Monday, May 25, 2015

Triathlons, Trails, True Runners and Team Healey - A Year in Review

Team Healey Multisport - May 16, 2015
I'm so bad at blogging.  Like, remember that YouTube video where the guy from Ball State University kept unenthusiastically saying "And...Boom goes the dynamite!" on a college sports highlight show?  I'm that bad...but at blogging.

I logged in to my Blogger account tonight to do my Ironman Texas 2015 race recap and immediately realized that I hadn't written a blog since my last Ironman Texas race recap...eleven months ago.  That, simply put, is unacceptable. And that is clearly no way to keep a loyal and ravenous fan base satisfied. So, to my dozen(s) of loyal readers, I sincerely apologize.  I will make considerable effort to keep the posts fresh and regular this summer.

And it isn't like nothing has happened in the last 11 months that was worth writing about.  Quite the opposite in fact.  It's just that I haven't taken the time to sit down and write about any of it.  Family, career, travel, training and racing tend to take up the majority of my time, and things like "write a new blog post" end up way down the list under things like "3:00/1:00 run/bike brick, weights" and "take your wife out to dinner for God's sake." Also, I blame Instagram.  The photograph/caption format just seems to fit this triathlete's life much better than this ancient "Web Logging" thing.  But, alas, there are times when a story must be told...and today is one of those times.

Out of respect for the reader, I feel it is important to give you some context before I drop you into the middle of another sweaty day in The Woodlands.  So, before I move on to the full on Ironman Texas race recap let me break down the last eleven months in a single thrilling paragraph:

Post IMTX 2014 Lacy and I took a little "runcation" and spent seven weeks training about 20 triathletes for their first sprint and Olympic races at the Small/Tiny Texan Triathlon in Boerne.  The team did great (three podiums!) and about a dozen of our athletes kept training and racing all summer and fall dominating several local triathlons and duathlons.  Lacy and I took a summer trip to Maine to visit family, did some open water swimming, went to LL Bean, ate some lobster and then trained for a fitness competition (3rd place men's physique for me, 5th place women's bikini for Lacy).  After the fitness show we did a 20 mile trail run at the Lighthouse Hill Ranch 10/20 and 50K followed by a Half Ironman in Austin.  We also invested in some acreage in the Hill Country which we hoped to use for the occasional weekend training trip.  I spent November growing an epic mustache for the Men of Triathlon calendar while we trained runners for the Harlingen and Las Vegas Half Marathons and McAllen Marathon.  When it was over, we traveled to Vegas to celebrate the end of an era and the dawning of a new one and then opened our new business - Team Healey Multisport.  Our Team Healey True Runners kicked off the New Year with the spirit award at the South Texas Sizzler 5K/10K (a moment to savor).  The New Year also brought new challenges and trials as we raced and trained runners and triathletes for races around the region and began training for Ironman Texas 2015.  Between near constant travel and work obligations, some scary family issues and the struggle of starting a new fitness brand in a competitive market, training for Ironman took a decidedly slow start this year.  In February the True Runners raced the Get Up and Train Half Marathon and the Austin Full and Half Marathon.  In March they raced the Show The Trail Who's Boss Half Marathon in Brownsville and the Mesquite Fire 50K Trail Ultramarathon in the mud and rain in Mission.  In April, our multisport team kicked off our 2015 schedule in earnest with the Anyone Can Tri Mini/Micro Triathlon in Brownsville and Half Iron races in New Orleans and Galveston and the Iron Gingers and I spent a torturous weekend at the aforementioned Hill Country acreage practicing riding and running at an incline.  So, that just about brings us up to speed...

Competing in a natural bodybuilding competition in September
Repping Wally's Bicycles at Ironman Austin 70.3 in October
TRUE Runners on the podium at our first team event in January
Team Healey after the Jalapeno 100 in February 
Mesquite Fire 50K in the rain and mud in March
Show The Trail Who's Boss Half Marathon in March
Hills on hills on hills at Dancing Bear Ranch
In the interest of brevity I've left out a lot of the drama and most of the details (like how I may or may not have spent time this spring drafting a screenplay for a Texas based coming of age teen dance competition movie tentatively titled "Two Step It Up.").  But, regardless, that should give you the bird's eye view of the life of your author since he last regaled you with heroic tales of triathlon and tribulation.

So where does that leave us?

Ah, yes...smack dab in the middle of a sweaty day in The Woodlands.  Ironman Texas 2015.

The road to The Woodlands started slowly for me in early February.  After spending much of December and January focussed on the new business and my work related travel obligations, I started to base build in the pain cave on our new Kurt Kinetic Road Machine (with InRide).  Thanks to more than two solid years of training for long course triathlon, I wasn't starting from scratch, but I knew I had to make my workouts count as my job was taking me on the road on an almost weekly basis.  I made extra effort to spend quality time on the trainer throughout my build for Ironman Texas and deferred to a hard ride over an easy run or swim at almost every opportunity.

La Flamma Blanca 

I'll spare you the details of 16 weeks of training, but I will say that I arrived in The Woodlands on the Tuesday before the race feeling confident that I would have a new bike PR and a solid run, but feeling slightly underprepared for the swim.  I based my reasoning on the fact that I had raced a quick-given-the-conditions 50K in March followed by a 1:36 half marathon on tired legs a week later; that I had felt fresh as a daisy after our windy 100K bike at the Jalapeno 100 in February and fresher still after a 100K shake out two weeks before the race; and the that I had swam approximately 12 times in my lead up to race day with exactly two of those swims exceeding 2,000 yards.  So, yeah.  If I didn't drown, I'd probably do okay.

