IMTX 2018 was my seventh participation in the event and my tenth tri at the Ironman distance. Apart from 2014, which I failed to register for, I’ve done every IMTX, simply because it’s local. This year came in after two good races in 2017, with a 9h38 at IMTX 2017 and a 9h32 at IMFL 2017. After these, both of which with pretty good runs, I had high aspiration for a break-through performance.

The race also came at an eventful time in my life, as I’m taking a new job in the fall, relocating to Europe over the summer, getting married shortly, selling my house … In short, preparation competed with a bunch of priorities. I imagine those of you doing this while raising children wouldn’t find that very impressive, but it was a bit of challenge for me.

Despite these competing priorities, my training block when well, and I felt that I was hitting the race in as good a shape as ever. That was good: With the prospect of relocating to Switzerland soon, IMTX 2018 is probably my last participation in the Woodlands—no offense, but the prospect of riding Hardy toll road is hardly a compelling argument—so I wanted to make it count.

François has coached me since 2012, so he knows me. He also felt that Texas could be a good race. He had figured that I could build on Florida to shave another ~15 minutes for a 9h15 target (1h10 swim, 4h50 bike, 3h10 run with 5 minutes in transitions). Toying with this in the final week, I felt that that was possible.

At the beginning of my training block, François’s plan called for a 9h15 race. After completing the training block, that seemed feasible.

I knew that going under 9h15 might put me on the bubble for Kona—I missed qualifying by 2m8s and one spot in Florida, so I wasn’t that far off. But KQ wasn’t really the goal: I don’t have an interest in going anyway and, besides, IMTX is ridiculously stacked and I can’t control who shows up. Still, getting a qualifying time would be a nice way to say goodbye.

Swim: (1:10:16 – Garmin distance: 4,406m / 1:52min/100m)

Being a so-so swimmer, I welcomed the news that wetsuits would be authorized. When I went to pick up my packet on Wednesday, I toyed with the idea of getting a Röka to replace my X-Terra, which I had received as a prize for winning HITS Ocala (how’s that for a backdoor brag?), but which felt overly warm. However, I eventually decided against it. Of course that decision haunted me for two days, and when I was back at the expo after dropping my bike on Friday, I swung by the Röka booth, picked up a suit—the last one in my size!—and headed straight to Rice’s pool for a quick try out.

I’m the dude with the green cap … and the Röka wetsuit.

Fast forward a few hours, and I’m on the start line, seeding right around the 1h10 mark. The beginning was surprisingly mellow, and I felt for a while that the swim would be a breeze. But contact increased around the first buoy and remained sustained until the beginning of the canal.

“Green cap, black wetsuit” is enough for race-day crew and photograph extraordinaire Fred to find me after over 1h in the water. As he’s done every year since 2011!

My Garmin recorded 4,046m, and I’ve seen others that were right on 3.8km, which suggests that the course was well measured but that my open-water swimming abilities are still crap. If I’m perfectly honest, that’s not entirely surprising.

Overall it was pretty uneventful, and I was glad to exit the water right on my expected time at 1h10m16s, a PR. That’s nowhere close to the fast swimmers, but right on where I needed to be for my goals.

Bike: (4:39:14 for 176.58km, 214 AP, 225 NP)

I had high aspirations for the bike, particularly because it has improved significantly in the last 18 months. Last year, I biked a 5h02 in Texas (196W AP, 204W NP) and a 4h50 in Florida (208W AP, 215W NP), so there was a nice progression. But this year’s training block finished strong, including a couple of 4h+ rides on the trainer around 230240W. So, we knew that I had a better bike fitness than ever.

I also modified my nutrition strategy, opting for four bottles of Infinit (two on the bike, two in special needs) with ~300 cals in each, plus a bunch of Powergel Shots and Sports Beans, as well as a flask with 5 gels. This turned out to be a good call, and I’ll continue this approach, as I felt fueled up throughout and didn’t have any GI issues.

The bike started innocuously enough, but by the time I made it to the Hardy Toll Road, it was clear that some guys weren’t dropping back as they should when you passed them. One in particular, was jumping on the wheel of anyone passing him, swaying dangerously doing so, and he almost took me out, twice. It doesn’t help my patriotic pride that he turned out to be French (and, yes, dude, I’ve got your number).

After the first turn around, a guy closeby suggested that we slingshot legally. So we started working, him, me, and another fellow, and for a few minutes of the first north-bound leg we passed one another,
dropping out of the envelope each time we were overtaken before taking our turn. But doing so required me to push too much power, and I let them go. (Kudos 309 for racing cleaning, as far as I can tell.)

There was another fellow who did a great job, but I can’t remember his number. 52 years old, with a black and orange race suit. He never took anybody’s draft and was overall very clean. I saw him after the finish and when I congratulated him on keeping things legal, he seemed to care: for the people attempting to race clean, it feels like any recognition of these efforts was much appreciated.

For the most part, though, the drafting just kept getting worse and worse. There was a group of 20 or so with which I traded places for a while towards the end of my ride. When they passed me, I dropped out of the envelope, feeling frustrated about how much soft pedaling that required. Then I’d overtake them and, for a while, stayed clear in the front. But I didn’t have the output to fully drop them and, after a while, they  slowly crept back up. Rinse, repeat. I called them out: “you are aware that this is a non-drafting race, aren’t you?” and if feels that that bothered some. For the most part, however, they kept on coasting. I’ve got one number.

