Where to start? Ironman Texas would be my 9th triathlon and first full distance race. Past reports have detailed my buildup as well as the actual race. For this one I am just going to focus on the race. My buildup had nothing more in it than logging the miles. Get myself to a point where swimming 80 minutes left me with zero fatigue. Bike for 6 hours and feel nothing but boredom near the end. Run 2.5 hours and maybe feel tired in the last 30 minutes. So that was the goal and what I built towards.

The check-in day I received a video from my family and friends encouraging me and letting me know that although no-one would be on the course supporting me, that I was in all of their thoughts. The video was a pleasure and flattering to receive but there was an unintended consequence from my side. I was now aware of how many people were watching me from afar and I became VERY concerned about a DNF. This may have been the most pressure I have ever felt prior to a race. Because of this I made one last minute change to my plan of attack on race day regarding the swim. I would be as careful as possible to protect my race during the swim by avoiding the tightest course lines. I knew this would cost me a couple of minutes but I didn’t care. I didn’t want my day ending before it even got started.

Everything up to hacking the watch and going into the water was completely uneventful. I put myself just behind the 70 minute starters and found that this put me near the very front of the swim start. I believe I was in the water within 4 minutes of the first AG’er. This was nice because I knew that later in the day if I saw anyone on the course making a pass would more than likely result in gaining a place in the standings. It was non-wetsuit and I had a PZ4 on for the race.

This bit of kit when purchased a year or so back felt like the most unnecessary and decadent waste of money but having it on race day really added a lot to my positive vibes. In the end well worth it. I am a firm believer that the mind as much as the body determines race day outcomes. A few cautious steps in to the murky goo and I was off and swimming. Here we go folks! Despite holding back as much as I thought possible about 15 minutes into the swim I realized that I was still going too hard as evidenced by my breathing. I made a decision to really throttle back as much as possible and after a few more minutes settled to into what would be my pace for the rest of the swim. As for a rhythm to the swim, I am not certain if I ever found. Swimming in these muddy lakes quite simply isn’t very enjoyable. You couldn’t even see your hand extended in front of you during your catch if you did look up, the visibility was that bad. The course was 3 parts, with a down, back, and over section. The over section took you down the Woodlands Canal and this section seemed to drag on for me as well as everyone else whose reports I have read so far. I was only clubbed a few times and I probably clubbed a few as well, but the canal was fine considering how packed in I expected us to be. Finally hit the finish and lapped the watch standing up. 1:16 / 4038m / 78TSS

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 21.54.41.png

Transition was smooth but not speedy. My approach was to get everything right. I chose to wear socks for the bike in an attempt to protect the bottom of my feet from hotspots which have been a recurring theme for me in races over the past 2 years. 3 Bonk Breaker bars into my jersey pockets and contact lens eyedrops as well. I have had a couple of rides over the past year where my eyes have dried out so much that my lenses actually popped off my eyes! Wasn’t going to let that happen today, so if I felt them drying out I would pull over and take the 30 seconds lost to make sure I was comfortable. Out the door and over to my bike. Transition was still packed with bikes, I figure I was at the front 10% of the race, more positive vibes. Onto the bike and immediately couldn’t get clipped in due to the mud on the bottom of my cleats that had accumulated while running through T1. Rode on top of the pedals for a few minutes trying to sort it out. Finally got the left one in but the right refused. After 15 minutes on the bike I decided to stop and sort this cleat issue out. Completely got off of the bike and scraped and scratched at it and seemed like I was good to go. Jumped back on and pedaled away and the bloody thing still wouldn’t clip in. I figured at this point I had a broken cleat and started mentally preparing myself to ride 180km with one foot not locked down. I knew that this was going to be the proverbial “long day” and that there would be issues so I wasn’t going crazy in my mind at this point. And then all of sudden I felt a very tiny clink on the back of my shoe and I was clipped in!

Perfect! Settled in with a big smile on my face and started my breakfast of one Bonk Breaker bar. My nutrition plan for this race had been tested extensively and I was very confident in it, especially given the embarrassingly low intensity I had planned for this bike. 270 calories per hour of Hammer Perpetuem in a concentrated form consumed every 30 minutes. I would top this off with a BonkBreaker Bar at hour zero, 2, and 4 during the ride. Hydration would be water from the course. I had done my long rides at about .60 IF and this was simply going to be a cap for the ride. I would go by how I felt and if it was less that would be fine. If I felt strong I wouldn’t go over that wattage. The plan would bring me in under 6 hrs no matter what I knew. I just settled into the bike and it was very uneventful. I felt like a million bucks the entire time even when fighting a stiff headwind on the last 50km or so. This is where riding with power really paid off. People around me were surging like bulls each time a gust would hit. I just kept my head down and nailed 165 watts or so. I ended up dropping the 4 or 5 guys I was yo-yoing a bit with for a good portion of the ride. Earlier in the ride I believed I would come into T2 with them and start running together.