Driving to The Woodlands on Tuesday with my gear and Lacy's safely tucked into our new race wagon (yes, we bought a triathlon specific used vehicle - a Lexus GX470 - that could transport two bikes and all of our gear around the state.  We're that triathlon couple.) was a harbinger of things to come.  The rain was constant from Corpus to the outskirts of Houston and the flooding along 59/69 was pretty scary.  The forecast called for rain and severe thunderstorms throughout our stay in the Houston area and the weather was downright soggy right from the jump.

The new tri-wagon on a training trip to Dancing Bear Ranch

I got into town in time to make it to the social with my Ironman Foundation - Newton Running Ambassador Triathlon Team at Goose's Acre and then called it a night.  Wednesday, I went to the IMFNR commercial shoot on The Waterway and service project at Interfaith of The Woodlands Veggie Village and then picked up Lacy from the airport in between bouts of severe thunderstorms.

(Side note:  In February I applied for and was selected to the Ironman Foundation - Newton Running Ambassador Triathlon Team alongside about 40 other athletes.  In the lead up to Ironman Texas our team raised over $22,000 for a charitable organization in The Woodlands.  Some of my teammates will no doubt make a cameo or two as the story goes on.  They are a bunch of solid people and inspiring athletes. Kokua.)

"Hey, you two.  You appear to be bad at gardening.  Go make compost."

I didn't have any lines, but I stood next to a guy that did, so...

A soggy morning in The Woodlands. 
After athlete check-in, Lacy and I unloaded our gear at the rental house in Spring, stocked up on groceries and headed to Cheesecake Factory.  When we got to the restaurant we spotted another triathlete wearing an Ironman Arizona jacket waiting for a table.  Lacy asked him to join us for dinner since we're sort of creepy like that.

(Side note: You, dear reader, may find asking a random stranger to join you for dinner to be a bizarre thing, but in the Ironman tribe, I can assure you, such behavior is normal and encouraged.)

It took about three sips of water and 30 seconds of chatting to realize that our table mate was a rad guy and would likely turn into a long lasting member of our community of random tri-friends.  And after what seemed like a couple of hours of swapping tales we realized that our new friend Seth Gerber was also friends with our Ironman Cozumel friends Doug and Stephanie Silk.  Talk about a small world.  Two people from the Rio Grande Valley have dinner with a stranger from Los Angeles and find out that he is friends with a couple from Las Vegas that we met in Cozumel.  Downright weird...even for Ironman.  Regardless, meeting Seth set the tone for the rest of the week for us.  It was good karma, and we kept bumping into him time and again.  If you're bored (and reading this missive would suggest that you are) you might think about logging onto Instagram and checking out @sethgerber.  Seth has a truly inspirational story to share and I highly encourage you to follow his journey.

Post dinner picture with Seth
Thursday was sunny and hot for the most part and we celebrated by running along The Waterway in our underwear.  No, seriously.  We did that.  Let me explain.  The Underpants Run is a Kona tradition.  It is, ostensibly, meant to be an opportunity for proud and vain triathletes to show off their bodies in an appropriate manner.  It also serves as a PSA of sorts as the organizers ask the participants to pledge NOT to wear inappropriate stretchy pants and other triathlon garments into the local shops and restaurants the rest of the week.

For the first time in IMTX history, an Undie Run was put together for race week and about two dozen brave souls joined Lacy and I for a two mile jaunt along The Waterway in stifling heat and skimpy yet unsupportive clothing.  As with most things, Lacy quickly became the center of attention when she busted out a traffic stopping version of the National Anthem on the patio of the Goose's Acre.  And, as is likely to occur when triathletes get together, the "fun run" at taper pace became a completely unnecessarily quick pissing contest after about one mile.  All in all, the event was a ton of fun and we look forward to doing it again.  The t-shirts and medals were awesome and the spectacle of running around mid-day in boxer briefs while people on their lunch breaks looked on in abject horror was well worth the entry fee.

Drink it in, folks.  Drink. It. In.
Later that evening Lacy and I attended the athlete's dinner and had a chance to listen to six time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott and meet and mingle with pro women Heather Jackson and Angela Naeth and 2005 Ironman World Champion Faris Al-Sultan.  In characteristic Lacy fashion, she gave the former champ a hard time for his complaints about the weather before snapping a picture and telling him "I'll see you out there."  All in a day's work for Team Healey.

(Side note:  Faris had a tough race and ended up dropping out.  He announced his retirement on Monday.  Thanks, Lacy)

Lacy with Faris Al-Sultan right before she crushed his confidence and made him not want to be a triathlete anymore

Dave Scott.  He totally touched my chair she he walked up to the podium.
Friday was pretty chill.  After bike and gear check and practice swim in the morning we made a pasta dinner for our assorted house guests (between us, Amanda's family and our Team Healey Ironfans we had 11 people under one roof) and settled into a lavender and tylenol induced slumber by about 9:30pm.  The most stress we had came from Lacy very nearly knocking German pro Andres Raelert off of his bike on the way to gear check, the absolute deluge that occurred shortly after we checked our bikes and Lacy's aborted attempt to get cornrows done at the Regis in The Woodlands Mall.

(Side note:  Epic cornrow tantrum.  Y'all should've been there.)

