Ironman Texas Race Report
9:15:53/29th M35-39/190th OA
Bike- 4:08:44 (95 mile course)
The Important Stuff- THANK YOU
It occurred to me as I sat down to write this post that I always put my thank you's at the end of my race reports. I'm embarrassed to admit it took me so long to recognize and remedy this ass backwards practice. From here on out the thank you's are coming first...front and center. As usual there are too many people to thank. First and foremost thank you to my family. Britt, Sloanie Bear, Sher-pa, Mom, Jacko, Lummy, Amy, Giani, Ricky and Bobby. Family is what the Royce's are all about and you all prove this day in and day out. I objectively have the best family in the world. It's not opinion, it's fact. Thanks to Jacko for pouring her emotion into me during the race. Thanks to Trey McFerren and Lindsay Wohlford, two of my biggest cheerleaders. Trey flew to Texas just to cheer for me and kept me running when all I wanted was to quit and make the pain stop. Thanks to all the kind folks at Crossfit Addict who let me slave away on the trainer in the back of the gym and always have kind words for me. Thanks to Mark Gilstrap for flying down to the race just to cheer with Trey. Mark rescued my family from thunderstorms after the race. Thanks to Jay Peluso and the coaches at Peluso Open Water. Thanks to Jeanna Bouzek, one of my first coaches and an honorary Royce. Thanks to Brian Lilley and Matt Kwarta who always have a kind word for me. Thanks to my Hammer Tri Club brothers, Dave, Jeff, Moose, Rob, Justin, Matt, and PJ. Thanks to the Gallaghers for sharing Cameron's strength and vision. Lastly, I want to thank the Richmond Tri Community at large. I am always humbled by the messages of support and encouragement I receive from folks in our community. It is humbling and inspirational that so many of you care about my progress and efforts to qualify for Kona. I'm not sure why so many people care, but I am really glad they do because it is a source of great strength when things get dark.
I've had my sights set on Ironman Texas since falling 2 minutes short of a Kona slot last year at the same race. After knocking on the door to a Kona slot I needed a chance at redemption. Last year's heat/humidity was unimaginable, but having suffered through those conditions I felt better equipped to handle what I assumed would be similar conditions this year. I signed up for Texas with knowledge of the course, increased confidence in my ability to process and deal with the heat, and with the benefit of Texas serving as the North American Championship (extra Kona slots).
There have been a lot of changes in my life since last year. Chief among those was the arrival of the little heart breaker at the top of this post. Sloane was born last October and has enhanced my life in every way imaginable. Britt and I are so fortunate to have such a lovely, sweet, funny, beautiful, and easy baby. Even though we have been gifted with such an easy child, I have still had to make a sea change in my priorities, and my training schedule has adapted to my new life as a father. I have managed the training/life balance well and put in my best training in years. There is no longer time to procrastinate or log junk sessions. My limited schedule has forced me to focus on quality and getting work done with purpose. As always, Britt has been amazing and has bent over backwards to allow me to continue chasing my dreams. Thanks mama bear, I love you more than you know!
My focus since last fall has been attacking my biggest weakness, the run. I was bound and determined to correct the sins of the past and put myself in a position to run a 3:30 marathon off the bike. My biggest change has been consistency. I have been running 40-50 miles a week since November....every single week....I try to run at least 30 minutes every day and thus far it has helped me become far more durable and injury free. I rarely take a day off from running, and if I do it is never two in a row. I wanted to mold my legs into wrought iron such that an Ironman marathon would be a piece of cake. I've worked on my form/technique and concentrated on not running too hard during training sessions. Most of my running has been low heart rate. My data leading into the race was very encouraging. I was doing 15+ mile long runs where I was easily running 7:30 pace (and sometimes faster). A goal of 8:00/mile pace off the bike seemed real and attainable.
