Ironman Debut in the Lone Star State: Part 1

Timothy O'Donnell Uncategorized


Wow. Why didn’t anyone tell me those last 6 miles hurt so much? I mean seriously, even Rinny didn’t mention it to me…maybe it is some kind of Ironman rookie hazing. Despite the unexpected pain at the end of my run I am very excited with my Ironman debut performance. With an 8:09:50 I finished 2nd this weekend at Ironman Texas and claimed the title of 2011 Ironman US Pro Champion.

At the end of 2010 I made the decision to retire my Olympic aspirations and start chasing my dream to win in Kona. Many people close to me were surprised even shocked with this career shift. But my recent performances at ITU races like my podiums at US Pro Nationals showed me to be a legitimate contender for a spot on the US Olympic team. Still something inside me was saying it was time, time to put all my energy into one goal the Big Show in Kona. The Ironman World Championships is the pinnacle of our sport and demands the full attention of any athlete in order to succeed. I knew it was time to give it my full attention.

The lead into Ironman Texas was much like a roller coaster ride with great highs and lows. I started my preseason training in Tucson with a big volume block as a transition to Ironman racing. The training went very well and I went into my first race Ironman 70.3 San Juan in great shape. My fitness paid off and I returned home with the win but it wasn’t all I brought home. While I didn’t know at the time I also returned home with a stomach bug. I started training for Ironman 70.3 Texas but felt off, unable to push my normal watts on the bike or pace on the run. I shrugged it off to race fatigue and plugged along. As Texas approached I knew something was wrong but couldn’t pass up defending the US champ title at the Texas 70.3. I hit the race hard holding on to the front group of the swim and the bike. I wasn’t able to keep my nutrition down on the bike and at 42 miles I crumbled, losing 5 minutes in 14 miles. I came off the bike outside the top 10 and there was an awkward silence over the crowd. I could feel the thoughts in people’s heads, “wow T.O. is having a rough day!” Of course I don’t like to count myself out until the finish line is crossed so I started running hard. I ran through the field with a 1:11 half marathon and was able to sneak onto the podium. I don’t know where it came from but I liked it!

While the run at Texas 70.3 was a great sign of my fitness I went to well to get it done. I traveled home to Boulder and got on antibiotics to try and get my stomach better. In a few days I felt like I was turning a corner. Call it stupidity, maybe a bit of hubris or a little of both but I decided I was totally ok to race the next weekend at the New Orleans 70.3. Bad idea. Really bad idea. I showed up to New Orleans only to have the swim canceled and the race turned into a bike/run with a 30 second time trial start. I hit the bike and felt ok, coming off the bike in contention for a podium. I started running and soon realized that my trip to the well in Texas was about to make itself known! I held on for about 8.5 miles but I was in the hole. I quickly faded and I had to give everything I had to keep a simple jog pace. I think the last 3 miles were at about 7:40 miles, it was a shocker!

I headed home to Boulder not knowing what to think. Was I going to be ready for an Ironman in 5 weeks? Was my pre-San Juan fitness still there? How could I hang with the boys for 112 miles if I couldn’t hang with them for 42 miles? Did I do some serious damage by racing in New Orleans? I had a lot of questions and no answers. I took a week to adjust to the altitude and then started my final four-week block before IM Texas. My San Juan fitness came back somewhat quickly and before I knew it I was training as normal. I had some unbelievable sessions and by the time my taper started I knew I had done the work to be competitive in my first Ironman.

I headed out to Texas the Monday of race week and I was VERY nervous. I knew I had the fitness for the race, but with so many variables I still feared the unknowns of an eight hour race. I was also nervous about the race since it would validate my decision to step up to Ironman racing. I believed I would find my calling in triathlon with Ironman; Texas would be my judgment day. To pour a little more fuel on the fire there was a strong inclination from many people that I could be a legitimate threat for the next American guy to win in Hawaii…all that and I had never done an Ironman! But seriously T.O. just go out and have fun, no pressure. Those close to me could tell I was a little on edge. In fact Rinny was getting texts from friends in Texas saying Tim seems pretty nervous, you need to get out here! My coach Cliff English did a great job of keeping me on the ball despite any outside (and internal) pressures. I kept on task all week, driving the course, fine tuning my nutrition plan and checking off all the boxes.

With everything in order, race morning approached and I felt like I was ready to race…