Hot and Heavy in The Woodlands - Ironman Texas 2013

Trip down

The Texas race is on a Saturday so myself, Ana and Jamie left Chicago on an early flight to Houston on Thursday. We arrived around lunchtime and drove around 30 minutes north of the airport to The Woodlands where the race is based.

We checked into the race hotel, The Marriott which we had booked right around the time I entered the race. The hotel is in a perfect location and I would thoroughly recommend staying there.

Once settled in I went over to the expo and got registered. Queue was not long so was through quickly. I then picked up my bike from Tri Bike transport who had picked up my bike from Highland Park Trek about 15 minutes from where we live and trucked it over to Texas. They offer a great, cost effective, service which avoids you having to pack up your bike in a box and get it off and on planes.

We had a quick lunch and then returned to our room for a little relaxation time. A snooze later, I decided to take a quick stroll over to transition and checked out the swim in, bike out, run out schemes. Whilst there I met a guy who told me that this was ironman number 39, made my 6 seem quite inadequate!

After a very pleasant dinner right opposite the finish line with a colleague from work and her family we retired to bed.

Final preparation

Early Saturday I went over to the swim start for a practice swim. The race organisers did not advertise the practice very well but after asking around I found out it was going on. I must have been one of the few that didn't know because three were hundreds of people milling about when got there.

The swim starts about a 15-20 minute walk from transition. Kind of unusual in most races I have taken part in but in the end it was no big deal. More of a big deal for me was that the swim was one where the temperature of the water is too hot to allow wetsuits. You can actually wear a wetsuit if you want but you have to start 10 minutes behind the mass start. I planned to not wear a wet suit and because I had never done it before, was nervous about how I would perform. I had actually done a lot of swim training so I felt apprehensive but reasonably confident that I would be fine

Anyway, had a nice swim even though the water was a bit choppy, and returned to the hotel for breakfast and then to bike check in and final preparations. These always take longer than you think so I was not done until lunchtime.

Rest of the day was spent examining maps, buying stuff in the expo, relaxing and eating! What was clear though from the forecast was that Saturday was going to be hot...over 90 degrees, winds gusting up to 14 mph, and mid 80's humidity. Having spent my training time during the winter in Chicago..this was going to be a tough adjustment!

My father, who was on business in Houston at the same time, came up for an early dinner and, after dropping him off at his hotel, I retired to bed. I slept reasonably well, but thoughts of the swim kept racing around my head....

I had also not had an ideal training run into the race. I had been ill a couple of times in Jan and Feb which had meant that I had lost at least 4 weeks of training. With my tight travel and work schedule this is a big deal for me. In fact, late in March, I nearly decided to pull out. But with some consistent and strong training in April I felt I was in half reasonable shape. I knew, however, that given the expected heat and humidity I was going to suffer a fair amount. There is nowhere to hide in an will get found out eventually!

Race Morning

It seems to have become a tradition for me that I have a small bowl of granola, coffee, a bagel with cream cheese, and more coffee for my pre Ironman breakfast. Strangely, the hotel did not offer a breakfast so I arranged to have the items delivered via room service the night before and put the milk etc in the fridge.

So having filled myself with food I walked over to transition, checked out my bags and then met up with Ana and Jamie to walk over to the swim start.

One mistake I made, I put chamois cream in my bike bib shorts on Friday afternoon and left the in the hot sun all day and night. I should have put fresh cream on the shorts on about mile 70 on the bike I had a fair amounts of pain from rubbing on my ass and crotch...

Swim - 1hr32m

The swim at Texas can be broken down into 3rds. The start is in Woodlands Lake and takes you out most of the length of the before you turn back on yourself and almost return to where you started. However, just before the start line the course takes you to the left where you swim down a narrow canal to the finish and transition.

I could not figure out where best to start in amongst the masses so I decided to be in the middle of the start line a little behind the front..this turned out well for me so I would do this again.

Anyway, the gun goes off and we are underway. The start of an ironman can be very stressful with lots of fighting and kicking so I am always determined to keep calm and just try to get into my stroke as soon as possible. I really did not have any major problems.

However, the kicking and fighting returns when you turn into the canal. It is very narrow and so there is little room to manoeuvre. This is not the best time for this to happen because tiredness is beginning to creep in and other swimmers get more angry! The very interesting part of the canal is that spectators are very close. They could reach out and touch you..never seen this before.

