Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ironman Texas 2015 Race Report: The Run

The marathon course for Ironman Texas may as well be called a parade route.  Crowds are lined up and down the waterway on both sides, cheering and high-fiving and generally having a great time.  It is a party!  I took full advantage of that happy atmosphere.  I've never had more fun on a run, ever -- and that is saying something.  It was the best!!

Just 3 miles left!  That's my rockstar husband and smiling baby girl cheering me on.

An Ironman marathon is rather different from a regular marathon, primarily because you have already powered your body through 114.4 miles before it even begins.  As a result, the average triathlete tends to run at least 30-60-90 minutes slower than typical their marathon times.  The mental race is also a different ballgame.  At IMTX, the run is a 3-loop course, which would make me want to poke my eyes out in a typical marathon, but it feels perfect for the final 26.2 of 140.6 miles.  Whereas in a solo marathon, you want constantly changing scenery, at the end of a long Ironman day, familiarity is a major bonus.  More than anything, though, the cheerleader factor is huge.  The shorter loops allow spectators to be packed in, and you get to see people -- including your own people! -- all the time.  Thank goodness!  I really can't say enough about how wonderful the volunteers and spectators are in Texas.  The biggest thank you to each and every single one!


The awesome thing about being a runner-cyclist-swimmer in that order is that on race day, things just get better and better as you go!  I survived the swim.  I enjoyed the bike.  But I couldn't wait to run!

I had felt my achilles a few times on the bike and was nervous about what that might mean for the run.  Sure enough, I dismounted my bike and felt that sting of pain with the very first step.  Insert a big sigh right here.  In all the months leading up to the race, I'd pictured finishing it off with a strong marathon split.  I mean, running is my thing.  But that dang achilles injury took me by surprise about six weeks out, and when it was still bothering me come race week, I had to mentally prep myself for the possibility of not having my best run.  (I'm still so bummed about that totally-preventable achilles injury, which simply came about because of a bad bike fit. Ugh.)

On a 20-miler four weeks before the race, my achilles was doing pretty well -- until 15 miles in, when there was suddenly a shooting pain that stopped me dead in my tracks.  It happened again a few minutes later, and I had to sit on the sidewalk and rub it out for awhile before I could continue.  I was scared of that happening again during the race!  Achilles injuries tend to be more aggravated at faster paces, so I decided to not push my run pace at all to try to hold off the shooting pain (the achy pain is infinitely more tolerable to run through).  My plan beforehand was to try to run a 8:30-9:00 minute pace and walk through the aid stations.  With my achilles hurting and plenty of time to meet my sub-13-hour goal, I decided to scale that back about 30 seconds, and ran 8:45-9:30's instead.  That worked out great throughout the race and was entirely manageable.  I'd catch myself dropping it down to low 8's sometimes and scale it back, or other times it'd dip a little slower and it was easy to pick it right back up -- my legs and lungs were feeling pretty great!

The logistical problem with my pacing plan is that Ironman aid stations are forever long!  Seriously.  When I planned on "walking the aid stations," I pictured short marathon aid stations -- walking for a quick drink and calling it good.  But it turns out that Ironman aid stations are like a mini strip mall -- tent after tent of water, gatorade, coke, ice, chicken broth, gu's, pretzels, chips, fruit, vaseline, cold sponges, sprinklers... I mean, they have everything.  It is awesome!  But walking through all of it takes approximately one century.  And my end-of-Ironman brain didn't register just how long they were taking or that I could make an adjustment to my plan and walk, say, just half of the aid stations, or just the parts that I needed.  As a result, I was running in the 8:45-9:30 pace range when I was actually running, but my mile splits were more in the 10:30 range.  Lesson learned for next time: walk only the parts of the aid stations that you need, and watch the clock during walk breaks!  Still, I was conscious of my time and making sure I was still running on pace to come in under 13 hours (my goal was to finish with a "12" at the start of my time).

Speaking of things in aid stations... I was still nauseous and there was no way I was going to eat anything during that whole marathon.  What I really wanted was just plain old water, but I knew I needed to get calories in my body, so I drank Gatorade, too.  So many fluids.  So many potty breaks.  I had to stop four times during the marathon (in addition to both transitions and once on the bike), which is just kind of ridiculous.  But at least I was hydrated in that heat, eh?  I'm sure in a future race when I can eat some of my fuel, that won't be an issue.  I swapped out the Gatorade for coke on the final loop, which I really liked.  I also sucked on a few oranges and loved that little taste of orange juice.  That was it for the whole marathon!  I was running this race on Gatorade and fumes.  And still feeling pretty good overall, thankfully!

About half the run course is along the waterway, and that part is easy thanks to the fun atmosphere.  The back side of the course around the lake is a bit tougher: there are far less spectators, you're on an oft-crowded sidewalk, and lots (and lots) of people are walking.  Mentally, that's hard, because you're tired too!  And logistically it's hard, because you have to (politely) dodge around them in some narrow spaces. Those miles were where it was easy to let the pace slip, as opposed to the waterway where it was so much fun you had to keep yourself from running too fast.  Funny how that works.


