Ironman Texas Race Report 4-27-2019
Ironman Texas Race Report 4-27-2019
Raced and Written By Talia Fromm
2019 Memorial Hermann IRONMAN North American Championship
The Woodlands, Texas
Temp. – Sunny & 87
Wind – 15mph+
Course – Flat with some small hills (overpasses) on highway
I decided to participate in this IM for a few reasons; it was another opportunity to visit a place I hadn’t been to before, it was one of the earliest IM’s of the year, and the training for it would present more challenges than my first IM in Mont Tremblant last year. IMMT was hilly and in the summer. I love the challenge of riding hills (I get bored and antsy on long flats) and as a teacher, having the summer off was key in gaining maximum rest and enjoyment out my spare time to supplement my training for a late August race. I thought IMTX would challenge my mental capacity to ride aero for that long, and winter training would force me to manage my personal time/job wisely and hit the trainer, tread, and pool way more than I ever had in my short triathlon career thus far. Looking back, I found the balance of time and exhaustion from work to be much harder to handle than any of the actual IM training.
Travel and accommodations for the race were quite simple. I used TriBike Transport to ship my bike. My bike and all my gear (helmet, pedals, shoes, bottles, and honestly anything I wanted to send by truck – liquids, lotions, etc.) was picked up from Sunrise Tri in Babylon, NY, driven to the race site (fully assembled sans pedals), and waiting for me with a smile (yes my baby smiles at me) in the IRONMAN village. SO simple and cheaper than shipping, breaking down & rebuilding the bike via plane transport. The crew of guys are great and the process is seamless. My teammate Sam and I stayed in a house 5-10 minutes from swim start, which allowed us to food prep and live comfortably as if we were home.
One of the first things we did was try to scope out the area. We found everything we needed within 5-10 minutes from the house; supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, etc. We also wanted to find a local gym, pool, and running/biking route to use during the week. We located a YMCA about 5 minutes away, and wow was it incredible. TRX room, weight room, cardio room, awesome indoor/outdoor pool with a retractable roof, courts, fitness classes, yoga, soccer fields, etc. Well-maintained and well-staffed, and free for us! (IM participants got free weekly passes and Sam belongs to a YMCA in Queens, NY so we were set). The bonus was that we met Masters Swim Coach Megan Perz, who was kind enough to welcome us to into her group’s swim workouts each morning (she also participated in IMTX this year as her first and killed it!). There was a beautiful and secluded road about 20 minutes north of us which provided a perfectly smooth and pretty place to ride and run a few loops. We even caught Lucy Charles’ personal photographer in the back of a truck filming/photographing riders on their bikes.
During check-in it was really cool to listen to the pros talk for a bit and get interviewed by Mike Reilly. I was enamored with the female pros on the panel for different reasons. Daniela Ryf (couldn’t get a pic - boo) is a straight-up beast, basically not cracking a smile for anyone and was all business in the most humble and kind way if you can imagine. Jocelyn McCauley comes off as the sweet mom next door who’s busy raising a family and who also happens to be an animal on the tri circuit (she took 2nd place). Jeanni Seymour looked like she was entering her junior year in HS and was just so excited to be in her first IM as a pro. She was humble and happy to be a part of it all (she ended up winning the bid for Kona). Sidenote: she may look young, but further examination of our picture together revealed that her quad muscles are double the size of The Rock’s. #BEAST
Having an IM under my belt made me feel very relaxed (almost too relaxed) about everything. I didn’t think too much about my race day, or even my bike, run, and special needs bag prep, etc. until the day before the race (I didn’t use special needs bags this race). I kind of figured I knew what I was doing and I had to take the day in stride. I went into the race with foot and high hamstring/glute issues, not having run for a month prior. I bought a pair of Hokas the week before hoping the cushion and arch support would help, even if I had never used them to run. If I had my essentials (helmet, bike shoes, sneaks, clothing, COFFEE, an awesome sherpa, etc.) and stuck with packing enough fuel/food, the aid stations and other volunteer tents would provide anything else I would need like last time. I was hoping for a solid swim and bike experience so that my run would be as comfortable and pain-free as possible. Goals may change but the mission stays the same: CROSS THAT FINISH LINE NO MATTER WHAT.
