2019 Ironman 70.3 Texas - Race Report
Funny thing, WHILE I am in the middle of a race, I do a lot of self talk. I talk to myself about the moments in the race I don’t want to forget. The little missteps and victories along the way that I want to preserve in my memory.
And then after the race, there is so much emotion, thoughts and additional “noise” from other competitors, social media posts, group pages, etc about the event that all my personal thoughts get clouded and start to “gray”. So when I finally sit down to write my blog post, I am overwhelmed with what to even begin with. Know what I mean?
This particular race is one that will be spoken of for a very long time. And mostly, by those 2000+ of us that didn’t get to finish. There was a horrible storm that caused it to get cancelled while in progress. The magic time to finish by was 12:53PM. There seems to be an uproar (the noise I was referring to earlier) about the fact that Ironman has officially listed us all as “DNF” i.e. Did Not Finish if we did not cross that finish line by that time. The time clock literally flew away after that time. There is photographic proof (not my photo and if you know who’s it is, please let me know so that I can add credit)
Some are SUPER upset about what that “looks” like…that apparently someone, somewhere is going to go on the internet, see that DNF and automatically assume and judge you a big quitter. Loser. Bailer out of hard things.
Phht. Whatever, man. Only YOU know the adventure you were on that crazy weathered day and only YOU should be concerned about the race you ran up until the point that you couldn’t. Not by your own choosing.
Maybe it’s something that comes with age (I’m old & don’t really care anymore about what “they” think). Or maybe for me, it’s that I don’t see it as a FINAL because I know I can try it again at some point.
I have been asked so many times if I am pissed, sad, disappointed and people have reached out with sincere sympathy and concern that I would be upset.
Given that my swim leg was ALSO cancelled on my first ever try at 70.3 in Waco last Fall, that would be a fair judgment, honestly. But you know what, I am not. Not one bit. I honestly didn’t even think to take a picture by the near blown away finish line before the whole thing was said and done. I was actually in the middle of a pretty painful and miserable run when a series of events led me to feel like I was in an incredible adventure.
So let’s get to it.
Unlike Waco, where I trained 97% on my lonesome (my husband gets 3% for joining me on a few rides and runs) ;) , for this Galveston race ,I have been training with my now good friend, Ro.
She just moved back from Lagos last Fall when I had completed Waco and I will never forget that she asked me to go on a bike ride the week after the race. Lol. I never say no to an opportunity to share a workout of any kind with someone despite my sore bum. She really missed the freedom of riding outdoors and had a hellacious experience racing a Triathlon in South Africa. She was itching to race again and I knew IMTX703 was on my radar, so you can say that this turned into a weekly event for us that led us both to signing up for this race and continue to train together. It’s been so fun to have someone to brave the great outdoor long rides with as well as the ominous scary open water lake swims.
We didn't have a support crew for this race, but we had each other. We got to enjoy the Athlete’s Village and all it’s glory, racking our bikes and eating. Eating a lot. We even drove the bike route only to find out that one way calculated at 37.5 miles. Hmm. Talk about surprises, we went to bed wondering where the hell the actual bike turn around would be (because we obviously went too far!).
Insert photos here (Athletes Village, race start, Offats, the turn around that wasn’t)
We settled into the house we were staying in at Tiki Island and got all our gear set up. The weather the BIG talk over the week and half because we KNEW that a storm was coming and that it would be bad. But because island weather is 100% unpredictable, we just didn’t know when it would go down.
My BIGGEST concern in all of this was being cold. I despise being cold. Particularly when I am wet. So, the thought of jumping into cold water and coming out into cold air and riding into cold wind, just sent shivers up my spine.
I honestly got tired of overthinking it and just said “fuck it, it is what it is going to be…suck it up”. I had arm sleeves in the event of cold. That was it. If it was colder than that, I was screwed.
But my first sign that it was going to be an awesome race (hush, I didn’t realize HOW bad the storm was going to be…) was that I came outside in my sleeveless kit and was NOT cold! What? Not even a chill? I was thrilled.
