2017 Jacksonville Marathon – Attempting to Break Three Hours [Race Report]

I hoped Jacksonville could be an amazing finale to an incredible year

I marked 2017 with some bold, personal athletic goals and achievements. My first full Ironman, winning a local Olympic distance tri, 5th overall at the Storm the Fort half in Tennessee, and joining the All3Sport Race Team. My second year of triathlon training was starting to bring me speed and strength I had never experienced before. This motivated me, and so I kept setting the next goal and ending up very happy with the result – adding to an already powerful athletic passion.

Subconsciously, this passion may also be linked to my age. I started this year with my 30th birthday. Something with that hit me that I’m no longer the young kid I think I am. There was a sudden realization that if I don’t do something now, it may never happen. Two kids and counting, a growing list of responsibilities and work and church. I’m still young of course, but it got me thinking.

What got me thinking the most was a silly thing, which gave me a bit of reality jolt. I lost a tooth this year. It wasn’t preventable – from some unknown trauma to the mouth when I was a kid, but now there’s a hole in my bottom teeth where once there was a tooth. It hit me that I’ll never have all my bones/teeth back perfect again. Who knows if (when) something bigger could happen down the road? So train hard and compete with everything you have now to build memories to last a lifetime.

To end my 30th year, I set an audacious, far-flung, but possibly achievable goal: Run a sub-3 hour marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon. The qualifying time for me is 3:05, but to actually get in, you need to beat it by a substantial amount. Running a sub-3 would not only guarantee entry into Boston, but it would also prove that I have some running talent.

Just a year ago, I would have laughed at anyone suggesting I could do it. Yeah right. That was only for people that ran in high school or college. I mean, I did run a 1:32 half marathon on my half ironman race, but I’m fairly certain that course was short (my Garmin said 12.4 miles). So maybe it was possible, but at best, a 50-50 shot. Even if it didn’t work out, however, I knew I could get a marathon PR (previous was just under 3:35). No matter what, I could use some improvement on my running for the upcoming tri season – so what better than focus on running during the off-season and give Boston qualifying a chance.

An awesome training plan got me ready for my sub-3 attempt

The training plan I used was from Blue Ridge Runner: How to Run a 3 hour Marathon, a Just Enough Training Approach. I chose this plan for three reasons:

  • It only consisted of three runs a week, so I could maintain bike and swimming fitness on the off days
  • It was straightforward, easy to schedule, and had 100+ comments from people saying what had and hadn’t worked
  • It was one of the top Google search results for “Sub 3 Marathon Training Plan”

I loved the plan. It has two criteria for using it: you have to be able to run a 5k under 19 minutes, and you have to have a strong base of running 3-4 hours per week for a year. I’d run an 18:30 5k the year before, and with Ironman training, I figured I was good to go.

The plan calls for three types of runs. Monday is a tempo (on pace run). Wednesday is half-mile intervals. Friday/Saturday is a long easy run with the last part at marathon pace. The pace to train at was 6:40, or 9 miles per hour. This would give me a time right around 2:55, which includes some cushion in case anything happens.

The workouts were challenging. They pushed me every time. Never did I finish a workout and say, “Psh, that was a piece of cake.” Nope – they were all very tough. I was able to hit the pace 95% of the time. The long runs with the marathon pace at the end were the hardest by far. Mostly, I would always have bathroom issues on the long runs (more to come on that).

Toward the end of my training, I realized a blunder that I will correct next time. I was too reliant on the pace feature of my GPS watch. Specifically, I was training to hit the 6:40 pace according to my Garmin. However, because I was running a curvy road most of the time in the neighborhood next to mine, it would often be over-generous with my pace. Sometimes my watch would cut corners, but more often, it would make the turns wider than what I was actually running. Therefore, even though it said I was running a 6:35 pace, I was probably running a 6:55 pace. To correct this in the future, I need to run paths with known mileage or a track for some of my workouts to verify my pace. This probably wasn’t that big of deal in reality – I think my watch was more accurate than I thought – but that worry nagged at me the weeks leading up to race day. ‘What if I’ve been training at 6:55 pace this whole time?’ Suddenly success seemed a stretch.

Right at my peak, I got sick. Not cool! Now I have to rest.

The training plan spends 10 weeks building up to peak mileage, and then 4 weeks tapering. Based on timing, I threw in an additional week to peak at week 11 before a 4 week taper. My peak was a half marathon PR (1:26) training run, which gave me some serious confidence that sub-3 was possible.

Then, I got the flu. And felt really sick. I’m not sure who got me sick, but I have an inclination that it was my kids. I went through a full range of emotions, anger, confusion, denial (lots of that until my wife, Audrey, snapped some sense into me that I actually was sick), and then acceptance. Eventually, I remembered that kids are definitely way worth it, even if they sometimes get you sick.

Despite feeling yuck, I wanted to run – to keep training. Luckily, smart people all around me told me to hold off and rest. Audrey gave me the perfect advice right away to treat recovery from sickness like part of the training plan. I reached out to other friends and resources, which all confirmed what Audrey said. Blue Ridge Runner even wrote an article about getting sick from my question.

So for 7 long days, I rested and rested and refrained from training. My fever stayed around for about four days. And my cough stayed with me for another couple weeks, but after 7 days, I felt much better. I slowly started back with some easy runs, and eventually started the taper section of my training program.

In my TrainingPeaks performance management chart, you can see my training fatigue drop and fitness slightly decline.

The timing of the sickness was extremely fortunate. I had done all the hard work to build the fitness, and now I was just maintaining it. I actually think it may have been a blessing in disguise. My IT bands were very tight after my half marathon training run. As I did my soul searching and praying, I received the impression that God sent the sickness  to keep me from injuring my IT band – that the week off would allow it to recover. In that case, getting sick may have been the best thing to happen to me – nothing else would have made me divert from following my training plan to the ‘t’.

The last couple weeks of training, and then the worrying began. Could I really do it? Did I still have the fitness? Did I ever have enough of it? Would I fall apart soon after mile 13? Did I have enough in me to push on even when it really hurt? Am I the type of person that can run a sub-3?

With these doubt lingering in my head, we loaded up the van and headed off for Jacksonville.

Traveling to Jacksonville and the day before went smoothly

I picked the Jacksonville marathon for several reasons:

  • It was a pancake-flat course – no hills to slow me down
  • It was within driving distance
  • It was on a Saturday; I don’t race on Sundays
  • It was in December, which would give me plenty of time to recover before switching back over to triathlon training compared to a February or later race

Here’s the segment on Strava – very little elevation change and no big hills. Also not a net downhill course.

The trip down to Jacksonville was an adventure by itself. Audrey and I loaded up Rachel (4) and James (1), and headed South from our home in Atlanta. We made it halfway before stopping in Tifton, GA, and then made the balance of the drive the next morning. Staying at a hotel – and eating the free breakfast – is the main highlight for my daughter whenever we race. She loves the rooms, the nice big beds, and the sugary cereal she doesn’t have at home.

I was too much of a stress bucket to be much fun, but Audrey got me to smile and loosen up a bit. I was so nervous – which sounds silly to worry over something that doesn’t really have many consequences – but it meant a lot to me personally. My biggest fear of all was that I’d have a bathroom issue midway through the run, and that would just knock me out. I have a whole article I’m writing about bathroom issues and advice. More to come on that.

Packet pickup was straightforward. We went to the local running store that was sponsoring the race (1st Place Sports) and got my bib and pullover shirt. There wasn’t anything cool inside the drawstring bag they gave out – some races have vouchers for free stuff, but this one just had ads for sponsors. The pullover shirt looked awesome though.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites, which was the host hotel for the race. I had never stayed at the host hotel of race before, but it was a ton of fun. Everyone was there getting ready to race, and it was so fun to talk with other people from all over (even England) and hear about how they got there.

The pool was my daughter’s favorite part by far. The local park was my son’s. We spent a fun day together as I ate some white rice and chicken that Audrey had cooked and packed for me. That way, I could carb load with simple carbs while they went to whatever restaurant looked good (they chose Mexican). We got the kids in bed and finally fell asleep around 9PM. However, I was up every couple hours from being nervous. Audrey was having a rough night as well. We were both laying awake in bed when my alarm went off at 4:15 AM. Time to get up. Time to get ready. Time to run.

It’s race day – getting everything ready before the cannon shoots off

My watch alarm buzzed and I was up out of bed. I went through my race morning routine. Eat first thing to get digestion going. Quick shower to wake up. Electrical tape over my nipples to prevent problems. Body glide everywhere there might be friction. Race clothes on. Pre-race warm clothes on. Everything packed and ready to go.

While I was getting ready, Audrey was up and had the kids ready to go as well – quite a feat getting two kids in the car and keeping them happy at 5:30 in the morning. Even though the hotel had a shuttle to the race, we drove to a designated parking spot (at the DuPont Center) and took a shuttle from there to the race. We were the only ones with kids – and definitely the only ones with a double jogging stroller. I think we earned some respect from the other runners.

Once we got there, everything flowed very smoothly. They had an announcement playing over the loudspeaker on loop telling everyone where to go. Audrey found a place inside and camped out while I warmed up and made a final bathroom stop. I was feeling great. It was a tiny bit cold (about 48 degrees), but I knew it’d be perfect once I started.

At 6:45, I kissed Audrey and the kids and headed over to the race start. I was about 10 feet behind the starting line. They played the national anthem, and at 7 AM, they fired a cannon to start us off.

Off to a fast start over the first 13 miles

Right away, I knew I would feel good for the first bit. I had forgot what running race starts are like. I’m so used to running pretty much alone in triathlons after switching off my bike, that I hadn’t remembered the energy that comes with hundreds of other people running around you. I found my cadence very quickly, and logged some quick miles right away.

Part of me wanted to convince myself that I could indeed run a 6:40 pace. Combined with the excitement of “this was it!” I ran a 6:23 on my first mile. I slowed down a bit to clock a 6:47 mile 2, and then got pumped again as I could see the 5k finish line up ahead, putting on another fast one at 6:22. This gave me some breathing room if I didn’t nail 6:40 exactly, but also proved to myself that I had what it takes to hit 6:40.

