I used to think of Ironmen athletes like they were the unicorns of endurance sports. Just to be in the presence of one made me excited. They felt celebrity-like! Today, I look at myself and know how silly that is. I’m just a normal person. I’m not a super athlete. I’m not exceptionally fast. In fact, I’m just your (sub)average back-of-the-pack age group athlete, but I am an Ironman! Ordinary people CAN do extraordinary things.
I’m so incredibly excited to be sharing this post with you and I hope it brings confidence and inspiration to some of you out there who may be feeling like those big scary goals are out of your reach because believe me, they are not.
So, without further ado, here is my 2017 Ironman Texas Race Report. It’s a long one so grab a snack and enjoy!
Ironman Texas is held in The Woodlands about 4 hours south of DFW, where I live. We planned to drive down since it was so close. One thing I never new about Ironman is that most full-distance races are on Saturdays and there is NO FRIDAY check-in. Which really stressed me out in the beginning, but actually turned out to be a great thing. We drove down for Ironman Austin 70.3 the day before the race and it was a whirlwind! There was so much to do and only a day to do it in. This go around we left bright and early Thursday morning which gave us two whole days to get things done.
I was pretty surprised at how well I planned it all out too. I had itineraries with specific times on them and we ACTUALLY stuck to it. I’d pre-planned everything, even down to meal times and what time we needed to be everywhere when we got to the Woodlands. We left right at 9am Thursday morning and the drive was just beautiful!
The sun was out, the road was scenic and as we got closer to the Woodlands there were so many beautiful trees! That area is just so green and gorgeous. I loved spotting fellow athletes down I-45 too. You can always spot a triathlete by the tri bikes and bumper stickers! I remember after Austin 70.3 I-35 was just packed with athletes heading home and we were all stuck in this horrible traffic. It was like a really awful post-triathlon party, but it was still really neat to be together and it felt special.
Anyway, Thursday was athlete-check in day. It’s the day the athletes arrive, receive their official wrist bands and complete packet pick-up. It’s also the day shit gets real! I was so nervous in the days leading up to our departure, but I knew if I could just make it down to the Woodlands I’d switch into race mode and the nerves would subside. Sure enough as soon as we got in the car things got better. That’s when the excitement starts and when you arrive it’s like you’re home and ready to get down to business.
The family and I booked a hotel just a couple of miles from the finish line. I knew I wanted to be close so that my family had the option of going back and forth on race day. We stayed at the Drury Inn which was still incredibly close to the finish, but was so much more affordable than the Marriott (the official hotel for the race). When we arrived we headed straight to the hotel to drop our bags off and unload. The woman at the front desk was already familiar with us and even congratulated me on my first big race!
Bike check-in wasn’t until Friday and I didn’t want to drive around with FeFe (my bike) in the back of the truck in a strange city so it sounded best to unload and then head out the athlete check-in. I also wanted to meet up with my friend James who was staying at the same hotel as us. He would be racing Saturday as well so it was super nice to have a fellow athlete with me on this trip. My family gets tired of hearing me talk non-stop about the technical stuff. Having James there was flippin awesome!
After the briefing the real fun started. We headed over to the check-in tent to pick up my packet and swag. When I arrived at the packet pick up table, the lady took one look at my packet and yelled “First time Ironman!!!!!” and rang a cowbell. The whole tent started cheering! So cool!
We headed out to Ironman Village after that to check out all the cool stuff for sale. The kids were pretty tired and hot at this point so I tried to keep it short. I’d rented a GPS tracker for race day that I needed to pick up and I made a quick stop at the Base Salts tent to pick up some extra sodium for race day. We headed back to the hotel around 4pm and spent the remainder of the night resting.
I had a quick call with my coach later that night as I was packing my transition bags. She wanted to go over an updated nutrition plan that included more than double the sodium intake I had originally planned for in order to compensate for the heat. I was pretty nervous about making that kind of change, but I knew I would need to stay ahead of dehydration or risk over heating and ruining the day. I was so grateful to have my coach there to advise me! Honestly, I have a degree in nutrition, but I feel completely lost in situations like these.