This was not to be the case and I saw I had put a solid 5 minutes into them on a turnaround near the end of the bike course. More positive mental vibes! In the final 15 minutes of the ride I started to get a huge smile on my face realizing that I would have about 10 hours to walk a marathon if necessary to avoid a DNF. The pressure of knowing my family was watching this was lifted and I was in an incredibly strong mental place. 

5:46 / 176km / 182 TSS / .56 IF

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 21.54.29.png

Into T2 and my race up to this point had been completely flawless and going exactly according to my race plan that I had committed to memory. I had a plan for this run and was prepared to execute it with my mind like no other run I had ever approached before. My plan and focusing strategy was from Gordon Byrn in his book “Going Long”. His tips and strategy would be my mantra for the next 42km. Into the change tent and again smooth but very slow and deliberate.

The main priority was protecting my feet from hotspots, so I meticulously cleaned the bottom of my feet of any grub and once they were spotless applied a healthy dose of body glide all over them. Then I put my Drymax socks on. This paid off as I never thought once about my feet the entire run. Finally a solution to the burning feet I have experienced in other races. Put in some eyedrops, hat and shades on, and a flask of 5 hammer gels in my hand and I was on my way. And now, a marathon! I was so happy to be finally taking part in a full distance race I was all smiles. I couldn’t believe how far I had come and how strong I felt. My plan was based totally on effort with a hard cap on pace of 5:40 per km for the first 21km. I would “run with a little in reserve until at least 25km”. The pace would be whatever I felt was with a reserve. If that was 6:00 per km so be it. Time meant nothing, placing in my AG was everything. I was determined to focus on the process only. Nutrition would be a gel every 30 minutes and alternating water and gatorade from the aid stations. In the final 14km I would switch to coke and red bull only. As I started the run I was immediately under the impression that there were not a lot of people on the course at this point. I also knew that in this first lap I would be passed by a bunch of studs, so I was mentally prepared for that. The support on the course was top notch and I can’t imagine having it being much better. Even in the sections that were advised as being lonely there were a lot of people out. I settled into my self selected pace by effort and really enjoyed the first lap. A lot of high fives, smiles and cheers to the crowd by me were given right back I felt my mental strength building. “run in reserve” I had identified a few guys in my AG that I was running in close proximity with over the first 14 km. I wasn’t afraid to ask what lap anyone was on who I identified as possible competition. It seemed like all my competitors were walking the aid stations so we would yo-yo a bit back and forth as I ran through the stations. I have finally learned how to drink from a cup getting all the nutrition down the hatch without any extra air.

This proved to be a huge benefit in this race. It only took 4 years to get it figured out though! I
believe this saved me about 4 or 5 minutes over the marathon which would prove critical at the
end. “this race begins at 28km” “run in reserve” My mantras kept playing through my head
continuously as I neared the end of the first lap. As I started the 2nd lap I changed my focus a
bit to enjoying every sight and bit of support on the run. I knew that on the 3rd lap there would
not a ounce of energy wasted on anything but running, so I made this my last fun part of the
day. Thing started to get more serious for me mentally as I approached the 21km mark.

“everyone is feeling tired, the race is grinding down people’s resolve” I began to really
start focusing as I knew this second half of the marathon is where I would find the results of my
training, pacing, nutrition and hydration. I turned into the waterway system at about 25km
steeling myself for what lie ahead. “athletes who are looking to achieve their very best
should bring all of their mental strength to bear on the final half of the marathon” I was
starting to become aware that my calf muscles were there and I would be running this last lap
having some sensations never experienced in the past. “run in reserve” “this race begins at
28km” I knew I had an extra gear, I knew I had executed up to this point. The question would
be, how long can it last. Is there 14km of pushing left in these legs, in this mind. I was about to
find out. As I passed the split for the finish and the last lap I let out a whoop of excitement,
pushed the throttle up and yelled out “now we are racing”! I easily hit 5:20 per km and felt in
control. At this point in the race there were a lot of slower people now on the course and the aid
stations had become a bit of a buffet line. I didn’t want to be “that guy” but I had a mission and I
was not going to let anything get in the way. I hit the first aid station barking out “coke, red bull”
and the volunteers were super helpful in getting me what needed. At about 30km I would make
my first of about 4 passes in my AG that I didn’t think would be possible earlier. I found myself
running behind a guy at a 5:15 clip who I had been back and forth with the entire race. Could I
pass him? This is fast… I don’t know. “athletes who are looking to achieve their very best
should bring all of their mental strength to bear on the final half of the marathon” I made
the decision in a split second. Pass him, bury him, twist the knife. Let him know he has no
chance. I throttled up to 4:45 per km and blew by him and held it for a solid minute or so. He
was gone, never to be seen again. 32km in and I was now feeling it. Focus in on each step,
ignore the watch, stay in the moment. Another aid station, another barking for red bull and coke.