The 5k mark was the starting line (we did a quick loop), and Audrey, Rachel, and James were all there cheering with all their might. It was good to see them. I threw them my beanie, gave Audrey a high five, and then settled down to get to work.

The weather was amazing at right around 50 degrees. I had worn thin gloves, crew socks that I had cut the bottom out of as sleeves, and a hat – all from the dollar store so I could toss them as needed. All of that was off by mile 4 – I was warmed up and chugging along.

Several people were pacing right with me, which felt good that I could rely on them a bit and not have to stare at my watch as often. Once I passed mile 5, the distance started to move by quickly. I was in a flow state. I melted into the world and zoned into my running and nothing else. It’s a cleansing feeling, especially early in the race when it’s not difficult.

Every couple of miles there was water and Gatorade. I grab something every station. The cups were only about 1/3 full, so I started grabbing two. Spilling on myself was cold, but it focused me in. Toward the end, I would grab a cup of water to throw on my face a couple times. The one thing I’d change about the race is make the aid stations a bit more predictable. Having an aid station every mile would be ideal, but even every 2 miles would be great as well. Instead, it felt like they were sometimes 1.5 miles, 1 mile, or 2 miles apart, kind of all over the place. A minor thing that didn’t matter, but it put a little stress into me as I tried to plan nutrition.

I brought four Clif vanilla gels with me in my pockets. I planned on eating two and having two as backup. An hour into the race (mile 9), I broke open the first one and ate about half of it. I had been grabbing a few Gatorades, and I snagged some water to get the gel down. I felt great on fuel, so I was going to err on the side of going light to avoid any GI stomach issues. I ate the other half about 15 minutes later. I did the same thing with gel number two at the two-hour (18 mile) mark.

The first half went flawlessly. I was a minute ahead of pace and clocked a 1:26:29 split. That was a 6:36 average pace. The half I had done in training had left me spent afterwards. This time, however, I felt I had many miles left in me. I kept pushing forward – it took a bit more concentration now. I had to focus on keeping my pace up, and I could tell that it was going to get harder in a few miles.

I probably could have paced a bit better, but I also wanted to see what I could do. Maybe I could hit 2:55 or less.

The second half was great until the last six miles

As I passed the halfway point, I was feeling great. I was excited to be on pace. Breaking three seemed possible now. I had time in the bank; all I had to do was keep going. 90 Minutes to go and then I could stop. This is what I had trained for – everything depended on this second half. It was time to show what I was made of.

There were still a few people near me – two or three in front and one or two behind. A few miles into the second half, I noticed a girl that was cruising along in front of me at about my pace. She then stopped on the side of the road and stretched out her legs for a few seconds. I called out some encouragement, and then was surprised a minute later as she pulled up right alongside me. We ran together for two or three miles, which was fun and motivating to have someone matching me step for step. She eventually fell back and ended a couple minutes behind me. I found out later on Strava that it was her first marathon – I’m very impressed.

Miles 15 through 20 were hard, but I was able to keep up my pace pretty well. We were heading back North again, toward the finish line, which was motivating. We were on the way home. I felt my heart rate start to rise a bit. I wasn’t wearing my heart rate monitor since it made me feel constricted a bit in long training runs. I could tell it was nearing the top of my aerobic zone.

Mile 20 and 21 were tough, but I pushed through. Then I started to fade a bit. My legs were on fire. Every step started to hurt. My pace started to slow as the pain forced me to take shorter steps. Down from my 6:40 splits, I hit 7:00, then 7:27, then 7:27 again. However, I also saw the clock – if I could stay above 8 minute miles, I would be ok. I pushed and pushed with everything I had.

You see my pace according to Strava over here on the right, which was a little different than my Garmin – but you can definitely see the story of the last 6 miles quite clearly.

What surprised me most was how many people started to pass me at this point. A good 5 or 6 guys who had paced very well blew past me in the last couple miles. I had some serious respect for them. I’d like to figure out how to nail a negative split at that speed. A sub-3 negative split, that might be my next goal (when I forget about how much this one hurt).

In the last mile, I was pacing with another guy, who had a friend on a bike coaching him on. The friend on the bike started encouraging me as well. He told me to drop my chin and lean forward a bit. It made a world of difference and sped me up a bit. Apparently, my form had suffered badly, so getting back into form helped tremendously. I’ll need to remember my form next time when all I can think about is my burning legs.

Half a mile to go, and I pushed and pushed. I thought I would make it, but still wasn’t positive. Then I passed the 3-hour pacer for the half marathon. I was there. As I came onto the track, Audrey and my daughter Rachel were cheering and yelling with all their heart and soul. Jumping up and down, Audrey told me to “go go go!” I pushed around the corner and ran with everything I had left. I could see the clock flip over to 2:58 with just a few feet left. I did it. 2:58:02. Sub-3 success.

Crossing the finish line – glad the pain was over and the glory secured

I stumbled to a stop, got my medal, and hobbled over to Audrey who tackled me and squeezed me as hard as she could. This accomplishment was just as much hers as it was mine because she supported me through training and coached me through illness, nutrition, tapering, and pre-race anxiety. Rachel immediately asked for, and got to wear, my medal. James was passed out in the stroller – too much excitement for him. They announced my name a couple times over the loudspeaker, “Alex Fuller from Milton Georgia, 2:58:02.” It felt magical to hear.

We rejoiced together. Then I laid down. Moving my legs at all hurt terribly. I just laid there and Audrey lightly rubbed my legs. I ate a couple bagels, some hot chocolate, and a bowl or two of chili. I actually had no desire to eat, but I knew I needed some fuel. I’ve definitely had better post-race food, but it got some calories in me. We played together and enjoyed the sun – cheering on others arriving from their marathon journey. Here’s a short video of me finishing with Audrey cheering – and another one right after where I’m just beat.

Reflections on the race – what I can do better next time (when I forget how much a marathon hurts)

Now that I have a few days behind me, I’ve had time to reflect on the overall experience. There’s some things that went very well and a couple things that I’d try to do differently.

Things that went well

  • Training plan – I can’t recommend the Blue Ridge Runner plan highly enough. It worked perfectly
  • Consistency – I stuck to the plan and was able to hold the required pace for 90% of the workouts I never missed a day except for the week I was sick
  • Cross training – swimming, cycling, and running-focused strength training kept me injury free
  • Nutrition – I didn’t bonk, and I didn’t have to stop and use the restroom – I had been praying very earnestly about this – I saw it as the biggest wildcard – and I am very grateful my prayers were answered

Things to do better next time

  • Pacing – My first half was a 1:26:29, my second half was a 1:31:33. A negative split would have been ideal. I thought I might be able to hit 2:55. I’m not convinced that starting out slower would have saved me the last six miles, but I’d like to try that.
  • Long runs – My poorest workouts were my long runs. I’d say 30-40% of them were messed up from needing to use the restroom multiple times (not planning smart foods the day before), or I just couldn’t run the last six at pace when it mattered
  • Train on courses that make GPS a backup – Some percentage of my tempo runs were likely a bit too slow because my GPS was overcompensating – especially on turns. My go-to course had several turns, so training on a path with marked out miles (or just running a faster GPS pace) would help me

More than anything, I’m glad I set this goal. Two years ago, I ran my first marathon at 3:35 – which was a very good pace for me. I thought maybe I could knock 5 minutes off that pace someday. If someone said I would qualify for Boston two years later, there’s no way I’d believe them. But here I am, having dropped 37 minutes off of my PR. It has been such a blessing to improve so much.

So what’s next? I have a lineup of triathlons to run this year, including a couple half ironmans. I’ll need to train for Boston 2019 – see if I can qualify again there. Eventually, I need to build my bike fitness back up. But right now, it’s time to take a week or two off, eat more than I should, and recover.

If you have any questions about the Jacksonville marathon or training to break 3 hours, feel free to shoot me a note. I don’t know a lot, but I’ll share what I know.

Nutrition Journal

This is mostly for me to remember for the future, but here’s a quick diary of what I ate before and during the race.

Day before

  • Breakfast – oatmeal, waffles, simple carbs
  • Lunch – white rice and chicken that Audrey prepared beforehand
  • Snack – multigrain Cheerio’s with almond milk
  • Dinner – white rice and chicken (same)

Race day morning

During race

  • Orange Gatorade at about every other aid station
  • One Clif Shot Vanilla Gel at one hour mark over 15 minutes
  • Another Clif Shot Vanilla Gel at two hour mark over 15 minutes

2017 Storm the Fort Triathlon Half Ironman [Race Report]

The Storm the Fort Half in Kingston, TN was a great race, and I am very pleased with my performance. After doing Ironman Texas in April, I was looking for my next challenge. Also – I had blown my Triathlon budget for the year (and then some), so I was looking for a really good non-Ironman branded event to save a few hundred dollars. When I heard about Storm the Fort, and looked at the previous year’s results, photos, and videos, I knew I had to do this race. Not only was it competitive, but it was also only a three-hour drive from home, which made heading up on a Friday evening possible.

James delivers my finisher’s medal to me

My goal for this race was speed. I’d demonstrated endurance in the full distance, so how much could I turn up the intensity and lay down a great finishing time. I had heard someone say that to calculate your times between half and full ironman distance, you take your half time, double it, and then add an hour. So, finishing my full at a few minutes under 11 hours, I figure I should be able to finish the half in under 5. This course was quite a bit hillier than Texas, so finishing under 5 hours was my sole goal. I broke that down into the following sub-goals:

  • Swim: 40 minutes
  • Bike: 2 hours, 30 minutes (not having looked at how hilly the course was, this was more ambitious than I thought it would be)
  • Run:  1 hour, 45 minutes
  • Transitions: together under 5 minutes total

That would give me 5 hours exactly, so if I could beat one of those goals, then I could break 5. Two days before the event, I looked closer at the bike course, and realized that there were a decent number of hills. Also, 2.5 hours was about what the winner rode in 2016, and not many people rode it that well. “Oh well,” I thought, “maybe a miracle will happen.”

