2013 Ironman Texas – 15 Years in the Making
Chris Avery / facebook.com/tridicted
Going into my first full Ironman, I can’t hide the fact that my confidence level was through the roof. I had very high expectations after having some very quality long training sessions, particularly in the pool and on the bike. With some freak things occurring in my body, namely a sprained back and rolled ankle two weeks prior to the race, I was once again nervous about the condition my body would be in for the swim start. Thanks always to Dr. Bates for managing to have me fully back to 100% by the time of the swim start. However this and my previous injuries with my left leg had left me lacking some of the major long runs that I should have accomplished prior to executing a full marathon at the end of a 140.6 mile Ironman. This aside, when I first set out to accomplish Ironman Texas, I was aiming for a sub-12 hour finish. After the last few months with coach, I knew that if I executed my swim and bike as I was expecting and if I could pull together a 4 hour marathon I had a very realistic chance at a sub-11 hour finish. While I didn’t share this with many, I was fully expecting that performance out of myself, in accordance with race conditions for the day; a point that I’m not really regaining sight of until afterwards! More on this later.
Arriving in Houston early Wednesday evening after my last practice swim in Centenary pool, I had the usual straight-out-of-comedy experience of being told my hotel reservation wasn’t good for that night. Finding another, I delayed fully unpacking until after getting checked in at the race expo the following day. Even getting checked in at the Expo on Thursday morning, the full excitement of Ironman week really didn’t hit me. I was still very calm, relaxed, and confident. The frequent question of “are you ready?” was thrown around near consistently, to which my reply always a simple “yes.” This usually gave most people an odd look as I didn’t give any further explanation other than yes I was ready. Considering if you know me, then you know I’m substantially longer winded than one word answers usually, being confident in myself just helped calm me even more. This staved off the other frequent question of “is this your first Ironman?” quite a bit. Again, helped to keep me very calm. Seeing my sports Chiro and ART provider, Doc Ryan Bates, who was part of the ART Ironman treatment team for this race, was a total God-send. Getting first class world-level treatment two days in a row before this was the vital final preparations my back and ankle needed; not to mention the rest of my body from the driving out to Houston!
Race Morning & Swim
My calmness quickly turned to panic on race morning, when after easily getting my fluids onto my bike and dropping off my morning gear bag and run special needs bag, I found the line for the bathrooms and looked on in horror at the number of people waiting. Everyone has their pre-race routines, and I have my nutrition dialed in and habits so that I’m able to, ahem, lose some body weight from carbo loading the hour before a race. 30 minutes in line left many athletes aggravated and asking family members and others not racing to wait until after the start of the race. Some obliged, but realizing that if I didn’t take care of businesses then I would have to at some point in the day, I elected to cut making the swim start close and do what I need to do. Finally getting to use a porta-john, I found myself sprinting to the water and literally being in the water for 10-20 seconds before the cannon went off. This left me in the far back of the swim start; not at all where I want to be when I know that I am a descent to slightly strong swimmer; having sessions where I was holding 1:40/100yrds over 2000 and 1000 yard swims (1.14 and .57 miles respectively). This pace, over a 2.4 mile swim would yield a swim time of 1 hour and 10 minutes; and this was before tapering. Knowing that in Tempe, AZ I managed an open water swim (with a wetsuit) of 24min/mile over a 1.6 mile swim, I expected the same result. However, considering that I ended up having to swim around a lot of people, I wasn’t too disappointed to see 1 hour 15 minutes on my watch when I finally got out of the water. I am disappointed after knowing I could have done better if I was in a better starting position, but I’m very happy that at the time, I realized there was nothing to be gained by worrying about it at the time. I’ve come a long way to be able to stick to my game plan when things don’t go right, and things never go perfect during any race.
