Ironman Texas Race Report by Jeff Irvin

Many of you know who Jeff is, but if you don't he is the author of Dangle the Carrot, a blog about the life of a triathlete.  It was early on in my blogging life that I met Jeff and I was drawn to his honesty in his abilities and his honesty about life.  He was willing to share the trials and tribulations that he endured while training for Ironman Texas.  I asked questions, I read his posts and picked up little pieces here and there.  He provided great insight and more. The more is that he let a stranger into his house during Ironman Texas, and that stranger was me.  I got to volunteer at the race thanks to Jeff and he also provided room in return for me to watch his and Annie's two Pugs, Bailey and Ernie.  The dogs were great and provided no troubles at all and allowed me to be reminded of my pug Ginga from back at home. One of the best parts of this race was getting to see Jeff come in off the bike with a smile as wide as Texas (#winning.)  He looked to be in great shape after the swim and the bike and heading out on the run, but I'll let him tell the rest of the story: ===========================

Ironman Texas Race Report

Jeff Irvin
Ironman Texas: May 21, 2011
Overall Time:  12:19:51
Overall Place:  584/2165
The Woodlands, TX - 91*F/Freaking Hot
On the first Tuesday of December 2010 I woke up at 4am and went to swim.  This was the first day of training for Ironman Texas.  That day was pretty uneventful as far as workouts go but it was the first step (or stroke) of what turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of my entire life.  It seem like it was so long ago.
My goal in this post is to share the outcome of this journey with all of you.  However, I must warn it will be long.  Grab a comfy chair, a sandwich, and a cold beer because this sucker is going to make War & Peace look like a short story!
It has been less than two days since I crossed the finish line and heard Mike Reilly announce, Jeff Irvin You Are An Ironman, and it is still a completely surreal experience.  I have been trying to write this race report since last night and really still have no idea where to even begin?  I guess we will just jump right in from the beginning!
Friday - Practice Swim & Bike Check
The practice swim was scheduled for 8am on Friday morning at Lake Woodlands.  The water temperature was 76 degrees and the talk of the morning was whether the swim would be wetsuit legal or not.  If the temperature was above 76.1 then it would be a non-wetsuit swim.  However, the twist was that you could still wear a wetsuit except you would not be eligible for Age Group awards or a Kona slot  AND you would have to walk over a different timing mat as you entered the swim start.  It was supposed to rain that night so we would not know the temperature until the morning.
The swim practice was awesome because Annie and I got to hang out with my Trakkers Teammates Rachelle and Anne.  And also blogger buddies IronBob,Shannon, and Ryan (White Hot).  A bunch of friends from my Tri Club, BeginnnerTriathlete, and Houston Racing where there and everyone was in a great mood - just a fun time!
"Hey Shannon, do these funky tan lines make my butt look big?"
My good buddy Patrick and I jumped in and did about 800m just to get a feel for the water.  It was a little chilly at first but after 100m or so I was warm and pretty much decided I was going to swim sans wetsuit and use my TYR Torque Swimskin.
League of Extraordinary Tri-Geeks Uniforms?
We then headed to breakfast and then to check our bikes and gear bags in at transition.  This was an extremely smooth and easy process.  From there it was a quick lunch and then time to relax in the hotel room and stay out of the sun and off of the feet.  Bob even texted me to make sure this was occurring - he is always looking out for me!!  Thanks Buddy!
Bike Racked in First Full Row - Rockstar Parking!
A little later Jason arrived and stopped by the hotel.  He was going to be staying at our house which is about 20 minutes from the Woodlands and taking care of our pugs, Ernie and Bailey.  He showed up when I was getting all of my nutrition together so we talked some shop for awhile.  Hell of a good dude!  A big thanks to Jason for making the 4hr drive from Dallas to support and volunteer.  If any of you are considering volunteering at an Ironman please read Jason's post (here) about his experience!
We then headed off to dinner with my buddy Mike and his family and Rob from First Endurance.  You all know how much I love First Endurance nutrition and after meeting Rob I like FE even more.  Really cool guy who loves Endurance sports.  Contact me (or read any of my myriad of posts) about First Endurance if you want to learn about my IM nutrition.