I spent a few hours that night packing my run and bike transition bags and then I got FeFe stickered race day ready and headed to bed.
Ironman hosted a swim practice on Friday morning before bike check-in started. I woke up a little early and headed down stairs at our hotel where they were serving a full self-serve breakfast. When I opened the door, I saw this little note waiting for me. How amazing! It’s really the little things that have the most impact on your experience.
After breakfast, I went back upstairs to grab my gear and head to the practice swim. I knew I needed to go and get a feel for the water. Just two weeks before this I’d attended an open water swim with my tri club and totally freaked out! I had some sort of breathing spell because of my wet suit and had to be carried back to shore by a kayak. The following week I went back out, but this time took off my wet suit and noticed a HUGE difference. I knew this practice swim on Friday would be all mental prep and I just needed to shake those last minute nerves. I couldn’t have been more right! The water temp was a warm 76 degrees and it was calm, even with hundreds of athletes in the water. I made two short loops around the middle buoy (appx 1500 yards) and came back in to shore. It was a perfect swim! I don’t think I’ve ever felt more comfortable in the water.
I went for a quick run while I waited for Jason to pick me up from the practice swim and then we headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and change. Seriously, choosing a hotel close to the race location was SUCH a good idea. We were never more than 5 minutes from anything that had to do with the race.
We met up with James and his fiancee before leaving for bike check-in and transition bag drop off. I honestly didn’t think it would take very long to drop my bike off in transition and then set up my bags, but it took a good couple of hours. The walk from Ironman Village to the transition area was a good 15 minutes and it was the same walk we would have to make on race morning plus and additional walk from transition to swim start.
There’s something so amazing about a transition area. Could it be the millions of dollars in bikes all in once place? Nah! But seriously, this was the last time I’d see my PIC (partner in crime) FeFe before the race was well on it’s way. I started to feel a lump in my throat and tried to not let the nerves get to me. It helped to finally see how things would be laid out. The Ironman transition is a well oiled machine! They have perfected every last detail. Bikes are the only thing allowed in the actual transition area.
Then, you have two transition bags which are not left in transition, but are lined up by number on the path leading into transition. So basically, you get out of the water, run down the path, find your transition bag that’s lined up in numeric order, then run to the changing tent, run out of the changing tent into transition and off you go! It’s designed so that there is no traffic and no clutter in the transition area.
After drop off was complete we walked downtown for some lunch. We found a local which-which sandwich shop and decided to pop-in thinking it would be fast and inexpensive. Every other athlete must have thought the same thing because this place was packed with M-Dot wearing people. We sat down at the table and I asked the kids, “What do you think of Ironman?” they both looked at me, looked around and just smiled. It’s so special to have an entire town of people packed in together for one awesome event. After lunch we followed James and Jen back to our cars and agreed to met up again for dinner.
We headed back to the hotel and took my daughter down to the swimming pool for a bit. It was a much needed distraction. As the afternoon turned into evening I could tell my mind was drifting toward race day. I started to feel like that dead line was inching closer and closer. We met up with Jen and James around 6 pm for a carb filled dinner at the Olive Garden and talked race morning strategy. It’s felt so surreal to be sitting there about to be racing Ironman.
We headed back to the hotel after dinner with about an hour to spare before bed time. I wanted to be in bed no later than 8:30pm so that we could be up no later than 4:30am. I started my bed time routine as soon as we got back. A hot shower, to calm the nerves, then we started putting on my tritat race numbers and finally I set out my race day nutrition and special needs bags along with my tri kit and morning clothes bags. Jason and I put the kids to bed and then made it to bed ourselves around 8:25pm with a few minutes to spare. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep either, I was worn out!
