Ironman 70.3 Texas - The Race Report

Race prep really started the week before. I had been making some upgrades to my bike in the way of wheels, hubs and a bottom bracket.  I thought I was pretty well set until my bike check ride.  My bottom bracket just felt tight; making it harder to pedal.  Initially I didn't worry much about it because I thought it was just the day's wind that was causing resistance, but after talking to Darren and him taking a look at it, we opted to return the old bottom bracket to my setup... at least until after the race.  The hubs and bracket all need time to break-in.  The grease inside is thick and you need to put on some miles to break it down a bit.  So after replacing the new bracket with the original, my bike was ready to roll.

On Friday I took off of work and headed down to the race site for packet pickup and one more bike check ride.   I was 5th in line for pickup and it went smoothly.  I hit the expo and spent way too much money on IM70.3 stuff, but I figure it was my first IM event!  Plus, they actually had stuff that fit me, which is generally a challenge, so that helped me make my decision to indulge. :) 

...Of course none of it could be worn, if I didn't officially finish.

I had packed everything up on Saturday and dropped my bike off Saturday afternoon. So all I needed to do Sunday morning was grab my bags and head out to the race.  Surprisingly, I slept extremely well on both Thursday and Friday woke and checked the weather.  I knew it was supposed to be as high as 88 degrees (Someone said it hit 91) and the winds were 18-20 with gusts up to 25.  Of course this info wasn't a great way to start my race day, but I just said to myself, I can't change it, so why waste the energy worrying.  *sigh*

I got to transition early; I hate being rushed and I like to be there and have more than enough time to go over my stuff a few times... not to mention go to the potty several times.  I think my second biggest worry in addition to making the cut-off, was having GI issues.  I changed my nutrition in training for this race and and switched to EFS and pieces of Clif bars.  That ultimately seemed to minimize my issues, but you just never know for sure until you run it through an actual race.

Nerves in my stomach kept me from eating my entire pre-race breakfast, but I was able to choke down 50% of it before I had to stop. Did what I could, you know?  I have limitations. :)

Starting in the last wave at 8:40 am, I was going to have a lot of time to kill.  I hung out mostly by myself pre-race until I headed out to Palm Beach to stage for the swim.  I really needed to wrap my head around what had to be done in order to make the cut-off.  I knew it could be close if the conditions became more than challenging or showed a marked increase in difficulty.  It was going to be a windy day no matter how you looked at it, but I was already having difficulty just assessing what kind of wind it was.  If my bike was bad, I would likely not make the cut-off.  When I say bad, I meant 4hrs or more.  Most of my rides have been between 3:25 and 3:30, but I had one Galveston ride that haunted me with a 4:10 ride of the course.  It was a horrible day my mind just couldn't let go of.

I had to sit with that a while and accept that doing my best might not be good enough, but that it would still be better than not going at all.  If I gave it my all and failed I wouldn't be letting anyone down; not even myself.  There is no shame in failing at this kind of thing, and you can't let ego control you.  Truly it was out of my hands by the time Sunday came around, and I just needed to keep faith that I would have the grace with me to succeed.

Coach says, "the actual race is your victory lap for all the training hours you put in."  He says a lot of stuff that makes me think he's just flat-out nuts. But in the end, what he says, makes sense.

I hung out with some of the BAMily before the swim start, and that helped lighten me up, which was great.  I had been thinking a little about Elysha and how Lonestar was one of her favorite races.  It always makes me both a happy and sad when I do one of "her" races.  She was with me in spirit and my thoughts went to her often throughout the day.  I could hear her in my mind, "...don't take this stuff SOOOO seriously."  LOL

Well, it seemed like a a half-day before my wave, started.  I was excited and nervous... guess I don't have to keep saying that.  You get the picture by now!  After 7 trips (Yes that many!) to the potty, there was nothing left to stir in my gut, so I felt safe.  We all zipped up our wetsuits and headed to the staging area. When my waved was staged I went right to the front of the wave.  The announcer asked me where I was from and when I entered the water, he announced me as "Local she-ro Donna Toler from League City!"  He also announced another BAMily member on her wave start, so that that was pretty fun!

I stayed right in the front for the swim start.  I knew this would mean people would be swimming over me, bumping into me, but I didn't want to be in the back and waste time.  I needed every minute I could get on the swim would be all the more time I'd have to finish the run.

