Ironman 70.3 Texas: Race Report

It feels like quite a lot has happened since my last post.  Training was going well as the calendar turned over to March.  Steve and Jennifer, friends of Mike’s and mine, came in town on March 11 for what was supposed to be a big weekend of training, but the weather had other ideas.  We ended up only getting to go up north to Ironman Texas territory to ride the course once.  It had been about a year since the last time I rode that course and I was pleasantly surprised how much stronger I was.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still challenging (those rollers are KILLER!), but I was able to attack more than just hang on and survive.  As proud as I was of myself during the ride, I was kicking myself the following week when I had mild pain in my left knee.  Pain would start to kick in around the 45 minute mark in a ride.  This made me really nervous since I had my last big bike-run brick down in Galveston that coming weekend.  I found a kinesiology taping video for knee/IT band pain and had Mike tape me before I headed out.  I decided to baby my left knee, so I kept the gear lighter, spun faster and carried more load on my right leg to let my left leg float a bit more.  The ride was a success with an average speed of 18+ mph, which was great considering the brutal headwinds after the halfway turnaround.  I also had no significant pain in my left knee and my legs felt good enough to put good 3.4 mile run at an 8:40 minute/mile pace.  Yet again, as good as I was feeling during my ride-run, I was kicking myself again, because now my right hip and knee were hurting.  

So, there I was with two lame legs and a few weeks before the race.  I consulted with my dear friend Maggie, who is my touchstone for sanity and reality, who shared with me some stretching and strengthening exercises for IT band pain (targeting the medial glutes).  I thought it was too late, but Maggie assured me I’d get some relief quickly, so I listened to her for once and got to work.  And, she was right!  I did get relief pretty quickly.  It wasn’t gone, but it took the edge off enough that I wasn’t feeling constant pain anymore.  I kept up with this routine for the next 2 weeks and things were as good as could be expected.  

Before I knew it, it was race week.  I was following a tapering plan and things were going well.  Wednesday, I did a light spin and a short jog on the treadmill, all in HR Zone 1/2.  About 10 minutes into the jog, my left hip completely gave out and I collapsed.  I grabbed the bar on the treadmill, righted myself and was able to keep running.  All the months of training, I never questioned if my body could do this race, but here I was, 4 days before race day, and finally had some doubts.  After asking for some advice from a couple of friends that are coaches, I decided I'd benefit more from resting than continuing with my taper schedule.  I got myself worked up into a lather on Thursday obsessing over my hips and knees.  Luckily, Mike was getting back home that night and Steve and Jennifer were coming in town on Friday for the race, so I was able to get out of my own head. 

Saturday came and we all headed down to Galveston for packet pick-up and bike check-in.  I had imagined myself being this big ball of nerves once we got down to the race site, so I was surprised when I wasn't.  There was a kinetic energy in the air that washed away any possibility of nerves.  Maddie's 5th birthday also happened to be that day, which allowed me to focus my energy on her and not myself.  

The 3:30 am wake up call on Sunday came before I knew it!  Steve, Jennifer and I got ready, ate some breakfast and hopped in the car.  The great thing about getting to transition shortly after it opens is that you get nearby parking!  After getting transition setup and relaxing in the car for a bit, I headed down to the swim start.  I found Jennifer down there and we got to relax a bit more before my swim wave took off. I've been blessed to have made any friends over the course of my training, and many of those new friends were in my age group, like Eileen, Donna and Pamela.  Getting hugs and well wishes while you're lined up and ready to jump in the water is the best way to start a race!  

After treading water for a short couple minutes and using some organic wetsuit heating (aka peeing), the air horn blared and off we went!  I still struggle with the madness of the swim start.  I had a minor panic attack.  I decided to just stop, close my eyes and send a quick prayer to God for courage.  Ask quickly as I prayed, calm washed over me and I started swimming again.  This swim was definitely the hardest I've ever done, as the wave after mine was Men 35-39.  It was hard to get into a really good rhythm because the men were just swimming over us.  Two more new experiences during this swim was swimming in the wrong direction because I was sighting the wrong buoy and horrific calf cramps on the home stretch, about 300-500 m from the swim finish.  Overall, though, I was very satisfied with my swim leg and was happy for it to be over!  

