Ironman Texas 2019–The Woodlands

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I’ve been MIA, training for Ironman Texas!  I didn’t really say much about it on social media or even to my friends/family until basically it was time to race.  I told my parents a mere month before it actually happened.  They worry and I was trying to keep Mom’s stress at a minimum.  Smile  As most of you probably know, I’ve been recovering from the bike crash/concussion that occurred in early September 2018 and my training started a bit behind, in comparison to others.  I didn’t know if I was actually going to do the race but started back training and attempting a build at the end of December to try to figure it out.  Thankfully, in December the doc gave me a nerve block to help with the rear occipital lobe pressure headaches (due to my occipital bone pinching/pressing on my occipital nerve) and I was off & running, quite literally within a day or so of the nerve block.  I’m still not 100% but I’m so much better than I was and I just adjusted training accordingly & thankfully my bestie, Julie  M. really helped with the driving and travel to TX to keep my fatigue going into race day as low as possible.  So I should really dedicate this race to Dr. Kidder and Julie for all her help.  Huge thanks to both!

The Woodlands, TX is a beautiful area but its also busy.  Think major suburb of a large city, Houston in this instance.  And its named appropriately because there are quite literally trees and wooded areas everywhere.  Hard to even know what businesses are around because everything is hidden by trees.  That being said, everything was smooth and getting around was easy thanks to Google Maps.  Packet pick up was beside the canal in a parking area.  Hardest part of packet pick up was deciding where to park.  But once we figured that out, we saved that garage location as a favorite on our gps unit and parked there for EVERYTHING.  Plus it was nice because we could walk along the canal, where we would eventually be swimming, to get to the Ironman Village.

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Packet pick up was fast and easy.  No lines.  No weight stations, like we had in Lake Placid where they took our weight and recorded it for medical purposes.  This was both good cuz I’m a little fluffy still from the weight I gained during the post concussion “fun” and also bad because the heat was high and I was concerned that medical might actually need the participants weights due to dehydration issues on race day.  Julie M. and I at Ironman Village. 

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Lots of hotel options around the race site.  If you don’t mind spending the big bucks, you could have stayed at the Westin or Marriott on the canal and avoided the need for a rental car, if you flew into the area.  We had a car (and a budget) so opted for a hotel about 10-15 minutes away, the Homewood Suites by Hilton in Shenandoah (beware –  I’m a Hilton rewards member but opted to book thru Expedia  and they were not pleasant to me at check in, definitely gave preferential treatment to their rewards members and made us wait past check in time for a room while members were being checked in immediately.)  We had a suite with a full sized refrigerator, dishwasher, stovetop, dishes & fireplace which was $600 for 3 nights.  Plus they had nice grills in a common area for guest use.  This enabled us to take our own food, grocery shop, cook, eat, drink and rest without having to eat out and run around more than necessary.  I don’t love eating out before big races because I have a sensitive stomach.  I was feeling good and I wanted to keep it that way.  So we only ate out once, on Thursday for lunch, before the Saturday race.  Huge win for me!!  The room and location was perfect.

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Friday – Practice Swim, Short Run & Bike/Bag Check.  The weather was perfect for hanging out.  We headed to the swim start at Northshore Park on Friday morning for a short swim.  The water looked and felt amazing, even thought we had heard there were possible water “quality” issues, plus it was so much cleaner than the canal!!  Beautiful area for running too, with lots of trails and paths around the park.  So much shade!  We loved the run and couldn’t wait to get out there for the marathon on race day.  Yes, we are sick like that.  Also saw lots of friends, Julie’s Endure It crew, my TriDot people and other friends who were racing. 

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The swim start was about a mile from transition so after the we finished at the park, we drove down to transition to check our bikes and bags.  Once again, we expected long lines and a wait.  Nothing.  We parked.  Walked our bikes/bags to transition.  They check our bracelets to make sure we matched the numbers on our bikes and bags.  They took a photo of our bikes (for security reasons).  We were asked if we needed help.  Then we we were able to rack our bikes.  It was such a process with long lines and big wait times in Lake Placid that we were quite impressed with how quickly and smoothly it went.  We racked our bikes, let quite a bit of air out of our tires so they wouldn’t explode in the heat of the day Friday before we came back on Saturday morning.  Dropped our bags, and left.  Spent the rest of the day hanging out at the hotel and resting/relaxing/hydrating/eating.

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Race Day – My race

Saturday was race day.  We were up bright and early, headed to transition to put nutrition on our bikes, inflate tires to the proper point and take care of last minutes needs before hiking the mile to the swim start.  Everything was smooth.  Everyone was calm.  I was easily able to borrow a pump. Put my tailwind on my bike. FORGOT to put my Nuun tabs in my Tailwind, which I realized when we were checking our morning clothes bag at the swim start.  Thankfully Julie had a ziplock with her stuff.  So I swam with a tube of Nuun (in a ziplock) in my Tri top (under my wetsuit).  That’s another thing … WETSUIT LEGAL!  Yes, just makes the start of my day easier.  Thanks to the Triathlon Gods on that one because I was prepared to swim in my swimskin and it was a pleasant surprise.  