My alarm went off at 4:00 am. I usually have a hard rule about waking up before 5am, I never do it. Unless it’s race day! I allowed myself to hit snooze a few times and finally climbed out of bed around 4:20am. I started getting dressed and making my usual two pancakes with Nuun for breakfast. I got a text from James around 4:40am, poor guy couldn’t sleep and had been up since 3am so he was heading down to transition early. I wanted to leave the hotel by 5am but didn’t make it out until 5:08am. James text me just as we were leaving to let me know there was zero traffic, but that the line for transition was already crazy long.
The age group swim start was at 6:40am so the plan was to park at the Lake Robbins parking garage near T1 at Towne Green park, drop my bottles and nutrition, check tire pressure and then go pee-oop before heading to the swim start. I still had my morning clothes bags, run and bike special needs bags that I needed to take with me to North Shore park (swim start) which was a 20 min walk from T1 and drop those off before lining up for the swim start. It was a TON of stuff to do in just under two hours.
Luckily, my husband and I decided to let the kids sleep in and it was just him and I rushing around all morning. Even now as I write this, I’m still feeling the anxiety of it all. We made it down to the swim start with just minutes to spare. My other family hadn’t arrived yet, but we managed to find James and Jen. James had much more aggressive swim plan than me and was going to enter the water just behind the elite athletes. We had just enough time for hugs and well wishes and I watched him head to the water.
I took a moment to try and do a few warm ups while Jason and I anxiously waited for my family to arrive. Just as I thought I was going to miss them, they came running up! We had a few seconds for a quick pic and then I too headed down to the water.
This race was self seeded, meaning you positioned yourself to enter the water, preferably with people who had the same swim pace time as you. The only problem was I never saw the pace times! I expected to see signs like you do at half and full marathons, but I couldn’t see them. Before I knew it, all I could see were people in wetsuits which was a problem because this race was wetsuit optional and anyone wearing a wetsuit had to go LAST. I kissed my husband goodbye and waved to my family and darted into the water. It was so warm! I was actually grateful because it was calming and I’d managed to really work myself up in those last 10 mintues.
I wanted to get a position out to the left side of the pack where there would be less congestion. I started out very slow so that I could warm up a bit more and find a sweet spot. Just as I passed the second buoy the sun began to peak out from the behind the clouds and the water lit up. I knew right then that I was going kill this swim.
Things were going great, I was breathing and sighting well and counting the yellow buoys. Before I knew it I saw a red one! The only trouble was, I couldn’t remember what that meant! I remembered the guy at the athlete briefing saying something about buoys changing colors from yellow to red to orange and that signified the half way point or something like that. I was so hot during the briefing that I wasn’t paying attention. Crap! I kept thinking, “Just keep swimming!” and then I realized Ithe red buoy was the first turn buoy. I felt a bit of relief because I knew that there were only two short left turns and then a right turn into the canal. I had to be half way, right? I was still feeling great so I just kept swimming and rounded the second left turn buoy and then the orange buoys started. I thought, “So I’m not half way or I am?!” I knew this was last stretch before we reached the canal, but I didn’t remember how far that was. Why didn’t I study the swim course more?! I started to stress a bit about where I was. I could feel my hand going numb like it did in Austin. I tried to shake it off, but it was still there, just a nagging numbness.
The more I focused on my hand and the distance the more I lost focus on the swim, I started to veer off to the right and into the middle of the pack. I lifted my head up to sight and realized I was dead center of the pack. People were all around me and swimming into me. I could see what looked like a black buoy a few hundred yards out and knew that the canal was coming. I stayed where I was in the center of the pack to try and conserve energy, but that was a bad idea.
As we started entering the canal the space narrowed. everyone had to funnel into this tiny little canal and we were all over each other. I saw a group of people standing on the corner and thought it was my family so I sat up a bit and waved furiously at them. Suddenly, I realized I didn’t know these people! I put my head back in the water feeling a bit silly and also realized I’d made myself tired trying to get their attention. I started to slow down so that I could catch my breath when suddenly an arm came crashing into the side of my head. It startled me a bit and pushed my goggle into my eye. I could feel there was a heavy suction now on that one side and my vision was SO distorted. Rather than try and fix it, I kept swimming thinking I was so close to the finish that it wouldn’t matter.
