Ironman Tulsa Race Report
Eric Gutknecht – May 23rd, 2021
For big races, I traditionally write up a long race report. I do this for my friends, family, and supporters that crave the details (both athletes and non-athletes). It saves me a lot of energy with all the texting, emails, phone calls, etc. This report is especially long at 3.5 pages. I also do this so that I can preserve my own memories and re-live the experience later on in life. Ironman is a life changing event. It affects people in different ways, and for me, I always learn a lot about myself. There is nothing better than hearing “You are an Ironman” when you complete this tremendous event. For those that don’t want to read the whole thing, I finished in 10 hours, 13 minutes, 55 seconds. This was good enough for 8th place in my age group, and I earned my place at the Ironman world championships in Kona.
Pre-Race and an Unconventional Build-Up
Ironman Tulsa has been my main objective for over a year. My entire training program has focused on competing in this race in hopes of qualifying for Kona. My wish came true on Sunday, but it sure didn’t come easy. My training program and race calendar leading up to the race was all going according to plan until I went to Miami in mid-March to participate in a ½ ironman race to measure my fitness and practice my race strategy. It all went horribly wrong on the bike at mile 20 when a fellow competitor caused a 6-person bike crash, and unfortunately, I was the 4th person in. Finished the race bloodied and bruised with head-to-toe road rash, but didn’t understand the severity of my elbow injury until the next day. Turns out I had a deep enough gash that you could see my bone and tendons.
Fast forward 6 weeks after the crash, and nothing had healed. In fact, it had gotten worse. Due to the fact that I am immuno- compromised with rheumatoid arthritis, healing didn’t even start. In fact, the tissue underneath my skin had not regenerated at all, and I developed a tunnel underneath my skin and a gigantic and disgusting looking hole in my elbow. Fortunately, I have a good Doctor friend who saw the wound and advised me to take action. After some convincing (and 3 weeks before my Ironman) I was able to get into Kaiser and build my team of Dr’s, all of whom are athletes and could relate to my goals. We had to make some aggressive decisions all centered around getting me to the start line. One decision was to not perform an immediate surgery which would have closed the wound, but would only give me 1 week in the water before my big race. With the help of some amazing doctors and close friends, we had to pack my elbow every other day with 6 inches of gauze, and then figure out a way for me to get into the water with enough water proof bandages and wrap to keep the wound completely dry. Then following each swim, my amazing friends would help me repack the wound and prepare it for the next 2 days. This worked beautifully, and although I lost 6 weeks of swim training, I didn’t lose all of my swim fitness. I lost a lot of it, but I knew I was in good enough shape to complete the 2.4 mile swim, but understood that it would not be pretty…or fast.
It was the first time Tulsa has hosted an Ironman, so some logistics and course challenges were to be expected. It was also the first race post covid, so this created a whole different set of rules and distancing requirements. On top of being a first-time race, this race was also a point-to-point race, meaning that there were different locations for the transitions. There were certainly some logistical challenges, but in my opinion, Ironman did a great job of executing a great race.
Following a 2:45 AM wake –up call, we left for the shuttles around 3:45. Figured the first shuttle left at 4:00, and I preferred to be on an early shuttle just in case things were complicated. So glad that I did this, as it was a complete cluster. 2000 athletes were all descending into this bottleneck, and needless to say, the Tulsa police/traffic control had no idea what to do. I ended up jumping out of the car and just walking the ¾ mile. Got on the bus and headed to the lake…or so we thought. The bus driver missed the exit and caused major upheaval for the anxious participants on the bus. A complicated U-turn on the highway, and 20 minutes later, we were back on track to the lake. Got off the bus, prepped my bike, and then heard the announcement that the 1:00 hour and under swimmers needed to line up and start making the 1-mile trek from transition to the start line. This was at 5:15 and not even 20% of the athletes had even arrived yet. It was also raining so this created a few other challenges during the transition setup. My group (estimated time between 1:00 and 1:10) was next, which I promptly missed as I was still getting setup in transition. Fortunately, it was a mile walk and I had my extra pair of running shoes on, so I scurried my way through the crowds and made it to the front of this group. We loaded corals at 5:30 (25 socially distanced athletes per coral) separated by estimated swim times, and I was safe and sound in the 2nd coral. Had an hour of sitting and stretching before my time to start. Pros started at 6:20 and 6:30 and we went off at 6:40 in groups of 4 socially distanced athletes. I got in the water at 6:42. The first mile and a half went quite well then it all began to fall apart for me. Without a lot of recent swim training, my body wasn’t used to being horizontal for such an extended period of time. Things began to twinge and cramp…. both calves and hamstrings started cramping and I spent the next mile swimming from buoy to buoy with an occasional stop and stretch. Fortunately, I was able to complete the swim, but came in at 1:08 vs the 1:00 that I had originally hoped for….and perhaps had a strained calf. Turns out this was nothing. I was actually super relieved that I made it through relatively unscathed. Was 21st in my age group at this point. Had to remove my elbow bandages during my transition, and jumped on the bike in a torrential downpour.
