Friday, April 20, 2012

Ironman Texas 70.3 -> LIVESTRONG Jeff!

Below is my race report for the Ironman Texas 70.3 triathlon held on April 1st in Galveston, TX. This was *not* just another triathlon for me, by any means... As I wrote in a previous post; my younger brother Jeff is fighting stage 4 cancer, and I had dedicated this race to him. The past few weeks of training since his diagnosis, it had felt to both of us as if Jeff was right there training alongside me; which made this a very significant and emotional event. It was also an official Livestrong event, and Lance Armstrong himself would be there competing; which added to the overall sense of this race being something a little more special and important.

Warning: More important race = more detailed race report! : )

Race Preparation
My wife Susie and I drove down to Galveston Friday evening before the race to get get the drive out of the way, check in to the hotel, and get a good night of sleep. Race registration started at noon on Saturday, so we lazed around a bit in the morning, and then I headed over to the expo. Our hotel was only a 1/2 mile or so from the expo site at Moody Gardens, which made for a nice, easy walk.

When I got to the registration tent, the line had already grown fairly long, so I went ahead and got into line right away. Things moved pretty quickly, so it didn't take too long to complete the registration process and get my packet (timing chip, numbers, a few goodies, etc.)

While I was at the expo getting registered, I made my way over to check out Lance Armstrong's bike. It just looks fast, doesn't it?

Next, I walked over and checked out the transition area, where I'd have to bring my bike later that afternoon (large events like this often have you check your bike in the day before and leave it overnight):

From there, I headed over to the athlete meeting, where the race directors and officials review the rules and procedures, any late breaking news, etc. I think most of the athletes were mainly concerned about one particular ruling... would it be a wetsuit legal race? (the answer was yes).

After the meeting, I headed back to the hotel to get everything prepped and ready to go for race day. It's amazing how much gear there is to deal with (wetsuit, goggles, bike, helmet, bike shoes, water bottles, bike pump, run shoes, socks, run visor...):

By now it was mid-afternoon, and time to grab a late lunch/early dinner. Susie and I headed out to a local Italian place and had a very nice dinner. I did my best to talk about things other than triathlon, but I imagine that Susie would say that I was not very successful : )

The final step for the day was to take my bike to the transition area. Susie and I walked there together, so she could find a good spectator spot for the run course and see the finish line/transition layout. Once at the transition area, I found my numbered spot and hung my bike on the bike rack; then it was time to head back to the hotel and try to get some sleep!

Race Morning
I woke up at 4:15 a.m., and made my way down to the hotel lobby just a few minutes later... Coffee!!! After a quick breakfast, Susie and I grabbed all the gear and loaded it into the car to drive over to the transition area. Yes, she was already up and awake, and offered to drive me so I wouldn't have to walk - what a wife! Traffic seemed a little dicey on the road, though; so I ended up getting dropped off and walking the rest of the way. 

BTW: Have I mentioned yet that it takes a very special wife to put up with all the training, the never-ending triathlon talk, the racing, "vacations" that revolve around a race... Thank you Susie! : )

Once I arrived at the transition area, I found my bike - which had survived a very windy night : ) - and then set about my usual preparation. Pump up the bike tires, shoes on the bike, water bottles in place and filled, etc. My goal is always to have things simplified and ready to go, so there is an absolute minimum to think about or do in transition (you'd be amazed at how fuzzy and scattered your brain can be as you run up to find your gear and get ready for the next leg).

With everything set up, it was then time for the waiting game... Most triathlons, including this one, start in "waves" by age group and gender; so there are smaller groups of people swimming at the same time. I was in a wave that started at 7:50 a.m., which gave me plenty of time after they closed the transition area (6:45 a.m.) to wait around for the start of my race. One thing that I like about this triathlon is that it is held on-site at Moody Gardens, and they have their buildings open on race morning. This provides a nice and unusual perk, in that you can go inside and use real restrooms (vs port-a-potties), and hang out in the lobby sitting on a chair or bench...  makes the wait for race start much nicer! 

Finally, it was time to make my way to the pier where the swim starts. My nerves were running pretty high at that point - I had my usual pre-race jitters, plus the extra thoughts in my head of my brother and wanting things to go well. Perhaps it doesn't make much sense, but I felt it was important to have a good race and somehow provide him with a little encouragement and motivation. So, I did a few short run sprints to work out my nerves and give my heart and lungs a bit of a jump start, and headed over to the pier.

By that time, most of my wave was already on the pier and getting ready to go, so I quickly got on my wetsuit and made my way through the crowds and joined them. A couple of minutes we were called to get in the water, and I followed the pack to the end of the pier and jumped in. The water felt great... and after a quick goggle check and short sprint warmup swim, I got in position and waited for the countdown. Here we go!!!

