Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ironman Texas - Race Report

As I couldn't wait for Thursday morning, plus wanting to save some time, I loaded up the vehicle with most everything on Wednesday night.  Double checked everything before loading it.

We left McKinney around 8:15am and had a nice drive down.  It's a little over 3 and a half hours, which in Texas, is a "decent" drive.  There's not much between Dallas and Houston but farmland and small towns.  We've made the drive a few times so we knew what to expect.

After arrival at the Garden Inn - The Woodlands (which was a top notch hotel because of the staff and the facilities) and unloading everything, I went down to the Expo area to get my packet and meet up with my cousin Michael and his buddy from Chicago, Mike.  The packet pick-up is a whirlwind but ran like a well oiled machine.  Sign here, pick up here, gear there, get chip, and you're out.  With 2700 registered, they have to have it this way or it would be a nightmare.  Also...and I'll mention this again, the volunteers were excellent.

What are you doing today.....just an Ironman

We got some pretty cool merchandise just for signing up....including this backpack....

As Annie calls it....the most expensive backpack ever....

After messing around in the merchandise tent and walking around the expo, we parted ways and set a time to meet up for the Athlete Dinner.  The dinner was great, hosted and MC'd by Mike Reilly (the voice of Ironman).  Lots of good food, inspirational videos and words of encouragement.  After the dinner, and walking to the car, I met Chris McDonald, a pro triathlete.  That's what I love about the sport....the pros are accessible and down to earth.  They'll chat with you and treat you like an equal....

I don't know why I look drunk and fat....I'm neither in this pic

Friday was a "do nothing day" except for checking the bike and the T1/T2 bags.  I woke up pretty early, around 6:45, and couldn't get back to sleep.  As the family was still snoozing, I went down to the lobby and chatted with the other athletes down there.  Had some coffee, talked about how flipping hot it was supposed to be, and whatnot.  Around 10:30, I was going to check everything in, so I triple checked the bags that had already been double checked and that was AFTER they were packed using a list that I made.  Jilian helped me out and then wanted to go down to check in with me.  So, we walked down there (it was already in the low 80's) and I dropped my bags and checked my bike. 

I was one of the first 200 or so that checked the bike in....she looks lonely

When I was walking out, there was a guy that "fell out"....meaning, he was dehydrated, and was being attended to by medical staff and was eventually taken away in an ambulance.  He was an athlete....but I don't know what number he was to see if he even started on Saturday.  I thought....that's going to be you if you don't get into the A/C and get liquids in you.  Poor guy though....imagine doing all that training and prepping to fall out the day before the race.  There was a grocery store on the way back, so J and I stopped and got some water and Gatorade for the walk back.  That night, we ate at Cafe Express with the Michaels and called it a night around 8:00am.  Before that, we walked thru the "Market Street" area which was a nice place of restaurants and shops.  One store had done their entire front window with all of the racers names.  How cool is that???

I'm official....or so says the window of the shop

 I had 3 alarms set on my phone (with motivation) and had the Michaels come by the hotel to walk down to transition in the morning....and to call if I was not in the lobby....I was NOT going to oversleep.

RACE DAY!!!!!!   I woke up before any of the alarms went off (and made sure I turned them off).  I had to get dressed in the dark but since it was jammers, t-shirt and flip-flops....it wasn't all that hard.  Met the Michaels in the lobby and off we walked to transition to pump up the tires, fill the bottles, put nutrition on the bike, final checks, etc....then the 1/2 mile walk over to the swim start.

Once at the swim start, we got body marked, dropped morning clothes bags, waited in line for the Port-O-Pottys, then were ushered into the water at the end of the National Anthem.  The water was a bit chilly on the skin (it was over 76.1 degrees, so it wasn't cold....) but after the first 15 seconds of quick breathing and the realization of what was about to take place set in.....everything went numb.  I placed myself in about the middle and 3rd person back.  I treaded water for a few minutes, then *BOOM* the cannon goes off.  The link below is the Ironman video of our swim start.  I'm somewhere out there between the two big yellow buoys...