Pro stalking in The Waterway Marriott lobby (That's Faris in the background)

Taking the Irongingers to practice swim
Race Day came early as it always does, but things were relatively orderly too.  We made our way through a Woodstock style muddy transition area where I made an ill advised attempt to chat with Heather Jackson who was racked three feet from me (Pro tip: Leave Heather Jackson alone on race morning, dude.  She's got a lot on her plate) before walking the mile to the swim start.  At the swim start I got to see fellow RGV triathletes Jeremy Bergeaux, Jason Reinhardt, Rick Seija and Gabe Garza and wolf down a Pop-Tart before saying goodbye to Lacy and stepping into the 1:10-1:20 corral for the start.

Mmmm, triathlete chorizo. Now that's a great look for us.

Jason IS a morning person
Compared to past years when the field started en masse, the swim start was calm and orderly this year.  I started the swim alongside Gabe, Jason, Rick and two of my IMFNR teammates Levi and Ryan.  Walking to the start with Jason jumping up and down like he had just drank three Red Bulls and a pot of coffee gave me ample distraction from my nagging concern that I had not swam nearly enough in training (Pro tip: Swimming more than 12 times in 16 weeks is highly advisable).

Team Healey
I'm the one in the green swimcap
The swim was pretty clean.  I didn't get knocked around too much, didn't get off course too much and didn't drink too much lake water.  All positives.  On the other hand, it was crowded out there, and I never got much of a chance to find an open line and lengthen my stroke.  And that kind of irritated me.  Also, the race wasn't wetsuit legal, so I swam in my swimskin.  That was a first for me at this distance, but I was pleased with the suit.  It kept my trisuit from acting as a parachute in the water and probably saved me several minutes overall.  Honestly, I don't really know what I was expecting on the swim given my lack of discipline in training, but when I finished I felt pretty good and I was pleased to be out of the water in about 1:25.  It wasn't my fastest Ironman swim by a long shot, but it also wasn't my slowest.  Maybe next time I'll hit the pool a little more.

Our dedicated sherpas!
After a pretty quick transition where I saw Rick and Jason briefly, I got on the bike and started north towards Conroe.

The first half of the bike course at IMTX is fast and beautiful, especially after the first 20 miles.  Once I turned north and picked up a slight tail wind I entered the Sam Houston National Forest and rode through rolling hills and Live Oak canopy at a solid clip.  Rick passed me around mile 15 and I managed to keep him in sight for the next 15 miles or so, but he eventually dropped me (another Ironman tradition!).  By the time I hit the chipsealed roads of Grimes County I knew I was on pace for a bike PR.

Looking solid at Mile 0
On the second half things got pretty tough between miles 60 and 85.  I managed to keep my pace at around 19mph, but had to contend with chipsealed pavement, an increasingly stout wind from the south and the rising temperature.  By the time I hit the Magnolia Freeway and turned east I was ready to get off of that saddle and onto the run course.  I had nailed my nutrition and nailed my hydration on the bike and felt confident when I rolled into transition in 5:42 (40 minutes faster than 2014 and a 20 minute PR over 2013).

(Side note:  I used Base Electrolyte Salt on the bike this year.  Every five miles I took two doses.  It was highly Pavlovian but also highly effective.  Five mile Garmin ding...two doses.  Repeat.  Just like the damn dog ringing the bell to get the reward.  I was my own psychology project.  The Base Salt was the bees knees, but even if it didn't work, the ritual of taking it every five miles gave me a great incentive to push on.  Also,  I ate the hell out of Gu Watermelon Chomps and fun sized Payday bars on the course.  Those Payday bars are my jam.)

The run started well for me but I realized early on that I was going to have to deal with some lingering soreness from the bike.  My hips were tight and I could hear my wife in my head offering a stern "I told you so" about my penchant for skipping daily foam rolling and appointments with Airrosti.  Still, I knew I had bought myself a good amount of time on the bike and could probably force a PR if I could hold it together for the marathon, so I ran through it and tried to establish a workable pace.

That form looks neither efficient nor comfortable
I love exactly half of the run course at Ironman Texas.  As you start out from the transition, you hit the Moxie Multisport people camped out under the Moxie Bridge in speedos and mullet wigs.  Following that are two more festive water stops before you make your way past the swim start and through the LuLu girls camped out in Northshore Park.  Leaving the swim start, things start to get grim.  From there it's a slog along a hot, unshaded, lightly populated series of roads and water stops until you enter the neighborhood on the east side of Lake Woodlands and start to hear the party sounds emanating from The Waterway.  From the time you enter The Waterway until the time you pass back under the Moxie Bridge, your feet don't touch the ground.  The party is that good.  But it's that party on The Waterway that makes the trip back down the lake so difficult on laps two and three.  Leaving it actually makes me depressed.

On lap one I felt great.  I walked the aid stations and my pace slowed on the back end, but along The Waterway I picked it back up.  Women's leader and eventual champion Angela Naeth passed me around Mile 5 and Jeremy passed me at around the 10K mark looking extremely strong (he managed a 3:30 marathon.  Epic).  Shortly after I hit The Waterway I got word from a passing race official that the second place female pro, Leanda Cave was coming up on my left.  And so, for about 45 glorious seconds I ran alongside the former Ironman World Champion and Ironman 70.3 World Champion.  As I came up on the Team Healey superfans I told Leanda "I'm going to let you beat me this time" and then stopped to say hi to my friends.  I could have sworn she smiled at me.

