Ironman Texas 70.3–Race Day

(This is part II of my two day trip to Texas to spectate Ironman Texas 70.3.  The first day I cover all the pre-race festivities.  Whereas this post will be focused on race day itself.)

I started off my day solidly in the dark at around 5:30AM, headed out from the hotel in my rented beach cruiser.  It took about 15 minutes against a rather stiff headwind, along the beach/boardwalk towards the race starting area.  Aside from the passing triathletes in cars, the only sound was the ocean and my oddly creaking beach cruiser.

Once at the race site I worked my way through the madness much like any other triathlete that morning – starting with a trip through the body marking folks:

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From there I completed a loop around the gigantic multi-football field sized transition area.  Designed to house 2,800 participants, it was huge.

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Along the way I saw something I’ve never seen before in transition: An individual weighing themselves, on a scale.  Nothing wrong with this, and I fully understand his logic (to see how dehydrated he would become by race end) – it was just funny that I was in the right place at the right time to capture it:

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I kept on working my way around, checking out stuff along the way.  Sometimes the things I enjoy most about transition area is simply checking out all the crazy stuff people attach to bikes.  Regrettably, I didn’t have a chance to do that today, as most things were pretty busy this morning.  And most things were looking pretty normal.

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I made my way back towards the front of transition, just in time to see it starting to fill up with pros, including Armstrong:

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It was clear that there was some form of confusion amongst Team Lance.  It was unclear as to what that confusion was however.  But there was a lot of looking at how other bikes were racked and setup, then looking back at his equipment, and then back at other pros equipment.  As if they weren’t quite sure his stuff was setup correctly.  Eventually, after a bit of heckling from one of the pros racked next to him, he got his wetsuit and headed out.

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From there I made my way over to the swim start.  It’s a bit of a haul – probably 1/4th of a mile or more, once you include the dock itself.  They did a fairly good job of keeping the later waves away from the direct starting docks themselves, making it a bit ‘cleaner’ up on those docks.  When I went out, it was just the pro waves initially.  At a few minutes ahead of 7AM, they let them head down into the water.

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In general, non-ITU race swim starts aren’t terribly exciting – simply because most of them tend to be in-water starts.  Whereas ITU races usually have the semi-famous simultaneous diving start into the water.  So in this case, the swim stat itself was fairly anticlimactic – just a bunch of bobbing heads in the water heading out:

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Well, along with a live TV crew following them:

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I then watched the pro women start, followed by the first two waves of age groupers:

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From there I zipped over to the swim exit to just catch the pro men starting to exit the water and complete the couple hundred yard dash to transition (and then another couple hundred yards through transition):

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By time I finished up with the two main packs of pro men and got to the end of transition area, a few last remaining male pros came through:

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With the majority of the pro men and women out on the bike, I hit the road to catch folks on the bike.  While my waitlisted position for a Moto didn’t clear this weekend – I did get a few descent shots from the credentialed minivan (no, I was not driving).

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We ended up going out to mile 20 (it’s a simple out and back bike course).  From there I got out and shot a bit from there at ground level as athletes approached the only ‘hill’ on the course:

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Eventually, Armstrong came back through my position, with about a 60 second lead over Marino.

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While he held his lead until departing the bike, it was interesting over the last 20 miles to watch that gap close.  Also interesting to see him stretching out from time to time looking a bit uncomfortable – a clear indication of possible aero position strain/issues.  Something he later acknowledge in the press conference afterwards, noting that with a pancake flat course such as this – he just wasn’t accustomed to 2hrs non-stop in aero position.

Meanwhile, Stephane Poulat slowly continued to pull him in:

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I got just ahead of the lead men’s pro pack, and thus managed to catch the group as they arrived into transition.  I was surprised to find all of them hanging out on the ground putting their socks on:

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Though, as it’s occasionally pointed out – often times one will stumble around trying to add socks while standing up – sometimes resulting in more time lost than just simply taking a second to compose oneself.  Additionally, it allows you to get a brief rest in there.

With that the men were off onto the run.  The three-loop Ironman Texas 70.3 run course is somewhat shaped like a compass or flower, with it constantly circling back on itself.  From a spectators standpoint, I can’t think of another course that would be more friendly.  Heck, I think you could see athletes on this course even easier than a 8-loop ITU 10K course.  Really kinda amazing.

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The crowds for lance were pretty astounding – unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere in triathlon.  But at the same time, the crowds were also really getting into whomever was in the lead.  In fact, I think that just as many were cheering for someone other than Lance, than for Lance.

