IM TEXAS 2021: Race Report
by: Stephanie Fontenot, Ironman | Coach | Mom
M Texas 2021 started exactly like it did back in 2019. With anxiety. After a full Friday of running around and dropping off gear bags and my bike, I thought I would be tired and would hopefully get a little sleep. I knew it wouldn’t be decent sleep because I rarely ever sleep well before a big race. Well this go around I got no sleep. This might sound like an exaggeration and believe me, I wish it was. I spent Friday night looking at my clock. I tossed and turned. I listened to every sleep meditation I could find on the Calm app, and I felt anything but calm. My heart rate was elevated, my chest was tight, and my mind kept racing.
Over and over I played out every worst case scenario for race day. Panic on the swim, mechanical and nutrition issues on the bike, exhaustion on the run. Every single scenario I played out had the same result. A DNF. I was absolutely terrified that this race would be IM Coeur D’Alene all over again. And I couldn’t get that out of my head. I texted my coaches that morning that I was in a terrible headspace and that I didn’t even want to do the race anymore. I received so many pep talks and messages of support on the morning of race day, but it wasn’t until I was in the chute at the starting line that I finally was able to flip the switch on my mindset. As I waited my turn to get in the water, I thought about what my friend Calli texted me that morning, “Go finish what we started in CDA!”
Something in my head just clicked when I thought about that text. I thought of all my friends who I went to Coeur D’Alene with, the ones who finished the race and the ones who didn’t. I told myself, this race was basically 2.5 years in the making and I owe it to myself and everyone cheering for me near and far to at least toe the line and try to get to the finish. So I pulled on my goggles, got in the water, and started the beginning of a long day.
The swim is usually where I panic. Open water always makes me nervous, but I felt completely at ease the whole time (even the couple times that I got pushed under by other swimmers). There was also the man who got too close to me in the last half mile of the swim and he almost smashed my nose with his elbow when he went to pull. But luckily I saw what was about to happen and I was able to block him. He did boop my nose a little bit, but nothing that hurt, thanks to my quick reflexes. I thought about my friend Wendy on the swim and how she told me to swim well and kick hard. I managed to complete the swim without hanging onto a single kayak which is huge because I do that almost every race. Maybe it was Coach Nely’s magical wetsuit she let me borrow.
When I got to the finish of the swim, I headed into transition and tried to move as efficiently as possible. I put on all my bike gear and headed out on the course. The bike course was the biggest concern for me. I was concerned about not being able to take in nutrition because I was barely able to eat anything for breakfast before the race. I was also worried about mechanical issues. The real challenge of the bike course didn’t start until I got out onto Hardy Toll road. As soon as I hit the headwind my speed plummeted and I remembered “oh yeah this is why people hate IM Texas”. I had totally forgotten how windy that course can be. I also forgot how many overpasses you have to go over, although I will take those over the mountains of Coeur D’Alene any day. I took complete advantage of the tailwinds heading back on the course. A strong tailwind to the finish is a beautiful thing. Makes fighting the headwinds twice somewhat worth it.
I was actually able to keep nutrition down on the bike although I’m not entirely sure I consumed the right number of calories. Probably should have taken in more but oh well. The bike course was uneventful. There isn’t a lot to look at, and it did get hot on the second loop. It was in those boring moments on the bike course that I realized I forgot to put sunscreen on my face. I managed to put it on the rest of my body but not my face, and it shows. I’m the color of a crawfish. I was so glad to be done with the bike when I got back to transition. Once again, I tried to be efficient. I grabbed what I needed and headed out on what I knew would be a long run/walk.
I started the run with the plan of running a quarter mile and walking a quarter mile until that no longer felt comfortable and then I would reevaluate from there. I’m not sure how long I kept up with my plan. I guess maybe until mile 19 or so. I can’t remember at this point. I knew going into the run that I just wanted to enjoy it. I don’t like running, but I love that course. It’s a beautiful, shady course that goes around Lake Woodlands, through beautiful neighborhoods, and through the woods. There’s something peaceful about running under the moonlight and walking through the woods lit up by glow sticks and Christmas lights while the crickets chirp around you. The run is where the magic happens for me, especially being a back of the pack runner.
I love those quiet moments on the course where it’s just a handful of athletes shuffling along together. You strike up conversations with each other just to pass the time and the miles. You forget to introduce yourself to each other but you’re suddenly talking about how your race day has been going, what you do for a living, if you have anyone on the course cheering for you, what other races you’ve done, etc. It’s not until one of you decides to give jogging a try again that you realize that you never got their name or even a bib number to check at the end and see if they finished. You watch their back as they slowly fade into the darkness and you say a little prayer that they get to the finish line.
I talked to a number of people along the run course. I met a woman named Lauren who was originally from Lafayette and we shared our DNF stories while walking. She was the only person I got a name from. There was another guy who asked me in the first mile of the run course “how’s the run treating you ?!” And I told him “well I haven’t quit yet”. I caught him again multiple times on the course and at mile 25 I saw him for the last time. He high fived me and said “Just think of where you would be if you would have quit. Congratulations, go get that finish line”. Another man I talked to along the course told me about his brutal bike ride but then he rallied on the run. At one point I saw him again and he introduced me to his wife and kids who were running alongside of him offering support. There was another guy who I just referred to (in my head) as the “Everything hurts and I’m dying” guy. We played cat and mouse for a bit with catching up and passing each other, and then finally he stopped completely. I saw him again at mile 25 and was super glad to see that he didn’t give up.
I will also say that there is something infectious about the last mile of an Ironman. It’s that moment where you and everyone you pass are smiling at each other, high fiving, and congratulating each other because you know in just a short amount of time you are about to accomplish an incredibly monumental goal. And the finish line, it’s everything and more. The chute to the finish is like the red carpet for the Oscars but way better. Everyone is cheering for you, they are holding their hands out for high fives, family and friends are waiting to see you cross that line, and you wait to hear the words “You. Are. An. Ironman!”
Ironman Texas 2021 is a race I won’t soon forget. I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish, especially when I just told myself “all you have to do is finish”. But I did more than that. I shaved off 6 minutes on my swim, 20 minutes on my bike, and 9 minutes on my overall time. I didn’t even realize I had an overall PR until I finished. I will be forever grateful to my family and friends who supported me along the way, and I owe my coaches all the thanks in the world for preparing me for race day.