That would be my new best friend Leanda Cave in the pink shorts

After hearing that Amanda was off the bike and Lacy was almost finished with her ride I got back to work.  The second lap was more of the same, but hotter, and as I came around to the Moxie Bridge to start my third and final lap I could tell that things were starting to go south for me physically.
For starters, my fingertips and lips were starting to tingle and I seemed to have stopped sweating.  Then, when I stopped to use the restroom at mile 17 I couldn't go in spite of having had about six gallons of liquid in the previous two loops.  I'm no doctor, but I know what the body does when it is about to have itself a heat stroke, so I decided it was time to shut it down for a couple of miles and try to cool off.

A couple of miles turned into almost four as I pushed fluids put cold sponges under my arms and dropped cups of ice down my back and into my shorts in an effort to cool my core temperature.

(Side note: I learned some interesting things in the Boy Scouts of America, but not until May 16, 2015 did I try the old ice-in-the-crotch-to-fend-off-heat-stroke trick that I learned en route to earning my First Aid merit badge at Camp William Hines circa 1989)

Team Healey Hill 2015.  Strategically located between the Jockstrap Catapult and Hippie Hollow. 

By mile 21 I was almost back on The Waterway and I vowed to finish my race strong and get in under 12:45.  The crowd helped me pick up my pace and I "ran" for the next couple of miles with a guy named Allen from the QT2 Systems team.  At the second to last aid station I forced down a highly concentrated cup of Gatorade and after ringing the bell at the last aid station about a half mile out from the finish line my body decided to reject said Gatorade in a most unattractive manner just as The Waterway Cruiser passed by with a full compliment of fans crowding the rails.

(Side note:  Have you ever thrown up while running and had part of a half digested Concord grape come out of your right nostril in the process?  No?  Um, me either.)

As Allen gave me some distance a couple of medical staffers came up to me to see if I was dying or just throwing up.  I explained that I was a little more than a half mile from the finish line and that I didn't need any of their kindly advice or assistance and then took off before they could force feed me orange slices and make me sit in the shade.

So I ran.  And I felt great.  And that's a good thing because as I ran along The Waterway I saw Amanda fast approaching me and realized that she was less than a mile behind me.  We greeted each other as we passed and then I instinctively picked up the pace out of fear that I might have to suffer the indignity of being passed by an athlete that I trained.

(Side note:  Isn't that the plot line of every great sports movie?  The teacher becomes the student or something like that?  I don't know, maybe I'll work on a triathlon version of "Bull Durham" after I finish the screenplay for "Two Step It Up.")

And then, just like screaming, Mike Reilly with a microphone, awkwardly dangerous attempted finish line pose and BOOM...You. Are. An. Ironman....again.  12:43:59.  New PR by 15 minutes.  Not bad all things considered.

Finisher's chute
I hung around the finisher's chute for another couple of minutes until Amanda finished and then we wolfed down some pizza and half a Freebird's burrito and set out to find Lacy.  It took a little while for her to come back around but when she did she looked exhausted.  Maybe that's because she was racing her ass off and had about two miles to go.

I felt like Flavor Flav wearing that medal.  Nicely done, IMTX.
We hustled back to the finish line with the superfans and got to see Lacy cross the line in 14:56 and change for what amounted to a new PR by almost an hour and a half.  Wow.

Team Healey
This was a tough race for me.  It didn't have to be that way but that's how it goes when you come in underprepared for the swim and don't do enough to acclimate to the heat.  That's on me.  But given everything that has happened since we signed up for this race last November, I can't say that I'm the least bit upset with how it turned out.  A PR on any day is a good thing.  But on a day where the heat index climbed into the mid 90's and the humid air was like breathing hot soup, I can't say I'm disappointed.  If anything I'm now motivated to push harder and get better for the next one.  And that feels good.

In other news, I am beyond proud of my Irongingers for the way they handled that course.  To quote the great Ron Burgundy: "Boy, that escalated quickly.  I mean that really got out of hand, fast."

Seriously.  That escalated quickly.  A year ago I met Amanda for the first time and she informed me that she wanted to do an Ironman but that she needed some help in the pool....oh, and she had never done a triathlon.  And didn't own a bike.  Two months later she was on the podium at her first Olympic.  By October she was nipping at my heals at the Half Iron distance.  And on race day in The Woodlands she damn near caught and passed me after having an epically good marathon.  She finished 17th in her age group at her first Ironman.  Is pro triathlete a viable career option for a helicopter pilot with a master's degree?  Maybe so.

And, Lacy...proud doesn't even cover it.  To be able to block out all of the noise, all of the distractions and all of the drama that she has had to deal with since November and turn it into motivation to race her best Ironman yet is nothing short of incredible.  She balanced a run team, a triathlon club, family emergencies, health issues, a new business and a roster of clients while still finding time to get her training sessions in.  My wife doesn't need to talk...she's too busy doing.  And I love her for that.  She truly is the epitome of "Never Quit" and I am proud beyond words of her gutsy race on a tough, hot and windy course when less determined people were dropping like flies.  You keep being you, Lacy Shea.  You are motivating and you are amazing.

To my IMFNA Teammates...It was great breaking bread with you, volunteering with you and racing with you.  I hope we cross paths again down the road.  I especially enjoyed seeing Levi, Alex, Ryan, Bryan, Tam and Ross out on the course at various points.  Seeing lime green on the horizon pulled me out of a dark place more than once on the run, and I am grateful for you for lifting my spirits.  Thank you for being a great example for the sport and for being leaders. are tireless and have an effervescent personality and seeing you on The Waterway on my second lap gave me the kick in the pants I needed.  Dave...thank you for the fist bump at the finish line and for running such a class organization.  Until the next time. Kokua.

