Friday, October 28, 2011

Ironman 70.3 Austin

70.3 miles. For someone who has done 14 double centuries the distance is not intimidating. The only difference is of the 70.3 miles, only 56 are cycling. The first 1.2 is a swim, and the last 13.1 is a run. Okay, now there is some intimidation.

I decided to drive to Austin from San Diego, so I left on the Sunday before. I arrived Monday night and checked into my room.

Tuesday I drove the bike course. Two things jumped out at me. A lot of turns and some of the roads were in rough shape. I made some notes where a turn led to a hill, so I would shift in advance. I also noted some spots where I thought I would have to be on the bullhorns due to rough roads.

I finished Tuesday with an easy one hour spin.

Wednesday I went to the venue and took a good look at the lake, then went for a 30 minute run on part of the run course. Anticipation was building as Ironman had crew out marking the course.

I got an email Wednesday night from Ironman stating they were altering the run course from two loops at 6.55 miles to three loops at 4.4 miles. This was due to the severe drought in Central Texas; they took out an off-road portion.

I did not see the off-road portion, but this meant a third trip up the hill on Hog Eye Road. Actually a fifth and sixth trip since we go up and down it both ways.

Thursday I rode part of the course and felt really good. I was wishing Thursday was race day; I was riding strong without much effort.

Thursday night was great. I was able to get together with my friend Rich and his family. Rich was my best friend in college and roommate my senior year. It was awesome to spend some time with them. We got together again on Friday and Monday!

Friday was a tough day early on. I had no workout on the agenda. My wife and mother in law were flying in, but not until later in the day. Finally 3:00 and check-in opens. I got my packet, and T-shirts for my wife and mother in law that said Ironman Support Crew. I thought they would enjoy those.

Saturday meant my last pre-race workout. A short bike and very short run. After that, lunch, then off to the venue to rack my bike. Ironman requires racking your bike the day before. We looked at the swim venue, Swim out with the big IRONMAN SWIM OUT sign, and how it led into Transition, then how I would get to my bike, and exit transition. I walked through it, and left my bike.

Race day! Got nerves? I’ve done several events and races, and never have I been this nervous. I guess the first time doing this distance in a triathlon combined with doing a destination event, plus dedicating 20 weeks to training and making it very clear this was my A event of the year added up.

Water temperature was 72 degrees, so wetsuits are legal. My wave starts at 7:45. The Pros start at 7:30. Around 7:15 I put the wetsuit on, nibbling on a Honey Stinger Waffle. The cannon goes off and the pros start their swim. Another cannon shot and the women pros are off. I head to the swim start. We cannot go into the water until five minutes before the start, so no warm up. We get in, and I immerse and take a few strokes. The temperature is good, and the water feels nice. The air horn goes off. We humble age-groupers are not worthy of a cannon shot?

My swim strategy was to start easy, stay out of the washing machine, get a groove, and finish strong. Despite that, I got kicked in the head around the 100 meter mark. I got swam over about 200 meters in, and kicked again a short time later. Despite all that, my strategy was working. My breathing was regulated nicely, and as I made the first of two turns, I started to pass folks. During this section I started passing folks from the previous wave! The turn for home; and I was thinking, wow, what a great swim, now I’m seeing caps from two waves ago. Swim Out, the legs are a bit wobbly, take it easy, and watch the racer in front of me do a face plant. See two others fall. I walked until my legs felt okay then trotted into transition. This was the first race I have done where they had volunteers helping people get out of their wetsuits. That looked slow, I learned how to get out of a wetsuit TCSD style, no thanks, I got this on my own!

A note on swimming, I just started to swim in January of this year. My goal for the swim was 45 minutes. Actual time 40:52. A huge success to me. Thrilled! Onto the bike, my favorite.

Wetsuit off, helmet and shoes on, grab the bike. Get on the bike, pedal, pedal, and pedal. Something feels wrong. Stop, jump off. What the…..? My saddle is literally 45 degrees down. I usually have it level. How the heck? I give it a tug, and jump on and go.

Around the six mile mark is a nasty little hill. Short, but probably 12 percent at the peak. Soon after, I really felt like I didn’t have great legs. I pushed on. Lots of rolling hills, lots of turns. The roads did not seem as bad as they looked on Tuesday.

Around mile 35 I could feel the saddle was sinking again. I just pushed on. Around this time I realized I was not going to hit my time goal for the bike. I tried to smooth pedal and push without blowing up.

Bike goal time: 2:45. Actual 3:00:52

Dismount. Ouch! My quadriceps seized up as I got off the bike. All the training sessions I did, I have never had that. I limped into T2 and racked my bike. I grabbed some Tylenol and water, changed my shoes, and headed out. Before starting the run, I hit a potty. Off to the run. The quads seemed a little better. Take it easy, same strategy as the swim, start easy, and then pick it up. Mile one 10:39. Perfect, right where I want it. But, despite that being the pace I wanted, it was not easy. I had plenty of lungs, but the legs were crabby.

Strategy change; walk through the feed zones, get liquid, then run again.

That worked for two more miles. Then I had to mix in more walk breaks.