The swim was rough in the beginning.  With 2700 other people doing it, there was a lot of contact, swimming over, under, around....there was one guy that was swimming perpendicular to everyone (don't know how that happens)...but finally found some open water after 7-8 minutes.  I was frustrated because I felt I was swimming slow and wasn't in a rhythm.  Eventually I did find a rhythm and was good.  I calmed down about my time, my pace, and just focused on stroke after stroke.  I was having some goggle issues and the left eye kept filling up.  I made a quick stop to look for a kayak and one was about 100m away.  Swam over and, of course, they were like "Are you okay....Are you okay....just hang on....you're safe....you...." and I stopped them and said "other than this water in my eye, I'm perfect" and swam off.  I just kept plugging forward....and on...and on...and on...and hey there....the turn buoy!  Wow...that got here quick.  So I made the turn, swam about 50 feet then made the other turn back to the canal.  1.5 miles to go.  The second half of the swim seemed to go a lot quicker.  I made it a point not to check my watch at all....to avoid any frustrations if I wasn't where I wanted to be.  Once I reached the canal, I knew I was home free.  There were lots of people lined on the shore cheering and you could hear music and you knew it was sooooooo close.  I needed to fix my goggles again so I stopped and while treading water, my foot touched the bottom of the canal.  So I go over about 5 feet and could stand as the water was chest high.  I fixed my goggles and looked around...and took it all in.  Amazing.  The sun was out, people were cheering, people were swimming.....it was glorious.  I was doing an Ironman....holy crap.  So I got back into the deeper part and kept going.  The last little bit seemed long, but it really wasn't.  Swam toward the ladder, see an arm reached out and made it onto land.  Total swim time.....1:24!  I wanted in the 1:15, but was going to be happy with anything faster than 1:30.....especially in an non-wetsuit OWS.  I could have easily shaved off those minutes with a wetsuit.  I was done....1/3 of the way through an Ironman. 
As I go into transition, I could my cousin wrapping up.  He must have had a slower swim than expected because he should have already been on the bike.  Said Hey and he was out.  The volunteer took my bag from me and helped me open it.  I sat in a chair and first grabbed my hand towel to start drying off.  He laid everything out in a nice, neat fashion so it was easy to grab.  After drying off, dropped my jammers and put on the bike shorts...then jersey....then socks and shoes....helmet....glasses....a little butt cream on....and I started to pack my bag and the volunteer said "that's my job" and told me to go have a good race.  Awesome.  My bike was near the end of the rack on the aisle so it was a quick grab and I l headed out on the 112 miles journey..... T1 time - 8:12
I have no idea what's about to happen.....
The bike started out great.  I was feeling great.  I had a good pace that I was holding, but didn't feel that I was exerting at all.  I even "reigned it in" a little because I was up to 20mph on the flats and I knew I couldn't (and shouldn't) be there.  Nice and steady....nice. and. steady.  The bike was really uneventful for the first 30-40 miles.  I was settled in and letting everyone pass me.  The sun was already starting to beat down and I knew it was going to be a hot one.  I was taking in water and gatorade and had started my nutrition plan.  Eat 200 - 250 calories on the hour and drink consistently.  This was going well.  I remember passing my first person around mile 35 but she and I would eventually play leapfrog for a while.  Since I weighed about 50lbs more than her, my downhill speeds would get up to 28-30mph with minimal effort....but pulling and extra 50 up a hill isn't easy.  By mile 60, which was almost noon.....I was starting to not feel good and my head is starting to pound.  The sun was beating down, there was no shade anymore, the wind was hot, and the cold water that you'd get at the aid stations, would be warm after 10-15 minutes.  Nothing like drinking warm water on a hot day.  I'd also started to feel nauseous and even dry heaved at one point.  I couldn't stomach anything without wanting to puke and water was the only thing that I could keep down....with the occasional drinks of powerade.  Every aid station was the same....toss bottles, grab water and squirt myself down to try to get my core temp down, grab another water and put in cage, powerade in cage, and go.....however...starting around mile 70, the aid stations were starting to look like triage units instead of aid stations.  People laid out, bikes off in the corner, people under tents, medical aid being given.....it was crazy....and we still had 40 miles to go!  Being so close, I knew that I needed to just "get home".  The wind was up into the 15mph range and was a total headwind.  It was horrible at some points.  I felt like someone was blowing a hair dryer in my face....and holding my bike back at the same time.  I was peddling....but my bike computer said I was going 9mph at one point....really....that was demoralizing.  Mile 80 hits and I'm struggling....but I press on.  The next aid station is 10 miles up....I just need to "get home".  We turn onto a pretty busy road and there is absolutely ZERO shade or anything to block the wind again.  This time it's more of a cross wind....but still.  I finally hit mile 90 and....what???  No aid station.  So I keep going.....91.....92.....93....94......AHHHHHH.....mile 95.  I stop and finally unclip for the first time.  Wow.  I tell the volunteer that I just want to stand for a sec.  She gets me ice and water.  I fill up all my bottles with fresh, cold liquid.  I really want to continue but laying down would feel so good.  So I get off my bike and just sit under a tent.  I took my helmet off...and relief....that was causing my headache.  About 3 minutes later there is a van that pulls up and says "if anyone is calling it, lets load up and I'll take you back".  There were about 10 guys that got in.  No.....Effing....Way....  This close and you're hang it up?  HTFU people.  I told myself before that the only way I was getting off the course was it someone from WTC told me I couldn't go on.  Other than that....I was going to go.  Right after that, I stood up and asked a volunteer how far we were from the turn in back into the neighborhoods (where I knew we would be wind protected and also sun protected).  She told me it was less than a mile.  I believed her.....and sure enough it was.  I was glad that I got back on and went.  I was at the aid station for about 20 minutes.  Made the turn and was so close.  There were people out cheering, lots of slower bikers that I was passing now (which put a little "pep" in your cadence), and knew I was so close.  The last little bit was pretty technical with a lot of turns....hard to pick up speed only to slow down again.  Once I made the last turn it was a straight shot into the transition area......it was amazing.  It was like watching the bike races at the finishing line how people are lined up on both sides behind barricades cheering.....it's so cool.  Once I got off the bike, the volunteer joked "so...you want to sell me your bike?".  I told me "Ha....dude...you can HAVE it".   As I was "running" toward transition I hear my name.....FINALLY....there is my beautiful family and our old neighbors.  In a normal race, I would have waved and blew them kisses. In this race, I walked over, said hi, chatted, shook hands, kissed my wife and babies, and then headed to get my bag.    Total Bike time 7:14 (which had I not stopped for 20 minutes would have been sub-7 which was my goal)
Wanna know why I look so happy....I'm about 100yds from the finish!
T2 was in the same tent....I sat down and didn't want to move.  Everyone in there was really slow moving, chatting about how much the bike sucked and how bad the runs going to be.  Both guys next to me were from The Woodlands....and they were even complaining about the weather.  They said that they had ridden the entire course 3 weeks prior and did it in 45 minutes quicker and that was with stop lights and stopping to refuel.  They were so shocked at the weather as it had been so mild up until 3 days ago.  Well...it's Texas!  So Finally got changed and right when I exited, alls I wanted as a big cup of ice.  The volunteer said she had to get me one so I went to the bathroom.  That was my first time to pee since 6:45am.  Not good...and it was a struggle to get out.  Uggh....not good.  As I got out and got my ice....the fam was there again.  Chatted about nothing for a minute or two.  Told them I was doing great (I wasn't...but I wasn't THAT bad either) and that I was going to finish.  Kisses, high fives, fist bumps...and I was off.  T2 Time.....18:11 (lol)