Pre-race Taper and Carb Loading (done wrong…again)

Two weeks out, I did my final long stretch of hard riding on Saturday. After that, I dialed back training a bit, but still pushed pretty hard until about a week out. Then I really reined it in – cut out one of my two daily workouts, and overall just tried to stay rested. The taper portion went pretty well. I started to miss the massive TSS numbers I accumulate each week – and I felt a bit like a fat blob the days leading up to the race – but I trusted the rest would pay off. Carb loading, on the other hand, went wrong.

For the few days leading up to Saturday, I started eating a bit more – trying to get some more simple carbs like white bread instead of the usual whole-grains I’m used to. Thursday night, I did something pretty stupid. Audrey made spaghetti, which was delicious. So I ate three plates of whole-grain spaghetti. It was so good! Then, about an hour later, just before bed, I had three bowls of frosted mini wheats.

So there’s two issues with this here. One – that was a stupid large amount of food. Two – and I cringe in writing this, but I don’t think my body likes wheat that much. I can eat it, but I notice that when I have a lot of whole-wheat stuff, I kind of don’t handle it well (gas for sure, but then other issues sometimes as well). Well, at 3AM, my stomach starts hurting. It starts hurting bad. I lay in my bed in fetal position for two hours just in pain. At about 5AM, it mostly went away, but I think the acid in my stomach just got too strong. I’ve had that happen before.

What’s worse, the morning of the race, I had the same pain from about 3 to 4:30 – and then it was time to get up. I hadn’t eaten as much – and certainly not that much wheat – but I think it was a spillover thing from the day before.

The one good thing that came from all of this is that it cleaned out my system. The biggest obstacle to a faster time at Ironman Texas was my bathroom trips during the run. Well…I didn’t think that would be a problem with this race, since every possible bit of food I’d ever eaten was now thoroughly gone.

I honestly think for my next race I need to not carbo load. It brings me more misery than benefits (at least the benefits that exlax couldn’t give me).

Leading Up to the Cannon Shot

My dear wife, Audrey, and our two kids jumped in our van about 5PM on Friday and drove up to Kingston. We hit cracker barrel on the way up, where I found a decently normal meal that wouldn’t be too weird on my stomach (not that it helped a ton). We also learned that 5PM is not the time to drive with James, my 13-month-old son. He was high-pitch screaming the entire time. It was a rough, long drive. Audrey and I were joking that I might want to rethink my race goal; the longer I took, the longer I could enjoy peace and quiet. When we finally got to the Hampton Inn in Lenoir City, things were better. Everyone was fed, happy, and ready to sleep. We were all passed out in our beds by 9:30.

Another mistake I made was the choice of Hotel. We went with the nearest Hampton Inn, which I could book with points and save on the budget, but it was 25 minutes from Kingston and the race starting line. This didn’t seem like a big deal to me months in advance when I booked it, but as I’m setting the alarm clock for me (and more importantly my family), 25 minutes of travel time before the race starts is much too long. I need to make sure I’m within 5-10 minutes of the starting line in the future. Again – my awesome wife made it happen, and it all worked out, but something to remember.

I arrived at transition at 6AM, which gave me a good hour and a half before the cannon would go off to signal the start of the race. Every time I have more than an hour to prepare, I am always grateful I arrived so early. It takes so much pressure off, and I have plenty of time to peacefully prepare and put my mind at ease. I think that was a major learning from my early days of arriving 30 minutes before the race starts – it’s worth whatever it takes to get there early.

After checking in and getting my cool swag (shirt, and Storm the Fort socks), I heard an announcement that the water was 77.9 degrees, and was therefore wetsuit legal. I had brought my wetsuit as an afterthought – just in case – but I seriously doubted I would need it. I’d never raced in a wetsuit – and I hadn’t practiced in one for at least 4 or 5 months. So this was going to be a bit of a wrinkle, but nothing too scary.

I found a good place in transition, and hung a towel on the outside rack so I could easily see where to go when I was running in from the swim. I also was near the edge fence, so there was room for my laundry-detergent-turned-triathlon-gear-bucket that I like to use to sit on during transition. That’s been a nice little trick that when used right, sure helps with putting on shoes quickly.

With all my gear laid out and a quick couple trips to the port-a-potty, Audrey helped me put on my sunscreen and then wetsuit. Then I remembered that I hadn’t applied the body lube. But that wetsuit was so difficult to put on, Audrey said there was no way we were taking it off and putting it on again. So after so creative maneuvering, she was able to apply the body lube by just unzipping the wetsuit. Quick side note that I think is hilarious. I was walking around getting things situated after this, and was away from Audrey and the kids for a bit. Audrey later told me that at one point, she saw some guy in a wetsuit and started checking him out. She assures me that she almost never does this… Anyway, she was looking at this guy and thought, “man, he looks gooood.” Then, she saw him turn around and realized it was me. Then she felt equal parts really excited, and a bit guilty. I thought it was hilarious.

My cheer team takes selfies while I’m warming up in the lake.

With everything ready to go, I jumped into the water a bit to warm up. Right away I could feel the restrictions on my arms – they weren’t used to the extra resistance from the suit. I was worried – but decided to just go for it and hope that the wetsuit actually did help with my time.

We had a quick briefing by the USAT official (looking 100% legit in an actual referee uniform – that was impressive). She warned about drafting, and a bunch of other stuff that I couldn’t hear at all. Then, it was the countdown.

The starting line was unclear. Half of us were out in the water, just a bit off the dock slowly treading water. We all were in about the same location, but it wasn’t really pointed out where exactly we should start. Nevertheless, the countdown commenced. Forty seconds. Twenty seconds. Five seconds. I started my Garmin watch. Side note again – I got a new watch for this race – a used Garmin 920xt off of eBay. It has the ability to connect to my bike’s power meter, which my Vivoactive does not. It also is just an all-around better triathlon watch – and it came with a bunch of accessories, including the quick release kit to easy switch it from my wrist to my bike. BOOM! The cannon and the competitors went off.

Swim – Shockingly Fast

I started off very strong, with a very high stroke rate – pushing 90 strokes per minute for the first minute. I was right behind the lead pack, and I was able to draft a bit, but I couldn’t maintain the pace. Just before the first buoy, I fell back a bit and lost the draft. I was still going strong, and I could only see half a dozen people in front of me. I pulled hard, and I was amazed at how much I did not enjoy the wetsuit. I could tell it was helping me – I felt like I was flying through the water – but man, it was stressful on my arms. After the race, I really only felt more than normal pain in one spot, my arms and shoulders. Halfway through the swim, I thought to myself, “I am really ready to get this thing off and get biking.” That’s a funny thing to say to myself, because I say the same thing in all three sports: “Man, I can’t wait to get off this bike and run.” “Man, I can’t wait to be done running.” I guess that means I’m pushing myself.

The entire time, I felt my heart pounding. My heart rate monitor caught two quick readings, both in the upper 150s to 160s – which is high zone 4 for me (maybe even bouncing up into zone 5). Needless to say, I was giving it my all. I figured that if I was going to break 5 hours, I needed to make something happen in the swim. There were about 3 or four people that passed me throughout the whole 1.2 miles. Each time, I tried to spend a minute or two drafting behind them. I never really felt an increase in speed or decrease in effort, but I think it paid off to at least try.

A big takeaway for me is that I probably need to up the intensity of my long swim sets. I do hard swims, but only for small intervals. Whenever I do longer intervals, I usually settle into a comfortable pace. I need to push myself beyond comfortable.

In the end, it paid off. Early mornings at Master Swim class, side-lessons with Susan teaching me how my form is all wrong (and I’ll assure you, I did not swim with perfect form during the race – or anything close to it) – and the high intensity sprint at the beginning. I walked out of the water somewhat dazed and hit the transition button my watch. It read 31 minutes. The official time said I did it in 28:24, but I think they started the clock just under 3 minutes late. That blew me away – I now had 9 minutes that I could bank against my bike and run.

Going with the official time, that means I swam at a 1:21 per hundred yard pace. Based on my garmin’s time, it would be 1:23. If you go with my Garmin’s time and distance, then it would be a more realistic 1:36. Maybe it’s somewhere in between. Either way, 1:37 is my absolute fastest 20-minute time trial in a pool, so I think the wetsuit definitely played a big part.

Transition 1 – Wetsuit Off, Game Face On

My first time taking off a wetsuit in T1.

T1 was quick, and except for getting off my wetsuit, uneventful. It got caught on my timing chip on my ankle, so I had to sit down and finagle it off. Both my legs were shaking and starting to cramp. My heart was racing still, which added to the stress to just get on my bike. Finally, it came off. I put on my aero helmet, shoes, and grabbed my bike. I switched my watch from my wrist to my bike (which I positioned on top of my water bottle – the prefect spot!) and was out of transition. I was still surprised how hard my heart was racing – I was definitely in race mode. I was very excited to get on the bike though, because that’s where I traditionally make the most progress.

Bike – Dialing Back on Calories Seemed to Work

Out on the road, I spent the first few miles just trying to get my heart rate to calm down a bit. It was roaring, and I was worried I was going to dip into anaerobic too much. I was pumped and warmed up though, so I wanted to push it. My heart rate peaked about 3 minutes into the bike at 171, but then decreased throughout the rest of the 56 miles, ending up with an average of 154 bpm. My average wattage was 233, normalized watts of 242. I was shooting for between 230 and 240 watts, so I was very pleased with that result. My FTP is 285, so 85% would be 240.

The route was great – not closed to traffic, but not much traffic. It was well marked, which makes a big deal. I was nervous of going off course, but that aspect was great. There are a few things that were less than ideal.

First – the mountain within the first five miles. The biggest climb comes at you right away, and although it’s not horribly steep, it keeps going for quick some time – just as I am getting used to my bike. The downhill afterwards is pretty good. However, it was very curvy, so I had to ride my breaks a bit. I passed a guy on the way up the hill, but he passed me going down because he just went for it. I was nervous about going down – but looking back, it probably would have bought me 30 seconds or so if I had been confidant in my descent. That being said – I’m still not sure I would fly down that hill if I did it again. It was very curvy. I guess I need to work on curvy descents.