Ironman Foundation Newton Running Ambassador Triathlon Team -  We're kind of a big deal.  People know us.
And, finally...a very special thanks to our Team Healey Ironfans who made the trip to The Woodlands and all of our teammates, friends and family who tracked us from afar.  Spectating at an Ironman is not easy.  It's an all day affair and Carolina, Jody, Michelle, Colleen, Priscilla, Celina and LuHuan took time out of their busy lives to travel to our race, get very little sleep, hold signs and cheer for us in the heat and humidity all day long.  It meant the absolute world to us and I cannot say thank you enough.  Thank you.  We couldn't buy better friends.  Seriously. If you're reading this, our friends are better than yours.  I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it's true.  They just are.

Coming to a race near the event that you live in Texas, that is.
So, what's next on the agenda?  Well, the race season has just begun and Team Healey is going to be dominating podiums at the Du It Girl Duathlon in Harlingen and the Los Fresnos Triathlon in coming weeks before heading up to San Marcos for the Tri For Old Glory.  Lacy and I are looking forward to racing with our team for the rest of the summer and fall and then heading off to Cozumel on Thanksgiving for our 2015 "A" race at IMCZ with Amanda, Carolina and Alex.

Somewhere along the way I may even find the time to write about it.

Ironman out.
Team Healey

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ironman 2

"Sorry, pal, but Iron Man doesn't have a sidekick." - Tony Stark

I desperately wanted to start this blog off with a suitable and relevant quote from Iron Man 2 that would set the whole tone for a write-up on my second Ironman and allow me to tell the tale of my training, my race and my recovery.  The above quote definitely doesn't accomplish all of that, but it certainly seems a relevant place to start after not blogging about my triathlon exploits in almost a year.

Let me explain...

I'm not an expert on all things Avengers, but I do like the movies, and it struck me that one of the central premises of Iron Man 2 was Tony Stark's coming to grips with Colonel Rhodes donning an iron suit of his own and joining Stark in his exploits.

Like Stark, shortly after my first Ironman in May 2013, I found myself struggling to accept that my solo exploits would henceforth be a team effort.  I am, of course, referring to my own version of 'War Machine,' Lacy Shea Healey.

About 36 hours after I completed my first Ironman, I found myself in a custom bike fit studio in Houston watching my wife get professionally fitted to one of the world's tiniest triathlon bikes.  Less than a day later Lacy signed up for Ironman Cozumel.

To say I was thrilled with the development would be inaccurate.  I was especially bruised, burned and battered after 14 hours of racing in the 110 degree heat index and blazing sun at IMTX and feared that my wife, a veteran of exactly two Olympic distance races and one sprint, was biting off way more than she could chew.  I was also concerned as a husband about the torture she was likely to endure on race day.  Frankly, it scared me.

But, like Stark, who wasn't looking for a sidekick but got one, I found myself transitioning from Ironman to Ironmate over the course of the summer and fall of 2013 as Lacy tackled two more Olympic races and a 70.3 and laid the base for her first 140.6.

Starting in July with open water swims in Allen Pond, and ending outside of a bus in front of Chankanaab Park in Cozumel, Mexico, I spent five months training, coaching, racing and sherpa-ing alongside Lacy as she progressed from this:

Lost Puppy

To this:

War Machine

Watching her leave on that bus to the IMCZ swim start was terrifying but also made me incredibly proud.  And watching her race that day gave me amazing perspective on the sport.  If you want a nice write up on Lacy's race at Ironman Cozumel, you can read her blog from December.  I suggest you allow yourself a few's verbose.

At any rate, dutifully enduring the duties of Ironmate in the summer of 2013 helped me shake off the post-IM hangover and gave me the confidence to throw my hat in the ring for Ironman Texas 2014.  Lacy, fresh off of Ironman Cozumel decided she'd join me in The Woodlands this, voila.  Iron Man gets a sidekick.

So fast forwarding to 2014...Lacy (coming off of five months of IM training, two more Olympics, two more half marathons, a 70.3 and a 140.6) and I (coming off of 17 months of IM training, two more Olympics, a half marathon, a marathon and a world class sherpa performance at IMCZ) found ourselves at the finish line of the Austin Marathon (where we had just watched about 40 of our training clients finish their first half and full marathons) feeling completely exhausted.

A few of our half and full marathoners before the gun.  We had our hands full this winter.

Lacy and I, unlike our big screen counterparts, are not super heros.  We're weekend warriors with full time jobs, busy schedules and only a finite amount of time to train and coach.  And right as we were supposed to hit our peak training period for IMTX 2014 we both found ourselves totally burned out. We talked about it a lot.  Neither of us had the drive and desire to push out the extra swim, bike and run sessions we did ahead of previous races.  It was three months out and we were both nursing nagging injuries, fighting the doldrums of training fatigue and, essentially, going through the motions.  We decided it was best to focus on quality over quantity.  By eliminating junk miles, we reasoned, we would be able to stay focussed on the goal without suffering terminal burnout.

It worked.

Lacy focussed heavily on repair and rehabilitation through her peak training by keeping standing appointments with Dr. Joe at Airrosti and at Desiree's Spa.  She also reduced the mileage and focussed on the intensity of the work she was putting in.  I found motivation by training alongside my Crazy Legs Running Crew teammates on weekend runs and putting a reemphasis on strength and core training to supplement my cardio sessions.  

