{cogitate :: ruminate :: think :: dream :: ponder :: contemplate :: deliberate}

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ironman Texas

   Now that some time has passed since Ironman Texas I've been able to fully digest and comprehend what took place.
     June of 2011 I was sitting at my kitchen table on a Saturday morning contemplating on whether or not I should sign up for Ironman Texas for May of 2012.  I came to the realization that I couldn't make this decision alone. I went and asked Carrie what she thought. Her immediate reaction was "I think you should do it!". It didn't come as any surprise since she has fully supported me in all my endeavors no matter what they are. My response to her was "you know I'm going to miss soccer games, baseball games, I'll be gone on 6 hour rides on Saturdays, long runs on Sundays and probably won't feel like doing yard work or house repair chores for at least six month while I'm training. If that's ok, then I'll sign up". We both agreed we'd have to make concessions about some things. I signed up!
     From June through November I continued to train for some shorter races while always thinking about Ironman. Right after Thanksgiving I approached my swim coach Hollie Kenney who is a very accomplished Ironman and a well known local triathlete. All you have to do is look at her career highlights page to see she is a total rock star. I asked her if she'd be my coach. We went over some logistics and she said she'd do my training plan each week. Little did I know at the time Hollie would become much more then just my Ironman coach, she become my therapist, a sounding board, a person who understood what I was going through mentally and phyically, my nutritionist and a friend. December 1st I undertook the monumental task of training for Ironman Texas.
     I won't bore you with all my training but here are the statistics. From December 1st to May 18th is 170 days. In 170 days I did 213 workouts! Here is the break down of the workouts. All numbers are in miles.




     About two thirds of my way through training I did Ironman Galveston 70.3 which is a half Ironman. 70.3 is the total number of miles for the race. I had a great race. A race in which Lance Armstrong was also competing. It was cool to be in the race with him. My goal was to finish in 6 hours, I finished in 5:56:00. My training was clearly paying off. Fast Forward to Ironman Texas...
     Two days before Ironman Texas I drove over to The Woodlands a suburb of Houston. The Woodlands is what Houston could have been, it's a really cool part of Houston. The Woodlands is the central point for Ironman Texas it's where I checked in, got my race packet, met some Pros, bought some swag and checked out the course. The check in is what they call "Ironman village" all kinds of sporting vendors are there, from bikes, shoes, clothes, massage tools, drinks etc...you name it they will tell you it will make you a better Triathlete. I spent the day milling around, had lunch and hydrated. I watched hundreds of people running and riding their bikes. Hollie told me not to partake in any of those activities so I didn't. That night was the Ironman dinner. I didn't know what to expect but it became very clear as 2500 athletes showed up for dinner and were standing outside the dinner hall at the Marriott. It was a huge party minus any presence of alcohol. Lots of bread, meat, pasta and water. Mike Reilly "the voice" of Ironman was our MC for the night. He told stories, jokes and made fun of himself as well as the all of us. Mike is the guy at the end of an Ironman who says as you cross the finish line "...YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!". Words I had been having dreams about nightly for months.  I wish I could remember all of the statistics he gave out that night. A few do stick out. All 50 states were represented, something like 40 countries, 800 first timers (me included) out of 2500, 1200 Texans, 1 guys from Maine and 1 guy whose first triathlon ever was going to be Ironman Texas. That guy is nuts!!!
     The next day my support crew arrived at the hotel, Carrie, my mom (Sally), Lou (Carrie's mom) and Reid and Lilly. I was totally stoked to see them. These were the poor souls who decided they would get up early, drive to the site of the Ironman. Get a good spot to see me exit the swim. Wait 6 hours to see me get off my bike and ride out the last 4-7 hours while I struggled to get through a marathon. Medals need to be handed out to this group. It's a long long long day for them, especially the kids. It was hot, humid and crowded. Triathlons are best watched at home in the AC on TV with a drink. I showed them where to go on race morning, gave them a tour of the transition. We talked about where they should be located. How to get from point A to point B. Where I could be seen and where the air conditioned restaurants are located. With all my gear checked into transition there was nothing left to do but be nervous, get dinner and have a crappy night's sleep.
     Race day! I didn't need an alarm to wake me up, I didn't sleep. I really didn't have to do anything special this morning all my gear was in transition. All I had to do was make myself some breakfast which consisted of peanut butter and a bagel. As I drove the few miles to transition I went over my game plan. Something I had rehearsed countless times during training. Swim: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Start mid to 2/3 back in the group. Bike: 40 miles easy, eat, drink, pee once before 56 miles. Half way on the bike get my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Pedal smooth but consist don't fight the wind and hills. Continue to eat and drink, pee before the end of the 112 miles. Run: slow and steady, walk if needed but try to run as much as possible until I could not longer run and then walk.
