Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ironman Texas

The day had finally arrive, it was time to leave for Texas.  It was Monday the 14th of May, the CR-V was packed. We were on our way after a quick stop a my friend Jason's house to pick up some stuff for the trip and a stop at the Post Office, the kid and the wife were in the car ready for a long ride.  The plan was to drive as far as I could that night stay in some motel off the highway Tuesday evening, and make the rest of the way to The Woodlands on Wednesday.  I texted my cousin who live in Texas about 2 hours east of The Woodlands, and told her we were on our way.  She was excited to see everyone, and told me if I can get there by tomorrow evening I had a place to stay if we can get there.  So the goal change, make it to her house and I can save $80 on a hotel room, and get to see my cousin a few days early (which is great since we don't see each other that much anymore).

We drove straight through the night, it mostly rained all the way to Tennessee, and started to clear when we got in to Tennessee.  The sun started to come up in Georgia, and we stopped in Alabama for some breakfast.  The rest of the day we drove, stopped for lunch, and got pulled over for speeding in Louisiana, which is now on my list for worst states ever (previously held by Alabama for worst roads ever).

We called my cousin Allison around 3pm told her where we were, and told her we would show up around 8pm.  We made it to Orange,TX in just over 24 hours straight of driving from home.We got to my cousin's home, and unpacked some stuff, and stayed up to around 9:30 catching up, got washed up and went off to bed around 10 or so.  We got up around 7 ate some Cheerios (Bex's favorite) saw Allison off to work, and later we went to a local playground.  Later in the morning we went to the museum where Allison worked and she showed the exhibits, which were awesome (except maybe for the birds, Texas has this thing for birds, go to the Houston Zoo and you will know what we are talking about).  Then we went back to the house, got my bike and we were off to The Woodlands.  We got there some time in the afternoon got my goodie bag and we shopped at the official ironman store, got some t-shirts (like $80 worth) and then we headed to the hotel.

The hotel was about 20 minutes from the start of the race in Conroe, TX.  We took Bex to the pool later in the afternoon and then we went out to dinner.  On Thursday morning, I went for a 11 mile bike ride, it was cool and the weather wasn't too bad.  It really never got that bad that some described, in the morning it was usually cool, and by the afternoon got hot, but never scorching hot (the dew point never got that high).  On Friday I went to the open water swim process, which next time I won't forget my timing chip (I had to run back to the hotel to get mine to get my swim in, but I did), and set up the bike in transition after the swim.  Friday afternoon my cousin came into town, she was heading to Washington D.C. on Sunday, and was staying in Houston which was about 10 miles south of The Woodlands.  We had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory walked some of it off my walking around the water front to see where everything was going to be.  Lisa and Allison worked out plans on were to meet the next day (they were going to go shopping as I did this ironman thing), and we said good bye for the night.

Lisa and I went to bed after watching some basketball (it was the only thing on) and slowly feel asleep.  I got up around 3 double checked everything, and got ready to go.  Lisa got up around 4, we packed everything up, and we left for transition.  Lisa dropped me off at the transition area and drove to race start. I went checked on my bike, and got my tires inflated, checked my gear bags, and I went off to the swim start, which was a mile or so to the North Shore Park.  I chatted with some people who were walking down there as well, and we were all hoping for good weather conditions which were forecasted for the day.  I was down there in the park eating my orange and the rest of my bagel, and then I decided to go check in my morning bag, and my special needs bags.  I had all my stuff in my bags, and was wearing my Team in Training tri kit.  The one volunteer notice my stickers were falling off and took my bag over to the truck and used a Sharpie to write my number on my bag, he noticed my TNT kit and shook my hand, and said "Thank you, from a survivor, and good luck today"  I was kind of stunned since this normally doesn't happened to me, and I said thank you and I am glad he was doing ok.  I didn't really get any information from him about what type of cancer he had or how it was going now.  I was really kind of nervous for this race to start.  They shortly started to corral the professionals in to the water, and after that was the age-group folks (that would be me) turn to get corral.  I knew the water was to deep to stand in and I don't like to tread water for any period of time so I waited as long as I could to get in the water, I waited about 1 minute for the race start and it still seemed to take forever to start the race.