Oh, yeah...and we also got new bikes. 2014 Cervelo P2's courtesy of Wally's Bikes in McAllen.  That helped.  A lot.

It is so choice.  If you have the means I highly recommend picking one up.  And the bike is nice too.

With the reduced workload and new mules (I call mine "La Flama Blanca," while Lacy has named hers "Magnolia") we set off for Boerne at the end of March to race the Tall Texan 70.3

La Flama Blanca

I'll spare you the boring details, but suffice it to say, the race was tough.  The day started out with 40 degree air temps and 57 degree water temperature for the swim.  56 miles of hilly, chip sealed, cattle guard covered country roads followed on the bike (as well as a derailleur issue that kept me in the small ring the last 30 miles).  After that, a 40 degree temperature climb and varied surfaces from trail to pavement on the run course.  I was able to finish in 6:03 which was good enough for third in my age group and a top fifteen finish overall.  Lacy pulled out before the race due to the extremely cold water temperature (a smart move given her size). 

Finishing up the first lap of the run at the Tall Texan 70.3

Six weeks later Lacy and I arrived in The Woodlands on a Thursday after a hectic last two weeks of training and work.  We had spent April and early May taking the P2s up FM 1420 towards Port Mansfield, swimming in the 50 Meter Victor Pool (clutch move opening it early, Harlingen), running some late afternoon "hot miles" around Treasure Hills and desperately watching the 10-day forecast for hints as to what we had in store.  We were as ready as we were going to be, but I still had a good deal of trepidation after last year's sufferfest.

Fortunately The Woodlands greeted us with beautiful weather in the mid 80's with low humidity and tolerable wind and the water temperature in Lake Woodlands solidly in the wetsuit legal range.  Very nice.

After checking in and making friends on Thursday (Lacy's favorite part of Ironman), we went to the athlete's dinner and heard some inspirational stories and funny jokes from Mike Reilly.  A lot of people skip the athlete's dinner, but I love it.  Seeing the race videos, meeting other athletes and hearing the stories of what people overcame to get to the start line gets me fired up.  The essence of the Ironman community is on display at the athlete's dinner and it is truly an inspiration.  Lacy, of course, was in her element.  Before we'd left the athlete's dinner she had made three friends (Alyx, Linda and Stacy) that we would see time and again on and off the course all weekend. 

Representing Team Never Quit and Lone Survivor Foundation at the athlete's dinner

We hit practice swim and bike check on Friday morning (where we ran into fellow RGV athletes Rick Seija and Billy Flores) but then spent the better part of our Friday fueling, shopping and relaxing.  With lights out by 9:30pm we even managed a solid 6.5 hours of sleep before the race morning routine began.

The biggest difference for me on race morning this year had to be the feeling of calmness that I experienced from the time I woke up until the time the cannon sounded.  Last year I was all nerves, but this year was different.  I felt entirely peaceful.  I'm sure it had everything to do with the knowledge that I could and would finish the distance and the relatively mild (by Texas in May standards) conditions that were projected.  I also felt like I'd arrived at the start line in better health and with a better fueling plan than 2013.  The "quality over quantity" training had left me feeling fresh and ready.  I knew the course, knew my body, knew the race and knew that at the end of the day I'd more than likely beat my PR.  I was confident.

And I was also feeling pretty good about the fan club that had made the trip to The Woodlands to cheer us on.

Team Bod Squad greeting us at transition on race morning

If nothing else, Lacy and I were well supported.  We had more than 15 familiar faces on the course cheering us on from the canon until the finish line in addition to the other half dozen RGV triathletes that were joining us in the race.  Knowing that our friends and family were out there was especially motivating for Lacy who knew that her Bod Squad cheering section would pick her up on the run course and keep her moving towards the finish line.

We made it to transition by about 5:45am, topped off our air, water bottles and nutrition and started the walk to the swim start with our entourage.  The swim start parking lot was, or course, a mob scene with epic port-a-potty lines and nervous athletes and family everywhere.  Lacy and I donned out wetsuits and sunscreen while giving last minute instructions to our fans and then headed towards the ramp as the pro's cannon went off.  Unfortunately, it seems that about two thirds of the field had the same plan and we were still on the ramp when the cannon sounded again at 07:00am.  

Mugging for the cameras when we should have been in the water.

After seconds passed, and then a full minute, I finally got into the water.  I turned around as I did and blew Lacy a kiss.  I wouldn't see her again until 11:00pm.

As I started my swim I was slightly panicked.  I was irritated at the slow progress on the ramp and the fact that I was starting my day late, and I worried that it was going to be a bad omen.  In the first 400 meters I struggled to find a lane amongst the thrashing arms and legs, struggled to get my goggles on correctly and struggled to feel comfortable in my wetsuit.  I realized that my heart rate was skyrocketing and knew that I was probably pushing myself harder than necessary out of frustration.  I made the decision to slow down slightly, catch my breath and then find a clear lane to swim in, even if it meant getting a little wide of the field.

I'm the one in the green cap

I managed to calm down but in spite of my efforts I never really got into a rhythm.  I finished the 2.4 mile swim in 1:26:59, a full nine minutes slower than 2013.