Got through transition and carefully navigated through the dangerous and super slick park roads onto the course. Witnessed 2 crashes in the first 2 miles so I dialed it back and made sure that I stayed to true to my motto “Upright at All Costs”. Amongst the athletes, there was a lot of anxiety and fear over the 2-3 mile Water Tower hill road around mile 10, and I wanted to make sure I was at the front of the race before hitting this section….so glad I did. This was a steep descent over a super rough road filled with pot holes, uneven and slick surfaces (did I mention pouring rain), and mud. Coming through this section, there were already 2 crashes and 3 flat tires that I saw, but I made it through fine with some white-knuckle bike handling. From what I heard, this section took a lot of competitors out of the race, so again, so happy that I was at the front of the race and pretty much had the entire road to myself. With this behind me, I settled into my groove and tried to hold 220 watts for the remainder of the race. This proved somewhat difficult as the entire day it felt like there was a headwind at every turn. This, and the constant rain, was super demoralizing. Fortunately, around mile 30, I caught up with my Spanish buddy Josep, a guy I rode with in Daytona 6 months earlier. Had no idea he was racing too, and it was fun to have someone who rides at my same pace….and help keep me motivated to maintain pace…and just to talk to as it is such a long and lonely day. My superstar cheerleader, Tatsiana, informed me that I was steadily moving up in the standings, and was around the top 10 half way through the bike. This was super encouraging, as I knew if I could be in the top 12, I for sure would qualify for Kona. Tatsiana was all over the course, and helped me tremendously. We never had a consistent group of people around us on the bike, as people really started to suffer during the last ½ of the race. There was one guy though, dressed in an all purple outfit, that drove me crazy…. he pretty much stayed right behind me for the last 50 miles and never went to the front. He definitely pushed the drafting rules and should have been penalized. With 1 mile to go, Josep and I descended the last steep hill and made a sharp 90 degree turn, and it was here where this purple cheater may have had karma catch up with him. He crashed super hard and was probably done for…. never saw him on the run.
Based on the course profile, I predicted the bike would take around 4 hours, 45 minutes. I sure was wrong about this, as I came in at 5:20 totally exhausted and demoralized by the wind and constant rain. It was probably the hardest ride I’ve ever done, and my plan on coming off the bike feeling like I just went for a leisurely 5 hour ride certainly was not the case. It was a total slog where I really started to hate the bike. It required so much mental energy and focus trying to see all the potholes and road imperfections (and stay upright) in the pouring rain and super strong and incredibly annoying wind. Tatsiana was at transition and confirmed that I had moved into 10th for the start of the run. Since I started nice and early, a lot of the guys in the top 10 may have actually been behind me on the course.
Fortunately, I had some dry socks in my transition bag. Put those on and headed out. The course was super flat and was 2 loops. Since I was at the front of the race, there were only probably a few pros on the course and maybe 30 runners. Over 1650 people were behind me. This made for a super boring and lonely run….no one to talk to and I really didn’t see many folks until the 2nd lap. However, I am a part of an amazing Team, Team Zoot…and there were a lot of Zooters on the course (in our neon green outfits) as well as tons of cheering Zoot fans, so I did receive a ton of encouragement.
After the bike, I felt totally spent and I definitely didn’t feel like I had enough in the tank to hold my position. Fortunately, the first 1.5 miles of the run were downhill so I was able to get my legs going and was doing 7:30 per mile splits. My goal was to average 7:45’s, and I was pretty much dead on at mile 6. This is where my feet started to really hurt. I purchased new shoes and cushions shortly before the race, in hopes of avoiding foot pain, but it seemed like it was all for not. My feet were killing me and it just got steadily worse as the race wore on. I felt like I was going to have to stop and massage my feet, but I knew that if I had, my top 10 position (and Kona slot) would be in serious jeopardy. This is what kept me going. I decided that I just couldn’t hold the 7:45’s, but if I could hold 8:00 – 8:30 for the remainder of the race, I think I could hold my position. I knew that there would be some folks that would run faster than me, but there also would be some folks that would have to slow down for whatever reason. I felt like it was the longest and most miserable marathon of my entire life, but fortunately, I had Tatsiana driving up and down the course confirming that I was holding my 10th place position. Without this info, I may have stopped to deal with my feet. It hurt so bad and I was taking it mile by mile…. saying to myself, don’t stop…. just need to get to the next mile in under 8:30. I told myself that I wouldn’t start drinking coke until mile 13, so I had something to look forward to for the 2nd half of the marathon. Then I could look forward to future aid stations and grab my sips of coke. This just tastes so good during a marathon. The sugar provides instant energy. I felt miserable all day, and couldn’t eat anything solid, so I just used my energy gels to get me through. It was such a grind, but I persevered through the rain to finish the marathon in 3:35…. Good enough, moved me into 8th place in my age group and for sure a Kona slot. Just short of 10 hours and 14 minutes (10:13:55). Turns out that there were actually 17 slots in my age group, so had plenty of cushion. The whole race was totally miserable. I usually can figure out business challenges, life problems, math equations, personal goals, whatever during this long day, but for this event I couldn’t process anything….it was just getting to that next mile, grinding it out, and trying to erase the pain. I for sure didn’t smile as much as I usually do, but just lived mile by mile and accomplished what I was there to do. Tatsiana said I frowned and looked miserable the entire time. The pictures she took certainly show this. Next stop, Kona, and probably my last ironman distance event, unless I can figure out how to solve my foot pain issue on the marathon. I look forward to smiling more.
According to Garmin:
- 45,262 steps
- 8399 calories
- 1:46 per 100 meters on the swim
- 206 watts average on the bike
- 95 mph bike average
- 8:12 minutes per mile on the run
- And Garmin said I was unproductive…. ha
Please let me know if you are interested in me sharing my nutrition strategy, gear checklist, or anything else. I love helping folks become an Ironman or any other triathlon or running event.