8:26:20 – The Norwegian Ironman record. After trying and failing to beat that time more times than I remember I knew Ironman Texas was occasion to do it. The times last year was crazy fast, even if you add the extra 5km on the bike, which was missing. Matt Hanson did 7:39 and 11 guys in total got under 8 hours. 8:26 should be easy, a walk in the (Northshore) Park. Well, it turned out to be a bigger challenge than I thought.
Swimming without a wetsuit in fresh water is always slower. The good swimmers lose close to nothing, while the mediocre swimmers, like me, lose quite a bit. I knew it and was prepared for it. I even went thru the start list to see who of the “poor” swimmer and good bikers I could hang on. My best choice was Michael Weiss, or Mitchy as he is called. Starting before the sunrise with 40 guys with similar swim caps it turned out to harder to find Mitchy in the water start than planned. I ended up just being randomly placed at the second line and hoping for the best as the gun went off.
The start was chaotic as usual with hand, feet and white water surrounding me everywhere. I kept cool and focused on good breathing and not losing my technique. The field quickly strung out and the feet I was behind lost the group in front and faded away. The group ahead was maybe 5 meters in front of me, which sounds like nothing, but at the pace, the swim starts at it is nearly impossible to gap. One minute into the swim and I was on my own.
It pretty much stayed that way until the first turning buoy at 1350m. Then I saw a group in front of me and by counting my strokes, which was 27, I estimated that I was roughly 20 seconds behind. That is solid, but since they had not gotten further ahead by that time I figured out that I could catch them. After a bit more than 2000 meters I did and could relax a bit more.
Going into the channel we got caught by the first PRO females and the pace really increased. I was not focused enough so I actually lost the group, completely unnecessary. Out of the water, my time was 59:43 and behind every good cyclist in the field. When I can go into my 50m pool any day and swim 3800m relatively comfortable on 57 minutes, the time surely was worse than I hoped for.
I had no clue how far I was behind anyone. My only reasonable choice was to start hard without going past my limits. Focus on pushing steady power, aerodynamics and patience. It paid off, and I quickly started passing other pros, some of them female pros, but still. After a while, I caught Matt Russell, a very good rider and runner. I stayed behind for a short while before passing. I felt good and figured out that my aerodynamics was superb as I was flying without putting huge force on the pedals. My average watts were roughly 285 at that point, 4,2w/kg, so slightly above my sustainable IM power but nothing that would mean disaster for the rest of the race.
The conditions were tough wind strong headwind going south. Of course, going back north after the turnaround was nice when the wind pushed us at 50km/h at just over 200 watts. About 170km of the bike course in Ironman Texas is on a highway with one long stretch done twice. It’s just as «exciting» as it sounds. Personally, I did not care because I looked as much down in the tarmac as I dared in regards to safety. The lower the better.
When Matt Russell decided to go up in front on the second lap it suited me perfectly. It saves me 10-20 watts being in the draft-legal distance and saves me the “work” of navigating thru the hundreds of age gropers sharing the lane with us at this point. It can be messy as some people are all over the road, especially as the wind was strong. Multiple times I had to cross over to the opposite lane, which had cyclist coming against us. It’s not cool to do it and can give a DQ, but I often found it to be the better option than crashing into AG-er who suddenly pulls out in front of you. Matt was pulling me and a few others before we overtook a trio, including Mauricio Mendez, the fast Mexican who beat me in Patagonman. Then we ended up being around seven, but Matt always in front. I felt a bit bad for him and considered taking more of the burden.
My goal was not to finish as high as possible, but as fast as possible. For that reason, I did not try to surge in order to drop other riders but to work together. In my head, I was also crystal clear that my goal with the bike leg was to enter T2 in as good run shape as possible. With the heat really starting to take effect I knew that I had to focus on keeping my aero position tight, staying well hydrated and follow my nutrition plan.
