Team EN’s Mike Roberts had a pretty sweet Texas this year. Read his detailed race report below.
Swim: 1:02:33 / Bike: 5:22:37 / Run: 3:50:35 / Total: 10:21:29 / M45-49: 12/289 / OA: 166/2,437
I had a really good build-up to IMTX. Followed vast majority of the plan, kept injury-free, and went in pretty close to 100%. And, as always, I excelled at the taper. Arrived Wednesday. Great group dinner on Thursday, slept 10 hours on Thursday night, and slept 6 full hours on Friday night. Got up at 3:30 a.m. race morning, consumed 840 calories, and made my way to T1, then to the swim start.
Goal for no-wetsuit:1:02-08 Actual with wetsuit: 1:02:33
Got in the water with about 6 minutes to spare (very narrow, crowded entry point that left hundreds on dry land when the cannon went off – get in the water as soon as the pros go off!). There was a large group at the left buoy, so I drifted about 30 feet right of them and found a surprisingly thin area at the front, hung out on a kayak. It was wetsuit legal, which was a huge surprise. I had done zero training in my wetsuit and hadn’t even tried it on in 8 months. When the cannon went off, I followed the plan and went all out. After 200m or so, I was still breathing bilaterally and could see that I was alone out front along with a group left and right. I remember thinking, “this is pretty cool.” I had virtually no contact until the first turn at about 1,300M, but it was during that first turn that my left calf fully locked up in a cramp. Out of nowhere. This has happened before, but not so early in a race. I fought the cramp for the next several hundred meters on the way back, but instead of getting better, my lower back and both hamstrings joined the party and also started cramping. Uh oh. This was new for me, and I hate new on race day. At the 30-minute mark of the race, I was concerned. I really struggled for the next 15 minutes or so, with body rotation and overall form completely out the window. As I approached the final third of the swim in the canal, I finally convinced myself to let the swim go, relax and start mentally preparing for the bike. As if right on cue, the cramping went away as soon as I relaxed, my form came back, and I cruised through the canal on the right side, passing many of the people who had passed me during the second part of the swim. I pretty much exited the swim alone, so I thought I might have salvaged it. Saw 1:02 on the clock and was quite relieved not to see 1:10 or 1:15. My primary goal was to finish in the top 200, so that I could selfishly have TA and the first miles of the bike mostly to myself. I came out of the water in 191stplace OA, 18th in my AG. Lessons: I went out way too hard. I wanted to get ahead and stay ahead of the contact, and that was a silly mistake. The 300-400 “race rehearsal” sprints I did were probably 85% of what I did on race day. Also, I need to practice in open water a few times, in my wetsuit, even if their use is in doubt. Oh, and buy a new wetsuit. Yes, it was expensive. But it doesn’t fit right and its ultra-buoyancy puts me on top of the water like a raft and prevents me from getting good hip rotation like my old, beloved wetsuit did. All in all, it was a strange swim: started gloriously, quickly went dark and a little scary, ended smoothly as planned. Oh well, it’s only the swim. The real race hadn’t even begun.
I had this well planned out and knew if I executed, I could easily make up a few of the minutes I deposited in the middle of Lake Woodlands. Exiting the water alone, I had my choice of wetsuit strippers, jogged with purpose to my glowing pink bike bag that stuck out like a neon sign, removed my helmet and shoes as I ran into a completely empty tent, found a volunteer to stow my swim stuff back in the bag, put shoes on, ran out, buckled my helmet on the way to the bike, which was in the hands of a volunteer waiting for me. Pretty much nailed it. There may have been faster T1s, but probably not too many. I do know that the former pro who won our AG was more than a minute slower. Mission accomplished.
