I’m yet to finish an Ironman that was easy or comfortable, but I came to The Woodlands with the goal of piecing together a full distance IM without feeling like I was over doing my ability. My goals for Texas were accomplished with a 8h18 finish and a Top 10. Ironman Texas is the yearly IRONMAN North American Championship and always attracts a stellar field of professional male and female, racing for the $150K of prize money.
The non-wetsuit swim of IM Texas does not suit me as well as a wetsuit legal one but with water temperature over 71 F both pro male and female were not permitted to use the hip-saver rubber while the rest of the field was. Comparatively to previous years, my winter swim mileage led me to an auspicious swim coming out of the Woodlands canal closer to the front and with some of the main contenders for the title.
Right off T1, and after a mishap with my helmet, I had to play a little catch up with the group that I needed to be, a group which contained fellow Quintana Roo riders Joe Skipper and Matt Hanson. Matt has this race to a science so I knew he would pace it well, what I didn’t know was how the new (to me) bike course was. On paper it looked flat and mostly on a highway but the very little cover and a straight out and back on it meant the wind would play a major card on how the race unfolded.
We had a strong headwind on the way out and a strong tailwind on the way back. This type of courses – mostly flat and straight – is always suitable for heavier riders, disc wheels and big chain rings. I kept checking my power output to be within my target for the race – 230-250w – which kept me within sight on the previously mentioned little group. The group was riding fair, spaced at least 12 bike lanes in between but who was setting the pace was changing a bit every few minutes. While riding outside the draft zone, riding with someone in front of you pacing, has it’s advantages. However, once we turned back into town the first time, I immediately realized my 52 chainring was not going to be enough to match the speeds (mostly) Matt Hanson was imposing at the front. The strong tailwind on the way back meant that even with the 52×11 I was spinning over what my body is used to.
At that point I was forced to make the decision to pace myself, stay within my power and cadence. I tried to regain my momentum and managed to stay within a more conservative power target for the rest of the ride. We still had to go out and back on the highway one more time so there was a long way to go. On the second lap and as we caught up with the middle of the age group race, it was quite hard to keep a steady effort tho. While I was mostly trying to ride to the left, over passing some dense packs of riders, there were still points when I had to slam on the brakes not to hit another athlete in front who also started to make a pass. This made the second half of the ride a little more unsettled. Back into town, I came into T2 in 14 or 15th place with a 222w average power and 233w NP, a little on the lower end of my target and current ability but still enough to ride a 4h26 over the 112mile course, about 10 minutes faster than last time I did this race. As a friendly reminder, in 2018 the bike course was shortened to 176km due to safety issues so times from last year are not a good reflection of the speed you can impose into the race. However, we are currently living through an Era of aero optimization and I think this is a race where you want to get the most aero wheelset possible.
The run started off as usually in Texas: hot. The on-foot course hasn’t changed much over the years and, unlike the bike, it works as a great comparison. A cool note to look at is that the entire top 15 in this years’ race broke 3 hrs over the final segment – well, only Starky didn’t by a few minutes but no else in the world can bike like him anyways. Not a single amateur of the 2400 starters managed to break that barrier just to show you how slow the run can be in Texas and how the professional field in this sport has evolved over the years. The only goal in the run for IM Texas is to try and remove heat while running relatively fast. I ran well for about an hour, logging within the range of 6:00 miles, something that felt comfortable within the uncomfortable that a marathon is. By the time mile 10 or so came, heat generated from pace, humidity and digestion started to take its toll. I’ve now moved back to Arizona for a month which could promote a little acclimatization to the heat but you never really get acclimated to the brutality Texas always throws your way pairing temperature with humidity in a Dubai kinda of style. I stopped once at the porta-loo at mile 11 and after that both my stomach and other ‘systems’ in my body started to fade. I’m sure you hear about this issues all the time and it’s really just part of running a marathon on an Ironman. You try to run fast during the race within what would normally feel slow for you in training and all while trying to deal with your body wanting to curl into the fetal position or just stop and sit inside a bucket of ice if you are indeed in The Woodlands.
I ran myself into 9/10th for most of the race but the last few miles felt brutally hot and I could not get enough kcal or fluids absorbed. Tingling fingers meant I was also low on electrolytes – usually it’s magnesium with the tingling – and I was not getting the snap (or sugar rush) out of the gels. I think at one point my mind settled into the Top10 and my body could not overcome it. Yet I crossed the line with a pieced together full Ironman distance and I’m excited for what is coming next. I leave Texas confident that my current ability has improved a lot and I’m taking home a bunch of pointers for the next races. This race was the first of a round of three I will be doing on the first half of the year, which will include Ironman Boulder and Ironman Lake Placid.