Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ironman 70.3 Texas race report - now what?

Went down to Galveston, TX last weekend for the Memorial-Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas Triathlon (that's a mouthful, isn't it?). Overall, I was very happy with the way things turned out. I ended up finishing in just over 5 hours, and placed 8th out of over 100 in my age group (148th out of 1326 total finishers); at a very competitive Ironman 70.3 (aka half ironman) event. The official "Ironman" branded races have an allocation of slots to participate in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship Triathlon in Clearwater, FL; so they attract people from all over the US (and even some out of country) looking to qualify for Clearwater.

The race day itself had a progression that went from bad, to ok, to very good. That's certainly better than the opposite, in my book :)  Swim was a little brutal for me, the bike went well (although I didn't realize so at the time), and then I ended with a strong run. As mentioned above, I ended up in 8th place in my age group. It is amazing how tight things get in the top 10. A seemingly small 4 minutes is what stood between me and the guy in 4th place in our AG that got the 3rd and final slot to the WC race in Clearwater...  But the reality is that 4 minutes is a surprisingly large amount of time to make up if you are pushing yourself to the max. And that I did... really worked hard on the bike and then gave it every last bit on the run. Can't complain when you know you left nothing in reserve! OK, on to the race details...

Got to bed at a good time (9:30 pm) and fell asleep pretty quick. Woke up at 3:30 am, about an hour earlier than I wanted - but that's still a decent night sleep for race eve. Susie (my wife) drove me to the start and waited around for a little bit to take the bike pump and a few other items. Set up transition and had plenty of time before my wave, so I hung out inside one of the buildings there at Moody Gardens. When it got closer to my time, I got on the wetsuit and went down to the beach for a little warmup swim, then made my way to the dock and got ready to go.

The swim course was shaped similar to a squared off arch... starts by heading straight out, then left turn and swim parallel to the shore (longest section), then another left turn that brings you back to shore down the shoreline from the starting point. I knew I was in trouble when I saw that the current and wind were fairly strong and coming across the water the OPPOSITE direction that we'd be swimming for the long leg. That meant cross-current going out, swimming against the waves and current for about 1000 yds, and then cross-current coming back in. Yuck.

Time for my swim wave came, so I jumped in the water off the dock and waited for the horn... then we were off! I got a nice swim lane right away, and was able to have a good start. Everything was going pretty well, and then I made that first left turn. I could tell the progress was going to be very slow, and I kept trying to stay as streamlined as possible. Every time I tried to sight by looking forward, I was greeted with a nice, cold, salty kiss from the waves. Nothing like drinking a few gallons of saltwater to start your morning... I finally made the 2nd left to head back to shore, and pushed to the ramp and got out of the water. I took off my wetsuit down to my waist and looked at my watch - 43 minutes! What?!?!?  That kind of freaked me out, as I was hoping for closer to 35, but I figured everyone else had to deal with the same conditions. It did provide some motivation to move a little quicker the rest of the day, though.

Ran up from the water to the transition area, with a very fast stop for the wetsuit peelers to rip off the wetsuit. Put on socks and helmet, grabbed my bike, and headed out of transition. That all went smooth and quick, and I had my bike out to the dismount line ready to roll in about 2 1/2 minutes.

The temps were probably in the 70's by bike start, and it was nice and sunny. Winds were moderate for Galveston, 10 mph or so with gusts a little stronger. Once you get out of the Moody Gardens area, the bike is one long stretch along the seawall to the turnaround point, and then you come back. I love being able to just point the bike in a direction and cruise down the road, so I like this bike course a lot. The out portion you are going southwest, and the winds were mainly west and northwest. So heading out it was a cross-wind and a slight headwind. That and the fairly smooth roads had me at around 20 mph avg on the first half. The surprise came when I turned around, expecting to have a little bit of tailwind. Nope, not really gonna happen. I was definitely a little faster coming back, but there wasn't much tailwind until the last 5 miles or so. I managed to get my average speed up to just under 21 mph. I had really worked hard on my bike, so was disappointed to actually be slightly slower this year compared to last year. However, wind is such a huge factor that I knew I wasn't going to be able to tell how I *really* did until the race results were posted and I could see how I compared to everyone else (more on that later). Still, that was a good time, I knew I had worked very hard; and I was ready to run!

Not much to do here. I was already out of my bike shoes (left them clipped to bike), so I just had to rack the bike, get the helmet off, throw on my running shoes, and head out for the run.

I did not hold back much on the bike, as I had planned; so that had me a little nervous as to how my run would go. I had stayed within my planned pacing and heart rate, though; and I always say you have to trust your training and your race plan. After the first couple of miles on the run, I was happy to see that things were going very well and my run was not suffering at all. My pace was just a little over 7 min/mile, my HR was in the range that I knew I could handle, and my legs were feeling strong. I finished the first of the 4 loops feeling good and confident.