Transition was relatively quick, and I managed the first 20 miles of the bike at a decent clip before I ran into my first familiar face of the day.  Somewhere between miles 20 and 23 I saw the unmistakable Footworks bike jersey worn by fellow Harlingen triathlete Jun Ellorimo and rushed to catch up.   Jun, is an excellent cyclist, and far stronger than me in that regard, so I was surprised to catch him.  It was short lived.  Jun was taking a few minutes to stretch out some early race leg cramps and after a short chat he hit the gas and took off.  I made a slight effort to match Jun's pace, but by mile 30 he had receded from my view on the horizon.  

Even though Jun dropped me, I was feeling good and executing my nutrition plan flawlessly.  La Flama Blanca felt fast and the weather was perfect.  I was confident that a sub 6:00 hour bike course was doable and pushed my pace to make sure I was on point.  With the speed turned up, the next twenty miles went by without a hitch...but then, in an instant, everything changed.  
I was at mile 52 and I was cruising along at 23mph (I know this because I happened to be looking down at my speedometer) when, less than 25 yards ahead of me, a flatbed truck began to slowly turn left out of a small ranch road on the right side of the course.  What happened next happened in slow motion. 

I looked up, saw the flatbed halfway across the road and realized in a split second that it had no chance of clearing my path before I closed the distance.  I recall saying, out loud, "You've got to be kidding me" as I came up from the aero position, locked up the brakes and began to slide to my left.

Boom.  I hit the pavement with all of the force of a 175 pound man traveling at 23mph, landing solidly on my left forearm, knee and hip before sliding away from my bike and onto my left shoulder.  Powered entirely by adrenaline, I was up like a flash and in a rather animated manner walking towards the cab of the flatbed who was now less than 10 yards away and completing his laborious turn through the middle of an active bicycle race.  As he approached me, I realized that A) he was not stopping for the screaming/swearing/bleeding lunatic in the stretchy pants and, B) I had abandoned my bike in the middle of the road and had no idea what condition it was in or whether it was impeding the progress of other riders.  So I tossed a few more choice invectives at the driver as he passed me and then picked up my bike and carried it to the left hand shoulder to assess the damage.

First, the bike.  It's funny, but my first concern was for my bike, not my bloody left arm and leg.  A quick check found that aside from a few scrapes on the left pedal, a tear on the handlebar tape, and the chain hanging loose, the bike was fine.  It would seem that my body strategically absorbed the impact of the crash on behalf of my bike.

As for me?  My left ankle, left knee, left hip, left forearm and left elbow were all bleeding to some degree and my left upper back near my shoulder was one big patch of road rash. The inside of my right thigh was throbbing but not cut or bleeding.  I was bleeding through my sun sleeve on my left arm in two patches, and the forearm was noticeably tender to the touch, but I was able to lean into the aero position anyway and picked up the pace as I rode angry for the next twenty miles.   I started to feel the bumps and bruises I'd incurred as anger replaced adrenaline, but it kept me going as I worked to make up the time I had lost during and after the crash.  I was truly pissed, but I was also a little bit nervous and worried that I was snakebitten.  Every passing car freaked me out.  Every piece of debris ahead of me foretold disaster.  The crash was definitely in my head and I was worried it might happen again.  They say bad things happen in threes.  First the delayed swim start, now the crash...What was next?  I wanted off that bike.  Bad.

As I turned back into the wind, the miles started to tick by a little slower, but I was still in line for a sub-6 hour finish when I turned onto Magnolia Freeway and closed in on The Woodlands.  As I turned into the neighborhood and past mile 100 I felt good.  I had nailed my nutrition, set myself up for a strong run and was cruising in for a sub- 6 hour finish...then...pssssshhhhhhhhhh...mile 104....flat front tube.  And not just any flat.  It was an epic flat.  I had managed to rip open the tire and shred the tube.  The Continental 4000/tire guard combo that had worked so well in the past had finally failed me.  
My frustration and irritation with the situation was acutely heightened by the fact that it was now 2:00pm and the heat and sun were out in force.  Stopping suddenly removed all of the benefits of convection and heat dissipation that came from traveling on a bike at a  high rate of speed.  Now I was on the side of the road in the sun fumbling through a tire change with sweat pouring into my eyes and down my arms.  Not ideal.  Still, I managed a quick change of the tube being careful not to overfill it and cause it to hemorrhage through the ripped tire wall, exposing it to the road.  I didn't have any additional tubes and didn't want to ride out the last eight miles on the rim of my race wheel, so I under-inflated the tube and dialed my speed way back for the final half hour praying that I didn't have another blow out.  Goodbye sub- 6 hour finish.  Between the crash, the flat and the last easy eight miles, I finished the bike in 6:20...14 minutes slower than last year. 

After handing off my bike to a volunteer I saw Carolina and a few of the other Bod Squad girls on the left side of the transition area.  I told them about my frustration on the bike course as I ran by, holding up my bloody sleeve to emphasize the point.  Entering the change tent in transition brought back some bad memories.  I remembered entering that same tent a year prior and not wanting to step outside to start the marathon.  I was just happy to be in the shade for a few minutes and didn't want anything to do with that run course.  This year, I felt better hitting the tent.  I changed into my running shoes, race belt and hat quickly and charged out the door into the afternoon heat.  Before I cleared the first 300 meters of the run I saw Jetts and my father-in-law on the left hand side and Jun's wife Edith on the right.  That picked up my spirits.