The canal just kept getting narrower and narrower. Every few hundred yards felt like a mile. People were all over me and I was all over everyone else. At one point, my hand hit someone and drug across their wetsuit and I could feel my Enso wedding band slip off my finger. I was glad it was my Enso ring and not my diamond wedding ring! I started to get a bit frustrated as the congestion became worse. Just then, I saw my family on the side lines! There were cheering so loud! It really gave me the boost I needed and I kept pushing through hoping that the end hurry up and get here already and I could hug them. The relief was short lived. Someone kicked me in the face as we swam under the bridge and I could feel an instant headache. I was now starting to get nauseous, I still couldn’t see, and it felt like my eyeball was going to pop out of the socket from the suction.
After what felt like a million years, I finally sighted the exit stairs and the transition area. I couldn’t have come soon enough. That kick to the head made me so sick and I was honestly beginning to wonder if I could keep my stomach down. I walked all the way through the bag pick up and to the changing tent to try and ease my stomach. I plopped down in the changing tent and one of the volunteers brought me water. So good! I downed the whole cup and my stomach felt a little better. I threw on my bike shoes, helmet and sunglasses and ran out of transition. I made a quick stop at the sunscreen sprayers and realized my tri top had rubbed my neck RAW during the swim. I let out a scream and tried to sincerely thank the volunteer as I ran off in pain. He laughed the whole time.
I grabbed FeFe from transition and headed out of T1. My stomach was finally feeling good again and I was pumped for the bike. The temperature wasn’t too hot and clouds had come out so I felt like we were set for a great ride. The bike course was about 20 miles of city roads leading out to the hardy toll road and then we had two 40(ish) mile loops around the toll road before finishing up on city roads and heading in to T2.
The ride out to the toll road was spectacular. There were people cheering everywhere! It was cool and there was very little wind. Even the first 20 miles going out on the toll road was superb! I was pacing much faster than I’d expected, 20-25 mph and my nutrition plan started perfectly. Around mile 40 there was the first turn-around on the Hardy Toll road. Boy was that a rude awakening! We’d had a tailwind the whole way out and were now facing strong head winds. I looked down at my Garmin a few times and realized I was only going 10 mph. I’d hoped it was my GPS was malfunction due to the clouds. In fact, I was able to convince myself that it was definitely the clouds until I made the second turn-around going back out on the toll road. The wind stopped completely! I was so relieved not to be pedaling directly into a wind tunnel anymore, but it also woke me up to the pain I’d have to face again when I made the next turn-around. I knew special needs was coming up just after the turn around (near mile 60) so I decided to fully stop to refill my nutrition. This would give me a few minutes to break, potty, and stretch. Normally, I wouldn’t consider stopping completely, but these head winds were proving to be extremely mentally and physically taxing. The break would be a welcomed sight.
I finally reached special needs and got off my bike. I was much more tired than I thought I’d be. I pulled my bike off to the side of the road next to a guy who’d actually laid down and kicked his feet up on the side wall. I couldn’t tell if he was sleeping or just trying to prepare himself for the next round of head winds. I took my time, went potty, filled my nutrition, and slowly made my way back out on the course. I knew I’d lost a lot of time with the winds so I made the next 20 miles count. I pedaled my little heart out. I didn’t want to over exert myself so I watched my heart rate and only made moves that were easy.
Finally, the last turn around came around mile 83. I just kept telling myself, “just a few more miles of pain. It’s just a few more miles and then its over.” what I didn’t realize was how mentally tired I already was. My lower back muscles were starting to wear out and I could feel a dull pain setting in. Around mile 95 I made the decision to stop at an aid station to try and stretch my back out. I thought it would be a good time to try and nibble on my glukos bar too. They’re hard to eat in the aero position and hadn’t really had any solids on the entire ride.
