Ironman Texas 2015
The journey began in summer 2014, when Leyla (my TriBestie) and I had just finished Eagleman 70.3 in the US. I can’t remember whose crazy idea it was, but we decided to enter a full Ironman, and we settled on Texas. Why, I’m not sure – later we discovered it’s ranked the fifth hardest Ironman in the world, due to the heat and humidity, the non-wetsuit swim, rolling hills and a three loop run course.
Several 70.3 races later, the time came to start my formal Ironman training. I’m lucky to have a wonderful group to train with, ONEndurance Triathlon Team Abu Dhabi, and my coach Luis Quinones structured much of the group training at weekends around my plan. One of the members, ‘Doc’ Luc Tambeur was a lifesaver, he was there for every single long bike and run, often starting at some crazy early hour, and finishing in 40 degree heat.
The hours were long, but Coach knows how to get the best of me – his philosophy is that more is not always better, so the hours were not as crazy as many coaches prescribe. Even so, I was often tired, always hungry, and my social life became non-existent. I should apologize to everyone for often being grumpy!
I live in Abu Dhabi, so I had to travel to the race. I arrived five days in advance, to give my body time to get over the jetlag. I flew to Dallas, picked up a rental car, and drove to Houston to meet up with Leyla. The three days before the race flew by, there was so much to do – registration, bike service, welcome banquets, bike check in, not to mention packing all the transition and special needs bags, double checking everything a hundred times to make sure nothing was forgotten. The weather was surprisingly wet and very stormy, fingers were crossed it would improve for race day.
Race day started at 3:30am, to allow time to digest my ritual breakfast of oats, banana and coffee. Sun screen, glide and chamois cream were liberally applied, race number tattoos were stuck to my arms. Then it was off to transition in the dark, to pump our tyres and put last minute nutrition and hydration on the bikes. The thick mud from all the rain in the week did not make life easy – we were already planning ahead on how to deal with it during the transitions later in the day.
The walk to the swim start was over a mile long, and there was a kind of hushed silence amongst the competitors, everyone apprehensive about what lay ahead. The swim was a rolling start, meaning everyone self-seeded themselves. After handing in our special needs bags and morning clothes, we joined our spots in the queue – it was at this point I said goodbye and good luck to Leyla, an emotional moment knowing it would be many hours before we’d know how each other had got on.
Before I knew it the gun was fired and the slow procession into the water began. The swim was in a man-made lake, and the water itself was very dark and murky. I chose not to wear a wetsuit, as the water temperature was above the legal limit. I started off well, but soon the fight for space began, legs and arms were flying everywhere and several times I worried for the safety of both my timing chip on my ankle and my Garmin on my wrist. Worse was to come when the wetsuit swimmers started, having an advantage they were soon swimming on top of me, for a while it was chaos. I found some space and rhythm after the first 1500m stretch and was feeling good. However, around the 2500m mark cramp started in my left foot, and it continued to bother me for the rest of the swim, I had to pause frequently to try and stretch it out. I also took a pretty fierce kick to my ribs, almost winding me. Finally I made it to the final 1000m stretch up the canal to the finish – I think this is where I finally relaxed and started to enjoy the swim, although I was feeling cold in the water by now. I reached the exit feeling pretty good but was a little disappointed when I looked at my watch and saw 1hr 51m – 10mins slower than I had hoped for.
T1 took way longer than I had planned, all the volunteers were busy so I struggled to get my gear out and my tri top on (I swam without it as I was wearing my speedsuit), quickly ate half a banana and a gel, and trudged out barefoot to find my bike. The mud was deep and people were slipping and sliding all over the place, carrying bikes to the mount line, where paddling pools of water had been provided to wash our feet. I took my time to dry them before putting my shoes on – with a long day ahead I didn’t want to risk getting blisters.
Finally I was on my bike, and a feeling of relief washed over me. Now it was time to put my head down and put my legs to work. My goal was to keep my cadence around 85rpm and let the speed take care of itself. I loved every minute of the first half of the bike course, my new Cube was a dream to ride. I passed many people, I felt strong and the wind was mostly behind us. This changed around the half way mark though, when we hit the head winds and rolling hills. The sun was rising too, making it hot, and for around 20 miles the chip seal on the road surface was unbearable. I was very glad Coach had advised me to ride on Gatorskin tyres, I was relieved to survive without a flat.
Around 120km a burning sensation on the balls of my feet started, gradual at first but growing more intense until I could no longer bear it. At an aid station around 150km, I stopped, and the kind volunteers made me an ice bath out of a tin foil container, sat me down in one of their own chairs and made me sit for 5-10 minutes with my feet in the icy water – it felt like heaven. I must say a huge thank you to all the volunteers and supporters throughout the whole course – they were all amazing and picked me up many times when I was down.