Transitions: Pretty short distances between all changing tents, bag stations, and entrances/exits from water and off bike course. Volunteers were so helpful and willing to do whatever you needed to make your fastest and smoothest transitions possible. Food, drinks, and lubricants were on site in the tents in case you needed it. Transitions get 10/10.
Nutrition: I consider myself a garbage disposal and luckily my stomach can handle most foods/drinks, so prior to the race I ate my usual breakfast plus...well..more :) (oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, berries and banana, PB&J sandwich, sweet potato, turkey burger, coffee, coffee, a little red bull, coffee…). Before any race big or small I’m guaranteed to hit the port-o-potty multiple times out of nerves and coffee, so I always make sure to fuel a hell of a lot. For the race itself, I put 4 bottles on my bike (2 almost frozen waters & 2 almost frozen over-concentrated bottles of an Infinit/BCAA mix), 3 Clif/Bonk bars torn a bit open and ready in my bike jersey pockets in my transition bag, date/espresso energy balls in the bike stem bag, and frozen bottles of Infinit/BCAA’s and frozen Fuel For Fire packs in both my bike and run transition bags. Weather had an effect on my drinks and fuel...out of the swim I chugged what became a cold & unfrozen Infinit/BCAA bottle (well-planned) and ate my cold Fuel For Fire before hopping on the bike. The ones in my run bag had been sitting for hours in the heat and sun while I was biking (no tent coverage on transition bags), so I didn’t bother eating/drinking those. I would have puked. I give my nutrition plan for this race an 8/10...factoring in my lack of salt issue on the bike as a mistake.
SWIM: It had been raining on and off for a lot of the week, so the water temp. on race day just barely allowed for wetsuits to be legal, which is uncharacteristic of this race in years past. It felt great to be in open water after months of chlorine, so the lake felt clean, fresh, and welcoming to me. During the practice swim the day before, the lake seemed to provide ample width of swim space moving around the buoys, so I didn’t anticipate having to deal with what occured during the race. Kayaks and small boats cut that width in half on race day, forcing swimmers to stay closer to the buoys than the previous day. The rolling start was run quite smoothly, with age-groupers starting at 640a and the last swimmers entering at around 705a. Very well-done. I was a bit late to the start because the port-o-potties called my name LOUDLY at the last minute and my new friend Meg was having some technical difficulties with her wetsuit =), so I started in a wave that was a little slower than the time I had anticipated finishing. Half of the swim felt like a clobberfest, and I’m not sure if it was because of the kayaks and buoys pushing swimmers in, a sighting issue (sun was beaming in one direction after making the U-turn) or just large packs of swimmers drafting off of each other, but a good portion of the swim was trying to find open space to get a rhythm and stay away from crooked swimmers. Tip: I find that rather than fighting off a swimmer and kicking and flailing back on purpose, simply swimming stronger and not giving in to the temptation of stopping to tread will mostly force those on top of you to basically back off and stop. Finding some open space that’s further away from the crowds near buoys can also help you gain some rhythm too when you’re racing with a rolling start (it’s worth the little bit of time you spend to get towards the outside of the packs). Once the out and back of the swim was complete, we made a right turn into the canal, which made the swim more crowded toward the canal entrance. The plus side of the canal portion was that spectators were literally a few feet away from you on a walkway cheering, taking photos, and watching everything taking place. I saw/heard Sam on the walkway at one point and she was able to walk next to me while I swam for a solid 8-10 minutes until I reached the end. It was pretty cool and motivating. All in all, I don’t mind a little battle here and there in the water because it’s to be expected, but of course a swim with less contact and more rhythm would have been preferable. From what I’ve been reading in the IMTX Facebook group, most of us clocked approx. 4500yds+ on the swim, and we all checked our Garmin connect maps to confirm we that we swam straight. Considering the distance, the crowds, and a water-filled left goggle for most of the time, I was happy to be feeling strong out of the water. 7/10 experience on the swim.