Goal: 5:15-25 Actual: 5:22:37
Mount line was calm. No issues. The first 10 miles out of The Woodlands were uneventful, albeit hard to tell what the wind was doing. As we turned NE onto 2978, it became clear we had a strong WSW tailwind. I was expecting more of a straight southerly wind. I didn’t have speed on my Garmin (mistake), but it felt like we were really moving (Garmin file would later show 24+mph for one of my 5-mile laps). I usually get passed by tons of super bikers in the early portion of the ride, but I was the one doing the bulk of the passing the first 20 miles. Weird. More concerning, however, was the fact that I was having trouble moving into the 180-watt range (181W = 71% IF). I chalked it up to swim fatigue or an off day and rode relatively comfortably in the low 170s.
As we turned north and continued the gradual climb, it became apparent that the cross winds were going to require some real work through this section whereas the south winds typically provide a free ride up to Osborne Road. By the time I hit Aid Station 3 at Mile 30, I was riding mostly alone, passing few, being passed by a few. Where were all the bikers? Maybe they all went :55 in the swim and were already up in Richards? But I continued to have problems cranking up my watts up into the 180’s, so I stayed in the low 170’s where RPE felt about right. As we turned west at Mile 40, reality appeared: the 18-mile trip across to 2562 was going to be a bear. We were up high, exposed, and the wind was strong. Rollers and headwinds where there are usually only rollers. Post-race power data shows that I rode the first 65 miles at a pretty steady NP 170-73, about 67%. Pretty weak. But I still wasn’t getting passed. The 3-4 miles south on 2562 were pretty bad as expected (wind and bad road conditions – I couldn’t even read the data because Garmin wouldn’t hold still), but the 5 miles NE on 2819 were really fast with a tailwind. Along this stretch, a guy came by me, and we exchanged the typical “good job’s.” It was nice to have a little company. Then he asked if I knew what had been going on behind me the last several miles. I looked back, saw four guys sucking my wheel in perfect convoy formation, and – for the first time on the day – I stepped out of my box. I sat up, let them pass, and exchanged pleasantries with each one as they went by. In hindsight, probably not smart, but man did I feel better afterward. Instant shot of adrenaline. And it allowed me to sit up, work on some new vocabulary combinations and stretch my fingers. Well, at least one of them. When we turned south on 1486 at Mile 65, I began the stretch that contains the trio of hills, nasty chip seal, and head winds. 170 watts was no longer happening, so I allowed RPE to take it down 5 watts. Data shows from Mile 65-90, I rode a steady NP 163-66, about 65%.
I was expecting relief when we turned onto Jackson at Mile 83, but the headwinds persisted, and the challenge continued. I ate and drank right on schedule, peed at 30, 55, and 85. At Mile 90, however, the calves and hamstrings started cramping again. WTH? First on the swim, then the big power loss on the bike, now more cramping? I had been taking salt pills regularly, but took a few more. I was fully fed and hydrated, having followed my food and hydration plan per every 15-min Garmin alert. This was the only time on the day that I allowed some really negative thoughts to enter my head. But, they were soon gone and, like in the swim, I made the conscious decision to start preparing for the run, so I eased up and rode the last 22 miles at NP 150-54. That’s 60% IF. I warm up at 60%, for God’s sake! But not today. Today, something was amiss. Maybe the heat was a factor.
Robin Sarner caught me around Mile 100 and we cruised into TA pretty close to each other. In the end, the data shows NP of 165 over the 112 miles instead of my planned 186. That’s a significant power failure. That 165 NP produced a 64.7% IF. Weak. At the time, I again just chalked it up to a bad day. In hindsight, I’m 90% sure Quarq was feeding me crap data. Yes, I calibrated it race morning, but the numbers don’t add up. My moving average was 21mph, my VI was a solid 1.02 (on a rolling, bumpy, very windy course), and there’s no way I ride 112 miles at 21mph with at a low-VI at 64% FTP. I need at least 71-72% to hit 21mph. I compared the power and speed data to the two other times I rode the course and came to the following, scary conclusion: The power numbers were likely off by 18-20 watts. Which means I probably covered the first 65 miles at 74-75%, the next 25 miles at 72%, and the final 22 miles at 67%. Not the end of the world, but certainly not the plan. In fact, it was the exact opposite of the plan. In short, I think I unwittingly became the example RnP will use at future Four Keys talks for how not to execute on the bike. Oh well, it was done.
