We loaded up the swagger wagon & pulled out of Dallas just after at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. With a full tank of gas and a stop at Starbucks we got on the road and turned south on I-35 for Austin. Three and a half hours later we rolled into the parking lot at the Travis County Expo Center around 11:30 having only stopped one time for a quick bathroom break – not bad considering we were hauling our tribe of six kids (under the age of 11). We hopped out of the van, stretched our legs, changed a diaper and make a bee line for the expo center to check in. This was my first Ironman experience…heck, this was my first race experience longer than a sprint triathlon, so I wasn’t quite sure what all I was supposed to do. We found the line for athlete check in and 30-45 minutes later I had my blue athlete bracelet, my race packet, my race number, little backpack thing & a t-shirt. All the while I found myself feeling some nervousness as the reality of my situation began to set in. In less than 24 hours I really was going to jump in a lake and attempt to swim 1.2 miles, then bike 56 miles & then go for a 13.1 mile run.
We spent about 30 minutes wandering around the expo – which was pretty small. We purchased some Ironman swag and then headed out the door. Leaving the expo center we then drove about a mile down the road to Walter E. Long Lake, where I had to check my bike in (point of clarification: The Austin Half-Ironman has two separate transition areas. Transition 1 (swim to bike) is over at the lake – which, as I mentioned is about a mile from the expo center. Transition 2 (bike to run) is at the expo center). We got to the lake and checked my bike into transition 1 – I had a decent rack spot in that it would be pretty easy to get to coming out of the swim. I spent about 10 minutes mentally rehearsing/visualizing my route from the lake into T1 and then my route from the rack to the bike out spot.
Once that was done I walked down to the lake to scope out the swim course – I estimate it to be a 150 – 200 meters from the swim exit up to the entrance of T1. The buoys were out marking the 1.2 mile swim – one loop in the shape of a triangle that we’d swim counter-clockwise. Up to this point my longest open water swims had only been 500 meters and though I had swam more than 1.2 miles in the pool on repeated occasions & I must admit – the red buoys that marked the turns looked really, really far out.
By this point the kids were HUNGRY and ready to check in to the hotel. Leaving the lake we found a Chipotle, had a late lunch & then drove over to the Renaissance Austin Hotel where, thanks to my AA Advantage miles, we’d reserved a room. The Renaissance was about a 15 minute drive from where the race would take place. We got all our stuff up to the room and began to sort through everything – the kids wanted to swim in the indoor pool and I actually wanted to head back over to the expo to swap out my shirt for a smaller size; which I was told could only be done after 4 p.m.
Missy gave me the green light to head back over to the expo to trade out shirts and truthfully, it was nice to be alone for a bit. I knew that I had trained appropriately for this race and I knew my fitness was fine – but I was still nervous. An hour to an hour and a half of alone time was good for me to collect my thoughts, go over my game plan and decompress a bit. I was also able to go walk through T2 and find the spot on the rack where my run gear would be waiting for me. I spent another 5-10 minutes mentally walking through what my game plan would be as I finished the bike & transitioned to the run.
When I got back to the hotel the kids were all swimming in the pool and about 6 p.m. I got them out and we changed clothes and headed over to an Italian place around the corner for some dinner. I had some pasta with chicken and some pizza – not the heavy kind of pizza…more of a thin crust veggie style. Following dinner we made a quick stop at the grocery store and picked up some additional sustenance to help keep the kids fed while I was on the course the next day.
We got back to the hotel and knowing that it would be an EARLY morning the kids put on the clothes they were going to wear to the race and jumped into bed (two kids in a bed, one in a pack & play and three on a pallet on the floor). Once they were down I finished checking and rechecking my transition bags. I’d gotten a green light from the hotel to check out at 4 p.m. on Sunday but then I saw the swim starts and realized my group was going off last – at 8:50 a.m. I realized that there wouldn’t really be time to come back for a shower. So…that meant we were checking out at 5:15 a.m. the next morning. To facilitate this I ended up taking a bunch of our stuff back down to the van to make the next morning as simple as possible. The fewer moving parts the better.
We went to bed with a nasty weather forecast – a pretty big thunderstorm was supposed to roll through Austin during the night. I had resigned myself to the fact that the weather wasn’t going to be quite as nice as I’d hoped but I kept reminding myself that it was out of my control so don’t waste any emotional energy on it. With that I headed to bed around 9:45 p.m. Missy came to bed about 11:00 p.m.