Swim (2.4 miles) – Race started on time.  Pros were off at 6:25 for the men, 6:30 for the women.  Age groupers started with a rolling self seeded start at 6:40am and it seemed smooth and easy getting into the water. I was stress-free and just ready to start.  I had hoped for a fast-ish swim (for me) since it was a single loop but I had heard this was one of the slower Ironman swims.  Course was easily broken down into 1/3s.  1/3 out, 1/3 back, 1/3 thru the canal. See below.  Start is at the top.  Finish at the bottom, furthest point.

Swim

It was slower than I had anticipated.  But I also didn’t anticipate my goggles not sealing.  I stopped numerous times (5-6) to dump water out of my goggles and attempt to reseal them but it didn’t work.  I contemplated taking them off all together but didn’t think that would be a better.  Ultimately, I just kept swimming with limited vision and dirty water clouding my eyes.  I was sighting the bright green swim caps around me vs attempting to really “see” anything.  Progress was slow.  It took me awhile to get into a rhythm and I never felt completely comfortable with the vision issue.  I was VERY thankful to have a wetsuit at that point since I was stopping on and off to clear water from my goggles, which was absolutely pointless because they immediately filled back up with lake water. 

The course was crowded and never really thinned out the way that I had thought it would.  Sun was in our eyes on the back side of the course and particularly when we were turning into the channel leading to the canal.  Plus it really bottled up going into the canal and I was just locked into place where I was, not able to really pass anyone or speed up toward the finish.  We were all just “in line“ basically trying to get out of the water.  Eventually, a couple volunteers just reached down and pulled me out of the water.  My vision was very blurred by that point from the water, my left eye was covered with some sort of film and I was disoriented.  Thankfully volunteers pointed me to the wetsuit strippers and those ladies literally got me out of my wetsuit, I didn’t even have it unzipped since I was disoriented.  Good times!  But onto T1. 

Photos of the swim courtesy of the Ironman Texas Facebook page:

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Transition –  All the bags were lined up, in order, on the ground, in a concrete area.  We ran thru, grabbed our bags & went to the changing tent.  Super easy. Changing tent volunteers were super helpful, sprayed me with sunscreen, picked up all my swim stuff & rebagged it for me.  I left them with my bag & was off to find my bike.  I pulled out my Nuun canister, emptied the tabs into my hand, tossed the canister into a garbage can, all without missing a beat.  Found my bike, added Nuun to the Tailwind already on the bike, and I was off ….. with slightly blurred vision but it was already improving.

Bike (112 miles) – Lots of turns getting out of the area but eventually we were funneled onto the Hardy Toll Road for the majority of the bike.  This is labeled as a fast & flat course; however, there are several bridges that we climbed and descended numerous times.  On the IMTX Facebook page, I heard that there were 18 bridges that we climbed/descended.  I didn’t count but there were quite a few.

Bike

Flat & fast?  Well, not totally flat with the bridges but it had the potential to be fast.  Apparently the course was short last year but that was corrected this year so we had a full 112 miles.  Once on the Hardy, it was a straight out (21ish miles) and back, 2x.  The “out” was into the wind and slow going.  The back was with the wind and fast.  In addition to fighting the wind on the first “out”, I was also fighting some serious nausea.  I should have been down in aero to fight the wind better but I was seriously ill and when I was down in aero, I was in the perfect position to “toss my cookies”.  I knew that was not in my best interest because the heat was quickly rising.  So I was upright, chewing pepto tabs like candy and holding in the nutrition that I had already put into my body.  I hit the turnaround, the nausea was gone, I had the wind at my back and I gave some serious thanks to the universe.  I stayed in high Zone 2 and even crept into Z3 as the wind quickly pushed me to the turnaround. 

Then back into the wind and that’s when the fun began.  I was in good spirits because I knew I only had to go 21ish miles and I could get an aided ride back but ….. I started cramping.  Serious cramping, like the kind that wakes you in the middle off the night and you jump out of bed with a leg or calf cramped up.  Serious.  And this would not go away.  I felt good otherwise so it was frustrating.  I can only assume that due to the heat, I managed to flush my own electrolytes by drinking too much water.  I had a lot of electrolytes in my nutrition but the cramps kept coming.  I stopped 8x for cramping, legs locked up, pulling my bike off the road, attempting to get out of my pedals before I tipped over.  Then I’d rub out my legs, and get started again, hoping that was the end of the cramping.  I also stopped 5 or 6 times at aid stations to get extra fluids & fuel (Gatorade & bananas).  I went thru all my Tailwind/Nuun concoction, used 8 Huma gels and drank 4 of the large Gatorades on course.  I knew I had an electrolyte issue and didn’t want to be ruined for the run.  There were not any salt tabs on the bike course because its not normal to need them out there.  I had salt tabs in my run bag.  I just needed to get back to transition to access them.  The last time my leg locked up at mile 105 and I just prayed to get back to T2.  I finally made it.  So thankful!!!  Grabbed my run bag in transition, headed to the run tent, immediately took 6 salt caps, changed, volunteer took my bag, I ran out.  Transition in Texas was easy.  They have a great set up. 

