Adjusted Reality

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.” – Mark Twain

Ironman Texas – packing bags and #sh!tcanal swim

Since this is my first Ironman, I’m giving myself the latitude to write a really long race report.  So, enjoy/indulge me with the approximately 600 million words (not all appearing in this post) to come this week about the whole shebang.


There is so much to do in the days before an Ironman.  It’s unlike any other race.  We got down there early Thursday afternoon, and I figured we’d have soooo much time to fart around.  Totally not the case.  We arrived and went straight to packet pickup and it took almost no time (unlike Austin 70.3 which took foreeeever).  We got our wristbands and backpacks and all that jazz, and then spent a bunch of money on gear (you only get one first IM and if I bought the stuff I have to finish, right?).  The athlete briefing started as we walked out and we sat through some of it, and then realized that we knew everything from METICULOUSLY studying the race guide and watching the webinar so we ducked out of the hot sun and left.

Zliten was really craving pizza so we ducked into Grimaldi’s and got a caesar salad and a super amazing meat pizza called the Don.  The meatballs were to die for.  It was perfect carbs.  We finished the whole 12-inch thing.  I joked that we should go back there right after the race since it was pretty much AT the finish line.  After that we checked into the hotel, hit the pool and hot tub, and then quickly got dressed to go to the banquet.

M dots and carbs and stuff, oh my!

Usually we don’t do all the pre-race hullabaloo, but we wanted to take it all in, and Ironman does a great job about making it a full weekend event (with lots of free food, natch), not just a race. For dinner, I had tri tip in a yummy sauce, mashed potatoes, chicken pasta, salad, and this amazing strawberry cheesecake bite.  Through the whole weekend, everyone treated first-timers like royalty, and it started there when they made us stand up and cheered for us.  At dinner, we met another first timer, and someone else from Canada who was super nervous since she had only been biking on the trainer.

After that, we spent the evening packing bags.  Ironman is about a lot of things, but it’s definitely about BAGS.  You get six bags – one cool backpack to keep, and 5 plastic ones – morning clothes, bike gear, run gear, special needs (bike), and special needs (run).  I was thankful I have done Kerrville with two separate transitions and clean (bagged) transitions but this was a whole ‘nother level (see my packing list here).  After double and triple checking them we settled into bed with books for the night and slept pretty decently.

Friday morning, we got up and hit the breakfast buffet.  Biscuits and gravy might not have been on the things-I’d-normally-eat-day-before list, but it was good paired with some potatoes, sausage, and cereal for protein and carbs.  Then, we kitted up for a super serious long bike ride (not).  It was so cool to see what felt like a full town of triathletes out riding bikes!  We rode down to the swim start and back just to check it out, and all the athletes were getting out of the practice swim.  We elected to skip it because we heard the water was naaaaasty (which we validated by hearing later about a bunch of people getting sick).

After our shakeout bike, we headed up to Lake Conroe for our own practice swim.  Getting in the water, Zliten slipped and fell and bounced down the stairs.  We both watched his race flash before our eyes but he was fine on the swim and just felt a little sore.  Whew!  Always some drama race week with that one, I tell you.  The lake was a little murky and I had a muddy face after, but it definitely wasn’t toxic.  We then hit up Jason’s Deli for lunch and I got a giant salad, sandwich, and chips.  I normally try to keep my fiber a little lower pre-race but I also generally feel a little off in the gut race day going pure carb, so I gave it a try.  Spoiler: it worked out.

Because we were right across from an Academy, I asked if we could do a 20 minute shopping trip for new bathing suits for me for vacation.  Zliten agreed.  I took 30 mins (which I think is still pretty impressive) and by the end his side was really hurting.  Our next stop was back at the expo, where he hit up the chiropractor and a massage, and he was much better after.

Noms, and taking pics of anything with a M dot sign continued…

Our hotel had this free food thing every night, and we thought it might be a little dicey the night before a race, but they had rice and beans and potatoes and chips and cheese and after all that, we were full and fueled and there was no need for anything else.  We double and triple checked our special needs bags and laid everything out and laid down and tried to go to sleep.  I really thought I was going to be too nervous, but I conked out fairly quickly and got 6 or 7 really solid hours of shut eye.

Race morning:

Our alarm was for 3:40am, and we were both up by 4am.  I felt like it was super early, of course, because my whole plan for trying to shift my sleep schedule in the last few weeks was a complete fail (in fact, with my cold and other things, it may have gotten worse).  However, I got up, going, used the bathroom, and shoved as much food in my face as possible (watermelon lemonade, cliff pb pretzel bar, about half a bagel with cream cheese).  We left the hotel right at the 4:40 we had planned for, parking was a breeze, the garage was probably about a half mile from T1, and we figured we were golden.

