Tough Day in Texas

Ironman Texas definitely didn’t go to plan, but I am already sensing that it will likely prove to be one of the most important races of my career.

It was very hot. The high on the day was nearly 90 degrees with about 80% humidity. I knew this would be the case as I had just raced in Galveston three weeks prior, which was only 80 miles south of Woodlands. In the two weeks leading into the race I tried to do a bit of preparation for the heat in my training room by setting up two small space heaters and a humidifier. The maximum temperature I was able to achieve was 95 degrees with 70% humidity. This was not a realistic training environment though as when the windows and doors were shut for any extended period of time I began getting short of breath and getting light headed. I believe either the Co2 content in the room was getting high, or the O2 content was getting low- whatever the case, it wasn’t very safe for training. With hindsight, the few sessions I did do in the heat likely wasn’t adequate to undergo much adaptation.

The swim was a fresh water non-wetsuit swim. This is some of the slowest conditions for a weak swimmer, so I expected to come out of the water with a decent deficit to the leaders. The gun went and I was immediately dropped. I swam the 3.8 kilometers completely solo. As I emerged from the water I saw the clock read 57:1x. I was neither happy nor disappointed with this swim. I don’t feel that the improvements in swimming I have made in the pool have transferred over much to the open water, but I do feel that I am becoming more proficient and consistent in various settings (wetsuit, non-wetsuit, fresh water, salt water). At this point I had an approximate deficit of 9.5 minutes.

Due to the heat, I decided to hold 15w less than I had trained to hold on the bike. I figured this would help to account for the increased work my body would have to do to cool itself. I held my power as steady as I possibly could. The only spikes I had were when I was passing people. My VI for the ride was 1.02 and my average power was 300w. My intention had been to hold 315w for the entire ride, but around 3 hours 30 minutes it almost suddenly became impossible to hold any power. In the final hour I averaged 267w, which dropped my power average from 315w to 300w. At this time I also started to feel woozy and dizzy, something I have never experienced in a race. For comparative purposes, I averaged 313w at Ironman Florida, using the same power meter I used in this race, with the same calibration.

In recent weeks I have become hyper aware of nutrition. On this ride I was very anal about consuming 450 calories per hour. I was able to do this for the first 3 hours, and in the fourth hour I consumed 350 calories. With hindsight, my hyper-awareness of feeding may have caused me to overlook the importance of hydration, as well as the consumption of electrolytes. I consumed 825mg of sodium and 280mg of potassium in hours one and two. In hour three I consumed 485mg of sodium and 170mg of potassium. In hour four I consumed 425mg of sodium and 155mg of potassium. In total, I consumed 6 bottles, four Gatorades and two waters.

Somewhere around 80 miles I reached the front of the race. On the way there I looked back a few times and someone was coming along for the ride with me, but I was unsure who it was. He then passed me not long after I reached the front. I held on for dear life but was eventually dropped. A little while later I found out from Jordan Rapp that it was Joe Skipper. I was impressed by how gutsy he was riding.

I finished the bike in 4:11. The moment my feet touched the ground I knew the race was over and the rest of the day was going to be a death march. I was taken a back a little bit as I have done approximately 10 pro races now, and this is the first time my run legs have ever failed me. My intention had been to hold 3:48/km as steadily as I could. In Florida I made the massive mistake of running the first half at about 3:38/km and then I blew up. I intended on correcting that mistake here. I ran the first kilometer in exactly 3:48 and it was killer. It was an interesting experience; it was actually difficult to move my legs. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to run another 41 kilometers. I knew then and there that I was either going to drop out, pass out, or this was going to be the most painful experience of my life.

I went through 5k in 19:48. It was the hardest 19:48 I have ever run. By 10k I was beginning to swerve from side to side on the path. At around 14k I saw my mom and manager and told them “I can’t move my legs.” Neither of them gave me any sympathy and told me I had to keep going. It was at this point that I began racing for the spirit of sport and the spirit of Ironman. This was no longer a race against other people, this was a competition between my body and mind and soul. My body was screaming to stop. My mind was screaming to stop. My soul said you must finish.

