Friday, May 30, 2014

Ironman Texas Race Report - David Fernandez

To complete an Ironman, not only does one have to dedicate months to training, but also personal sacrifices are made, such as time with friends and family. It’s not always easy, and without any doubt, I couldn’t have crossed the finish line without the support of my friends and family. My Triple Threat Triathlon teammates also gave me valuable advice and motivated me during training. Special recognition goes to my sister Anabel, who has helped with my training and race day nutrition since I decided to do my first triathlon. She has played a major role not only in my progression in the sport, but also in changing my eating habits without compromising my love for food. Finally, to my wife Kathryn, who deals with me daily. Just for that, she already deserves a prize… throw Ironman training in the mix and she deserves the award for “wife of the year.”

Pre Race

My main goal during my 2+ week taper period was to get race ready, which to me meant:

1. Stay active without fatiguing my body: low volume training throwing some intensity in based on feel (do not abuse)

race week training (in min)

2. Get to race weight: with decreased training volume, I don’t need to carbo-load; my body is getting enough glycogen from my normal diet

I flew to Houston Thurs. morning, being the last day to check in. That night I went to the athletes’ dinner, where Mike Reilly cracked a few jokes while showing some inspiring videos. I was ready to race!! Without any doubt, the best part was meeting people from all over the world. I talked to many people, asked several questions of experienced Ironman athletes, and made a few friends.

Friday morning I met up with a couple guys to go swimming in the lake. Although it was nothing compared to what we got on race day, I’m glad I went and tried my wetsuit (I hadn’t swum in my wetsuit in over 2 months, as no one thought this race would be wetsuit legal).

After the swim I picked up my bike from the TriBike Transport tent, and I highly recommend this service for first timers. Once I got the bike, I went for a 30 min ride to make sure all was working well and then checked in my bike and transition bags.

the ducks were visibly pissed

Not much else to do after a busy morning. I grabbed lunch at Chipotle, went to the hotel for a nap, and ran less than 1 mile with short strides. I have to say that I felt very strong… I could tell I was ready to race. After the quick run, I drove to Houston to pick up my wife who was flying in. We had dinner (pasta for me), packed the very last few things I had to bring the next day, and went to bed by 9.30. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous.

hopefully one day I can afford that bike

Race Day

We woke up at 4:10 and I had my pre-race breakfast: cereal and 2 tbsp of Nesquick with 2% milk. We then grabbed my bags and drove to transition. I was lucky to borrow a pump from a fellow athlete, avoiding waiting in line. I was worried about my rear tire, as I inflated it the day before to 120 psi and it was at 40 psi (I use latex tubes, which lose air easily, but this was a little too much). I didn’t have time to change the tube, so I hoped for the best. I packed my nutrition on the bike and left for the swim start, which was 1 mile away. I took advantage of this walk to eat half of a banana and to chat with my wife. I wasn’t nervous yet.

Once I got to the swim start, I had to wait in line to use one of the port-a-potties to do my pre-race routine. The wait was HUGE... I probably lost 20-25 minutes there, that as you will read later on, would have a negative impact on my swim. I took advantage of the long wait to get body marked, apply sunscreen, and keep sipping on sports drink.

happy before the swim
I put my wetsuit on after generously applying Body Glide to my neck, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, and ankles. I kissed and hugged my wife and thanked her for being there. She wished me luck and told me she was proud of me. She calmed me down by telling me that I had put a lot of work into this and she was sure I’d do well. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous yet, but her words were exactly what I needed to hear. I said goodbye and headed to the water along with 2,600 other athletes. Now I finally started to feel a little nervous…


The cannon went off when I was still waiting to get in the water. It probably took me 3-4 min to get in the water after the race officially started. I really underestimated the walk to the start (1 mile) and the waiting time at the port-a-potties, but especially the amount of people trying to get in the water at the same time.

