Despite doing Challenge Miami a couple months ago, and local races over the past year, I feel like IRONMAN Tulsa finally marks the return to racing! At least for me. As with any race, the story begins before the race actually does. So here it goes.
A few weeks ago I intended on racing St George 70.3, which at “just” 5 hours away is almost considered a local race for me. As with all good plans, a curveball was thrown when I got sick with norovirus (stomach bug) 2-3 weeks before it. It completely wiped me out and literally had me lying in bed barely able to even make it to the toilet. While I managed to mostly come around before the race in St George, it wasn’t enough to consider myself race ready, so I scrapped it to be able to rally for a good performance at IRONMAN Tulsa. In the meantime, I got sick once again with a respiratory virus but was able to train through it and show up to Tulsa with a decent amount of fitness and preparation for the big race. And most importantly, the hunger to race to my best ability against a stacked championship field!
I made the decision to drive to Tulsa from Grand Junction, which ended up being just over a 13 hour drive. Everything went super smoothly and I was able to do the whole drive in one day, and met coach/friend Jesse Vondracek at our AirBnb for the long weekend. The next couple of days involved the standard tune up workouts and Ironman logistics. Including joining in the infamous Underpants Run which you have to see to fully understand! I also grabbed my dad from the airport who came to spectate the race and then visit Grand Junction after. The body was feeling good and everything was on track for a good day for the race on Sunday!
Race morning came with a 3:15am wake up which was not pleasant, especially with the time difference making it feel like 2:15am. I actually slept relatively well, though, which was strange as I rarely sleep well before big races due to pre-race anxiety. I was a bit concerned that I wasn’t more anxious, which in itself is a paradox! Jesse and I left our AirBnb right on schedule, but super congested traffic at the race site caused us to miss the Pro shuttles. We caught some later shuttles and made it out to the lake/T1 from T2 in time, but without much wiggle room. I quickly got the bike prepped for the race, hit the porta-potty, and got the wetsuit on and ready to roll.
I probably got a total of 30 strokes of swimming in as a warmup before lining up, but felt really good so didn’t think I needed any more. I lined up further to the left for the in-water start right next to Matt Russell and Sam Long who are guys I have frequently swam with in the past. After the usual creep forward that the Pro men do before the start, I ended up being slightly behind the front line. Finally we got the 20 second to go warning and then finally the cannon to start!
I had a VERY good start to my swim, and almost immediately came by Matt and Sam on the front line. The group was very large since there were 50-60 guys starting the race, and I found myself frequently searching for good people to slot behind. After 400-ish meters, the pace didn’t seem to be slowing down at all, and my top end speed was beginning to fade a bit. I found myself drifting back a bit. I believe this is where the eventual gap opened up between the 2nd and 3rd packs in the swim. Over the rest of the swim, I moved around to different spots in this pack, and noticed that it contained Joe Skipper, Sam Long, and a few others. I could tell we were moving well, and this was confirmed when learning later that I came out in 52:24. Which is a 3.5 minute PR for me on an Ironman swim (not counting Chattanooga’s down river swim…).
I had a fairly slow transition fumbling with my suit and such, but got going on the bike and the legs felt ready to roll. After a couple miles, Matt Russell and Tripp Hipple came up from behind and made the pass. I stayed with them for a few minutes before deciding that their pace was quicker than I wanted to start. I was already maintaining above 300 watts and did not want to go crazy above that level right from the gun. I kept the pace hot right around 300 watts for NP for the first couple hours with rain constantly coming down. The roads were extremely rough and ridden with potholes, I was pretty constantly either surging either above 350-ish watts, or cruising and trying to survive any turns or downhills. I had planned to take extra caution as I did not want to be one of the many guys that flatted or crashed on the course. Even at the expense of a slightly slower ride.
Around 30 something miles in, I noticed a few guys further back slowly creeping their way up to me. Right at mile 44 I was caught by Michael Weiss with a couple guys in tow behind him. Boris Stein also joined shortly after to make for some real firepower. Weiss and Stein are powerhouses on the bike and led the charge with me jumping to the front a couple times. This kept up until 80-something miles into the ride, when those two created a gap on a downhill leading into a turn and put in a surge to drop me and the 3-4 guys still trailing behind us. There was some shuffling in position over the next 10 miles, but eventually it became Pedro Gomes and myself pulling away for the final 30-ish mile stretch. I was definitely feeling the effects of riding hard for the first 3+ hours and was fighting to stay on the gas pedal and not bleed too much time in those final miles.
I finally rolled into transition shortly after Pedro after a tough ride in 4:33:51 with a final normalized power of 275 watts. I was somewhat optimistic about the marathon, though I could tell my stomach wasn’t completely happy at the time. As I racked my bike, I saw Jesse heading out and was glad that there would be some people to target heading out on the run. To my surprise, in the first part of the run I saw Michael Weiss, Boris Stein, and Nicholas Chase all on the side of the road. With the bike course being super tough and the competition being fierce, I rightly expected to see some carnage throughout the marathon.
I certainly didn’t feel fresh, but I was getting along decently and focused on running as efficiently as possible. At the aid station around mile 4 I made my first porta-potty stop. Although it wasted probably a minute of race time, my stride immediately opened up and I felt like a new man. I reeled in Nick Chase who had rallied from his stint at the side of the road, though was suffering pretty well. I continued to fight against building fatigue and dying legs as the run went on. The pace little by little was slowing, but the mind was still fighting to keep going to the finish. I made a second quick bathroom stop around mile 11, which seemed to rid me of most of my stomach issues. Though I still had the occasional liquids regurgitate. I came by Jesse around mile 18 who was breaking down like much of the Pro field by that point. I switched to taking in some more caffeine in the final 5 miles which really put some more pep in my step! I managed to rally some and came through the last uphill mile or two strong with a mixture of happy/pain face coming through. And after over a year and a half I finally crossed the finish of an Ironman with a 3:02:53 marathon, a total time of 8:34:02, and in 24th place.
While nothing major went wrong during the race for me, there were definitely a lot of places to improve. I am definitely a stronger athlete than a year and a half ago, and that showed in particular in my swim, and the stronger first half of the bike. I’ll be fully committing on the rest of my race schedule for the Spring/Summer soon as I’ve had to make some changes recently. I won’t be attempting another 24 hour ride again soon as originally planned, but will be aiming for some half-distance races and of course more Ironman racing. There will be more blog posts soon as I’m back in action at racing again finally!