Countdown, 5-4-3-2-1 and the horn goes off!  I start swimming and sighting on the Home Depot across the highway as planned.  I was told not the sight on the buoys because they were not in a straight line and I'd be doing more swimming than necessary.  My first leg out before the turn was okay.  Got beat up a little, but not terrible, especially since there were 154 women in my wave!  I made it past the first turn buoy and I noticed the current was trying to push me out to the right, so it made it a challenge to swim straight.  I did do a little extra swimming and by the time I was about 500 from the Colonel Paddle Boat, it seemed like the longest.  Stretch.  Ever. It felt like I was standing still and just ceased moving forward.  It also seemed like the water suddenly got a little rougher.  I knuckled down and focused on my stroke, keeping my elbows up and finishing and gliding and kicking as consistently as I could.  At the end of the swim, about the last 200 to the ramp out, I found a burst of energy and noticed I was passing caps of 2 different colors.  I guess that kind of fueled my confidence a bit.  I felt sure I had a great swim.  It was actually 45 minutes... was hoping for low 40's, but I did do some extra swimming.  I was 68th out of the water in my wave of 154, that means less than half the women in my wave passed me!  I was up the ramp, stripped and to my bike just like I planned.

The swim was a 2:22/per 100m -- an improvement over my Redman pace of 2:31/per 100m and Galveston was a way more challenging body of water.

I took a 4+ minute transition reapplied sunscreen and made sure I had everything twice.  I hit the bike course and started with my nutrition going into a strong headwind out to the seawall for the out-and-back course.  Once on the seawall I tried to take cues from the windsocks and flags to gauge what my plan would be on the race.  It appeared to be a direct cross wind...not really a complete tailwind or headwind. In fact it was different than any other day I had ridden the course! After all that riding I did down there to learn the wind, it was totally different on race day.  Go figure!  Gotta laugh at it. 

I decided to ride at my heart rate and cadence, even if it meant people passing me.  I'm still a little unsure where my heartrate should be on the bike now, since after getting the iron infusion it my heart rate is running consistently lower around 135-140, where the same effort before the infusion had me at 145-150.  That's a good thing.  Same effort, lower heart rate, means longer endurance!  I tried to keep my cadence at 80 into the wind -- anything higher and I'd have nothing left for the way back (I learned this lesson on that 4+ hour nightmare of a practice ride!).  It was really hard to be disciplined here, because the bike is where you have opportunity to make-up time. Time I needed for the run.  Knowing doing anything different would have been a risky, I stuck to my guns and raced smart and not as fast as I could.  Truly, I'm not racing anyone but mysel.  I just needed to finish well.  "FINISH" being the operative word.  I settled for a 14 mph average outbound. I wasn't real happy about it and was praying for a tailwind on the way back.  I still couldn't tell just how much of a tailwind anyone had on the return.  People didn't look happy coming back.  I saw lots of flats too.  Word from one of the volunteers was someone dropped tacks on the race course, right before the San Louis Pass bridge.  How awful someone was to do that!?!

When I made the turnaround and saw the time, I knew I was still okay with the cut off, but if I had the same ride back as I did going out, I might be in trouble, so I really couldn't relax just yet.  You can imagine how happy I was to find I had a cross-tailwind after the turn-around.  I was excited -- why wasn't anyone else?  Yay!!!  While it had me feeling a more positive, I knew I still had to be disciplined about my effort. I did my best and still kept my cadence around 80 for most of the way back and let the momentum carry me a bit.  When I got closer to the end, I upped my cadence to 85-90 to try and relax and spin my legs to get ready for the run.

Let me tell you, When I turned off the seawall to head back to transition, people must have thought me nuts!  I let loose a loud, "Whoohoooo!"  I was so happy to have a complete and full-on tailwind and to be done with the bike and riding easily.  I wrapped up my nutrition and took my feet out of the pedals and stretched my legs a little bit.  My nutrition and hydration had went well on the bike and I felt pretty good.  Using my second watch as a timer to remind me to stuff my pie-hole with nutrition or hydration was really helpful and worked very well!

