/*** Many thanks to Craig Jordan for this great report ***/
Despite having signed up for four full distance Ironman races IM Texas was only my second attempt at the distance. I have done quite a number of 70.3 races over the past 4 years (I think a total of 12) to know that the 140.6 is a distance to be well and truly respected. The first full I signed up for was IM South Africa in 2011 but I ended up pulling out of this because of a calf injury and I also pulled out of IM Zurich in 2012 basically because I didn’t feel properly prepared especially for the bike segment. The lesson learnt from pulling out of IM Zurich is that it is very difficult to prepare properly for a long distance race in July when you live in the UAE. The point that I’m trying to make here is that I strongly believe that you need to be 100% prepared for an ironman race. Having said that I for those who know me I continue to do myself no favours whatsoever by racing like a manic entering any number of local races here during the season and keeping up a monthly campaign on international endurance races throughout the rest of the year so a bit of a contradiction in my own approach but for IMTX I thought this might just be doable although I was to be proved wrong towards the latter stages of the race.
So why IMTX? I’ve raced in the States a few times now and always find the organisation is superb, the competition is as good as anywhere in the world and support is phenomenal. In addition to these points the timing worked perfectly from the point of view of my training and it sat nicely between two ultra marathons in my race calendar (Two Oceans in April and the Dodo Trail in July). Another plus point was a recommendation from Captain J who had done the race a couple of years ago and raved about it as a great course......he wasn’t wrong. The final reason was it is a direct flight (albeit a very long one!) from Dubai to Houston. I was also considering Lanzarote IM which was on the same day but the travel time to get there was actually significantly longer than going to Houston so Texas it was.
2013 had been a big year race wise for me but most of my focus was on running with 3 full marathons, 3 ultra marathons and I think about 6 half marathons. I felt fit at the year end when I started my IM build up but there was a distinct lack of longer bike rides and I think I had only gone beyond 100km about 3 or 4 times all year. I have a decent running background and my cycling is okay but it does take me a while to build up the mileage on the bike to a level where I’m comfortable with even the thought of a 180km ride. With this in mind I started my build up on the bike back in July gradually building my long rides up by 20km each month. Throw in the Dubai Marathon, Oceanside 70.3, the Argus bike race and the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon between January and April the amount of time I had to dedicate to 160km+ rides was limited but I did manage to squeeze in what I thought was a the bare minimum of preparation. As usual I would have liked to have had another couple of long rides under my belt but even if I had managed to squeeze them in I’m sure I still would have felt short of a ride or two.....that is the nature of IM prep at least for me.
Before jumping into the race report I had an interesting little aside while getting my hair cut the day before the race. We often say that the British and the Americans are two people separated by a common language and how we communicate. As I walked into the barber the first thing I noticed was two rows of about 6 or 7 barbers chairs lined up on each side of the shop but facing towards each other. Us Brits take a bit of stick for being reserved and our barber chairs very much face the mirror so we see ourselves and the guy cutting out hair but close out the rest of the world. This was definitely not the case here and whatever conversation you had with the person cutting your hair was being shared with a the whole shop whether you liked it or not. Needless to say the guy picked up on my accent and asked the usual questions like where I was from and why I was in town. He did make me laugh as he got a bit confused and thought Edinburgh might be a city in Dubai and wondered why I spoke such good English even if I did have a funny accent. I told him about being in town for the IM race which a couple of guys had heard about so before long the whole shop was involved in the conversation and when I left lots of yells of “good luck buddy” etc. Sometimes I do love our American cousins for their enthusiasm J
The swim in IMTX can fairly be described as a swamp. It is a freshwater lake swim and this year cold enough for a wetsuit but visibility is absolutely zero so it is very easy to get disoriented in the water. I’m not the strongest of swimmers and bitter experience in the past has taught me to start one extreme end or the other in mass starts these days. IMTX was a bit different from other starts I’ve done though in that it was very spread out with the athletes spread out over about 400m but in a line only 5-10m deep. I stupidly decided I would start fairly centrally but just sit at the back of my line imagining the whole 400m line swimming parallel towards the first buoy. Of course this never happened and as soon as the cannon went off an arrowhead started to form and I quickly got squeezed into an ever decreasing spaces as 2,800 athletes aimed towards the first buoy. The result was bad and I ended up getting battered around quite a bit for the first 1,000m and actually stopped on three occasions for a minute or more to wait for clear water only for it to be closed in again quite quickly. Add to this my timing chip strap got pulled and was dangling off my ankle so I had to stop to refix this or risk losing it altogether then have the pain of getting a new one at the swim exit.