My bike training has been similarly strong. Thanks to five years of hard work and base mileage I focused predominantly on shorter quality sessions with one block of big mileage leading into the race. I have not had any drop off in my biking strength or FTP. If anything my FTP may have gone up by a few watts this year. 85% of my work is now done on the trainer. It sucks, but it keeps me safe, and the quality of work that comes out of these sessions it is significantly better. I haven't power tested in years but the data is telling me that my FTP is right around 330. To make the next jump relative to my competition I need to get my FTP up to 340-345 (for my size/weight/aerodynamic disadvantages) to go from a top 10 age grouper to a top 5 age grouper. That jump in wattage is going to take a significant amount of suffering. I am getting to the point where marginal gains are very hard to come by. If I could ride Ironman as high as 260 watts without penalty, I think I could find another five to eight minutes on the bike course.
Course Confusion and Arrival in Texas
There was a significant amount of confusion with regard to the bike course this year. It turns out that huge areas of the course were "under construction" (I think it was more related to local politics) so the bike course was scrapped and a new one had to be made from scratch. Ironman was not great about communicating what was going on. They didn't notify people that there was even an issue until a few weeks before the race (mostly people just figured it out on the blogosphere). Two weeks prior to the race Ironman told us they had secured an alternate 112 mile route. A week later we were told it was actually a 94 mile route. The new route had 88 turns over the course of 94 miles....nearly a turn per mile! It turns out even the 94 mile route was not exactly locked in as one of the counties had a meeting to approve it on the Wednesday before the race. In any event I'm glad we ended up with "most" of an Ironman bike course. Biking is one of my strengths and the worst scenario for me would have been no bike at all or even half a bike. The situation wasn't ideal but I rolled with it.
In addition to the bike course confusion, there ended up being an issue with the swim course. Apparently the bacteria levels in the finishing canal were unsafe for swimming. As a result, the course was changed to one 2.4 mile loop in the main section of the lake. To its credit Ironman did a nice job on short notice creating a new swim loop and creating a double transition area to account for the change (which bumped the course back up to 95 miles). In truth this race had the makings to be a total cluster f*ck, but the race went off without a hitch (with the exception of the weather which I will get to later). I'm sure this was a stressful event to manage from the perspective of the race director and staff. Kudos for pulling it together (albeit at the last minute). At the end of the day, my only complaint is that Ironman sucks at communicating. The product on race day was as good as I am accustomed and my hat goes off to the volunteers who were outstanding...particularly those who were working during the storms at the end of the day!
The plan for the swim was the same as always. Get in the lead group and find a fast set of legs to draft and cruise to a 50-55 minute swim. The swim start was self seeded with all the 50 minute-1 hour swimmers jostling for position at edge of the water. I love feeling the energy of everyone standing around me. I'm surrounded by a bunch of aggressive all world athletes with similar dreams of Kona qualification. I always take a moment to drink in the emotion of what I am about to ask of my body and I try to psych myself up. It's exhilarating and stressful as the clock ticks down towards the start cannon and everyone starts pushing and elbowing toward the front. It's usually during this time when I feel the the physical enormity of what I am about to try and I simultaneously feel grateful for all of the love/support I've had to get there. It is always my first emotional moment of the day (of which there are many). Texas was no exception. I had a quick emotional moment in the privacy of my goggles and got ready for the start.
The start was a little rougher than usual and it took me a good 5 minutes to feel like I had clear water. A lead pack formed pretty early and I settled in at the rear of that group. Occasionally I would break away to swim shorter tangents between the buoys. I think my race execution and lines were great but unfortunately I was not able to review my graph because someone kicked my garmin and it only recorded 1000 yards of the swim. I was a little tight on the way out to the turn buoys but by the time we hit halfway and turned for home I was feeling good and locked into a nice pace. With each stroke I felt better and better and by the time I closed in on the finish I thought..."Damn it feels good to be tapered."
I actually had no idea what my swim split was until after the race (no garmin data), but I felt great exiting the water and knew that I was at the front of the amateur field. I had an efficient transition and Britt was waiting with Sloanie right at the bike out....the day was off to a perfect start!
Avg Power- 239/ Norm Power- 241
VI- 1.01/ Avg HR- 142/ Avg Cadence-86/ Avg Speed- 22.92 MPH
The plan on the bike was to ride slightly higher wattage than normal. Coach and I spoke about riding at a norm power of 250-255. As I got out on the ride I realized that target was a bit aggressive and my legs were working too hard to chase that kind of power. I elected to ride a bit more conservatively and targeted numbers in the low 240s. Best Bike Split had me at 4:08 with target power of 245 watts. Actual numbers.....Bike Split- 4:08, Norm power- 241...the numbers say the ride was well executed (and Best Bike Split was dead on). In looking at the data the early miles were closer to 250 watts and I finished the race in the mid 230s.