Eventually the cannon went off and we started.  It was nothing like I ever experienced, it was crowded. I don't think I have ever done a mass start like this before, it was crazy.  Ever stroke I took I hit someone, but I kept trying to swim like Tarzan until I got out into a clear part and then just swam.  The swim was a swim straight south then about three quarters of the lake made a left for about 100 yards, then you started swimming back and then you turn right into the canal at the water front.  Everything was going well I felt good I even thought I was sighting okay, until I got into the canal.  When we got into the canal it was the start all over again.  It was extremely crowded it seemed like every stroke I took I hit someone.  My arms were also chafing at this point, and my back started hurting a bit here.  The canal seemed to be endless, I kept trying to see where I was and with the sun I couldn't see anything so I just followed the crowed, it was big enough at this point.  I just kept swimming hoping to get to the end of the swim, it really seemed endless.  My swim time was 1:26:57, which was better than my 1:30 goal, but I was really hoping to get under 1:20, but oh well, time to get on the bike.

I grab my bike gear bag, got my gear on, and off to my bike.  I gave a name to my bike (everyone else gives their bike a name I thought I should too), R2D2.  I did this for a few reason: first it is blue and white like the droid in the Start Wars movies (I love the Star Wars movies); second, it sits on top of my car in transport like the droid did on the X-Wing in the movies; third, it sometimes has a personality like sometimes it doesn't want to shift and other times it is just perfect (this might be because I ride a lot of miles on it and it is normal wear and tear on the bike, but I like to say it has a personality).  R2 and I were off, they announced my name as I left transition and everyone was cheering I waved and thanked everyone, and mounted the bike and off I went.  I few meters down the road I saw my support team Allison, Lisa, and Bex cheering me on, and I was out on the main course.  In my mind I though Texas (the whole state was just a flat plain state), this was wrong. The course was hilly nothing to extreme, it wasn't as hilly as Musselman in New York, but was no where near as flat as Eagleman in Maryland.  We had a tail wind on the way out, and I was flying around 18.5 MPH.  I knew I had to conserve some energy at this 100 plus mile distance was not unusual for me, so I knew how to ride it.  I hit mile 60 a little after 3 hours of riding, got my special needs bag, which I had a spare tube, Red Bull, some little muffins and Twizzlers in there. I grab the Red Bull drank it, ate my muffins for some calories, added some sun block on (I did miss a few parts you will be able to see them next time I'm at the pool).  Then stuck the tube and the Twizzlers in my pocket and I was off again.  Nothing really happened for the next 20 miles, and around mile 80 I had a flat.  I pulled off the road took my rear wheel off changed the tire and it took 10-15 minutes, inflated the tire with a C02 and back off to the road for another 32 miles.  Each aid station I grabbed some water and some Power Bar Perform (a.k.a. sports drink).  I could feel the temperature going up on the bike, but really never thought too much about it.   Around mile 90 my feet and my legs started to hurt, this wasn't too abnormal for me my feet usually will hurt and legs will get sore on my long rides so I just keep pushing forward.  I was probably trying to make up the time I lost with the flat, but I just kept riding.  I was telling myself running is my sport and I can always run, and if I can't I still can walk to the finish.

I final got to the finish of the bike, and got into transition (bike time was 6:30).  Now in my gear bag I had a pair of Asics shorts and a shirt for the run, and I had them there just incase the tri kit wasn't working for me.  I sat down outside of the tent throw some baby powder on my feet (this is suppose to help with the blisters on your feet), and was talking to someone else there from Louisiana (yes the state that I hate, I don't hate the people of Louisiana just the state in general).  He stated it was a nice day, and I commented I thought it would be much hotter than this, even though at this point it wasn't cool anymore it was hot.  He told me that the humidity was down today and was down for most of the week.  I couldn't agree with him more, and couldn't have been happier that he was right.  I got my shoes on and left my running kit in the bag, my arm chafing wasn't bother me when I ran into transition and I didn't want to lose the support of the Team in Training people that might be out there cheering people on.  I ran into the tent to drop the bag off and then out onto the course.