The helmet helped me shave valuable seconds of my T2 time

Within the first 5K last year I started experiencing painful cramps in both calfs that were likely the result of low sodium intake on the bike course.  I had vowed to do better this year and was taking plenty of Nuun and salt tabs on the bike in between crashes and flats.  As such, my initial pace leaving the transition was close to my normal marathon pace of 8:00 min/mile.  

After the first aid station I slowed down a little.  I didn't want to burn out so I dropped the pace to the 8:30-9:00 min/mile range.  The pace still felt too good to be true and I kept telling myself, "It won't last...keep going until the cramps start because it won't last."  But it did last.  I felt great charging through the first three then five then eight miles even picking it up again as I entered The Waterway and the cheering crowds along the course.  Near mile seven someone handed me a "Flav-R-Ice" which I gratefully accepted.  A few hundred meters later I ran past the Bod Squad tailgaters and their awesome signs.  About a half mile later I caught up to Jun who was still struggling with leg cramps and working his way towards the second lap.

What isn't motivating about that sign?

Passing back through the transition area and onto the second lap of the run I stopped for a second to ask Ed and Jetts where Lacy was.  All they knew was that she wasn't off of the bike yet.  I had hope that she was and that I would see her on the second lap.  It wasn't going to happen.  

That was the hardest part of the day for me mentally.  I had really hoped that Lacy would be off the bike by the time I started my second lap, and not knowing where she was or how she was doing put me in a dark mood.  I kept my pace fairly consistent for the next four miles but Lacy was in my head the whole time.  

That changed when I hit the Bod Squad tailgate near mile 15.  As soon as I saw them I shouted "Where's Lacy? Where's my wife?"  A flood of responses from "She's okay" to "She's off the bike" to "She's running" hit me.  Awesome.  

Bod Squad Iron Tailgate

I took the news like a shot in the arm.  My pace was slowing slightly, but I felt great knowing that Lacy was off of the bike.  She would finish by midnight for sure. 

A few minutes later I caught up with two guys named George and Joe who had met in T2 and decided to pace the marathon together.  I had been behind George and Joe for a little while and realized that they were running a pace that I could manage.  Joe and George were both racing their first Ironman and both were hoping to finish under 13 hours.  I shared the next six miles with them, chatting about training, past races, jobs and family.  Meeting them on the course happened at the perfect time and kept me motivated on the first half of lap three.  

The Waterway

We parted ways around mile 21 when my right calf finally started cramping up and I had to take a few minutes to walk.  I had done the math and knew that I could afford to power walk a couple of miles if I needed to and still finish under 13 hours.   A few minutes turned into a run/walk/shuffle for the next two and a half miles while I worked through my leg cramps and downed sodium packed chicken broth at several aid stations.  When the I hit The Waterway again and heard the crowds and Mike Reilly at the finish line I sucked it up and picked up the pace.   As I came into the chute Ed handed me a Texas Tech flag and I carried it with a guns up across the finish line.  12:58:47.  Everything that we went wrong on the bike and swim went right on the run giving me a sub 5-hour marathon and a new Ironman PR by a full hour and eighteen minutes.  

I ran into Rick and his girlfriend Nancy in the finisher's area and learned that he too had suffered a crash on the bike course (and two flats to boot).  He had finished about 20 minutes ahead of me and had managed a new PR of his own in spite of having a tough race.  We were soon joined by Ed and Jetts and we hung around trading stories and eating Freebird's burritos until Jun crossed the finish about 20 minutes later with his own PR.  It was a proud day for Harlingen's Ironmen!

Jun, Rick and I.  Three 2 x Ironmen from one small South Texas town.

After loading mine and Lacy's gear from transition into the race wagon, Ed, Jetts and I planted ourselves on The Waterway about 1.5 miles from the finish line to wait for the little one to pass by.  We cheered on every runner that passed us as we waited for Lacy.  She was hurting when she passed us, but managed a smile and a kiss and hit the last stretch knowing that she was well under the cutoff.  

By the time she made the loop back to the finish area, we were ready for her with the entire Bod Squad crew and several others who had filtered into The Woodlands in the last hours of the race.  As is her custom, Lacy made a splash before crossing the line.

Camera shaking scream...curse words...yep, that's my wife.

So, Ironman ended with some flair and Lacy and I retired to the hotel room to lick our wounds, check our myriad texts and Facebook messages and swap war stories.  Neither of us slept much that night.  All of the cola I consumed on the course left my on a caffeine high and Lacy was having some lasting stomach issues from the course, but, whatever...we were Ironmen...again

Look who I found!

I cannot thank our sherpas/cheering section enough.  Renea, Melissa, Carolina, Jody, Colleen, Laura, Michelle, Alex, Jacob, Jetts, Ed, Kelly and the Footworks and Lone Star Pacesetters people were everywhere from sun up to the final hour and kept us motivated and on and off the course...and they bought us a cookie cake.

Best. Friends. Ever.

So what's on the docket now, you ask?  Is there an Ironman 3 in the works?  Let's just say that negotiations are underway.  But in the interim, we're going to return to coaching mode and do our absolute best to inspire and encourage a new group of women and men across their first sprint or olympic distance triathlon finish line.  

You can look for Team Healey and the newly formed Bod Squad Multisport Team at the Small/Tiny Texan Triathlon in Boerne in July.  I'll be the one standing next to the fired up red head who seems to be yelling a little too often and a little too loudly as the girls that cheered her to the finish line in The Woodlands tackle their first race.  

Thanks for cheering us on! Ironman, out.

IMTX 2014