The internal battle was amazing. I started walking aid stations around 18 kilometers. When I went through the half-marathon I found it unfathomable how I could possibly endure again what I had just endured. Around this point I was beginning to get the sensation that I might collapse. Quite frankly, I don’t know why I kept going. The video that Sebastien Kienle posted after his disappointing performance at 70.3 Worlds last year kept popping into my mind (It is here for those interested). The way I remembered it in the moment was something like: “I don’t like when people drop out when things aren’t going their way, so that the performance is not on their record. I don’t like when people drop out to avoid feeling defeat. It is unfair to those who perform well on the day to avoid defeat. You need to feel defeat in its entirety.” Those words, whether he actually articulated them or not, are what got me through the rest of the run. Even reflecting back now, the second half of that marathon is a complete blur. It was hands down, by far, the most excruciatingly painful experience I have ever endured.

From kilometers 1 to 42 I dropped from 2nd to 4th place. In all honesty, despite the disappointment of how far the day was from how I intended it to go, I still felt joy in my heart. Any day I get to breathe air into my lungs and push my limits, is a good day to me. From a pain tolerance standpoint, this race has changed me right to the very core. From a perseverance standpoint, I can’t quite see persevering much further. Another kilometer or two and I was most definitely going to collapse.

I am very happy for all the guys on the podium. They are all really good guys and great ambassadors of the sport. Joe Skipper in particular impressed me a lot. I had been following him on his Facebook page over the last couple weeks and I noticed him do a few posts about how he was hurting for money and really needing to win some soon otherwise he might have to go back home and abandon the pro-triathlete dream. I couldn’t help but sympathize for him as I was in the EXACT same position last year at this time. I had done Texas 70.3 and got two flats and finished 10th, and then done St. George 70.3 and finished 18th. Erin and I drove 12 hours to Raleigh 70.3 and the entire ride I said to myself “you better get into the money here, otherwise you’re going to have to get a job real soon!” I finished 2nd in that race and it was the first time I ever ran sub 70 off the bike. So, hats off to Joe for rising to the occasion. You most definitely belong on the scene! And I look forward to working together on the bike again real soon.

So that’s my story. Perhaps now you see where I’m coming from when I say this race may be one of the most important in my career. As a side note, if anyone reading this is knowledgeable on hydration and electrolyte consumption, I would love to hear your critique of my race. I can even give you more hard data for analysis if you need it. What I found interesting is that my legs have very little soreness today. One would think that after the hardest effort of your entire life you would be nearly crippled. It is very strange, and my current hypothesis is that hydration and electrolytes may have played a role. If you have any knowledge you would like to offer, please message me at: lsanderstri@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading. I will update soon with where I will go from here.

14 thoughts on “Tough Day in Texas

  1. Good job on a tough day Lionel. I’m glad I had a chance to see you race and cheer you on. I was the one hollering Go sober ironman at you. I’m a sober ironman too.

  2. A real inspiration reading your blog. You have so much character! I follow every one of your races from wherever I am – want you to know we are cheering for you even if we can’t be at the race in person!
    The personal details you add in your blog help to not only learn about triathlon racing to better myself in my own age-group racing, but to show your character & good sportsmanship.
    Really enjoying following your incredible career – keep it up!!!

  3. I just did IMTX and I’m not as fast but you sound pretty science-based – that slowtwitch article referenced above is pretty good. I’ve measured my personal weight loss rate per hour in IMTX conditions at 60oz/hr by scale over 3 different workouts, which gives a start on fluid loss. You may have the resources to measure sodium content in your own sweat to measure actual sodium loss? If so, you can do the math quickly and have a data point for whatever temperature it is, then repeat across different temperatures to really know yourself, if not you can still measure fluid loss across temperatures and take a guess on electrolyte content per liter and after one or two more hot full-distance races you’ll know well enough. With the output you can sustain, a bit more knowledge at temperature and you could crush. Best of luck on the journey

  4. Hi,

    Great job, finishing 4th in a tough race!!!