The marathon....26.2 miles....there aren't many people that do marathons....much less an Ironman marathon.  I knew after about 400 yards that I was going to be walking the entire marathon.  I was around 9 hours on the race clock, so I knew I had 8 hours to do it.  I knew that I could make it by walking.....but if I had to stop, or had an issue, or needed to stop that I'd be cutting it close.  My goal was just to go.  And keep going.  The aid stations were great.  All sorts of food, drinks, ice, sponges, candy....whatever...you name it.  Great stuff.  However...nothing would stay in me without feeling like I was going to puke.  Every aid station got to be the same thing.....water, ice, water, ice, sponges.  That's all that I could keep down.  The first loop was hot as the sun was still up.  It was uneventful as I was was just going along.  Would chat with a few people.....standard questions....where ya from, what loop ya on, how ya doing..... Finally made it back to the waterway and had my head on a swivel.  I knew that Annie and the girls should be around.  Kept looking and looking and looking.  I was way behind schedule from when I said I would see them.....I finally stopped and asked a volunteer if she could text my wife.  I texted "I'm going really slow, I'm doing fine, I love u" and I told the volunteer if she texted back to tell her I looked okay and that I was in good spirits.  I completed the first loop and never saw my wife.  While I was concerned, I knew that she was probably okay as she had a 7 year old and a 7 month old to take care of.  At the start of the second loop, I found a friend....she was starting her second loop and we just chatted.  It was her first IM and her husband was tracking her too.  She had just seen him and so I described my wife and we were on the look out.  We walked almost the entire 2nd loop together and it really passed the time.  She was wanting to "step it up" a bit but I knew my body....if I pushed anymore than I was, I was going to have more issues.  She parted ways but saw each other several more times on the out and backs.  As I entered the waterway ending the second loop, from across the water I hear "DAAAADDDDYYYY" and there they were.....my wonderful family.  I shouted that I'd see them in about 30 minutes and that put some pep in my step.  Got back around to them and it was great.  People were cheering, I was close to tears, and I just wanted to stay with my family.  Annie told me to finish strong and I gave her and the girls my love and kisses and started out on loop 3.  I told her it would be around 11:30pm when I finished.....but that I was going to do it.  Loop 3....the last loop.  I knew the loop like the back of my hand.  I knew where people would be cheering.  I knew where it was just going to be me and my thoughts.  I kept positive thoughts and kept thinking about how proud my family was.  What sacrifices they had made and how I was going to be an Ironman......as I entered the waterway again...for the last time...I knew I was home free....I made my jokes to the volunteers about how this was the last time they'd ever have to see me again.  At the split for the "start loop 2 and 3" and "finish" it was amazing....people still lined up 2 and 3 deep shouting your name....clapping, screaming.  As I made the 2nd to last corner, the Mikes jumped out and squirted me with beer......I got hugs and there were tears that started.  I had about 100 yards to go.  To finish you actually ran past the finish line then u-turned back toward it.  My head was on a swivel again....Where's Annie...where's my babies....I just want to see them.  It's hard to find them when EVERYONE is yelling your name.  I'm starting to run (my adrenaline took over) but as I made the U-turn there they were.  I lost it......like a baby!   I told them how much I loved them and that I was going to need to go get an IV at the medical tent (so they wouldn't worry about why I was there) and told them to find a volunteer and head down to that area.  As I left them, it was me and Mike Reilly.....no one behind me.  As I ran up he says "Brad Donovan" and he paused and then said "Way to go Brad" and then said the magical words "You Are" (and I stopped and put my hand up to my ear....and the crowd screamed the final two words with him "AN IRONMAN!!!!"  and I was ecstatic....as you can see from the video below....and the finisher pics.  I was also a feature photo on the Ironman website of the "Midnight Hour" finishers......

