Ironman 70.3 Austin Race Recap
Well, we did it, y’all! We cleared every hurdle the universe threw our way (and there were a lot of them!) and finished our first Ironman 70.3. This made us realize just how many things have to align to get to the finish line, and I won’t lie: it felt damn good to cross it. Despite having just spent six hours and thirty-five minutes in strenuous activity, I finished with an absurd amount of energy. Endorphins are no joke – just look at that manic style.
Since we didn’t race together, Courtney and I had a billion stories to share and were eager to compare our experiences. Courtney actually had to go to the medical tent after collapsing from dehydration and exhaustion at the finish line. I finished feeling strong, but it certainly wasn’t a walk in the park. Comparing to my full marathon is like apples to oranges, but I’d say this was the most challenging physical fete I’ve ever undertaken simply because of the amount of energy it takes to keep your head in the game. Buckle up. let’s start at the beginning.
Is it Groundhog’s Day? Honestly, leaving D.C. for Austin was a bit anti-climatic. It was almost like we’d just gone through all these same motions… oh that’s right, because we had! Part of me – like 60% – just wanted to stay and celebrate Halloween rather than drag all our luggage and two big ol’ bike boxes halfway across the country. I was still nervous, but about different things. The forecast was free from rain, but set to be in the high 30s at swim start. I wondered if I’d panic breathing air so cold, or how I’d possibly warm up once we exited the water. I’d also read horror stories about the bike course – that it was not only hilly, but that the roads were poor quality and dangerous. I was terrified the entire bike ride when we did the Giant Acorn last year, and wondered if this would be a repeat of that experience, just for twice as long.
Houston Austin, we have a problem. We woke up Saturday morning without much of a sense of urgency. We had a leisurely breakfast and knocked out our grocery shopping before heading to transition with our bikes. As I was doing a test loop around the block before packing our bikes into the car, it felt as if my chain had come off. I tried shifting my back gear to be sure I wasn’t just in the bottom rung and I heard a crunch. We turned the bike over to find not only that my back derailer was totally destroyed, but that my frame was bent too – the bike must have gotten damaged in transit. I called around to find a local bike shop, thinking the likely best case scenario was finding a rental for the race. At this point, we only had about five hours until the transition area closed. We rushed my bike into Cycleast to be looked at, and their first reaction was “this doesn’t look good. Your derailer is toast. Your frame might be toast too.” He warned us that if they tried to bend it back into shape, it may just snap off and the bike would be done, but we proceeded with surgery. Miraculously, they were able to successfully bend it back into place with relative ease. They replaced my derailer, fixed my wheel, replaced my chain and back housing, and gave my bike a clean bill of health – all in about 30 minutes. These guys are amazing. I won’t say that I was entirely cool and collected, but it was just about the best possible outcome given the situation – thank goodness it didn’t happen on the course. Lesson: don’t be cheap, yo. If you fly with your bike, always get it checked out before riding.
This race was also a bit more complicated because unlike any I’ve done before, there were two transition points rather than one. Prior to the race, we had to set up everything we needed to bike at one transition area and everything we need to run at the other. This meant we spent pretty much all day on Saturday running around getting things set up. On race morning, we had to drive and park at the finish line (also T2) and then take a shuttle bus to the start (also T1).
I can’t feel my face when I’m with you… but I love it. It was 41 degrees when we woke up Sunday morning, but by the time the race started it had dropped to a balmy 37. Luckily, we’d packed a throwaway layer (sweatshirt, hat, gloves, socks) and bought a pair of fuzzy granny slippers to keep our feet warm while we waited for the cannon to go off. I’d also brought an emergency blanket to keep the body heat in. I looked pretty goofy, but it kept everything but my face warm while we waited outside for 2+ hours. It was a self-seeded race, and I seeded myself with the 40-43 minute group – not starting until 8:27. Courtney took off about 30 minutes before me, and I just huddled and waited until my moment of truth. The first thing I did upon entering the water was stand for a minute and pee to warm up my wet suit (sorry, Stephanie). Once I started swimming, I was surprised to find I really wasn’t cold. It did take me a few hundred meters to settle into the breathing and talk myself out of panicking as people were kicking and splashing all around me, striking my limbs and nearly striking my face. I paused and found a open line to swim, and whenever I felt like there were too many people around me I just took a moment to reset and do that again. The buoyancy of the wetsuit really lends comfort in that moment. From that point, I really just cruised along and the swim felt like it went by really quickly. I was surprised to even be passing some other swimmers – definitely not something I experienced during my all-breast stroke first triathlon last fall. Considering I only learned how to freestyle when we started training 13 weeks before race day, I was pretty pleased with my swim. Swim time: 42:15
As I got out of the water and started running – maybe it was the shock, maybe it was the adrenaline – but I realized I actually wasn’t that cold. I passed by the strippers because I didn’t want to be without a wet suit for longer than necessary – I’d only worn a string bikini beneath my suit, electing to sacrifice the extra time it would take to change rather than bike in wet clothes. I’m pretty sure I flashed a couple other athletes, but luckily everyone is so focused on their own process that no one seemed to notice. I started the race in cycling shorts, a jersey, a thermal shirt and a windbreaker and full finger gloves and ran out of transition carrying my bike to avoid the rumored burrs that could cause a tragic flat tire. T1 time: 9:19
In that moment, I realized I cared just as much about his race as I did about mine. Between all the layers and the run with my bike, I was warm by the time I started pedaling. Although still chilly out, it was an absolutely idyllic sunny day. I hit mile five before I’d hardly had time to blink, and started thinking “this isn’t so bad!” Probably around mile 7, I looked to the side of the road and saw a cyclist looking very downtrodden, standing next to an officer, his bike upside down; I couldn’t tell what was wrong with the bike but it didn’t look good. I thought, “I recognize that bike” and then I looked up at the cyclist and recognized his build, and even the expression of frustration and dismay. While I knew there wasn’t much I could do, I circled back, wanting to find out what was going on and give some encouraging words – if he was still way back here after starting so far ahead of me, something had to be really wrong. As I approached, I noticed the cyclist wasn’t wearing skeleton leggings. I let out a sign of relief, and immediately felt bad doing so – but I was just so relieved it wasn’t Courtney. In that moment, I realized I cared just as much about his race as I did about mine; had I not stopped I would have been sad the entire ride until I got to transition and saw his bike racked.
