Ironman Texas 70.3 A Stormy Race Report 4-7-19

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I wanted to do an early season half Ironman event for 2019 after taking a long off-season in 2018. Ironman Texas 70.3 in Galveston on April 7th looked like an ideal race after coming off a long Vermont winter. Galveston, Texas is surrounded by the ocean and I knew I would be grateful for the sun and beach. And a flat course was perfect for literally coming off the bike trainer without any outdoor riding so far in the season. And my goal was to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France! This year Women for Tri was giving out 25 additional slots to women only for certain races this season and IMTX 70.3 was one of them. So alas, I secured my spot to Nice as the 5th place women in my age group. There were 2 standard slots and 4 slots from Women for Tri. Thank you so much to this organization that supports women in sport! I am thrilled to be heading to Nice, France in September!

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This was one of my best 70.3 (mile) triathlons. I had a strong race coming in 10 seconds behind the 4th place women and 15 seconds behind the 3rd place woman. That is so close in a 5 hour race! Instead of feeling sad about this I actually felt very motivated when I saw the results. Third place was Ashley Tappin who is a 3-time Olympic gold medalist for swimming! While she was 12 minutes faster in the swim, I was 11 minutes faster in the run and gaining quickly on her. I just ran out of pavement. It was so close! And first place was a woman who qualifies for a pro card every year but prefers to crush the age groupers (personally I would prefer to race with the pros if I was fast enough. You only get better racing with faster people). I love that the age group competition is so incredibly fierce in Ironman events (full and halves).

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Sadly Scott was not able to race this one with me. He has struggled with a hip issue all winter that originated from hiking both Pitons in St Lucia back in November. As usual I had us overdoing it on a very strenuous mountain hike. Luckily he is recovering and should be able to race this summer. He was the best sherpa and husband as usual. And I have to say it was nice having him focus on my race and take such good care of me. He’s the best!

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Ironman Texas 70.3 is a really excellent event. As usual Ironman puts on a great race! I loved the venue at Moody Gardens and the race courses were all unique, interesting and challenging in their own ways. It’s also a very fast course and many people have personal records on this one. It’s usually very windy but flat as a pancake on the bike course. This Ironman branded race was very well organized and the volunteers were just awesome! Thank you to everyone!

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The big event of race day was a crazy and severe storm that rolled through the area and caused the race to be suspended and canceled. On Saturday there was worry and much talk about the warnings of severe thunderstorms and even the possibility of a tornado! That was scary and I was a bit worried. At the athlete briefing they talked about the weather but the race director didn’t seem too worried about it so I stopped stressing over it. The accu-weather app started to look like the storm might hit us after the race. So I was calm about the weather on race morning. I didn’t need any more stress on top of the usual race morning jitters! I’ll mention the storm later as it came after my run while I was eating food with Scott in one of the big tents.

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We flew into Houston’s Hobby Airport on Thursday before the race which worked well. It was an uneventful flight but still a long day as I do not enjoy airline travel. We rented a nice new Jeep Cherokee that fit my bike box and luggage nicely. Our next goal was to drive west about 30 minutes to Whole Foods and stock up on Groceries. Then it was about an hour drive to Galveston which wasn’t too bad. I was excited to be by the ocean and our condo was right across the road from the Gulf of Mexico. Being on the 10th floor the view was amazing even with all the fog on the first couple days in Galveston. The pelicans flying so close to our window was one of the highlights of staying there!

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We rented a condo from AirB&B and our host was really excellent. The condo was in an older building that has been battered by hurricanes of the past. But the owners have taken good care of their unit. It wasn’t posh, but it was lovely, clean and cozy. I loved that even our bedroom had ocean views and access to the large balcony. Our favorite aspect was having coffee on the beach on most mornings. I find the ocean therapeutic and this condo choice was perfect for us. It was also only a few miles from the race venue and easy to get to in the morning.