Then, the STUFF TO DO continued.  We had to pump up our tires.  I loved how the explanation for how to do this was “well, we have a bike tech but there’s 3000 of you so the line will be long and you can’t put pumps in your bags so, uh, hand it off to a supporter”.  This was the answer for a lot of things.  Have your spectators do it.  Since it wasn’t required to have a crew for this race, we didn’t.  Long story short, I am a crankypants and completely antisocial near a long race like this, and I didn’t want to have to entertain anybody in the days before or after.  Or have to hold coherent conversations with anyone not related to triathlon.  Or burden anyone with having to drive 3 hours and stay overnight just to see me 5-ish times for a few seconds over the course of 15 hours.  I’m just perfectly happy to have random strangers that WANT to be there for the fun of it cheering me on.

Back off my tangent, we put our nutrition in on our bike and in our run bags (I might do this the night before next time, unless it was supposed to be a scorcher), hit the potties, and then headed for the first (unofficial) leg of the triathlon, the mile walk from T1 to the swim start.  We stopped on the way for a porta potty (which took about 15 minutes because there was a line and only one of them).

We finally got to the swim start with about 10 minutes to the pro start.  We dropped off our special needs bags (yep, had to drag them alllll the way from the car there) and our morning clothes bag and then I finally had to potty again myself.  Then, Zliten had to potty again and I stood in line with him and then determined that I had best go again (yep, #3 for #2!), and by the time we were out everyone else without a wetsuit was in the water already and we were running to the start.  FUCK.

Obvs from the day before because wetsuit.


We both made the call since it was wetsuit optional, that we were going to do it as the race rules intended – no wetsuit.  When we heard them saying “last call for non wetsuit swimmers, we hightailed it through the crowd of ~800 people in wetsuits waiting to go and were the last two people to start.  So, according to the rules, we WERE the age grouper cut off.  Which was kind of cool!

What wasn’t kind of cool at all was the fact they let 800 wetsuit swimmers start all at once with no seeding immediately after we did.  So, the sub-1 hour swimmers swam directly over me about 30 seconds after I started.  And it just didn’t stop.  There was kicking and punching and pushing and shoving.  I even overheard later about proctology exams and biting and one guy even died (super tragic… Zliten said he thought that he saw him being lifted out).  This rolling start may be like 10% less brutal than a mass one, but it’s still a fucking washing machine.

The combat was frustrating.  The lake was suuuuuuuuper murky.  I felt like I could never stretch out and swim with proper form because I would get hit.  Without my wetsuit, I was missing a layer of armor that other people had and I didn’t like it.  My swim cap kept coming off.  My earplugs were being cranky because I forgot to tuck in the cord.  However, while all those things were going wrong and I was alternating screaming into the water and grinning like an idiot because it was IM day (hello mood swings!), time actually passed reasonably quickly and all of a sudden we were done with the first third of the course.

The second third was actually kind of nice.  Everyone got to spread out a little bit more and I actually did a little bilateral breathing and I only got jostled/jostled someone about 1-2 times every minute instead of every stroke.  I still had to fix my swim cap a lot, but I was definitely smiling… until out of nowhere my hip flexor on my “broken” knee side started hurting and then the knee felt tight.  I made sure to favor breathing to the other side, and it stretched out a bit, but not the best confidence boosting start to the day.

Mine wasn’t as bad as some athletes I’ve seen who have them swimming on open roads, but I’m clearly paddling on shore here…

Then we turned into the canal.  At first it was nice (what were these people talking about with how gross it was?), then there was construction run off (tastes like my pool where they’re building the restaurant right nextdoor (mmmmm sawdust…).  After that, we got to the portion where they were dumping manure in the day before (???) and it, well, tasted about how you would expect.  We just kept swimming and swimming and swimming (#justkeepswimming) and we passed a bridge and I got all excited because it was 100 yards after the bridge but then there was another bridge in the distance and it was actually that one and then there was some hydrilla right at the end (but nothing like swimming in Austin) and then I was OUT!

Swim: 1:38:26.  Not quite the sub-1:30 I was hoping but sans wetsuit and with all the combat, and the conditions in what people were calling the #sh!tcanal, I was super thrilled to be out of the water with plenty of time to spare.

Jump to part 2: the bikening…





For those who are about to tri…


Ironman Texas – Bike (Highway from Hell)


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