Bike - 6hr14m

Felt pretty good when I got out of the swim and very pleased to have survived without the wetsuit! Smooth transition and off I went on the bike.

I knew from conversations with fellow competitors that the wind was going to be with us until about mile 40 and thereafter it was going to be either a side or worse, a headwind all the way home.

40 miles in, sure enough I was averaging 22mph and feeling good. Turned a corner and then suddenly the side wind slowed me down....after a further 20 miles and another left turn I was slowed down even more by the headwind....

I had no bike issues, got or had all the nutrition I needed and so the ride caused me no problems. However, after about mile 80 I really started to feel the heat and the wind, and with my chafing issues the last 20 miles were really tough. I wanted them over quick...My speed really slowed and so I did not manage to break 6 hours.

Run (or not) - 6h23m

I was very pleased to get off the bike but I soon realised that I was pretty much cooked already and I had a marathon to complete! I had no intention of quitting so I figured that I would cool myself down at the first aid station and things would quickly improve.

I went through transition slowly and then started to run out after getting covered in sunscreen. The aid station came quickly and I drank cold drinks put ice in my hands and on my head. I then started to run again but I quickly slowed to a walk. I was already suffering and I was on mile 2! In fact, after repeating a run walk pattern until mile 4 I started to feel dizzy and was concerned that if I collapsed or sat down my race would be over.

There are 3 loops for the marathon:around the lake we swam in and the the town where the hotel is based. I quickly decided that I came to Texas to complete the no wet suit swim and get a medal...whatever the time so I ended up walking most of the first loop with the intention of cooling down as much as could. This included getting a tip from a fellow runner to put ice into my shorts because the vein around the crotch is wide and so is more likely to help with cooling. This technique had a good effect so as I came back into town I felt better to run again.

A quick note here to say that the crowds in and around the main town of Woodlands were fantastic, they created a great atmosphere and really cheered me up as I struggled through the afternoon heat. Dancing girls, singers, bands, you name it they were out to cheer us on..

So onto lap 2, starting to feel better so I ran a lot more than I walked, but as I headed into the end of the loop I was done. I had nothing left to give so I was left to mainly walk with brief interludes of running.

The marathon was my worst time ever, ironman or not, but I was so delighted to get over the line and finish! Ana and Jamie said that I did not look happy but I can tell you that inside I was jumping with joy...what a tough day. I finished in 14hr26mins and was so happy to get the medal put over my head. Ironman number six was done...

Post Race

I went with Ana, Jamie and my Dad for food and drink at the post race party. I inhaled a burrito but my legs were very very tired. I had to then get off my sore ass and walk over to transition to pick up my bike. It felt like one of the longest walks of my life. Ana even had to wake me up after I took a little rest in the grass on the way! After struggling through transition to get my bike and gear we slowly got back to hotel and I collapsed into bed. I was very happy, despite my time, to have got the job done..

Next morning after inhaling a large breakfast I decided that I have to go back to the Woodlands and do the whole experience again. I always want to do better so I signed up for Ironman Texas 2014. I really enjoyed the whole experience, the atmosphere, and the location so I will return....


Ironman Wisconsin, Madison 2012


A great day in my 3rd Ironman punctures, no bottle cages flying off, or broken cables!

I was aiming for a time under 12 hours. As you will see from the photo I missed it by 19minutes

Everything went to plan until around mile 15 on the run...I ran out of energy and slowly but surely walked more than I should have done.

I needed to finish before 7pm but the clock ticked over 12 hours when I was at the drink station inside 2 miles. I could see the Wisonsin state building where the finish line was set up...very frustrating...

Anyway I beat my PB by over 30 minutes which is very satisfying. I am so glad I went back to Madison for my third outing. It is such a great course and the crowds are absolutely brilliant.

I had such a memorable weekend with Ana, Jamie and my Dad who was visiting from the UK. It was also great to be together with my Triumph training friends, coaches, and their family and friends. They were all cheering me from beginning to end of the day...I am very lucky!

Me in a funny helmet... 

And over the line....!



Adventure in the Desert - Ironman St. George, Utah 5th May 2012

Travel down and preparation

Myself, my wife Ana and my son Jamie travelled down to Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon, around a 4 hour flight from Chicago. By the time we picked up the luggage, a rental car, and drove 2 hours through the desert it was about 9pm when we arrived at the Green Gate B&B in St. George. Interestingly we drove through 3 states, Nevada, Arizona and into Utah to get to St. George, we also moved back from Pacific to Mountain time. We ended up in a nice small cottage of our own in the B&B ‘complex’ - clean, a comfortable bed, close to the finish line, and welcoming owners – perfect.