Luckily, I was able to get into a good rhythm right away, so I could focus on form and technique and keeping a straight line. I was determined not to overreact to people getting in my way, bumping into me, etc. That worked very well... I felt like this was one of my more strong and confident swims. I had borrowed a sleeveless wetsuit from my buddy Glenn, which was another positive, as I never felt any shoulder fatigue.

Overall, the swim went great, with no real issues or problems. I got out of the water in 35 minutes, which is good for me and right on target with my race goals. That ended up being 20th out of the 135 or so finishers in my age group.

Swim to Bike Transition
I had been told that they would not have wetsuit "peelers" to help us out of our swimsuits (don't laugh, just try to quickly get out of a wetsuit after 35 minutes of intense swimming!); but as I was running towards the bikes I saw that they did indeed have some peelers out there... Yay! I got the wetsuit down to my waist and plopped down on the ground, then the volunteers yanked it off with one quick pull. I grabbed my wetsuit, thanked the volunteers, and finished the run through transition to my bike. My setup was very simple, including having my shoes already clipped on to the bike pedals, so I had a nice fast transition time (just over 2 minutes from water exit to crossing the bike mount line).

(gotta love the helmet)

I wanted to push the limits on the bike a little, similar to what I done at the Kerrville Triathlon, which had worked very well. I knew that it would cost me a little bit of time on the run, but the net of that trade-off would still be positive if things went according to plan. I also started thinking about my brother, and how I didn't want to let him down. If he can battle what he's battling, no excuses for me! And I thought of others that I knew that had been touched by cancer, including my father-in-law, who lost his battle with cancer almost a decade ago... and a couple of family members that were currently undergoing tests to find out if they had this dreaded disease... it all made me very determined to fight and give this race all I had.

The IM Texas 70.3 bike course is about as simple as they get... you head out of Moody Gardens and quickly get to the main road along the seawall, head straight down the road to the halfway point, turnaround, and come back. It's one of those races where you just drop down into aero position and chug away!

Another thing this race is known for is the wind. There is always a good stiff crosswind in Galveston, due to the bike course running along the beachfront. It is usually more of a headwind on the first half heading South, and then a little bit of a tailwind effect coming back. So, I knew that the first half was going to be slower, I just didn't want it to be too slow... For most of that first half, I was feeling pretty strong and felt good about how things were going. And it was cool to see Lance coming back the other way, flying along and leading the race. I was a little surprised to see another male pro right behind him, but a super-flat course like that does not really play into Lance's strengths.

The last few miles of the outbound leg, I started feeling the heat and humidity (it reached 80 that day with about 90% humidity). Also, the roads are a little worse as you head out and away from the main part of the town. I had to fight to not lose too much speed during that section, and I kept wondering where that turnaround was! : ) The good news was that there were very few people passing me, and the few that did were primarily the younger guys (bike is still not my strongest event, but it is getting better...).

Once I hit the turnaround and started heading back it re-energized me a bit. Between that, and the shift to having a little tailwind, my pace jumped up and I started clicking off the miles. With each mile that I ticked off I was that much closer to getting off the bike and starting the run! I wasn't picking up quite as much speed against my overall average as I had hoped, but I still felt strong and was happy with how things were going.

Then, just after I passed the marker for mile 50 I noticed something strange... my watch beeped, signifying the end of a 3 mile "lap". Hmmmm... my brain was a bit fuzzy, but I was pretty sure that 50 was not divisible by 3 : )  So I checked my distance, and my Garmin had me at 51 miles. Huh?!? Please tell me the bike course is not an extra mile long! Oh well, nothing I can do but just keep going the last few miles as hard as I can and get to the run...

I finally saw the main beach area, which meant the turn off towards Moody Gardens, and the end of the bike leg was not too far ahead. I flew down that section as fast as I could, got my feet out of my bike shoes, stopped right at the dismount line, and started running to my transition spot. My bike split ended up being 2:44, which shows up in the official results as a 20.5 mph average (my Garmin watch recorded slightly under 57 miles and a 20.8 mph average).

Bike to Run Transition
This transition is very simple and went fast. Helmet off, slip into running shoes, grab my visor, and take off to start the run. Total time from bike dismount to crossing the run start mat right around 1 1/2 minutes.

OK, so now it was time for the part that I'm most comfortable with - the run. The nerves are all under control; no swim fears to deal with, no bike breakdowns to worry about... just me and my feet : ) The only thing that I was worried about was the heat and humidity that I mentioned earlier. Sun shining bright, nearing 80 degrees, high humidity... not ideal run conditions when you're already very hot and tired! I knew that I'd need to focus on staying hydrated and cool off whenever possible. I was also very determined to run as fast and hard as I could, since my bike was just a little slower than what I had hoped for.

