Monday, July 4, 2011

Ironman Texas 2011 - The Swim

The nice thing about racing my third iron distance race was knowing what to expect … and knowing that despite the fact that my training volume was much lower this training cycle, that I have the capacity to finish the race.

My number one worry going into a race is having a catastrophic mechanical issue or wreck that prevents me from continuing the race. I don’t stress too much about race times – the day will unfold how it will unfold – so I try to put the things that are out of my control (mechanicals, wind, weather) out of my mind.

Race morning is fairly simple when racing long because you have already turned in all of your gear and the only race gear that you have to remember is your bike nutrition … well that and trislide and sunscreen and breakfast and your swim stuff and timing chip… but still, far less stuff to remember than a normal race day.

We chose to stay at home, a short 45 minute easy drive from the Woodlands. We woke up around 3:45 am, got dressed, made breakfast (toast with peanut butter) and hit the road by 4:30 am. My Iron Sherpa hubby and our good friend Ryan were going to be my primary race crew for the day. My children and parents would be joining them much later in the day to watch the finish.


We arrived in the Woodlands around 5:30 am, found parking and made it to transition to drop off my bike nutrition before walking the mile or so to the swim start. It was a pretty laid back morning and I enjoyed talking to lots of different people on the walk to the swim start. Once at the swim start, I got body marked and then put on my TYR Torque. The race was not wetsuit legal for those competing for AG awards and Kona slots. I knew I had no shot at either, but chose to race without my wetsuit anyhow so that I would see how I fared against the best.

Support Crew - Check out those shirts!

My Iron Sherpa
I always get teary-eyed before saying goodbye to Douglas before big races and this race was no exception. I have no idea why, but it happens every time! After one last quick kiss, I got into the “no wetsuit” corral and started making my way into the water. I finally made it into the water with a couple of minutes to spare before the gun and was surrounded by athletes. I really had no place to go to get away from people (in Florida I started a bit further down the beach to avoid the washing machine) – and there was still a decent line of people trying to get into the water.

Swim Entry Line
At the Gun
When the gun went off it was mayhem. Bodies everywhere. It was the definition of the washing machine effect and it was by far the most difficult mass start swim I have done (Redman Full Aqua Bike, IMFL, Rev3 Cedar Point, IMTX). It took about 15 minutes to find clear water – and for the rest of the race it was a constant battle to stay in clear water. It was as if we all had magnets on that were attracted to each other and we wanted to swim in pods to beat the crap out of each other rather than swim a couple of feet in any other direction in clear water. I got slapped and kicked and had my goggles knocked off my face once, but that is not so bad considering the chaos.

I mentally broke the swim into three parts – the first segment was the “out” to the turnaround buoy, the second segment was the “back” which took us back towards the bridge where we started and the turn into the canal and the third segment was the canal itself. Once in the canal, it was really neat to see spectators on both sides – until I noticed one guy basically walking next to his swimmer. I’m not sure why this annoyed me other than every time I breathed to that side he was there and it felt like I was not going anywhere!

I really try to enjoy the swim even though it is my weakest of the three sports because it just passes so quickly and before I know it I will be spending hours and hours and hours on my bike. When I get tired or frustrated during any part of the race I will often think of people who would love to be where I am at that given moment and for health or other reasons they cannot train for or race an Ironman – and that helps get me through. So as I approach the swim exit I try to remember one last time to embrace and enjoy the day.

As soon as I hit the stairs I got a huge smile on my face – one leg down, two to go! I nearly lost my balance as I started to run for the wetsuit strippers. I opted to have them help me pull off my Torque so that I wouldn’t end up struggling with it in the change tent.

With the Torque off, I ran towards the transition bags and passed the time clock, the time showed it was less than 1:30 into the race. I was pretty happy with what I saw on the clock, especially since I had not been swimming the yardage I had for previous races leading up to IMTX – think, once a week in the pool, maybe. I ran through the sea of bags to the 200s and immediately saw my bag its neon green duct tape on it, grabbed it and was off to change for the bike. I saw Doug at this point and it is always such a relief to me to see him – for one, I am happy he knows that I am safe (I always worry he is going to miss me) and two, it is just a big mental boost to see him.

Grabbing my transition bag
There was an empty seat on the bench outside of transition and I opted to sit there rather than in the dark change tent. I only had to put on my socks, shoes, helmet, sunglasses and gloves and to grab my bike nutrition, so it was a fairly simple transition. I did panic for one moment because it took a couple of looks in my bag to find my second bike shoe, but it was just for a moment. I threw my swim gear into the bag and was off to grab my bike.

Literally, millions of dollars worth of bikes in transition

My only real complaint from a race perspective is that my bike was at the far end of the rack so I had to run to the end of the rack to get it and then back to the middle to exit, so theoretically someone in my age group racked closer to the middle had an advantage. I guess when I am ready to fight for a slot to Kona these little differences will be a much bigger deal :)

The nice thing about being on the end of the rack it that it was also close to the fence so I got to see Doug and Ryan for a moment while I grabbed my bike before running to the bike exit. I saw Doug running towards the bike mount line just as I was mounting my bike (spectating is hard work!), and then I was off.

Swim Time: 01:27:56
100M Pace: 2:18
Overall Place: 1230 / 2156
Gender Place: 256 / 537
Division Place: 46 / 78

T1 Time: 00:05:02
Overall Place: 449 / 2156
Gender Place: 129 / 537
Division Place: 23 / 78


Matthew Smith said...

That "Washing Machine" looked terrible! I don't think I could have done it.

Ironman By Thirty said...

Congrats on the swim! I saw the course map on Jeff's blog and that was the weirdest swim course I had ever seen. It looked like someone could almost get lost - that is if there wasn't 2000 other people guiding the way.


Call me "different" but I found the swim "typical"... but I was completely against the shore line..

"Embrace and enjoy the day"... I read that in a book once..

We were right there together in T1

Jeff - DangleTheCarrot said...

Nice write up Anne!

One thing I learned during the swim is if you start in the middle of the pack you will finish in the middle of the pack, despite your swim ability (good or bad). Just no way out front or back? My ribs are still a little sore from getting slammed during the swim.