Written by: Chuck, 4D Triathlete
Last weekend I participated in the embarrassment that was Ironman Texas. The 3 days since, I have been completely consumed with trying to mentally process and understand what took place and why it happened?
My confidence going into Ironman Texas was higher than it has ever been since taking up endurance sports about 4 years ago. For the first time since my first year, I was healthy and felt like I was finally fit enough to not just complete an ironman but to RACE an ironman and compete for overall podium. I knew the field was going to be deep since it was the North American Championship – meaning they had twice the normal amount of Kona slots, tempting everyone who is capable. I was excited to compare myself against some of the best amateurs in our sport.
People always ask me about qualifying for Kona. Sure, I’d like to go someday, but it was an afterthought. What drives me more is the idea that I can compete and win against these extremely talented guys who year after year have absolutely incredible race performances.
For the swim it was pretty simple: swim under an hour and try to make one of the first packs to be in touch with the front of the race. I lined up near the front and from the gun I went for it. I mean I really went for it. As soon as I dove into the water, I was helicopter arms without breathing for as long as I could. For the first 5 minutes or so I was swimming literally as hard as I could. I didn’t really sight any because I was sitting solid in a pack with people completely surrounding me. It was carnage with kicks and punches everywhere and I loved every second of it.
I was hoping the pace would back off and everyone would get into a more comfortable rhythm. Apparently, that was their comfortable rhythm and I got dropped pretty quickly when I tried to get to a more manageable pace. From that point on in the swim, every time someone would pass me, I would jump on their feet and just try to hold on as long as I could. I was basically doing vo2max intervals trying to close gaps as people came by me. I was thinking I must be swimming slowly because I got passed by at least 5 small packs of people.
I got out of the water and saw that the clock said 1:14:xx. I knew it was for the pros who started a bit in front of us, but I thought they started 10 minutes before us: meaning I swam a 1:04. I was absolutely disgusted with myself. Its amazing how many negative thoughts rushed into my head. I did my best to stay positive and got through transition – but it was much slower than I hoped. When I grabbed my bike, my boy Vice hollered at me: “YOU SWAM A 58” – exactly what I needed to hear, and I was full throttle again.
From early in the bike portion of the race, it was evident that there were no bike officials. ZERO. It was also evident that people were going to take full advantage of it at the front end of the race. I’ve seen people cheat and draft in a tri before. This wasn’t that. This was huge “tour de France” style pelotons- 3 to 4 people wide, 20 to 50 deep- were formed. Since nearly the entire bike course took place on a 20 mile segment of the Hardy Tollway that you just went back and forth, you could see group after group of people cheating. It was absolutely sickening to watch.
With a relatively quick swim, I came out of the water near the front of the race. At the first turn around on the bike, I took a time split to about 5 minutes behind first place. I was working hard, pushing the power I hoped I would be able to stay close to the front where I wanted to be. However, this was about the time when groups of people started passing me by – each group larger than the previous one. It made me furious to the point where I’m yelling at the top of my lungs at each group. At the second turn around, I saw that all those groups were making even larger groups as they picked up more and more people. The front of the race was riding farther and farther away from me. This continued for most of the race and mentally I was done by this embarrassment of a triathlon.
At about mile 70, the front of the race (where I wanted to be and felt like I should have been if they weren’t cheating together up the road) was 15-20 minutes ahead of me. Mentally defeated and wanting this waste of a good day to be over with, I ashamedly jumped in a pack that over took me.
I gave myself the excuse that it didn’t matter because I was there to be competitive and that was no longer the case. Also, I said to myself if I did somehow receive a slot or award, I wouldn’t take it in these circumstances. But I was completely wrong. It did matter. It still matters. I contributed to the problem and after fighting it all race, I just made it worse by contributing and riding with them. It also matters because I take pride in representing Will and my 4D teammates. Riding in a pack for any reason, is not the manner in which I wanted to represent you guys. I wish I would have realized that at the time, but I apologize for misrepresenting the orange.