T1 & Bike
Getting through transition in what I had expected for the amount of distance to cover, and accepting the time it was going to take to get on both calf compression sleeves, socks, and as much sunscreen as I could have lathered on me, I was out of the water and on to the bike right around five minutes. I got clipped into my bike easily, and very quickly knew it was going to be a good day on the bike. Knowing that there would be a tailwind for the first 55 miles or so, I expected that my 5 mile split times would be clocking in approximately 22-23 miles per hour. In doing this, I was able to keep my heart rate in the realm of where coach had told me to keep it; in the 130s for BPM. I was able to very easily settle into a pace and cadence that allowed me to work my heart right to 140, and then pushed it back down to 135-138; very happy place. My legs felt very light, and I felt like I was exerting almost no effort for the speeds I was traveling. Over the first 10 miles, I was passed quite a bit. Having the expectation that people would go out too hard on the bike and blow up when the course later swung around into the predicted 15mph headwind on the way back on the one loop, 112 mile course, it didn’t bother me in the least bit. I actually smiled every time someone went speeding past me; I just kept telling myself: “see you soon buddy.”
I’ve been saying ever since I got my LeMond Revolution bike trainer that it has made me a better climber. While this course had no real climbs to speak of, there were consistent rollers for a few parts. Seeing many people slowing down consistently on the up hills, I had no problems rolling right through them without any real impact on my heart rate or effort output. Over the first half of the course, in two cases people kept hanging out to my back left, and one in particular said something about checking behind me before passing people. Wanting to pull back beside her and explain to her politely to get the hell off my wheel or pass, I elected at about mile 40 to give my legs a quick test, and hammered down for about 30 seconds. Legs and machine responded flawlessly, and I easily accelerated to about 27 miles per hour on a flat stretch before blowing by a few people on the next up-roller. After putting some distance between myself and the person in question, I settled back into my normal rhythm, and my legs actually felt even better after said quick push. This did lead to one of my two hair raising moments on the bike. Anyone that rides knows there are moments where you either zone out at the wrong time, or inevitability have something happen on a ride where the spidy-senses get your adrenaline going for one reason or another. Eclipsing a roller, I hit one of the faster down hills on the course that leads through an intersection and into a longer gradual uphill-roller. From driving the course two days earlier, I knew the road conditions there were just fine to haul-ass, and at just my normal effort pace I quickly accelerated to about 38 miles per hour. This is when the first indication that wind gusts were going to pick up as the morning wore on hit me; at exactly one of those spidy-sense moments. Running a HED H3D rear wheel that loves to accelerate like a bat out of hell once over about 23.5 miles per hour, and a very lightweight HED Stinger 6 on the front, I’ve become very aware of the effects of cross winds and gusts on my setup, especially at high speeds. I relaxed my arms in my aero position a little, and managed to catch one of those early gusts. I quickly felt my bike lose just about all down force in the front just as the gust hit me from the side and could feel it get squirrely, quickly. Lesson here – don’t ever relax your position while hauling ass on a downhill! Just wait until you are back to normal speeds and efforts! After hanging on for dear life and shoving the front end into the ground as straight as I could, she calmed down a little and relaxed my then death-grip on my aero bars. One of those moments when you have committed to staying in your aero bars and can’t forgo the split second of added instability to get out to the side grips.