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Another fun aspect of our Texas adventure was having one of Scott’s best friends from college race and stay with us. Charlie lives in the Woodlands of Texas and came down Friday. It was his first 70.3 distance and it was so fun to share the experience with him. Sadly he couldn’t finish the race as he had to find shelter from the storm in a parking garage after completing 4 miles of the run. Luckily everyone did get their finisher medals and hats if they got caught in the storm and couldn’t finish.

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After coffee on the beach Friday morning I did a 20 minute shake-out run while Scott put together my bike. It felt was wonderful running along the ocean on a very wide sidewalk. My body was healthy and I was so grateful to be running in the warmth and ocean breeze. Later I took my bike out for a 30 minute spin to make sure everything was working right. The road was very busy and even with a big shoulder I wasn’t comfortable riding. I was supposed to ride again on Saturday but I just felt like it was a bad idea with the traffic and no safe place to do short intervals. So Lisa suggested I do another 20 minute run with a few strides. It’s important to fire up the legs a bit before race day. She calls it activation. So I got the job done.

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I was told by our AirB&B host that we could swim in the ocean across the street. But it was quite wavy and scary looking the first couple days! And there were warnings on the beach not to swim due to dangerous currents. Luckily we found the Lasker Park Community Pool a few minutes from the condo. And we were able to log two swims on Friday and Saturday before the race. I love outdoor pools and this one was a pleasant surprise! We even swam on Tuesday after the race. I love swimming outdoors in the sun!

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Athlete registration was accomplished by the three of us on Friday afternoon after our swim. Scott picked up his packet since he would be able to get into transition and help me with my bike if there were issues. We hit the Ironman Store as usual but not quite as hard as Copenhagen. We did find some nice clothing once again. We just can’t help ourselves in there! Hanging out with Charlie in the condo was fun and helped calm my nerves. The joke was that I call myself Not-fun Joyce before a race and Fun Joyce after the race. So we kept joking about it when I would get tense or stressed over something. Thank you Charlie for having a good sense of humor before the race!

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I didn’t sleep terribly before the race and managed a few hours of sleep which is good for me. Luckily I slept well the first couple nights. The bed was very comfy! Race morning went smoothly and we left the condo on time after our usual bowl of oatmeal. We got there early and had good parking close to transition and the porto pots. Getting my stuff into transition went smoothly and my bike was all set. I even got to say hi to Dede, one of my favorite pros! After a couple more porto-pot stops we made our way down to the swim start. There was no swim warm up for this race so I made sure I did a jog to get myself warmed up. It was very humid while running but I got my heart rate up for the swim.

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Swim

I had a good solid swim for this race. It wasn’t my fastest but not my slowest either. I was hoping I would have improved more this winter after having some video analysis from a Swimsmooth instructor and getting better at bilateral breathing. Our masters swim coach said I was swimming faster but I am not sure it translated to the swim on race day. It’s really hard to say as the swim was choppy and wavy from the incoming weather event. Nothing worse than what I’ve seen so far in races. And several people did confirm for me that they also thought it was a rougher type swim. In spite of the conditions I still had a decent swim without issues.

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It was my first wetsuit swim of the season so that was a minor challenge. We were not allowed to swim the course prior to the race due to a large old fashioned steam boat that took people out for cruises. Luckily we found the local community pool close to our condo. My swim time was 40:43 which is 3 minutes slower than my best 70.3 swim times. Out of the 112 women who started I was 16th out of the water which was a big surprise. I’m slowly improving on that metric. Usually I’m 37th or something like that out of the water. This improvement is encouraging. And out of the top 5 in my age group, my swim wasn’t the slowest!

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We started the swim from a pier right by the Palm Beach at Moody Gardens. This swim went off in age group waves. We were the first group right after the female pros. After doing a short 8 minute jog, I got my wetsuit on with the help of Scott and made my way onto the pier with the other women in bright pink swim caps. The morning was very pretty and the storm was hours away. I made sure I took note of how lucky I was to be doing this race in a beautiful place when walking out on the pier with my age group. I was nervous but excited. I felt lucky too. We watched the professional men and then the women start their swim after the cannon went off each time. Then we were allowed to jump off the dock into the water. It was cold but refreshing. I breast-stroked a few yards over to where we were starting. And within a couple minutes we were off! I was ready!