I grabbed a cup of ice and dumped it down the front of my shorts. I must have looked like a
maniac as I would say 70% of people were walking at this point. Although almost all these
people were on earlier laps, I was passing people every 15-20 seconds it seemed. The mental
boost from this was immeasurable. “everyone is feeling tired, the race is grinding down
people’s resolve” Not mine I said to myself. I was moving from strength to strength. I found
myself behind another guy in my AG, can I pass? Yes! Throttle it and make sure he knows there
is no hope. Drive the knife! At the 34km point I was in a residential area that I knew would be the
biggest challenge to maintaining my push. I stayed focused just willing myself to get back to the
waterway where I knew the crowd would reenergize me. At this point I could recognize I was in
a world of hurt, realizing my calfs felt like they could lock up at any moment. “athletes who are
looking to achieve their very best should bring all of their mental strength to bear on the
final half of the marathon” I pulled onto the waterway and the finish line became very real all
of a sudden. The energy of the crowd helped to will me forward. I was very clearly moving faster
than most everyone they had seen for a while and received so many encouraging words. I
wanted to respond but I was at critical mass which would become apparent very quickly. As I
passed through Hippie Hollow a competitor in front of me stopped to high five and I barreled into
him and his supporter, momentarily losing my balance. Immediately my hamstring locked up
and I yelped and hopped up in the air. A few limps and somehow it released and I kept moving
forward. My final pass was made at 39km when I came up on a guy I hadn’t seen all race. He
looked really fast but somehow I was right behind him trying to figure if I can do this. Somehow,
someway, I barely accelerated and passed him and held if for maybe 30 seconds. He was gone.
With 2km to go I had finally reached my breaking point. I lost focus for just a few seconds and
made the mistake of looking at my watch. Run time was 3:5X and by quick mental math in a
delirious state, I saw a sub 4hr marathon was not going to happen. I also saw a race time of
11:0X. In a moments decision I just wanted to end the pain and I let off the gas. Slowing to
maybe 6:00 per km, I had done it, I had cracked, I had given it my all and started to become
emotional, thinking I had started running fast too early. I approached the last aid station and saw
a guy in my AG stopped and drinking. “Drinking!… drinking?” I thought in my delirious state.

“Why is he drinking? It doesn’t matter he will never get the calories to his muscles.” “What lap
are you on” I mumbled to him as I went by. “Last lap” he said…Me too! Right away he ran by me
and I subconsciously start going faster again. I see him ahead 30 meters at the Red Bull station,
he stops again… “Why is he stopping?” I think, and I catch up to him again. Right as I pass him
he starts running again and bolts ahead. I can see the split to the finish ahead and as I take the
right turn to leave the course and go to the line a flood of emotions hit. My wife and daughters
supporting me in this incredible time-suck. My family with the video and the pressure I put on
myself, digging deeper than I ever have for longer than ever in the past 14km. The journey over
the past 4 years to finally “become one” after starting from zero. The weight loss. The
confidence gained. I was running and crying, an emotional train wreck in a barely conscious
state. The finish line is the final little trick in the day as you approach it thinking you are there but
are then forced to do just one more 100 meter out and back to get onto the red carpet. I must
have been sprinting as I am able to see the guy in my AG ahead of me throttle back to cross on
his own and I do the same, to have my 3 seconds of glory. I am finally an ironman.

3:59:50 / 41.5km / 238 TSS
11:15:03 69th of 354 men in 40-44 AG

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 22.01.39.png

A lot of the bold points in this report as well as other little bits are not my own words or thoughts.
They are direct quotes from the book “Going Long” by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn. I just want
that out there so that no one thinks I came up with any of that stuff. The book is an incredible
resource. I highly recommend it to anyone who is self coaching the full distance. Read it. Reread
it. Read it again in another year. Commit it to memory. It was the biggest single thing that
enabled me to have a good race outside of my own efforts.

This was the perfect race for me on the day. I had a very conservative plan that I executed
perfectly. I knew that even with my embarrassingly low effort on the bike, it would pay dividends
on the run. I wasn’t prepared to take any risks at all in my first full distance race. I have seen this
distance break people 10 times stronger than me. I also knew that my low gear was still enough
to be better than most. It gave me a result that was much better than expected finishing just
inside the 20th percentile of the AG finishers. Progress this year for me has seemed nonexistent
at times. That is the nature of progression in endurance sport. This result has reinforced
to me that I am on a slow and steady path upwards. The off-season for me is now here and I will
spend the next 8-12 weeks just exercising with no focused training. Thanks goes out to TriDubai
and all the members that continue to inspire me onwards and upwards. Hope you enjoyed this
glimpse into my race.

Aaron.

Comment