The road was nice and smooth except for one section where it was horrible. It wasn’t quite gravel, but it was an older road in disrepair. It felt like cobblestones. I was nervous it was going to bust open my tires – it felt like swerving onto the shoulder on the highway it got so bad in some parts. Luckily. The way back through that section wasn’t nearly as bad (or my bum was numb by then and I didn’t notice it as much). I’m glad I had my water bottle taped down well though, because it could have easily flown out on those bumps.

I trailed someone for about 20 miles or so, which was nice for pacing. At one point, a dog ran out and almost ran into him. I was about 20 seconds behind, which gave me time to swerve over and give the dog lots of space, which worked. Eventually I caught up with the guy and overtook him. I like those interactions – there’ll almost always very friendly. We talked for a minute about the bumpy road section – to which he said that it gets worse every year. That part alone might justify a modified course for 2018.

Breakfast at Hardee’s while Dad’s on the bike – James LOVED it

The one other surprise was the water stations on the ride. There was supposed to be one at mile 11, 28,and then 44 (same as 11). However, Mile 11 came and went – and there was nothing. That was a shock – since I was playing a riskier strategy of only carrying the one 24 oz aero water bottle on my handlebars – something suggested by the All3Sports guys. However, realizing as I emptied my water bottle about 45 minutes into the ride, I had to reassess my fueling strategy. I had made it through 4 clif blocks (2/3 of a package or 120 calories). My water bottle had started off with about 150 calories of Gatorade – so I ate about 270 in the first hour. Total, for the rest of the ride, I only ate another 240 calories (8 more clif blocks) – for a total calorie consumption of 510 calories, or 204 an hour. This is way less than I did at Ironman Texas, but it actually worked well. I had way more calories on me, but I pulled back knowing I didn’t have as much water as I thought I would.

At the turn around, I did get a water bottle that was about 2/3 full  (it wasn’t a disposable water bottle but a race day events refillable bottle that they had filled 2/3 full)– which was kind of worrisome as I thought that would be the only water for the rest of the ride. Luckily, by the time I hit mile 44, the water station had been set up, so I could fill back up and rehydrate before I had any issues. This was about the only flaw with the race I experienced – but it may have helped me in the end to properly fuel. Because I didn’t over fuel, I never really felt yuck running. In fact, that was probably the biggest breakthrough of the entire race – I ate less (despite planning to eat more) and I performed better.

Other notable parts on the bike – the hills went pretty well after that first big one. It was definitely rolling hills. Strava said I spent 28% of the time climbing, which I’m not sure is a lot, but it felt like a decent chunk of time was going up. I have been mostly training on my non-smart trainer indoors (on Zwift – which is awesome), so I hadn’t log a ton of hilly miles. However, I think that discipline of constant wattage output helped me conquer some climbs. I think I passed a couple people on climbs – and I know I was dipping into the 400 watt zone on some climbs, but it just felt good to crank it for a few seconds, and I don’t think it hurt me overall to get some of those hills quicker.

I saw one dead copperhead on the side of the road – about 3 feet long. A couple other dead animals – and I could smell a skunk. Whew – that would be a bad race obstacle.

Probably because the intensity was high for me, but I was ready for the ride to be over. It seemed weird to want it to end – I had done much longer rides, but with an average heart rate of zone 4.3, my body was ready for a switch. My Garmin said I only did just under 55 miles, but it underestimates the Silver Comet trail all the time, so I’ll take it. I rolled into transition after 2:30:32 (which was within seconds of my Garmin, so I feel good about that one).

Transition 2 – Grab and Go

T2 was quick, dropped off my bike, put on socks, then hat, sunglasses, bib, and then was gone. Total was 1:25. I probably could have shaved 30 seconds or so if I was focusing on it – but it did give me a chance to grab by breath. Audrey called out to me that I was 5th in from the bike and to go catch them.

Run – Let’s See If I Can Do 7s

As I ran out of transition my watch read total time around 3:05. That meant that I could almost run a 4-hour marathon pace for my half and still break 5 hours. I knew I could do that no problem. I felt good – and although I was starting to feel the pain, my legs felt strong. Most importantly, I didn’t need any pit stops.

A beautiful run along the lake

For the past couple months, I’ve been trying to hit more 7 minute mile intervals. I had a half marathon effort where I broke 1:40 a month or so ago, with quite a few miles getting around the 7 minute mark. So – that was my goal – see how long I could run 7s. My first mile was 6:57, second was 7:13. The whole run stayed right around that range until the last couple miles, which got up in the 8 minute range. The route had a decent number of pretty steep hills though, so if you adjust for grade, by splits never got above 7:41. My Garmin said I only did 12.4 miles (although I did the whole race and followed the signs), but there was also a lot of curved paths, so I could see how some underestimation could happen. I kept checking my time against my 5 hour goal, and was very encouraged around the 9 mile mark to know that I could do 10-minute-miles and still finish under 5.

This was Audrey’s time to shine as my cheer team. When I came into T2, she let me know that I was in 5th. She cheered, and Rachel cheered much louder. With all her strength, hands behind her back, Rachel would yell with all her 4-year-old glory, “You can do it Daddy! You’re doing great! I love you!” That made me smile every time.

On the second lap, Rachel, James and Audrey had moved down the course. Audrey told me that 4th place was less than a minute ahead of me, and starting to slow down. “You can catch him – he’s in black and white camo design.” He had actually been the first on the bike, so I knew what he looked like. About a mile after that encouragement, I was able to overtake him.

The run course was one of my favorites I’ve done (minus the hills). We ran by a little league football stadium with a game in progress. That was fun to run through the crown gathering there (for the football, not us). We also ran along the lake for quite a while, and through a nice park.

The aid stations were fantastic on the run. Every mile to mile and a half they had plenty of volunteers giving out water and Gatorade. Some stations had GUs, flat coke, salt tablets, and pickle juice. I drank Gatorade and water almost every station. About 5 miles in I started taking shots of coke on the stations that had it. I took one GU about mile 8 or 9, with mostly just waters after that (one for my mouth, one for my head). I was really starting to feel it – not to stop, but to slow down a bit.

Nearing the end of the second and final lap, you come around the back side of the fort before climbing up to its entrance. Audrey and Rachel were at the top of the hill yelling down to me. That was awesome. They were so loud that everyone looked up to see who was yelling with such enthusiasm. “I love you daddy!” was my favorite. It made me smile. It was attention-grabbing enough that one might have been embarrassed, but I wasn’t at all. I was completely stoked to have them supporting me. And it helped. I powered it the last half mile, up some very steep hills. I found out later that it was a good thing they were up on that hill. They were up there waiting and watching for me when 1st place started up the last stretch—and the officials and race workers were not ready. So she called out “runner coming” and everyone scrambled to get ready. She thought that was funny. Then, Rachel continued yelling at the workers every time a runner was coming up the hill “runner coming!”

Taking the exit from the route to the finish line, the support was strong. Audrey yelled out, “Hurry, someone’s right behind you!” Which was totally untrue, and someone laughed at Audrey for saying that. I looked behind me, and I was pretty sure, but I powered forward anyway. Up the hill and through the chute, I jumped into the air in victory. It felt amazing to be done – especially as my watch read 4:37 (official time of just under 4:35 – I think they were a couple minutes short).

I got my medal and a nice cold wet towel, and then went right over to my family and kissed each one of them. Then I hobbled over to the food area and slowly ate – not because I was hungry, but because I knew I needed food. Subway sandwiches, pepperoni pizza, watermelon, a couple Gatorades, a root beer, a cookie, a few other things that I probably ate but forgot – it was a very good after-race spread. The one other thing I wish they’d had was a photographer at the finish line – that’s one thing Ironman did a lot better on – photography. Of course, you also had to pay for it (not cheap).

Post-race celebration

Audrey and her new friend with me in front of the cannon they shot off to start the race and before awards – way louder than I thought it’d be

It was about 12:30 then, so I played with James and Rachel while Audrey walked back to transition to get our car. She witnessed someone else in the parking lot back into another car, and then drive off. She left a note on the victim’s car – and then had the police call her later to get a statement. She felt guilty ratting out who backed into the car – but it’s exactly what we would have wanted someone to do for us. With that excitement, we went and got my bike from transition, and then went by Sonic to get some food for Audrey and the kids. I used to work at Sonic – and I like their food, but I’ll be sick of it for the rest of my life – so she took this opportunity to go there since I had already eaten.

My first time on an actual podium – and third place left since awards were several hours after we finished

We made it back by 2 PM where they shot off the cannon again and had the awards. The awards were fantastic – I almost want to train with all my might to make a go at first place next year just from how cool the first place trophy is – an actual cannon ball. I would have needed to cut off about 12 minutes to win this one. Might be possible.

After awards, back to the hotel, where we all four took a nap. I then took James to the lobby where he walked around for a while as Rachel and Audrey kept sleeping. Then – Rachel and I hit the pool, and we hit up the Lenoir City Chinese Buffet for dinner. Glorious buffet goodness. Such a fun evening to celebrate together.

Final Thoughts

The Storm the Fort Half was a highlight of my year. The course was beautiful, the competition was strong, and the experience was near flawless. The biggest breakthrough came from the following:

  • Higher, prolonged intensity in all three sports – matching or breaking the limits of what I’d done just three weeks before in an Olympic race. This was likely a result of higher intensity training, good tapering, and good nutrition (less than I usually consume).
  • No bike or nutrition issues – most would say this was another stroke of good luck, especially with the rough patch of road, but I attribute it to answered prayers. I had prayed very hard that I would be safe, no bike issues, no digestion/nutrition issues, and that I would perform the best I could. All of these things came together, and I can’t ignore how perfectly God answered my prayers. If something unfortunate had happened, it would have been fine – but I am so grateful it didn’t. Everything went right.
  • Taking some calculated risks – not having swam with a wetsuit was a risk; staying with the front pack for the first part of the swim was a risk; starting out at 7 minute mile pace was a risk. All of these paid off well.
Definitely the coolest trophy I’ve received yet – maybe I can drop 12 minutes for the first place cannon ball award next year…

I’d highly encourage others to take on the Storm the Fort race. I would enjoy racing it again next year. Contact me if you have questions – I always like hearing from others, and before doing a race, I think it helps a ton to know exactly what to expect. Race Day Events did a very good job putting this on. I’d give them 4.5/5 stars – with just a couple places they could make it a five star event.

