Tuesday, 17 May 2016

May 14th 2016 Ironman Texas North American Championships

3.9km Swim 151km Bike 42km Run - Temperature 95oF Humidity 80%
Swim 1:12:43 - T1 04:20 - Bike 04:07:23 - T2 04:35 – Run 03:44:11 Total Time 09:13:12
6th 50-54 Age Group, 175th overall
I was kicking off my season with a full distance race and planned to bag a qualification spot for Kona early in order to allow me a full build for the Big Island race. Three weeks out from the race it look almost a certainty they would pull the race as the bike course flooded and no alternate route could be organised. Work was very busy so in a way this would have suited me but at the eleventh hour they came up with a 95 mile route with nearly 90 turns! So nothing for it but to get on a plane and get racing.
My rule for racing these days is that it must always be with friends, sharing the experiences and travelling to new destinations. I would be sharing this adventure with three close friends and two new long distance junkies whom I am sure will now be lifelong friends.
Forty eight hours out from race time the adventure took a new twist. The water quality in the lake dropped and so they had to ditch the second leg and make it a single loop. That meant moving a whole transition area so it was now a split T1 and T2 and hastily marking out a new course. The upshot was a course ending up too long and athletes post-race complaining of GI issues!
What else could possibly go wrong?
It was a rolling swim start rather than my preferred mass start close contact contest. It’s hard to get the adrenaline going as it’s so civilised and as a consequence I just allow myself to plod round, longing to go up the ramp and get to work on the bike. To cap it all it was non wetsuit as the water was 81oC race morning and for a rubbish swimmer like me, I swim like a brick without a wetsuit.
Out on the bike and the pace on, right from the mount line. The rolling swim start meant athletes were well spaced out on the flattish course and whilst there was some bunching as we all slowed into the multiple corners, packs of drafters were only formed by those willing to flout the rules rather than a consequence of squeezing way too many athletes onto a technical course. I slotted into a fast pace line of about 10 bikers all riding legally but hard, gobbling up the miles, riding in excess of 24 mph. We were passed by small groups of cheaters but by in large most were there to race hard and clean. By half way the temperature started to rise, the corners tighten and a light head wind started to pick up, nothing problematic but knocking off a couple of mph. I kept trying to push the pace but the back half was feeling much harder as the conditions started to bite and I struggled to digest my nutrition.
Off the bike and I am normally excited to get cracking on reeling in the age group over the next 26.2 miles but not this time. My stomach was complaining, my quads were creaking and I felt hot and heady. These sensations were new territory but as always I was sure that once I got the feet rolling I would quickly shake the bike off and tick off the miles. After a couple of miles the usual spring did not return to my legs, they were just sore and I hadn’t managed to make a start on properly fuelling, my stomach had pretty much shut down. The soreness turned to quasi cramp as I started to hobble rather than run and the lack of fuel going in and high heart rate started to worry me. By the end of the first 8 mile lap I should have been locked into my running flow and hoovering up my competitors but instead I was in melt down on every level. I decided to stop at the next aid station and have one go at pressing the reset button before bailing out. I just stood still as the volunteers poured cups and cups of cold water over me, taking my breath away but felt massively better. Once my heart rate came down and I felt in control I sauntered off, resolving to keep my core temperature under control and start to eat at every aid station. The next couple of miles felt much better, I was fuelling, controlling my temperature but my legs were still in pieces. I just couldn’t get any rhythm, my trusty running legs just weren’t firing. I knew the sort of run split I needed so I just did my best to come close to it and hope that it was a tough run for everyone. I hobbled along at the required pace but no flow, just lock down the brain and move forwards a step at a time.  I managed to turn my mind from one of despair to mild optimism that I could make it, just.
Had I snatched success from the jaws of defeat? Boom, the lightning cracked overhead, an instant crash of thunder, the heavens opened and the rain poured down. More lightning, more thunder, more wind but then hail stones. I dipped my head so my cap protected my face and resolved to fight to get to the line. It was surreal, chaos all round, aid stations being blown away, athletes running scared and rivers of water on the streets. As I rounded the last couple of turns the barriers were being blown over so I had to pick my way through the debris to get to the finish line, fully expecting at any minute to be struck by a scaffold pole of something similar. No Mike Riley calling me across the line, just get under cover and out of danger.
I was proud I hadn’t given in to the challenges despite the battering my cramping legs had taken. After an hour or so I decided to find my position in the field and was thrilled to learn I was 6th across the line and I was pretty sure there were 6 slots on offer. The war stories started to slowly filter through as it transpired the race director had suspended the race 5 minutes after I had crossed the line, athletes being help in shelters in groups of up to 400 at various points of the course as the storm raged on. After about 40 minutes the race was restarted but of course it was mayhem as the huge groups now set off to complete their races.


video

At midnight the organisers had 12 hours to figure out how they were going to correct the results to reflect the temporary suspension of the race; there podiums to fill and slots to allocate. For the slower groups there were likely no finishers ahead of the clock being stopped. So, they made up a rule and applied it the way they felt dealt with the majority of athletes. I crossed the line 6th and they confirmed that but they awarded to the slot to the guy who came across the line 8th as he was ahead of me at mile 22. Go figure, I have made an appeal and am sat here wondering if they will do the right thing.

***STOP PRESS*****APPEAL UPHELD*****I'M OFF TO KONA*****STOP PRESS***