Alarm was scheduled to go off at 4:15 a.m. but I was awake before that. Got up, grabbed a shower, got the wife up, started the process of waking my small army of children, made two peanut butter and honey sandwiches, got dressed and started sipping on some Perform. Kids did great and we were walking out of the hotel about 5:30 – which was about 15 minutes later than I’d planned but that was fine. The storm had indeed rolled through and there was a light mist coming down. Drove back over to the Travis County Expo Center and by the time we got there it went from a mist to a light rain. There was lots of traffic getting into the parking lot – but we finely navigated our way to a parking spot.
As I mentioned earlier – there were two transition spots for this race. My day would start at Walter E. Long Lake and end at the Travis County Expo Center. There was no parking at the lake on race morning, so that meant that everyone had to park at the expo center and take a shuttle (read “school bus” over to the lake – where the race would start). But before we could get on the shuttle I had to drop off my run bag in T2. So, I took two of my kids, grabbed all my gear and headed over to T2. Got into T2, found my spot and tied my run bag to the rack. I’d put some bright duct tape on my bags in an effort to make them easier to spot.
Once my run gear was good to go I called Missy to see where she & the other kids were. Found out she was still at the van getting all the gear for she and the kids together. She told me go ahead, take the two kids I had with me & jump on the shuttle to head over to the lake. She assured me that she was fine and would meet me over at the lake.
Daniel, Caroline & I hopped on a school bus (been a LONG time since I was on a school bus and you know what – not much has changed) and in five minutes we were exiting at the lake. We walked over to T1 so I could put fluids and nutrition on my bike and to make sure my transition bag was set up the way I wanted it to be. I borrowed a pump and made sure my tires were pumped up to 110 psi.
Once that was done I called Missy and by this point she and the other four kids were on their way over to the lake. Ten minutes later we found each other and got settled for what would be an almost two hour wait for my swim start. It was raining at this point – lightly but it was still a bummer. After about 15 minutes Missy realized she’d left the camera in the van – back at the expo center. No big deal – we had lots of time. So she and two of my kids jumped back on a school bus to retrieve the camera. While she was gone I sipped on Perform and put on my wetsuit to try and keep warm – it wasn’t super cold but I was chilly. An announcement was made that the race was going to start 15 minutes late – this meant that the pros would go off at 7:45 a.m. and my swim wave – the last one, would go off at 9:05 a.m. Somewhere in here I had a Powerbar. Missy got back to the lake right as the Pro men were taking off. We killed the time by sitting and watching the other swim waves go off – all 17 of them!
Suddenly about 25 minutes before my swim start I realized I had to hit the port-o-potty and I need to get there quick! My stomach was fine but I think the pre-race nerves were taking their toll. Once that was done I got my wetsuit back on up, had a GU, took a picture with the kids, kissed my bride and headed over to the swim corral.
The next 10 minutes went by really quickly and before I knew it the purple swim-capped men aged 35-39 were wading into the water of Walter E. Long Lake.
As it relates to timing – I had come up with two sets of goals for this race. My first goal was based on timing that I knew I could hit. This was a conservative “based on my training and fitness level and barring any major technical issues or injuries there is no reason to not hit this goal.” But I also had a super-secret goal based on what I deemed a best case scenario. If I was going to hit this goal just about everything would have to go right – weather, nutrition, execution, etc… Since this was my first 70.3 distance race I felt like this goal was a major stretch, but I also knew the way I’d trained, I had come to really buy into the Endurance Nation training system & felt that I was physically capable of hitting the super-secret goal. But it would require me not making any major mistakes & some other variables (that were totally out of my control) going my way.
I had two other, non-timing related goals which were: (1) To enjoy the race – to relish in the fact that I was healthy enough and privileged enough to get to participate in an event like this. I wanted to cross the finish line with a smile on my face knowing that I’d given it my best effort (2) To try and encourage as many other athletes and volunteers as possible. My sweet bride had reminded me in a note she’d written that part of the joy of competing is getting to encourage others along the way. I didn’t really view this race as me versus a bunch of other people; rather this was a race against myself to see how well I could perform in a 70.3 mile event. I wanted to see each athlete perform to the best of their abilities.
