Ironman 70.3 Texas

Ironman Texas 70.3 was unfortunately another spectacular race for me that had a disappointing outcome. With my strongest bike ever, I was well positioned to use my run and contend for a solid podium position. Unfortunately, unclear direction on the run course led a large group of pros, including myself, to cut the course and resulting in our voluntary withdrawal (we would have been DQd if we finished) from the race. While the controversy of the race itself is frustrating, the weeks leading up to Texas are no less chaotic.

Before Oceanside, I took my first of a very long string of trips to NYC to help support a client for certain things that cannot be disclosed. Following Oceanside, I repeated my NYC trip weekly, taking the 9:30PM redeye to JFK, spending the day in meetings surrounded by lawyers and bankers, then taking the 8:00PM return to get my back to SFO around midnight (cross country and back in just over 24 hours). I did this four times between Oceanside and Texas. As I write this, I am currently in NYC again, having flown out the day after the race on yet another redeye. Fortunately, I am crushing points on JetBlue!

With so much travel and work stress, I was unsure how prepared mentally or physically I would be for Texas. I had to routinely skip a day of training each week and was constantly fatigued, which prolonged the recovery period from my previous race. About ten days out, I finally started to put together some decent workouts and pushed training hard closer to the race than I usually would.

Eventually, it was time to board yet another plane. This time flying with Brianna to Houston. We were welcomed by a wall of humidity that was a clear indicator of the hard effort that was going to lay ahead of us. We were joined the next day by Brianna’s parents who never miss a chance to watch us race when it is “close” enough.

Final prep for the race was unlike any I have done before. The morning before the race, a brutal, hurricane-like storm rolled through Galveston. Treacherous winds whipped up and the skies darkened, re-lit by frequent jolts of lightning. As hail started to fall, we pulled off the road to let the worst of the storm pass. The weather continued on nearly all morning. Eventually Pedro Gomes and I mustered up a short ride and run, chased closely by dark clouds. After all the craziness leading up to the race, it was a relief to finally wake up on race morning.

The Swim (28:26)

The swim is a fairly lackluster story. Nearly all the pros huddled close to the leftmost start buoy, sandwiching themselves 3-4 people deep. I opted for a position to the right of this large mass, preferring some clean water that would leave me much less bumped and bruised. It turns out that my strategy paid off, and after a few hundred meters I was cleanly leading the “not so good at swimming, but we’re working on it” group. I took the first turn wide and let fellow QT2 athlete, Matt Curbeau, take the head. The remainder of the swim was characterized by a fairly disorganized swim where we all sat on one another’s hip (which slows the pace relative to staying on feet), frequently bumping one another.

The Bike (2:05:05, 295w)

Once out of the water, I made quick work of getting my bike gear on and exited with two athletes I had pegged for the bike: Lionel Sanders and Matt Russell, two strong power riders that I knew could make a solid group on the bike. After a few miles of zig-zagging, we hit the seawall and the race was on. Lionel Sanders picked up the pace to warp speed and Matt snuck right onto him (at a legal distance of course). I followed suit and positioned myself behind Matt (also at a legal distance). The next few miles were ridden well beyond my sustainable pace but I tried to hang as long as I reasonably could. Eventually, I thought it best to retreat to my normal pacing given how strenuous the rest of the day would be. I maintained a high effort until the 28 mile turnaround, picking up a number of competitors along the way and apparently forming a long train behind me. Seeing everyone who had latched on for a ride (imagine the “rate suckers” from the Geico commercial), I pulled a few more miles on the return before letting two other riders take the head. I stayed third wheel in this large pack and maintained an even keel until we returned. At the end of the day, I biked my fastest split to date with a 2:05:05 for the 56 mile leg, averaging 27 mph.

The Run & The Controversy

Onto the run, I exited transition with Pedro Gomes, Matt Russell, and Richie Cunningham, all very solid runners. I went out at a decent pace and started to string out our group. Around a mile into the race, everything changed. We made the first u-turn on the course and were directed by volunteers to stay on the right-hand side of the road to avoid cyclists that were coming in. As such, we were directed onto the wrong side of the road, with a shrubby median in between us and the correct side that had the appropriate course markings. We hit an intersection and, somewhat baffled from not seeing an arrow, I looked around to confirm which way to go. I was pointed by a cop to continue straight. I did so, with Richie close on my feet and Pedro no more than 20m back. Soon after, I hit the second mile market and suspected something might be amiss given that we had only run just slightly over a mile at that point. Trusting the direction of the volunteers and cop, and comforted by the fact that Richie (who had won this race the last two years) was also running with me, we continued along. After another mile, we saw the race leader and were a bit baffled. We then made another u-turn and saw that we were not positioned ahead of the runner in second. I slowed the pace and talked to Richie, questioning if we had taken a wrong turn. We chatted briefly and then were called out by another competitor for cutting the course. Our mistake was now clear. Knowing it was unfair to our competitors as well as that we would be disqualified if we finished the race, our group collectively met together and removed ourselves from the race. In total, six runners cut the course based on misdirection and had to withdraw. While this is always a disappointment, the fact that we were all sitting top 10 less than two minutes back from second made it especially hard to swallow.

The course-cutting incident has since become a bit of a controversy, and I want to make a few things very clear:

  1. We were directed by a volunteer onto the wrong side of the road.
  2. No signage was clear to indicate that we had made a mistake by following the guidance of this volunteer. A squad car was positioned at the intersection in question which completely blocked the cones, marking the required turn (on the other side of the street), from our view.
  3. To claim that we should know the course and ignore the guidance of those tasked with directing the course as well as a uniformed cop presents confusion for all future events. Does this mean we should ignore such individuals and continue on? What if a situation arose which created hazardous conditions and we needed to be redirected?
  4. Certain organizers and officials claim that attempts were made to yell at us after failing to make the appropriate turn. The six of us who withdrew from the race were spread out over several hundred meters at the point of the incident. If in fact they had tried to get our attention, it seems highly unlikely that the sixth person in the group, several hundred meters back, would have continued on with people in front of him yelling and redirecting him.
  5. After returning to the intersection in question, we noticed several age group athletes running on the wrong side of the road as well; demonstrating that it was not clearly evident that athletes should stay left.
  6. Realizing an issue (despite claiming otherwise), the run coordinators eventually coned off the path and clarified instructions with volunteers to make directions more clear.

Understand that the list above is my airing of grievances and is fueled by two very frustrating race situations. At the end of the day, the responsibility lies with the athletes to know the course. Each and every one of us accepts this. We all felt that we needed to remove ourselves from the race to respect our fellow competitors and not alter the dynamics based on a mistake that we made, regardless of who was responsible.

Overall, it is another disappointing race outcome. I am thrilled with how I biked, but missed a great opportunity for a personal best and very likely podium finish. Unable to accumulate points at this race, I am now faced with a challenging situation with my continued hope to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships. I have decided to alter my initial race plan and have entered Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga. Time to brush this one off and get fired up for what lays ahead!