Let’s start off with a general introduction and give you guys a little insight about me. I am a 42 year old, 43 in Triathlon years, father of two beautiful children, ages 5 and 8. I am married to the most beautiful woman in the world, both inside and out. I have a full time job and usually the one responsible for getting the kids to their extracurricular activities, i.e. gymnastics, violin, swim, after school. I am on call 24 hours a day for work. Yet, despite all that I managed to train 15-20 hours a week. I can’t say it was easy and that it didn’t take a toll on my personal life. Through it all, my wife was a trooper. She understood the commitment required due to her being a multi-marathoner. I also can’t say that training went smoothly either. There were times where I knew she was frustrated and just wanted this to “be done”. So for those moments, I would like to tell her Thank You. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for my wife being as supportive as she was. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You. I Love You Very Much.For those of you new to Endurance Sports, an Ironman consists of a 2.4 Mile Swim, followed by a 112 Mile Bike and ending with a 26.2 Mile Run, for a grand Total of 140.6 Miles. All of this has to be completed in 17 hours or less. So if you are driving around and see one of those oval stickers that have “140.6” printed on it, you now know what that means.
“The Journey is the Reward” is an ancient proverb which many refer to during Ironman Training, and race day is a celebration of that journey. I have to say that I agree whole heartedly. For me, the journey started back in May 2011, the inaugural year of Ironman Texas. My wife volunteered at the event. Her excitement got me thinking that maybe I would like to give it a try. But there was a problem, I hadn’t swam since my younger surfer days, I did not own a road or tri bike and had only recently started running again. I mentioned to my wife that I wanted to start doing triathlons and possibly do Ironman. She kind of chuckled and gave me the “Yeah Right” look. Despite her doubts, I was determined to make it happen, well at the time at least do a triathlon. I sought coaching and found the most awesome training group, again recommended by my wife, Outrival Racing. I signed up for a training program which would have me possibly completing an Olympic Distance Triathlon by September. However, my swim struggles only allowed me to participate in two sprint distance races that year. I was registered for a third but a bike crash and several stitches kept me from participating in my last race of the season. I had originally planned to do these races on my Mountain Bike, since I had not yet owned a road or tri bike, but as luck would have it, I found a used Titanium framed Quintana Roo Santo at my LBS (Local Bike Shop). The price was too good to pass up so I pulled the trigger and bought the bike for $400.00. I rode this bad boy, which I named the Ti-Terminator, for the season.
In 2012, my plan was to do a few Sprints and finish the season with a Half Ironman. I started the season with a Sprint in Kemah, a Sprint in Cypress and ended the season with a Half Ironman in Conroe. In May 2012, I volunteered at all day at Ironman Texas. My day ended by being a “Catcher” at the finish line. Seeing the athletes finish and being there for some of my teammates was really moving. You see all kinds of emotions and are one of the first persons to congratulate the athlete for their accomplishment. When registration finally opened for Ironman Texas 2013, I immediately signed up.So now, here it is June 2012, I am officially registered for Ironman Texas. Let the suffer fest begin.
During the months of preparation, I really learned a lot about myself. I learned that I was stronger mentally that I thought I was, and that my body could take a seven day a week training regimen and still function normally. I also learned, for the most part, I did have an iron gut but there were some products out there that would have me racing for the nearest bathroom, if you know what I mean. I experimented with products from EFS, Hammer Nutrition, Gu, Powerade but finally settled with Cytomax as my primary source of calories, Honey Stinger Waffles and Gels as a secondary source of calories and Energy Lab Electrosalt for sodium supplementation. This is what I trained with, this is what I will race with.