    You said that you eat 450 calories/hour (at least at the firsts hours), that is roughly 115g of carbohydrates. Do you have GI problems? Which was your source of carbs?

    Based on the studies of Asker Jeukendrup (http://www.mysportscience.com/#!Carb-mixes-and-benefits/cjds/5554db3c0cf2adc1ad322455). Is possible that you eat too much? 450 calories/hours seems difficult to asimile.

    What do you think?

    Good luck with the training to Kona!!

  5. I am crying you are so amazing. You lay it down so truthfully. I did Florida ironman, the sea stripped the salt out of my body I struggled with the the bike and run. I had the chicken broth and it was a amazing I could run again. When I trained for my 100 miler trail race. I used chicken broth all the time. It is instant salt. I really believe it helps for all my big races.

  6. Hi Lionel,

    You have to mesure your sweat rate in different weather conditions at race pace so with the forecast on race day you could have an idea of how many sodium you will lose. The average sodium concentration on the sweat is about 40mmol/L, so it’s about 1g/L. In my case I am around 55mmol/L and for a race like Kona my sweat rate is around 1,5L/h. So I used to take around 2000mg of sodium per hour all along the race.

    I think I can help you to improve your nutrition strategy. Just let me know and we could catch up on skype.

  7. And for you “heat chamber” you can put some big lights (500 to 1000w) just over your treadmill

  8. A true Champion! Lionel, just as a heads-up you may want to take a look at approximately 6:36 – 6:38 of the “Live Feed” (still available for viewing on http://www.ironman.com). There is some analyzing of of your run and mention of a hip drop on your right side of approx. 1″ – 1.5″. Possible miss-fire of the glute muscle. Something easily addressed with your Chiropractor and band work.

  9. Way to gut it out, Lionel. I am in complete agreement with you and Kienle. Unless you are putting your health at risk, which may be debatable for you based on your account, I think a DNF because your unhappy with your performance is the cowards way out. I would rather have a poor result on my record that consistently reminds me of the lessons learned than a DNF where I quit on myself.

    With that said, I think it’s safe to say that you have some homework to do based on this outcome. It is clear something went wrong nutritionally but think about that for a second…you took 4th in the North American IM Championship while doing an entire marathon wanting to keel over and die…that is AMAZING. I can’t wait to continue following your growth and excellence!

  10. Les Chortos- Being a newly minted Ironman myself- Maryland 2014- age 58 – I am aware of the pain and suffering you must have gone thru. The “dark times” as they are sometimes called – the times when you are hurting -you question why!!!!!!! build the most character. In the next year you will look back on this and think – this was the race you became a REAL ironman. You are genitically gifted. – now you are building the character of an ironman. When all is going good – its barely a challenge. -just a bunch of, swimming, biking, running. – no big deal. I only marvel at you Pro’s how fast you are and the power you put out. -To do this is like a fine tuned racing car . – They have to be perfectly tuned that race for the conditions of the day. I am sure you will find the formula and laugh at it’s simplicity. In the mean time keep up the good racing and keep us age groupers, enthused and dreaming of the day we will be like you – our heroes- but never can. keeps us dreaming- keeps us racing , keeps us healthy. looking forward to watching your races on net cast when available and good luck at Hawaii and hopefully the upcoming, Olympics

  11. Pretty surreal watching Sebi give that breakdown knowing he then went off and won Kona. You guys at the top of this sport cease to amaze and inspire me! Thanks for a great blog Lionel, I just discovered it. I seriously appreciate your transparency.

    Jon

    PS Post more on Instagram

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