On Sunday I completed the Ironman 70.3 Austin Half Ironman. Training for 20 weeks, completing every workout, putting in countless hours (153 hours in fact). A lot went into just getting to the starting line. Since this will probably get long (I’ll try to keep it interesting with pictures), let’s dive right in.
The day before the race I went out to the expo center to get my race number and dropped my bike off in the transition area. As it turned out, I was the very first person to rack my bike into transition, with a long line of people behind me.
After that I headed home and packed up my three gear bags. This race has separate transition areas, so you have to separate everything out ahead of time.
Race morning Ev and I got to the rodeo grounds long before sunrise in order to get things set up. Our first stop was to Transition 2 to drop off my red bag of running gear. It’s tough to see but there’s a train of school buses with a huge line of triathletes waiting in the cold. Yes, cold. Before the sun came up it was 40 degrees!
I thought we had plenty of time, but the race officials told spectators to get out of the bus line to let racers get to the start. Ev and I parted ways for a bit. I took the bus and set up my bike gear in Transition 1, then waited for Ev to arrive. Transition 1 was a demonstration of organized chaos as hoodied triathletes scrambled to get their bikes and gear ready to go.
The race starts at 7:30am with the elite men’s group, but I didn’t get going until 8:25am, so we had time to kill. We snapped some pictures, watched as the first groups swam, and made some mental notes for myself. But most importantly we kept each other warm just sitting in the cold (40 degrees!).
As my group’s time approached I made my way down to the on-deck area. The course is a 1.2 mile triangle in the lake. Before I knew it I was wading into the water hearing the announcer counting down from 10. At the sound of the horn we were just getting started on our quarter-day-long journey.
I did my best to swim my own race and not get caught up in the excitement. Whenever possible I tried to draft in other swimmers’ wakes (which apparently helps), but for the most part I convinced myself to “just keep swimming”. It was a little windy out there, so I breathed to my right to make sure the waves only hit the back of my head. By the first turn I was feeling ok but had no idea how fast or slow I was going. It was here that I started to see people from the group ahead of mine, so I couldn’t be too slow. More of the same “just keep swimming” along the backstretch until I go to the second/final turn back to shore. Here I even saw someone from two groups ahead of mine. Granted, he was doing the backstroke, but it still felt good to catch up.
I approached the water exit area feeling pretty good, though out of breath, and made my way up the hill. Overall the swim went well with little excitement. As one of the few highlights on the day, I found out later that I went much faster than my swim goal!
Official Swim Time: 37:48 (Goal: 40:00)
I had my wetsuit pulled down to my waist by the time I got to the (wetsuit)-strippers who helped pull it off the rest of the way. Ev was there cheering me on as I entered the transition area to get my bike. Sunglasses, helmet, arm warmers, gloves, socks, shoes, bike, GO! I jogged past the half-empty bike racks, saw Ev one more time, and then hopped on my bike to begin the longest part of the race.
Official Transition 1 Time: 5:50
Oh, the bike. I knew the course started off with 12 hilly miles. I paced myself well, and did what I could to save my legs. A lot of very fast (read: expensive) bikes passed and were passed by me. I cruised through the first rest stop at Mile 12 and felt good, if not still a little winded from the swim. That is, until just after Mile 13 when my front tire felt a little weird. I looked down unbelievingly at a flat tire. The thoughts that went through my head aren’t fit for the internet, so we’ll just say that I was upset.
I pulled to the side of the road to change the tire. With the wheel off, I removed the tire and pulled out the semi-deflated inner tube. Just as I was about to put the new tube in, I remembered what my long lost friend Beth from DC explained to me on our first (and only) ride together when she got a flat. Always check the inside of the tire to see if whatever popped the old tube is still there, or else it’ll pop the new tube too. Well sure enough there was an invisible metal splinter that worked its way through the rubber tire and made an impossibly small hole in the tube. It took a solid minute to get it out before I could start putting the new tube in. Once I got it in and put the tire back around the rim, all I needed to do was use the CO2 cartridge to inflate the tire. One catch: I’ve never done that before, and it showed. I fiddled around for a bit unsuccessfully trying to fill the tire. Well, in my haste and ignorance to the whole thing, I figured out how to get the CO2 out of the cartridge. Unfortunately I figured it out when the cartridge wasn’t connected to the tire. So I wasted a bit of CO2 before reconnecting it to the tire and inflating it as much as possible. This wasn’t going well, but at least it was over. I got back on my bike and was off.