In the days before the race, many people told me to make sure I gave myself 10-15 min to get in the water. I thought I had time, but obviously I was late. To make things worse, as soon as I hit the water I put my goggles on and started swimming. I should’ve taken an extra 5 seconds to use my natural defogger (saliva), as this turned out to be a major issue later on in the swim.  Toughest swim I’ve ever been part of. Physical, brutal, water churning, people everywhere. My goal was to get into a groove and find my rhythm… impossible. Kicks to the face (I got a kick on my jaw that made me lose sight for a couple of seconds), elbows to the head and body, and grabbing were constant throughout the entire swim. Breathing was also difficult due to the number of people… I kept getting swamped. I think people were expecting a tough swim, and we got it.

not as much during

In addition to the particular challenges of this swim, I had a few additional handicaps. Since I started late and quite far back, I had a barrier of people in front of me that I had to fight really hard to pass (swimming over them most of the time). I tried not to be that guy, but I had really no other option. As a result, I was using additional energy and I got cramps on my right calf and later on my left calf as I was trying to balance and propel my body with only my left leg (I ended up swimming the last mile without using my legs). Also, my goggles fogged after 500 yards, so I couldn’t see anything other than the person in front of me (barely).

Quitting was not an option, but my cramped legs made me wonder how I would complete the rest of the race. Finally I saw the “Swim Out” for the first time and gave everything I had until I welcomed a volunteer helping me exit the water.

Here were my swim results and splits (every 400 yards):


I put my goggles up, wetsuit down, and grabbed my bike bag before heading to the changing tent. I took a gel, put my socks, gloves, and helmet on, and ran to get my bike.


During this brief run, I told myself that my race started now. I knew I had a crappy swim, but Ironman is a long event and the bike and run are the most important legs. I knew I would have a good race as long as I paced myself and executed my nutrition plan well. I put my bike shoes on, grabbed my bike, and ran with it to the mount line. Ready for a 112 mile ride…


Biking is by far where I feel most confident, and my split helped me soar through the rankings after a poor swim. My goal was to ride conservatively to save my legs for the run. I know I am capable of riding at 22+ mph and still have a decent run, but this was my first IM and I wasn’t sure how my legs would feel after swimming and biking for almost 7 hours.

who knew people swim with brass knuckles??
As soon as I got on the bike, I looked at my watch and realized that the screen got smashed during the swim; I couldn’t see a single number! I would have to do the rest of the race without feedback. I know my body pretty well on the bike and knew I could pace myself based on RPE (rate of perceived exertion, or "feel"), but I wasn’t so sure about the run.

I took the first 5 miles to get comfortable and to eat and drink. I had my first Bonk Breaker and drank sports drink abundantly for the first 7-10 miles to restore what I lost during the swim and to be well hydrated. After that, it was race time.

I focused on not getting my heart rate too high based on RPE. One of the “benefits” of having a crappy swim if you are a decent biker is you can take advantage of the slingshot effect. We also had some tailwind on the way out, and I took full advantage. As a result, my avg. speed for the first 45 miles was over 22 mph without putting much effort and despite the rolling hills.

I was focused on the race, but still had time to enjoy the support from the locals, the signs they made, and the views of this incredible ride. Mile 20, time for my second Bonk Breaker. Mile 40, first gel and… I needed to pee!! At mile 30 I started thinking about it, at mile 40 I really wanted to stop, and by mile 50 it was almost a life necessity… but I didn’t stop. I was feeling strong and I didn’t want to stop. I started to rationalize that it was acceptable for triathletes to pee on themselves (never done it before).

I already saw a couple of guys letting it go as I passed them, and I remembered teammate David Wild’s race report (he did it twice!). I convinced myself to give it a try. I remembered a podcast where they explained how to do it: I slowed down, reduced my cadence, stood up, and… there you go! It was exhilarating, and the timing was perfect. I finished 400 yards before the mile 60 aid station, so I grabbed a bottle of water and poured it all over my bottom half. Voila! Clean again!

Miles 60 to 85 was the toughest and hilliest part of the ride. The wind also picked up (15 mph) and we were straight against it until the end of the bike. I kept riding conservatively, and made sure my HR didn’t spike when climbing. I probably changed gears more times during this race than in the past 2 years living in Miami! As soon as I got on the flat sections of the hills I got aero again to take advantage of the downhill free speed. I was amazed to see people coasting going downhill. It may be my combination of ex-mountain biker (not scared of going fast downhill and have decent bike handling skills) and being used to peddling non-stop for hours on flat Florida terrain.