Because the swim course is so narrow and with 2,800 starters you never really get free of other competitors and it is a bit of a fight the whole way. The last kilometre is in a very narrow canal perhaps about 5-6m wide so even this late in the race there was still a lot of pushing and shoving all the way to the swim exit. The first km was a bit of a disaster for me but from then on it went as well as can be expected. My goal was for 1:15-1:20 but with the stops and all the fighting at the start I assumed that time was well blown so I was actually very happy when I looked at watch as I got up out the water and saw 1:19 something. Between my stops to find clear water and overshooting one of the turn buoys because of the murky water adding around 100m to my swim this was a real result for me. Normally I look at my watch and am disappointed by what I see but this time it was a nice suprise and kept me on course for my overall target. Swim over now time to hit the bike.
The profile of the bike course for this race is a bit misleading. With a total elevation gain of just under 1,000m it is certainly not a flat course but the elevation profile makes it look like the first 90km will be the toughest. I had read on one of the triathlon forums that the second 90km was actually harder because of the constant headwind so I did take this into account although not perhaps as much as I should have.
The course is through beautiful green rolling countryside and I would rate it as scenic as any course I’ve cycled anywhere in the world. It felt to me like we had a bit of headwind and side wind on the outward 90km so I just hit it as hard as I could assuming the last 90km would have at least some respite plus an overall drop in elevation so how hard could it be? I felt really strong as I hit the 90km mark in 2hrs 32min thinking wow, a sub 5:10 ride might be on especially as the wind couldn’t be that bad.......wrong! Actually for the first 4-5km there was a bit of false hope. Although the road surface had deteriorated from smooth to very course and lumpy there was a nice tail wind and I was flying along then bang, just like that we hit the most horrible headwind that just kept hammering at you almost constantly for the next 80km. I kept pushing along assuming that there would be points we would at least turn into a side wind but no such luck, it was like riding in a wind tunnel with the fan full on against you. Despite this as I got to 150km I still felt in good form and was still looking good for 5:15 total time but slowly the wind started to drain all the energy from my legs and gradually the target time started to slip back.
Forums can be great for getting information about races such as the warning about the constant headwind but they can also be dangerous. On the same forum someone has posted a profile and description of the ride suggesting that the course might be as short as 172km. Although logically you may tell yourself to expect 180km subconsciously and even consciously that lower figure is sitting in your head so when you do get to 172km and there is still a way to go and you are grinding along in slow motion against the wind it has quite a big negative impact. In the end the course is very accurate and I ended up with 179.4km on my Garmin. The last 8km, although not outright horrible, certainly doesn’t go down as pleasant in my book. (Just aside note here I have found that courses in the US tend to be much more accurate with regard distance than in other parts of the world).
Despite grinding the last 30km I was still very pleased with my bike time and although I was tired I didn’t feel completely wasted for the run so with a quick transition it was running shoes on and off I went.
The run is 3 x 14km loops with pretty decent support most of the way and for 2km around the canals near the finish it was simply awesome. I was wearing my GB tri suit with my name on it which is pretty distinctive so a number of people throughout the course recognised me on laps two and three and there were even a few Scots out yelling me on.
My aim was to go for a 3:30 marathon or 5 min\km pace so I set off accordingly. All was well for the first 10km and I was feeling comfortable but was starting to tire a little. From 10km to 14km I started to struggle to hold onto 5 minute pace although just about managed but at 14km I knew the game was up. A combination of hitting the bike a bit too hard on the second 90km along with doing a 56km ultra marathon just 4 weeks early came back to bite me. I said at the start of the report I think you need to go into an IM race 100% prepared and the reality is I was prepared as far as the training went but as far as the recovery was concerned I wasn’t. I did know before the race that there was a fair chance that this might happen so all I could do was embrace and still enjoy the day. Despite my pace dropping off drastically I did manage to keep shuffling along only stopping at aid station to make sure I took on plenty of fluids. I may not have been going fast but it was still a hot humid days so critical to keep drinking.
Up until this point my personal worst for a marathon was 3:45 and I was stupid enough to think I wouldn’t slip below 4 hours but there was simply nothing I could do, my legs were moving but only just. The most annoying thing was seeing a sub 11 hour time slipping away because of the leg that would normally be my strength but I just put any negative thoughts to the back of my mind and soaked up the amazing atmosphere. I even got a proposal from one group of ladies who shoved forward some hapless woman saying what she needed was a good Brit! Not sure why they thought I would be a good Brit but it did bring a smile to my face.
After what seemed like an age though I was nearing the end of the final lap. The last 200m as usual for an IM race is well laid out with hundreds people on either side of the finish chute cheering you on. I managed to pull myself together enough for one final “sprint” to the finish line to here Mike Reilly booming out “Craig Jordan, You Are an Ironman”. My time in the end was 11:11:11, nice time I thought although disappointingly 20 minutes slower than my previous effort but given the nature of the course and my stupid race schedule leading up to this race I’m happy enough. Next time I’ll know better what being 100% prepared means!