Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016 Race Recap: The Bike

The whole bike course situation for IMTX 2016 was crazy.  Just 2.5 months before the race, the old course didn't get approved and race officials started scrambling for an alternative.  The race date came closer and closer, and there was still no bike course.  A month before the race, I told Matt we'd better pick back-up races just in case it was canceled and we had to transfer.  We settled on Vineman for Matt and North Carolina for me, but we kept training and planning as if Texas would be a go.  The quotes in the local Texas papers weren't too encouraging: "We'll take whatever course we can get."  Luckily, they got one!  Apparently things went through right before Ironman's do-or-die date for canceling.  Ironman announced that they finally had a course a mere three weeks before the race.  Then a week later, they announced that 18 of those miles had just been washed away in the major Houston flooding, so the bike course would now be 94 miles instead of 112.  And they released the course map -- with 87 crazy-looking turns in very populated areas over those 94 miles.  It was definitely a "whatever we can get" kind of course!

And guess what?  That made it so much FUN!!!  I felt like a kid playing on my bike and was fully entertained for the entire five hours I spent in the saddle.  It was awesome!  We'll get to that. :)

When we arrived in Texas, driving the course was a priority so we could know what to expect and if/where there were any places we needed to be cautious.  Matt's instagram post summed it up perfectly: "Q: How many triathletes does it take to navigate the new IMTX bike course? A: Five. The driver, the navigator, the GPS tracker, the map reader, and the arrow spotter. #westillgotlost #somanyturns."  Haha!  We pictured the course-makers laughing as they put it together, because that's what we would have been doing!  There were just so many random, tiny out-and-backs and funky turns to add tiny bits of extra mileage here and there.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that most of the turns weren't that bad, though!  And I was SUPER grateful for the cornering clinic BAM had just put on the week before.  Thanks to that crash course, I got to be super excited about the crazy ride ahead!

But the changes weren't quite done.  When the swim course had to change last-minute, Transition 1 moved to the lake shore.  This bought us a whole mile back for the bike!  So now we had a 95-mile course with close to 90 turns.  Woohoo!  Some people were pretty ornery about all the changes, but we decided it was better to be grateful we had a race at all, and just roll with it!  A HUGE thank you to every single person who made it happen.  The volunteers were nothing short of amazing!

Last year, I averaged just over 18 mph on the old 112-mile course.  Leading up to this race, I felt less strong and weighed more (ice cream weight, not muscle)(honesty counts), and since power per pound basically equals speed, that wasn't the best combination, ha.  So I was thinking anything above 17 mph would have to work this time around.

There's a fancy program called Best Bike Split that takes all of your body's data, all of your bike's data, and all of the course's data to estimate your bike split time.  It's really helpful for knowing how to pace yourself and has been pretty accurate for a lot of our triathlete friends.  It thought I'd be able to average 18.4 mph over the old course, and about the same for this new course (apparently pacing for the shorter mileage made up for the slowing around the turns).  That would've meant a 5:10 for me, but I felt like that was pretty ambitious considering my current fitness level and how new I am to cornering.  I can hold decent speed through the turns, but that seemed like I'd need to be holding much more than I probably could.  I felt like 5:30 was a more reasonable goal, and then I'd try to beat it by a little if I was feeling good.  That meant holding 17.3+ mph.  Honestly, I wondered a bit if I could even do that but was willing to try!

Fast-forward to coming out of the water.  I was focused in transition and posted a 3:46 split in T1, which I was super happy with!  IMTX 2015 was my first-ever USAT sanctioned event and, therefore, my first big tri.  (Previously, I'd just done two women-only pool sprints with zero training, and then a small grassroots half in preparation for Texas.)  I spent forever in transition without even realizing it last year (9 minutes in both T1 & T2), so I knew that was one easy place to make up time!  I was very intentional this time around, and felt like that I nailed that T1.  It sounds silly to say that about transition, but it's part of the race, too!

After the disaster that was my swim, I was determined to make this bike split count.  I thought of all the 4 a.m. wake-ups for 3- or 4-hour-long sweatfests at BAM, all of the time spent on the trainer at home, and that hard St. George century ride with the crazy crosswinds.  I was a stronger cyclist, after all.  I could do this!   Game on.
Hi to the fam!
Hi to the BAM fam!
Awesome drone shot of bike start by Dung Le.
As a back-of-pack swimmer but decent cyclist, I knew I'd be doing a lot of passing on the bike -- especially early on.  I assumed the slower cyclists wouldn't be uber-experienced at cornering, and was concerned that would make it more difficult to safely pass on a course that had 30ish turns in the first 15 miles alone.  I was right.  There was a lot of ill-timed braking, funky turning paths, and general messiness around the corners.  I had to stay super-focused to make safe passes as I made my way through twists and turns around clumps of cyclists.  The "clumps" were pretty prevalent early on -- it's always congested in the beginning, the varied speeds around the corners complicated matters, and the course wasn't really accessible for drafting officials at that point.  I didn't want to draft whether there were officials or not, so it took a lot more effort to get around giant groups of people!

