IMTX 2016: Race Report

IMTX 2016: Race Report

May 4, 2016

It's a long report and, yep, it’s in metric units. But life is too short to yield to an inferior measurement system just because of peer pressure. :-)

IMTX 2016 was my 7th full race: 1 IM Brazil (in ’09 11:52), 4 IMTX (in ’11 11:22, in ’12 10:15, in ’13 10:30, in ’15 DNF), 1 HITS FL (in April 16 9:01 ).

My goal for the year was to go sub 10. I had a chance to do it in Florida 6 weeks ago and, looking at my time, 9:01, I did it brilliantly. But some harsh critics might point out that the swim was cancelled. And since you can only say “I don’t care, it still counts” so many times, I was looking at IMTX to finally go sub 10, not go sub 10*. Needless to say, I was pissed to learn that the course was shortened to 94 miles. So my goal for the day became to perform as well as possible and, ideally, to a sub-10 equivalent.

The build up to the race went well on the training side, despite tremendous (non-sport-related) stress. I had my best training block ever with 16h/week average over the past 4 months. I was finally getting faster in the water, which is my massive weakness. I was getting a nice volume biking, and my run—my strength—was going alright, too, despite not giving it much attention.

So every now and then, I was looking at the Kona Qualifying bubble and wondering, what if? It’s not a real goal, especially until I fix my swim, but it’s another benchmark and, ideally, one I’d like to reach. Of course, being a weak swimmer, this race doesn’t suit me at all: it’s non-wetsuit legal in non salt water. But it’s local, so it’s affordable.

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Getting the fun started (all photos are from Fred Houville and Sophie Ogier).

With the better training block also came an epiphany: I finally realized that race day is just to showcase how well you’ve trained. I found this helpful in reducing the pre-race stress in the last few days.

Swim. 1:20:47
My good friend Fred came to the race to play support crew, as he usually does, and it was great being chauffeured to the race site. (Houston being Houston, this “local” race is still a good hour away from home.) Plus Fred being such a good sport, I don’t have to carry my stuff to the swim start, and I don’t even have to worry about such a thing as a morning bag! On the support side, I was doubly lucky this year as my friend Sophie travelled specially from France to support as well.

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Seriously, who could resist such an inviting swim venue?I was shooting to seed myself in the 1:15 – 1:20 group, thinking in the back of my mind that I could be closer to 1:15.I decided to not wear a top, electing to put my long-sleeve top in T1 (I used a Castelli Stealth for the first time), so I left the speed suit at home. I had meant to test in the pool whether wearing the suit is faster than not, but I never got to it.

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A typical May morning in Texas.With the move of T1, the swim start was really crowded and it was unclear where the 1:15 group was. I saw two volunteers who claimed to have the 1:10 group in front of them, so I stayed there, let the group go, waited a bit and then went. My Garmin says I entered the water at 6:46am.The water was murky, as usual. Because recent rains had reduced the water quality, we couldn’t do the usual swim which includes the last third going up the canal. Instead, the swim was an out and back in Lake Woodlands. This last minute change was a little disconcerting, but no big deal.

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Getting the job done.I found that there was significant contact in the water for the first half. That came as a surprise: last year was my first year participating in the rolling-start format, and all went well, with almost no contact. This year, I felt that there was as much contact as the old mass-start format, and I saw people much faster than me and others who were much slower.The water is so opaque at Lake Woodlands that I’ve long given up on drafting. But I didn’t get into a good rhythm until the back end, where I had a couple of stretches of a few hundred yards where I felt I had a strong stroke. That’s a new sensation for me, so that was nice.

All told, I swam a 1:20:47, so on the longer side but still a PB (my best was 1:22:30 in 2013). Also, people seem to think that it was a slow day (my Garmin showed 4,068m, so if the course was long, it wasn’t by much).