After dinner it was early to bed ...
Saturday - Race Day
.... and early to rise, 3am.  I had a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and a bottle of Ultragen.  I then laid back down for a 45m nap and got up again at 4am.  I did some stretching, had some EFS Drink, took some salt tabs and then Annie and I headed down to transition.
We meet up with my buddies Patrick and Bobby:
And then something really bad happened as I was topping of my tires - the stem broke off the tube on my front wheel.  I was a little freaked but Patrick stepped up and grabbed a spare tube from my hands and changed it for me.
Personal Bike Mechanic Patrick!
He got the tube changed at NASCAR pit crew pace and I slapped on the adapter and BOOM!!!  This one exploded so loud that people were ducking for cover - Pinch Flat! The first thought that came to my head was, Oh Shit!  The second thought was that I only had one tube left on my bike and would have to ride with out a spare.  Then I remembered I had two spare tubes in my special needs bag which had yet to be turned in - whew!  Disaster averted!  Take away - bring extra tubes!!!  Second tube went on without incident and Bobby keep the mood light by showing us his new haircut:
We then all made the mile walk over to the swim start and met up with our tri club and just tried to stay loose and have some fun:
Chris, Me, Patrick, Bobby, Mike, Demi & Jama
Chris was having a lot more fun then the rest of us:
Then it was time for body marking:
We all hung out for about a half hour and discussed our swim start plans.  It was then announced that the water temperature was 79 degrees and it would be a non-wetsuit swim.  Patrick and I had talked about this scenario and we decided to not wear the wetsuits.  My guess is about 400-500 people elected to wear wetsuits.  In hindsight our decision was probably not the correct one.
The Swim
I positioned myself about half way out and right in the middle.  I originally wanted to stay to the right with Bob but I got in the water early and all the other people coming in carried me to the middle.  I looked over at my friend Jama, who was right next to me, and we talked about how this was going to hurt.
Picture 2400 people in an area that can hold about 400 and you are envisioning the swim start.  With a couple minutes to go you hear Ozzy Osborne screaming I -AM -IRONMAN over the ridiculously loud PA system and I am grinning ear-to-ear thinking, This is F**cking Incredible!
7:00 AM - BOOM!!!
As you can see from the pictures above the swim start was absolutely insane.  It was pretty much like this for the first 1000m or so.  People were climbing over you, you were climbing over people - I never had a chance in 2.4mi to every really find a rhythm.  The only way I can describe what occurred in the water is to flash back to the days of WWF Steal Cage Matches - it was like this except with 2400 swimmers all just trying to survive.  The first and second turn buoys were like large traffic stops except no one wanted to stop!
After the second turn buoy we began to head back north towards the canals and the contact wasn't as bad but still not good.  It was like this until we hit the narrow canal and then it got much worse:
The Woodlands Canal - Saturday, May 21st!
The canal was nothing short of violent (but it was cool because spectators were cheering all over the place).  My swim time put me squarely in the middle of the pack and the bruises on my body prove just how congested this part was of the swim.  It was one of the worst and most awesome experiences all at the same time.  The good news was that I got out of the water feeling great and ready to ride.  My time was about 5 minutes longer than what I expected but I never expected this much contact so I was overall pleased with the performance.
I wanted to kiss the ground!
Wouldn't have been smiling like this if I knew about the swim cap crease across my head!