From miles 85-105, the terrain flattened out a bit, although the wind was still a factor for most people. I am used to riding against 20+ mph winds, so it didn’t feel that strong for me. Probably due to the combination of wind and being late on the bike course, I saw many people drafting. It really irritated me. If drafting is allowed, great, but if it is not, you are cheating. I made sure to yell “ROADIES, NO DRAFTING!!” every time I passed a group of cyclists. There were not enough referees to stop the draft fest, but I saw at least three guys getting a penalty. It was a small victory for the non-cheaters. 

I pushed until mile 105, when the last hilly section started, then decided to take it easy. I didn’t want to burn my legs the last few miles of the ride. I took my last gel at mile 110 and pretty much coasted and relaxed my legs for the last 2 miles… the marathon was coming up!

Overall, I was very happy with my bike strategy. It was a fast bike split given the rolling terrain and I didn’t need to put much effort in. It felt short, I felt strong, I had executed my nutrition plan, and I felt ready to tackle the run. This is exactly how I wanted to feel after the bike.

Although I couldn’t use my watch, it was apparently still recording. Here is the data for my bike split (every 5 miles):



I gave my bike to a volunteer and ran to get my run bag. I sat down in the changing tent, took my bike stuff off and put my running socks and shoes, sunglasses and cap on, and got my race belt and gels.

I gave my bag to a volunteer and poured 4 cups of water all over my body. I was about to start the hardest part of the race… the marathon.

I trained to run an Ironman marathon at between 3:40 and 3:45. However, I set a conservative goal to make sure I didn’t burn myself in the first miles, which could lead to a walking fest. Also, I had never run more than 18 miles without stopping in my life, so I wasn’t sure how my legs would feel towards the end. Lastly, everybody warned me about the brutal heat and humidity of the IMTX run.

1st loop

I let the army of volunteers apply as much sunscreen as they wanted, and poured water on myself again at the first aid station.

The race then began, and I realized I was in trouble… I couldn’t use my watch to pace myself. During my brick training sessions, I always had issues going too fast after the bike, so I concentrated on running slow, very slow. I didn’t want to get into z3 or even z4 (heart rate) right out of the start. I approached a guy and asked him what his pace was, “8:00 min/mile” he said. A little faster than my goal, but I’d rather stay with him than not know my pace, I thought. We started chatting, turns out he studied in Spain and was happy to practice some Spanish with me. We hit mile 4 and it was time to take my first gel, which I washed down with water at an aid station. I then realized my friend wasn’t running with me anymore (I saw him way behind me later on), so there I was, alone again trying to figure out how fast/slow I should run.

happy times during the 1st loop... thumbs up!
The next two miles were nice, through some amazing neighborhoods (mansions everywhere), then I arrived to the Water Way for the first time. Up to that point, there were volunteers and crowds all around the run course, but this was something special. Narrow run path, music, people cheering, old people, young people, children, families from all nationalities you can imagine, drunk and sober people, etc. This is what every athlete needed, 2-3 miles with people everywhere cheering you on loudly. Honestly, I enjoyed it maybe a little too much. I was giving high fives to everybody, returning the energy to the crowd by smiling, raising my arms, and giving thumbs up to everybody that cheered me on. Towards the end, I found my wife with her friend Liz, both cheering me on like I was about to win the race. They couldn’t have chosen a better place, and it helped a lot during the 2nd and 3rd loop to know that I had to make it to see them.

When I was heading towards the point where you turn left to start another loop or right to go to the finish line, everybody started looking at me, saying things like “he's going to win!” I turned my head and there was Bevan Docherty. We ran together for a few yards until our ways separated (he went right, I went left). It was really cool being able to run with him for a few yards as he was getting ready to take the win!