We made it to transition with ONLY 15 minutes before it closed. I don’t know what happened. We talked about the time at length the night before. We calculated a traffic buffer and everything. Well, I guess my math has been getting rusty. We were hustling to get our shit together. (I think that’s probably the reason too…no poopy, no racey LOLOLOL) #keepingitreal
I brought extra plastic bags because I learned after the Towne Lake Tri on Labor Day that coming to a transition space completely covered in water really sucks.
I quickly got my swim gear on, wet suit included (this was my first wetsuit race in salt water!!) and headed out to the start. My wave was immediately after the pros at 7:08am. Poor Ro had to wait another hour to go.
By this point in a race, my nervousness is usually muffled with a weird calm. I don’t talk much and I just will myself to walk to where I need to be and go when they go. With the rush this time and no opportunity for a last bathroom break, I was a little jittery.
We had to walk out onto the dock and were going to jump in the water when told to, wait a few minutes and go when the cannon went off.
First of all, how scary does that sound?? Jumping in? OMG, how cold is it? Can I just ease my way in like I do at Lake 288? Secondly, as I was putting on my goggles, they snapped! WTF? My hands were literally shaking trying to thread the straps back through that tiny plastic thing.
I got it done and like a zombie walked to the edge and jumped in. To my surprise, it was not as frigid as I expected like the lake was just a few days before. Hurray! Things were looking up!
I heard someone say “I hope you all cut your nails” which led me to move the hell out of the way. Haha.
I kept on the outside knowing that that would make for a longer swim but a more enjoyable one (or so I thought). I felt great success on the first turn buoy because right before that, I felt like I was getting seasick. Ugh. The waves just kept coming and it was just churning my stomach. I didn’t swallow water but I did feel like I swallowed a whole lot of air…The taste of salt is familiar to me so I didn’t really mind that as much as other’s spoke of and I also didn’t find the water all that brown and murky. I guess I have seen WAY worse!
The long stretch to get back towards the finish was exactly that….LONG. My sighting was pretty decent but at times I felt like I was maybe too wide. I knew the guys were coming up behind us but it wasn’t until TWO of them simultaneously bopped me on either side of my head that I was sure. My initial reaction to getting clobbered in the head was to tense up (naturally) and what happened next scared the heck out of me. BOTH of my calf muscles cramped. Immediately, I let my entire lower body float limply behind me. Any minor movement prolonging the agony and fear of the moment. I willed myself to not panic. I willed myself to use my arms and continue on with my breathing. I willed myself to get back into the zone and just “forget” about my legs. It took awhile but they finally came back and jumped in to help me finish this thing. By then, the air I had swallowed decided that it need to gag me. I felt like I was going to puke and a couple times, I almost did. Ick. (excuse the super loud burps)
The current didn’t seem quite as bad on that straight away and when I caught sight of the paddle boat where the finish was, I was elated. I knew the turn bouy had to be coming up and when it did, it seemed like a lifetime before I finally made it in. Good grief, I felt like I was swimming no where and then my right calf cramped again. Arghghghg!!! The pain!! I know I lost some significant time here but at this point I was just SO happy to be able to get out and say I DID THAT SHIT!!! YASSSSSS!!!! So, I muscled through and kept paddling away until I got to that ramp.
I was so damn happy when I got out of the water. I mean look at me:
Another first experience, getting stripped out of my wetsuit. How cool was that? They unzipped me, I sat and phoooom! In one schwoop, they yanked it off!
There was quite a long jog back to transition when I realized, I really needed to pee. But my right calf was so sore that running to the bathroom on the other side of transition with my bike and bike shoes seemed like a nightmare. I’d rather hold it to the first bathroom opportunity on the bike route.
It took forever to get out of there but I think it was mainly because of the little time I had beforehand. Everything was not exactly as organized as I preferred on the nutrition side. Oh well. Still no rain!