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It was a bit chaotic at first but nothing out of the ordinary. It had been 2 years since I had done an age group mass start swim but it didn’t go badly at all. Just a lot of congestion at the beginning. As usual I stayed on the outside which is where I am most comfortable. It wasn’t far until the first turn buoy as we headed out diagonally in the opposite direction of where the race would end. My swim stroke was a mess and it took a while to get into some sort of groove. It was also very choppy too. I couldn’t bilateral breath on the first leg to the turnaround buoy. I just did my best to keep moving forward even if my stroke was not great and I wasn’t acclimated to the wavy conditions. I was also having that old sore right shoulder thing from the wetsuit but it was never too bad. It didn’t slow me down but it was a minor distraction.

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I was happy to get to the turnaround buoy without much problem. The way back was a long stretch. And it felt like a while before the buoys turned yellow to orange indicating the halfway point. But I was starting to do some bilateral breathing and getting into a better rhythm. I would breath twice on each side and then switch. That seemed to work well and I could see what was happening on both sides. I kept noticing that I usually had clear water and could move forward without contact from other swimmers. Sometimes there were people close but no problems. There were a few swimmers from the next wave who went by pretty quickly. But I did catch up to other women in my age group. Not a ton but some.

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After I was about half way done with the swim I could see the Moody Garden pyramids in the distance and it looked so pretty. I made sure I felt grateful for that experience. I was doing something so cool! But I had to keep on trucking along as I still had a ways to go. Sometimes I was close to the buoys and sometime I swam too far to the outside, but not as bad as previous swims. My Garmin did clock 1.3 miles so I didn’t swim as straight as I had hoped. The long leg back to the next turnaround buoy did have a lot of waves but they seemed to be almost in our favor pushing us in the right direction. I still can’t tell if that helped or hurt me as the water was a bit rougher than I would have liked. But it wasn’t a hardship. Just another aspect of the adventure!

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Finally I made it to the last turnaround buoy and only had a few hundred yards left. The sun was peaking a bit through the clouds but it was never blinding. It also felt more choppy and harder to push through but nothing terrible. This last leg did feel a bit more crowded and I had trouble seeing the line of buoys a bit. And it was hard to see the swim exit but I made my way there without problem. I was so happy to cross the swim finish line and was smiling a lot! I needed two people to help me out of my wetsuit. I do love the wetsuit strippers! And then I was running in the grass to the transition area to find my bike. I didn’t know what my swim time was, but Scott did say I had a good swim when I left transition with my bike. That made me happy!

Bike

I had my best bike split in a 70.3 triathlon ever during this race! And it was one of my best executed bike rides so far in my triathlon journey so I was very happy with my ride. That all being said, the Ironman Texas 70.3 bike course is by far the fastest and flattest course I have ever ridden! It’s purely a time trial course. My time was a 2:36:44. I was very happy with this result since it was my first real outdoor bike ride of the year coming off the bike trainer in Vermont. Going from trainer to race course ended up being a surprising success for me. The big factor in the race was the wind! With a tailwind and cross winds on the way out, the ride was fast! But coming back was sometimes difficult with the wind. It wasn’t anything worse than Denmark when I did Ironman Copenhagen or worse than a windy day in Vermont. But it made the ride back more challenging. I would have preferred a head wind on the way out and a tail wind on the way back, but mother nature usually doesn’t cooperate on race day.

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One of the best aspects of this bike course and race was that it never felt crowded and I always had plenty of space to do my own race. I thought it was because I was the first wave after the pros but others who started later felt the same way. And it never looked too crowded for folks going out when I was heading back. I really liked this course for that reason! I didn’t notice drafting being a problem or see huge packs like many past races.

