My alarm was set for 4:30AM but I never heard the buzzer go off. My excitement already had me up and ready to go. I ventured over to the race start with Rinny and Cliff in the car and the Foo Fighters playing in my Yurbuds. Having the support of Rinny and Cliff at the race was instrumental to my success, I can’t think of anyone else I would want in my corner! My body felt good and my mind felt focused. I entered the water ready to race.
The gun went off and I immediately locked into race mode, all nerves left my head. I was able to get good position and while super swimmer John Flanagan pulled away I lead the lead pack of 10. I stayed in the front of the swim pack and exited the water in third. The swim was the least of my worries for the day, with a slightly shorter swim than at ITU LC Worlds last year it was the only distance in the IM that I had actually raced!
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I started the bike and patience was the key word. In 70.3s I always try to push the pace at the start of the ride but I knew in a longer race this could cost me. I settled into with the lead group and started to focus on nutrition and monitoring how I felt. 2009 Ironman World Champs runner up Chris Lieto caught up to us and about 45 miles into the ride he took off. We all knew Lieto would ride away from the lead group but no one wanted him to get too much time. The pace picked up and a few guys fell off. I felt pretty good while riding and my nutrition plan seemed to be working well. I had a few little hiccups such as dropping my special needs bag (whoops) but overall I seemed to be in control. As we neared T2 Luke Bell dropped a serious acceleration at the 100-mile mark and dropped the group. Eneko Llanos joined Luke leaving the rest of us behind. Now it was me, Luke McKenzie, Jan Raphael and Axel Zeebrook and soon we picked up the pace in pursuit of the others. At this point we had 10 miles to go and I felt marginal at best. I was left with the decision dig to stay with the boys or ride my pace, take in some nutrition and get ready to run. Since I had never run a marathon I decided to ere on the side of caution and dropped of the pace.
I entered T2 about two minutes down on Llanos and Bell and about 45 seconds behind McKenzie and crew. This was the part of the race in which I was most excited, I felt my run training had been going well and I wanted to see what I could do. I set out on the run and felt great, my breathing was controlled and my pace (sub 6 minute miles) was solid. I quickly caught McKenzie and Raphael and was putting time into Lieto, (who had almost 9 minutes) Llanos and Bell. As I finished lap one of three Lieto’s lead was down to 4:20 and he soon pulled the plug on the race. This left Llanos and Bell in the lead about 35 seconds up the road from me. I was really excited, I was putting a lot of time into the boys and I could win this thing! As I started lap two I realized I was getting REALLY hot. I hadn’t been grabbing sponges or ice, I felt so good that I forgot to keep a tab on these things. Rookie.
I started to lose time to Llanos and Bell on the first half of lap two but I did manage to start cooling the body with ice in my shorts and sponges in my shirt. I started to feel better and again set out to close the gap. I start closing in and Bell started to fade. I went into lap three now in second place and only ten seconds behind Llanos. As lap three got underway I once again started to feel the heat and my quads were starting to tighten up quickly. I carried my momentum from the last few miles and caught Llanos at mile 19 of the run. Shortly after we came into an aid station, which at this point was very congested with age group competitors starting their first lap. I bobbed and weaved trying to get whatever liquids I could and Llanos a seasoned veteran just kept running. He opened up a gap which was in hindsight the most vulnerable part of my race. From a strategic perspective a brilliant move by Llanos, I just wish it wasn’t used on me! Llanos continued to pull away as I fought my quads to keep me moving forward. I was very hesitant at the point, I wasn’t sure if I was playing with fire by trying to pick up the pace again. I decided to stay on my pace; while I did falter with a few seven-minute miles I didn’t completely blow up and started my approach to the finish chute holding strong in second place.
As I approached the finish I just wanted to be done. I was in a world of hurt and I felt my quads might go at any moment. As I closed in I ran by Cliff and he yelled. “awesome job T.O. you are going to go sub 8:10!” While sub 8:10 sounded real nice I just wanted to finish which at this point was my number one motivation. Leading into this race I chatted with many great Ironman athletes, a few of them World Champions and everyone said, “You only get one first Ironman so just enjoy it.” As I turned the corner into the finish I realized that I had neglected to enjoy the experience so I better soak up the next 15 seconds. At that very moment I saw a fellow Team Red, White and Blue (RWB) member holding Old Glory. This flag has been flow in Iraq and is the true symbol of RWB. As I grabbed our Flag I was overtaken with raw emotion waving the flag with a fire in my eyes that brought a roar from the crowd. I crossed the finish line as the new Ironman US Pro Champion and gave everything I had in the process.
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I was greeted by Rinny at the finish and embraced her to not only share in the moment but to hold me up and keep me from hitting the ground! My legs quickly gave out after the finish and needed help to walk. I ended the day with three IV bags from the fantastic Memorial Herman crew in medical. While I was very beat up I was still an Ironman!
I am very excited to be Kona bound later this year! Kona is a completely different beast and one never knows how he will fair in the brutal island conditions. Still I hope my race in Texas is a good indicator of my potential at Kona. I guess we’ll find out in October!