Bike: Just like getting into open water for the first time in a while, I was SO excited to ride. Months on a trainer make you fiend for the great outdoors like crazy. I knew what to expect regarding the course and weather, and I was amped for it. Heat is usually my friend and I thought it would ease any pain and tightness I had in my hamstrings. Drafting was a major issue at last year’s race, and organizers guaranteed that more marshals would be out on the highway. Still, there were tons of people that I saw in the penalty tents during the day and I unknowingly got caught in a pack of riders that came from behind me and almost got called. Luckily I made my way out before being penalized and that made me overly cautious for the remainder of the ride. I’m also guilty of cursing a man out that was clearly on my ass and not going anywhere for miles because there were no draft marshals on motorcycles in sight. The course was cleared off nicely and we had lots of space to ride for the most part, since most it was on the Hardy Toll Road...traffic was going against us but it was clearly marked so nothing was dangerous or in the way for riders. Not the most amazing view really...just construction on the sides of the highway and basic streets. Volunteers were great – bananas, water/Gatorade bottles, and energy gels were being handed out every so often and signs clearly indicated when the next aid station would come up so we knew what to expect. In total, I drank all 4 of my personal bottles plus 6 more water/Gatorade bottles that I grabbed throughout the 112mi ride.
The first 7-8 of the 112 miles had some crosswinds and lots of turns, bumps, and cracked roads leading to the long out & back stretch on the Hardy Toll Road. I still managed to avg. approx. 19-20mph at this point, which got me really excited for what I thought was to come when we hit the highway. Boy was I wrong. I expected and prepared for some wind being out on the open highway, but nothing like what hit us. The headwind was direct and strong. It was approximated to be 15mph, but every couple of minutes some big gusts would hit and that brought the avg. to about 25mph. I spent the winter months training mostly on cadence and speed (I didn’t use Zwift, but rather a cadence sensor and the Wahoo Fitness App) so even though my mph went all the way down to about 12mph, I could still keep a rhythm going at about 90 on cadence. I figured if I could keep that going for the 20 miles against the wind, the tailwind and I would become best friends on the 20 miles back north. And that we did. After a mentally defeating ride south, I made a U-turn and immediately started flying. I began to avg. anywhere from 27-33mph for a solid 20 miles. It was the most fun ever, however, I knew what was coming up again. The second lap going south was much harder.
After making a U-turn to head back south, I tried to get off the saddle like I do every so often to stand and stretch my legs while riding. My quads immediately seized up and locked, and I almost couldn’t bend my legs to sit again. Luckily I didn’t fall off and I continued riding, but every time I tried to fully extend my legs, I felt them seize up and lock. This made the second lap against the winds way harder, and my speed fell to about 9-10mph. Very mentally defeating. Emotionally I was fighting to keep my mind positive and in the game, and I was trying to make a game plan for the rest of the day. I knew I still wasn’t planning on getting off my bike at all, but I wasn’t sure what was happening to me and what this meant for my upcoming run. A rider came up next to me, and as I felt desperate for advice, I blurted out something I thought was English for help. I asked what she thought was happening with my muscles. She said I was most likely lacking salt, so she was kind enough to toss me an extra bottle of Base salt from her jersey. I started downing it, and within a literal minute I was able to stretch and fully extend my legs again. It was so mentally empowering to know that there was a solution to what I was feeling and that I could continue if I kept my sodium levels up. I underestimated how much I had been losing throughout the day and her tiny extra bottle literally saved me physically and emotionally. She was an angel out there because there was still a good 40+ miles to go. Again, heading north for the final 25 mile stretch was fun & fast and I was excited to see familiar faces at the transition tents.