Out on the bike I spent the early miles alone. Thats the downside of being a FOP swimmer. Racing out front is mentally draining. At mile 20 I had a wave of emotion thinking about Sloane. I teared up for a few minutes before I got my head on straight and re-focused on the race. Around that same time, guys started passing me. Guys were hammering. I could not believe how hard people were riding. I like to think I'm no slouch on the bike but guys were blowing by me like I was standing still. That was a mind f*ck, but I tried to block the noise and did my best to execute my race plan.
The first 60 miles of the ride were a struggle mentally. I got emotional at mile 20 and again at mile 40. At mile 50 I was fantasizing about watching the race with Sloane on my lap instead of actually doing it. Fortunately I got my head on straight and started feeling much better around mile 60. The last 25 miles felt better than the first 25 miles... and I felt like that was a good sign going into the run.
As I pulled into transition I was surprised at my bike split. Because the ride didn't feel particularly good, and my perception was that of being constantly passed, I was pleasantly surprised I was exactly where I planned to be. This gave me a much needed jolt of confidence as I ran through transition. I had another efficient transition and felt confident as I hit the run course. Time to showcase my new run legs!
Overall, the bike course was not as bad as I was envisioning. There were certainly sections where it felt like I was turning endlessly but there were also sections were you could lock in and hold good speed. Most of the 180 degree turns on the course map were pretty gradual in reality and there was only one really tight out and back. I focused on downshifting into the turns to minimize surging back to speed. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that the constant changes in speed probably took something out of the old legs. The overall bike splits were much faster this year. Had this been a 112 mile course, Best Bike Split would have had me at a 4:53 bike split. That is six minutes faster than last year but I dropped about five places relative to the competition at the same point in the race. I don't know how these other guys are training, but their are certainly some bad ass cyclists at these races.
Run- 4:05:54 (9:23/mile)
The run plan was to hold 150-155 HR (closer to 150) on the early stages and negative split my effort by loops. I started out the run on target. The heat made it hard to hit 150 but I was running 7:50-8:00 miles at 155ish while walking the aid stations. The numbers were good, but I felt quad weakness and pain early on. This feeling is usually the death knell for a good run. By the end of the first loop (8+ miles), I could already feel my quads start to give out, and the familiar ice pick in the quad pain set in. When I saw my family at the end of the first loop I was overcome with emotion. It felt so good to see everyone and give SB a kiss. I can't express how grateful I am in those moments to have such a strong support structure. Buoyed by the support and energy of my family I finished loop 1 on target, but loop 2 went downhill fast. (This is also where the best triathlon picture I will ever have was taken). My dad, my inspiration...cheering me, willing me on. I love this guy so much and I don't know what I would do without him. This picture encapsulates everything about my father and my family. If I can be 1/100th of the man my father is for Sloanie Bear she will be a lucky girl.
On loop 2 my HR was 150 but my pace was slipping along with my mental toughness. I made a deal with myself that I would run every step of loop 2 and re-assess. I accomplished the mission but was cooked halfway through loop 2. I knew that Kona was likely out of the equation but I put on a brave face and kept soldiering on. By this point I was in significant pain and every step was becoming a challenge. I wanted it to stop but something inside me said keep going, fight the pain. Seeing family at the end of loop 2 was even more emotional. I had to keep my sunglasses down to hide the tears. As Jackie ran with me toward toward loop 3 we were both crying. I could literally feel how proud she was despite how bad I felt physically and emotionally in not living up to my own expectations. All I could say was "I want the pain to stop, I can't feel this pain anymore". In hindsight this was probably pretty upsetting for her, but she was amazing in transferring all her love and energy to me.