The Fort has been Stormed – and I smashed my goal. And with 5th overall, 1st in my age group, I really couldn’t ask for anything more. It was a perfect day for me.

Ironman Texas 2017 [Race Report]

Here’s some photo highlights from the race – click on them to see up close. The full report is below the pictures.

Also, Here’s a video of the Race that Ironman put together. I haven’t been able to find myself in the video, but it shows a lot of the things I mention below (including Hippie Hollow).

Background to my Triathlon Passion and Ironman Texas 2017

I took on my first Ironman a year after my first triathlon (a sprint), and a year and a half after my first running race (the Richmond marathon). Four years before, I had weighed 80 pounds more, and wasn’t athletic at all. Tracking my calories helped me start to lose weight, which made running a lot easier. I picked up biking and swimming to cross-train and to avoid running injuries. I quickly grew to love triathlons, and signed up for a full Ironman in the fall of 2016. It was ambitious, but I wanted to jump in and take it on while I still had a short commute to work and the ability to train in the morning.

I trained seriously for about nine months, building up to about 10 hours of training a week, although I was able to get in a few 12 or 13-hour weeks as well toward the end. Coming into the race, I felt very confident I could finish, it was all a matter of how well I could do. My goal was 12 hours: a 90-minute swim, six hours on the bike, and a four-and-a-half hour marathon. I thought this was achievable, especially if nothing went wrong. If something did go wrong, however, my goal was to just finish, no matter what.

Leading Up – Tuesday through Thursday before the Race

Audrey surprised me with car decorations AND packing and loading everything into the car!

My wife (Audrey), daughter (Rachel, 3), and son (James, 9 months) packed into our van with me, and we started our drive from Milton, Georgia to Houston Tuesday evening before the race. Audrey had surprised me by decorating the windows with “Honk if you TRI,” “We Love Triathletes,” and “Ironman Texas.” Leaving several days before the race would give me plenty of time to settle into Houston – something I’m grateful I planned on beforehand. We made it to Mobile, Alabama the first night. Wednesday we dropped by New Orleans for lunch (a very good decision), and were at our hotel in Houston by Wednesday night.

Thursday I checked in at the expo and got my race bib and swag (an awesome backpack, a flag, poster, and a bunch of other goodies). It was the first time I’d been around so many serious triathletes. Every other person had an M-dot tattoo on his or her calf, and I felt like almost everyone had a finisher shirt on from some other Ironman event. The energy was high, and my family and I enjoyed walking around “Ironman village” and talking with all the people at the different booths.

The athlete briefing I attended was helpful. I was nervous about race day logistics, and hearing them walk through each part of the course helped put some of my worries to rest. I knew I could perform in a control environment – but knowing where to go and what to do in transition worried me. Thankfully, there were plenty of volunteers to guide me.

Thursday evening I went for a run. I had been tapering my training quite a bit, and hadn’t been able to work out much at all that week so far. My goal was to run slow, but I was doing 7:40 miles without trying, just because I had so much energy from my taper. I suddenly started to wonder if I could beat my marathon time of 3:35, which was an 8:12 average mile. I logged that new goal in the back of my mind, although I had a lot of doubt I could pull it off.

I made sure to get to bed at a decent hour Thursday night. I had heard Thursday night’s rest had the most impact on Race day, so Audrey made sure I was down by 10:30.

The Day Before – Friday

Friday I went to the lake in the morning for the practice swim. That was a ton of fun to get in the water and get used to what it’d feel like on race day. Again, being around all the athletes got me charged up, and I was just itching to race. I spent the rest of the day tuning up my bike (thank you YouTube for teaching me how to adjust my gears), and then checking in my bike to transition.

The days leading up to the race, I ate quite a bit more than usual – especially since I wasn’t training much. It was all in an effort to fully pack my muscles with glycogen. However, in retrospect, this is the biggest thing I would change. My body wasn’t used to all the food, and eventually it needed to clear everything out. I made several trips to the restroom throughout the night before the race. I had done the same thing before my marathon because I was so nervous. However, this time, my nerves were a lot calmer; my body just was carbed out. I forced myself to eat a couple bowls of cheerios – I was sick of eating – but I didn’t want to run out of fuel, so I made myself eat.

Friday night also brought the almost-ritualistic hair removal. Audrey trimmed my hair on my head to be nice and cool, and then I shaved my arms and legs to reduce drag in the water – especially since the water was probably too warm for a wetsuit. This was only the second time I’ve shaved my legs – but this time I trimmed them with the buzzer first, which made shaving go much, much smoother.

Friday night and Race Morning

Finally settling into bed around 11, I set two alarms for 4:15 AM. I think I woke up about every two hours, so by the time 4 rolled around, I was ready to get up. I took a quick shower to wake me up, and then started gathering my last minute supplies. James and Audrey were up shortly after – and James was especially full of giggles and sunshine. Rachel, fortunately, was with my dad and brother, still sleeping.

I checked the Facebook page and saw that it was not going to be wetsuit legal – which was a big relief for me. I think I swim better without a wetsuit, so now I wasn’t going to have to face that challenge.

We got to the swim start at about 5:30. However, I realized as I walked up that I was in the wrong place– I needed to go to the transition area where my bike was first. So, with two bags and a bike pump in hand, I jogged/ran a mile from the swim start to transition to try and make it before it closed at 6:15. Hundreds of people were coming the other way, so I felt pretty silly running with all my gear through the dark against traffic. It got me warmed up though – and I made it just in time. I pumped up the wheels on my bike (I had deflated them so they wouldn’t pop in the heat), and filled up my water bottles.

The guy next to me asked to borrow my pump after I was done with it – and as he pumped, a loud pop brought a ringing to my ear. My heart sank since I thought he had popped his tire. However, he had actually just broken my pump. I told him not to worry about it (I had gotten it at Aldi for $7), and tossed it in the trash as I hurried back to the swim start (after a quick port-a-potty break). At least I had gotten my bike ready before it broke.

Final farewells before the race begins

Back at the swim start, reunited with Audrey, we dropped off my special needs bags and said our final goodbyes. Audrey gave me a big kiss and assured me that no matter what happened, she’d be there for me at the end. Then, she gave me a few motivational quotes she had gathered from my friends and family and told me to get out there and rock it. It felt so good to have her complete support for what was going to be the hardest physical feat I’d ever attempted.

I had made my way toward the front of the group for the rolling swim start. A volunteer had called out, “If you’re swimming under 1:30, then go behind me. Over 1:30, in front of me.” I was standing right in front of them, so I said to myself,

“Let’s be optimistic” and I walked past the volunteer to move into a quicker group of athletes. Music is pumping. Everyone’s nervous, moving back and forth. The ground is wet – but no one has been in the water yet – just a lot of pre-race jitters. I can see the crowd up on the bridge overlooking us – signs and balloons – cheering. There was a lady next to me in her 50s. I joked with her, “You’re not going to start this swim butterfly, right?” She laughed and replied,

“I don’t think I know how to do the butterfly.” That spoke some peace to my mind – at least she wasn’t going to be beating up on me as soon as we entered the water.

I’m ready. I feel fantastic. This is what I’ve been training for. I’ve put in the preparation, now it’s time to execute. The announcer counts down, and then at precisely 6:40 AM the Cannon goes off.

Swim – 1:21:30

The line in front of me starts rolling forward at a brisk pace. I see competitors streaming into the water. My hands are over my head, moving to the beat of the music just so I have something to do while I walk toward the scariest part of the race – swimming with a ton of people around me. I had heard so many stories of people being punched, grabbed, dragged down, pushed, and other abuses. The swim start is one of my major checkpoints – if I can get through this without any problem, then I should be fine (I have several of these checkpoints planned throughout the race).

6:41 AM

I can see the water now – I’m just seconds away. Goggles and cap are good to go. All my thoughts melt away and my mind is solely focused on moving forward. I’ve never been in battle – but I can’t imagine the feeling is a too much different. You’ve trained and waited, and here you are, moving yourself forward with the crowd around you toward the unknown.

Starting my journey with the swim – please be nice people!

I pass over the timing mat, which is just a few yards from the water. I start the timer on my watch and quicken my pace as the group around me surges forward into the water. The person in front of me slows down, but I follow someone else around them to the side of the ramp into the water and move in. I take a couple steps into the water and then jump forward – immediately going into my freestyle stroke. I keep my head up for a few strokes to navigate around people and get a good sighting of where I’m heading. I spot the first yellow buoy. However, I quickly learn that rather than sighting buoys, it’s easier to just sight several people around me. They’re closer, and most of them have to be heading in the right direction.

The first few minutes are like a dance party in the dark. Hands and legs are all over the place constantly bumping into each other. However, to my pleasant surprise, everything is gentle. Everyone is swimming at race intensity, but when a hand comes across my back or leg, it instantly moves or pulls back. Despite bumps and hand brushes, the swim start is amazingly mild. My attitude quickly shifts from “protect myself from others,” to “we’re all in this together.” That calms my heart rate significantly, and I start going to work.

Susan, my swim instructor at the YMCA masters swim class, has been working with me on my swim form for several months. She’s stopped me several times in the middle of a workout and said, “Alex, you’re all upper body,” which she’ll demonstrate by the side of the pool with just her arms moving. “You need to engage your core and whole body.” Thanks to her help, I recently learned what that feels like, and it greatly improved my stroke. About eight minutes into the swim, I heard Susan’s voice remind me, “Alex, you’re all upper body,” as I realized that between sightings to see where I was going, my stroke form was less than it could be. As I developed some room around me, I start to increase the reach of my stroke, use my shoulders and back, lengthen my pull, and glide more. I instantly felt my speed increase, and I settled into a steady rhythm. Again, my mind went blank, and I was completely in a flow state in the moment. Everything was focused on getting to the next buoy, finding someone to follow, and keeping up my speed.

Toward the end of the lake, there’s a turnaround, and then the buoys switch from yellow to orange. I rounded the turn and started heading back up the lake. Someone had said that once you hit the orange buoys, you are halfway done with the swim – so I was excited to be halfway done. That turned out to be incorrect, but it probably was better for me to think I had made so much progress.