Mile five, in 58 minutes. Behind my goal pace, but okay, can we keep this pace? And wow, it got hot! (92f)

I felt like I was keeping the pace, I made the turn to lap number three. I smiled when I saw my wife and mother in law and heard their cow bells. Well, I smiled on the inside. It hurt way too much to smile outwardly.

The final lap. The cramping was so bad I was walking twice as much as I was running, and when I ran, it was more like a slow jog.

Mile 11, adding insult to injury. Now I was having gastro-intestinal issues. The last two miles were 90 percent walk.

I turned into the arena for the finish, and insisted on running across the finish line, so I started about 100 meters out. I really thought I was going to crash, but managed to make it. I could hear the cheers and the announcer call out my name: STEVE SMART you finished the IRONMAN 70.3 AUSTIN.

Run goal 2:20. Run actual 2:58:12/

Total goal 5:59:59.9999 Actual 6:52:58.

Goal two: Give it everything I got, leave nothing. ACCOMPLISHED!

I had to lean on the volunteer who pulled my chip off. I took a bottle of water and got my medal. But what I needed was a bathroom.

After the pit stop, I felt quite a bit better. I found my “crew” and went back to have a photo taken with my medal.

Now it is over. 20 weeks of training, anticipation, and in less than seven hours it is over. I hurt, I was spent, I was both excited that I finished, and a bit disappointed in the result. Proud that I did something that a few years ago would have been impossible, and bummed that I had so many issues.

When is my next one? What will I change? How much can I improve?

When the race first ended, I really thought my issues were due to an electrolyte imbalance, probably going into the day. I used the same products I trained with. Yes, it was hot, but not so hot that I should have cracked before the run.

After thinking about it, I think the saddle issue was a big reason for the cramps. This put me in a poor position on the bike. And my lower quads were still sore three days later. That never happens.

Lesson learned. Bring a multi tool on race morning, especially if you have to leave the bike, and check and make sure everything is tight.

I cannot figure out how my saddle got loose. My wife came up with the only plausible thought; that someone made an adjustment on what they thought was their bike, realized it was not theirs, and left without tightening it back up.

Lesson learned two: At least once a month, train in East County for the heat.

Thank you:

My Tri-Sherpas, AKA Wifey and mom-in-law. They made the day easier for me, and more fun.

The people that came out to watch. Your energy was awesome. Central Texas rocks. More than once I heard, hey California, welcome to Longhorn Country!

The volunteers. Great energy, and support.

TCSD – I saw a few other tri-clubbers out there, and the tips I’ve gotten from the club were useful and helpful.

Equipment Used:

Swim – Blue Seventy Fusion wetsuit
Aqua sphere Rx goggles

Bike – Specialized Transition Comp
Shimano RS 80 Wheels
Giro Aero Helmet
Shimano Tri shoes

Run – Nike Voomero 5 shoes
Fuel Belt

Top – TCSD Tri top
Desoto 400 mile bib shorts


  1. Great recap! I'd been looking forward to reading it. You rocked it....and the fact that you were cramped and had GI issues made your success that much sweeter. I'm very proud of you...and inspired to possibly train for MY first 70.3 (I said possibly.)

  2. Steve, CONGRATS on your race!! Its so awesome that you were so dedicated and did it! Thank you for sharing your experience. I hoped to see you before you left to wish you good luck, clearly you did not need it!! I have set my goal on an olympic distance, but now a half ironman doesnt seem impossible... On that note, see you tomorrow for the ride.

  3. Congrats on crossing the line! A time goal is nice but in the end it's about your effort, what you can do on the day, AND the 20 week journey you made to get there!

  4. Congratulations!!! I want to do a70.3 next year but I'm so nervous about the swim and the bike. Reading recaps like this really make me want to do one though! Thanks for the inspriation. :)

  5. Thanks for the write-up, Steve. It sounds like your tri adventures are developing really well. I don't know if you racked your bike under the nose of the saddle - might have something to do with the problem. In any case you went through some very major issues and still not only finished but turned in a decent time. Congratulations! (I'm a LATC and PCH Rando member.)

  6. Nice report. Congrats on the finish! Heat is all about sodium. Up to 2,000mg per hour after the initial 2-3 hours according to Joe Friel.

    Just an idea on the seat bolts. Rough them up a bit with wet-or-dry and then paint the bolt heads white. That should be enough to avid future bike confusion. Pretty weird just the same.

    Shit does happen though. A little on every event it seems. The USMC's test of amphibious warfare, generally regarded as suicide after the disaster of Gallipoli, was Tarawa, where they just happened to run into a crippling 1:500 yr low tide. "Green Acres" actor Eddie Albert got the Bronze Star for that one. Adapt and overcome saved the day.

  7. A tip on multi-tools. Don't use them. Get an alloy shank bit driver with tip storage in the back of the handle, and put the tips you need back there.

    Lighter, and I learned the hard way, multi-tools' shanks are not long enough to reach the bolts that tighten the shifters onto the bars. If you want more torque, carry a ratcheting 1/4 inch box-end wrench. All that is still significantly lighter than a multi-tool you cannot tailor.

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