Photo below from somewhere on the bike course, thankfully not while I was grimacing in pain from leg cramps.

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Run  (26.2 miles) – 3 loop course.  So thankful to be running but it was hot, hot, hot.  A volunteer said it was 87 at one point when I hit an aid station.  Not that I asked, didn’t change my plan to merely survive this darn thing so I could get back home to my kids.  Just keep moving forward, right?

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The run course was full, mostly of athletes walking and spectators were everywhere, spilling out onto the course.  If you like people yelling at cheering for you while you run, then TX may be the Ironman course for you!  Lots of people.  Mostly drunk people, but lots of people.  It was hard to maneuver the course sections along the canal because of all the bodies.  The fast Iron people were done and meandering back to their hotel or car, with their crew of family/friends.  Some spectators were cheering and high fiving and entertaining the runners and crowds alike.  Kids.  Dogs.  Strollers.  Restaurant goers.  Bar patrons.  It was crazy.  But once we got away from the canal, it calmed down and the crowds thinned.  We ran a lot of shaded paths and trails thru the woods.  Those were my favorite parts, the quiet spots, away from the sun and the people.  And lots of room for me to just run.  And run, I did …. but slowly and with stops at every aid station for water, ice, pickles, coke, and chicken broth.  Ironman run aid stations are like a buffet.  Eat, drink, be merry.

Loop 1 was fun.  Loop 2 was long and I was in the nomads land of “am I ever going to finish this thing?”.  Loop 3 was a celebration for a long hard winter of trainer rides and questioning my own sanity.  But as always, if we just keep moving, the finish line finally comes into sight.  So sweet!! 

SWAG:

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Coveted backpack which Michael claimed for school as soon as he saw it:

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So how was it?  I liked it.  Organizers, police and volunteers did an amazing job!  Did I like it better than Ironman Lake Placid?  Hard to get better than Lake Placid.  Although the course is harder at LP because its in the mountains, its undeniably beautiful.  Always something to look at scenery wise in the swim, bike & run.  While I certainly can’t comment on what I “saw”during the TX swim, the bike was pretty blasé on the toll road.  Nothing to see, just keep moving. Wind was a factor which was a bit of an equalizer, in my opinion, for the lack of elevation. The run was entertaining in TX but a 2 loop course suits my personality better and since I’m a runner, I want to run with as little interference as possible.  I liked the TX run course because of the variety and overall, I think the run course was the best part of this particular race.  This would have been a great race for my mom & kids to spectate.  If you want more info on spectating IMTX, please go download the Crushing Iron Podcast #263 where Coach Robbie Bruce from C26 Coaching talks about his experience spectating. 

What You Should Know, If You’re Considering IMTX

  • Hot weather race.
  • Take extra fuel & electrolytes.  Plan to carry extra electrolytes on the bike.
  • If you are from the Northern or Midwestern states, plan to ride your trainer all winter long.  And then you’ll have to ride some more. Plan on IMTX being your first outdoor ride of the season.
  • Expect extra soreness/fatigue in your neck & shoulders from being outside and having to pay attention with your head up for the first time since last fall.
  • Water quality may be questionable (I’ve heard a lot of people got sick).
  • Expect wind on the bike.
  • Easy transitions.
  • Spectator friendly.
  • Great Finishers area, accessible to friends/family/spectators.
  • Easy bike pick up after the race because its possible to navigate around the race course to regain access to transition & the bikes/bags. 

Overall, a great race.  Definitely give it a “TRI” at Ironman Texas!

Next up for me:  1)  Revel Mt Hood Marathon in Portland OR on June 29th.  2)  Super Marathon in Snoqualmie Pass, WA on June 30th. 4) RAIN Ride, Terre Haute to Richmond IN on July 20th and 5) Ironman Arizona on November 24th.

Stats:  Ironman Texas was my 2nd full Ironman, which also included my 53rd marathon.  I’ve ran marathons in 31 states so far.  Texas was not a new state for me but it was for Julie, which is why we went.  Still slowly chipping away at my 50 states goal.  

** Happy Running & Racing  ** Amanda – TooTallFritz **

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1 thought on “Ironman Texas 2019–The Woodlands

  1. Amazing job, Amanda!!!! Totally in awe of you and your badassery. I have hope of maybe (MAYBE) someday doing a sprint tri, but not any time soon. I’m not a water person, so that will be an Ironman-like obstacle for me. Congrats!!!

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