Bike. 4:12:45 for 151.6km

The plan was to go conservative, with the first three hours at 210-215W or so and then build up to 220 in the last hour if I felt good. But from the first kilometers it was clear that my Quarq was reading low. I just did a full distance in Ocala 6 weeks ago, where I averaged 212W for a 36 km/h speed. Now this thing was reading ~185W. Later on, I realized that I hadn't calibrated the PM that morning, nor the day before. Perhaps the change of temperatures between the last calibration (inside, a few days before) and race day explains for the difference. Anyway, I decided to forget about it and bike on RPE. The course was uneventful. For the most part, the surface was good, except for a few patches with some serious potholes. Later in the course, I hit one rather hard and, frankly, I am surprised that I didn’t shoot both my tubes. There were quite a few turns but most of those didn’t require me to slow down considerably. It was also congested in some place but overall I was able to do my race. I didn’t witness more drafting than at other races but the penalty tents looked pretty packed.

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Busted! (well, not me, 'cause I know the secret: don't draft)

I spent quite a bit of time trading places with a guy—Matthew—on a Dimond. He was passing me and a few minutes later I would catch up to him and pass him. I must say, that’s one clean bike from the back! I later found out he had two punctures. Hence the various passes.

Some of the signs were funny—and new to me. I particularly liked the "$550 done, $200 to go” one. Or something like this.

Nutrition wise, I started with one bottle of malto/cyto mix (approximatively 1000 cals in each) and two flasks of EFS. In the special needs, I had another malto/cyto mix and a third flask. That went well for some time but I felt that it was too concentrated and never finished the second bottle or even the second flask. Instead, I started relying on Gatorade and I don’t think I took sufficient calories on the second half of the bike.

The FinisherPix showed that my position needs some work as my forearms are pointing seriously downwards, at least some of the time (I suspect specifically during the end stages of the race). I’ll need to work on that.

My split went well, I averaged 36 km/h, which is in line with what I did in Ocala. But there were signs that comparatively, it was just an okay time: one of those was that I didn’t pick up quite as many people towards the end of the ride as I usually do. This one felt like the placing was settled much earlier. Maybe I underbiked a bit but that’s okay, having a tendency to overbike, I was happy experimenting this side, too.

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Shadowing Matthew as we got into T2. Our days turned out almost identical.
Run. 3:26:09

The plan was to run the first half right around 5min/km and pick it up after, if I felt good. This worked well, except for the picking up. I made a conscious effort to take it easy during the first kilometers where I can easily reach 4:40 or even 4:30 before blowing up. I also made a point of walking all aid stations and fuel properly.

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Welcome to the IMTX run course!

I did get periodic side stitches but those are, unfortunately, nothing new. I concentrated on deep breathing, particularly on the breath out, and somehow that was enough to keep them in check.

Food wise, I meant to use a gel flask but I was so disgusted with them on the bike that I didn’t even bother taking it with me. Instead, I pick up Gatorade, Coke, and some water. Plus some ice for the pockets and the occasional wedge of orange. Yep, I was a good customer at those aid stations.

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Yep, so get on with it.

The first loop went well. I was clearly in control and hitting my pace plan. A few kilometers later, just around 21km, the lead bike of the first female runner overtook me. A few moments later, Julia Gajer overtook me. She was obviously one lap ahead but she wasn’t going much faster, so I actually have some footage of the race. Hi mom!

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Hi mom!

At the beginning of the third lap, I caught up with Matthew. I remembered him from the bike and we had a quick chat. He then pointed to the darkening sky, saying that he hoped we’d be home before the rain. To which I replied that I wouldn’t mind the water. I mean, it’s well above 32ºC with insane humidity, how can any amount of rain be wrong? We kept going for a while, and then he seemed to fade off.

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Showing off on the second lap. Everything is under control. Ish.

2km away from the finish line, I saw a bolt of thunder and a fraction of a second later the sound of it was so strong that it scared me so much that I probably jumped up half a meter.