My bike was 3:42, so I while missed my goal of averaging 16 mph for the total bike, I was happy that I rode smart. I averaged just 15:24 for the 56 miles and dropped to 99 of 154 in my division.  Looking at the times, it seems like the wind took about 10-15 minutes or from everyone, so I felt pretty good I'd made the right choices.

I made it to transition for another 4+ minutes and was on my way out for the run after asking a v'teer to slather my shoulders with sunscreen.  By now it was getting hot-hot-hot.  I knew I made up some time on the bike, but I couldn't be comfortable yet with the cut off.  I knew it would take me a full 5K lap to feel my legs get right.

I neglected to remember to program my Garmin, and this pretty much bugged the snot out of me. My plan was to run 5/1 for the first lap, 6/1, 7/1 and then all out for the last.  When I realized I hadn't programmed anything, I knew I just needed to be steady and consistent.  So I went with my regular half marathon plan of 1/2 mile run/:30 walk.  It was worked for me... half the time.  Sometimes I could only go for a quarter mile, sometimes I made it half mile.  I also knew knew some of it was in my head and it became a game to make me go the distance before my walk.  My heart rate was running around 150-155 at this time and I was hanging on, with the walk breaks bringing down my average HR I knew in my gut I would make it.

Initially I was dreading the 4 loop run course, but looking back it was fantastic seeing everyone so many times.  I mean I knew when I turned this corner, BAMily would be there... or Darren and Cassie would be there... or coach (OC) would be there.  It gave me something to focus on.  On my first lap I see my coach (the good cop) walking with her Hubs (they were was racing).  He was having challenges and she was helping him through.  I saw another seasoned BAMmer having trouble too, so I started to worry about just how hot it was on the course.  I tried to put it out of my mind and reminded myself I did well drinking and eating.  I just had to stay with my plan.

The first lap was okay.  I didn't expect a ton from the run since my regular pace for a half-marathon is around 13:30, and that's with taper and rest!  I expected around a 15 minute pace, and that's what I got: 15:05, 15:34, 15:43 and 15:13.  I did drop my fuelbelt on the course because my stomach was starting to turn and I couldn't take the pressure of the belt against me.  I dropped it by the curb and just told Darren to not let anyone pick it up.  I would pick up each of my 10 oz bottles of EFS, one at a time, and carry it while taking water from the aid stations. Against the rules, technically, but it's not like I was going for a podium spot.

After the second lap, I realized I would make the cut off!  Unless something went horribly wrong, I could definitely get the 10K done in under 1:45, even with pain.  I experimented with power walking because my knee was hurting if I ran, and found I could almost walk as fast as I could run by this point!  So I alternated my running intervals with power walking and running, to try to save what I had left of my knee.

Throughout the run I made the (sorta) mistake of dumping water on myself to keep cool. It felt good and was probably necessary to keep me cool, but I got my running shoes completely soggy and had the wrong socks on.  I could feel the balls of my feet being rubbed raw. :( 

By the time the third lap came around my knee was hurting and my glute was ready to shut down on me and my jaw got that I-want-to-vomit feel in it and became little worried.  I tried to slow down, just a little, to  figure out what was happening with my body.  I didn't know if it was my stomach or I had to potty... or what?  I just knew I wasn't well.

Every time I passed OC his encouragement would make me all emotional.  My breathing would get out of control and I just wanted to cry.  I can be such a emotional-wuss, plus "You never let the boys see you cry!"  I just had to keep focused.  I had my fun on the course too, but mostly, mostly, kept my focus.

When I had one more lap I passed OC and he said, "Give it your all!" "Stay with it!!"  To him I replied, "This is my all!"  I really felt like I had nothing left and really wasn't sure how I was still moving forward.  I passed him and had a short little uphill climb.  I walked that climb, then played a game with myself to try and run more, "from this rock to that trash can." And then, "from this curve to that playground" and then "from the last uphill past the BAMily!"  They were all there, cheering for me to finish my last lap. Everyone waited for me to finish; that was so nice of them!  I ♥ my BAMily!!  Just a little further to go, I saw a guy ahead of me, about 50 yards from the finish and something inside just turned on and I "chicked" him! LOL  Not very significant that that point in the day, but still funny.  I started running hard and passed him while I was screaming... it was like a complete release of everything I had been feeling throughout the day and it felt so good.  I had finished under the cutoff!  Whoohooo!!!