In the back of my mind, I started to be ready for the swim to be over. It felt good – and I could have gone on for hours – but I was anxious for the bike to start. I knew I had a long day in front of me, but the reality of it hadn’t quite sunk in yet. I just kept swimming. A few times I got behind someone that was about the same speed as me – and that was fun as I tried to draft behind them. I’m not sure it did anything, but I haven’t done much drafting practice while swimming, so it was something new to try at least. A few times I ran into someone wearing a swim skin – which are made of really smooth fabric. Each time I bumped into someone wearing one, I thought, “Woah, what is that?! It feels like a dolphin.” I immediately realized what it was, but four or five times when I felt one, each time my brain immediately went to, “Woah, dolphin! Cool!” I might need to get one just so I can feel like a dolphin in the water as well.

The swim course goes down and back Lake Woodlands, and then goes through the Woodlands waterway, which is a long canal that flows through all the hotels, restaurants, and shops of the woodlands. When I first saw the orange buoys, I was actually closer to 1/3 of the way finished. Turning into the canal, I was 2/3 of the way through – although I had not studied the course that well beforehand, so I wasn’t sure how much farther I needed to go. There were people lined up cheering through the entire canal though, so it was motivating to see them and keep going. I was constantly on the lookout for bright yellow and pink shirts – that’s what my family would be wearing. I knew they probably wouldn’t be along the route, but I still looked extra hard each time I saw a bright pink shirt. If nothing else, it gave me something to focus on besides the slow burn that was starting in my arms.

The best part about this far into the swim was that collisions with others were far less frequent. There were still a lot of people around me, but everyone was swimming at about the same pace in parallel. At times, I would be swimming right next to someone for a good three or four minutes. We’d be just inches apart, and while I mostly breathed on my left side, they would breathe on their right. It was a surreal experience to be in sync with someone like that. Usually, I was impressed with what a hardcore athlete they looked like chugging away like that. Then I’d smile inside knowing that I was keeping up with them – so either I was also hardcore – or the truth that we were both just trying our best at figuring everything out.

After about twenty minutes or so in the canal, I saw the swim exit. That was motivating, and I picked up my pace slightly. Just a few hundred more feet and then I could be done with my least best sport. My calves started to cramp a bit, and when I reached the stairs to exit, they cramped pretty bad. A volunteer helped me navigate the stairs, which I was very wobbly on from the cramping – my feet don’t like being pointed for that long I don’t think. After I took a few drunken steps on land, however, the cramps dissipated, and I was left with only disorientation.

Transition One – Swim to Bike – 5:44

I hustled to get my bag with my bike gear. I thought the volunteers would just hand me my bag – but they told me I had to run to the end of the bags first. They called out my number, and someone helped find my bag for me. After grabbing it, I went to the change tent and found a free chair to sit down on.

I had already taken off my goggles and swim cap on the way over, so I put those into my bag. I put on my helmet right away, and grabbed my shoes and socks. The ground looked pretty dirty, so I didn’t put my shoes on yet. I stood up, emptied myself of some of the lake water I had consumed, and walked toward my bike. After I left the change tent, I noticed that most others were running to their bikes in their bike shoes. I stopped and sat on a big cooler and put on my socks and bike shoes. I noticed my feet had some mud and grass on the bottom – but time was of the essence, so I just put on the socks and went for it. I had to stop once while I was jogging toward my bike a few seconds later to pull up one of my socks – but besides that, I never noticed anything with my feet – the grass and mud never crossed my mind again.

My support crew waiting for me at the bike mount line

I found my bike, and shuffled toward the bike start. As I came out of the transition area, I saw my family, right there at the bike mount line. I was elated to see them – all bright in their neon pink and yellow shirts. I think I said hi, but I was a bit tunnel-visioned with my focus on getting going on the bike. Nevertheless, them being there was an important mental boost that went to my reserve for later in the race.

Bike – 5:24:02

The bike started off with a perceived challenge. For some reason when I mounted my bike, my left cleat didn’t click into the pedal. The right was just fine, but the left felt weird and kept coming up a bit. Suddenly, it flashed through my mind, “Oh no, when you were running in your bike shoes, you may have broken your cleats.” The cleats lock into the pedals, which locks your feet to the pedals. This makes cycling much easier, with no wasted energy from your feet coming off the pedals.

I kept fidgeting with my shoe – it seemed to sort of lock in place, but still slipped a bit. A mile or two went by, and even though I never heard a click – I suddenly realized that my left shoe was finally locked in place. I still haven’t looked at my bike shoes to see if something had gone wrong with my cleats – but my shoes stayed locked in, so I started cranking away.

I was using a different Garmin watch that I had just recently got off of Craigslist (like almost all my gear). Because I was unfamiliar with it, I didn’t stop the swim timer until a mile or so into my bike – and thus started my bike timer a bit late. I had purchased the watch (at a screamin’ deal) because it could show and record power data from my power meter. My goal was to stay within 190 to 200 watts, or 70-75% of my functional threshold power of 271 watts. Essentially, measuring your effort in watts is the best way to cycle, because it’s an accurate measurement of how hard you’re working. So, for example, you go into a headwind, you may be going slower, but you can still work at the same rate despite the increased resistance.

Flying past people – pushing hard the first hour

Mentally, 190 to 200 watts was my goal, but I also felt fantastic and felt I could push it a bit. Everyone says to hold back on the bike for the run, and after the first hour on the bike, when I think my average power was more around 220, I pulled back a bit. It was just so fun to pass people – and to get into my aero position and feel the air flow around me.

I pieced together my bike off of parts on Craigslist – something I’m very pleased with. My bike has a lot of me in it – and a good story about how I got each part. The frame, for example, is a 2012 Cervélo P3. When they came out, they cost $4000. I got mine damaged for $75, and then paid $200 to have it repaired. It turned into a pretty awesome machine that never broke the bank (although it did consume all of my Christmas and birthday). So as I was flying by bikes that easily cost ten times what I paid total, which was definitely an ego boost.

Eighty miles of the course was on the Hardy Toll road – a three-lane highway that they shut down for us. That meant it was smooth and flat – except for the overpasses. The overpasses were great though – and my favorite part of the course. We would have a gradual ascent, where most people slowed down. I usually stood up and picked up my power on the hill – passing people almost every time. The downhill was the best though. Many people would coast down, but that’s when I went to work. I would accelerate and pedal down the entire hill, tucking down into as aero a position as I could get. Whenever I did this, I would fly by others. I think that’s an efficient use of power – but even if it’s not, the mental stimulus was worth it.

I passed quite a few people, and a decent amount of people passed me as well. There were a dozen or so that I would pass, and then they’d pass me a mile or so later, and we’d go back and forth for a while. For the first twenty miles, I tried to follow people, but most of the people I tried to follow ended up not being quick enough, so I’d pass them and search for someone else. At the end of the day, I really didn’t follow anyone the entire time but set my own pace.

Once I got onto the toll way, it was straight and flat. So I knew it was time to get down to business and start cranking away at a steady pace. I kept looking at my watch to see how much power I was putting out. And it was either fairly high in the 230-240 range, or it was missing some of the signal and unrealistically low in the 150-170s. So I picked a pace that felt good and sustainable, and just started counting the miles from there. Mile 20 came up quickly, and I still felt fantastic.

I passed my first aid station about that time. I had learned at the athlete briefings that all the aid stations had the same order: water, then Gatorade, gels and bloks, clif bars, Gatorade, and water again. That was the first time that I’ve had an aid station while riding a bike, so that was a novel experience. I’m happy to say that I’m pretty much a pro at grabbing water bottles while I ride. At the first aid station, quite a few people jumped off their bikes and ran into the port-a-potties. Thankfully, I was doing well with bathroom issues and didn’t need to stop at the port-a-potties at all on the bike.

I was following behind one lady who had a large amount of water come out of her seat. I quickly sped up to pass her, and as I did so, I called out “That was pretty hardcore,” to which she smiled. I too tried my hand at “going on the go” and was surprised to find it much more difficult than one would think. I finally figured out that if coasted down a hill and gave myself a little bit of time without pedaling, bladder relief would soon follow. At about mile 40 was the second aid station on the toll way. This one was manned by a local Boy Scout troop. That was pretty cool because leading up to it, they had 12 signs, each one with one of the scout law precepts such as “courteous” “kind” “obedient” “cheerful.” At the beginning of their aid station, they had a big PVC pipe circle with a trash net in it about the size of a hot tub where they were collecting all of the empty bottles people were throwing off. I tried both times I passed it to make my bottle in, but alas, I missed both times.

It was about this time that I saw the pros for the first time. Quick side note—we had the entire right side of the Hardy Toll Way which was 3 lanes. The left lane was for the second half of the loop. The middle lane was for the first part of the loop. And the right lane was for support vehicles to drive back and forth. However, nothing was marking that the far right lane was for support vehicles, so for most of the race, bikes were taking up all three lanes. Officials on motorcycles would periodically drive down the far right lane and wave everyone back over to the middle lane.

The entire bike portion I was very nervous about getting a drafting penalty. I tried really hard to stay the six bike lengths behind whoever was in front of me. But, because I was continually passing people, that was very difficult. Usually, if I was behind someone for more than a few seconds, I would try to move left of them so that I wasn’t directly behind them. And then at the next opportunity, I would speed up and pass them. Almost everyone seemed like they were abiding by the rules. One or two people who were in front of me lost water bottles and then I’d watch for a minute and see them reach around for it for some time, not wanting to admit that they’d dropped it. Someone on the Ironman Texas Facebook group had suggested using hair ties to keep your water bottles secured in. This is where being married is awesome, because Audrey had an ample supply of hair ties, and the trick worked perfectly – especially since the Gatorade and water bottles were a bit thinner than most bike water bottles.

I saw quite a few people on the side of the road that were changing flats. Probably a total of 20-30 people on the entire course that I passed. We turned around on the toll road about mile 40 and then went back another 20 miles. The entire time riding back, I switched between looking for the mile marker and glancing at my watch, just waiting for mile 56 to come up as soon as possible. By this point in the race, I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. My legs felt fine, my energy level was good, but my tush was quite sick of sitting on my saddle. The adrenaline from the start of the race and from passing so many people the first couple hours was wearing off and my mood switched from excitement to endurance mode.

