Tuesday 20 May 2014

Ironman Texas

I went into Ironman Texas in a really weird place. I was coming off my mind-numbing performance at IM Arizona where I went sub-12 and essentially had a perfect race. I've spent the last 6 months trying to convince myself, with limited results, that I would be fine with being slower this time. This sounds really good but the truth is that the nature of athletics is one of competition and a constant desire to get better. I think I was in the doldrums, I had completed 5 Ironman races, I was coming off of my best performance and what was I proving by doing another race? This is all ridiculous as every race is its own animal and I need each one of them equally to get to Kona but this one just felt blah.

The reality of the situation was that the hot weather (although cooler than usual for south Texas), the undulating bike course, the wind, and the fact that I did all of my training for this race indoors meant that going sub-12 would be a Herculean feat. I set out my goals ahead of time and picked a realistic but optimistic goal of going sub-13 with the breakdown of a 1:15 swim, a 5:45 bike and a 5:12 run plus 15 minutes for transition (I know this is like 12:30 but there's a buffer).

Mom came with me again and acted as my Iron Sherpa. It's such a huge help to have someone there that can hand you tools when you build you bike or help drag your luggage and just be a general helper. It would be amazing to have my family at the races but the thought of taking 2 adults and 3 small children on an airplane for a weekend where I'm tied up with racing would just be a nightmare financially and logistically.

How does a moth get IN BETWEEN the 2 panes of glass on an airplane?
We landed in Houston, got the baggage and headed off to our little Best Western by the airport. A nice little place that was just for the night as we were headed off to the sweet race hotel the next day. The Woodlands Waterway Marriott was the race hotel and it is awesome. A little more expensive than I'm used to but since mom was paying I felt like it would be worth trying it out, and I was right! This was such a cool area that I saw, without question, one of the most interesting sights I've ever seen. A Ferrari with a triathlon bike strapped on the back. I honestly couldn't decide if it was awesome or the douchiest thing I've ever seen. 

Our room was on the 12th floor which was second from the top and had a nice little balcony. From the balcony you could see the waterway and the race expo. For anyone that's done Ironman you can appreciate being able to walk to all of the events associated with the race and not having to try and find parking everywhere you go. The only downside was that the music and associated construction noise with the finish line area was too loud to leave the window open at night.

The white tents are the race expo, from my hotel balcony
 The next couple of days mom and I did some shopping and caught a movie. I absolutely love seeing movies before a race. It's the perfect environment; a cool place where you can sit down out of the sun and do something that takes your mind off of the impending torture that you're subjecting yourself to. We skipped the race dinner and instead opted to go to the Cheesecake Factory which was a great call. I had a really nice meal and wrapped it up with an unreal piece of carrot cake. Om nom nom! The night before we did what has now officially become a tradition and had dinner at P.F. Chang's. SO GOOD!

In what universe is this a good idea? They were on sale, weird hey?

Apparently Target is French for "buzz kill." This totally ruined my plans.

Race Day:

Being that we were so close to the race site I didn't have to wake up until 5:40am. This was really nice. Kind of a sleep in as far as Ironman's concerned. I put on my sweatsuit and beanie and headed down to transition and by the time I had gotten to the end of the block my shirt was already soaked in sweat. The humidity seemed pretty intense and I started to worry. I'm from the northern most real city in Canada and we don't get heat or humidity very often. In fact, I flew to Las Vegas 2 weeks before the race to train in some heat and we had to de-ice the plane because snow was accumulating on the wings. ON MAY 2nd!!! 

I was unaware just how far it was from transition to the swim start and as I was entering the transition area to put my aero bottle on my bike they were announcing that we had to leave as transition was closing in 5 minutes. "Zoinks!" Fortunately my bike was in good shape and I didn't need to get anything done to it. I started walking towards the swim start, and walking, and walking. It turned out to be about a mile walk. This ordinarily wouldn't be a huge deal but when you're going to cover 140.6 miles in the coming hours that extra mile is just rude man. 