Well, the good news was that I wasn’t cold! It felt amazing out and after a gu and some water, I was on my way. The bad news was that in addition to needing to pee, all that air I swallowed turning to gas and my stomach was so distended, I looked like a Teletubby. (Go back and look at the out of swim photo. Haha)
I mean forget how that looks for a second (though difficult)….when I got down into aero, my belly was hitting the tops of my legs and it hurt. Um. What? Talk about uncomfortable! I was freaking miserable. I was hoping I can just burp it all away. Normally I am like a camel…huge bladder. But now, with this gas in me, I was desperate for a rest stop. And the only thing I could remember from the Athlete meeting the day before was how there was absolutely NO bathroom “releases” allowed on the bike route outside of a portapotty. Not that I would do that, but I just didn't know WHENNNNNN the porta potty was coming. Ackkk!!! Sorry if it’s TMI but if you have ever participated in any type of race, GI issues are very common and often unspoken of in mixed company. In the racing community, there are no filters. LOL
15 Miles. I rode 15 miles in misery and my photos will say so.
Wow, what a difference a potty break can make. See?:
I was on fire after that. I felt strong and though windy, I managed my water and nutrition ok. I was so curious as to where the actual turn around was that it kept me distracted. I had little to no incident and I was grateful to get to the half way point unscathed.
The return was not as fast obviously but by mile 45, the wind kicked up and I was ready for it to be over. The following 10 miles were full on grit and determination. At mile 53 or so, I was cursing the wind and I was flat out pissed off. It. Would. Not. Stop. Gusting. UGHGHH. I couldn’t stop pedaling for a second. I had to push, push, push and also sacrificed drinking and eating for those 10 miles. My shoulders and neck were super strained…any loss of control for a split second meant I was going to eat it. Not today, I said.
I couldn’t help but think how much better those first 15 miles could’ve been without the stomach pain. I could’ve been done with this ride that much sooner!
The mile back into transition was so welcomed but as I started moving around on the bike and stretching things out, I realized that the run was going to be really hard. My muscles were super tense and ached from the wind battle. But I was done with that leg of the race which made me so very happy.
Still no rain but I was dreading the run…my legs didn’t feel right but I ate something, drank, grabbed my stuff and headed out.
Right from the beginning, I knew this was going to be where my mind was going to have finish this race. My shins were on FIRE. I kept telling myself that after the first mile or two, it would get better and I could focus on getting in the “zone”. I was running at shuffle pace. It was awful. My highlight in the first mile was seeing the beautiful Coach Jen Rulon sitting on the side waiting for her racing hubby to come by. She was in the middle of taking a photo which later I found out, my legs made into the frame. Haha.
The route was 3 loops through and around the Moody Gardens complex and all its access roads. If you look at the map, you could see how you’d get dizzy from all the turns. It seemed like a lifetime to finish that first loop. My shins got better by time I finished the 2nd mile but then my right knee started feeling like it was going to blow out.
It is a pain I am quite familiar with…caused by a tight IT Band and glutes that needed to activate. I stopped several times to stretch and it helped a little at a time.
Grateful to my new friend, Tina, who is seen in most of my run photos! She chatted with me and kept my mind off the pain. She even offered to rub my muscles out! She came from California to race this thing!
At some point, I was just ready to be done with this thing and just took a deep breath and pushed forward. I felt myself picking up the pace and the miles slowly started passing but I was pretty miserable.
Half way through the 2nd loop, I got the BIGGEST surprise. I heard my husband scream my name! “VALERIE!!!” and when I looked up, he was on the return side of the course with my mom, stepdad and brother, Anthony. My mom literally was doing jumping jacks. She was so happy to see me and was quite honestly, a full blown cheerleader out there. It was freaking AWESOME. I knew I’d have to travel another mile or 2 before I saw them on the return so I cranked it up to hurry back and see them. That was at mile 5.5 more or less.
About a mile later as I felt I was getting close to seeing them again, a huge rumble of thunder and cool gust of wind blew through. I remember saying “here it comes”. BOY, DID IT! The sky immediately opened up and just dropped everything it had in it.
How I wish there were some photos on what happened next.
The wind was whipping, the rain was coming crossways, the temperature was dropping and yet NO ONE STOPPED. Every one just kept running. There was lightning strikes in the distance and our crazy asses just kept running.
When I made a turn, the rain started pelting me in the face. It felt like ice pellets getting shot at us. I put my hand up to cover my face and pulled my visor down to cover my eyes. Full sheets of palm leaves were flying off the trees.