Still, I’m sitting here today waiting for Ironman to make a statement or anything about what happened?! Why weren’t there any draft officials? Why do I feel like I’m the only one who thought this was an absolute shit show? I’ve heard stories about drafting and groups in Kona, but could it really be this bad? Am I naïve to believe that there shouldn’t have been a single person accept an award or Kona slot knowing that they cheated? I mean there may have been one or two people in the top 50 who didn’t cheat, but I didn’t see a single person not in a group. It was just packs and packs.
I heard afterwards that the police pulled the motor bikes for safety concerns. That’s kind of ironic because I’ve never felt more unsafe in a triathlon. Triathletes are already notoriously bad bike handlers, but having 50 of them grouped together on tri bikes going 25 mph while overtaking people on their first lap going 15 mph… well it was mayhem. I saw at least 3 crashes of people riding into each others wheel. Kind of like this video: https://d.pr/i/1LmH8U
Looking through strava at some of the top times of the day and I’m getting that same rage coming over me that I had on the tollway when I was screaming at people. These self-absorbed assholes are posting their bike files with comments like “I’ll take it!” or “YEAH BABY PR!!” as if they were somehow proud of the fact that they cheated?! Is this really why we do this sport? Just so we can brag to other people and make facebook posts despite knowing you cheated? It’s as if your main purpose in doing the sport is just to make people think you are better than you actually are?
Just for fun let’s look at this guy’s strava. I won’t call him out, but he was one of the top overall finishers and a guy whose name I recognized as someone I needed to beat going into the race. Here are his averages: Speed 24.9 mph, Heart Rate 140 bpm, Cadence 82 rpm, Power 179 w.
24.9 mph on 179 W…
I have no idea how much the guy weighs, but lets assume the course was completely flat (which it wasn’t – it had quite a few overpasses). That puts his cdA estimated at about 0.14m^2. For perspective, Bradley Wiggin’s cdA for his hour world record ride was at about 0.18m^2 or about 30 watts SLOWER than this guy. Oh, and Wiggin’s bike position and bike came from a few hundred thousand dollars of custom made parts and research.
Clearly this guy’s ride was impossible, and it shows he cheated from the beginning allowing him to run a VERY fast marathon with so little energy expended.
It was obvious people drafted the entire race and I’m not trying to say it is any worse than what I did. The part that is leaving me feeling sick to my stomach is that it seems acceptable and it seems like these people are in fact somehow proud of themselves. It is causing me to have such strong resentment to a sport that I truly enjoy.
I started the run still in a bad place mentally because of what happened on the bike. I figured I spent so much money and time I better at least try to see what kind of run shape I am in. It went about like the rest of the race: frustrating. It was hot, I was mentally drained and still angry about not having the chance to have the day I wanted. The ironman run is one of the most painful things I have done, but never has it sucked so hard so early on in the race. At mile 8, I was already in pure pain and wanted to stop.
I think this is a testament to what Will posted a few days before. Your mental state controls so much of your performance. I was running what should have been a zone 2 effort, but because I mentally checked out already, I felt like it was the hardest I ever ran in my life. Jessica, Will, and all the cupcakes from Houma where there cheering me on, but all I wanted to do was stop and tell them about the bullshit I experienced on the bike. The day before the race, Will showed me his shirt that said, “No one cares: Work Harder.” I figured if I said anything at all about it during the race, that would be the response I got. I put my head down and just shuffled through it as best I could until I finished.
Hopefully Ironman overreacts from this and there is twice the number of bike officials at the next Ironman. I am signed up for Florida in November. The couple times I have done this event, marshals were sitting on the front of the race the entire time. Let’s hope this is still the case. Either way I’m looking forward to competing against some talented guys including Adam Morgan. Adam, you should be on notice that I’m angry and I’m coming after you!
Thanks as always to Will, Jessica, and all of my 4D teammates and my TerreTri/Cupcake family who supported me at the race and who reached out to me. It means a lot to me to have you guy’s support before and after the race.
Most of all, thank you to my wife Casey who not only supports me while I play triathlete, but she also motivates me every day to work harder.