The rest of the bike remained uneventful as I sped past the bike special needs station, already carrying my planned 4 cliff bars and 6 gels to intake while on the bike. Uneventful until mile 75 when an impatient motorist passed a few people, including me, and then cut me off in order to make a right turn. However the problem was that the way he wanted to go was blocked off to keep cars off the course, so said driver couldn’t exit the course. Slamming on his breaks in front of me nearly sent me straight into the back end of his truck. Between breaking as best as I could, despite locking my back wheel, and veering as far towards one side of his bumper as possible, I’m still not sure how I didn’t contact the truck, but after relaxing my death grip (again) on my bars, I was able to maneuver around the truck and both give the impatient driver the evil eye and a few choice words that I probably shouldn’t have. I am sorry to admit that my patience isn’t just worn thin for motorists who have no consideration for cyclists, I have no patience remaining. (Let alone while there are signs EVERYWHERE that there is a race in progress and police blocking EVERY intersection). If anything, I hope it gave him the point that he was in the wrong place and was in no position to be an asshole to the multitude of cyclists around him. Strength in numbers can be a beautiful thing. Lesson here is that even during a full Ironman event that has signs everywhere alerting drives to an ongoing race and of road closures and to slow down, there are still inconsiderate individuals who need to be somewhere faster to the point that they will truck over cyclists. I said a prayer that said individual wouldn’t actually hurt anyone, because if he wasn’t out to do it, he was just very ignorant, unintelligent, or both…which probably was the case. Thinking so makes me feel better anyway 🙂
More uneventful (thankfully) miles tick away, and I make it to mile 90 which is the first time I really find myself thinking that my saddle contact area is starting to feel like I’ve been riding for a little over four and a quarter hours. I was amazed that my back was yet to get sore, and my neck was holding up remarkability well for only haven gotten out of the aero position for two or three times so far on a brief climb. Heart rate was staying low despite driving back into the headwinds on the way back, but looking at my moving forward pace I knew that I was on track to make the sub 5 hours and 30 minutes mark on the bike I was expecting myself to make, given the conditions. My middle split was the only sustained split under 20mph, and I had somewhat expected to lose a little to the 10 mile long section of chip seal that gave everyone the inconsistent roller-coaster ride that causes saddle to meet body repeatedly with the consistency of pennies in a dryer. It will always be amazing to me the effects of poor road conditions on forward velocity. I’d rather ride in a head wind any day than ride a poorly kept road. Once the chipseal segment was finally over, and a large collective sigh was visible from all in sight, my natural pace with the lower heart rate picked back up and was able to sustain just over 20mph even into the 15mph winds which were reported as gusting up to 20mph. A very good day on the bike; finishing the 112 mile ride in 5:25, putting me sliding out of my shoes and handing my bike off to a volunteer in transition at the 6:45 mark into the day.
I usually have no problems taking care of business on the bike when it comes to offloading the massive amount of fluids I was in taking, but for some reason today I was unable to. Grabbing my transition bag, I swung into a porta-john, and managed to start said offloading process while getting my helmet and bike gloves off. I am fully convinced the majority of the 5 minutes I spent in T2 was urinating, as I was taking in about a bottle and a half of water and Ironman perform per hour on the bike. Once in the actual transition tent, I threw my bike shoes in my transition bag, quickly slid into my Asics DS Racer 9s, and was getting covered in more sunscreen by volunteers. Finishing this process, I was out of transition by the 6:52 mark.
Facing the Texas Heat Devil
Taking a trip into my mental thinking and game plan for the race, I knew that if I was starting the marathon any time before the 7 hour mark and had kept my heart rate down and effort low on the bike, I had a better opportunity than not to finish the marathon before the overall 11 hour mark of the race. I would have bet the house then and there that this would have happened. I was flying out of transition, and after a minute was able to finally remind myself to slow down. At the time, when I slowed to just under a 9 min/mile pace, and my legs had already worked out the transition wobbles before even leaving transition, I felt amazing. In training, on my long weekend bricks I was routinely coming off the bike at a 9min/mile pace, and speeding up to an 8min/mile pace for mile 2, and sub 8min/mile following that. Knowing that holding sub-8 min/mile for any length of time in the first half of the marathon was out of the question to stave off a blow-up, I didn’t think I would have any problems holding 9 min miles to start off. Turns out I was wrong for one real simple reason: a heat index of 102. Having so much wind over me during the bike was keeping me nice and cool, and I was able to take in all my planed nutrition on the bike; 4 cliff bars and 6 gels. Add in about a bottle of Ironman perform and some water every 10 miles, and I had the calories I needed. However, once I no longer had the cooling effect of winds, I couldn’t get down a single gel anymore without hacking it back up. I was in real danger of puking out my liquids, and I knew if that happened I’d be in real trouble with the heat. So after trying twice to get down part of a solid or gel, and failing, I made the decision to see how far I could get on the energy I had. Looking back on it, right then I wish I had immediately slowed down to 10min/mile, but I couldn’t make that decision then. I was able to clip along over the first 9 miles with a low 9min/mile pace. However pushing onto the second lap of the three loop course, is when I felt my quads and core cramp hard. Knowing that I had just hit the limit of my energy reserves, I decided to walk to the next aid station and try to take on what I could. Getting down Ironman perform and water, I tried to get back to running, however this simply wasn’t enough and I found myself quickly back to walking.