Swim Recap - If I had to do this over again I would have worn my wetsuit.  The temp was still cool enough (79 degrees) that I would not have overheated and the time savings a wetsuit provides would have allowed me to get ahead of the middle instead of being caught up in it.   I also would have started at the front and to the right in my wetsuit and sprinted for about 500m.  This would have allowed me to get out in front and find a rhythm that I was unable to utilize.  Another reason we did not use a wetsuit is because we were told that the people who used one would not be in the AG rankings and thus be listed in a separate ranking.  This was not the case as wetsuit swimmers were ranked right along with everyone else.  Those who choose the wetsuits made the right decision.  The lesson from this is that if you can use a wetsuit do it!  Also, it would have given me some extra padding to absorb some of the beating (-:
Swim Total:  1:25:57
Transition #1
This was extremely well organized and the volunteers were great.  We got out of the water and had a long snaking walk towards the changing tents where we grabbed our bike gear bags.  I found my bag and proceeded to sit down in front of the tent since I was not changing clothes.  The TYR Torque came off easy and I dried my feet and head.  I went to put on my GPS tracking device which was attached to a race belt with my number and it was loose.  For some reason I decided this would be a good time to adjust the belt and it came undone.  I fiddled with it for a little bit and eventually said screw it and just tied a knot around my waist.  Wasted so much time.
I then decided to use the porto to take a pee.  There was a line so this cost me a few minutes.  I did not care because I really had to go.  After the quality pee I grabbed my bike and navigated to the bike out location.  This was hard work as my bike was in the first rack at the back.  It was easy to find but I had the longest distance to the mount line out of any other racer.
T1 Time: 10:06
The Bike
Awesome Pic!
I stayed in the small ring and spun at about 100rpm's for the first 5 mi.  My legs were feeling great and I was extremely optimistic that I would be able to hit my bike goal of 6h 03m and a 18.5 mph/avg.  That is what I trained for and knew by holding back at this speed that my legs would not be cooked and I could get through the upcoming marathon in great shape.
The plan was to hold a 20mph avg for the first 56 miles and then take it easy as the headwind would be strong for the last 56 miles and would require some suffering.  This plan was going well until Mile 11 at the 1488 intersection when a police officer decided to halt bike traffic and make us all stop so that cars could pass.  I looked at my watch and by the time he let us go 4.5 minutes had passed.  My average speed went from 20.2 to 18.2 mph when I looked at my garmin again a couple of miles later.  Needless to say people were ticked off! Personally I did not really care, stuff happens and I can only control my attitude at this point so no big deal.
The first 55 miles were pretty uneventful.  We went through the hills of the national forest and across a couple of bumpy chip sealed areas but I had ridden the course many times so it felt like another Sunday long ride to me - just a bit slower.  At mile 56 I was at my goal pace of 20mph and stopped to grab some more EFS Drink at special needs.
It was around mile 60 that my stomach began to really hurt.  I was afraid that I had screwed up my nutrition  but going back over everything I was spot on?  By mile 65 I could no longer stay in aero because of the stomach pain.  It was here I decided I was going to stop at the mile 70 bottle hand up and use the porto.
Well, this was probably the best decision I made all day.  I hit the porto and just unloaded - it was awesome.  According to my watch it cost me 5 minutes (had some TP difficulties) by the time I mounted the bike again but it probably saved my race.  It was not a nutrition problem it was just a I had to really GO problem!
At about mile 75 or so I got held up by police again for 2 minutes at the 105 intersection.  This time I was more frustrated because it took a little longer to get the legs going again after the stop.  These stops should not happen on an Ironman.  Since this is a first year race and bugs are to be expected I will not make a big deal out of it but traffic stops cost me over 7 minutes on the bike - hopefully they work this out for next year.
About mile 80 we hit some headwind but it was nothing compared to some of the days we had training on the course.  I was able to find a nice pace and spin my way into the bike finish.  The crowds cheering us on heading back to the Woodlands were spectacular.
Annie and our friends were waiting at Bike-In and I was happy to see them!
Bike Recap - I hit my time goal right on the nose. I could have easily done this ride 20-25 min faster but it would have resulted in an extra hour plus on the run - my mantra was to not cook myself on the bike - mission accomplished!  Aside from the police stops and the bathroom interruption the bike was perfect.  This is just an excellent course and I feel so blessed to have the option of riding here on my weekends.  It was an honor to share my roads with all the out-of-towners and to hear how much they all loved it.   The weather was hot and humid but was mostly overcast with a couple of sprinkles during most of the ride.