My 5:22 time was good, pace was good, VI was good and – most importantly – my legs once again felt good. Didn’t know it at the time, but I came off the bike in 203rd overall, only losing a net 12 spots. In my AG, I had dropped one net spot to 19th. Lessons: There’s no denying that I lost power at 65 and cracked at Mile 90, so something definitely went wrong. Until I’m convinced otherwise, I’m calling it bad data and moving on. I’m just glad I was smart enough to pack it in at 90 and prepare for the run. In the future, I will make sure to take the bike out more than once at the race location to make sure that Garmin and Quarq are cooperating and the power numbers makes sense. And I’ll add speed to my Garmin fields, as my early uphill miles at 24 mph should have alerted me that I was pushing way more than 67%. I’ll also start monitoring HR on the bike. When strange things are happening, the more data, the better. And if there’s no reliable data, RPE.
I was in good spirits as I entered T2, presumably because I was no longer straddling a bike seat. I had no clue where I was in the general or AG standings, but I knew the bike ride was pretty lonely and the bike racks were almost completely empty (which is always a good sign). Again, the goal for T2 was to make up a few of the minutes I donated to the chip seal and wind. Jogged to the volunteer holding my bag, removed my shoes and zip-lock bag as I ran, entered the empty tent, found a volunteer to re-bag my helmet, quickly put on my shoes, grabbed the zip-lock, and started running. From the zip-lock, I put on my hat, race belt, arm coolers, and stowed some salt. Again, there may have been faster T2s, but when your time is faster than the top two male pros, there’s not a lot of room for improvement. Good enough.
Goal: 3:40-4:05, depending on heat. Actual: 3:50:35
Pre-race goal pace was 8:25-30 pace, but I knew 8:45 was probably best case, with 9:00 being more realistic, as the afternoon temperatures quickly headed toward 85F. Going into the race, part of my run strategy was based on what the clock said as I exited T2. If it read 6:15, then I would push for a 3:45 and try to finish near 10 hours. If it read closer to 6:30, then I would cruise a 4-hour marathon, break 10:30 and PR. Sounds easy enough, right? I was relieved to see 6:31 as I left for the run. Just be smart and conservative and go sub-4.
Robin caught up to me right out of TA, and we ran most of the first mile together. As expected, when I looked down at the Garmin, it read 7:15 pace, so I really had to put on the brakes. Got through the silly admin portions in the early part of the run, then saw Coach P for the first time around Mile 1. Robin dropped it into another gear and took off like he was shot out of a canon. No need to even ponder following that insane pace. The rest of the first lap was uneventful. The course has lots of variation that keeps things interesting: dirt trails, parking lots, suburban roads, parks, treed trails, lake-side trails, rows of mansions, spectator-jammed waterways, and skyscrapers. I walked at every aid station, filled my shirt, shorts, arms coolers and hat with ice, fueled up, ran to the next one. Finished the first loop averaging 8:40 pace with no issues at all. Plan intact. The second loop was a virtual duplication of the first, finished it with no issues while upping my overall pace average to 8:42. Coach was happy, I was happy. Even though the temperature had reached the expected 85F, the winds actually picked up as the day wore on, so it was considerably cooler less hot later in the run. Thus far, I had experienced no cramping, blisters, GI – nothing. Just another training run. As I started Lap 3, I expected it to get crowded, as a big group was streaming out of T2 to start their run. But I passed most of them early on and, surprisingly, found myself once again running either alone or in very thin groups on the third lap. Again, I had no clue how I was doing relative to others, but around Mile 20, I passed a female pro who wasn’t walking. Passed another running FPro around Mile 22. And, with that second pro pass, it dawned on me for the first time all day: That crazy swim, that ridiculous bike and this