IRONMAN Texas Race Report: The Race that Almost Wasn't

Jun
13

Posted by Coach Mark Turner

How It All Began

Months before the day that IRONMAN Texas 140.6 (which also happens to be the North American Championship) was to be held strange rumors began to float around the Internet. The Facebook IRONMAN Texas 20xx page was especially inundated with reports that the bike course through Montgomery County was in serious jeopardy. Some were even claiming that the race might have to be canceled. Thus a several month long soap opera was launched with athletes in limbo, a bike course yet to be determined, along with a steady stream of claims and accusations and counter claims and accusations. It was not exactly the best run up to a race. Little did we know that the storm that surrounded the months leading up to the race would be dwarfed by the actual conditions and storm that would engulf us on race day.

 

The Days Before The Race

Just days before the race we learned that there was going to be a bike course, albeit shortened - a 94 mile route with over 80 turns! Then at athlete check in we learned that the swim course was changed and would not finish through the channel near Transition but would instead be an elongated course entirely in Lake Woodlands with T1 being located at the swim start and the original Transition serving as T2. Then the weather reports became less than promising.

As my wife and I usually do, we had booked a room in the Woodlands. This time we were in a new hotel that was just a short walk from the swim start and now T1. Score one for me. My usual pre-IRONMAN plan went surprisingly well before this race as I really anticipated my best performance in the swim and the run. My bike training had gone well but really my focus going into this race was to improve on the swim and run. I had raced IMTX the year before while still recovering from piriformis syndrome and had worked hard to avoid re-injury prior to the 2016 race.

 

The Swim: Just a Little Something Extra Times 2

Race morning came and off we went in a our self-seeded time trial start into Lake Woodlands. I was right on my plan at the halfway point of the swim (a good 5 minutes ahead of my previous year's halfway time) when I noticed a dark shiny object swim by me. A wetsuit? Last year the wetsuit optional wave didn't catch me until I was halfway up the channel. Then another wetsuit. Then many wetsuits. And as I made the turn I found myself swimming with the equivalent of a school of angry whales! Later we would learn that there had been no gap between the wetsuit optional wave and the last of the non-wetsuit age groupers due to a concern about trains at some of the crossings on the bike course.

Just as I made the turn we got our next nice surprise. Fog. The fog rolled in and suddenly visibility was reduced to 1 or 2 buoys ahead, which if the buoys had been in a straight line, might have been o.k. But in order to squeeze the entire 2.4 miles into Lake Woodlands the buoys were in more of a zigzag formation. Under clear conditions that would have allowed for cutting some tangents but alas it was not to be. What resulted was a really great second half swim in terms of minutes per 100 but with about 600 extra yards of swimming. Ouch. So I come out of the water with my second slowest swim time to date. So I shake it off and get on the bike.

 

The Bike: How to Make a Shortened Course Last Forever

Did I mention the turns? Yep a lot of them. Oh, and did I mention it was hot? Yep. It was hot. Remember the axiom, nothing new on race day? Yep, it is still a good idea. So before the race I though about how many turns there would be and began questioning whether I should dump the aero helmet for a road helmet. I anticipated the need to keep my head on a swivel due to the tightness of the course. So I went road helmet and sunglasses. It took me about 1 mile to come to the realization that this had been a significant mistake. My aero helmet has a built in shield for the eyes through which I can easily see ahead when in the aero position by just lifting my eyes. I very quickly recognized that with road helmet and sunglasses the line of site by simply lifting my eyes was obscured by the top line of my sunglasses. This forced me to lift my head slightly which put pressure on my neck and para spinals which, to say the least, was uncomfortable. Eventually my neck and shoulders basically went numb from holding that angle. Turns. Turns. Turns. And then there were some more turns. For long course we normally try to avoid anaerobic zones and remain in an aerobic state as much as possible. This was not to be. With every near stop 90 degree turn I had to work to get back up to speed. On the other hand, I was able to stay focused on the nutrition plan and had a solid bike time in spite of the shortened course, the heat, and the turns. I came off the bike feeling fresher than I really could have expected.

 

The Run: Was This Race Supposed to Happen?

So out of T2 I go. I had a solid run plan in place and felt really good about having a best IM run performance. About half way through the 1st loop of the 3 loop run course the skies began to darken, thunder began to rumble, and lightening began to light up the horizon. Would they stop the race? It sure didn't look like it, so on I ran. I made the first out and back on Timberloch just before hitting the Waterway out and back and was really feeling good about my pace. Then I got to the waterway. Did I mention the clouds? Yep. Suddenly I feel something pinging on the back of my legs. I looked down to see small pellets of hail hitting everywhere...including my everywhere. Then it started to really rain. On I ran. I noticed a few runners huddled under some of the waterway overpasses. But since the rain was coming sideways they didn't seem any drier where they were. I and many others just kept on running. I had just made the turn at the waterway out and back when the big part of the storm hit full-on. Even though it was dark I had to put my sunglasses back on in order to keep the now much larger hail from hitting me in the eyes. So now it is cold. And not the good kind of cold. The hail was hitting, the wind was trying to knock you down, you had to lean into the rain to stay upright, and you had to run through ankle deep water.

As I hit the halfway point of lap two I found that the run course had become unusually crowded. I needed to zig zag (luckily I had honed my zig zag skills during the second half of the swim) through runners, many of whom were walking four abreast on the course. When I got to the out and back at Timberloch the runners were forced to overflow out onto the rest of the road instead of the coned portion. Finally, I broke free of the crowd and was able to settle back into my own pace.  Just as I began my 3rd and final loop, I ran into a friend who was racing and it was from her that I learned that some people had been stopped on the course during the biggest part of the storm. Ah, now it all made sense that is what had caused the crowding on the run course. On I ran. Well within my overall target I finished the run while the “sun” was still up...technically. As the skies unloaded yet again, I huddled with my fellow racers in the athlete food tent embalmed in our shiny silver mylar blankets, clutching our hard-earned IMTX medals, and relieved that our race was over and in the books.

 

The Day After: Oh Yeah, I Remember Linear Regression

Before the race was over it was being announced that finish times would be adjusted to take into account those who had been stopped on the course and that posted times and positions were not final and would be announced at the Awards Banquet. The following day, I watched as my finish position lost 13 spots and my finish points go down by 300. What are a few points and age group spots among friends bonded by the conditions of that day. At the Awards Banquet Mike Reilly shared with us that in all his years with IRONMAN no race he had been a part of had more challenging conditions than IMTX 2016.

 

And Now...

Many lessons were learned during IMTX 2016. And they will all serve me well as I look forward to next year's race currently scheduled for April 22nd and, at this time, a location still to be determined. So here is to next year's IMTX ... let the uncertainty begin!

~ Coach Mark Turner

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