I also encountered some mental bumps along the road to Ironman. I had gotten a stomach bug during the high volume weeks of training, call outs for work cut into training, but the most tasking obstacle for me was the loss of a good friend. On Saturday, April 27, 2013, three weeks til race day, I received notification that my friend, and co-worker Larry, had been killed in a tragic vehicle accident along I-10 near Kerrville, TX. Another friend had been seriously injured in the same accident and was listed in critical condition at a San Antonio Hospital. They had witnessed a vehicle accident and had stopped to render aid to the injured. As they exited their vehicle, they were struck by an 18 wheeler. On that morning, I had planned to do the practice swim at Lake Woodlands and then do a 6 ½ hour bike ride. Well, needless to say my plans changed. I still did my ride but have to say it was one of the most miserable, mentally tasking things I have had ever had to do. My thoughts were with my friend throughout the ride. At that moment, I knew I would do something in my race to memorialize him, kind of my own personal tribute.My department classified the death as “In the Line of Duty” since Larry had stopped to render aid, acting as a first responder. When an officer is killed in the line of duty, memorial bracelets are usually made. I had decided I would carry the bracelet with me throughout the race to remind me of his “Never Give Up” spirit. Larry was a Marine who had been in Force Recon. Quitting was never an option with Larry. One of his favorite sayings, was “Never above you. Never below you. Always beside you.” I knew Larry’s spirit would be beside me throughout race day.
So let’s get down to the part you guys have been waiting to read, my Race Day Report.
Race Morning:I woke up bright and early, well I say I woke but was not really able to sleep, and ate what I normally do before I race. My race day breakfast consisted for a Pop Tart, strawberry frosted of course, and a banana. I started chugging water and electrolytes because I knew it was going to be a scorcher. The forecast for the day was partly sunny with a high of 91 degrees and south winds 10-20 mph. It’s funny, because the previous week, low temperatures were in the 40’s, highs in the 70’s and calm winds. Why couldn’t the race have been last week? Something else in the forecast could pose a challenge for the day. Every year, farmers in southern Mexico clear their fields by burring the leftover vegetation. Usually doesn’t pose a problem but for the entire week, we have had sustained south winds which blew that smoke into the area. A Smoke Warning was in effect and air quality was predicted to be “Unhealthy”. Great, on top of heat and wind, and swimming, biking and running 140.6 miles, we will have to contend with unhealthy air.. Oh well, H.T.F.U., its Ironman.
After breakfast, the wife and I walked to the transition area where I inflated my tires to proper pressure and secured all of my nutrition for the first half of the bike on to the Ti-Terminator. We walked to the Swim Start for body marking and to meet up with other members of Outrival for last minute tips and a prayer.
|Before the race...|
People had been reporting the water temperature all week, I guess hoping for it to fall below 76.1 degrees, WTC’s cutoff for a wetsuit legal race. Water temperature for race day fell at 77 degrees making this a “Wetsuit Optional” race. I opted to wear my wetsuit for two reasons. The first, and probably biggest reason, the wetsuit wave, starting 10 minutes later than the non-wetsuit wave, would be smaller. I don’t know if you have ever witnessed, or participated in an Ironman Swim Start, but needless to say, the fewer people around you the better. The second reason for opting to wear a wetsuit was for the added buoyancy. I had a swim skin and knew I could cover the 2.4 miles without the wetsuit, but having the added lift in your hips makes a world of difference in swim efficiency and energy expenditure. I knew I wasn’t in contention for a podium spot so I wanted to race as comfortable as possible. I am racing to finish not to win. After the team prayer, I headed for some isolation time. As my wife knows, I am not the type of person who likes to talk out my concerns. I am the type of person who likes to sort things out in my head. I was nervous but excited. A few minutes of alone time and last minute prayers, I walked to the swim entrance to wait for the wave to start.