The sun was still peeking out of the clouds and the morning was still very nice. I was happy to grab my bike and head out of transition. Seeing Scott taking photos also gave me a boost. I couldn’t wait to start my ride and see what I could do out there! The first few miles were a bunch of turns and curves. The race director during the Saturday athlete briefing warned everyone to take these sections slower and cautiously. Soon after a couple miles I was onto the main highway that goes down the length of Galveston Island (Route 3005, Termini-San Luis Pass Road). And this section is mostly very flat and fast. It’s an out-and-back course with no extra turns or loops.

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Miles 5 to 15 were very fast and I was averaging around 24-25 miles per hour which is very speedy for me. My heart rate was right at my 70.3 race effort so I knew I was moving along just fine. It was hard but manageable. More clouds moved in and it got a bit more grey and the sun was no longer peeking through. With a non-crowded bike course I was able to keep my head down more and look mostly at the road just a little bit ahead of me and not strain my neck as much when I need to see the riders in front of me. This helped my sore neck situation a lot. It was still sore but not as bad as usual in a race.

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On miles 15 to 28 the winds got a bit more confusing where I wasn’t sure if I had a head wind or a tail wind or just a weird cross wind. Those miles slowed down to about 21-23 miles per hour. A quick water stop also slowed my overall pace but I never miss out on filling up with clear water. After 20 miles or so I crossed over the bridge to the next island. This was pretty and had a little incline up the bridge which helped me stretch my legs briefly and get out of the saddle. I enjoyed the next part of the route where it was still flat and fast with the ocean to the left. There were less houses and commercial buildings. I knew we’d have to come back here to visit after the race!

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I was very happy to see the turnaround and made my way back. The head wind was going to be tough but I wasn’t feeling badly. My legs were getting fatigued and my neck and upper back were getting cranky. But I was still able to stay in the aero position for most of the ride. On the way back I did have to get out of aero a few times but nothing like previous races. My speed dropped with the wind to mostly just over 20 miles an hour, sometimes hitting 21. I was still moving but the wind was taking its toll. The way back was uneventful and I tried to focus on the side of the road or just a small bit ahead to help my neck. I did get passed by some of the 40+ men and passed some women. Nothing notable about any of the guys. No drafting was happening near me and most people were just doing their own race.

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With about maybe 10 miles to go a woman in my age group wearing the US colors rode by me. I believe I passed her early on but she stuck close behind me. We took turns taking a lead without drafting on the way back. At this point, my legs were tired and my body was ready to get off the bike. Another women in our age group caught us and we rode together on the last couple miles of the turns and curves before heading into Moody Gardens. We finished together just a few seconds apart. It turned out both those ladies were not strong in the run. And I passed the women wearing the patriotic racing kit within the first half mile of the run. The other woman was sitting across from me while we both put on our running shoes. She said she wasn’t a good runner. But she was very nice and friendly.

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I was so happy to see that I did a sub 2:40 bike ride! I really had no idea how I would do with the wind and my first outdoor bike ride of the season! If I had been training in a warm climate that winter maybe I could have come closer to the 2:30 mark but I’ll call my ride on that course a win for me! I believe my bike was the 7th fastest within the 112 women in my age group. I’d like to improve on that metric for sure! I know I have it in me with a competitive cycling history. And I’ll get there!

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Run

I had a very good run coming off a harsh Vermont winter. I knew I was running well for March but was I in race shape? We didn’t train in Florida for a week or two before the race like we did for Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico two years ago. So the only “heat training” I did was sitting in the sauna for about 15-20 minutes after each swim for a few weeks prior to the race. It might have helped but it didn’t prepare me for the extreme humidity during the run. That was the big obstacle in the run for me that day. It was right before the storm and the air was heavy. I didn’t think I’d be able to pull off a good run when I initially started but ended with a very solid and surprising run. My time was 1:40:26 overall with the second fastest run in my age group. I was so happy about my run when I finished!