steady run may actually be creating something special. Legs got a little fatigued around Mile 20, but the Line didn’t appear until Mile 24, and the Suck never revealed itself. I passed a few ENers, all of whom (not surprisingly) were running amongst a growing sea of walkers. At Mile 24, I tried to pick up the pace and finish strong, but my calves instantly started to cramp and my toes started to curl under my feet (which can get quite painful). Oh well . . . I tried. Instead, I backed it down considerably. Jogged that mile, got back in a steady groove for the last two miles and cruised it in. I high-fived the family and anyone else who would accept one, paused to let the lady in front of me have her glory, then had my private moment with the line, Mr. Reilly and my volunteering daughter who was there to catch me and medal me. Can’t get better than that. Clock said 10:21 and change. PR by nearly 20 minutes. Very satisfied. Post-race data show the run laps as follows:
1 – 8:10
2 – 8:36
3 – 8:39
4 – 8:33
5 – 8:36
6 – 8:40
7 – 8:37
8 – 8:47
9 – 8:39
10 – 8:43
11 – 8:52
12 – 8:49
13 – 8:53
14 – 8:30
15 – 8:45
16 – 8:46
17 – 8:45
18 – 9:04 (bathroom break, capped at 10 seconds, finished or not)
19 – 8:49
20 – 8:57
21 – 8:59
22 – 8:58
23 – 8:49
24 – 9:19
25 – 8:49
26 – 8:28
Average overall 26.2: 8:48
My 10:21 finishing time, on a pretty fast course in relatively manageable conditions, isn’t typically a competitive time at all. So, I honestly thought it was a top-300 OA effort, maybe a breakthrough top-40 or -50 AG. But it was weird to never see the bulk of the field. Where was everyone? Weren’t there 2,400 people out there? When my wife greeted me with a shocked look of excitement and said I was 12th in my huge AG and 166th OA, I thought for sure she was mistaken. Needless to say, I was very pleasantly surprised. Still have no idea how I pulled that off, given all the craziness that transpired on the day. Maybe the combo of 85F and strong winds does make a tough IM, and I just managed to get through it better than average. And when the M40-44 AG Kona spots rolled down to 11th place, I truly realized how close I had come to a dream day. For comparison’s sake, in my previous five IM’s, my AG finishes were: 168, 158, 73, 197, and 89. Yes, 12th was brand new territory for me. Perhaps all that work did work.
I ran into Coach P, Robin and Tim Cronk at the finish; the latter two put on extremely impressive, sub-10 shows, capped with a two-man EN sprint finish. I am very happy for both and for every teammate who toed the line. Lessons: Exact opposite of the swim and bike, the run was kind of a robotic effort. Just pure, clean execution. I don’t think I could have scripted it better. Well, I guess it could have been faster. I walked at every aid station but the last one, and I’m pretty sure now that was a difference-maker. It allowed me to keep my core temperature down and absorb my hydration and nutrition, both of which were spot-on with no stomach issues at all (gels @2, 6, 12, 17 with H2O, Perform rest of the way until 20, then Coke). Steady pace from start to finish, with the only real drop in pace occurring in the last couple of miles. The fact that I got resistance from my body at Mile 24 means that I probably pushed as hard as I should have. And should-have was the goal.
I’m really good at transitioning. Seriously, even after six of these things, there’s still a lot to learn. The swim worked out good enough, but there’s work to be done there. And I couldn’t have planned/executed a better run (although I’d like to shave 10-15 minutes off the next one, perhaps in the cooler environs of New Zealand). The bike still has me at a bit of a loss. If I could have figured out early on that the power numbers were off and would have switched solely to RPE, I probably would have executed better. But I stubbornly followed those numbers. At the end of the day, however, I have no regrets, no what-if’s, as the main goal was to get off the bike ready to run. And I accomplished that main goal, regardless how I got there. Most importantly, I do this for fun. And this was fun. What a wonderful journey with an amazing group of people. Already looking forward to the next one.