If I said my mental state was anywhere other than totally down on myself, I would be lying. Honestly at the time I couldn’t figure out why I was having problems taking on nutrition and for a while I really didn’t feel the effects of the heat until I actually thought about what was going on. This is when I really began to notice the numbers of others walking as well. I failed to realize that even on the first lap of the run, people were walking. The heat was clearly affecting people, and it is amazing that so many could push through the 102 degree heat index on the entire run. It quickly became a struggle to make it to the next aid station, and at one point while crossing over a bridge with water on both sides, I actually turned to someone next to me and asked if the bridge was moving back and forth. Their surprised silent response let me know that I was indeed, in some trouble. At the next aid station I lost count of how many cups of water and ice I poured over my head, and how much water I started drinking. I tried to drink more Ironman perform and coke, however water was the only thing that was going down easy. I was able to get the world to stop moving (at least in relation to the norm) and got back to a light jog. I was able to trudge my way to mile 16, where for the second time, and like a beacon of awesomeness drawing me in, I found my fellow triathlete and epic awesome dude, Jeremy Brown. Jeremy out of the awesomeness of his own being, stood out on that run course for 6 hours cheering people on in a way that few others did that day. Armed solely with a speedo, a sign reading “smile or I’ll drop the sign,’ and the arm strength required to hold the sign in front of his speedo, his energy, smile, antics, and one (1) 12-oz can of Red Bull brought me back from the great beyond. Having red plenty of literature documenting the pros and cons of energy drinks on endurance work outs, I don’t care if it was a placebo effect, but it did give me wings. It, and the motivation of Jeremy and other crazy spectators on the course that day around the downtown Woodlands. That gave me a solid 3 miles of running, and at that point, I sure didn’t care what got me running and kept me moving forward. Bonking at mile 9 on a Half Ironman run isn’t so bad, as pushing through 4 more miles is one thing. Knowing you have 17 miles to go…I could repeat what was going through my head, but the classification of this report would turn to a level that would make ‘Rated R’ look like Thomas the Tank Engine.
Crazy Awesome Epic Wild Spectacular Go Nuts Cheerleaders
This is a good point to make mention of those devout individuals that aren’t just crazy enough to be a part of Ironman, but crazy enough to stand out on the heat to motivate those participating. Mega shout out to the ‘under-the-bridge’ gang right after coming out of or passing by T2. Their epic dance party, costumes and antics – awesome. Pure, unadulterated energy. Anyone that ran that day knows who I’m talking about. Group 2 – a group chicks and guys dressed as cheerleaders. It wouldn’t be until after finishing that I learned one of them was a pro triathlete, and she had the craziest energy of them all. Going wild for every single person going by like they were the only person racing was so freaking cool. Not to mention she gave the hardest good-games of anyone on the course!
Wearing the Eagle
The RWB aid station tent – wearing an RWB kit for the first time during a race, I finally truly understand what wearing the Eagle means to me. I turned to triathlon to get away from the military when I could, and find some semblance of normality and just being one of the crowd. However wearing the Eagle makes you stand out. For a while, I just didn’t want to do this because I felt like I was saying, “look at me!” But it isn’t about that. It took me awhile to realize I wasn’t wearing the Eagle to say “I’m in the military, I’m a veteran!” but I was wearing it for those that can’t anymore. Those that can’t because they aren’t here, or were rendered physically unable in the service. For those that go silent with problems, and there are plenty that do. Without explaining more, I went silent with problems for a long time, and I almost let it drag my life down. It took what I will always consider as a higher force guiding my life in a different direction to finally deal with those problems, and having support agencies around that don’t care who the person that needs help, or why a person needs help, to get my back on my feet. RWB is an avenue where those needing help can find those who have or still need help from others like themselves. Awareness is something that for so long I considered a byproduct of addressing a problem, not addressing the problem directly by making people aware. Consider my opinion on the matter changed, and I am so proud to wear my Eagle kit.