This bike course was meant for aero most of the time. I can’t sit still on a bike so it was difficult for me to do that now and again, which didn’t help as I was trying to fight the wind. I also think I’ll need a torpedo cage/bottle for my bike, because there were many times that the winds were so strong I couldn’t take a hand off the bike to fuel or else I would fall. A torpedo bottle would have solved that. Most of the course was nicely paved and rider friendly, and I think that as difficult as it was, it makes you a stronger and more experienced rider to face wind and other obstacles. Lots of lessons learned from this one, so I give it an 8/10. Not very scenic, but the course and conditions hit you with whatever you gave your training for the months prior.
Run: The run was awesome! A flat 3-loop course around the waterway and town, you could catch friends and spectators many times, you knew what to expect and could plan accordingly, and food/drinks were stationed every mile. There were groups of people dancing, singing, pumping music, and cheering with props that made the experience feel like a party. I, Talia Fromm, actually smiled so many times during a race and stopped and high-fived people and danced. It was truly a great experience. There was not one area without a group of spectators. A few cons → The sun was out the entire time and it got pretty hot, there were minimal areas of shade and the heat/sun were just unavoidable, and because there were SO many spectators along the waterway, those unfamiliar with how to move around a big race going on (people who walk with their heads in their phones, big families with running babies and moving strollers, people oblivious to anything going on around them) gave way to a bunch of areas where you had to stop or quickly avoid people to prevent collision. In hindsight, I’d rather have this kind of environment than a complete ghost town. We all know how much tougher a race is without lots of folks around. My injuries at that point had reduced me to running at a pretty slow pace, but I was so happy to be healthy off the bike after what had happened to my legs, I was pushing through any pain that I had and I was enjoying every moment. I met lots of nice people along the way and their support and our bond through triathlon was quite encouraging to say the least. After the 2nd lap I started to feel a pain/larger cramps in my ham/glute, so I grabbed a couple of tiny salt bottles from the Base fuel tent and pounded them down like I did on the bike. Cramps went away, but then the chafe was REAL. I stopped for a minute at a State Farm med tent to lube up, but post-race checks of my ass and other areas taught me a valuable lesson about using more glide before running. I ran/jogged the entire run, but every aid station I told myself I would walk through as I ate and drank. If you know me, you know I’m ALWAYS hungry. So, by the 2nd lap I felt like I was Patrick Lange destroying the aid stations at Kona, literally eating and drinking anything I could get my hands on. After lap 3, I stuck to just ice, water, and Gatorade cups. I also abused lots of sponges and towels because the heat was also real.
The finish line didn’t disappoint. The crowd was amped and ready for incoming finishers, Mike Reilly was shouting names, and I was excited to see the flashing lights and red carpet. My next mission is to work on my mental game...to be able to channel that energy adrenaline pumps into you at mile 24 or 25, except find it DURING the race to run faster and more efficiently. It amazes me how we as athletes can hurt and agonize trying to get through a run with injury or just general exhaustion and pain, but at mile 25 the adrenaline hits you and you’re back to running that sub 8 or 7min/mile. It’s more proof that most of this is mind over matter. A new friend that we made during the week from the Masters Swim group (David Houlston) was volunteering and able to catch me after the finish line, giving me a huge hug and placing the medal around my neck. It was a wonderful culmination to the entire week in Texas. 9/10 experience on the run.
~I know this is wordy and I’m sure I’m still forgetting some details, but the big takeaway from this report should be to do IM Texas! (and have a back-up watch –> mine died half way through the run) It was an awesome experience! Lots of resources to taper properly while there, beautiful town with super friendly folks, VERY well-organized race, and an AMAZING course for spectators and Sherpas. Flat doesn’t always mean easier, and this one was proof of that~