The Pros were off at 6:50 a.m., the non-wetsuit wave started promptly at 7:00 a.m. It was now time to enter the water. I said my final good byes, that sounds kind of funny, and entered the water. My normal routine had been to get in a practice swim before the start of the race to loosen up but do to the size of the race it was impossible. I swam a short distance to a floating dock, along with several others, and held on waiting for the horn to signal us to start. The wetsuit wave was indeed smaller but consisted of several hundred people. When then ten second mark was reached, I let go of the dock and started swimming towards the start line. I timed it perfectly, so I thought, and was right in the middle of everything when the horn sounded. When I say “right in the middle of everything” it’s nothing short of a description of a fight in the water. You get punched, kicked, pulled and pushed at the start, well, for the first 500-700 meters. This start was nothing like I had ever experienced in all of my previous triathlons. You would swim in someone’s draft and then feel someone touching your feet. Sometimes those who were drafting you would grab you and pull you back.
After about 700 meters, I finally got clean water and was able to get into my groove. The first turn came and the “fight” started all over again. The way the turn was set up, they funneled the swimmers into an area that was probably about 50 meters wide. The second turn was about 100 meters from the first. After you round the second turn it opens back up and clean water is available again. This leg takes you back towards North Shore Park, the swim start area, and to turn three. The sun was breaking the clouds making for nice scenery for the second part of the swim.
About midway through this leg, my left eye was really beginning to hurt. Well not the eyeball itself, but the area around the eye. My goggles were sucked tightly to my face and the pressure was causing the pain. I stopped for a moment and broke the seal of my goggles, Mistake. Once I started swimming again, my goggles immediately filled with water. I stopped again and drained the water. This time, I pushed the goggles tightly on my face again to ensure a good seal. It worked, however, the pain in the eye started again. Reaching turn three, I noticed some athletes standing close to the shore. I decided to take this opportunity to give my eye a break. I swam towards the shore and once I could touch, I removed my goggles for a few minutes. This made a world of difference. I put my goggles back on, made the third turn and headed through the canal portion of the swim.
This leg was probably the most mental tasking of the swim, well at least for me. The perception of almost being done provides a false sense of security because this portion of the swim is longer that you realize. This portion is over a half of mile long. However mentally tasking, it is great to hear people cheering you on and Mike Reilly’s voice in the distance. The last turn buoy can be seen in the distance and a few feet beyond that is the Swim Exit. I rounded the last turn and saw an outstretched hand. I took hold of the hand, thanked the volunteer, climbed the stairs, got my wetsuit stripped and headed into T1.
As I headed down the walkway, I saw my wife, my sister, my nephews and my good friend Matt. The all cheered and congratulated me as I hugged and high-fived each. I continued on and called out my bib number so they would have my Bike Bag ready. As I rounded the corner, I heard someone else screaming my name. I looked up and saw my former coach, Ana. I walked over to her and gave her hug. I could see the look of pride on her face. After a few words of encouragement, I was back on my way. I grabbed my Bike Bag and entered the changing tent. After getting on my bike gear, I exited the tent only to be cheered on by my wife and family again. I found my bike and headed out to the Bike Out.
Total Swim Time: 1:44:18
Swim to Bike Transition: 9:28
My Projected Swim Time: 1:30-1:45
I got to the mount line and headed on my way. My goal pace was to do the bike at a 16 -16.5 miles per hour which would have me completing the bike in a little over 6 hours 45 minutes to 7 hours. I know that anything can happen on race day and I have to prepare for the worst.
Having ridden the course on several occasions, I knew that it would be tempting to go out hard on the first half of the bike and take advantage of the tailwind. I also knew what lie ahead, and that the last 56 mile would be primarily into a headwind. This is southeast Texas. As the day progresses, the winds tend to get stronger. I knew this would be a challenge coming back in so my strategy was to take it easy and conserve energy for the last half of the bike.