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After my bike I tried to do a quicker transition but had to sit down to change socks and shoes. Again my transition was slower and at least a minute slower than my rivals. Do they wear wet socks on the run? I just don’t understand how I can be that much slower in transition. But I am!

I was happy to begin the run but right away I felt very sluggish in the humidity. The cloud cover was a huge relief and the temperature was around 70F. It wasn’t hot, just uncomfortably warm and humid. I know better than to start off too fast. Plus I need a couple miles to find my groove. The course is 3 loops around and through Moody Gardens. It’s an interesting course with lots of turns, out-and-backs, and terrain changes such as gravel, pavement, concrete with sand, quick spurts on grass, etc. And it ticks by quickly with all the variations.

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The first mile of the course is through Moody Gardens and the second mile heads out of the park. I enjoyed those two miles each time through the loop. Mile 2 is harder and goes up over a bridge and then turns back around to go back over it again. I usually put more effort into this and ran it well but the inclines over the bridge were notable for sure. Mile 3 heads back into Moody Gardens. But the first part of mile 3 is on an open gravel section which is interesting. Then you head back to the park and get to see a lot of runners heading back out towards the bridge. Mile 4+ is through the park. I enjoyed this mile the most even with the harder little ups and downs and changes. I got to see Scott several times on each loop as he took photos. There is also a section along the water with the sandy concrete that goes by the swim start which is very neat to see. And the sidewalk that leads to the finish is very fun, festive and enjoyable (hard on the last lap).

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On my first loop there were not a lot of other runners so it was sometimes not perfectly clear where to go but luckily there were bright green arrows to guide me. Normally I just follow the other runners but a few times it was just me and I had to pay attention to where I was going! I was conservative starting out as I felt sluggish and slower with the humidity. I knew that my first mile should just be under an 8 minute per mile pace and I did just that. My next couple miles were around a 7:50 pace which was comfortably hard and seemed like the right pace in order to finish strong. Mile four was back to a 7:54 pace. There are some tiny little ups and downs on the forth mile and places where you change from grass to pavement. I liked the changes but with the turns and course variations it did feel like it slowed my pace down a bit. It was fun to see runners going in different directions and not feel alone. I realize now that because of all the turns and variations my Garmin wasn’t picking up 100% of the total mileage (which often happens in trail running) and my actual paces were probably a little faster than calculated on my Garmin.

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Running the second loop felt mentally good. And there were more runners as well. Some people were starting the first loop. It was nice to have more company and not have to navigate myself with the green arrows. I was still running well and consistently. Miles five and six I was still averaging around a 7:50 pace. It felt hard but feasible. Mile 7 I pushed it a little harder over the bridge and had a 7:43 pace. The volunteers out there were fun and encouraging as I ran by. I enjoyed the support! The next mile was a little slower just under 8 minute miles. I was feeling the effects of the race and humidity. There were a few brief and very light sprinkles so I knew the rain was coming. Scott yelled out to me that I was coming into 5th place and the women ahead of me were only a couple minutes ahead. I was really excited and this gave me a big mental boost!

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I was excited to start the final lap. I only had to run by the finish one more time. And that section had a ton of crowd support. It was fun to see everyone cheering on the runners. I was still feeling decent and ready to tackle the last 4+ miles of the race. I was still maintaining a solid 7:50 pace on the first mile of the loop. But the next mile with the bridge was hard! My overall pace for that mile slowed to just under 8 min miles. I knew I had to kick it in if I wanted to catch the women in my age group!

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My last two and a half miles were faster and I pushed harder. I passed a couple women in my age group on the last few miles but it turned out they were on their 1st or 2nd loops (I realized when done). My paces were closer to a 7:46 but that was all I had in me. I saw the 4th place women ahead of me on the last mile. I didn’t think she was in my age group or on her last loop. I’m not sure I could have caught her but if I had known, maybe we would have been 5 seconds instead of 10 seconds apart. I am a little disappointed in being that close but I did my best out there. Running to the finish felt so good and I love the red carpet! It’s such an amazing feeling to finish these events. I was thrilled crossing the finish line and so happy to accept my finisher medal and hat. Scott was there on the other side of the fence and told me how I did. I will admit I was a little disappointed that I didn’t move up to 3rd or 4th place. But I had made the podium with a 5th place finish out of 112 women that started and it still felt great! I had made my goal!