I took one bite and my stomach revolted! I couldn’t even chew it. It was immediate nausea. I spit it out and asked a volunteer what else they had at the aid station. One woman came up with sample cup of pickles on a serving tray. They didn’t sound good in the least bit, but I knew I wasn’t getting enough salt either so I figured, “What the heck, pickles are my favorite food!” I wasn’t actually able to eat the pickles, but the juice tasted like heaven! I grabbed two more from the tray and slammed them like vodka shots on my 21st birthday. Hallelujah! The lady just stared at me.
I headed back out on the toll road knowing that I was pretty beat. I just needed to make it a few more miles and we’d be off this God-forsaken hurricane highway. I got to mile 100 and saw the last turn around and toll road exit. I began cursing and really found myself just pissed which was odd considering I’d finally reached the end of the toll road. I remembered my coach mentioning that extreme emotion would be a good indicator that I needed to eat. ha ha ha Hangries anyone? I gulped down as much of my Tailwind nutrition as I could and exited the toll road.
The remainder of the ride was so beautiful. There were still some strong winds, but the city roads leading back to transition were flat and fairly easy after the wind tunnel. I finally reached T2 and felt my eyes water up. I was looking frantically for my family. Any sign of them would have been exciting all on its own, but I was so overwhelmed by the crowd that I just sat up out out of the saddle and started yelling, “Whaa Hoo!” and gave the hugest fist pump. The crowd went WILD! Man, and Ironman crowd is like no other.
I jumped off my bike and handed it to one of the volunteers. I took the time to walk all the way to T2 rather than risk injuring myself from running in my cycling shoes. As I headed down the path, picked up my T2 bag and entered the changing tent, I could tell parts of my body were pretty well chaffed. Chaffing isn’t usually something that I have to deal with in training so, I was pretty surprised.
The run was a three loop (roughly 9 miles each) course. It’s incredibly spectator friendly so I knew I’d have lots of support. I still hadn’t spotted my family and began to worry that I wouldn’t be able to find them. All the same, I was still incredibly grateful to be off the bike and in my running shoes. I knew coming into this race that the run was going to be the slowest of the three sports. I’d come to terms with the fact that my knee just wouldn’t allow me to run at the pace that I’d wanted to. Heck, the longest training run I’d done was only 9 miles so I knew that much of this run would be unknown territory. I just decided to let myself take it one mile at time without any expectations.
I started out in great spirits. The crowd down at the waterway was so alive! There were music stations everywhere and people were packed like a concert. I swear I had the biggest grin on my face. There was so much energy and so much happening that you didn’t even realize you were so tired. I looked everywhere for my family, but it was so densely packed in some areas that I figured they may have been stationed on the back end of the course.
As the course exited the waterway path there was a bit of a short (but steep) uphill climb out of pathway. One of the female volunteers stationed here was helping athletes climb up in her sexy nurse halloween costume. She was all boobs! I couldn’t help but chuckle as I passed her the first time.
After we exited the waterway path the run course took us out to the roads and neighborhoods of the Woodlands for about 6 miles or so. There were a couple of sections where the course ran down a wooded pathway which offered complete coverage from the sun. I felt so nice in those trees! Around the first 5k I had the pleasure of meeting the Catapult racing team. Chris and Jarrett were leading blind athlete David. It also just so happened that they were running at the perfect pace to keep my heart rate where I needed it to be so I decided to hang out with them for a while. We ran and I learned a TON about being a race guide. Did you know that they run with a blocker? Which is what Jarrett was. The blocker runs in front of the blind athlete and the guide who is tethered to him with a rope. He just basically blocks the way so that the athlete and guide can run unobstructed. Team Catapult was a welcomed distraction the first loop. I never saw my family and was trying to stay focused on my pace and heart rate instead. I knew I had another 18 miles on the second and third loops to find them.