The first 10-12 miles of the bike were pretty uneventful. You spend most of that distance getting out of the Woodlands. Once out of the Woodlands, the route takes you through Conroe, to Montgomery, down 149 towards Richards. To me, this is one of the most scenic portions of the course. 149 takes you through the Sam Houston National Forest and is the only part of the course that is shaded. There are rolling hills along this portion of the course which can sometimes pose, depending on your conditioning, a challenge. The down hills are great. I saw speeds of 28-29 miles per hour. I kept a steady pace throughout this portion of the course and was at my target speed going into special needs area. I took in my calories like clockwork. I had an audible timer set on my Garmin to remind me when to intake calories. The timer was set for 15 minutes. I had done this so often in training, that I had developed a Pavlovian response to the chime. I would find myself immediately reaching for water bottle as soon as the chime sounded. It was funny to see. So, in the bottle was 2 scoops of Cytomax, 96 calories per scoop, mixed with water. The entire bottle, which would be consumed in an hours’ time, contained approximately 192 calories. Every forty five minutes, I would either consume an energy gel, usually Honey Stinger Gold, 120 calories, or a Honey Stinger Waffle, 160 calories, for a grand total of 310-350 calories per hour. During training, I would normally drink one aero bottle filled with water every two hours. Be mindful, most of my training rides were done in temperatures less than 70 degrees. During the race, I would collect two water hand ups per aid station and have both consumed by the next aid station, approximately every 10 miles. So in essence, due to the heat, I was drinking 32 oz. of water per hour. Also consumed on the hour were two Electrosalt tablets.
The bike was brutally hot. As much as I drank, one would expect to have to stop at every port can between start to finish, however, no stops were made. I made it to Richards and headed out on the Anderson loop. This was the start of the second portion of the bike. Things were going smooth, however, I found myself behind a few people traveling at a slower pace that I had planned. In case you did not know, the bike course is considered an “Open” course. This means vehicle traffic is permitted. The shoulders on some of the roads along the route were nonexistent so passing proved difficult at times. There were long stretches where I found myself behind a person going 14 miles per hour. Eventually I was able to pass but would frequently get caught behind some slower riders. This was causing my average pace to drop dramatically. I was falling behind my desired pace.
The first bike cutoff was at 1:40 p.m. Each athlete needed to reach mile 60 by the cutoff time. I looked down at my Garmin and immediately knew I was not in danger of missing the cutoff even if I were to refuel at the Bike Special Needs area. I got to the Bike Special Needs area, mixed a few bottles of Cytomax, restocked on gels, grabbed a Kind Bar and was back on my way. I looked down at the Kind Bar and realized the Texas heat had taken its toll. Speaking of the heat taking its toll, at every aid station past Special Needs, I saw many athletes dropping out and waiting for the SAG vehicle. At mile 80, at least ten athletes had come in, dropped their bikes and asked to be withdrawn. I got through this aid station as quickly as possible because seeing people drop out can sometimes be contagious. I had decided long ago that I would not drop out voluntarily. If I fell over and passed out and was pulled from the race, then so be it. Quitting was not an option.
I pressed on and enjoyed the “downhill” portion of the course. When I reached aid station 9, approximately 93 miles into the race, I learned that they had run out of water. Thankfully, I still had half of a bottle left and my aero bottle was almost full. I pressed on and saw the turn to take us back into The Woodlands..Almost Home. The last aid station had plenty of water so I filled back up and began taking in as much fluid and as many calories as I could in preparation for the run. I switched to a higher gear and began spinning at a higher cadence in order to flush the lactic acid which may have built up. During the last few miles, I accidentally launched a bottle from a cage behind my seat. I decided to leave it knowing I was in the home stretch and the nutrition it contained would not be needed. I made the turn down Six Pines and then towards transition. I removed my shoes thinking it would make for a faster transition. When I dismounted, I ran, well I say ran..lol, towards the changing tent and the running bag area. When I hit the sidewalk leading into the changing tent, I realized that I should have kept my shoes. The sidewalk was hot. I had was wearing socks but still felt as if my feet were being scorched. I grabbed my running gear bag and entered the tent.
|Coming in on the bike|
Total Bike Time: 7:33:56
Total Transition Time: 11:57
My Projected Bike Time: 6:45-7:15
Average HR: 153
26.2 Miles is foreign to me. I have run Half Marathons, 13.1 Miles, and during training, had run 18 miles but never a full marathon. I had trained myself to take walk breaks every mile to simulate walking the aid stations during race day. This was my Plan A but like most people now, I always have a Plan B.