Bike Time:  6:01:17
Transition #2
I walked the length of transition with my friend Scott recapping the joys of my ride.  It was great to see him, Jason, Steve, and Dave volunteering at T2.  It is amazing how a pat on the back from some good friends can lift your spirits!
I had to hit the porto for another pee before entering the changing tent.  When I was in there I realized how damn hot it was. It had sprinkled some on the bike and the humidity had come on strong and the sun was out now.  I was sweating profusely and decided I was going to change pants and socks in the tent.  Others all had the same thought as the male nudity level was at an uncomfortable level.
Once again the volunteer in the tent was spectacular.  Opened my bag and handed me everything and made sure I was alright - just a wonderful experience.
I filled up my handheld water bottle and decided to go take another pee - would rather have a longer T2 time than add the pee break to my marathon time.
T2 Time:  11:19
The Run
You will all undoubtedly read other race reports that describe the run at Ironman Texas using words like Carnage, Brutal or even Hell-like.  Well, these words would all be pretty accurate descriptions of what occurred on this hot and humid Saturday afternoon.
My goal for the marathon was to finish between 4-5 hrs based upon how hot it was going to be on the course.  When I took my first step out of transition and began to slowly jog I knew right away that some pain and suffering were in store for me in the near future.  I immediately cleared these negative thoughts from my head and started to smile.  As the pictures will show I kept this smile for the next 26.2 miles.  I cannot control the weather but I can control my attitude.
Luckily for me the incredible spectator and volunteer support made keeping the corners of my lips turned upwards very easy.  The marathon course is three 8.5ish mi loops.  It takes you along the plush neighborhoods and up and down the canals that are lined with restaurants and bars.  It has a rural section and an urban section seemingly steps apart.  You really could not ask for a better venue to do a 26.2 mile death march under the unrelenting Texas sun.
Loop #1 started and I was feeling very good.  The plan was to take it easy on this loop and to utilize walk breaks through the water stations.  Around .75mi in I began to feel both of my quads begin to tighten up.  I have learned through previous race experiences that when this happens to me I need to stop running and walk the quad cramps out for a few hundred yards.  This worked to perfection and that was the last of any type of cramps for the rest of the day.
About 5mi in I was feeling awesome and was holding a decent pace running along the canal.  I knew Annie and all my friends were going to be waiting within the next mile and I could not wait to see them.  Here I am at about mile 6:
Still feeling strong!
It was shortly after this picture that I ran under the bridge and I saw Annie and the Kingwood Tri Club cheering like a bunch of crazy people.  It was so Awesome!  I actually got a little emotional when I saw all of them and am thankful I was wearing sunglasses so my man-card is still intact.
Here are some shots of all my awesome crew of supporters:
Ruth Ann, Elizabeth, and Jim taking in some hydration.
Chris, Patrick, and Annie showing how darn hard spectating can be!
Ruth Ann and Patrick helping Chris decide which hand is optimal for consuming beer!
The guys at the KTC tent swapping digits
Big Smiles from the Ladies!
The gals taking a cheering break!
Around mile 15 the suffering really began to set in.  This was the first time in the entire race when I experienced negative thoughts and really wanted the run to be over.  Other runners were in really bad shape.  People were vomiting and cramping all over the place. I quit talking to other runners because they were all in bad shape and I didn't want to catch the negative vibes.  I felt like I was the only person still running at this point.   However, these thoughts were very short lived because around mile 16 at the water station I experience the greatest thing ever - chicken broth!  Wow, is all I can say!  I told Annie this stuff was the elixir of life at some point during the race.  I got a second wind and from there I negative split the rest of the race.
By the time I was around mile 20 I was in a zone and just kept on moving.  I hit the canal again and got a final boost from seeing everyone:
Suck it up ButterCup!
Ruth Ann's sign says, "Jeff Irvin:  From Fatass to Badass" -  love this shot!
The last 4 or so miles were pretty darn painful.  My feet were on fire and I ran into Trakkers Teammate Anne Moore and we ran together for a little while.  We pushed each other to keep on moving and I will be forever thankful to Anne for keeping me focused.