I felt an exhilarating rush and I am pretty sure that at this point, I was hauling ass.
The puddles quickly became ankle deep and I was fully determined to finish this thing. It never crossed my mind that that would not happen.
I figured it would blow over by the time I made the next turn and all would go on as expected. But as I rounded the corner, we were corralled into the cover of the parking garage.
Mind you, I made the big mistake of wearing my Garmin (which I had not even trained with) and left my Apple Watch at transition (which I DID train with). I had no earthly idea how I was doing at this point. Apparently, my watch was STILL in swim mode. UGH!
This was annoying but in retrospect, ignorance is bliss. I could not possibly get bent out of shape about a PR or anything for that matter if I had no data.
The parking garage scene was reminiscent of post hurricane chaos. No one has a way to communicate, no one is clear on what is happening and everyone is looking at each other in the eye, hoping they are the ones with answers.
The wind blew harder into the garage and finding walls to stand behind was the only way to try to stay warm. I tried to keep walking around to keep the blood moving but my left knee now decided that it was going to let me know that it too, was pissed off.
I walked towards the hotel through the garage in hopes that I’d find my family safely inside. I wondered if they got caught in that and where they were taking cover. I worried about my friend Ro. Where is she? Was she on the route already? Was she stuck on the bike in this mess? Yikes.
Before I could think of anything else, everyone started running out of the garage again and on to the course. I assumed we had the green light to do so since it was mass exodus but it was clear when I was back on the route that could not be possible. There was lightning still striking so we must be renegades. Again, I ran as fast as I could but my left knee was screaming. As I was by the waters edge, knowing that I was completing my 2nd loop, we all got pulled in to the Athlete’s Village tent.
Again, everyone looking around at each other, clueless. Rumors were floating around…suspended for an hour, cancelled…but one thing was certain: there was a shit ton of pizza. The minutes kept passing, no answers were coming and my left knee was barely allowing me to stand. I was starting to get cold so after what seemed like a lifetime, I ate two slices of pizza and found a foil cape to cover myself in.
Meanwhile, the volunteers where madly cleaning up all the merchandise and taking down the set ups. It was chaos in there for quite a while and it wasn’t until I walked to the other side and found a person with an “Ironman” identification on her jacket that we started getting confirmation that this thing was dead.
Our journey was over.
I had 4.5 miles short of completing the full 70.3 course. Short, again. Sigh.
The next couple of hours were logistical and just plain uncomfortable. I was cold, it was still raining, I was hungry, my knee hurt and I didn’t know where anyone was.
I turned in my timing chip in exchange for a medal and a hat and hobbled over to transition.
The area was a disaster. I was ringing out towels, trying to pack my stuff and found my phone’s screen cracked. Someone must have stepped on my bag with their cleat. My helmet was no where to be found.
I called my husband and gave him an update, they managed to go to the car as soon as they heard that big thunder. He said that when they got in the car, the sky opened up. They saw me run by in the craziness and said I had both my arms up. Lol.
Here’s a clip he took from the comfort of his warm car.
My friend Ro WAS on the bike and got picked up by a UHAUL truck and was dropped off at the hotel lobby. It took a long while but we finally got reunited, got our stuff and loaded up. We went back to the Tiki house to shower and warm up and head home.
This is the view of Offats Bayou as we drove out of town back to Houston.
If there’s anything I have learned from training for and participating in triathlon races is that you should always expect the unexpected. And also, it builds a hell of a lot of character.
I am in awe of the amount of grit and determination I saw on that course, including my own. These events make me realize that I am capable of so much more than I could ever have dreamed.
And so with that, I will finish this off with saying…I don’t know what comes next but IM70.3Texas is not the end for me.
Thanks for the wild ride, Galveston!
And thanks for the lessons. Next blog posts: 3 mistakes I won’t make again at IM70.3 race AND 3 victories I will attempt to repeat at IM70.3 race.
Stay tuned for those coming soon.
Did you race? Were you thinking of racing but pulled back because of the storm? Is this race one on your radar? Have you never done a triathlon but want to yet don’t know where to start?
Talk to me, let’s connect!