I exited the changing tent to set out on my run. I saw my wife and kids as I passed the Run Out. Said my hellos, gave hugs, kisses and high fives then set out on my way for the three loop run course. I had run the route many times in training and I knew the terrain well. However I had not anticipated my legs to feel as if they had stopped working. I was able to shake them out and settle in at a pace which would keep my Heart Rate in mid to high Zone 2. The advice of my coach kept ringing in my head, “Do not go Anaerobic. You will ruin your race.” I know heat and hydration play a major factor on HR so I knew my HR would be a little high. As I got to the first mile, I saw my former Coach Ana again. She and her daughter came up to me and started running alongside. I cannot tell you how uplifting that gesture really was. She gave me a few words of encouragement and said, “Don’t give up. You got this Joe.” Yes I Do. I Got This. As I ran on, I passed some signs which my wife had made and placed strategically along the course. The signs were funny and a good mental motivator. Thank You Babe.
As I pressed on, I tried to take in a gel at the 45 minute mark. For some reason, I could not take in the gel comfortably. I did not vomit, but it was very hard to swallow. This was early into the run and I thought to myself, “I need to take in calories.” Again I tried to force down another but soon realized that if I kept this up, it could very well cause an issue that could end my day. I decided to forgo the gels and start taking in calories with whatever was available at the aid stations. So for calories, I ate chips, pretzels, orange slices, grapes and Watermelon. The Watermelon was the best treat and tasted soooo good. I also took in chicken broth, water and Electrosalt. I tried cola at one stop but had to throw it out. For some reason, it was the worst tasting thing ever. Early into the run, something strange happened. I reached for a bottle on my fuel belt and tried to raise it to my mouth to take a drink. My hands were so weak. I could barely squeeze my bottle. This continued for the majority of the run. I still don’t know the cause but have to assume it was a lack of calories.
I did a combination of run walking East Shore and finally made it to the waterway on my first lap. I was looking forward to this portion because I knew the crowd support was going to be awesome. Awesome it was. As soon as hit the waterway, I felt energized and was able to run for a good portion of this part of the course. I saw my Support Crew across the canal in front of the Marriott. I waved and knew I would see them soon. I made it around the canal and headed back for lap 2. I passed my family just past mile 8. They had a cool set up. A pop up tent, chairs, a cooler filled with adult beverages, and Pizza. Oh how I wish I could have partook but I had a job to do. I high fived, hugged, kissed and thanked them for being out, at least I think I did.
|Headed to the tunnel of butt-slapping cheerleaders!|
Lap 2 was pretty much identical as the first. A combination of running and walking, keeping my HR in check and eating oranges, grapes chips and pretzels. On this lap, I got to see a few of my wife’s friends. They gave me some words of encouragement and some words of advice and I was back on my way. The first run cutoff was mile 17. All athletes had to be passed Mile 17 by 9:40 p.m. I passed the Mile 17 marker with over an hour to spare. Gave the mile marker sign the “finger” and thought to myself, “Take That.” Just past the 17 mile marker, I came up to my Support Crew area again. Gave my hugs, high fives, kisses, but this time, my wife asked me, “What mile are you on?” Huh? I knew I just passed the Mile 17 Marker but for some reason, I could not think straight. She then said, “Well look at your watch.” So I did, staring blankly at it. She realized what was happening, grabbed my wrist and began checking the data herself. That was when I caught my snap and said, “Oh yeah, between 17 and 18.” She laughed and decided to run with me for a short distance. I told her that I would be back in about two hours and that I would see her at the finish line.
|Saying hi to the adoring fans!|
The third lap was excruciating. I had developed blisters on both heels and balls of both feet. The pavement had taken its toll. I was tired, my feet hurt and it was painful to run. I pretty much walked the whole third lap. I stopped at every aid station eating my usual oranges, pretzels and chips. During the last lap I recalled a tidbit of knowledge given to me by my coach a few days before race day. She said not to be surprised if my Heart Rate were to drop. She said that my body would be tired and so would my heart. “Don’t be alarmed. This is normal.” I happened to look down at my Heart Rate Monitor at around mile 15. My Heart rate had gone from 146, top of Zone 2, to 124, the top of Zone 1. I found this odd but paid it no mind. I felt good, well as good as I can feel after the day I had endured thus far.