Interestingly I got caught up with some of the pros having a rough time of it during loop 2. I was fortunate to run near Eneko Llanos, Jordan Rapp, and Matt Hanson (all Ironman Champions). It was somewhat re-assuring to see these supermen walking and suffering just like me....they really are human. I hate to see those guys having a tough day because their livelihood depends on it, but in some ways it is comforting to know that even the best of the best struggle with this cruel mistress called Ironman.
By the time I got to loop 3 I was a train wreck. Quads were fully blown out and I was in damage control. I tried to run as much as I could but walking felt so much better. I knew that I was likely mathematically eliminated from Kona but my brain wouldn't allow me to walk it in. Everytime I walked for a minute my brain told me to start running again, even if it was to the next street corner or light pole....As I closed in on the end of loop 3 the thunder and lightning started. This was new territory so I just kept moving forward in the hopes that I would beat the storm. By the time I got to the canal section of loop 3 Trey and Mark were waiting for me. I think they knew how upset and disappointed I was but Trey was a godsend. He just kept willing me to run one more step, one more bench, one more lightpost...I cherish those moments and am grateful beyond measure for having such friends.
With about 1.5 miles to go all hell broke loose with the weather. Lightning bolts were hitting the ground all around us and wind was blasting at 30 mph. Driving rains started falling and all the tents and aid stations were blown away...then the hail started falling. I was getting hit in the head and the face with golf ball size hail....it was totally insane and very scary. I was actually running hunched over into the wind with both hands covering my eyes. If I was farther out on the course, I don't know what I would have done, but because I was so close to the finish I figured my safest course was to press on and get to safety at the finish line. Amazingly there was still a photographer at the finish line when I crossed. You can actually see the hail coming down in the picture! As I arrived at the finish line there was a guy from Ironman waving me in and yelling "get the f*ck inside, get to safety"....a little different than "You are an Ironman!". The finish chute was in shambles and many of the barriers had been blown over.....totally insane way to finish and not one I will soon forget. In the end it was my worst Ironman run despite 8 months of my best run training ever....frustrating.
The day was weird! We had every type of weather imaginable. Cool overcast skies for the swim and the early miles of the bike, baking heat for the last hour of the bike and the first 2/3 of the run, and then one of the most insane thunderstorms I have ever witnessed. All this was coupled with a modified swim, new double transition and an interesting bike course that had nearly as many turns as miles.
This race was very emotional for me. I think a lot of it had to do with having Sloane...its different, and better in every way. Words can't express how much she has changed me. You never know how much love you are capable of until you have a child. I often get emotional at random times during Ironman but this was on a whole new level. It is certainly the combination of extreme physical fatigue, psychological fatigue, gratitude to those that support me, and love for my family. Texas was amplified and I suspect it was because of the new addition to my life. I got tearful more than usual and also struggled with with the pain. Ironman hurts a lot and I spent far too much time thinking about how much I wanted the pain to stop. Wrong attitude if you want to make it to the big show.
Truthfully I am disappointed with this result. I do not believe that I have done a race from start to finish that reflects my capabilities. Prior to Texas, I thought I finally did what was necessary to run well. There is no magic formula for my KQ chances. If I want to get to Kona I have to run 3:30 with my swim and bike. As I look at the results, it looks like that would have gotten it done at Texas. There were 7 slots in my age group and I was told it rolled to number 8. Had I run 3:25-3:30 I would have been fighting for that last slot. It gets harder every year to pour every myself into this pursuit and get back up when it doesn't go my way. I know I am capable of KQ, I just haven't had my day yet. At the end of the day, it is all about the Journey.
The good news is that I have some things to work on. My two areas for improvement are mental toughness and my run. Coach and I are going to experiment on some nutrition things and strength work to see if we can fix the latter. As for the toughness aspect, I need to focus on fun when things get tough. I am healthy and racing at a high level. That is a gift that many are not so fortunate to have.
While I am disappointed, I am also at peace. I have an amazing life with many exciting things going on...new baby, new house, amazing wife. Life is good! On another positive note I am recovering much better this year. So much so that I am going to race Raleigh 70.3 in a few weeks. I plan to work hard through the summer and come November I will be ready to run 3:25 at Ironman Florida and come away with a sub 9:20 PR.
As always, thanks for the love and support, and thanks for reading!