     Checking in at transition, 5AM. By the sounds of the music blaring from the speakers, the guy on the PA system shouting instructions and information and the general overall voices, if you closed your eyes one could have easily imagined being at some kind of concert, a demonstration or a Fraternity pleading night. I got my body markings and walked to my bike rack to double check my bike. I pumped up the tires, adjusted the gears to a low gear for easier starting. Filled my water bottles, checked my food, reviewed my tubes and CO2 cartridges and cleaned my glasses. The rest of my biking gear was in a bag on the ramp leading from the swim exit to the changing tent. I talked nervously with some other first timers and we decided to walk together the .8 miles to the swim start. As we walked the anticipation about the day ahead hung in the air like a fog. I was only half way through my bagel. By the time we got to the water we only had a short amount of time to discard your personal items that could be picked up after the race, pee, puke or poop. By the 50 porta potties they had at the swim start I'd say a lot of people had nervous tummys, the lines were long.
     The Swim: The swim was not wet suit legal. Meaning you could wear a wet suit but you would not be able to collect prizes if you did good in your age group or qualify to go to Kona for the world championship. Also, you got a ten minute penalty for wearing a wet suit, you had to start 10 minutes after the non-wet suit swimmers. Since it was deemed illegal to wear a wet suit I decided to play by the rules and swim sans wet suit. I put in my ear plugs. Pulled on my green swim cap and strapped on my goggles. Mike Reilly was shouting "all non-wet suit swimmers into the water", it wasn't quite 6:30, the race didn't start until 7.  I did not enter the water. The swim start for an Ironman is all competitors start at the same time, 2500 people starting a swim at the same time is chaos at best. Again and again "all non-wet suit swimmers into the water, now!" I got in the water at 6:40. At 6:50 the pro cannon went off and away the pros went, swimming like dolphins. At this point most if not all the Age Groupers were in the water. This is a deep water start, you have to tread water, hold onto a kayak, a buoy, a paddle board or someone else. I had to tread water. I treaded water for 20 minutes. Within 5 minutes of the start the people in the back of the group slowly started moving forward by the time the cannon went off I was closer to the front then I wanted. I started swimming, my Ironman was officially underway. I made it to the starting line and I crossed over the starting line, I felt a huge sense of pride and relief. I knew I did the training, I was ready. 
     Nothing can prepare you for this type of swim. It was a total combat swim. Within the first 500 yards I got punch in both of my temples. I got my goggle ripped off my face, luckily they when down around my neck and not ripped off my head. I got kicked in the head. I got punched in the balls and slapped on the top and back of my head countless times. I was not enjoying myself at all! At this point I started to talk myself off the ledge "you're ok, you'll be fine, just keep swimming, you know how to swim". I sighted on every stroke looking for open water, never found it. What I did find was a couple of people swimming at my pace. I swam next to them for about a mile. All the while avoiding the people who were swimming diagonal to the course. People trying to swim over me and just slapping me. As I made my way around the turn around buoy to head back I realized we were going to be swimming directly in the sun making sighting even more challenging. The combat swim continued. We made a 90 degree right hand turn and head down the final part of the swim which was a concrete lined canal. We all got compressed into a small space and the tempo of the swim increased as people become like horses going to the barn. They knew the end was near. I knew the end was near, I was ready to get out of the water and away from these people. I was tired, beat up and mentally taxed from talking to myself about how to handle this situation. I finally made it to the carpeted steps, I was helped out of the water, got my land legs and started to walk up the ramp. I heard Carrie yelling my name. I walked over to the barrier and gave everyone a high five. I just completed a 2.4 mile swim of an Ironman. The dream of becoming an Ironman was starting to take shape. 
     The Bike: After calling out my number to the volunteers who find your bike gear bag and hand it to you I headed in the very hot and humid changing tent. The volunteers are so helpful they will literally get you dressed. While I was trying pull on my bike jersey a volunteer was standing there with my socks and shoes at the ready. I sat down and he lifted my foot and started putting on a sock, I started on the other. In no time I was dressed and ready to go but before I could start I stopped at the volunteer sun screen station which multiple volunteers are more then happy to bath you in sun screen, God bless them. I had 112 miles to go on the bike in the blazing May Texas sun. I rolled out of transition ready to go. The fans and volunteers along the first few miles are amazing. Lots of cheering and clapping and yells of "looking good!". My game plan was simple, ride smart, don't get caught up in the fast pace of people passing you. Pedal steady and smooth. Drink plenty of water and my sports drink. Eat what I packed and how I practiced. 