I said a quick prayer to myself, out loud, thanking God that I had done so well so far, that I didn’t get beat up in the swim, and that I had the means and opportunity to be part of this race. It was also about this time when I glanced down and took a few seconds to look at the picture of my family that I had taped to my water bottle. That lifted my spirits, and I told my tush to deal with it ‘cause we still had a lot of work to do.

It was about this time as well that the bike course started to fill up with many of the slower competitors who were just making their way onto the toll route. I finally hit mile 60, and I knew the turnaround was close for the second lap. By this time, I’d also developed my own little routine at each aid station. I would grab a bottle of water, open it, and put it upside down into my jersey, so that the water would slowly pour out onto me as I went through the rest of the aid station. Then I would grab another bottle of either Gatorade or water, put it on my bike, grab any other food, then take the water bottle in my jersey out and spray it all over me, finishing it just in time to toss it off before the trash cut off. Feeling refreshed, I’d get back down in aero position and power through for a few more minutes.

At about mile 70, time started to float away in a sense. The mile markers kept coming but it felt like a constant now or in the moment. I was in a “flow” state – completely at one with the world – that is why I love racing. Nothing else was on my mind beside the drive to push forward.

Despite the floating flow feeling in my head, the feeling of being uncomfortable continued to intensify, and I was very excited to get off my bike; however, as I approached mile 80, I discovered that if I leaned forward, way over my handle bars, and barely rested just one tiny spot of my bum on my seat (so there was barely any weight on it) it felt really good – or as good as it can get 80 miles into a ride. For the last few miles up unto this point, I was able to sit in aero position for a minute or two and then I would need to readjust. But once I found this forward leaning position, I could stay in aero for 20 or 30 minutes without shifting. This was especially fortunate to find at that point because I was approaching the second turnaround, and a wind front had just come in.

Turning around for the second lap, shortly after mile 80, I began pedaling straight into the wind. My Garmin file shows my average speed drop from 21 down to 17 mph. Quite a few people were struggling, but with my new found, forward leaning aero position, I was able to get small and power forward. I ended up passing quite a few people, sometimes sharing a word of commiseration with them about the wind. “Man, this wind is fierce,” or “man, it’s a Suffer Fest.”

Since this was the second lap on the toll route, I knew exactly what to expect and was eagerly looking for the next landmark, aid station, and penalty tent – anything to keep my mind off of how uncomfortable I was. For some reason, a song from Moana (the “shiny” song) was stuck in my head for a good hour or two, and I really, really wanted some other music to get that out of my mind.

Coming into the final miles – almost to T2!

At last, the sign that says “Mile 100” was within view with the exit off the tollway shortly after. Once I was off the tollway, it was the home stretch. The course had a lot more turns, and the roads were bumpier, so my attention was all on the course rather than any of the pain I felt. I didn’t push too hard because I knew the run was coming up.

When I started to recognize that I was getting close to the end, I coasted once more for an on the go “go,” in hopes that I wouldn’t have to stop when I was running. I was feeling really good but I was incredibly excited to be off my bike. In fact, I thought to myself, “as soon as I don’t have this stupid seat wedged between my legs, I can run all day. It’s not gonna be a problem at all.” As I neared the dismount line, there were a ton of people cheering, which was nice because it’d been a quiet 5 hours as far as encouragement goes. There had been a couple people that had made their way to the bike course, but they were few and far between. And mostly just cheering for their own specific athlete. I finally reached the dismount line but almost fell over trying to unclip my second foot. A volunteer took my bike, and I trotted toward the run bag pickup and was soon in the changing tent again.

Transition Two – Bike to Run – 8:27

I plopped down in an open chair and a volunteer came over and asked if I wanted water. I said, “Yes please,” and I slowly began removing my bike shoes. They had gotten mud all over them from walking through transition, so I asked for a bag to put them in. The kind volunteer said,

“All I have is a trash bag, will that work?” I assented, so he brought over a ginormous trash bag and even put my shoes in it for me. I rubbed a healthy amount of Vaseline everywhere I could to avoid any chaffing. Then, I slowly put on my shoes and was pleasantly surprised to find notes of inspiration from my mom on my shoes laces. I’m not even sure my brain recognized all the words, but they had their intended effect and I felt loved and encouraged.

I tied my shoes, put on my race number belt, threw on my hat and my sunglasses, and made my way to the port-a-potty. I spent a minute in there thinking to myself, “I’m glad I’m getting this done with so I won’t have to stop on my run.” Then I followed the volunteers’ arm signals and made my way through a cloud of sunscreen spray onto the run course.

Run –  3:50:51

Every podcast I’ve listened to talks about when you start the run when you come off the bike, it’s going to feel so good that you’re just going to fly, but that you need to pull back and not go out too fast. Knowing this, I deliberately slowed down to a pace that I thought was very sustainable, however, when I looked at my watch, I saw that I was still running a 6:15 min/mile pace. This blew me away because it felt so easy! But I pulled back and slowed down even more until I was at an 8 minute pace. (Side note – some people have asked which podcasts I recommend. My favorite is the Triathlete Training Podcast.)

Pointing at the camera – I still feel awesome

The run course was a completely different experience because there were signs and people cheering the entire way. This made it much more motivating and there was a lot of distractions that would take my mind off of the fact that I could really use a ginormous meal and a chair. The first loop was about 9 miles. The problem I faced running wasn’t that my legs were tired but that all the food I’d been eating had caught up with me. At the second and third aid stations, I had to make additional port-a-potty stops, which meant that even though I was running at an 8 min/mile pace, I spent 30 seconds or so in the port-a-potty for the first 3 or 4 miles.

Eventually as my tummy finally settle down, I was able to keep chugging along without stopping. I hadn’t yet seen my family at all, and as I was about to start the second loop, my emotions came through a little bit. Even though I knew they were probably still on their way, part of me was a little bit worried and sad that maybe I missed them or they ended up somewhere that I wouldn’t be able to see them. I told myself that I would see them and everything would be ok and made myself smile and keep going.

The last part of the loop is in the downtown woodlands area, and it was a complete party. There were signs lined up along the entire route and tons of loud people cheering for everyone passing by. Some of the particular highlights were “hippie hollow” in which a bunch of people were dressed up like hippies banging garbage cans and bongo drums. One man in particular who was wearing a fur vest and underpants would chase athletes at random and slap their butt.

Another section had loud dance music playing with a bunch of college age boys in speedos and seashell stickers as makeshift bras dancing around runners. There was the “twerk zone,” the sign that said “free high fives and hugs,” and in parentheses “butt slaps upon request.”

Some of my favorite signs included “There’s no time for walken” with a picture of Christopher Walken. Another one said, “You’re running better than our government.” One had Mr. T on it and said, “I pity the fool who’s not an ironman.” One from a local tri club said, “You are NOT almost there,” which made me smile every time I passed it, especially because it was on mile 25. One with Donald Trump’s face that said “The Finish Line, it’s gonna be HUUUUUUGE”.

As I made my way onto the second lap, I still felt pretty good. I was coming up on ten miles and crossing the bridge back toward the swim start, it was at that point that I saw the bright neon pink and yellow shirts of my family. I waved to them, and they waved back. Now my reason to keep pushing was reinforced. As I made my way around the corner and saw them, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to be with my family. I stopped and gave Audrey a kiss. My dad called out, “Is there anything you want to say?” to which I replied,

“It’s really good to see you guys.”

I kept plodding along now looking for the mile 13 marker that would signal I was halfway done. As I passed it, I thought to myself, “I do not feel as good as when I normally finish a half marathon run.” There was one turnaround at the end of each loop where they would spray you down with water and look up your bib number and call out your name on a speaker. And that was pretty fun to hear my name a few times. Lots of people would call out my name from seeing my bib. For a while, I was running next to someone named Alex, so we both got double the cheers.

As I finished the second loop, things started to get rough. I had begun to run out of fuel, and I could feel myself starting to fade. I tried Gatorade but it wasn’t until I tried some coca cola that things got better. That was about mile 18. And man, that stuff works miracles. I drank a couple small cups of coke and ate some potato chips and within a minute or two, I was back up to speed. I had heard from podcasts I’d listened to that once you switch to coke, you need to keep doing it the rest of the race. So from then on out, I would grab coke and potato chips every chance I could. They were the ruffle chips which for some reason, just makes them better. When I was still in the darkest point is when I came by my family the second time on my third lap. Seeing them kept me going until the fuel kicked in again.

About halfway into the marathon, I started slowing down a bit at the aid stations. About mile 19, I noticed that when I slowed to a walk, my knees started hurting excruciatingly bad. I wanted nothing more than to stop or at the very least just walk. Quite a few people were walking now. And there was a strong temptation to just walk a mile or so. I had done the math in my head and realized that if I could do an under 4-hour marathon, then I’d be able to beat 11 hours total. This was far beyond anything I’d hoped for. I knew I could walk and still meet my 12 hour goal, but with a sub 11 so close, I had to force myself to start running again. So after each aid station, even though it burned like a firebrand being screwed into my legs, I picked up the pace and kept going.

I kept looking at my watch counting down the minutes and the tenths of a mile that just weren’t passing fast enough. “Only 90 minutes left,” I would tell myself. And then after what seemed an eternity, “only 87 minutes.”

About miles 22, which was my third lap, as I went through the aid station, I saw two missionaries in white shirts and ties holding up a sign and waving to everyone. I went over and gave them a high five and said “I served in Japan.” And they asked where I was from and I said “Atlanta.” Right after, the runner on my left asked “which mission in Japan?” I said “Nagoya.” He replied, “Ah, I served in Fukuoka.” That was pretty cool to have another former LDS missionary running beside me right then. As I looked closer at the aid station, I saw that most of the volunteers were wearing missionary tags. So it looked like the LDS church was manning the aid station, which was pretty cool. I wish I had known that the first two times I passed by – I would have said something funny to the volunteers – but now I was just hanging on for dear life.