Once in transition I lubed up (let that image sink in) and started putting on my wetsuit. Just as I pulled up on it to get it up my thighs it got really easy to pull on it. I had just blown the crotch out of my wetsuit, 10 minutes before the start. OH COME ON! I was already not feeling super motivated and this was just an extra kick in the junk. This was a deep water start so we started making our way into the water 15 minutes before the gun would go off. I waded out into the water and floated around thinking about the day that was laid before me. I may come off as a goofball and somewhat easy going but when it comes to triathlon I tend to get very spiritual. The day before the race my mom and I went for a walk and she was asking me how I felt about the race. I told her I wasn't sure how I felt about it and that I wasn't sure I was ready. Just then there was a viewing area with a sign that said, "the journey is the reward." As I floated on my back waiting for the start I started think about my late father and told him that I would need his help to get through the day. Just then I looked over and even though it was bright sun the moon was visible. My dad was a huge space nerd and told us his greatest dream was to go to outer space. I'm not a religious person at all but if there is an afterlife I always imagine my dad hangs out around the moon and that where I look when I want to talk to him. Knowing him and how clumsy he was I also imagine that he would go and check out Neil Armstrong's footprints on the moon and ultimately sneeze, erasing them forever.

Within 5 minutes of starting the swim I got kicked right in the face. A pretty good shot actually. This caused my goggles to suction to my left eye and was really painful. I elected to rip off my goggles and made my way, at a 90 degree angle to the other swimmers, to a kayak where I could hang out and replace my goggles. This is like a game of frogger and really kinda fun to do. I got myself settled and back onto the course. At 45 minutes into the swim one of the people next to me accidentally hooked their hand in my goggles and ripped them off my face again. I've never lost my goggles even once in a race and now it's happening a second time. OH COME ON!

It's a really fun course. You go out and back in the main part of the lake and then turn right into a canal that is only about 10 metres wide. This is really fun because you don't need to look too hard to see where you're going. There's walls on both sides and you just swim straight to the finish. I got out of the water in 1:12 and was very happy with that.

I made my way through transition and quickly found my bike. Once on the bike I was very comfortable. This area has quickly become my favourite part of triathlon as it turns out I can cycle pretty well. The course is really pretty, you head out of town very quickly and into the wooded areas north of Houston. It is actually through Sam Houston National Forest and the riding is quite fun. It is overall pretty flat but you make the occasional small climb followed by a short descent where you can build some decent speed. The first 90km (56 miles) was fairly uneventful and I was clipping along nicely. As we headed back into town, however, the wind shifted into our face. Now life started to suck.

There was a group of about 10 of us that stuck together for the most part and we started joking around and talking about just how awful the wind and the roads were on the way back. The pavement on the majority of the course was not nice smooth asphalt, it was chip asphalt that creates a hum through the frame of your bike, into your bones and eventually infiltrates your soul. It's not too bad over short distances but for 100km (60 miles) straight it gets to be a bit of a nuisance. Additionally, the roads in the National Forest were pothole-ridden. Ironman did an amazing job marking the holes with fluorescent tape so you could see them coming. Unfortunately, when you're in a tight pack you don't always see the hole coming, just some dude's spandex clad bum that suddenly jerks to the left and you hammer into the hole and knock a filling or two loose. 

At the 140km mark I did my ceremonial thank you to Roxi Martinez. As I've mentioned before, at Ironman Los Cabos I was so emotionally and physically drained at the 140km mark that I was unsure if I could go on. Just then I saw Roxi, whose 3 sons I've coached and whose husband was racing. I pulled over and hugged her and started to cry. She gave me the strength to carry on and I will never forget this. 

Shortly after this I had a great laugh. Ironman necessitates some traffic snarls and the locals aren't always endeared to us. As we cycled past Magnolia High School there was a truck full of teenage boys that were angry about being stopped and as I passed they yelled, "we can still tell you're fat!" I laughed, but deep down inside I died a little. This was quickly forgotten as two vehicles later an elderly gentleman gave me half of a middle finger. To be fair to him it was 100% of the finger he had left but this made me laugh out loud and brought me back into a happy place. I managed to avoid any major bike damage and rolled into transition in 5:42. 3 minutes ahead of my 5:45 goal.