Speaking of drafting officials, they talked to me THREE different times during the ride.  The first time, an official called out my number -- to tell me she liked me kit!!!  Haha!  The next time, an official warned a guy not to draft off of me -- and then gave me two thumbs up as they drove past.  And the third time, toward the end of the bike, I got yet another compliment on my BAM kit.  So funny.  Matt said he bets they liked me because most other cyclists probably don't smile and wave at the officials throughout the ride.  Go figure.

And while I'm sharing happy anecdotes from the ride, I have to mention my proudest ninja moments of the day!  I try to thank as many volunteers, police officers, and cheerleaders as I can throughout the race.  On one particularly messy road, I was down in aero but raised by right hand to wave at a cop and say thank you as I was riding past.  Just as the words left my mouth, I hit a bump and my front water bottle went flying... and I caught it with that right hand!  Not going to lie, I was pretty impressed with myself.  My PhD Nutrition was in there, so it mattered!  Then, toward the end of the ride, I had just crested an overpass "hill" and reached down to grab the bottle from my downtube with my right hand.  As I went to take a drink, there was a bumpy seam in the road -- and it launched the plastic water bottle I now had between my aero bars!  And I caught it with my left hand!!!  If there was ever a moment I wished I had something on camera... I was so pleased with my hand-eye coordination.  Haha!  But now I had bottles in both hands and flashed back to that one time I was 10, thought it'd be a good idea to ride my bike hands-free, and then hit a rock and went endo and broke my arm.  So I hurried and tucked the bottles away to get my hands back on the bike as quickly as possible. :)  Guys, these were the first things I told my family about the bike portion before even mentioning my split. #proud 

Back to the actual ride, though.  So there I was, winding through the streets of Harris County, Texas, having a lovely time and passing lots of other cyclists.  There was really only one spot that made me nervous (the pot-hole happy tight-double-U-turn loop bordered by a ditch near the equestrian park), but I felt like I handled that pretty well.  At BAM's cornering clinic the week before, Coach Andrew would stand at the apex of a tight turn and Coach Jeff would stand where we should exit, so the goal was to start wide, "hit" Andrew, and then "hit" Jeff.  Whenever there was a tricky or sharp turn, I just pictured hitting my friends and was therefore able to take a good path and maintain pretty good speed.  I had my watch set to show me my times for each 5-mile lap, and I was liking what I was seeing!  Anytime we got a straightaway, I tried to take advantage of it.  I stayed in aero for most of the ride (including lots of turns), was feeling good, and was kicking my goal time's trash.

When we drove the course a couple days before, we bowed out around the 42-mile mark.  We'd already covered 2/3rds of the turns at that point, felt like we'd seen enough, and chose to go home and take a nap instead of spending another couple hours in the car.  So once I hit that point in the race, the rest of the course was a mystery!  I thought of Forrest Gump: It's "like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get!"  On such a random, twisty course, this made for a fun game.  I know I said it before, but I honestly felt like a kid for those five hours on the bike.  I was never even remotely close to being bored and just had a blast out there!  (Who knew that was even possible for such a long ride?)  Once we turned into The Woodlands, we were back in familiar territory as the last few miles of the bike were the same as last year.  I actually flatted on that portion that Thursday so I was careful to ride further away from the shoulder as I made my way to the bike finish.  This last stretch was especially great, though, because it was full of spectators cheering you in!

I hopped off my bike and glanced at my watch -- 5:02:28!!!  That crushed my goal time of 5:30 and even my predicted time of 5:10, and equated to an 18.85 mph average.  I'd just nailed that tricky little bike course and earned back the time I'd lost on my rotten swim.  I was so happy with my bike split, and even happier to be off the bike and onto my favorite part: the run!

Bike Time (95 miles) - 5:02:28.  Speed - 18.85 mph.
Position - Went from 1902 overall to 1314 overall, passing 588 cyclists.

Off to the RUN!


  1. Sounds like so much fun! And five hours! Once again, holy crap you are amazing. Amazing for getting such a great time and amazing for being able to bike for FIVE HOURS after swimming for an hour and 45 minutes. This is blowing my mind. Haha