When I was a kid, we biked up hill both ways… At first it was just rolling hills, but they were near constant. At the first rest stop around mile 15, I traded in my windbreaker for words of encouragement from a flock of volunteers. The Texas countryside provided a pretty distraction, and I was relieved to find that I wasn’t scared on the roads. Reading the comments from other athletes about the road quality had honestly made me expect so much worse! Any roads with real traffic had a lane coned off, and unlike Giant Acorn, I was surrounded by other cyclists the entire ride so even on the roads with traffic I felt pretty comfortable that cars would see me. I was starting to feel more confident, but kept saying to myself “you’ve got a long ways to go before you sleep” – a lot can happen in a distance race to quickly derail you, and it’s important to keep your head in the game. By 30, I decided that 25 mile bike rides are my sweet spot – I was ready to be off the bike. The wind had picked up, and the hills just kept coming! Unlike the swim, I was almost exclusively being passed on the bike, but the other cyclists were really encouraging. My bike definitely has less frills than most on the course, and I didn’t see anyone else but Courtney who was doing the ride without clip-ins. I played games in my head to count down to each subsequent mile marker (“when I get to 45, there are only 11 miles left!”). I’d heard rumors about the hill at mile 50, but what I didn’t know is it’s actually two huge hills. I stood up and powered my bike up the hill; it was so steep that a number of athletes had actually gotten off their bikes to walk up. Just as I got to the top, I could see the steep decline into an even taller hill. “That’s just mean,” I thought, but I was determined to attack that last hill. As I approached the end of the ride, I started thinking “if I broke down now, could I run the rest of the way with my bike? I bet I could!” Finally transition was in sight and I knew I’d made it. Bike Time: 3:35:43
As I racked my bike, I was feeling pretty confident – I’d overcome my two biggest fears: hypothermia and a bike accident. I still had to run a half marathon, which is nothing to sneeze at – another two hours sounded a bit intimidating, but I knew that running is my strongest leg. I doused myself in sunscreen, made a quick stop in the porta potty and was off. T2 Time: 4:32
Forward motion is all you need. I set out on the run and almost immediately cramped up from the combination of everything I’d ate and drank to keep my energy up on the ride. For the first two miles, it was a constant sharp cramp. I knew that even if I had to walk, I had a good shot of finishing at this point, so I told myself to just keeping running as long as I could. I repeated to myself something Courtney had told me the night before: one foot in front of the other, forward motion is all you need. Luckily, by mile three the cramping had subsided and I was feeling pretty good. The run was a three loop course, which I’d hated when I first read about it, but it was actually pretty cool – it meant that Courtney and I saw each other several times throughout the run, which was really motivating for both of us. By the third loop, I could tell he was at the end of his tank but going to finish – that meant that I just had to do the same. The other great thing about having multiple loops is that there were aid stations every mile. After the second mile, I stopped and walked through every single one, drinking a cup of gatorade or water, and the biggest lifesaver: an orange slice. The running course was also rolling hills, and had a portion that was off road. This was the first race I’ve ever done of this length without music, so it was just me and my thoughts. Again, I played mind games to get through the miles telling myself, “all you’ve got left is a Lincoln and back!” or “next time you see this part of the course, you’ll be on the last loop!” As I approached the last mile, I knew I had a good amount left in my tank so I picked it up. I heard someone in the crowd comment on my pace, and it motivated me to keep it up, sprinting the last quarter mile into the stadium. I crossed the finish line and immediately found Courtney and gave him a big hug – so excited that we’d both finished our first Ironman 70.3! Run Time: 2:03:36
Wake-up: almond butter and jelly on an English muffin; a banana; a few sips of coffee.
Waiting for race start: most of a cliff bar, water.
Bike: This is where it got difficult, because I wasn’t hungry when I got on my bike. I forced myself to eat half an English muffin with turkey and cheese around mile 10. I had 1-2 homemade salty ball, a delicious mocha goo, and 1-2 gel blocks, and drank about half my camel pack and half a bottle of scratch. I’d planned not to eat after mile 40, but I knew I hadn’t taken in enough calories so I ended up having more than I’d like late.
T2: I ate most of another salty ball and some scratch because I felt like I needed calories.
Run: I had water and/or gatorade at nearly every single aid station + 1/2 a pack of salted watermelon gel blocks, three IB profin, a potato chip and several orange slices. I never eat during a half marathon, and usually don’t drink very much water unless it’s really hot, so it was clear at this point that my body really needed nourishment – we’d burned over 3,500 calories without putting many of them back in. I’d been warned that this was a challenge, but you don’t know until you experience it.
This certainly wasn’t the course we had trained for – flat and hot.At the end of the day, my only goal was to finish so I was pretty happy with my performance. Now I know my times to beat. Total Time: 6 hrs, 35 minutes, 34 seconds.
So, will you do it again? Funny you should ask. It just so happens we’ve already signed up for the Eagleman in June! Luckily, this one we can drive to. In terms of things I’ll do differently, I may invest in a nicer bike and I’d definitely like to get comfortable enough to ride in clip-ins. I’ll also ditch the camel pack and just grab a second water bottle because it irritates your back after a while.