I made it to the final stretch, the out and back which takes you past Landry’s, and everyone was high-fiving each other as they passed. You could feel the excitement. The finish was near. I made the loop at Landry’s and was now in the final stretch. I was finally directed towards the finishers chute. Right at the finishers chute entrance, I ran into my coach, Karen, and her husband Guillermo. Courtney and another teammate was also there. They all congratulated me on my finish. I entered the finishers chute and all the pain disappeared. I made my way through the chute, running and high-fiving random spectators. The feeling was electrifying. I rounded the last corner and the finish line was in view. Mike Reilly could be heard announcing the finishers. I continued on my way stopped to say hello to Kelly, Jennifer and company, and then I saw my Support Crew. I stopped said gave my thanks, high fives, hugs and kisses to my wonderful wife. I proceeded towards the finish and then crossed that line. “You are an Ironman”.. Wow…That’s all I can say is Wow.. There is nothing that can describe that feeling. You have to experience it to know what I am talking about. I crossed the line and met with my “Catcher”. Funny, I was that person last year. He escorted me to the people handing out medals, walked me to the area where I picked up my finishers shirt and hat and then to take a finishers photo.
|Whew, almost done!!!|
I had done it. I had swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and ran 26.2 miles. I earned the right to be called an Ironman.
Finish Time: 15:58:53
My Projected Finish Time: 15:00:00 – 16:00:00
This experience has taught me a few things about myself, the sport of triathlon and triathletes.
I know this is going to sound cliché’ but I learned that anything is possible. You just have to decide to do it and have the discipline to focus on the goal and do whatever it takes to achieve your goal. Three years ago I was sitting on the sofa drinking beer when I decided to run a half marathon. No look at me. I am an Ironman.
Being a police officer and a triathlete, I quickly learned that they share a similar passion. Both cops and triathletes are gear fixated. The both have to have all the latest gadgets not matter the need. I fell into that mindset early on into my police career but learned much later the K.I.S.S. concept. Keep It Simple Stupid. I carried this into my triathlon training and equipment. I did not have a $5000.00 bike, aero helmet, race wheels, high dollar GPS watch, power meter, computrainer or any other of the things that are cool. I wore a standard helmet, rode a bike with a tubular frame, however it was titanium but got a really good deal, had standard aluminum wheels, a Garmin 305, not waterproof, and a plain digital watch. The most expensive piece of equipment I bought for my bike was the saddle. A Cobb V Max Pro. But the most important thing I did for my bike was to have it expertly fit by Tad Hughes. I am a firm believer that it is not the bike, it is the engine.
People ask what was going through my mind during the race. Well, a lot of math. I spent a lot of time calculating calories, sodium intake and pace. I also spent time singing songs in my head and repeating a few sayings. “Not me. Not today” whenever I would see someone seek medical attention or drop out. But I found myself mostly repeating, “I can do all things though Christ who strengthens me”. I believe my faith paid a big part of my success in the race.
People also ask how it feels to have completing such a daunting task. It feels awesome. It has been a few weeks since the race and I am still on Cloud 9. I am a much stronger person mentally. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. What’s next? Well that is probably the toughest question to answer. Next race up is the Goofy Challenge. After that, maybe an Xterra or an Ultra Marathon, not sure. Two things are on the agenda for sure; spend a lot of time with my family and let my wife train for an Ironman in 2015.
|Just a few pics of the support crew!|