Before I knew it we were coming back down to the water way and all that energy again! I saw my friend James as I was passing the finish/second/third loops split. He was headed into the finishers chute. While I was incredibly proud of him, I also realized that I had TWO more loops to go. UGH!
Around half way down that the waterway I FINALLY saw my family! I just ran toward them with open arms. I stopped and hugged each one of them and took my time. It’s such a relief when you finally get to the see your support crew and those few seconds can really energize you for a while.
We headed back down to the water way to start our final loop of the run and that’s pretty much where things started to fall apart for me. I’d maintained my target pace up until this point and I still felt really great. The sun was finally setting and the street lights were coming on. All down the waterway people were beginning to become scarce. I don’t know what it was, but I could feel a deep fear and anxiety sinking in. I knew that once I left the waterway and headed back out on the street there would be dark wooded paths and empty streets where there had been loud cheering people before.
When I got to the last stretch of the waterway just before the steep climb with the sexy nurse, I spotted a familiar kit. I looked a little closer and saw a Love the Pain/Mojo race kit and yelled, “Mojo!”. It was Jesse from my Mojo race team!! We’d never met in person, but I knew the kit and I knew he was a fellow teammate. It so awesome how you can connect with people on the course like that. We both headed up the hill and I noticed that something didn’t feel right in my knee. I stopped and noticed that it had begun to swell. I still wasn’t hurting very much, but I could tell that it felt stiff and little wobbly. That anxiety/fear I’d had felt earlier was sinking in even more. One of the spectators saw me examining my knee and yelled, “Last lap! Get out there and crush it!” Just then a lady ran by me putting a head lamp on. The spectator yelled, “There you go! Run with that lady!” so, that’s what I did! ha ha ha I had to gallop a bit side to side to get going, but I caught up to her. I introduced myself and we made friends! Her name was Julie and she was my run buddy for much of that last lap. I needed her right then. People were scattered all over the place and the course wasn’t nearly as congested this last loop. I’m grateful I met Julie out there in the dark because she was just as chatty as I was and needed to walk as often as I did.
By this time my knee brace had started chaffing the sides of my knees as it continued to swell. I could feel my hip flexors getting intensely sore and the soles of my feel just ached! The bones in my foot felt like they were spreading apart. I knew that I would hurt on the run but I’d never felt like this on a run before. Julie and I stayed close to each other as we went down the wooded pathways. The miles seemed to pass so slowly. I’d averaged the last two loops in about 2 hours each but I’d slowed down so much now. I walked most of that loop and when I did run, I had to wobble side to side to get my momentum going and it didn’t last long.
The wind stated to pick up and the temperature dropped. I knew i needed to keep moving or I would get cold but I just couldn’t make my body move. Everything seemed to stop working. As I entered the neighborhoods I stopped at one of the porta-pottys and realized I lost control of my legs and everything below the waist really. It felt like I almost pee’d my pants and I couldn’t control my legs or hips to sit. I just plopped down on the seat! Ewwwww!
After the bathroom break there was an aid station. One of the volunteers yelled, “Warm chicken broth!” and ran toward her like cat running to tuna. I’d heard that the chicken broth would come out after dark and was told that I should drink it. I believe the exact phrase was, “Don’t ask questions, just drink it!” so I did. oh em gee!!!! It was like heavenly nector! I’d been downing sweet tailwind all day and this warm, savory and salty broth was just what I needed. For those of you doing your first Ironman….
As I rounded the corner to the finish line I felt like the light shined so bright. There were people standing everywhere. I felt like I was entering the gates of heaven and I (jokingly) wondered if I’d actually died out there on the course. My eyes welled up with tears and I just stretched my arms out and high fived everyone in the crowd.
I cried and ran all the way down the carpet. Just before the finish line I saw my family. They yelled at me to push on and finish. Then, there I was, under that ever sought after Mdot finish line archway and I heard Mike Reily, the voice of Ironman, say those magic words,
“Priscilla Askew, YOU are an Ironman!!!”
Priscilla is Dallas/Ft. Worth based nutritionist and blogger.