Friday morning we had a hearty breakfast with a few other athletes, some of whom had been there since very early in the week, and headed down to get registered before the final 11am cut off. I also picked up my bike which had been transported down to St. George by Tri Bike Transport which makes things so much more convenient.

The swim is in a reservoir called Sand Hollow Reservoir just over 20 miles out of town. The bike course goes back into town and does 2 circa 40 mile loops before heading into the town for the run. The run is 3 loops on the streets in the town center so very good for spectators.

Once all registered and I had checked out my bike setup we headed out to the lake to put my kit into transition and have a quick swim. One of my concerns going into the race was that the water has been very cold during previous years. However, soon after I jumped in I felt great – much warmer than early season training in Lake Michigan!

Once checked in we headed out to have a look a quick look Zion National Park – wonderful scenery - Ana took some photos and we agreed we need to return for a longer stay next year. We then went back into town to a prehistoric dig site where a number of original dinosaur fossils were on display. We also met my cousin who drove up with her kids from Las Vegas to meet us for a few hours. We shared some great frozen yoghurt, watched the kids running race in town, cooled our feet in the fountains in the town center and played with the kids. Very relaxing!

To finish a busy day we found a supermarket for the pre-race breakfast supplies the next morning and bought a pizza for dinner. And so to bed at 9pm…..we were all exhausted and it was only day one!

Race morning

Up at 4am…followed by breakfast of bagel & cream cheese, banana, some granola, and the mandatory two mugs of coffee. Adequately full, I left the room, handed in my special needs bags, and got on a bus to the lake. The B&B was right across the road from the bus pick up so zero stress or concern here. Little note on my special needs bag, given what happened to me last September in Madison the bike special needs bag was full of spare inner tubes and gas just in case!


The swim course is one loop of 2.4 miles starting opposite a small island in the lake and then out and back where the back involves going past the other side of the island and in to the finish - the corners being at roughly 800m, 1400m, and 3200m.

Felt good at the start, found a place on the right and started a good paced swim with very little kicking and fighting which is unusual. I was really hoping to get a PB on the swim – this is where a lot of my winter training had gone! This confidence carried on up until the first corner, but when we turned we had large waves going across our path. The wind had suddenly got up and was causing large waves to kick up – plenty of white water. I kept calm, put the idea of a PB out of my head, and kept my stroke consistent breathing to the right to avoid the swell.

After 1400m we started to head into the wind and the swimming got a lot harder! Every few strokes I was either slapped in the head or got a mouthful of water. However, I still kept calm and got on with my swimming just making slower progress!

After a good period I was getting very close to the island – roughly I guess about 800m to go and I heard a lot of shouting around me. I stopped swimming and had a look around. There were a lot less people in the pack I was in and I could see some boats way behind me with many competitors hanging on. Also there were boats to my left with athletes being transported to shore. This was obviously worrying to me…had the swim been cancelled and I had not heard? Also I could not see the buoys that were there before we started – they almost all had disappeared. All I could see ahead was one orange buoy but not the red one where we were supposed to turn to go into the swim finish. Finally, and most concerning there were no kayaks or canoes around as support. It suddenly occurred to me that if I had a cramp or something go wrong there was no one around to come and help. They would find it difficult enough to find me in what must have been up to 10 foot waves.

I carried on swimming but after a few more minutes where my calmness was beginning to be replaced with genuine concern for my safety a motor boat bouncing in the water came nearby. The guy driving the boat asked if I was ok – I said yes but that the swim was crazy. He said that many had been pulled out and that it may make sense for me to get out also. So at that moment I had to make a call….should I stay the boat may not come back? With no support in sight, no bouys marking out the course, and so many being pulled out, and with his advice it seemed unwise to continue. I did not feel tired at all and felt confident that I would finish despite the conditions but the risk/reward at that moment seemed to be in the wrong balance. So I decided to get on ….

We then went on and spent quite a lot of time collecting more athletes some of which were injured or shivering badly…one guy in particular looked bad. We then headed to the swim finish…

When I got off the boat, grateful to be on firm ground, I started to walk off the marina and I noticed that a few athletes were finishing the swim. I assumed that they were finishing but that the swim time would be discounted and a duathlon would then be the order of the day. Just then an official walked up to me and ripped off my timing chip…he told me to go to his colleague behind him and talk to him about a duathlon.

