Race Report – Ironman 70.3 Austin Adjacent

by Eric Russell, 20 October 2010

This race was a fairly late addition to my season – in fact it wasn’t even on my schedule until a month ago.

But with some work flexibility, free tickets, and a great place to stay in Austin, it made sense to look at this as a chance to sharpen racing skills before Ironman Cozumel in late November. It didn’t hurt that we could catch up with friends and indulge in Shiner, BBQ and Amy’s Ice Cream, as well!

Pre-race preparation was easy, especially given the lack of seriousness with which I was taking this one. The race venue is well removed from Austin and its vibrancy, but is still accessible and well-managed, so it didn’t take long to figure out the lay of the land. We were fortunate or smart enough to set up the day before and arrive very early on Sunday morning. With transitions separated by about ¾ mile and barely enough parking for everyone, there were more than a few logistical issues for those that didn’t check in during the prescribed times and/or arrived with little time to spare before the gun.

My swim wave was slotted for 35 minutes after the pro gun went off, meaning I got to watch the first pro men returning to land before wading into Decker Lake. The swim wasn’t too challenging: the course was well marked by buoys, the water quality was fine (a bit brownish, but nothing atypical for a lake), and there was only a slight chop during the middle portion, when the course parallels the shore.  Having wetsuit strippers – a luxury at half iron races and unheard outside of North America – was a nice cherry on the sundae: I was off to my bike before I knew it, wetsuit in hand.

The bike was not exactly a low point, but certainly no summit, either. Not that it was particularly challenging: although the course was about 90% rollers, there were no hills to speak of and I don’t recall having to drop out of the front chain ring (the 11-23 cassette definitely got a work over). Rather, the most demanding component was the road surface. Texas Farm-to-Market roads, the majority of the single bike loop, are usually good out in the countryside; however, in the less-affluent suburbs east of Austin they can be pretty dismal. As in, craters and ruts, bumps and humps, heaves and drop-offs. Driving the course before the race helped, as did the abundance of orange hazard tape. As with most 70.3 events, contending with multitudes of inexperienced, inattentive riders from earlier waves added to the fun, but this is part of the game. At any rate, the bike could use some attention, but wouldn’t prevent me from doing the race again if work and scheduling permitted.

The run was the highlight of my day. Like the bike, it wasn’t exactly a scenic course (nothing east of Austin could be described as eye catching), but was challenging in a fun way. The two loop course consisted of hot, open pavement, fire trails, and a lakeside path, all of which rolled up and down without the slightest hint of flat terrain. The most daunting component of each loop was an extended downhill on grass, followed by an equally long ascent around miles 4 and 11 (the latter being nicknamed el Diablo). I had a terrific run: I moved up substantially in my age group, executed a negative split, and felt great doing it. The finish line, inside the Travis County Expo Center (home of the Texas State Rodeo, y’all), was nevertheless a welcome sight. The final verdict: 4:43-something, just over 2.30 shy of my half ironman PR and a nice pat on the back before Cozumel.

Final thoughts for anyone planning on or thinking of doing this race:

-         Always go to the race meeting and read the athlete guide. It surprises me how many people don’t do this and end up stressed out or worse, e.g. ignoring the clean transition policy (no, you can’t bring 36 bags, a changing table, and a full bathroom with which to clean and dry your feet from swim to bike, then check your hair and make-up from bike to run), not wearing a top during the run (leading to an instant DQ at the finish – that’s gotta suck), or complaining about the type of nutrition offered at aid stations. Come on princess, pay attention… (and I mean this for the guys out there, as they seem to complain far more than the ladies).

-  The water was about 73F and a wetsuit wouldn’t be necessary (in some years they are verboten). I used my sleeveless one since my full suit can get too warm for my taste at that temperature, and had no problems.

-  Check your tires and make sure they’re in good shape for both tread and general condition: if you’d puncture anywhere, it would be on this course.

-  Make sure your chain and cables are in good shape: you’ll be working through the cassette more than you expect looking at the profile.

-  Don’t be afraid of the run… remember, suffering is a good thing. Besides, what is the worst that could happen?!

-  Be sure to make time for some of the great things Austin has to offer: restaurants, music, beer, Amy’s, BBQ. If you get there early enough, go for a run around Town Lake (aka Lady Bird Lake) and ride in the hill country west of the city.

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