The run course was three loops, which went right through The Woodlands, some of the parks and developments and a lot of the running was on the sidewalks of the parks (If you don't know most side walks if you run on them will make your feet hurt a lot more that regular black top on the road).  The first section is a small section out in the grass and up a little steep hill, and into the parking lot of GE, which was one of several big corporation that are down there.  Then it went through the North Shore Park (yes the same one we started the swim in), and then out on the road and into another walking path which was shaded and then out to a housing development and then through another park and then through a housing development that was under construction.  The next part took you down the water front, on the opposite side of transition and then took you across the bridge and down to the other side of the water front and then you either went on the next loop or you went to the finish.

My plan for the run was to run from aid station to aid station, and for the most part this was ok.   I just kept trying to get fluids in me and pouring water and ice to keep me cool.  The crowd was just awesome, many of them would give you high-fives, and a lot of them would cheer me on by cheering "GO TEAM!!"  I made it to the end of the first lap saw my support team again, and gave a high-five to Bex (I heard this cheered her up for the day, she probably just missed me).  I went onto the second lap and the wheels started to fall off the wagon at this point.  At some points I could barely run 100 feet let alone a whole mile to an aid station.  At one point I asked a 54 year-old who was next to me "is this the Texas death march?" his reply is "yes, but it will get better when the sun goes down."  I thought for a moment and said to my self hell the sun is going to go down soon, I want to finish before that, and started to put a run together for another 200 feet or so.  But my knee hurt and I could feel a blister starting on my foot, and had to walk again.

Somehow I made it around the second lap, and saw my support team.  I gave Bex a hug this time, and told Lisa it might take me a while to get around this third lap since I wasn't feeling too good.  I think my exact words were "This lap is going to be a long one," her reply was "better start running then."  I started to run a little more and just told my self just keep running.  I tried to run for half mile and walk half.  This wasn't working since every time I started running my knee would hurt again, and I stopped.  When I got back into North Shore Park I told my self that my knee was hurting, because my body wanted to quit (I don't real know if my knee was a physical or mental thing, so kids if your knee hurts you should probably stop, but this is me and not you so I kept going).  I just told myself that my knee wasn't the problem it was all in my head, there wasn't anything physically wrong with my knee, it was hot and my body was the problem, so I kept running after a half mile, and kept running.  I saw some people laying in the grass exhausted, I told myself don't let that happen to you, just keep running and you will get to the finish. When I finally exited the park the knee stopped hurting (it probably wasn't a physical thing).  I made it to the aid station, a very small accomplishment, I put some fluids in me and poured water and ice on me and tried to run to the end of the one street, when you got to the end of the street you got some shade, so it felt like it was worth running for.  I met someone there who was from Bangkok, Thailand. I was walking at this point and he offered me some pepperoni. I  politely said no since my stomach was not all there at this point, he was on his second lap we chatted a bit he said he was there for a business meeting and he managed to schedule everything together so he could do this race (I am amazed how some people schedule things so they can probably get there work to pay for the travel).  We got to the next aid station and I took off for a short run.  I saw them putting out glow sticks, and I started to get worried, I actually picked one up thinking Bex might want one, and put in in the race belt.  I caught up to someone who asked me the race time, we were at about mile 22 at this point and the clock on my watch said 12:15 or so.  We talked for a while, he was from the East Texas Coast chapter of Team in Training, and we talked about how we both got started in triathlon through Team in Training, it seemed like he mostly did the Nations triathlon and a few in Texas.  After a while he said let's just run a little bit, and let's beat 13 hours at this thing.  I wasn't really in the mood to run for any period of time at this point, but I said I would give it a go.  We ran probably at a 10 minute pace for about quater of a mile and he needed to stop, I said good-bye and see you at the finish, he said the same (I know I'm a jerk, but I needed to keep running to finish the race).   I don't know if he knew this, but he really go me through a tough part of the race for me, which is usually how things work.  Dave Scott once said at a dinner I went to you will have bad times through the race, but just do what you can and get through them.  That is what happened here, this guy (I never got his name)  got me through a very tough part of the race and I got to the next aid station took the fluids and poured ice on me.  I put another run together, this section of the run was through the developing neighborhood and I knew the next section was along the water front, so I told my self run to the aid station and then walk to the water front which was only about 200 yards or so and then run the rest of the way the finish.