Swim (1.2 miles)
- Goal: 0:34:00 (avg pace of 1:45 pr/100m)
- Super-Secret Goal: 0:30:34 (avg pace of 1:33 pr/100m)
- Actual Time: 0:33:52
- Age group place (31st out of 292)
My plan was to line up toward the right hand side of the swim start (the outside) – this would allow me less contact with other swimmers. I really liked that it was a counter clockwise loop because I breathe on my left which would make sighting easier for me. A few minutes after entering the water the horn sounded, I hit the start button on my Garmin watch and off I went. We weren’t allowed to get into the water before the race to warm up so it really felt like you were going from zero to 60 very quickly – which I didn’t like. The first 300 meters or so was spent just trying to create some space between me and the other swimmers. I didn’t try to dart out super-fast; but I also didn’t want to lolly-gag either. My arms felt heavy and my shoulders felt tight, but I kept moving along knowing that I’d warm up in within five minutes.
About 400 meters or so into the race my goggles began to fog up. When I got in the water I hadn’t gotten the inside wet – not sure why; especially since every swim I’ve ever done I get the goggles wet before I start – stupid of me not to do that but I’ll chalk it up as a rookie mistake. They were getting foggy enough that it was becoming tough to sight the buoys so I stopped…got some water in them, drained them and started swimming again. With the fog behind me I was able to start focusing on passing the next yellow buoy and trying to find my rhythm. I hit the first red buoy which was the point where you made a hard left – I peeked at my Garmin and it showed that I’d been swimming for a little over 13 minutes. In looking at the Garmin file on my computer that was about .56 miles into the race. I made the turn and started swimming down the second stretch of the course. No real issues here and very little contact with other swimmers. I did notice that I’d begun to pass swimmers with other color caps – orange, red & pink…meaning I’d started catching up with folks from earlier swim waves. Before I knew it I was approaching the second red buoy – time to make another left and start swimming back towards shore.
During this final 1/3 of the swim I had some contact with some swimmers and the contact almost made my right leg cramp up. Not sure where that came from because leg
cramping wasn’t something I’d experienced in any of my training but I could tell that it was on the verge of cramping so I focused on not using my legs (which, per my coaches instructions I hadn’t been using them to propel me – more to help keep me horizontal in the water). I stayed relaxed, counted strokes and made sure I was headed in the right direction (which looking back at the Garmin file I realize I’m not the straightest swimmer!). And next thing I knew I was approaching the shore to exit the water and head up to T1.
- Goal: 0:06:00
- Super-Secret Goal: 0:04:00
- Actual Time: 0:03:50
I made a decision before the race that I was going to “race” this event…part of that meant I was going to hustle through transitions – trying to be so smooth but not wanting to waste any time. Once I exited the water I started running up the hill towards the wetsuit strippers. Got my wetsuit pulled of and continued to race up the hill, passing other athletes where who were walking into the bike transition area. Nothing to noteworthy here – got to my bike, helmet, sunglasses on, dried my feet, slipped on my bike shoes, waved to my family, picked up my bike and carrying it; started jogging toward the bike exit. I’d been warned by those who’d done this race before that there were thorny nettles in the grass that had caused a bunch of flat tires; hence the decision to carry the bike to the pavement.
Bike (56 miles)
- Goal: 3:06:40 (avg speed of 18.0 mph)
- Super-Secret Goal: 2:59:12 (avg speed of 18.75 mph)
- Actual Time: 2:50:21 (avg speed 19.72 mph)
- Age group place (87th out of 292)
When I hopped onto the bike my heart rate was up just over 170 beats per minute which is WAY high for me. I knew that I was overly amped up from finishing the swim and hustling through transition so my first goal was to calm my body down. I avoided the temptation to start mashing on the pedals and instead took the first 5 miles at a nice and easy pace which ended up around 17.8 mph hour. My heart rate quickly dropped down into the 140s which was still higher than I wanted but had me feeling a lot better. And just like the coaches said would happen I saw people flying by me – it felt like I was barely moving. But I just kept repeating to myself that there is no such thing as a good bike split without a good run split. I could go a lot faster but it would have cost me on the run.
I gotta say that I loved the bike ride. Prior to the race I’d read a bunch of race reports where folks complained a lot about the rough chip seal roads. And yes, there were certainly sections where there was a lot of rattling but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. Another thing I noticed was how relatively flat it was. On the Ironman Austin webpage it states that there is a gain of 846 feet; but my Garmin showed a gain of 1765 feet – a HUGE difference. However, the hills weren’t overwhelming at all – I guess all those rides up the Loving Hills at White Rock Lake paid off. And just like the coaches said I was passed going up the hills by folks standing up, in a big gear mashing their way to the top – that had to have been taking a huge toll on their quads. I followed the EN execution guide and at each hill I switched to a small gear and spun up.