2nd loop 

I was surprisingly feeling pretty good still. I took another gel at mile 9, then again at mile 14, where I also stopped to pee (this time I used a port-a-potty :)

Everything was going well… but after mile 16, soon after I ran past my wife and Liz, I entered a dark place. I stayed strong mentally, but had to dig deep. I kept telling myself things like “only 10 miles left, I can do it, focus on form, swing the arms, relax the shoulders, straighten the core, keep cadence high, land with your mid sole”, etc. Additionally, my right calf started to tighten up, and I started to worry about having to walk the last 10 miles. I decided to run from aid station to aid station, then walk the aid station while taking fluids and nutrition. I was still smiling to the crowd and giving thumbs up, but a lot less high fives as I felt I would fall over if somebody hit me hard!

starting to suffer... Katie realized and cheered me on even more
3rd loop

Total mental battle. Not only was I digging deep to keep running, but I also had already run the course 2 times, so I knew exactly what was ahead of me. My run/walk strategy was working though, and my calf was feeling better. I got to the Water Way, and knew I would make it and break 11 hours in my first Ironman. I made it to where my wife and Liz were spectating, and yelled at them “go to the finish line” and kept running. I approached the turn where Docherty turned right a couple of hours earlier and this time I also turned right. My legs didn’t hurt anymore.

I was alone. For the first time in the entire day I was alone. I ran for about 1/10 of a mile by myself, no other athlete near me, no crowd, no volunteers, nothing, nobody, just me. Many things went through my head. All the hours of training, all those days waking up before 5 am to go swimming, those long solo rides, all the runs under the Miami sun, all the effort, all the time I put into this race, my wife, my family, my friends, Spain, Miami, too many things to write down. I was happy.

I made another turn and there it was, the crowd again roaring for me, a complete stranger. They were happy for me and they were making sure they gave me all they had to help me cross that finish line. I certainly enjoyed the last few yards. I ran next to the people giving high fives to everybody that extended their hand and feeling their energy. I was approaching the finish line when Mike Reilly started saying a few facts about me, and as I was crossing the finish line, he said his famous: “DAVID, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!”

During the 1st loop, I was 30-40 sec faster than my target pace. As a result, towards the end of the loop and thru Water Way, my HR was above z2.
As you can see, I paid for it later on.

A volunteer threw a cold towel over my neck and gave me a bottle of water. I hugged him. Another volunteer took my timing chip off my ankle, and another one put a finisher’s medal on my neck. I was an Ironman!!! I saw my wife, ran to her, and gave her a big kiss and hug. We chatted briefly, enjoying the moment, and then she told me my time: 10:43:06!

I was very happy, not sure how to define exactly how I felt, but it was certainly something very special.

with our trophies: finisher medal and support crew cowbell

Post Race 

I got a massage, grabbed some cookies, fruit, and two chocolate milkshakes, then sat down with my wife and Liz to talk about the race and what they did all day. I really appreciate their time. Although triathlon is an amazing sport, it is not very spectator friendly. They spent almost 11 hours (not counting waking early and coming to the race before it started) switching around places to see me for a total of a couple minutes.

After I recovered a bit, we walked the mile to get my bike and transition bags, then back to the Ironman Village to drop off my bike at the TriBike Transport tent. It felt like a joke that I had to walk almost 2 miles after completing an Ironman…

We then went to grab something to eat (BURGER!!!) and then to the hotel, where I iced my legs for a good 45 min. I watched the last 30 minutes of the finish line live and went to bed soon after midnight. 
The next day we woke up early (I was less sore than I thought I would be thanks to the massage + ice!) to buy some finisher gear. We got there and they told us they had run out… people were waiting since 5 am apparently. Oh well, I’ll buy online. Since we couldn’t buy merchandise, we went to Rudy’s (my favorite BBQ place from when I lived in Austin).

After a copious meal, we headed back to The Woodlands to participate in the Volunteers Appreciation Banquet and to see the Kona slot allocation process. It was inspiring seeing people get so excited after qualifying for Kona.

Hopefully some day it will be me claiming one of those spots!

you gotta love Texas!


  1. Nice race! I came across your report after doing some research on the race. I'm gearing up to take on Ironman Texas next month. Your report was certainly inspirational and included some good tips.

  2. Thanks, Matt! Best of luck at IMTX!