By Rob Morley
Wow! Has a week really passed since Ironman Texas? I don’t think the smile has left my face.
I arrived in The Woodlands on Thursday early afternoon, negotiated picket pick up and the Ironman shop with not too much damage to my wallet and headed for the banquet. Stayed in bed Friday morning, quick ride then off to T1 and T2, which I don’t recommend doing in flip flops as the red ants will definitely get you. It was about a mile walk between the two but all went very smooth. I was surprised by the amount of stuff some people have in their run bag. Shoes, socks and hat for me but some people seemed to have more than I brought for the whole trip.
Saturday – the big day is here. Off to T1 courtesy of Mrs. Morley, who was not too happy about a 5 a.m. wake-up call. Straight into body marking and ran into the IMTX body marking crew. Special needs bags dropped, tires pumped, swimskin on and ready to roll. All the pre-race confusion and course changes (editors note: torrential rain in The Woodlands area during race week forced last-minute course and transition changes) behind me and this was it. I was prepared, trained, excited and totally ready to go. That’s when I started smiling. I had no time targets (I always feel they can be a demotivator if you ever miss one) and just broke each piece of the race into small elements and focused on just that bit.
First the swim, my favorite bit. Objective – swim in a straight line!! Nice steady 1 hour 10 minutes was my thought so I seeded myself by the volunteer shouting 1:10. Unfortunately as the line moved forward the left hand side entered quicker than where I was so I found myself in quite a crowd which meant 10 minutes of swimming and fighting my way through the mass of bodies. After only about 300 yards I heard a chap screaming for help. He was about five yards to my right and looked very uncomfortable and there was no kayak support near. My natural instinct was to stop, which I did but the wave of swimmers pushed me forward so I carried on. It took another few minutes before I got in clear water and hit my race pace. The water was warm (82 degrees), but it felt good. I was in my zone, visibility was good, I was sighting the buoys well (which I found easier to spot than Paul or Laura in a kayak). I got to the first turn and had a sneaky look at my watch which said 32 minutes. So far so good. Hit a bit of traffic between the two turns and had to veer of course a bit to get round a crowd of swimmers (I can even see this little kink on my Garmin), but I turned for home feeling good. It got a little foggy and the sighting became tricky, but I kept on track and on pace. I felt a couple of guys drafting off me after I passed them; one in particular kept grabbing me but he was swiftly dealt with. The last turn brought a lot of traffic in the final 150 yards to the exit, and we were being funneled. I had a line of six people in front and just couldn’t get past so I ended with a breastroke/freestyle mix before exiting. My watch showed 1 hour 11 ninutes, and I felt fresh as a daisy. I swam a total of 4,337 yards with only three slight deviations from the straight line path, two of which were to swim around people. Sunday morning OWS in Marine Creek Lake really paid off for me.
Quick in and out of T1 remembering to hydrate. A TV cameraman followed me all the way through T1, but I’ve not been able to find the film anywhere. Out onto the bike course to cheers and shouts from all the IronTex folks on and around the bridge, which was a great motivator. As Coach Mike had suggested the early miles found me getting passed by a lot of fast riders but I hit a 20mph pace and focused on keeping that speed for as long as I felt in control and confident, which turned out to be most of the course. I took on water and Gatorade at every aid station (100% record with none dropped) and a couple of bananas, which along with half a dozen GUs, kept me going. Other than a particularly nasty/rickety/bumpy piece around mile 30 I thought the bike course was really good. Lots of turns but nothing too dramatic. The wind picked up a bit around mile 60 and it started getting hot and humid but not to the point were it affected me at all. It did affect my aero water bottle, which had had enough by mile 65 and departed the race.
I rounded the final turn into T2 to see the family, which I did not expect as I thought I wouldn’t see them until the run. A 4 hour 55 minute bike and I was still feeling relaxed and confident. Dismount, shoes and helmet off and off to get my run bag. Coach Mike was standing by the bag drop, which was a pleasant surprise and he gave me some well received advice on the run course – hot and humid so keep hydrated. I decided that having the fastest T2 split was not a priority so I took a few minutes to make sure everything was right. When I put my run shoes on the sole of my left foot was a little sore possibly from rubbing or maybe even the concrete coming into T2, so shoes and socks came off and I put some Vaseline on.
Off on the run I went. Straight out of T2 and the IronTex crew and Morley family were there so I gave a few quick greetings and was sent on my way. The first mile felt super. Up the grass bank into the first aid station, took my first pee of the day and headed off again only to get to the bridge by the swim and started to feel the heat/humidity for the first time so I made a conscious decision that the first lap would be done at a very comfortable pace as I wanted to be be running lap 3 — not crawling.
The next eight miles or so we’re pretty uneventful, which I guess is good. I kept a steady pace, refueled, hydrated, watched my heart rate and kept smiling. For anybody who has never raced or attended IMTX the run is quite a contrast. The back part of the course is roads and trails passing through some woods and can be quite sparsely populated with spectators but that all changes when you hit the canal section. There are people everywhere and the party is in full swing.
It was getting hot and I was secretly wishing for the forecasted rain and boy did we get it. Starting lap two and you could sense some bad weather was coming, the sky darkened, winds picked up and I felt my first sprinkling of rain which very quickly turned into a monsoon. Thunder, lightning, wind, rain, hail all came. I battled through another two miles or so until I entered the woods where it was flooded, only to be stopped by the officials. Race suspended and I was actually moving along at a good pace at the time. We waited for 48 minutes for the storm to subside by which time I was cold and shivering and hoping the family had found some shelter. We had some black bin liners to use, which helped warm me up a little. I could feel I was cramping a bit and as soon as we were let go I cramped on both sides of my stomach, which took about 20 minutes at a very slow pace to shake off. My feet were soaked and I thought I had blisters, but it was just the numbness due to the cold water. I hit the canal and started to loosen up a bit. The crowds had understandably thinned a little but I saw Laura and Brittany, who said my family was having burgers and that there was beer awaiting me at the finish line. I got a big IronTex hug and headed off on lap three.
Up the now very muddy and slippy grass bank and a quick look at my watch showed me that I had 99 minutes to do the final 8.5 miles and have a finishing time under 12 hours. I felt good and now I finally had a finishing target. As I progressed around lap three I seemed to gain confidence, the cramp and sore feet were gone and the closer the finishing line came the more energy I seemed to gain. The last few miles were awesome, on course support pushing me on. Brian appeared out of nowhere with about a mile to go and encouraged me for a bit and I entered the finish area to see Coach Mike and James for some high fives. Feeling pretty good now and I was flying into the finishing stretch where the IronTex support was giving me a big shout home. Through the finish line to see my family with Mary and Alpha.
Formalities complete, quick look at my watch shows 11 hours 56 minutes, beer and burrito to round off a very eventful and thoroughly enjoyable day.
The few days following the race I pretty much was hungry all the time. My legs felt surprisingly good on Sunday but tightened up a bit Monday/Tuesday although nothing too dramatic. Everything feels back to normal now so I guess I should start thinking about Vineman….