake for the practice in our HUUB swim skins – and luckily the temperature was above 20 degrees C and more than comfortable for a non-wetsuit 3.8km. I just had to hope that I would be dragged round by all those wearing floaty suits!
Its always a bit of a strange feeling getting up at 0400 for breakfast – heart on 200 BPM standing still, and senses on ultra-sensitive mode. I am trying a different approach to pre-race and race day nutrition this year – so I gulped down a couple of bits of gluten-free toast and a few spoon-fulls of plain porridge. I didn’t force down anything I didn’t feel like, and I ate about half what I usually eat on race morning. I also made sure I took my proto-col green magic and colostrum – the key ingredients.
We headed for transition where there was already a big queue of athletes waiting for it to open. The music was already playing, and you could feel the excitement in the air. Once in, I quickly checked my bike, pumped up the tyres, put on my race nutrition, and checked my bags were still in place through the T1 and T2 funnels. All in order we got a lift to the swim start from our fantastic hosts (who were also up at 0430!).
A few things stand out in my mind from the swim start. Firstly I love the pre-race atmosphere. I never feel more alive than when surrounded by 2500 scared people all waiting to hurt themselves for 8-17 hours. I always count it as a real honour to have made it to that point in full fitness. Anything can happen during those long winter months training, and you take a real gamble with ironman distance races. I just like to relish the pre-race feelings and make peace with the certain pain that is to follow.
Swim – 3.8km – 1hr 4 mins
So national anthem over (everyone stop what they are doing and face the flag!?) – I entered the water and tried to warm up without actually getting more than knee deep. Tricky – but better than being cold by the time the gun went. The last thing I remember Mark saying to me before the gun went was “9 hours on the pain train about to start”. He wasn’t wrong (just an hour short).
Cannon fires, and what followed was the usual 800m of being punched and dunked, trying to stay calm, and actually trying to swim through the chaos. Luckily I love it. It brings out the fighter in me, so I pressed on and into clear water and good feet at about 1km. I felt great for the next 2km despite being totally unable to see and at times unable to shake a left-side-swim-shadow who kept swimming into me. Then we turned into the canal for the final 800m and entered a super choppy bottleneck. I was getting a little cold by this stage too, and started to feel sick. I was pretty pleased to see that final red buoy. Swim done.
Bike – 180km - 5 hrs 9 mins
The bike course is a rolling single lap through some remote parts of Texas. It was stunning, mostly on smooth roads, and well supported with aid stations and crowds. I knew straight away I was going to have a good ride. I felt super strong through the first 20 miles but kept to my pace and enjoyed catching the faster swimmers. I passed my first pro-girl at 25 miles (they had a 15 min headstart in the water) and knew I was going well. A lot of the bike is a blur of wind, heat and road – but the highlight was seeing our own little support crew of spectators at the 80 mile point with Scottish flags on signs for me. In line with the new nutrition strategy I ate much less than usual on the bike – with most of it being bars that I had taken with me. I did try the Bonk-Breaker bars they had at the aid stations though – they were really tasty. Pity you cant buy them in the UK… I powered through the last 30 miles and was happy to see my time as I got to T2.
Run – 42km – 3 hrs 41 mins
So I enter T2 and ask the volunteers if they know how many age-group girls are ahead of me. I get the answer “One – and she is just a min ahead of you”. My thoughts? “In second then… great. Here comes a fast marathon. 3:20 on the clock”
In reality? I exit T2 and run 3 miles at my ironman race pace only to be hit by the evil ironman-marathon sledge-hammer. I am in the lead briefly, but I know early on that I am not going to be able to complete the run as fast as I had hoped. My splits start to slow and I begin the battle with the pain cave. On the plus side my nutrition has been good, and I have no stomach cramps or any desire to make a stop at one of the millions of porta-loos. I battle on, convincing myself that I can run fast if I just try harder. The route is 3 laps, and although it is hot and humid by now I am not struggling to maintain a good core temperature. My leg turnover is slow though, the zip I feel in training has abandoned me. I resign myself to fighting my way to the finish. Our support crew appear on each lap – screaming for me to run hard –waving Scottish flags- keeping me going. After two laps I realise that I have left myself a lot to do if I am to dip under 10 hours. I am determined to have a good go at it – and I know it is going to be close. Coke. Water. Coke. Water. Oranges. Try not to walk for too long through the aid stations. Stuff as much ice down your top as possible. Coke. Water. Gel. Feel slightly sick. Stick to water. Continue to berate self for not running faster. Stare incredulously at watch as splits drop to 9 min miles.
At last the finish is in sight. And Mark – standing just the other side waiting for me. What follows is amongst the most beautiful and poignant moments I have experienced. The utter elation of finishing, the pure joy of sharing it with Mark and his success, and the total agony that swiftly follows. It is like being hit by a roller coaster and being dragged along. I experience so much pain on finishing that I don’t know what to do with myself. Total body melt-down. Stand just long enough to get a finishing picture done with Mark, and then collapse. Thank goodness for those people they call “catchers” at the finish line. They were strong!
Total Time: 10 hrs 02 mins 36 secs
First in 35-39 age group, 21st woman overall.
The verdict? Disappointment with a slower than expected marathon – but generally pleased to have achieved the overall goal of winning my age-group and qualifying for Kona. Ironman Austria is just five weeks away now – and I hope to put it all together there. Track it!
So – a huge thank you to our friends in Houston and The Woodlands – and Martinis and the Andersons. They were the perfect hosts, and spoilt us throughout our stay. We could not have been better looked after. The Woodlands is a really special place, and we hope to return someday.