That all being said, a very special thank you to everyone at the RWB tent and aid station. Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂
I’ll make this short. My favorites:
-Jeremy Brown in a speedo – “Smile or I’ll Drop the Sign”
-“If this were easy, it would be called your mom”
-“HTFU. You are not almost done.”
-“Oh, you’ve run 13 miles so far? That is cute.”
-“Chuck Norris never did an Ironman.”
-“Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, when you’re an Ironman, then call me maybe!”
Pushing Through to Becoming an Ironman
I honestly can’t say how I completed a lot of the middle miles of that marathon. I can’t say because I don’t remember how I pushed through them. I go to some places mentally during especially tough workouts, and I think of that as one of my greatest abilities. Finally being in a race where I truly didn’t care about my physical state so long as I got across that finish line as fast as possible, I could allow myself to go to those mental places and I know that helped a lot of the miles tick by. I do know that when I finally got my butt back around on lap three to where Jeremy Brown was, that lit a fire under my ass. For a lot of the marathon, I kept trying to do mental math regarding what I needed to do to finish the marathon by what time. While I struggled to do simple math, what I did was distract me sometimes from what was going on with my physically. With three miles left, I did the best I could to get running, and keep the legs moving. When I saw Jeremy and the building crowds closer to the waterway in the Woodlands and the finish line, my brain and body went on auto-pilot. I didn’t have a clue as to my pace; I didn’t have a clue to what my legs were feeling; I didn’t feel anything except the energy of the crowd, and the goose bumps and tingly sensation you get over your whole body when something truly life changing is about to happen. Emotions were hard to keep in check as I passed by mile marker 24 and 25. Finally approaching the point where signs red “Laps 2+3 Turn Left; Finish Turn Right,” I really did start to lose control of my emotions. When people next to me turning on to another lap started yelling “congrats!” all I could do was turn around and yell back “stay strong!” My time doing this was short, as I was quickly sucked up by the emotions of the finishing chute. Mr. Tony Bouso, a now four time Ironman and one who has forgotten more in this sport than I even know, said to enjoy the time in the finishing chute, because it is brief and you’ll chase that feeling the rest of your life. He was right. I remember recalling those words when I entered the chute, and for the first time in my short trilife, going fast meant nothing to me. I high-fived every kid, parent, or random person that held their hands out that I could in between trying to hold in my emotions. I didn’t care about the 3 or 4 people that passed me while I was doing this, and normally I’m one to catch as many as I can prior to any finish line. I remember trying to savor it as much as I could. I don’t remember yelling out every emotion and ounce of energy I had left before crossing the finish line. I don’t even remember my name being called as I approached the finish with those famous four words that took blood from bike crashes and injuries, sweat beyond measure, and tears of uncontrollable emotion, in order to associate with my name: “Chris Avery, you are an Ironman.” I don’t remember the name of the angel who caught me after I crossed the finish line and kept me from falling over. I vaguely remember the best finisher’s medal I’ve ever gotten being place around my neck. Despite remembering so little, I’m blessed to be able to relive those moments that I worked so hard, for so long for, all thanks to Dr. Ryan Bates and his wife Erin. For months, they have held me together at their ART, or Active Release Technique, office in Shreveport, LA. I would not have made it through the rigorous months of training without them, and I wouldn’t be an Ironman today without them. If you ever have any physical ailments that you’ve thought to yourself, “hey, life would be so much better if ______ didn’t hurt,” find an ART provider and start leading a more pain-free life. However, that day, Ryan and Erin were my Ironman support team. Ryan filmed my finish and even interviewed me after finally getting my attention! I felt like I had just won the whole event. If becoming an Ironman wasn’t an amazing enough experience, having Ryan and Erin there made it more special than I can describe; I will always be thankful to them for this. Ryan put his arm around me, and helped me to the medical tent, where more amazing volunteers took care of me, massaged my legs so I could actually move again, and also confirmed the fact I actually was flirting with not crossing the finish line during the run. My blood pressure was 105/95, and my body temperature was 94.8 degrees; and I was doing well compared to many around me in the medical tent. The heat had gotten to many that day; many who have been around the sport a lot longer than I.