     Once during training I rode the Ironman Texas bike course, so I knew what to expect. The difference from the training ride and race would be the wind. In May the wind comes from the south pushing riders on the first half of the course and becomes a head wind on the return trip. The course is what I'd call rolling, not hilly but it isn't flat either, it's rolling hills. The first 40 miles or so were great. The tail wind, lots of people are jacked up that the swim is over and now we are riding our bikes, the atmosphere on this part of the course was great. My plan we still intact at this point, I was eating and drinking as planned.
     For anyone who hasn't done a long course triathlon may not be familiar with aid stations. About every 12-14 miles there are stations on the side of the road stocked with volunteers handing out bananas, water bottle, powerbars, gels, gu packets and sport drinks. They may or may not stock sun screen or have a porta potty. The stations are also the only place on the bike course where you can throw away trash, empty water bottle, wrappers, banana peels etc. The idea is to dump your trash at the start of the aid station like an empty water bottle roll through the line of people handing out fresh water bottles, grab it and put it on your bike and continue. Or grab something to eat. This sounds like a great idea in theory in practice it is very dangerous, here's why. The volunteers get a 5 minute briefing on what they are suppose to do and every aid station is run differently. In some aid stations you yell out "water" and a volunteer will take off running next to you handing you the bottle, this is preferred. In other stations the volunteer stands flat footed, palm up balancing a water bottle. I don't know if you have ever tried to grab a water bottle from a stationary position at 15-20 mile per hour but it's hard. Now imagine trying to grab a wet water bottle with wet hands, it's very hard. Grabbing food in the manner is a little better but still takes practice. Throw in full water bottles rolling around on the ground, wrappers, people running, bikers stopping or not grabbing anything and just cruising through, people running and yelling, it's a mess. I saw more accidents at aid stations then anyway else on the road.
     At 56 miles I stopped at my special needs bike bag, grabbed my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and my can of Pringles and some more sun screen from another dedicated volunteer. At this point it was getting pretty hot and I hadn't seen a piece of shade in a couple of hours. By the way those were the best Pringles I'd ever eaten. Also at about this point we turned back towards The Woodlands, the really rolling part of the course and the worst chipseal part of the course. There was a noticeable change in the wind it was now right in my face. Physiologically there was a shift, I started thinking I was half way done with the bike, "half way, those first 56 miles weren't so bad". Fast forward to mile 80, I had been fighting off the urgh to puke for about 10 miles at mile 80 I decided not to hold it down any longer and let it rip. I felt much better, not sure how the folks behind me took it nor did I care. From mile 80 to mile 90 it was a slight uphill into the wind and a straight shot down a concrete highway. Unbeknownst to me at this exact moment my brother texted Carrie and said I was off the course, he was watching via the Internet and a GPS tracking device I had. The night before the race they changed the course to include this 10 miles of pure hell. I could see heat waves coming off the concrete and started to hear people complaining. Not a single spot of shade and I swear it was getting hotter and windier. At mile 90 I realized I still had 22 miles to go, holy crap, 22 miles. I was starting to get tired of the bike. At least we got back into some shade. The last 12 miles were a lot hillier then I remember from the practice ride. I was also getting angry because this hills were kicking my ass. Speaking of my ass it was starting to hurt from being in the static position for 6 hours. Boy I was happy when I got to the dismount line for the bike I heard Carrie and my family yelling and cheering for me! Back to the transition tent to change for my marathon. The bike was done the dream of Ironman was only 26.2 miles away.