I got the the Waterway passed a few people, and through the crowds again, they were high-fiving and yelling "GO TEAM" I caught up to a TNT person patted her on the back said "GO TEAM" as I ran by her, she greeted me with the same response.  I walked a little after that for about 100 yards or so and then ran to the next aid station, from there I had to run across the bridge and down along the other side of the river front.  The cruel part of this section is you run right by the part where you go to finish, you have to run out and then back for about mile to this section again, so as I ran off the bridge saw that and told my self I would be there soon, I got to the last aid station got fluids and walk a little bit, I saw a women there from Los Angles, and she said is this your third lap, I said "Yes, almost there" she replied pick up the pace, so I did I ran to the last section of the run course which was up a hill and back into the town a little bit.  I gave some people a high-five, everyone was clapping and cheering, I found out that to finish you have to run down this small hill and then back up it to the finish line (another cruel joke they put in this race).  I was pumping my arms and giving high-fives and I heard the announcer say "Keith Evans, Harrisburg Pennsylvania, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!" and I crossed the finish line (my run time was 4:33 and total time was 12:47:13) and one of the catcher caught me gave me some water and had another volunteer take my chip off.  She sent me through the photo portion of the corral, where I posed for the shot, Lisa always said I don't pose enough, and I thought this race deserved a good pose for a photograph.  I gave the glow stick (which I didn't need to use) to my wife gave her a hug and a kiss posed for a picture with her, that my cousin took and headed down to the athlete village.  They had chocolate milk which I loved, and I took my shoes off and put my Crocs on and met up with the support team and we headed back to the parking lot.

I said good-bye to my cousin, and thanked her for coming out to support me and to hang out with Lisa and Bex today.  Which makes me want to thank everyone that was out there volunteering, cheering, and just watching the race.  I never knew how big the crowds out here would be, and they were huge the gave you support when you needed, had some great signs to keep our spirits up, my favorite was "Suck it up, Buttercup" it reminded me of my English friend that would always tell me that when I said I was tired or sore.

I also want to give some thought here, this was a journey for me about six months of training, but it was much longer than that.  When I saw the Ironman for the first time on the TV, I wanted to do this.  I knew it would hurt and it would take me a long time, and most people would call me crazy for doing it, but I still wanted to do this.  I don't really know what made me want to do this, but to answer the question you are all asking, I will say this "run your ironman and you will have your answer."

I also want to thank my cousin for coming out, it was awesome to see her, since we use to see each other several times a year as kids, but since we became adults we haven't seen each other so much, it was great to see her, and I heard Lisa and her had a good time shopping in The Woodlands.  I also want to give a thanks to Jason who was my training partner for most mornings, he would help me with my swim, and my run at the LA Fitness gym almost every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5am.  Coach Bob for helping me on some long bike rides (I know I probably went on a few to many, but hell I like the long bike ride).  And last but certainly not least my wife Lisa, when we got married I weighted about 230lbs, and she never ever thought I would want to do Ironman, and if she did she probably wouldn't want to marry me.  But for the past 6 months or so she was there when I would ride 2 hours after work on the bike, and my long 6 to 7 hour bike rides on the weekend.  She never complained and she always supported me through this and for that I owe great debt of gratitude.  People that do these races are just one part of a team, and I truly understand that, we might get the metals and the shirts, but the families also deserve some of the credit for it.

Will I guess that is all for now until my next race, where I will see my other cousin and her family up in Vermont, so I hope to see you again.