I also had an issue I tried to sort out. I had really needed to pie. That is one of my weaknesses, peeing while riding. Usually, I need to stop pedalling and get up from my seat and the only time you can do that without losing much time is in long steep downhills. Norseman has many of those. Ironman Texas has none. I unsuccessfully tried to pie for an hour and it nearly started to be painful. I found my rescue in an aid station.
The pace for the whole group slows down we are getting bottles. In one of them, I stopped pedalling and magic happened. It is absurd how life can put you in a situation where peeing in your pants gives you the best feeling ever. With that issue out of the way and with plenty of water to rinse the suit, I was ready for the last part of the bike. After getting of the highway it gets more technical towards T2, which was highly appreciated as it breaks the monotony, not mentally and physically. Off the bike in a time of 4:20, much slower than I hoped for, but the windy conditions made it tougher.
11:50 was the time when I started running and my total time to that point was 5 hours and 25 minutes. It meant that I had to run a 3-hour marathon at most to reach my time goal of sub 8:26. I knew that would not be easy peasy under mild conditions. Now it was already around 28-29 degrees with the sun straight up ready to heat up even more. After 5km I was ready to give up my time goal. I was uncomfortably hot felt like I was on my limit already. It was 37km left. At that time I averaged around 3:55min/km pace, which is much higher than needed for a 3-hour marathon. It’s also unrealistically high in that temperature.
I eased back to 4:05-4:15min/km varied by the terrain. I also put ice in my trisuit on every aid station that offered it. I had a wet sponge in my neck and kept on drinking a lot of water. Each 20min I took one gel and one salt tablet. It did not make the run easy, nothing does. It did, however, shifts my focus to do the things that increase my chance of maintaining a good pace.
When racing in heat avoiding the hard efforts are much more important as your body are nearly unable to bring down the heat without stopping. The run course in Texas is beautiful 14km lap, and in contrast to the highway, it is highly varied and entertaining. Music, people, paths shadowed by trees (thank God for that) and beautiful views of Lake Woodlands.
The first lap still felt like forever, but the second one went better than expected. By then I calculated that I could drop my pace to 4:40min/km and still make it. I was pretty confident that I was able to hold a faster pace than that. Luckily I was correct, but the time seemed like it had stopped again, with each kilometre feeling like at least two. I was getting really nauseous and wanted to stop eating.
From experience, I know that good feeling of not eating would then be replaced by hitting the wall soon after. My six gels, which I bring along from T2, was eaten and I went for what Macca calls the best sports drink in the world, Coke. I did not want that either but knew it would probably do better for my performance than not drinking it. Just having sugar in your mouth gives you body signals that precious carbs are on the way. The body can relief the extra carbs it already has stored for emergencies and for that reason only a taste of sugar can give you a highly needed energy boost.
Turning right to the finish line, instead of left to another lap around the course was a truly great feeling. I had no competitors in reaching distance in front and no one who could catch me from behind. The Norwegian Ironman record was mine with a decent margin and I could just soak up the atmosphere, giving out high-five before giving a final push to sprint across the finish line. 8:20:46. 11thoverall and only 11 minutes from a Kona slot (it was 4 slots for male PRO and Starky, who came third had already a slot).
Honestly, the time was considerably slower than I expected, but the overall result was much better. The swim conditions did not suit me and I performed relatively poor even with that in consideration. The air temperature was definitely in my favour not compared to my more heat acclimatized competitors. My performance was decent. Not a bad performance, but not my A-game. Mediocre is a more suited word.
My swim time was 9 minutes slower than Mauricio. In Patagonman, the same distance in December last year with a wetsuit I was 3 minutes and 20 sec slower. There is no reason why my relative performance between a non-wetsuit and a wetsuit swim should be that big. I am 100 % certain that I can reduce that gap and increase my overall swim pace. I am equally certain that I can improve my aerodynamic on the bike and run at least a 2:45 marathon (in colder conditions). Just give me some time and I will show you 😉
Thanks to everyone who followed the race and cheered me on, and gave those nice comments and congratulations 🙂