I was completely spent.  The V'teers wanted to take my chip but I felt like I was going to puke. I started dry heaving and the med tent took me in for a bit to make sure I was okay.  Within 15 minutes I had to pee! That was a good sign I wasn't dehydrated.  Just spent; I left it all on the course. 

The run dropped me to 119 of 154 in my age group, but I was really happy I could keep consistent when I also knew how much I hurt and how badly I felt.  Sounds funny, but after the swim and bike, it was a lot of effort to keep a 15+ minute pace!

When I came out of the Med Tent, OC also pointed out that I not only made the 8:30 cut-off, but that I also broke 8 hours!  I finished in 7:58!

As I left the finishers chute, OC pointed out Chris Lieto standing there. "Go get your picture with him!"  I was still bare-footed and oblivious after leaving the medi-tent.  I think said something to Lieto about taking a picture with me, "but don't touch me I'm all gross", and he obliged and posed for a pic.  Of course it's not true, but I've been telling everyone he was waiting there just for me. "Lieto was my carrot" LOL
Right After My Finish!
L-to-R:  Chris (Coach/OC), Me, Chris Lieto Ironman World Champion!, Melanie (Coach/Good Cop)

I have to say how great the volunteers were!  Always there with an encouraging word, I became fond of 2 of them.  One girl was just dancing up a storm.  On every lap I'd pass her twice.  On my last pass by her, I didn't see her! I was yelling, "Where's my girl?!?" and she comes out from behind the bushes, "Here I am!"  I thanked her for her fun, smiles and dancing, and told her this was my last pass.  There was also an older woman, sitting in a chair on the back-end of the course, by herself, just rooting everyone on so sincerely and non-stop.  I was so thankful for both of them!

What a race! Now it's time to reflect on what I want to work on next and improve.  Again, my running is at the top of my list.  For the next 8 weeks or so, I'm going to be focusing on strength training and hoping that will help me drop some more weight.  That's my biggest obstacle to getting faster and running better.

What I did right:

-Discipline pays off. I trained like I wanted to race, so I knew what to do in most circumstances.
-Rolled with the punches and figured out what would and wouldn't work for me with each challenge, without getting freaked.
-Improved my Swim.  Definitely!
-Race Nutrition overhaul was successful -- still could use tweaking as evidenced by my feeling crappy at the end.

What I screwed up with or "need assistance" with:
-Assessing the wind and determining different strategies.
-All around getting stronger on the bike and run.
-Don't forget to program Garmin for the run.  I'm an interval girl... I need that beep to shoot for!
-Developing alternate Nutrition plans.

Incidentally, Memorial Hermann was the sponsor of this race.  Memorial Hermann is also where I had my WLS.  If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be doing ANY of this crazy-ass stuff.


  1. Ok, I have to tell you this story
    After my brother didn't make the swim cut off in O'side, I was emotionally spent and started doubting I could finish Barbs, in July.
    Another Tri gal was tracking her friend and we looked you up- your swim and bike times were awesome and then something happened to the tracker online and we started wondering what had happened.
    I was relieved to see you had updated your swim thing on the left of your blog and was thinking you sounded positive, so everything must've turned out ok ( I'm really not a crazy stalker:) )
    Under 8 hours is awesome. Your training paid off!
    With the higher temps, did you take any electrolyte pills?

    How did your husbands tri go?

    Congrats again, you are a huge inspiration!!!

  2. way to go! congrats on your breaking 8 hours! loved reading your race report

  3. Donna, CONGRATS to you for kicking that race in the butt. Nice job sticking with it. I love your tri outfit too!

    Keep up the great effort!

  4. Thanks for the Kudos KC! Love following your blog too!

  5. Congratulations on the race!!! I'm so glad I found your blog too! You are truly an inspiration and I hope to learn from your experience. I've been really trying to wrap my head around the nutrition part too. I've got some time to work it out but I want to stay on top of it too!

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!!!

  6. you are such and inspiration... i have tears of happiness in my eyes reading this.. keep it up. Doing my first half in Oct. I too and calculating to figure out how to not get cut out...

  7. Awesome! So happy for you and your progress. Keep it up, I see an Ironman in your future!


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