Around mile 24 I decided it was time to finish this damn thing off in style and pushed a sub -8min pace only slowing down to toss some ice water on my head at the last two water stops.  I finished off those last two miles with a combined 8:30/mi split and am probably more proud of this than any other thing I did that day.  It hurt and it hurt bad but I just keep thinking of all the hours of training and all the people who were pulling for me and I dug deep and tuned out the considerable pain.
Here are the finisher chute pics:
Almost There
A couple more steps ...
Jeff Irvin, You are an IRONMAN!
Once I passed  under the finish two extremely nice volunteers walked me around and got me some water and made sure I was okay.  I saw quite a few folks being pushed away in wheelchairs and began to feel very fortunate that I was still upright and feeling rather well.  I made it to the end of the shoot and immediately saw Annie and she had tears streaming down her face.  Seeing her at this point was an even better feeling then crossing that line.
My friends were right behind Annie and they all set me down on a big fountain:
At this point all I wanted to do was take my damn shoes and socks off!  My feet were pretty much ripped to hell but I once the shoes came off everything felt good.  Then I was given my favorite things in the world - COOKIES:
Thanks Katy these were AWESOME!!!
My IronCrew!
Run Recap - The last 10mi of this run was probably one the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. My legs were trained but the heat was draining.  Most people would probably think a 3-loop course would mentally be tough to handle, not me.  I loved this run course and I loved the support from the crowd.  It was one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of and I will volunteer for IMTX every single year from here on out - that is if I am not racing (-:
Run Time: 4:31:14
Summary of Ironman Texas - This race was held in my backyard.  I live literally 18mi from the start of the course. When I originally heard that the race would be held in The Woodlands I was excited because this is such a great place and has a huge endurance community.  I was skeptical as to how the non-Endurance residence of The Woodlands would support this race since it would significantly screw up traffic and parking in their town.
Well, my skepticism was completely off base because they stepped up and completely blew away all expectations.  I spoke with many an Ironman vet after the race and they were all just blown away by the spectators and volunteers.  Every single one said it was the best experience they have ever had in terms of crowd involvement.  The Woodlands receives a huge "A+" for the effort!
The swim was tight, the bike was beautiful, and the run was electric.  The heat made this one of the toughest Ironman courses on record (Click here for proof) but in hindsight I am glad it was hard because I trained hard and it made the experience that much more rewarding.
If you are thinking about doing an Ironman in the future and are not afraid of a little heat then I would highly recommend you consider Ironman Texas.
I hope you enjoyed my race report.  I might be more exhausted from writing this than actually doing the race (not really).
I want to thank my friends who haven't seen much of me in the last six months.  Thank you for being there:  Ruth Ann and Patrick, Elizabeth and Jim, Annie and Chris, Dave and Jen, Yvette, Steve, and Trey.  I also want to thank my training partners: Dave, Patrick, Mike, Katy, Bobby, Chris, Steve, Bob and Frank. My cousin Bonnie and Rick for driving in from Austin to cheer and all the members of KTC that came out to support, especially Tina and Scott for setting everything up.  Also a big thanks to all the members of the LifeTime Fitness Run Club.
Also a huge thank you to all of my blogger and twitter friends.  When I was out there on the course I thought about many of you time and time again.  When I finished the race and saw the hundreds of comments on Twitter I was absolutely blown away by you guys. Almost lost my man card again! Very touching, thank you all so much!
It is a very good feeling knowing you have such great people in your life,  Thank you all!
I want to save the most import thank you for last - my wife Annie. She was my biggest supporter from day one and even kicked my butt every now and again when I didn't want to train.  She was 100% on-board  with this crazy dream and it never could have been done without her.  We discussed the time commitment that was going to be involved with my training and she never complained, not once. When I was waking up early and going to bed even earlier she was there to encourage me and never made me feel guilty about leaving her with house work and chores as I went on 7hr bike rides.  She was my rock and she deserves all the credit for getting me to the starting line.  I love you Annie, you are the best!
Best Shot of the Day!
Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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