In terms of nutrition – my plan was to consume about 410 calories and 1000 milligrams of sodium every hour during the bike and run. To accomplish this (while on the bike) I took a sodium pill and a GU at 10 minutes into the ride…and I would repeat this exercise every 60 minutes for a total of three times. At the half hour mark I ate half of a Peanut Butter Chocolate Powerbar – which I repeated ever hour as well for a total of 1 ½ Powerbars. And then I tried to consume 1.33 bottles of Perform each hour. I felt very hydrated and peed on the bike three times during the ride.
The course was beautiful – lots of open spaces. There was heavy cloud coverage the entire day so I wasn’t getting blistered by the sun. The first 40 miles were really enjoyable and the time flew by. Miles 41-56 went were a little more cumbersome because we were on roads that were also being used by cars to it required a lot more focus and attention. Next thing I knew I was approaching Travis County Expo center and T2. I saw my wife & kids – all decked out in their bright orange shirts. It was great to see their faces.
Let me close the bike section by saying that I think I dodged a bit of a bullet on the bike ride. I had no intention of finishing in 2 hours and 50 minutes with an average speed of 19.75 miles per hour. From a fitness perspective it was fine but my big training days and my race rehearsals all had me finishing right around 3 hours. While I felt great on the bike for the entire ride and my RPE (rate of perceived exertion) stayed really low, my average heart rate finished at 144 beats per minute which is about 6-7 beats faster than I’d have liked it to have been. So while I picked up an extra 10 minutes on the bike it could have really hurt me on the run where I could have given those 10 minutes back really quickly if I’d had to walk 2-3 miles of the run. I was fortunate in that it didn’t kill me but I do believe the last three miles of my run were impacted a little bit by pushing a little too hard on the bike.
- Goal: 0:03:00
- Super-Secret Goal: 0:02:30
- Actual Time: 0:02:45
My biggest mistake of the day occurred in T2.
Upon reaching the bike dismount line I hopped off the bike and ran to my spot on the rack. The orange duct taped helped me spot my bag among the myriad of other bags still hanging on the rack. Bike up on the rack, helmet off, hat on. Bike shoes off, running shoes on…grab my race belt with my number attached to it and my nutrition/sodium pills and off I go. The mistake I made was in not putting my socks on. I didn’t wear socks on the bike because…well, I didn’t want pee soaked socks on my feet for a couple of hours and I was determined to not get off the bike to use a port-o-potty. To be fair, during my training I had run without socks (up to six miles) after a 56 mile bike ride and had NO ISSUES whatsoever. However, when I was getting ready way earlier in the day I never really got a good application of Body Glide on my feet. I put some on…but not near as much as I should have. This no sock / not enough Body Glide would bite me during the run. On my way out of T2 I saw my two oldest kids and stopped to give them each a kiss and off to start my run.
Run (13.1 miles)
- Goal: 1:55:00 (avg pace 8:55 per mile)
- Super-Secret Goal: 1:44:52 (avg pace 8:00 per mile)
- Actual Time: 1:48:52 (avg pace 8:18 per mile)
- Age group place (71st out of 292)
The Austin 70.3 run is a 4.1 mile-ish loop that you repeat three times. The bright side of this looping system is that I got to see my family six times and there is great crowd support around the Travis County Expo center – which again, you get to circle by three times. The sucky part of this is that the finish line is in a building that you get to pass by two times before you get to go in. You’re so close to being done…but not quite done! Let me also say that if the bike felt relatively flat the run felt relatively hilly. The Ironman elevation map shows a total gain of 177 feet, but again my Garmin showed a gain of 502 feet.
In terms of nutrition – my plan was to continue to consume about 410 calories and 1000 milligrams of sodium every hour. On the run this would be a sodium pill once an hour, two GUs per hour and 5-6 four ounce cups of Perform each hour. Nutrition on the bike was easy…not so much on the run. Because of the looping nature of the run I had a hard time figuring out when to stop and take Perform and to be honest on the second half of the run I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to properly process when I needed to take my GU & sodium pill so I ended up winging it as best I could.
I felt great getting off the bike and was ready to run. Per the Endurance Nation execution guidelines my plan was to run the first three miles at zone 2 + 30 seconds – which for me is an 8:36 per mile pace. Miles 4-10 were going to be at zone 2 (8:06 per mile pace) and then from mile 11-13.1 at as fast I as I could go. If I stuck to this plan I would end up with about an 8:13 per mile pace or a 1:47:42 half marathon time.