Feet cured, I was back on the bike again, feeling like I had a new body. I hit the 100 mile mark and was on such a high to be near the end, the last 12 miles were amazing, if a little slow due to lots of turns and corners. I had been worried about the distance, as I hadn’t cycled over 140km in training, but thanks to the ice bath I clearly got a second wind and the distance wasn’t an issue at all. My nutrition had gone to plan, despite not stopping at Special Needs (I switched to Gatorade instead of getting my second bottle of Perpetuem), so I was feeling good.
Back to transition, the mud was even worse than ever. It took time to find water to clean my feet (no paddling pools this time) and dry them, so again T2 took far longer than I wanted. Finally, I was out on the run, and happy to be on the final leg. It was 3pm now, and very hot. It didn’t take long for me to realise I would need all the ice and sponges I could get at every aid station. I had intended to keep my energy up with gels for the first half of the run, but somewhere around the hour my mark my stomach decided this wasn’t going to work. I began feeling nauseous, and the thought of eating or drinking anything was not appealing. I forced myself to take small sips of Gatorade at each station, just to get some sugar in me. I knew my electrolyte levels should be okay, as I had been taking two salt tablets every hour throughout the whole day. A stitch in my right side started, and it spread across my stomach under my ribs. I was still managing to run/walk as planned, but the walking parts were getting longer and longer. I stopped for my Special Needs bag on the second loop, to put on fresh socks – a good move, as unlike many others I survived blister free.
Somewhere around the 29km mark, the pain got so bad I couldn’t run anymore. I had a choice here, I could either be miserable and trudge around the rest of the course, or I could put a smile on my face and power walk to the finish line. I chose the latter, and I loved every minute of it. The crowds and volunteers were amazing, commenting on my smile, encouraging me, pushing me forward – a few of the competitors I overtook were not impressed that I was walking faster than they were ‘running’! During T2, I had accidentally stopped my Garmin, so I had no idea if I was close to hitting my target of 15 hours or not, which possibly helped me enjoy myself more.
Suddenly, I only had 4km left. This was a particularly tough part of the course, looping back on itself just to make up the distance, but I didn’t care, I realized I didn’t want it to end. People were shouting at me, urging me to run the last little bit, but I refused – I wanted to make the moment last forever. I could hear the roar of the finish line, it was so close, and suddenly I was there in the bright lights. I heard Leyla call out to me, and I ran back to give her a hug and congratulate her on her amazing race, and then I high fived the crowds along the finish chute. I was waiting for Mile Reilly to say those magic words, ‘Amanda Borlotti, you are an IRONMAN’ but in the moment all I heard was the cheering and I bounced across the finish line with the biggest smile on my face, ecstatic to be there. A medal was placed over my head, and then I cried – tears of pure joy and elation. I did it. I really did it. I am an IRONMAN!!
*Special thanks goes to Coach, and to my team, ONEndurance. Love you guys!*
The Next Few Days
My body felt pretty good the next day, all things considered. I was suffering from very sore chafing though, my tri kit had rubbed under my arms and my bra rubbed my back. I had liberally applied Glide at the start of the day, but it was so humid in transition while we set the bikes up, I suspect most of it sweated off. I reapplied in T1 and T2 but my skin was wet from sweat. Next race I will take the time to dry off before reapplying. Luckily I had no sunburn, I’m glad I let the volunteers slap me with sunscreen in both T1 and T2.
Day two, my body was very stiff, I felt like an old lady getting up after sitting down for too long. I realized it is key to keep moving and gently stretching. By day three I felt pretty good again, and took the bike out for a gentle spin. Coach prescribed gentle activity every day, very wise advice.
One Week Later
I travelled home and after a 16 hour flight the jet lag hit me bad. My immune system was low after the race, and I got sick – no surprise. I was also losing weight. I took it very easy this week, allowing my body to heal and rest. Getting sick made me realize the true effects of an Ironman – it does a lot more damage than we see on the surface, and must be respected. Post race recovery is vital. Sleep, gentle activity and eating well are all crucial to recovery.
Two Weeks Later
I’m feeling good again and my weight has stabilised – it’s time to start easing back into training and plan my next race :-)
AG Rank: 78
Gender Rank: 381
Overall Rank: 1674
Breakfast: oats, sugar and banana, two coffees
Pre swim: water & one gel
T1: half banana & one gel
Bike: one bottle of perpetuem (2 sachets) with one gel = 650 cals. One gel or half a bar every 45 mins = 800 cals. Didn’t get second bottle of perpetuem from Special Needs, switched to Gatorade instead = 200cals. Total = 1650cals. Salt tablets = two every 45 minutes
T2: one gel
Run: it all went to pot as I couldn’t stomach much. I think I managed 3 gels at the beginning, then switched to sips of Gatorade and water. No coke. The chicken broth came out on my second lap and I took this every other aid station. One pack of chomps somewhere near the end. Salt tablets = two every hour.
Post race: McDonalds :-)