The first time I ever went to Austin, Texas was in 2009 to run in the Austin Marathon. This was the first race after my son Asher was born that both Shannon and I traveled together to race. It was a huge surprise – I always thought Texas would be flat… not so. I started the full marathon that year as usual, running just under 6 minute per mile pace, and eventually hit about mile 20, completely drained by all of the rolling hills. I actually had to walk a few of the last hills, but still managed to finish well, placing 6th with a time of 2:38. I was in 4th place until mile 24, and I crashed and burned. The biggest takeaway was that I greatly underestimated the hills that race and I paid for it in the end.
This past weekend, I returned to Austin again to run in the Ironman Austin 70.3 race and I had a relatively similar experience to previously. This was intended to be a tune up race prior to Ironman Cozumel next month, only it really turned into a long training day as this past month has been very difficult to get in the time to prepare. Between a very busy stretch of work with long hours and stress, and the seemingly endless string of being sick since Ironman Louisville, I really did not feel ready as I lined up before the start of the swim.
The Swim Course just before sunrise
Shannon and I had arrived in Austin the night before the race. We quickly checked in our bikes, and basically only had time to get her a rental wetsuit, eat, and then go straight to the hotel. When we dropped off our bikes, the first transition was interesting and certainly a first. All the volunteers continuously reminded everyone to carry their bikes due to the “stickle burrs” on the ground for fear of puncturing your tires. I can attest that these darn things are not pleasant when you step on them with bare feet, but as directed, I always carried my bike for fear of blowing a tire. On the morning of the race, I helped Shannon set up her bike and then I waited with her next to the pro bike racks, watching all of the age groupers try to use the pro-only port-a-potties and the poor volunteer who was given the awful job of policing the facilities. But, since she was racing in the professional field, and thus started an hour and 20 minutes before my wave entered, I spent most of the morning waiting by myself for my race to start. The worst part of this was that I had to turn in my morning clothes bag shortly after she started so I had to wait around for an hour in my race suit. It didn’t help that I happened to be one of the few without a wetsuit. Lets just say that after an hour of standing in high 60s without much clothes on, I started the race shivering cold.
I’m not sure, but I suspect this had to be one of the half ironman branded races with one of the highest proportion of first timers registered. I say that because, the swim seemed pure chaos with tons of traffic, the bike course was very congested with lots of people not necessarily following the standard bike rules of the road – like riding on the right, riding side by side talking with other riders, and there seemed to be an overall lack of awareness for other riders. Combined with the rough roads, high winds (all of which seemed to be head on), and the rapidly rising temperature, my swim and bike were much slower than normal.
Going back to my previous misconceptions of the terrain of Austin, TX, I again underestimated the Texas hill country. I kept thinking to myself, “how do they keep finding these hills and when do we get to go down?” I waited all morning for the pancake flat segments where I was really going to be able to take off, – those sections were there, they just all had strong headwinds so you were still working! Although, within my age group, I road fairly well, and considering I’ve only ridden my bike outside once since Ironman Louisville and I took 5 days off 2 weeks ago because I was sick, my bike split was fairly respectable.
By the time the bike ended, the outside temp had gone from 65 to 88. There was no shade on the run, and once again, there was no flat stretch over 100 meters. The run is typically my strength, and I knew who the one person was in front of me, so I started the run trying to push hard to close that gap. This was the first race that I wore a heart rate monitor and consistently tried to check it. I guess it is a sign that I am in shape, because my initial goal was to run under control with my heart rate in the 150s. I pushed low 170s for the entirety of the run since I was trying to catch the guy in first place. I made up a few minutes, but wasn’t able to seal the deal. I was able to maintain an even pace for each lap of the 3 lap run, and actually my paced slightly improved towards the end. My final time of 4:30 and change was good enough for 28th overall and 2nd in the Male 30-34 age group. I was worried I’d blow up pushing my heart rate that high, but I was able to sustain that effort – which is a good thing.
As soon as I was able to, Shannon and I checked our bikes out of transition, headed to consume as much Tex-Mex as capable, and we were out of town and headed back to Lexington. Overall, I am very pleased with my race. Although my time wasn’t as fast as I have completed previously, I ran within 2 minutes of my half marathon pr off the bike, and considering the conditions of the course and my body, I think I am right on track. More importantly, I have recovered very quickly. I am already back on the bike, and I ran a 16 miler this morning. Ironman Cozumel is just under 5 weeks away. Clearly, I need to spend some more time in the pool and get on my bike outside so as much as it pains me to think about it – let the 100 mile bike rides resume!
Final stretch of the Half Marathon
I also need to solid plan to prevent the sunburns in Mexico…cause the one I got in Texas was unfortunately a fairly decent warmup.
This was only 2 1/2 hours on the bike