I walked on looking for his colleague but there was no one about…several officials were, quite rightly, looking after the injured person on the boat I had just dismounted. So I thought ‘what the hell’ keep going and I will work it out at the finish! So I ran through to transition got my bike gear and ran out to start the bike. The race clock just ticked to 2 hours and I was on my way.

Here is a link to an article in the local newspaper about the swim…this should give you some context to what we had to deal with


So I immediately put the experience of the swim behind me confident that I had made the right decision at that moment and got on with second part of my day. I immediately felt the wind on the bike that we had been swimming through. I hoped that this would not continue for the whole 112 mile route – that optimism was drained away over the following few hours!

After about 3-4 miles I met a guy who told me about his swim experience…he had got to the island, had a rest and then joined up with a few other athletes and swam directly in from there without going round and following the race route. This confirmed to me that I had made the right choice but he had not had his race chip taken from him!

I had looked at only the 20 mile route into town as part of the pre-race prep so it went without any event of note except the continual wind. Thereafter I only knew that there were basically 25 odd miles of climbing followed by 15 miles of downhill back on the two loops. I also had heard from fellow athletes that there were two steep climbs on the loop – one called The Wall.

I had spent a lot of time preparing my bike and checking and re-checking everything that I was quietly confident that I was not going to have the disaster of Madison where my bike basically collapsed on me (another long story) and caused me to DNF in September last year. In fact this race was really meant to be redemption for what happened that day!

Anyway back to the bike, we were cycling uphill and into a strong wind. Furthermore the course was not just a gentle climb up 25 miles, it was constantly rolling! So the wind plus the 2 steep hills just continued to sap strength from the legs…very hard work. Then at about 25 miles into the loop we finally turned a switch back up another steep hill for about a mile but this time the wind was behind us! A few more rolling miles after that and suddenly we started to plunge downwards…..smooth roads and steep downhill I noticed several times that I got to 50 miles an hour on this section – what a relief! With strong side winds it took all my skill to not get blown off the bike – I heard later that one of the pros with a disc wheel did indeed get blown off the road.

And so to the second loop – I was at about 70 miles in at this stage so I knew that I needed to get 25 more uphill miles done and then I would have a fast downhill again to the finish. Every one of these 25 miles were painful and tiring. My only relief was seeing Ana and Jamie who had made the effort to get a bus out to the one point on the route that spectators could get to. They had waited so long for me but they really cheered me and made me even more determined to get the job done.

Finally after leaving part of myself on those steep hills, especially the one at 90 odd miles I finally got downhill relief and made it into transition for the run. My timer showed just over 7hours 30mins for the bike just under 14.5miles per hour for the 112 miles.


And so the last part of the day…the marathon. My basic aim here was to try to 10 minute miles for as long as I could and measure where I was at this point in the tri season. I took a walk break at each rest station to take on water and ice to keep my temperature down. I was bit overheated after the bike so I really worked on this for the first few miles of the run. Ice down the shirt, in the cap, cold sponges etc etc..after 2-3 miles I started to feel good and was hitting 10 minute miles easily.

However, after I had done 12 miles the wheels started to come off…I knew this was going to happen I just didn’t know when! Despite Ana and Jamie’s constant and unbelievable support I could not keep the pace going and I gradually got worse and worse as the miles went by. The rest of the run was a combination of run/walk until the end - the last 5 miles being more walk than run.

Finally after 14 hours 40 minutes and 30 seconds I crossed the line and finished my fourth Ironman!

Post Race

I was expecting that because I had no timing chip that the organizers would not give me a medal but to their credit I got the finishers hat, shirt and medal – I was very pleased. I then walked through, grabbed some pizza and finally rested – I couldn’t eat the pizza so I gave it to my hungry family!

After some time talking about what had happened we handed my bike back to Tri Bike Transport, grabbed my gear, got a bad case of the shivers in the shower, and collapsed into bed. Apart from terrible sun burn on my calves I felt very tired but basically fine. My body was so ‘cooked’ however I could not sleep – I heard the final athlete go over the line and the fireworks go off and I drifted off to sleep happy with what I had achieved in a long and very rough day.

Another report from the local paper sums it up for me…