At this point, complete tunnel vision had settled in. I wasn’t thinking about anything except, “keep moving forward.” It wasn’t even to Dory’s song of, “Just keep Swimming,” it was just a shout in the dark, “Keep going!”

Some words of encouragement from Paul Russell came to mind. He had written Audrey, who had passed on to me, “Just take one more step and keep going.” This seemed appropriate since he helped me run my first race, which was a half marathon, which he facilitated just for me. Words from my mission president, Bruce Traveller, came to mind,

“You aren’t here to start an Ironman; you’re here to finish an Ironman!”

High Fives as I come down the finisher’s shoot

By about mile 24 my mind had gone pretty much blank and I was pushing forward on sheer will power. It was nice having done two previous loops because I knew exactly what the landmarks were. At the last aid station, they had a bell you could ring when you were on your third lap. So I focused on getting to that point and rang that bell with a smile. Then I soon passed the mile 26 marker. I knew the turn off to the finish line was coming, and at this point, adrenaline took over. I powered up the hill from the turn off toward the finish line. A volunteer yelled out “you only have three turns left!”

I could hear the music, and as I rounded a corner, I saw my family again. They were cheering, videotaping, and jumping up and down. I gave high fives to my family and then kept giving high fives to everyone I passed. Before I made the final turn though, I had a minor trip from my knee giving out. I didn’t go down, but it took me a second to regain my footing and get back up to speed. I could see the finish line in front of me, and I heard my name called out.

You are an Ironman!

I ran the last few steps and jumped in the air as I crossed the finish line.

“Alexander Fuller from Milton Georgia. Lost 80 pounds. You are an Ironman!”

I used the last strength I had and jumped across the finish line. The journey was over.

Total time, 10:50:34, over an hour better than my 12-hour goal. Ranked 35 in my age group, 317 overall of 2,617 athletes.

After Crossing the Finish Line

Good to be together again!

Right away, a volunteer caught me, gave me a water bottle, put a finisher’s medal on me, and wrapped me up in a foil blanket. The foil blanket was very good, since I started shaking from the cold as soon as I stopped. The volunteer walked me over to get my picture taken, gave me a finisher medal, my finisher shirt and hat, and a recovery drink. Then I took a few more steps toward my family. I came over and gave Audrey an embrace thanking her for making this all possible. My family talked with me for some time, and then I made my way to the after race food tent Nothing has tasted so good – a chicken burrito, some pepperoni pizza, carrot cake, fruit, grapes, potato chips and probably some other stuff I ate that I don’t remember. I told my family all about my race, and then we went into the Ironman store to purchase a few items in celebration.

We went back to the hotel, where I took a nice long shower. We did dinner, and then Audrey and I came back at 11PM to cheer on the final finishers. That was incredible – so motivating to see these people give it their all for almost 17 hours, and somehow find a way to cross that finish line. I highly recommend being there that last hour – Audrey and I were dancing away to the music and having a party cheering until our voices gave out for my fellow triathletes.

Final Thoughts on My Ironman Texas Experience

The experience was incredible. I am exceedingly glad I did it, and deeply grateful that not only did I have the opportunity race, but also that everything went so well. My family was so supportive, and Audrey even said a few times on our drive home that she was very glad that I did the race – which meant so much to me.

If I were to change something, I would have not eaten so much leading up to the race, but just kept my normal diet. At the very least, I wouldn’t have eaten when I wasn’t hungry. There’s no reason to force food. I also would have done some longer runs to prepare – I think my legs would have lasted longer if they were used to more mileage.

The pain of the last 8 miles was something I haven’t experienced before. It pushed my limits. Everything inside of me was screaming to stop, but by sheer willpower, I kept going. That willpower transfers over into my non-racing life as well. Developing that self-mastery is worth the sacrifice and pain.

Training also became very enjoyable. It helped me prioritize my life, and cut out everything that wasn’t important to me. It made me focus more on my family when I was with them, work when I was there, and training when it was time to work out. It helped me live more in the moment.

To me, nothing is more satisfying then making a goal and smashing it. This was an audacious goal, and I did better than I’d ever planned.

For about 45 minutes after I finished, I thought, “man, that hurt – I’m not doing that again.” Then I started thinking, “What would I have to do to break ten hours…”

Ironman Texas was one of the best days of my life – a day when I pushed myself and lived life to the fullest.

Now I’m ready to live life even fuller.

Nutrition Journal

This is mostly for me to remember for the future, but here’s a quick diary of what I ate during the Race


  • Infinit: Go Far for first 2 hours
  • Tried to do one clif blok every six minutes – Margarita flavor that I brought from home – not a whole package every six minutes, but 1 of the 6 bloks in the package
  • Did one more gel an hour and a half in
  • Did a clif mini bar about two hours in
  • Total of 5 or 6 Endurance Gatorade bottles once my infinit ran out
  • Started feeling kind of sick about 3 hours in so I switched to watered down Gatorade or just water for a half hour.
  • One more pack of clif block spearmint flavor from the aid station, which tasted like toothpaste – yuck!
  • About 20 minutes before end of bike, did another gel


  • Gel either in transition or soon after. Sipped Gatorade every aid station because my stomach still didn’t feel fantastic.
  • One clif bar mini around mile 16
  • Last 8 miles Coca-Cola and potato chips, some pretzels – which saved me.
  • After the race, I had a recovery shake, several pieces of pizza, a chicken burrito, fruit, chips, and carrot cake. It tasted amazing.

2016 Hagan Stone Park Duathlon [Race Report]

The Hagan Stone Park Duathlon, put on by Trivium Racing, is a local race in the Greensboro, North Carolina area. The 2016 race was my first multisport event, and it was perfect for a beginner like me. The weather was great, the course was a blast, and everyone there was incredibly supportive, friendly, and just plain fun to be around.

About the Hagan Stone Park Duathlon

The race consists of a 5k trail run, a 16-mile bike ride, and another 5k on the same trail. The previous week’s weather didn’t have any rain, so there wasn’t much mud. In the places there was mud, the park had put down mulch, which was very helpful. I’ve heard that other years were a bit rougher in terms of mud and weather.

The bike course is a quick, two-loop course around the park. Police and volunteers do a superb job of blocking traffic and directing you, so riding it for the first time during the race isn’t an issue. There’s several rolling hills, so be sure to pedal hard on the downhill to carry you over the next one.

Trivium’s events are laid back in a good way. Everyone is there to have fun and perform well, but also encourage one another. Since I was new to anything besides running, I was very worried about getting disqualified for something.

Prior to the event, I emailed Rich, the race director, to introduce myself and ask a few questions. He was great, reassuring me that everything would go well. He answered all my concerns, and was extremely encouraging. It gave me the confidence to enter the event and see how I could do.

I couldn’t ask for a better first-time race

Coming into the race, I had no idea what to expect. I was talking with others before it started, asking if they had any advice. One seasoned triathlete said, “Don’t go out too hard on the first 5k. You have a lot of race in front of you, so pace yourself.” I thought that was excellent advice.

Here are my overall time results:

  • First 5k: 23:04 (7:26/mile)
  • T1: 0:40
  • Bike: 49:39 (3:06/mile)
  • T2: 0:34
  • Second 5K: 23:57 (7:44/mile)
  • Overall time: 1:37:53

That put me in 13 place overall (out of 75 people), and second in my age group (out of 4).

I was very happy with my performance. My goal going in was to just finish, but I was elated to walk away with a nice mug as a reward for placing in my age group.

Things to improve for the next race

Be strategic on nutrition and bathrooms

I ate a clif gel right before the start, which was good for the 90 minutes of racing. I had some homemade Gatorade ready for me in transition, but I didn’t end up using. In fact, I was probably over hydrated, and really needed to go to the bathroom during the second run. Running and bathrooms are always a battle for me. This reinforced that I need to figure that out, and probably lay off the water more before races.

Take Care of Bike Details

Two parts about my bike distracted me during that section. First, I realized early on that one of the bar end plugs had fallen out of my handlebars. I think this is against the rules because of safety, so that brought a lot of worry to me that I would get disqualified. Luckily, it was a laid back race, but it nagged at me and distracted from my best effort. That can easily be solved for next time.

Second, I dropped my water bottle (which then burst apart) during the ride as well. Not wanting to litter, I circled back and picked it up, but that again is something I could improve and easily shave 20 seconds off my time.

Taking time before race day to make sure everything is in order, and that my equipment works well, can help me focus solely on the race.

Things to repeat for the next race

Use the race day excitement to push hard

Starting out in multisport racing, I didn’t realize what exhilaration racing would bring me. I had run a marathon several months prior, but something about a small group giving it their all amped me up. I ran and biked harder than I had in any practice, and I was pleased with my performance.

Learn from other competitors

Perhaps the best part of the day was learning from everyone else that was at the event. I talked to many folks and got some great advice. I was already planning on a sprint triathlon, and I learned from others about how similar this dualthlon was to a tri. Some said that the swim is definitely easier than the first 5k on the front end. That gave me a lot of confidence – if I could do well in a dualthlon, then a triathlon should be very doable.

It was also really good to see all the gear others had. Right after the race, I knew that a race number belt would be my next purchase.

Advice for those doing the Hagan Stone Park Duathlon for the first time

For those of you considering doing the Hagan Stone Park Duathlon, here is my advice to you:

  • Definitely do it – it’s a fun, laid back event with a supportive culture
  • Use sunscreen – I didn’t think I would need sunscreen because it was still early spring, but I turned into a lobster later that evening. A lot of that came from standing in the sun after the race during the awards, but even out on the course, I wish I’d worn it.
  • Arrive about an hour early, not any earlier – it’s not hard to find parking, and an hour will give you plenty of time; I showed up 45 minutes before and was fine
  • The park does have a shower – in the camping part of the park they have a large bathroom that includes several hot showers; I went up afterwards to clean off and switch into street clothes since I had a decent drive home afterward
  • Feel free to reach out to Trivium with questions – Rich and Libby run Trivium and do a fantastic job of making multisport events approachable for beginners and seasoned athletes
  • Prepare for warm or cool weather – I got lucky because it was a warmer day, but this time of year can very easily still be very cold

Good luck to you – and let me know how it went for you.