     The Run: I knew immediately I was in no shape to run much less run a marathon. My stomach was upset again and the feeling of puking was once again at the fore front of my mind. I put on my shoes, grabbed my fuel belt and headed out of the tent. First stop, aid station. Now the aid stations for the run are about every mile. They serve good stuff, potato chips, m&ms, warm flat coke, cold coke, water, sports drinks and yes, warm chicken broth. I know what you're thinking "oh gross, warm chicken broth", believe me when I tell you it's the greatest thing ever during the run of an Ironman. I stopped, grabbed a cookie and started my walk towards becoming an Ironman. I walked the entire 1st mile and then the 2nd. Then I started to run. I ran for only short distances before giving into my stomach issues and the realization "I may not be able to do this". At the third aid station I was still carrying the cookie from the first aid station, I had only taken two small bites out of it. I threw the cookie in the trash and grabbed a cold coke, it tasted so good. Right after the aid people were gathered under a big tent drinking beer and cheering people on, I think they had a grill too. I so wanted to stop and join them. Then, right after the tent was a sign "Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever" That snapped me out of my "I'm going to quit pitty party attitude". I started to run again, just in short burst. I did a lot of walking and running that first lap. As I neared the center of the Ironman party, where the finish line was I saw Carrie and my support crew across the canal waterway. We couldn't hear each other but I rubbed my stomach as a motion of "I don't feel good", they frowned, I kept walking. As I passed under the finish line on the street above Mike Reilly was saying "YOU ARE AN IRONMAN" I told myself "I want to be an Ironman!" I kept moving forward
     The second loop of the three loop marathon proved to be the worst for me. Low energy, I haven't eaten in hours and my stomach was upset. My legs were starting to cramp, my feet hurt, I was tired of being wet and my mental outlook was bad. I kept thinking about that sign "...quitting lasts forever". As I near the underpass of the finish line more and more people were finishing. I still had 10 miles to go. I was almost brought to tears of thinking how far I had come. 10 miles separated me from my dream.
     At the start of the third loop it was starting to get dark so they were handing out flexible glow sticks you had to wear so they could see us in the dark. I made a necklace out of my. Others wore them on their heads, ankles or wrist. I got yellow to match my racing kit, yes I wanted to look as good as I could. I struggled to keep my emotions intact as I headed out for the last 8 miles. My legs were on the vurge of totally cramping, I was struggling physically too. One lone spectator who saw me struggling said "...you trained to run not walk, start running your legs will feel better..." I thought "BS, my legs hurt", I thanked him and moved on. Out of eye sight from him I started to run slowly, I ran for half a mile and started to walk and the cramps came back. I decided I wouldn't walk again for the rest of this Ironman. I did either the slowest jog ever or the fastest thing you would consider not to be a walk, either way I felt good again. My stomach was still bothering me but I had decided not to think about it. As I made my way down a totally dark concrete path through the woods alone I started to think for the first time in a long time that day I might actually finish and become an Ironman. As I entered back into the main part of the race where spectators were still cheering and Mike Reilly was still saying "YOU ARE AN IRONMAN" I know I was going to make it. Only 2 more miles, 2 miles. At the last aid station I stopped and drank a cold coke and started to walk with the young gal. She was limping along, I asked her how she was doing. With tears in her eyes she said "not good, I'm not going to make the cut off for the third loop". I felt bad for her, I told her "keep going, walk faster, run if you can, the cut off point is right around the corner, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE". I started to run again towards the finishing chute.
     My fried Dan Monahan gave me some advice about the finishing chute at your first Ironman. He said "don't sprint it, don't check your watch, don't run and don't forget what the feeling is like for your first Ironman. Walk the finishing chute and take it all in". That's what I did! The finishing chute is about a quarter of a mile long. Lined with barriers and thousands of people I'd never met. Just as the day had begun with loud music and some guy on the PA system that's how the day would end. I walked up the blue Ironman carpet to people screaming, cheering, whistling, singing and clapping. I was really holding back the tears, tears of joy and accomplishment. I was high fiving everyone and thanking them. I was moments away from finishing an Ironman, my first Ironman. The whole day flashed before my eyes, the ups and the downs, the moments of joy, the moments of darkness and that sign on the side of the road "Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever". That sign may have saved me from a life time of regret. 
     The Finish: Moments before I got the the actual finish line I took stock in what a privilege it is to be healthy enough to train and complete such a huge event. The personal struggles I've had over come the last two years were not lost on me. I fought long and hard to get to this point. I sacrificed a lot to get to this point. Carrie and my kids sacrificed a lot to allow me to get to this point. Others have helped, mentored, coached and advised me to get to this point. For that I will always be thankful and grateful but at the moment I crossed the finish line it was all about me. I worked my ass off in the pool in the dead of winter, I rode my bike in the cold dark of morning and night and I ran in the wee hours of the morning while others slept in their beds. This moment was all about me. The words I had so longed to hear I was finally hearing from Mike Reilly "BRAD ASKINS, YOU...ARE...AN...IRONMAN!!!"


  1. GREAT recap Brother... proud of you for taking on one of the greatest physical challenges out there... huge accomplishment and something that can never be taken away from you! LOVE YOU!

  2. Great recap, I just found your blog through a thread on BT.com!