It's grainy and hard to see.....but this was AMAZING.....

Let me hear it!!!!!!

I'm there...I did it!

Yes...I'm crying....So....

From the Ironman Website.....Damn cool pic!

Total "run" time: 7:31

I had done it....I was an Ironman.  As I crossed the line, I was asked if I was okay.  I said No and needed medical.  The guy said "your medal is given to you by the womans champ" and I looked at her and said "who the hell are you"....I then apologized.  I really need to send her an e-mail.  Seriously.

There it is.....

In medical...I guess it was pretty standard.  IV, anti-nausea, and released.  Annie and the Mikes were waiting outside and hugs all around.  Jilian got to wear my medal and she LOVED it.  Unfortunately, we had to go get our bikes and gear bags which was a half mile walk then another half mile back to the hotel.  Once that was done, I took a quick shower (as everything that was chaffed - basically my ass crack - hurt) and I just wanted to lay down.  I remember sipping Gatorade and falling asleep around 2am.  I was up every hour because anytime I moved, it woke me up...and I pee'd every hour also.  I woke up around 7am and couldn't get back to sleep so I went to the lobby and checked my 98 texts, Voicemals, FB posts, and IG comments.....WOW!

I went back to the room around 8:30 and we started to pack.....load up....and drive home.  All I wanted to do was unpack, eat pizza, and sleep....which I did....in that order.  I weighed myself (after eating the pizza) and was 8lbs less than what I was the morning we left for the race.  Holy Schnikies! 

Thank you to my followers and encouragers during this journey.......I will continue the blog, but just not as often, but will still follow y'all.......Again....thanks!


  1. Great race report Brad! I am so happy and proud for you. All your hardwork and dedication led you to becoming an Ironman! I will be looking to you to answer a lot of my questions as I prep for my 140.6 in Sept! I was tracking you all day Sat, but had to get in bed before you finished due to my race the next day, but the first thing I checked when I woke was your times and to see that you had indeed become an Ironman!

  2. I love this race report, captured your experience so vividly, congrats again

  3. OH MYYYYY GOSH. I mean, what can be said?? You are now an Ironman! You were so smart the whole day, just took the punches and relaxed and did the math. I hope I can race that smart as well :) I feel like saying congratulations but that just doesn't even seem to be enough. They need to make a bigger word just for Ironman finishers!

    Also, last year at IM Louisville I was Chris McDonalds bike escort for the marathon. I got to ride right in front of him until he went down the finishers chute. He was 2nd over all that day. I'll never forget how hot it was. At mile 20 something he took his entire upper body and dove into one of those plastic trash cans that was full of ice and those white sponges. I laughed so hard I almost fell off my bike.

  4. You are f**king amazing - incredible!!!!!!

  5. Nice report Brad. Has been great following your progress over the last few months. My turn in 2 weeks! You rock!
    Stuart (stuart_little_9 from BT).

  6. seriously?!!! That was the best story ever! I would have had a fit with the goggle issue, ha! Congrats, that is a HUGE accomplishment!

  7. I've been following your blog since close to the beginning and was so looking forward to reading your report. So amazing and it's so great you got such nice pics and video! Congratulations! You're such an inspiration! (rnay225.blogspot.com and Rnay225 on BT)

  8. Post my finish, I went back to the finish line to see the last two hours of the race. I do remember seeing that guy in the orange shirt cross the finish line. He seemed so excited and pumped to be there. Glad I got to find your blog and see the race report from the guy in the orange shirt.

    Check out my race recap: www.trikohl.org

  9. I'm late reading this because I really wanted to be able to spend the time to read the whole thing and I'm so glad I did. CONGRATULATIONS. I can't even fathom how hard this was and you pushed through. GREAT JOB!!

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