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While Lance had a lead for the first mile or so on the run – that simply didn’t last long.  He managed to hang with the lead group for the first loop, but by the second loop things were quickly deteriorating.  And by the end of the third loop he’d end up 5 minutes down.  During the post-race press conference he later cited hydration issues as his primary issue on the run.

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Meanwhile, the race continued on for both the men and women. 

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I thought it was interesting to see Chris Leito giving advice to a number of the top men, he’d jog with them for 5-7 seconds – mostly reminding them about form, pacing, or timing items.

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Ultimately, Tim O’Donnell would win it in 3:47:40, with Sebastian Kienle coming in 23 seconds later.

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When Sebastian came in, it was clear he had given it everything left in the tank.

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Roughly 5 minutes late, a rather deflated looking Armstrong came through.  Though, he had no idea that Jordan Jones was about to make a pass at the line – edging out Lance in the last 5 feet as Lance trotted to the finish.

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Btw, here’s a sign that Lance’s daughter made for him, as she waited at the finish line:

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About 20 minutes later, the top female finisher – Kelly Williamson – came across the line.

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Without question, the funniest of the bunch was the 4th place Caitlin Snow – who is/was described by just about everyone out there as ‘hilariously cute’.

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Her first words after coming across the line was looking for her Mom, who had raced in a relay team during the event.  She was giddy with excitement to find out how her Mom had done, asking anyone and everyone that might know (which was precisely none of us).  Her reaction was also pretty funny when she looked down and realized she had forgotten to stop her Garmin FR310XT.

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Post-race, I spent a bit of time at the fairly low-key press conference.  While there was certainly initial interest in talking with Armstrong, there was just as much interest in talking with Tim and Sebastian.

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Many have noticed Lance’s use of the not-terribly-waterproofed Garmin FR610, during the Panama 70.3 triathlon.  This would be as opposed to using the more appropriate triathlon-specific FR310XT or FR910XT.

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While Lance was finishing up questions, I checked with his main man (personal assistant) Mark Higgins as to why Lance preferred that watch.  His answer was more simplistic than I expected: He (Mark) had given it to Lance for his birthday.  I did notice that the Garmin logo was blacked out with a sharpie (likely a nod to Nike sponsorship), and that there was a significant amount of black electrical tape holding the band together – a common problem with the FR610 and its pins.

With that, I had to head out to the airport to make my flight, but I did catch a couple final pictures on the way out.  Notably, just simply how darn hot it was.  This kid was helping to cool athletes though – one squirt at a time.

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A couple hours later I was boarding a plane in Houston headed back to DC.  I’ve got a few other pictures that were less IM Texas centric from the trip that I’ll share later in the week.  In addition, I definitely want to thank the Refuel with Chocolate Milk folks who gave me the opportunity to check out the race for the weekend.  Thanks again!

And – at some point over the next few days I’ll put together a fun post on tethering a DSLR (5DMKIII) to my phone with Eye-Fi cards, which I was then able to tweet in real-time during the race.  I’ll probably post my thoughts to Google Plus simply because they likely doesn’t appeal to as many people, except photo folks (or geeks).  Also, I might put something else together on some of the interesting things I learned as shooting as official media.

Thanks for reading everyone, and hope you enjoyed a slightly different perspective!  Have a great week.

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30 Comments

  1. The guy on the scale appears to be wearing two different heart rate monitor straps.

    Reply
  2. Superb pictures, especially love the first one from the minivan.

    Reply
  3. Keith S

    great report Ray – well done

    Reply
  4. AyadB

    Excellent Report.

    Well done.

    Reply
  5. Nice to read, thank you!

    (I get more motiveated every post)

    Reply
  6. Very cool report Ray! Great job!

    Reply
  7. Chris in VA

    The cool thing at the end with Lance is the guy in the Nike hat, sunglasses, and gray jacket that he slaps hands with is the CEO of LIVESTRONG, Doug Ulman ;)

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    I did think it was somewhat cheap of the dude that passed LA at the very end. Fun report to read Ray.

    Reply
  9. I love that series of the guy passing Lance at the finish. It’s a perfect example of dramatic irony. (Sorry, I teach high school literature.) Lance looks like he’s cruising safely across the line while in the background there’s the gradually growing image of a guy who’s obviously sprinting to catch up.

