Coming off of the Great IronFlood Maryland 2016 I wanted redemption..
Ok so with a bit more time between me and the race I figured I'd give a bit of a race review that wont include a lot of cursing about the wind. A bit of background: I injured myself 5 weeks before the race doing something stupid on the bike, and missed out on Peak Week 2 and 3 and tapering. All I did was swim. After a 10 mile test ride in Texas on Thursday before the race my leg hurt - bad. On race day morning I limped my way from transition to swim start, and I was mentally prepared to drop out after one loop on the bike. The upside - zero nerves since I had zero expectations. Never been that calm on race day morning. I did have the green light from my PT to race on the injury. His exact quote was "It will hurt like a bitch but if you can deal with that - go ahead".
A VERY nice area. It is a bit spread out and a bit annoying to drive in typical Texas style (lots of one-way feeder roads etc) but not a huge deal. Expensive hotels but most are during IM weekends. Didn't look into AirBNB or anything like that. Some good restaurants and some typical chain ones. Found a little hidden gem of an Italian place that we ate at twice and even those who are not huge Italian food fans loved it. Can be a bit tricky to find parking for the events but not a huge deal once you learn your way around town. Parking garages were open and free on race day.
The swim start away from transition area is a bit of a pain, especially walking from transition to swim start race day morning. Left us feeling a bit rushed. Some issues with mud in transition (I should have put duct tape over my cleats but forgot) so had a bit of trouble clipping in. Short transition run from swim to bike, had to run around bike area to get from bike to run, and finish line/race expo is a bit away but not a horrible distance. We had people grab our bikes for us and bring them to Tribike Transport so I am not sure how that would have been to do after the race.
The swim itself is in an inland man made lake and is split in 3. You swim straight down, short turn around, straight back up then make a right into a narrow canal. It was wetsuit optional and I elected to go wetsuit. The wetsuit "wave" was a mess and I have no idea if that is normal. Just everyone bunched together at once and a lot of slow swimmers were up front. Down the first straight was a battle royale and it was brutal. Somebody prety much yanked my arm out of the socket. Second straight was more open water, and then the canal was horrible. Very choppy. In addition a company had mulched the day before and rinsed it off and all the water was pumped into the canal. I don't get seasick but I started feeling it here.. I know others threw up etc. The mulch smell and taste on top of the choppiness made it rough. The fun part was that people lined the canal and really cheered you on. It is also shallow so can stand up if needed. Swim came up really long on my GPS and the other ones I have seen and talked to, but overall I am very happy with my swim (1:38) since that is by far the weakest area for me.
First part is through some residential and feeder roads. Only complaints here are one stretch of road that was REALLY bad (short stretch and they had it painted and a guy was standing there warning people) and a tight U turn on an out and back where two people went down right in front of me. 20 miles in you hit the Hardy toll road and things frankly get very boring. A huge positive about the bike is that the Hardy is closed to all traffic so you never have to worry about cars. You go around 20 miles south, turn around, 20 miles north, turn around and repeat. It is relatively flat and very open so there WILL be wind. Usually the wind is from the south so you ride down into it and have tailwind coming back up. We were lucky enough to have the rare northern wind so had to go back up into it. Official numbers showed 23 mph wind with 31 mph gusts. It was rough, especially on the overpasses. As mentioned I was pushing FTP up one overpass into the wind and saw 14 mph. The wind increased through the day so basically the slower you were the worse of a wind you had. It is also pretty lonely out on the Hardy since it is very difficult for spectators to get there. The last 20 miles back to T2 will usually be with a tailwind. But not for us.. and it sucked. I was sure I was out of the wind when I turned off of the Hardy and then.. boom. Ugh. My leg started giving me issues around mile 40 and really started hurting around mile 90. I basically decided f... it and that I would push through the pain. Pulled a 5:45 bike split which I am happy with under the circumstances.
The run is fun. No seriously - the course is for the most part fun. It goes through downtown where you run on both sides of the canal, and out past swim start where it loops and comes back through some VERY nice residential streets. The houses were insane. It got a little dark and lonely at the far end of this loop for the late nighters but you will find that at every race. The parts along both sides of the canal were pure insanity. Ever seen a Tour de France mountain stage where they literally push their way through people? That was how it was. Never seen anything like it. I broke down my running splits and you can clearly see where the crowd carried me through my leg pain and pushed me forward. There are 3 groups that make this even wilder:
- Moxie with their half naked men and women. Works for me.
- Catapult Corner with an insane group of people including half naked dancing giant panda heads.
- Hippie Hallow with a bunch of hippies banging on trash cans and drums.
Seriously - the crowd support on the run was unlike anything I have ever seen before. I loved it. On top of this was the BASE salt crew and y'all know the party they usually have. I may or may not have danced with Moxie and BASE girls (and banged the drum of a Hippie!) on my last loop out of pure joy. Only negative things I can say about the run are the 3 loops (well 2.75 loops) and a small, grass hill you have to run up. But there were people standing at that hill offering a hand to those needing it (and it is nothing like the hill at Musselman). In particular a very.. voluptuous "nurse" was helpful here haha.
The finish line was rocking both when I got there and at midnight. I don't know what was available of food later in the night, but when I finished they had recovery drinks, multiple types of pizza, delicious burritos, cake, sliced fruit.. lots of stuff to drink.. probably more as well that I missed. My leg was completely done for on the run and I limped and shuffled my way around the course. Since I couldn't push off on my right leg at all I overcompensated with my left and my knee really started hurting. Definitely NOT happy with my run split of 5:00 but I can't complain aobut my 12:44 total time with the race prep and race day I had.
In retrospect, even with the large amounts of pain, the race was amazing. The volunteers were at the highest level, other than one negative comment from a woman in a SUV (let's just say she wasn't skinny and athletic) I heard nothing bad all week and it seems like overall The Woodlands loved having us. Even the people in the very expensive houses were outside cheering us on, had sprinklers out, parked cars to blast music etc. I think on a regular day it is also a very fast race. I know I left quite a bit of time out on that bike course due to the wind, and I obviously lost a lot of time on what is a flat and fast run course. As much as I hated the race while fighting the wind and the next day, I really wouldn't mind doing it again one day.
The race and the weeks leading up to it also made me realize that you should never take toeing the start line for granted... and the finish line should always be treasured and valued no matter your finish time. You never know if you will see that line and hear the words "You are an IronMan".