(Un)Official Tire Changing Time: 10:48
Onwards! With a half-filled front tire and no spares in case of another flat, I tried to forget about it. Things were going alright even though I was working harder against the semi-flat (but not leaking) tire. As I approached the next aid station at Mile 24 (11 miles post-tire change) I shouted out if anyone had a pump, and they all paused, stared, and gave generally confused responses. Rather than stop to find out I kept rolling through figuring I’d check again at the next aid station 12 miles down the road. Other than working harder, at this point nothing was too bad. But then…
Just before Mile 35 the course takes a hard left hairpin turn. With police officers directing traffic and a handful of spectators cheering, my front wheel gave up and slid out leaving me to collapse onto my left side hard. For a second I just lay there with my right foot was still clipped into the pedal. I wiggled myself out of the tangled bike/person mess and assessed my bike and my person for damage. Nothing too bad. My left knee was bleeding, two of my fingers were cut, and my left elbow was throbbing, but the arm warmer was still in tact. The bike was fine too except for some tears in the handlebar tape. I let the stunned crowd know I was ok and was back on my way, this time more careful and cautious. After the race I checked out the damage. This was done through the arm warmer that saved me from a lot worse.
I made it another 5 miles to a quick downhill that cuts right. I knew it was coming from training and got extra slow to avoid another fall. Not to be. I took the turn wide, but there were cones set up to divide the bike course from car traffic. I couldn’t cut the turn sharp enough and ran into the cones, which took my front wheel and I fell onto my right side. Oh man, I. was. pissed. This fall was less painful, though I think it did more damage to my bike. I loosened the brakes, put the chain back on, screamed, and again was on my way.
Shortly thereafter I approached the final aid station (around Mile 46) and finally found a tire pump. So, 30 miles after my flat tire and two crashes later, I put air into my front tire. The last 10 miles to the finish were as much a mental battle as they were physical. Without worrying about my front tire for the first time in almost two hours, I didn’t let myself think about what could have been and I pushed those last 10 miles.
According to my Garmin, which auto-pauses when I stop (like to change a tire or wipe out) my time was 3:03:25. But with all the mishaps…
Official Bike Time: 3:17:40 (Goal: 3:00:00)
Pulling into transition I saw Ev again, just as cheerful as before, but unaware of my hard time. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to get off my bike as I was here. I jogged through the rows of red bags to rack my bike and get onto the “fun”. Shoes changed, arm warmers off, Garmin on wrist, GO!
Official Transition 2 Time: 3:54
Here we go. Let’s make up some time. The run course consists of three out-and-back loops. Three. Hilly. Loops. It’s a great course for spectators and, as it turns out, terrible for runners. I bolted out of transition and saw Ev telling me I was doing great. The run course beats you down from all sides. Mentally, the three laps prevents any sense of progress. There’s no way to know how you’re doing. I could be passing a ton of people while on my first lap, but they could be on their second or third.
Physically the hills keep on coming. My first lap had me running close to my goal pace (7:37 min/mi), although by Mile 3 I was already slowing down. The hardest part though was wrapping my head around hitting those hills two more times. Going into the race I thought it would be nice breaking it up into three 4.4 mile runs, but in actuality, I desperately wished it had been a single loop. I saw Ev cheering up ahead which is when I showed her my busted elbow from the bike and made a face that probably wasn’t too encouraging. She stayed positive reminding me that I was almost done.
Lap 2 was more of the same, only slower. At each water stop (and thankfully there were plenty) I dumped a cup of water on my head to try to keep cool. As I approached the end of the second lap I saw Ev again and she was joined by our good friends Lyndsay and Travis! It was enough of a boost to get me to pretend like I was feeling good. This time I was way behind my goal pace and I just wanted to get things over with.
On the final lap I walked the first water stop to refill my water bottle and toss a few more cups of water over my head. The course was thinning out as people were finishing up. As I headed towards the finish line I saw my cheering squad one last time before entering the indoor rodeo. The announcer boomed my name over the loud speaker as I crossed the finish line.
Official Run Time: 1:45:22 (Goal: 1:40:00)
Exhaustion. The race was much harder than I expected. Granted I had never exerted myself for that long, especially not with the mental struggles that went along with it. Compared to a marathon, my legs didn’t hurt as badly, but my entire body hated me more. A huge sense of relief washed over me as I crossed the finish line. I grabbed my medal, an Ironman 70.3 hat, and a water before heading out to find my team.
Official Overall Time: 5:50:34
When we were back in the car leaving the race Ev asked if this changed my plans for a full Ironman. Honestly now I don’t know. It was hard, and not all that much fun. It was a fight from the start, and with all the training it took to get there, it’s a serious decision I have to make. But I’m glad I did it and I impressed myself with how much fight I had in me despite the bike troubles and tough run course.
Possibly most important of all and drowning out a lot of the rough memories, the post-race recovery meal. We hit up 24 Diner for a burger, fries, and milkshake. Boom.
Thanks to everyone for your support getting to this point, and an especially giant thank you to my wife for being the most supportive super fan I could hope for. I couldn’t have done it without you.
Update: Here’s a link to the official race pictures for your viewing pleasure.