I knew going in that I would have a hard time running an 8:36 per mile pace for the first three miles – that would feel REALLY slow and it did. And sure enough – it was really difficult to not just take off at a 7:15-7:30 pace (which would have crushed me 4-5 miles in! I really, really tried to slow myself down and even stopped to use the port-o-potty between mile 1 and mile 2 and even with that 30 second break my average pace those first three miles was 8:19 per mile (7:55, 8:51, 8:11). I felt great during the first loop – legs felt strong body was holding together.
I started the second loop still feeling good a but about half way into it (around mile 6) I started feeling some blisters coming on in a couple of spots on both feet…primarily the left foot. The no sock / not enough Body Glide incident was starting to rear its ugly head. This feeling only got worse and by the time I finished the second loop I was hurting pretty bad. My splits from mile 4 to 8 were 8:22, 8:07, 8:17, 8:15 & 8:33). My pace was fine but I was hurting.
As I started the third loop the race got hard…really, really hard. I knew this point would come and I had tried to mentally prepare myself for it. My feet were hurting due to the blisters that were developing in no less than five places. The cumulative effect of the day began to feel really, really heavy. I kept my feet moving – focusing on short terms goals (make it to such and such spot, etc…) & trying to maintain some semblance of good form (hips open, run tall, no heel striking, etc…). As I headed out for the last loop I passed my wife and kids again – so great to see them and they were a great reminder to me of one of the reasons I was doing the race. My splits from mile 9 to 13.1 were 8:27, 8:31, 9:18, 8:43 & 8:44). Clearly there wasn’t much “racing” going on over those final three miles!
The finish line for the Austin 70.3 is inside of Luedecke Arena which is pretty cool. As I approached the arena I found myself getting a bit emotional which made breathing difficult at a time when
I was really valuing the benefits of oxygen. Finishing this race was the culmination of a lot things for me and to finally be approaching the finish line was just an awesome experience. I ran into the arena and spotted my family along the finish line chute – they were cheering like crazy.
I crossed the finish line with a time of 5:19:40 – 1 minute 28 seconds faster than my best case, everything goes right scenario. I was exhausted but thrilled! I got my finisher’s medal and finisher’s hat and found my clan. Lots of hugs and kisses from them and then we moved to a spot just outside the arena to sit down so I could compose myself. After about 15 minutes I stopped by the medical area to get my blisters dressed. I grabbed a chopped beef sandwich, a bottle of water and a beer and we started the process of collecting all my stuff.
- Total Time Goal: 5:44:40
- Total Time Super-Secret Goal: 5:21:08
- Actual Time: 5:19:40
- Age group placement (71st out of 292)
- Gender placement (385th out of 1560)
- Overall placement (470th out of 2219)
Once all my stuff was collected I changed clothes, hopped back in the swagger wagon and headed north back to Dallas, stopping at Panda Express for dinner (my Garmin showed that I burned 5022 calories so I felt like i owed it to myself to eat some of them back!). After a nice, uneventful drive we pulled into our driveway around 9 p.m. Sunday night.
Overall, I could not have asked for a better first Half-Ironman experience. The day was absolutely fantastic! I’m going to transition into my off-season and hopefully focus on getting faster on the bike. Missy and I are planning on running the Dallas Half-Marathon on December 8th. And my next 70.3 is on March 29th in Oceanside, CA. Then I’m taking the 104.6 mile plunge and am signed up for a full Ironman on June 29th in Coeur d’Alene, ID
One final note. Before I signed up for this Half-Ironman I had done a few sprint tri’s – basically training myself. However, I knew that if I was going to attempt a 70.3 I’d need some guidance. At a friend’s recommendation (thanks Rebecca!) I checked out Endurance Nation and, after reviewing their training philosophy I signed up…that was three or four months ago. And I gotta tell you that it has been worth every penny. I’m not an expert on triathlons & my ability to compare training philosophy A versus philosophy B versus philosophy C is very limited; however, I can tell you that in the 12-14 weeks leading up to this race I diligently followed their training plan, asked a bunch of questions and got some really thoughtful responses from the coaches and from the amazing online community and I entered this race absolutely confident that I was fully prepared from a fitness, training and strategy standpoint. The question that I needed to answer was not “am I prepared?” it was “can I be disciplined enough to execute the plan?” Again – this is just the personal experience of one guy but I’d say that if you are training for an Ironman or Half-Ironman and don’t have a coach you love or good tri-team that you’re a part of then you should absolutely check out Endurance Nation. If you are interested drop me a note in the comments & I’ll follow up with you on how you can get signed up.