Monday, April 3, 2017

Stick to the Rivers and the Lakes that I'm Used to: Ironman Texas 70.3 Race Report

For my one and only road race of the 2017 season, I chose Ironman Texas 70.3, which takes place in Galveston. I signed up specifically because the swim was a saltwater swim, which I have never done before. However, considering how much it's going to cost to make the trip to Maui for XTERRA Worlds, I figured that shouldn't be my first splash in the ocean.

The race is touted as fast and flat, and Galveston, while absolutely NOT the best beach in Texas, is still a fun place to travel. I need to state here that I did not train in a focused way for this event, at least not like I should have. I swim with Masters class twice a week, which definitely adequately prepared me for the swim. Last month I began biking to and from work (a 46 mile round trip) once a week and got in a few long weekend rides, but have primarily spent my time since October on my mountain bike. Running? Well, I hate running, so I slacked. The longest run I did was 8 miles and that was  month ago. I'll be honest- I've been having so much fun racing mountain bikes that I kind of forgot this race was even coming up. That said, I'm pretty happy with how things went! I am also especially grateful for the break we caught in the weather! Most of Texas was covered in severe thunderstorms all day, but not a drop fell on the island!

We woke up race morning at 5:30 (stayed at the Days Inn on the beach, less than 5 minutes away. Book your hotel EARLY and you can get a room for under $100!) and I was in transition setting up by 6:15. It sucked that we had to be ready by 6:45 since my wave didn't start until 7:48, but only from a sleeping in standpoint, and it makes sense that they have to close it at a uniform time.

The Swim

This was my first saltwater race ever, and I was standing on the pier with mixed feelings. I looked forward to beating my previous PR of 42 minutes as I have significantly improved my swim skills over the past year. However, I hate, hate, hate getting saltwater in my mouth. I was very worried that I'd get a mouthful and just quit.

The race has each age group hop off a (low) pier and start in the water. I placed myself at the front right part of the pack so I could swim on the outside out of the fracas but not have to swim past a lot of slower swimmers. Between the saltwater and my wetsuit I didn't even have to paddle, just sat there bobbing until the horn sounded.

The swim was relatively uneventful, and I was able to keep a decent rhythm. When waves rolled through or another swimmer got too close, I breathed to one side and more often, concentrating on blowing air out every time my face was in the water. I got one small swallow of water and although my stomach immediately turned, I was able to stay calm, spit, and keep going. I wanted to finish in under 40 minutes and hummed in at 39:40! I had a couple of brief moments of being swept off course by the current and had to navigate around a few people, so overall, I was happy with the time. 

        Lessons learned: 

                          Saltwater will immediately chafe your underarms and neck on your wetsuit. The back of my neck is super raw and my biceps required a LOT of lube once I was out of the water. I'll be applying extra layers of waterproof product next time.

                            I read a trick about using cinnamon gum after you exit the water to cleanse the taste in your mouth. This worked like a charm and immediately settled my stomach.
                          Grab a jug of fresh water or bring your own. Take an immediate bath in it and get that salt out of your hair and off your face immediately. I was not sorry I did this and it was worth the extra minute of time in transition for my comfort.

 The Bike.

The bike. Oh man, the bike course. The weather predictions had thankfully proved almost entirely un-true, except for the predicted winds. There were steady 25-30 mile per hour winds off the coastline the entire course, no letup whatsoever. These winds were all crosswinds, with the occasional slight headwind thrown in for effect. No tailwind, unfortunately. The bike is a straight out and back along the coast, so it's pretty boring, but also would have been pretty on a nicer day. The wind is such that your back hurts from leaning one direction to fight it on the way out, and leaning the other on the way back, and you can't stop peddling at all because if you do, you stop.

Despite that, I rolled along between 18-21mph the entire time. Given my slacking on my road bike, I was glad to see that the cadence I settled in was productive and I steadily passed riders the entire ride. If you're looking for a bike course you can hammer and see what you can do, this is a great one, just be prepared not to be able to hear anything over the wind!

I rode to my second fastest bike split, with a negative split for the second half, at 2:59. 

Lessons learned:

              Salty air makes you thirstier. I usually have to remind myself to drink on the bike, and found that I'd already downed 2 hours worth of Infinit in the first hour and a half. I supplemented with some water from an aid station and was able to make my third hour bottle last just long enough with no problems.

              Being in aero the entire time makes drinking difficult and creates some GI issues since you're hunched over drinking from a straw. Before you panic, sit up a minute and see if you burp. That'll solve the problem pretty quick!

The Run:

Where I had solid goals for the swim and bike (To PR and to maintain), for the run, it was immediately all about survival and to not have what I consider an embarrassing time. At Kerville, my last 70.3, the wheels completely came off on a hilly hot course and my time was nearly 3.5 hours for a half marathon. I knew I was capable of better than that, but this course was hot, humid, and hot some more. Thankfully, the hills were all short, but you did 3 loops, so they repeated.

I decided as soon as I started that I'd run the first mile, then run half a mile and walk a quarter of a mile. That was the rhythm I found that kept my stomach settled, heart rate reasonable, and spirits above rock bottom. I know that I am not the strongest runner, and know also that the run is my absolute least favorite. I enjoy short runs on cold days, and that's about it. Truly, aqua-bike is the sport I should be in, but if I was good (to my personal standards) at all of it, it wouldn't be a challenge. Most of my problems on the run deal with attitude and strength, so I vowed to stay positive, and keep to the goal I set, which was under 3 hours.

The course is 3 loops, and has a ton of out-and-back arms through the Moody Gardens grounds. It is very spectator friendly, which was awesome. I had Bryce meet me along the course in several places, even walking one of my .25 segments with me to pep me up. I was exhausted enough twice that it was worth it to me to actually stop and talk to him for a minute and fully cool off. That morale boost was worth the lost time (although he is just as competitive as I aim and practically kicked me back on the course so I'd stop dilly-dallying.)

Although it was tough, I was feeling rough, and my gut wasn't sure if I was hungry, nauseous, or both (it was both), I made it in 2:58:47. 

Lessons Learned:

                    Good socks, good socks, and lube on your feet! I took the time to put body glide on my feet before fresh socks and although my feet were soaked from sweat, water, and ice, I got no blisters.

                     Carry body glide with you! In hot, salty, sandy conditions, this was a saving grace to make my biceps feel better so I didn't have to do the funky chicken dance my entire run/death march.

                      Take the ice and cold water at every stop! It was miraculous how much energy zapped back in to me when I was able to add ice to my Infinit, cold water to my face, and along my back. It's absolutely the only way I kept up my running segments the whole time.

 After adding in transition times, my final time was 6:50:27. That was fully 16 minutes faster than my previous PR. I originally thought it was a 12 minute PR, which was already exciting, so this is even better!

I went in to the race with few expectations, because although it is my one long-distance race this year, it's not my A race. It was fun to simply see what the improvements and growth I've experienced as an athlete translated to. It shows my potential for getting even better, should I decide to focus again on road racing, or at least specifically train for a race I sign up for. :)

While I'd certainly prefer to stick to rivers and lakes for competitive swimming, I was thankful for the opportunity to try something new, and overall had a fun time. The race is a good one if you want spectator friendly in an interesting location with a flat, fast course. For me, though, it's back to the dirt for the rest of the season! 

Thanks to Maverick Multisport and all of our sponsors, especially Infinit, Cobb, Bolle, and Swiftwick, whose individual products carried me through!

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