The run course was 3 loops of just over 4 miles each (13.1 miles total). The first loop I was running a little faster than I knew I could hold for the duration, but my heart rate was good and my legs felt pretty strong (just a little bit of cramping the first mile or so, but that eased up as I continued running). I saw Susie about halfway through the first loop at a spot we had picked out the day before. She took a couple of pictures as I ran up, then I paused for a few seconds so she could record a quick video message for my brother. It is always a big pick-me-up to see Susie, and the video message to my brother fired me up as well. Let's go!

At the end of the first loop we ran across a small airport runway. On the one hand, that was a fun and unique thing to have as part of the triathlon. On the other hand, it sure was hot on that runway! Soon I was onto the second loop, making liberal use of the ice water and iced-down sponges that the volunteers were handing out to cool off. I also started drinking flat coca-cola in order to help calm my stomach and provide some caffeine and sugar-induced energy : )  I was still going strong, though, and there were no more signs of cramping; just a little bit of fatigue starting to set in. I was passing a lot of people, including many in my age group, and that always helps with the motivation...

By the final loop, I was definitely feeling the heat and the fatigue. In order to keep pushing through, I decided that the last loop was going to be my brother's, and pictured him running there next to me. I also still had in my mind my wife and all her sacrifices, other family and friends touched by cancer... there was no way I was going to give in! This was the time to dig deep and prove that the mind can will the body to do more than you imagine... The last couple of miles, I was even able to speed up slightly; helped along by a man in my age group that was slightly ahead of me who made for a good rabbit : )  I never did quite catch him, but it made for a heck of a chase!

At last, the end was in sight... One final trip across the airport runway, and I was headed towards the finish. As I came down the finisher's chute, my fists clenched and raised up in the air in a spontaneous gesture of the anger and defiance I felt towards cancer and the pain that it had caused so many. Long distance triathlons are in many ways a triumph of human willpower and spirit over the supposed limitations of the body, and this was me saying to cancer "we are powerful and we will fight you with every ounce of strength we have". I realize that might sound a little odd, but that's truly what I felt at that moment.

I ran the last few steps and crossed the finish line knowing I had laid out every bit of energy I had on the race course, the tank had been fully emptied. My run time was 1:41:38, for an average pace of 7:45/mile. Overall time for the full triathlon was 5:04:46, right on target with my goal of staying close to 5 hours (and did I mention the extra mile on the bike?...). That gave me 14th place out of 135 finishers in the male 50-54 age group.

After the race, I met up with Susie and sat down for a while to cool off and rest. Then I grabbed some pizza and water from the athlete food tent, and we sat a bit more while I finished eating and tried to get re-hydrated. After checking the posted results to see how I had done within my age group, I got my bike and gear out of transition; and Susie and I headed back to the hotel. A little bit of cleanup time, and then it was off to Landry's for a big celebration meal! Belly full and body tired, I had a good night of sleep and then we headed back home the next morning.

Race Summary
As far as the race itself, I have to admit it was a little humbling to come in 14th place, even with a very large and competitive field. I just have to be realistic about the nature of these large "Ironman" branded races compared to the local races. With the official Ironman races, people come from all over the country, and even from other countries, in order to prove themselves against the strongest competition and try to pick up one of the coveted Ironman 70.3 World Championship slots (out of the 13 men ahead of me in my age group, only 5 were from TX, and one came from Mexico). And the Lance Armstrong factor likely made that dynamic even more true for this race. Once you start pulling in elite athletes from all over, there are many that are much faster than I am, and that's OK! : ) I am honored and humbled to even be able to participate in these events, let alone be competitive.

Final Thoughts
All the blah blah blah about my performance and times and placing aside; what was truly important about this race is the cause and the people that it represents... My brother Jeff, who provided so much inspiration and motivation. My father-in-law Lee, children like Ishani that have to deal with this horrible disease at far too young of an age, and all the other family and friends that have battled cancer... I have no poetic way to say this, other than I am tired of seeing the damage that it does... #cancersucks.

In the end, I was happy to be able to be able to do a little bit of fundraising for Livestrong on my brother's behalf, and perhaps provide him with just a little bit of motivation and distraction. Jeff has told me about some of his initial discussions and interactions with Livestrong, and so far I am impressed with the help and support that they provide. I especially appreciate their attitude of not being a victim and fighting with everything you have. So, for all of you out there dealing with cancer... KEEP UP THE FIGHT!!!

Most sincerely,

PS: Jeff has started doing some biking and light running, and is really getting hooked into the sport of triathlon. For his family and friends who will soon have to deal with his obsessive behavior regarding all things triathlon (training methods, equipment, race strategies, etc.); I am truly sorry. OK... not really : )



  1. Wow, what a great race report and racing for another is just awe inspiring