Overall, there’s no doubt that I benefited from being in the vicinity of such a fast mass of air moving in the right direction. It’s a little hard to be conclusive even with the data, because the fourth quarter of my ride corresponds not just to trading places with that group but also with going back north when there was now a significant tailwind that was helping, and a drop in speed when we exited Hardy to get back to T2.

But dealing with the group wasn’t just a positive. I also felt extremely frustrated, and I feel that I left a lot of nervous energy on the course. I guess I need to learn to chill.

At any rate, I got into T2 after 4h39 on the bike, another PR.

 

The power drops significantly in the last quarter of my ride but the average speed not so much, which is consistent with my impression that I did get some benefit from trading places with a group nearby.

Run: (3:12:26 for 42.44km / 4:32 min/km)

The run is where I usually pick up people. After my epiphany of last year, where I realized that I was able to run a 3h12 in an IM and repeating the feat—albeit a little slower, 3h18—in Florida six months later, I had big hopes for this race, with a possible 3h10. My run training had come out well, and I thought that was a possibility. And, indeed, it was fun to pick up some of the guys—and gals—who had passed me as part of a horde on the bike. I was able to stay focused and keep a decent pace throughout, fueling primarily with coke at each station without having to stop or walk.

Early hours on the run, where things are still visibly fresh. The French flag was a nice touch (we had nothing to do with it).

Deciding to honor my long-lasting decision to not piss on myself—we all have to draw the line somewhere—I stopped early in the run my only pee break of the day. That took 68 seconds or so, but who’s counting?

For the most part, the run was uneventful, aside from side stitches that came and went, and those that came around km 38 and didn’t leave me until the finish line, despite my best efforts.

On the second (or is it the third?) lap, it’s clear that I’m tunnel-visioning and working hard.

I don’t remember anybody passing me on the run except for a guy that I had passed on the bike. Slim fellow with a 27 on the calf. He passed me halfway through the third loop, and I had absolutely nothing; the guy was flying. It was particularly impressive because I don’t get passed much on the run, but this dude was in a class of his own.

Anyway, I gave it all I had, and that got me to the line in 9h09:17.

Epilogue

9h09 is as fast as I could have gone on the day, so I’m delighted about this. It’s the result of a strong training block and as good an execution on race day as I could hope to put together, so I have no regrets whatsoever. 9h09 was also good enough for … wait for it … a whooping 19th in the M40–44 age group! And that’s a source of frustration.

What I am  pissed about is the despicable attitude of many of the competitors and the downright inept organization

Inept organization

WTC dropped the ball before, during, and after the race. They weren’t able to provide an appropriately measured by bike course, even though they not only had a closed highway to work with, they also had data from last year! dudes, What else do you need?

During the race, they failed to produce a single marshal on the ride—not a single motorcycle to police over 2,000 age groupers.

And since the race, we haven’t heard anything from them. To my knowledge, they haven’t admitted to doing anything wrong, extended apologies, or provided remedial actions to ensure that last year would be better. Last year, there was a sustained presence of marshals and I remember the penalty tents overflowing with competitors. In other words, nothing gave the impression that this year would be such chaos. But, based on this year’s data, we should assume that 2019 will be run in a similar amateurish way. If you have higher expectations, prepare to be disappointed.

Prevalent cheating(?)

Even before the race, there were strange events. Someone found a testosterone patch in one of the hotels hosting participants a couple of days before the race.

Right after the finish line, I bumped into a guy I know who had finished ahead of me. When I told him how disgusted I was about the drafting, he shrugged as if to say “it is what it is,” which I interpreted as an admission of partaking in the group ride. Looking at how he went through the time checks (thanks for the data, Alan Couzens), he crossed every one of them with at least a handful of people within 12 seconds, and he crossed several time checks with the same people. Now, there are scenarii in which such data are coherent with racing legally: it could be that people were drafting off of him. It is also possible that no drafting was involved, and he was just passing people or being passed legally. Nonetheless, in my arguably biased opinion, it’s hard to conclude that it was all kosher.

Enveloppe analysis of select athletes, showing how many people crossed each time line within 12 seconds of a given athlete

I haven’t checked the slot allocation, but assuming that M 40–44 gets 10 spots, like last year, qualifying would have required me to come in in 8h47. That’s a seriously fast field! A 9h09 last year would have bought me third place; now, I barely make the first page of results.

Even after ten days, it’s hard to feel great about the race. And I should feel great, with a massive PR in the swim and bike (and a PR on the run missed only by seconds). Yet there’s a bitter aftertaste.

Execution was right on target, with a race time of 9h09, which was exactly what we hoped for.

Oh, well. The nice part is that I’m headed to the Swiss mountains. My next race will be on a course that has some serious climbs. That way, I’ll know that the guys who beat me actually had to work for it.

Thanks

I’m immensely grateful to various people for getting me here. Leslie gave me the time to prepare for this, which came at a very steep price, especially as the third race in a series that saw one race every six months.

François did a fantastic job preparing me. You got me from a 11h22 in 2011 to a 9h09 this year. I thought that a sub 10 would be hard to get; I never thought that a low 9h was in the cards for me, so merci, l’ami !

And, last but not least, Fred has been the best race-day support I could hope for at every single one of my participations in Texas. Merci, Fred. La prochaine est en Europe !

IMTX — the KSS home race!