Saturday, July 7, 2012
The Woodlands, TX. May 19, 2012
About 12 hours after finishing Ironman St. George (affectionately referred to as “my flogging in the desert”) I was back home in San Francisco staring at the screen on Ironman.com where I kept reading the words again and again...
“General Entry for the 2012 Ironman Texas is SOLD OUT. Ironman Foundation spots are still available! CLICK HERE to register via the Ironman Foundation.”
My sane-self says, “$1300 sure seems like a lot of money for an entry fee.”
My obsessed self counters, “But you know, you ARE going to be in Houston on that day anyway.” The insanity continued, “And it isn’t like you really ran the whole marathon in St. George, so really you are perfectly capable of having a better day in less than two weeks. This would also be the perfect training day for Ironman France.”
My sane-self says, “Perfect training day for France...what...how?!?!?”
My obsessed self interjects. DO IT! DO IT NOW! Quickly...before the sane one intervenes!”
And just like that, I was registered. Hardly time for a recovery ride before I would re-pack the bike and head for Texas.
My friend Henry lives in Houston and we have raced many Ironman events together. I called to let him know I was racing. He was thrilled.
I asked if his friend Josh was racing as well.
Henry said, “No, Josh never signed up. But he just did the New Orleans 70.3. In fact, we did the whole race together, start to finish. It was a blast! It was his first triathlon. But, actually they cancelled the swim, so he stall hasn’t done a big event swim yet. I think he is going to do Texas next year, but not this year.”
I said, “Well great...maybe you and I can do Ironman Texas together. It would be great if we could cross the line at the same time for once.”
Henry said, “I’m in!”
About an hour later Henry called back. He said “So, I told Josh that you said he was a “loser” since he didn’t sign up for Texas. He just got on his computer and signed up for a community fund slot! So I guess the three of us are doing it together!”
I immediately felt terribly guilty.
But I was suddenly really looking forward to a laid back race where the three of us would just spend the day together working up a Texas-sized sweat.
Having just finished Ironman St. George, and with Ironman France 3 weeks away, my race plan and priorities were simple...
1. Don’t get injured.
3. Have a really fun time.
At 5:00am I quietly sneaked through the front door of my sister’s house and in to the dark humidity that is the early Houston morning. I climbed into Henry’s truck and bid good morning to both Henry and Josh.
Before I knew it we were in transition inflating tires, filling aerodrink bottles and building anxiety.
The sun rose as we walked the mile or so to the swim start. We discussed strategy.
“Ok. Let’s just all stay together through the swim, and then we can head out on the bike course together.”
The water in Lake Woodlands was much warmer than last year, so no wetsuit. The organizers were allowing donning of rubber, but only with the stipulations that they start 10 minutes later than the rest of the field and be disqualified from Kona slots and age-group awards.
About 1-minute before the cannon went off, the three of us kicked our toss-away flip flops in the growing pile at the edge of the boat ramp. We waded in and started treading water near the back of the 2800-or-so strong pack.
“BOOOM!” the canon fired, and thrashing commenced.
Josh almost immediately started to have a bit of an issue. He was sort-of
hyperventilating and a bit panicked. It was after all, his first mass start.
Henry and I both waited. “No problem Josh, we have 2 hours and 20 minutes. We’ll just let everyone go. Take your time.”
We had him hang on to a rescue kayak until the mass splashed ahead. Josh was unnecessarily apologetic. Soon, the crowd was gone and we continued on.
About 20 minutes later, the 10-minute-delayed-wetsuit swimmers caught us. “No problem Josh, we have 2 hours and 20 minutes. Lets just let them pass. Everything’s cool. Take your time.” We again had him hang on to a rescue kayak until the wetsuit group went by.
The rest of the swim was calm and uneventful, albeit slow. Josh was still having some trouble calming down and catching his breath so he kept up a consistent breast stroke. He couldn’t swim freestyle without his heart rate going back up.
While we were drifting along the swim course, I did notice that the water quality was better than last year. Last year I couldn’t even see my elbows when I was swimming. I also ended up with a sinus infection for a month (as did just about everyone else I talked to after that race). So I was hopeful that the slow pace and slightly clearer appearing water would let me escape with an excess intake of water-borne pathogens.
When we exited the water, I had no problem finding my bike. There were only about a dozen bikes racked when we hit T1. I guess there is at last one advantage of a swim that takes 2 hours 8 minutes and 12 seconds.
We had a quick pow-wow in the change tent.
Knowing that this was a new adventure for Josh, I suggested pacing. The plan was for me to lead with Josh and Henry staying far enough apart to avoid drafting. Since I have a power meter, I would lead keeping an even sustainable pace based on wattage.
My typical average power output for a flattish Ironman would be 250 watts. Since Josh was on a road bike I suggested we head out at 225 to see how he felt.
At the first aid station, I looked back and they were gone. In a few minutes they caught up and said I had just dropped them. “No problem, let’s try 200 watts.”
I dropped them again. So we tried 175 watts. I dropped them again. Then 150, and I dropped them again. We then found 135-140 to be sustainable. And on we pressed through the Texas countryside.
The bike course was super-hot, but had some lovely shady sections. The terrain is varied enough to keep the boredom and saddle issues at bay.
At about the 100 mile mark, I rolled through an aid station and noticed Josh and Henry were gone. So I waited. And waited.
About 15 minuted went by before I saw them coming. They stopped at the medical tent about 50 yards behind me and I saw henry take of his helmet and lie down.
I rode back to find out what was going on.
Josh says, “He’s done. Henry has been throwing up on the side of the road for like 10 or 15 minutes.”
I walked under the canopy and Henry simply shook his head and said, “I’m out Bro. Make sure Josh makes it to the finish.”
And then there were two.
Away we rode to finish the last 12 miles before starting the run.
After 7 hours and 23 minutes in the saddle, we were in the change tent and heading out on the run.
As we started the marathon Josh was feeling good and looking great. But as soon as I started to run, or even jog for that matter, my stomach rebelled. It was like a repeat of the last 15 miles of St. George. We only jogged a couple of miles at a 12 min pace, before my stomach just shut down completely. The only pace I could maintain was a fast walk of 4mph.
At that pace we would get in before midnight, but it was going to be a very long day.
And that was exactly what happened...6:45:14 for the run.
But we made it. As Josh and I rounded the last corner before the chaos of the finish chute, I said, “OK Josh, this is it, 100 more yards and you’re an Ironman. Now run...and go get that medal!”
We both started to run, and Josh peeled away like he had been shot out of a cannon. I was just down the straight part of the finish chute when I heard Mike Reily shout “Joshua Johns, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
It was a really great way to finish indeed.
Right after I crossed the line I heard “DADDY!!!” and saw my four year-old son Alex. I handed my finisher medal to him across the fence. He promptly handed it back and said, “Can I have that instead?” pointing to the glow stick necklace.
“Sure! After waiting 16 hours and 37 minutes for me, I guess you can have whatever you want!”
Dr. Christopher Segler is a 9-time Ironman Triathlon Finisher who helps marathon runners and triathletes heal chronic injuries that don’t respond to conventional treatments. He also lectures at medical conferences about the treatment of complicated running injuries. He believes that if your doctor tells you you have to stop running, you should fire your doctor. You can learn more about self-diagnosis of running injuries and cycling injuries at www.AnkleCenter.com and www.DocOnTheRun.com