The Storm

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After I got my finisher photo I left the finish area and we walked to a big white tent that had food for the athletes. I filled my plate with banana and orange pieces, pretzels and potato chips. Scott did the same since he had the athlete wrist band. We sat and talked about the race. Another SOAS Ambassador named Amanda came over to introduce herself and chat with us for a bit. After she left to find her husband the storm came upon us very quickly. It started to rain and then the wind was insane. All of a sudden it was like a hurricane. The wind was belting on the tent and we were scared! The palm trees looked like something on the weather channel during hurricane news coverage. We decided to try and get to our rental jeep. But it was too rainy and windy and I was freezing! So we ran into the Ironman Store tent. The wind was still crazy and it was a torrential down pour. I thought the tent was going to fall down upon us and there were at least 100 people in the tent. We ran into one of the Moody Garden buildings for shelter. Soon we learned the race had been suspended and then canceled. I sat by a turtle exhibit hoping Charlie and the other athletes out there were OK. Moody Gardens was so great to let athletes wander around and “camp out” until the storm passed. There were also reports of hail and cloud to ground lightning I learned later. Thank goodness everyone was safe but I did hear that some athletes did get banged up on the bike in the storm. But they were taken care of and no major injuries.

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After an hour or so the storm died down and we made our way to the transition area to get my bike. I was worried it was trashed and my stuff was lost in the storm. But somehow my bike was fine and all my gear was still under my bike. A few bikes had been knocked down and even some porto pots. Luckily my bike and gear made it through the storm. Charlie found shelter in a parking garage with many athletes. He was disappointed not to finish but was in good spirits. He made it through the swim and had a good bike. He knew he could have finished the race strong and is excited to try another 70.3. That evening we celebrated the crazy day with beer and vegan bean burgers at Jimmy’s by the Pier. I had spotted that place on my runs before the race. The sign that said “Local Beer” caught my eye! I also knew from Happy Cow (vegan food guide) that they served a couple vegan options.

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On Monday the three of us had a nice long walk on the beach and lunch at Jimmy’s by the Pier which also had a nice vegan bean salad option. My legs were fatigued but just the usual soreness from a race. It was a beautiful sunny day. Later we said good-bye to Charlie and drove down Galveston Island along the race course and over to the next Island. We even did some driving on the beach which is a thing in Galveston! That was a highlight of the trip! For dinner that evening we found a fun hipster beer bar called Brews Brothers that served a tasty lentil vegan burger and good beer. This was located in the Strand which is the historic downtown area that is charming and cute. We enjoyed walking around in the evening and even caught a gorgeous sunset. Galveston was such a pleasant surprise!

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On Tuesday we decided to visit the Aquarium and Rainforest at Moody Gardens after another swim at the community outdoor pool. I wanted to support Moody Gardens after they were so hospitable to the athletes during the storm. And it’s a non-profit organization that is working to conserve the ocean, rainforests and environment. We enjoyed both the Aquarium and Rainforest. I normally avoid the touristy attractions but did find this all worth it.

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Overall I highly recommend Ironman Texas 70.3 in spite of the storm. I enjoyed the event so much before the storm hit. It’s not the first event that has been canceled by weather. Even in New England we’ve had races end quickly due to storms. It happens. If Scott ever wants to come back and do the race with his friend Charlie, I’m game! It’s a great area and top-notch event.

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Thank you to Lisa my Ironman coach who gets me to the starting line healthy. And thank you to the best husband in the world. I could not do this without him!

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Thanks for Stopping by! Next up is Ironman CT 70.3 in June, Ironman Canada in July and then Nice!

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