It’s been a week now and I’ve had a chance to process IM Tulsa. Warning...this is a long post.
I always want more when it comes to training, but I went into the race about as prepared as could be expected given everything. My running and biking was ok. Swimming was lacking due to the Covid-related restrictions at the pool. I always seem to have something come up at work that throws a wrench into things and this year was no different with issues arising in January and then again just before leaving for Tulsa.
The new CDC guidelines were released just in time for the event and some of the on-site restrictions were lifted including, thankfully, the mandatory mask requirement. They still weren’t allowing spectators into IM Village or at the finish line which sucked. They didn’t print athlete names on bib numbers. You registered for a packet pick up time slot in advance and the #s were distributed on a first come, first served basis from there. There were also no changing tents. More on that later. There were virtually no vendors at IM Village. One of the WTC employees told me IM Chatty 70.3 eliminated no spectators in IM Village restriction at the last minute and vendors bailed in favor of that race.
This was yet another point-to-point race. Race morning, I took the hotel shuttle to T2. Since athletes weren't allowed into T2, I promptly hopped on the mandatory shuttle to T1. Lots of people had issue with that, but I didn’t. The state park was a tight fit and many buses barely made it. Had they allowed athletes to be dropped off by their friends/family, I guarantee there would have been buses that didn’t make it in time. I filled my water/nutrition bottles and topped of the air in my tires, not too much though in anticipation of a rough bike course. It sprinkled rain off and on while we were in transition. Then, the race officials started announcing the estimated swim times and off we went....to take the 1 mile walk from T1 to the actual swim start. That was a first. I’ve had 1 mile-ish walks to swim starts and bus rides to swim starts, but never both.
They started the male pros at 0630 and female pros at 0635. Age groupers went off at 0640. I finally made it into the water around 0715 and I was far from being the last in. My swim was as expected. It sucked, but I got it done. At some point during the swim, it started raining. T1 was rough....literally. The parking lot surface was really rough, especially on feet that had been in the water for as long as mine had been!
The bike did not disappoint. I went to Tulsa in Jan20 to recon the courses in anticipation of the 2020 race. Of course, that didn’t happen and there were some course changes in the interim, but they were NOT for the better. This was definitely one of the tougher bike courses on the circuit. I would consider it on par with LP IMO. There was a nasty little beyotch of a hill around mile 102 just as everyone’s legs were getting thrashed from all of the other climbs. I saw several people walking their bikes up it. The challenge/elevation was only half of it. The road surface was horrendous for the vast majority of the ride. There were at least 8-9 “rough road” signs up and entire sections where they didn’t even bother to paint the potholes orange because the whole stretch was nothing but a series of potholes. I never saw as many flats during a race as I did on that course. That’s in addition to the large piles of water bottles that were ejected from their holders, tool bags, hydration systems, and a bike seat. Several people even ended up with broken rear derailleurs. I didn’t realize it until I hit T2, but I nearly lost my bottle cage....and I had taken the bike to my mechanic just 3 weeks prior to make sure everything was tuned up and tightened down. Add to all of this....more rain! Three things did surprise me about the course. 1. I was able to stay on track with my Infinit nutrition despite the hills (major plus when all of your nutrition is in liquid form). 2. The number of spectators along the course. Not family members of athletes driving around, but your average John Q. Citizen who lived in one of the little towns we rode through or whose house we passed sitting in the rain, cheering on all the crazy folks who invaded their quiet little worlds for a day. It was very uplifting. 3. My bike was only 15 minutes slower IM AZ or MD. Not bad considering they were on the opposite end of the elevation spectrum from Tulsa!
I hit T2 and this was where I missed the changing tents. I stopped changing clothes after each segment after my first IM. What I didn’t think about was how much I would miss having a chair to sit on even if it was only for a few minutes while changing shoes. After a very ungraceful T2, I was off on the run....or, more accurately, my run/walk. About 22 of the 26.2 miles were on a multi-purpose trail with the Arkansas River on one side and a greenway on the other. It was BEAUTIFUL! The greenway had many turnouts with playgrounds, brick buildings with bathrooms (not for us, but still nice for your average run), a restaurant with a pedestrian bridge going over the trail, and a gorgeous recreational known as The Gathering Place. The whole thing was lined with people. One group even set up a spotter who would then radio athletes’ numbers to their friends down trail, someone in the group would look that # up in the athlete tracker, and then the whole group would cheer for that person by name. It was an incredible amount of work for complete strangers and couldn’t have been appreciated more! Despite all of the support, I was grateful when I had to leave the trail as that meant I was closing in on the finish. There was about 1 mile going out and coming back that went through a kind of sketchy part of town but since they were city streets, there was enough of a police presence where I never felt unsafe even being a late finisher. I made my way back into the historic area, rounded the second to the last corner before the finish chute, and was met by a complete wall of people along both sides of the fence despite the fact that it was after 2300 at this point. It was just amazing! The people of Tulsa had already made quite a positive impression up to this point, so this was just icing on the cake. I even saw the Assistant General Manager of my hotel out there cheering us on....after she has already driven the shuttle to T2 that a.m. and after she had volunteered most of the day. She recognized me even though I was considerably worse for the wear compared to when I last saw her! I entered the finish chute and while Mike Reilly called my name and announced that, once again, I was an Ironman, it was almost a let down after the energy and vibe of the prior 2 blocks. I ended up finishing in 15:52 and was 52/80 in my AG. Not my fastest time, but at the end of the day, I’ll take it!
Even a week later, I stick by my original assessment. I would not do this race again nor would I recommend it to anyone until they make some SERIOUS improvements to the bike course. Despite the people that were friendly and welcoming beyond belief (Tulsa is a cross between Midwest Nice and Southern Hospitality) and one of the prettier, more spectator friendly run courses on the circuit, they just don’t overcome that bike course. A tough, challenging bike course is one thing. An unsafe one is something else. IMO, this one was unsafe even excluding the rain soaked roads. I am keeping my fingers crossed they take the athletes' feedback to heart. If they do, this will be one of the top IM races!