I didn't escape the bike totally undamaged, however. As I got off the bike it became very apparent that my feet had both cramped. This was a moment of panic for me. As I shuffled from my bike towards our bags full of run gear I honestly wondered if I was going to be able to complete the race. Transition took me almost 11 minutes as I was hoping that my feet would release. They didn't really ease up much and I made my way out onto the run course. 

As I limped down the course I made the decision that I wouldn't quit no matter what, I would force them to pull me off the course either due to medical DQ or based on time running out. It turned out I was being a bit overdramatic and after 3 miles my feet let go pretty well and I was able to jog part time.  At this point it became obvious I was not going to equal my PR and I started to feel sorry for myself. I then saw a sign on the course that said, "run the race that's set before you." It was just sharpie on poster board but it really made a big difference to me. I was able to look at the challenge of cramped feet and see it as just another challenge on my way to Kona.

The run was 3 loops around the lake at the Woodlands and was a really nice atmosphere. The hardest part was trying to run when there was a crowd because nobody wants to walk when people are looking. The place I tried the hardest was a section of the course where the local Lululemon girls had a cheering station. It was a difficult balance running slow enough to appreciate their yoga pants while running fast enough to look like I was very athletic. I think I managed to pull it off, but I was also dehydrated and sunstroked so maybe they weren't even there at all.

The highlight of the run course, for me, was a 20-something guy that had a different sign for each lap of the loop. They were a perfect combination of hilarious and offensive so they were right up my alley. The best of these was a picture of shamed NBA owner Donald Sterling referring to his now infamous comments about black people. The sign said, "140.6 miles, another race I'm not fond of." I started laughing so hard I actually had to take a walking break because I couldn't breathe well enough to jog any more. 

I hauled myself around the course and managed to finish in 6:05, much slower than I'd hoped but I was happy to be done.  I stopped short of the finish and gave my mom a hug and left her with the instructions, "get the car!" I was not prepared to walk the half mile from the finish line to my bike and back. Nope! I'd gone far enough for one day! We had a flight early the next morning so there was no time to waste. We had to get back to the room, break down my bike, eat some dinner and THEN fall asleep.

Mom ordered a pizza from a place just below us and because we were leaving in the morning we only ordered a small pizza. It would be silly to get a big one.

The room key is in the picture for scale. This is a SMALL pizza.

My final tradition at Ironman is to buy the absolute cheapest champagne I could find, pop the cork, have about 2 or 3 sips and then pass out for the night. I was really excited this time as we had a balcony and I was going to blow that cork off into the night. I had my mom take a burst shot so she could get the moment of explosion. As I peeled back the foil I just started laughing. It became apparent that you should spend more than $4 on a bottle of sparkling wine if you want a cork. I had purchased myself  a fine bottle of screwcap champagne. After regaining my composure I decided to give it shake and then just open the cap really fast. This was less spectacular than I had even expected and only resulted in a wet sticky hand and a disappointing dribble of foam. It was perfect!

In retrospect I'm really happy with how the race went. Deep down I knew I wasn't going to equal my PR so being angry about not equaling that time would be foolish. I try to learn something every race and this time there is no doubt in my mind that the best thing I can take away is from that sign, "run the race that is set before you." Don't compare previous days, just take the challenges as they come and rise up to meet them.


  1. You got off lightly in that dump Magnolia!

  2. Awesome Colin! I love reading your race recaps. You are an inspiration!

  3. Colin, I truly enjoy reading about your adventures...but have to stop doing it at work as I laughed out loud a couple times. I appreciate your honesty and love getting your perspective on difficult situations. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for your comments guys! I really enjoy the racing and want to share my experiences with as many people as possible.

    Bianca, I can appreciate how angry it makes people to have their roads tied up with a race, I only hope they realize the economic impact that hosting a race like this has on their community. The athletes and their families drop a lot of cash when we travel to our races.

  5. Awesome blog! I hate to be "that" English teacher but you have a great voice!
    I loved hearing about your journey and I'm so envious as I can't swim and although I would love to be a runner, my body is not in agreement with me!
    When I first scanned the blog, I thought that was your rental! Ha Ha

    Next time you do a race, we'll pitch in and get you a good bottle of champane

  6. Our backgrounds are so similar you really are an inspiration. Keep up the good work

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