I saw my wife and daughter (and her friend) as I came around on the second loop. I've mentioned this before, but it really is a great pick-me-up when you see family and friends out on the course. I was still feeling good at that point, although it was starting to get a little warm. I made liberal use of the ice water soaked sponges that they handed out to keep myself cool - LOVE the sponges :) Made it around the 3rd time and saw the family once more... I was still moving along and keeping a good steady pace. There were a lot of people on the run course, and since it is multiple loops, you never really know which loop anyone else is on. Regardless, if I saw anyone in my age group, I used that as motivation and did my best to pass them as many of them as I could.

Finally, it was the last loop - a little over 3 miles and the race would be done! Still running at a good pace and feeling relatively strong, so I kept trucking along and focusing on the finish. The family had moved to the finish line by that point, so I didn't see them on that last loop until the very end. I came down the last stretch knowing I had left nothing behind and sprinting into the finishing chute. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch, and could see that I was at about 5:05. After the way the swim had gone, and with a little tougher bike day, it was great to have finished with a fast run... now it was time to recover and see how the results unfolded :)

I met up with my family; ate, cleaned up, and rested. We hung around for the Awards ceremony, it was fun to see the pros like Terrenzo Bozzone, Andy Potts, Chris Lieto, Sam McGlone, Desiree Ficker, etc. I also wanted to be around for the IM 70.3 World Championship rolldown just in case something amazing happened, but it didn't... 3 slots in my AG were gone by the 4th place person (there were a couple age groups where the slots rolled down surprisingly far). Males in the 30-55 range tend to really like ego things like going to the World Championships... surprise!

With the race day done, it was time to head back to the hotel, eat a bunch of food, rest, and get to bed early. Usual post-race fun and excitement :)

Worse or Better?
Warning: Nerd alert... skip this section if you don't get into number-crunching and analysis; but the coach in me loves this stuff : )

The results of this race are an interesting case study in the fallacy of comparing how you did in a triathlon by looking at a different race, or even the same race in a different year. My total time for this event was 5:05, whereas last year at the same event it was 4:50; and I ended up in 8th place vs 3rd place the prior year. However, I feel like I did better *this* year, and here's why:

As far as overall place, last year the race was more of a local event with less than half the number of competitors overall; and about a third as many competitors in my age group. As mentioned above, the IM-branded events with slots for the World Championship draw more people and a more competitive field. The same thing happened with the Longhorn Half Ironman in Austin when it became an "official" IM event.

The swim was pretty much my usual swim in terms of where I placed in my age group. Not much better or worse, which is what I expected given my training. Slower than last year for sure, but so was everyone else due to the wind and current. It was kind of funny, actually, the most common question athletes were shouting out to friends and fellow competitors on the run was "was the swim long or what? my time was terrible!".

The bike was just slightly slower than last year (in avg mph), but a huge jump in terms of where I placed in my age group. I'm normally about around the top 1/3 or so in my age group, but this time I was the 16th fastest bike split out of over 100! After looking back at the results, I am REALLY happy about that; as it shows all that work on the Computrainer is starting to pay off.

Finally, after a tough swim and pushing the bike very hard, I was still able to retain a nearly identical run split. So, can slower = faster and worse = better? It can when you are comparing two different races. You really have to analyze how you did in relation to the field and the level of competition in order to understand your true performance. That's the same rationale (in reverse) for why I didn't get too full of myself after getting a first place in my AG at the Redman iron distance triathlon last year.

Bottom line: You have to analyze your performance in light of all those variables (and more) in order to make sense of things and determine where you are improving and where you are not. For me, it added up to being very happy with my training and performance. I do wish I'd find that magic swimming bullet, though!! : )

What comes next?
So, the big question for me is... now what?!? I have a short triathlon coming up in a couple weeks, and for that I am actually more focused on a couple athletes that I train, who are doing that race as their first triathlon. I am on the race committee for a sprint triathlon in June, and that will keep me busy for a while. But as far as my own racing schedule, I don't have any major events planned up through next April, when I'll run the Boston Marathon again. I will pick out a couple of smaller triathlons and runs between now and then of course, but it's a very strange feeling to have nothing in particular that I have to train for. And you know... it feels kind of good :)



  1. You never cease to amaze me!! This season was gonna be low key (which it looks like after reading), then you go out and pull top 10 in your AG. Your are a machine, my friend.

    How far are you from San Antonio? I am racing there in November (half mary, there is some running for you), and I know alot of bloggers in Texas and I want to organize a blogger ride to just go out and have some fun.

  2. Thanks BD! I'm about 1 1/2 hours from SA, so let me know about the group ride; just might be able to do that :)