    Reply
  10. I don’t know who the Lance passer was, but I hope he got his Kona points :)

    Reply
  11. Great recap Ray! Check out Ironman’s video of Lance’s T1. In your shot, he had his bike racked by the handle bars (not ideal). By the time he exited the swim, his Trek had been reracked by the seat (ideal).

    Is that run normally a three-loop course? That was crazy to watch.

    Reply
  12. Can’t wait to hear you thoughts on the new canon 5d mark 3 vs. your 7d. The pix look great, but I wonder if you prefer your camera to a full frame. I imagine the low light was great, but you have to get some serious glass to make up for the crop.

    Reply
  13. Love the shots of Jordan Jones in full stride while Lance Armstrong is just cruising along. What happened to Livestrong, Lance? It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.

    Reply
  14. Fun report, you made a comment that this was the most well-represented (by fans of the sport) race you’d ever been to. Part of this is because of the setup of the race and the legacy of the previous owner of said race Endorfun Sports. One of the greatest things (especially as a racer) was always the beer at the end of the event. It always allowed me to actually relax instead of picking over my performance after the race. This is also why I do the Couple’s Tri in Austin. I miss Endorfun and honestly think that if WTC got a clue and let other vendors into the race area that it would grow the participation and fun of the race. Sadly, they just aren’t like that.

    Reply
  15. I did the race last year and this year. It was definitely bigger this year. Cool to see the pros coming back so fast on the bike while I was going out. The 3-loop run eased the congestion on the run course vs. the 4-loop run this year. Great report!

    Reply
  16. I like Lance’s look as Jones blows by. This isn’t the TDF Lance – you don’t get the same time for finishing in the pack. Welcome to ironman where every second counts – HTFU and keep running!

    Reply
  17. Great to meet you on Saturday, Ray! I was in the M25-29 wave, so I didn’t really get a chance to see any of the pros except when they exited the swim. Cool to see the pics of them!

    Reply
  18. Just goes to show it ain’t over till you cross the line!

    Reply
  19. Great photos, Ray! Thank you for sharing with us! And, that photo of Tim crossing the finish line is simply amazing – nice work on being in the right place at the right time the whole race. :)

    Reply
  20. Lance will definitely be posting pictures of that finish in his training areas and around the house. He doesn’t mess around and if anyone thinks he’s gonna be anything other than motivated by this they’re crazy.

    Reply
  21. Amazing post. And loved the photos – all around fantastic but I think my favorite has to be of T.O. finishing. Hope you get more of these front line opportunities!!

    Reply
  22. David W.

    If it weren’t for all the doping and the lying, Lance would be a great inspiration.

    At least he’s raising millions of dollars for cancer research. Oh wait.

    Reply
  23. David, I hope you have substantial proof of your allegations.

    Reply
  24. Let’s go ahead and avoid having this become a Lance-bait thread (for either side). There’s plenty of those elsewhere. Sound good? Thanks all!

    Reply
  25. David W.

    Louis – for the record, I didn’t call Lance a doper and a liar, the New York Times, 60 Minutes, Sports Illustrated, and half his former team mates called him a doper and a liar.

    Ray – c’mon, what’s a little flame war over Lance? I thought arguing Armstrong’s guilt or innocence was the only reason bikers use the internet.

    Reply
  26. Anonymous

    Great coverage! I flew in from DC on Friday and swore I saw you on Saturday but figured I was mistaken! I should have said something!

    Reply
  27. Anonymous

    (Im the guy with the comment 10 mins ago)

    Also, awesome on Lances electrical tape on his 610. I have a 610 and the pin came out (not the first time…) as I was crossing the San Luis bridge coming back. I actually had to stop on the bike to fix it, in the middle of the bridge! Very annoying, otherwise its the best running watch I’ve ever owned.

    Any real solutions to this?

    Reply
  28. No problem, Ray! I love your site and wouldn’t want to do anything to disrupt the great atmosphere you’ve created here.

    Reply
  29. So I guess the waterproofing in the 610 isn’t that bad if he’s now worn it for two different 70.3 races. Or his assistant got a special edition when he told Garmin who it was for?

    Reply
  30. Thanks all!

    Hi Jacobes-
    RE: FR610

    It’s not bad per se, though, it’s not going to stand long term swim pounding. He normally uses a FR310XT during swimming while training (You can see that in his Strava account). And in this case, it was under a wetsuit, so that effectively protects it. Waterproofing itself isn’t the issue, it’s the pounding from swimming.

    As for Garmin getting a special version for him – I can assure you, not so much. They are internally groaning about it (having the wrong unit and potentially killing it). :)

    Reply

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