I took far too long in transition again (lesson learned, again), ran back through the sunscreen, and headed out into the crowds on the waterway.  The party was starting!  My mom and kids were about 100 yards up on the right.  I wasn't expecting to see them again until a few miles later, and I was so excited that I could actually go up and say hi this time!  I got to start off the marathon with baby kisses and "Go Mommy!"'s, and really, it doesn't get better than that.  The frat boys in speedos were just a little ways ahead (do they have a name? They are hilarious!), and I double-high-fived my way through their tunnel.  I met up with a nice guy from Mexico who was going the same pace as me, and we hung together for those first few miles around the lake, chatting along the way.  It was his second Ironman, and his team was wearing pink tri suits, which he was slightly bummed about ("They were blue last year...").  He woefully explained that a girl designed them.  I told him I thought they were fantastic.

Finally, we came through the trees and were back on the waterway!  "Catapult Corner" gets the party started on the south side, with more of that frat-boy feel (and a shouted marriage proposal or two).  Then it's on to Hippie Hollow, where people are dressed in tie-dye and banging on trash can drums. Awesome.  After that, the waterway is mostly lined with families -- full of signs and cowbells and kids wanting high-fives.  So many high-fives!  I loved it.  And everyone is so nice -- cheering for you by name and yelling out compliments: "Looking strong!" "Great pace!" "Love that smile!"  How can you not smile?

The crowd gets more sparse as you loop around the east end, over the bridge, and do a quick out-and-back.  But it's only a couple miles until you're coming down the steps by the water fountains (yes, steps! Thanks to hotel construction this year) and back into the middle of the crowds on the north side of the canal. I didn't see my family at their "spot" toward the end of the first loop, and therefore knew Matt was finishing around that time.  I had a split second of being bummed that I was missing that moment, but it was quickly replaced by the reminder that duh, sharing this whole Ironman journey together is even better.  So with that, I ran back past transition and toward the tunnel of speedos to do it all again!

My Mexican friend and I were together again as we wound around the lake, but I had to let him go when I stopped for run potty break #1.  After that, I ran alone and just exchanged pleasantries with people as I passed by.  There were a few stretches around the lake/on the east end when I was just kind of in pain and things started to feel harder, and I noticed I was more quiet -- and so was everyone else.  As soon as I'd catch that, I'd make sure to speak up and cheer everyone else on more.  The more you focus outside of yourself, the easier it all feels!

Right before I hit that east end of the second loop, I saw my dad and brother across the canal and shouted at them for Matt's finish time.  They shouted back that it was 10:46 (clock time -- his chip time was 10:35) and I became really anxious to see Matt to make sure he was okay.  We knew it wouldn't be his "A" race so soon after his crash, but had held onto a glimmer of hope that he could still squeeze out a sub-10.  Under the circumstances, a 10:35 was AMAZING!!!  I just wanted to make sure that *he* knew that.  So a couple miles later, when I spotted his big smile as I was coming down the stairs by the fountain, I was instantly relieved.  A quick "You okay?" from me, a nod from him, and a little peck, and it was time for the final lap!

My achilles was hurting more as I made my way around the lake for the third time, but I just counted down the half-miles until Catapult Corner, when I figured the rest of the race would basically run itself thanks to the crowds!  I was right.  The spectators had been awesome in cheering everyone on, and once I hit the waterway, many people noticed that it was our third meeting and therefore cheered a little extra for that final lap!  The marathon course seemed more crowded with athletes then, too, and I saw more friends -- including our new friend from Guatemala who was staying at our same hotel and yelled out "Go Davis!" with his awesome accent from a distance.  There were a few different people along the run course (and one awesome group of girls on the bike course!) who recognized me from instagram and cheered me on, which was really nice.  I just love the way the triathlon community comes together and lifts each other up!

My family surprised me by crossing the canal to give me a final boost around mile 23 -- perfect.  It wasn't long before I was across the bridge and passing the "Mile 25" sign on my way to the up-and-back turnaround.  "Ashley Davis, ring that bell for your final mile!," said the announcer at the aid station.  You'd better believe I gave that thing a good ring!  And then I ran back along the water, up to the street, and saw my watch tick to 26 miles as I turned toward the finisher's chute.  Everything I'd been dreaming about and working toward for the past 7 months was just steps away!

Run split: 4:39:14. Average pace: 10:39. (Dang those potty breaks and my walking through the long aid stations!  And that achilles, which is still hurting pretty bad 10 days of non-running later.  I'm really proud of how I did in my first Ironman, but when the second comes around?  It's going to end with a killer marathon.)  Moved from 1309th overall to 851st overall, 245th female to 176th female, 21st in age group to 18th in age group.

Baby kisses for good luck!
That "Go Mommy" sign is mine!  My little boy and mom cheering on the southeast side of the waterway.
High-fives all day long.
Finisher's chute in sight!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ashley!

    As a follower on instagram (cbakes390), I am so happy that you finally got a blog started to share your story not only in pictures, but as a little story! I enjoyed reading the entire journey! You are so inspirational and a great role model! I am signed up to compete in my first tri this month and am so nervous! Like you I have always been a competitive runner and did not have too much experience in the bike or swim. I have been training for months and it will be exciting to see how it will pay off! Thanks again for sharing your story and I cannot wait to hear what else you have in store this year! I hope you have a smooth recovery and are back to running in no time ;)