Soon after, the wind was blowing really hard, and I felt hail. Getting out of the circuit was a little challenging as the marking on the ground was not really visible, but I was only a few hundred meters away from the finish and figured it out easily. The wind was seriously blowing when I entered the finish chute; in fact, it was so strong that it pushed one set of barriers against another right in front of me … essentially blocking my way. It’s like I was the opposite of Moses. I actually had to push the barriers open to get through. Then I hit the 180º turn, and crossed the line.

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I never expected such an epic finish shot, nor do I expect to top it any time soon.

The pacing worked great: overall there were only a handful of kilometers above 5min/km (the slowest was 5:11min/km) and my last 5km were all strong (4:42, 4:26, 5:03, 4:30, 4:40). PB on the run with 3:26 but, considering that the bike was short, it might not be a real PB (previous best was 3:29 in 2012).

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Luckily I only had to endure a couple minutes of what turned out to be a severe storm.
Post race.

Crossing the line and picking up my t-shirt, I meant to find Fred and Sophie who were somewhere around, but it was raining so much that I quickly changed my mind. Instead, I went to the med tent which quickly became overcrowded. We got our survival blankets and the next 40 minutes or so were spent exchange pleasantries as we all went from hyperthermia to hypothermia. At least we got there reasonably dry. For some reason, in the moment, it never occurred to me that the race would/could be suspended. I was just grateful that I was done with the event and didn’t have to cover another lap or two as others had. I felt reasonably fresh. My legs hurt but it wasn’t that bad.

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Serious wind, indeed.

In the end, my 9:07 was good enough for 26th in the M40–44 group and 154 overall (actually, something happened, and I’m now 25 and 155; go figure). I knew I was not in contention for KQ, not with this swim, but I was expecting to place higher in the age group. Tough crowd.

For reference, there were 10 Kona slots for our age group. 10th position finished in 8:44:34, so that’s 24 minutes away. I guess fixing my swim is at least half that battle.

My 9:07 is still probably sub 10 by a few minutes (I estimate that it is equivalent to a 9:53-9:55 or so on a regular-size IM course). So I’ll get to use a few more “I don’t care, still counts,” even though I’ll need to finish this business some time. That being said, I learned a few more things:

  • I really liked the long-sleeve top. It shields from the sun. It also retains ice a lot better than sleeveless tops.

  • At the bottom, I was really happy with my Skinfit, too. Much better than last year’s nightmare.

  • My bike nutrition is still not okay. Maybe I need to use less concentrated drinks/gels, because after my second flask of EFS, I was disgusted for the rest of the day. Or maybe I need one of EFS and one of GU.

  • My bike position needs a serious dial in. Looking at FinisherPix, my forearms point as much downwards as Cadel’s.

  • The fueling strategy on the run worked well. Next year, I should concentrate on going faster through some of these aid stations.

  • I could probably have pushed the run a little harder on the third lap as I was relatively fresh after the finish and I recovered really quickly the day(s) after the race.

  • I’d better calibrate my powermeter on race morning.

  • I need to continue to learn to swim. In fact, I’d better head to the pool now.

Many, many thanks to François for his expert advice and to Sophie and Fred, race crew extraordinaires!

A few more pictures. All photo credits are Fred Houville and Sophie Ogier.

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On race morning, the tension is palpable.

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The washing machine.

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Swim finish.

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Swim exit.

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T1, while most of us are still enjoying beautiful Lake Woodlands.

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Bike out.

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The other side of the race—T2 before we're back.

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The Euro supporters are here – part 1, the French.

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The Euro supporters are here – part 2, the Belgians.

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The Egyptian supporters are also here.

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Living the dream …

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… and showing off for the ladies.

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IMTX has spectator support like no other.

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Britney makes me feel good.

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One step at a time.

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Just a few more kms.

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Relaxing the shoulders.

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Getting it done.

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The gods were pissed!