Don’t mess with Texas

Thanks to Nils Nilsen for photos

There was a common theme to Saturday’s race and that was HEAT. It was hot. Really hot. I became a little obsessed: I think heat/hot got ten mentions in my speech at the awards banquet. I’d arrived into The Woodlands on Wednesday to pretty pleasant temperatures but as the week went on it was clear we were going to get the full Texan treatment on race day. That meant midday temperatures of 35C/95F and a soupy 70% humidity. Time to get a sweat on!

On race morning, I was already warm on the walk from T1 to the swim start and that was at 5:30am before the sun had come up. Getting into the lake I heard someone complain that the water was on the chilly side. What?! I was lapping up that feeling of being cool…I knew I wouldn’t be feeling that again until I stepped inside and into some AC.

Backing up a little, Ironman Texas was my first big race for 2013. After a pretty average show at Oceanside 70.3 I was keen to race well. This meant approaching the race differently. At Oceanside I thought too much about the result I wanted, and how much I wanted to get some confidence back after a disappointing Kona. There was too little focus on the process of the race. I’ve learnt I race best when I keep things simple: swim, bike, run hard and stay in the moment of the race rather than on the end result. I enjoy racing and take energy from the the support you get from the volunteers, from the supporters and from fellow competitors. That was what I wanted to get back to. I knew I was excited to be racing Ironman again as I had a fitful night’s sleep before the race whereas I’m usually out for the count.

The race:

The swim was pretty uneventful: not exactly a sparkling start to my race but okay. The men and women pros started together and I set myself off to the side so I would hopefully avoid getting bashed in the scrum. I did have clear water – too much of it. I could see the lead group had a gap. I pressed on and latched onto the back of the group but didn’t stay there for long. I, and a couple of other guys dropped off the pace and spent the rest of the swim together. By about the half way point I saw that Amy Marsh had dropped back from the front pack and we were gradually making up time on her. We took a better line into the canal and caught her. Good news for me! Amy has proven she is strong on the bike time and time again and it would be good to start the bike together. 

The first 50 miles of the bike were quick. My mind set was completely different to Oceanside, where I’d got bogged down with my sub-par swim instead of looking forward and getting on with the bike. I knew from speaking to a few locals and a couple of people who had raced in Texas before that we were likely to have a tail wind for the first part of the ride, and a head wind on the way home. That’s why I wasn’t too surprised that we whipped through the first 25 miles in an hour and the second 25 miles in just over 2 hours. Riding at that pace and with a tail wind I knew there was no way I would be riding away from Amy. We too’d and fro’d with the lead together with a pro guy. No one was able to disappear up the road!

At around mile 50ish we lost the tail wind and this tied in with my good patch. My legs felt strong and I could see that my watts reflected this. I pushed on and when I next looked back could see quite a big gap had grown back to Amy. My good patch lasted a while and I had to almost hold myself back, knowing that if I got too carried away the end of the bike could get ugly!

By now any cloud cover had burnt off and it was hot! I was feeling a bit like a windscreen: hundreds of bugs had met their end on my arms and legs and I was collecting water from every aid station to stay on top of hydration. The rest of the bike was almost uneventful. I did have one driver slam their brakes on in front of me as they nearly missed their turning. My rear wheel locked out a couple of times but thankfully I stayed upright!

My “self talk” turned from talking about “patience” to “keep pushing”. I could see I was headed for a fast split and it was then I let myself think about the course record set by Mary Beth Ellis last year. It looked like it may be on….but then again, it was hot!! 

The man behind the tweets

Onto the run. It was hot! I felt pretty average for the first few miles but my pace looked okay so I just sucked it up and set about trying to keep my gels down and take on enough fluid at each aid station. The run course was three loops, mostly on concrete and mostly in the full glare of the sun. I’d arranged with Brett that he would place himself so I got to see him twice on each lap. It’s the first time he’s watched me race on site and I looked forward to seeing him….even if I didn’t say too much. The Newton mile was also cool, getting encouragement just at the point we had to run up a short but steep bank. That hurt on the last lap! The back end of the loop was definitely the highlight: taking you past the bars and restaurants that lined the canal. The Texan cheers were incredible and something to look forward to each lap.

The first two laps went pretty quickly. It was the last lap that began to drag. It felt even hotter and when I picked up a final bag of PowerBar Ride Shots from my special needs bag, the heat had melted them into one big gloopy mess. That did not happen in Kona! As I couldn’t manage to eat those I switched to cola. My lead biker was awesome and at 22 miles said he had a dirty joke to take my mind off things. I apologised and told him I wasn’t much of an audience at that point. Now curiosity has me wondering what was that joke…but I didn’t manage to catch up with him! The finishing chute couldn’t come soon enough. I knew my lead was secure and I was pretty sure the record was within sight. Finishing felt good!

Thank you’s

Thanks to the race organisers, the hundreds of volunteer and all the supporters (including my Aunt and Uncle who made the trip to The Woodlands to cheer me) – the heat didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm.  Also, thanks to the crew at Bike Lane cycle shop for ironing out a couple of last minute bike issues so my P5 was ready to roll.

My racing schedule has been light this year and I’m thankful to have such great sponsors who have put no pressure on me to start racing sooner. In fact they have been nothing but supportive and really go the extra mile to help me. Thank you Cervelo, Newton, Biestmilch, PowerBar, Shimano, Aquasphere, Louis Garneau, Xlab, SRM and Oakley. There are many more thank you’s but a special mention to Brett and my coach Dave – it wasn’t exactly a smooth run in to Texas!

Over and out. I’m enjoying a recovery week, which coincides with a house move. Next stop Challenge Roth! 

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