After a quick T1 and a kiss from Maddie, I was out on the bike course.  The headwind started immediately.  It took a good few miles to get my legs spinning normally, but once I did, I settled in and dropped into aero.  I kept on my schedule for nutrition and hydration. About mile 15 or so, I had this overwhelming hunger.  I tried to eat more Honey Stinger chews to satiate it, but it wasn't going away.  We made the turn around after an entire 28 miles of headwinds and got to ride a glorious tailwind all the way over the toll bridge.  Not long after that the winds changed and it became a headwind again.  The hunger continued and my energy began to really flag.  I started feeling mild cramps in my abdomen.  I couldn't wait to get off the bike and get to a run aid station and get some bananas.  I didn't have the greatest bike, but was happy with it for how I was feeling.  

After a slower moving T2, I headed out on the run and started gulping water.  The cramps in my abdomen became stronger.  I couldn't believe it, I was having menstrual cramps!  Just my luck!  My pace kept dropping.  When I knew I was hurting, I just made my mind up to never stop running, no matter how slow the pace.  The only times I allowed myself to walk was the aid stations.  The first of the three loop run course felt interminable.  The course meandered all over Moody Gardens with a lot of u-turns and 90* turns.  I didn't see Mike and Maddie on the course and wondered if they had left because she was acting up.  But as I was finishing up the first loop, I looked to my left and saw Mike.  He was cheering for me excitedly.  I wimpered to him that I had cramps.  He responded "Just keep going!" and that I did.  The cramping had my mind so singularly focused on running and finishing.  I don't think I've ever experienced that kind of tunnel vision before.  It completely blocked out my surroundings.  Many other racers pointed out the heat afterwards and I honestly can't remember thinking about it once.  All I could think about was putting one foot in front of the other and getting closer and closer to the finish line.  When I started the third loop, I tried to pick up the speed a little bit.  I knew I only had 4.3 miles to go.  I picked it up even more when I saw the Mile 11 sign.  Soon I heard the announcer's voice cutting through the air and I knew it was almost over.  I usually like to dash into the finish line, but there were several people in front of me and didn't want to ruin their finisher pictures (or mine, for that matter), so I had to keep it at a slow jog.  Before I knew it, I was on the hallowed red carpet and passing under the arch.  

I got my medal, chatted with some friends and partook of all the post-race festivities like refreshments in the athletes tent.  After getting home and cleaning up, I decided to lay down to rest a little bit.  This gave me a chance to reflect on the day.  The cramping was still going strong and not getting any better with a heating pad.  That's when it dawned on me that the overwhelming hunger I felt on the bike and these cramps were really a mild case of the much-dreaded GI DISTRESS!!  

My stretch goal, if everything came together perfectly, was 5:45.  With the GI distress that I was experiencing, I wasn't able to hit that goal.  My race time ended up being 6:08:37.  All through training, I thought I'd be disappointed not meeting my goal, but I'm not.  Sure, I'd like things to have gone differently during my race, but I'm really happy with my performance and learned a lot. 

Lessons Learned:

  1. Keep a small bottle of plain water in transition.  ESPECIALLY for salt water swims.
  2. Have at least one bottle of plain water on the bike.  I believe my GI distress was from being overloaded on sodium.  I drank a fair bit of water during the swim and only had OSMO in my bottles on the bike.  This imbalance let to an upset stomach.
  3. Block out chatter surrounding the race.  I usually bike with water or diluted OSMO, but I got caught up into the talk about how hot the race was going to be, so I made full-strength OSMO and I paid for it with an unhappy gut.