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5.24.2012

Ironman Texas 2012 {Steven's Ironman Experience}

May 19, 2012, the day I had marked on my calendar for the last year, finally arrived. I had spent almost the entire year training for this day, including the last 5 months of focusing solely on improving my swim, bike, and run speeds. It seems like it was not that long ago that I registered and committed myself to accomplish this goal, and just as quickly, it was over and done.



I drove down to Houston on Wednesday afternoon so that I would not have to worry about driving in early on Thursday morning. We were required to check in for the race by Thursday so by getting in town the night before, it gave me a little more time to get everything done without the stress of having to rush. After standing in line to check-in, and then being corralled into the official race store to buy all of the “much needed” clothing and race gear, I took a walk down the canal to check out the swim finish and the transition area. Finally, I checked in to the hotel and relaxed the rest of the day.

Friday saw me go over all my last minute details to make sure I was completely ready to go. First off was a practice swim in the morning to help me decide if I wanted to wear a wetsuit or not. Water temperature was 80.8 degrees. After a 20 minute swim the decision was easy, NO wetsuit. It was just too warm and I didn’t want to chance overheating in the water. After the swim, I went out on a nice, easy bike ride to make sure everything was working and that my seat, aerobars, etc. were all set properly. Then, I turned in my bike and all of my gear. After picking my wife up at the airport, I showed her around the area and then we went to a movie to relax. The movie ended up being way longer than expected, which put me getting into bed later than I wanted. After going over final details with my wife about where she would need to go in the morning, I laid down to go to sleep. Then, there was a knock at the door. My Mother-in-law’s room was booked in The Woodlands, CA instead of The Woodlands, TX. Needless to say, getting a proper night’s sleep was now out of the question. It didn’t help that I constantly went over every little detail in my head instead of just being able to put it all away and fall asleep.

4:30 AM came WAY too fast. After getting dressed, eating a couple bagels and bananas, I was off to the race. My hotel was only a couple miles from the race site so it was a short drive and I easily found a parking spot in one of the garages. From there, I had ¼ to ½ mile walk to the transition area to do final prep for my bike (air up tires, put full water bottles on, get computer ready). After double checking everything, I made the long mile walk over to the swim start. By this time, my family was on their way over so I was trying to coordinate seeing them before I had to get into the water. By the time I made it to the starting area, I had to quickly get my race numbers put on and drop off my bag containing my morning (and post-race) clothes. My wife ran ahead to find me and after a couple of pictures, I was in the water with 2200 of my new best friends.


SWIM

By the time I made it in the water, we only had about 7 minutes until 7:00 AM, when the cannon would go off. I quickly paddled over to a kayak so I would not have to tread water the whole time. With about 30 seconds remaining on the clock, I found a little bit of open water and then, BOOM!!! In an instant, we were off and Lake Woodlands quickly turned into a giant mess of flailing arms and legs.



Some people just went into complete attack mode. Over the course of the first 1.5 miles, I was kicked, punched, slapped, pulled, poked, and pretty much any verb you want to throw in there. I even had someone grab me by the waistband of my shorts and pull me backwards. About the 1.5 mile point though, I get into some open water. From here, I still felt great and just kept telling myself to stay calm and not try to push too hard. With about 800 meters to go, we turned into the canal (similar to the Riverwalk) to make our way down to the swim exit. It was a little more congested in this area as I’m sure we looked like a school of salmon trying to swim upstream. The banks were lined with people and even underwater you could hear the cheers getting louder as we got closer to the exit. Finally, 1 hour and 19 minutes in, I was finished. I quickly grabbed my bike gear and was in to the changing tent.




BIKE

After putting on my bike clothes, I ran out of the tent to have to volunteers cover me head to toe with sunscreen. I then headed into the transition area to try to find my bike. I actually had no problems finding it which was surprising considering how many bikes there were.