Riding the High to Midnight
After quite some time and finally getting some resemblance of awareness back, all thanks to a wonderful physical therapist and an incredibly kind nurse from Houston, I left the medical tent, and wandered around the Ironman Village and finish area for a little bit, finally taking it all in at a speed that wasn’t running on emotions at a million miles an hour. Continuing to get my wits about me, I eventually got the strength to make my way back to my car, and make the few mile drive to a friend’s hotel, of which who was kind enough to allow me to shower and change so that I could go pick up my gear and enjoy the rest of the event without having to make the much longer drive to my own hotel. I was able to retrieve my bike from transition and able to thank so many volunteers along the way who were still out on course!!!
On the way back to putting my bike in my car, I came across the group of cheerleaders who were out on the run course for most of the day! This is when I learned one of them was a professional triathlete herself, and even though I had changed out of my RWB kit, she recognized me and ran up to me! Giving me a huge hug, she wanted to hear about my day and was a total ball of energy! Later on in the night when I was finally getting some food (PIZZA! YUM!), another finisher walked by where I was eating, and I said congratulations! She said the same back and then started asking me all about my day. It wasn’t until she had gotten all sorts of funny stories about my day out of me, and gave me a big hug and again saying congratulations, that I saw the ‘P’ on her left calf signifying her professional status as she walked away. If you can show me one other sport where professionals care more about the amateurs next to them than they do about themselves, I’ll applaud you. I can’t find the words to say how cool these experiences were.
Finishing off as much pizza as I could enjoy and a nice cold beer, I made my way to a section of the finishing chute and joined in the total epic madness that was the final hour. As the finishing clock clicked passed 16 hours, and ever closer to the 17 hour/midnight official finish time of the race, the finishing chute grew in energy, craziness and awesomeness. People were all together banging on the barricades lining the finish, and you could see the metal stanchions covered in sponsor signs all moving back and for together as people banged on them in rhythm to the music blaring at the finish. I had watched live feeds of Ironman finishes up until midnight, but they don’t even being to compare to what it is like to be there. The most moving movement of my night was watching two amazing ladies turn the final corner of the finishing cute and run hand in hand carrying an American flag, make history. Caroline Gaynor and Rachel Weeks did something no one else that day: completed the 140.6 mile Ironman journey while tethered together. Rachel became the first Ironman with Usher Syndrome, which impairs both her hearing and her vision, with the help of her guiding athlete, Caroline. If you can imagine what I’m trying to describe regarding becoming an Ironman, I want you to try to even fathom doing this while tied to another person. I’ll say this again: TIED to another person!!! Seeing these two cross the finish line with moments to spare for their finish to be official meant as much to me as becoming an Ironman myself. My reiteration of their story will not do theirs justice, and if you’ve red this far, if you want to read a real race report, please go to:
This is an amazing story about the journey of these two unbelievable ladies. I’m proud to wear the Eagle with them, and be called an Ironman next to them.
As the final few moments of the night ticked up until the finishing clock red 17 hours, marking midnight and the official end of the race, all I could feel was sadness that it was over. And if you can imagine this: what made me quickly lose my feeling of sadness was that I will do it again. Knowing that my next race (Boulder 70.3, a half Ironman distance race in August) is already booked, I took one last look at that Ironman finish line before the race officials began to take everything down. With that last look and finally walking away, I said out loud to myself, “I’ll be seeing you again.”
What It All Still Means
Looking at my medal, reading each segment of the race which is imprinted in the legs of the M which is stamped in the middle of it, I can literally see my race in it. The miles, the splits, the struggles, the breakdowns, the pickups, and when you put it all together, the happiest day of my life.
And 15 years later after giving a 30 minute presentation on the history of Ironman during a summer college health class before my sophomore year of high school, I was a first time Ironman.
Ironman – I’ll be seeing you again.
It took 11 days to mark down Ironman Cozumel 2014 for the next one 🙂