My sincere thanks also go to HUUB, proto-col, Specialized and Brodie Skin Care. I attribute my GI-free race mostly to Green Magic – if you haven’t tried it and are prone to stomach issues during longer events then it is a must. Coupled with colostrum I feel sure that it enabled me to race to the finish without the usual interruptions. Roll on Austria.
IM Texas Race Report – Mark Livesey
The swim took place in Lake Woodlands where the poor water quality made it very difficult to draft anybody. The water temp was cool for the time of year so the organisers allowed wetsuits. This was an unprecedented situation for this race, where water temperatures are typically in the high 20s. We had decided prior to travelling to America not to pack wetsuits as the advice was that if you wanted to try and qualify for the world championships, then you would not be allowed to wear one anyway. I therefore swam in my brilliant HUUB swim skin and having tested the water the day before I knew it was warm enough. I was concerned only that I might loose a few minutes to the other age group athletes, but given the length of the race I was not too worried.
It always fascinates me when so many athletes sprint for the first 200m in an Ironman and then go backwards. As predicted this happened and after 400m I found myself trying to negotiate large groups of swimmers who over did it and were now paying the price. After approximately 1km things got a little better and I found my rhythm. I felt quite relaxed in my HUUB swim skin which is great to swim in. I continued to pick off other swimmers who again over did the start. The low sun created a problem at the turn point, but there where plenty of swimmers and kayakers who highlighted the way. After 3km of swimming in the main lake you take a sharp right turn into a canal, which is very similar to IM Austria. From here the noise of the crowds was exciting, I knew I was close to finishing the swim.
Very easy T1 layout with huge crowds and support, the noise and atmosphere was exhilarating. I found my bag quickly and changed as normal mounting my bike just over 2 mins later. I suddenly realised I’d forgotten to remove my HUUB swim skin! I had pulled it down round my waist, but had forgotten in my haste to completely remove it. I quickly stopped and removed it, throwing it to a total stranger in the crowd asking him to hand it in to a race official, I didn’t even make eye contact with him. As I set off again I thought I’d never see that suit again. Huge thanks to the stranger who actually did return it – I was really surprised to see it in my transition bag at the end of the race.
The first 25 miles takes you out of the Woodlands on very flat tree lined roads with crowds of supporters everywhere. I quickly found my rhythm and started to ride past other riders with relative ease. At around 50 miles everybody had found their natural position with evenly matched riders forming groups. This was frustrating at times having to slow down so as not to be penalized for drafting. Without hills of note it is virtually impossible to make a break from other riders, but this is what happens in IM cycling. I only had one real opportunity to try and make a break from the small group of riders on a slight climb that was approximately 1 mile in distance. I made my break and soon put a bit of daylight between me and the other riders, I kept checking my shoulder to see how the gap was developing and things looked encouraging. At the top of the slight incline I probably made a gap of around 600m, but the gap was soon closed down. I decided after that to just concentrate on not burning anymore matches trying to get away because it was impossible and to ride a smooth consistent pace. At the 90mile point things got a little difficult and I thought I was going to bonk. I tried not to panic, eased my pace a little and concentrated on refueling my body with food and gels. After around 10 miles at an easier pace I started to feel a better, but I kept my powder dry for the remaining 20 miles of the bike course.
No issues with T2. The volunteers where excellent finding my run bag and I exited onto the run route just under 3 mins later.
I got off the bike with a total race time of 5hr 50mins leaving me 3hrs 10mins to break my target of a sub 9hr IM. All my training runs and long bric sessions in the winter indicated this marathon time should be achievable. However nothing really elicits the same psychological and physiological effects of IM marathon running. I only really felt as though I was running well from 4m to 10m, the rest of the time it felt as though I was just fighting the pace. The run route took you around Lake Woodland but surprisingly the organizer had decided to put the majority of the run in the sun on the main road, and not in the shaded footpath where we expected it to be. This obviously made things a little more uncomfortable. The aid stations were situated every 1 mile and that was a great way to break down the marathon. What was interesting was I didn’t get a single muscle or stomach cramp during the run. I put this down to using proto-col Green Magic and colostrum for the last 3 months, and to getting my nutrition almost right on the day.
Fighting my way around the marathon soon took its toll, and I had to walk through the last 3 aid stations. In the final mile I walked approximately 600m, just unable to break back into a run. My legs were hollow, nothing there at all. It was very difficult to cope with mentally. The feeling is very hard to describe, it’s a dark painful experience with your brain sending over powering messages that the pain will stop instantly if you just stop running !! This was the first time I have ever walked in an IM Marathon and I was convinced my Kona slot was now gone. Little did I know I was still actually leading my AG (didn’t know my position at any point in the race). I managed to start running again with 800m to go and some how even managed a little sprint to the finish (the mind is such a powerful thing). I was very pleased to find out my position, and to realise that I had achieved my goal of Kona qualification.
In retrospect, there are elements of my race preparation which I would like experiment with changes to. With Ironman Austria in just 5 weeks I have the perfect opportunity to test run some new approaches in the taper prior to the Ironman World Championships in Kona. So much went right in this race that I cant help feeling positive about the next one – very soon!
I have to thank our fantastic hosts in the Woodlands and Houston. Michelle and Rick Martini, and Jim and Andy Anderson looked after us exceptionally well for the ten days we were in Texas. Caroline and I were treated like royalty, spoilt with fantastic food and wonderful company. Our experience of Ironman Texas was a memorable one for many reasons, but the main one was the wonderful people we met.
I would also like to thank HUUB, proto-col, Specialized and Brodie Skin Care for their continued support. Having the right kit and nutrition is so important in these races, and we could not do it without their help.
Looking forward to take-two in 5 weeks time! Watch this space.