As the ride started, we headed west to get out of town and then turned north towards the Sam Houston National Forest. We had a nice tailwind which made these parts of the course just fly by. I tried as much as I could to conserve some energy knowing that I would need it later on in the day. Looking back though, I probably could (and should) have held myself back even more. The first 50 miles went great. I was easily cruising through the course averaging around 21 mph. My goal for the day was to average around 18 so this gave me a little cushion that I knew I would lose time going into the headwind. Miles 50-70 were a little rough as we moved into a different county where the roads were not as well maintained. This was also the start of the headwinds which I hit like a brick wall. Even though mile 70 provided some smoother roads, the heat of the day was just starting to set in. Around mile 80, which would have been somewhere around 12:30 – 1:00 PM, the heat from the afternoon sun as well as coming off the road was really picking up. My bike computer read the high temperature as 111° just a few feet off the road surface. This caused my drinks to heat up really fast, which subsequently caused me to not drink enough of them. That would end up being the theme for the rest of my day. After losing almost a full hour over the 2nd 56 miles, I finished the bike leg in 6 hours and 27 minutes. At this point, I was still on pace to hit my goal of 13 hours but I knew that there was going to be a lot of walking during the marathon.




RUN

After changing out of my bike gear and throwing on my running shoes. I sat in the shade for just a couple minutes to catch my breath and prepare my mind for what I was about to put my body through. By this point, the lack of hydration that had carried over from the end of the bike had caused me to have severe stomach cramps. Over the 1st (of 3) laps, I was only about to run for a minute or two at a time before having to walk for 5-10. I began feeling nauseous anytime I ate and was only able to drink an ounce or two of water each mile without making the cramping worse. By mile 11, it was so bad that I decided to lay down on a park bench for 20 minutes to try and let me stomach settle down. During this time, I had to chase away several EMS personnel who were called over to check on “the guy lying on the bench”. I convinced them I was well (and coherent) enough to continue on. When I started moving again, I was feeling much better and even entertained the possibility of being able to run the final lap. That good feeling did not last long because as soon as I tried to eat a few grapes and some soda for some calories, the cramps immediately came back. It had taken me almost 4 hours just to hit the 13 mile marker. I knew at that pace, I would just still have about an hour of wiggle room until the 17 hour cut-off at midnight. It just became about finishing what I started and putting one foot in front of the other. I continued to take in a little water at each station and just decided I would have to forgo any solid foods until I finished.



By the time I hit my 3rd lap, the sun had set and I was ready to just get it over with. I decided I was going to try to run a little more. Just like the 1st lap, I was only able to run a couple minutes before having to stop and walk for 5-10. With 5 miles to go, I had pushed it up to a 1 minute run with a 3 minute walk. At mile 25, the course takes you right past the finish line and you can hear the crowd cheering on the athletes coming through the finish chute. After 1 last aid station for another quick drink, I used everything I could to just keep running. I could feel the energy coming from the finish line just around that last turn. As I was coming through the finish chute, it was lined with spectators, all with hands waiting to receive a high-five from runner willing to give them. I made the final turn and then realized I had to run down the street, U-turn, and run back up. AAARRRRGGGGGG!!!!!!!



I made the u-turn and saw my family standing there cheering me through the line. Then the greatest words I heard all day, “Steven Harben, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” Final time, 15 hours and 5 minutes.


Post-Race

I was immediately grabbed by a volunteer and I told him I needed to go to the medical tent for an IV. On the way, I had to stop and get my finisher’s medal, t-shirt, and have my picture taken. I figured out later that the woman who gave me my medal was the 4x and current World Ironman Champion Chrissie Wellington, who had stayed out all day to cheer on the final finishers. After getting to the medical tent, I found out I was mildly hypothermic (94.2), had low blood pressure (90/60), dehydrated (needed 1.5 liters of fluid), and had low sodium levels (the chicken broth was amazing). I was finally released after about 2 hours once all my vitals were within normal ranges.




Being only a few days post-race, I am somewhat disappointed that I do not feel worse than I do. Part of that credit goes to the training that I put in, and part of it goes to the fact that due to circumstances out of my control, I just wasn’t able to push myself the way I wanted to. Overall, it was a great experience that I will never forget. While I will probably focus on shorter races in the near future, I have a feeling that I will get the Ironman itch somewhere down the line (just maybe somewhere a little bit colder).

Steven Harben
Recreation Programmer
City of Wylie