My first attempt at the 70.3 distance turned out to be an amazing but painful experience. I’ve come away having learned a lot about triathlon and about myself. I don’t have any amazing breakthroughs to recount, but more of a story of getting through when every part of my body and mind says to stop.
Selecting IM 70.3 Boulder for my first half and Ironman Boulder for my first full was no accident. Racing at home, in my limited experience is an enormously more pleasant experience than racing away from home. The logistics, the expenses… did I mention logistics? I was impressed with the athlete village. Most of the races I do at the Res are comparatively small potatoes. Signing in was quick and efficient, almost as if they’ve done this kinda thing before. Passing through registration directly into the gift shop was reminiscent of getting off a ride at Disney World, complete with astonishing prices. Really!?!? you want $90 for a jersey? No thanks. I found 2 event labeled water bottles for about $6 each and even that is 20% higher than the $5 I pay for them at u-bikes. Make no mistake, Ironman is a corporate brand owned by a private equity firm. They are here to make money and lots of it.
The race packet contained the essentials that you would expect. I really like the T-Shirt and I was kind of bummed that it didn’t include a hat (I’d figure out why later). The Ironman bag is pretty typical and I’ve gotten a few similar ones from other races. The more I think about race day, the more I can’t wait to get that green swim cap off my head and get on the bike!
On race day, the alarm went off early. Very early. So early I can’t remember what time, but I assure you, it was much earlier than I could have imagined. I dressed quietly in the darkness to ensure that I didn’t wake the entire family. I’ve worked this season on perfecting my race morning routine which includes a quick banana and cup coffee. With a little fuel in the tank, I head out for a 20 minute jog to get things moving (if you know what I mean). A good poop before the race will make the day go much better and it did! Not everyone likes to talk about this part of racing, but it is absolutely essential. I topped off the tanks with another banana with peanut butter and a small bowl of oatmeal.
On the way to the Reservoir, I was barely out of my neighborhood before I came across another fellow competitor headed across town under the cover of darkness. As I waited in the long line of cars to get into the Res, it dawned on me that I was missing something important: my timing chip! Choking back the sense of panic, I knew that I couldn’t possibly be the first person ever to get to an Ironman event without their chip. After getting my transition slot setup, I found “the guy” who could get me a replacement and ran into Gabby for some pre-race cheer.
My warm up swim was very relaxing and I used some techniques I learned from BTC member Will Murray in his book “The Fours Pillars of Triathlon“. Gentle bobbing and exhaling under the water helps to calm the diver reflex and lessen the liklihood of a panic once the gun goes off.
It wasn’t until after the pro-race started that I finally ran into my coach. I don’t remember our conversation exactly, but the gist was “Long and lean in the water, be efficient and don’t blow up.”
The buildup and excitement of the day has come to this moment. Shortly after the national anthem plays, BOOM! The pro-men are in the water and the electricity goes up a notch. Five short minutes later, BOOM! The pro-women begin their day in the Boulder Sun. After another short break, the rolling start began. Boulder was the testing ground this year for the process that would ultimately eliminate the mass starts of the past. It would take several minutes, but my group slowly crept towards the starting line. Before I was really ready to go, I was jogging into the water, diving in and starting to stroke.
Sighting was pretty easy and I fell in line with a group moving at about the same pace. When I turned the corner and started back, I felt like I had established a good pace and was moving along pretty well. The swim went surprisingly well, all things considered. I was more winded than I would like coming out of the water, but was in much better shape than I have been in other races this season.
All systems go! I came out of the water in great shape, quickly making it to my transition slot. By the luck of the draw, I ended up with a great Transition spot that was very close to both run out and bike out. Since I don’t attach my bike shoes to the pedals for T1, that meant I had a very short distance to do the awkward cleat run before popping into a flying squirrel and onto the bike!
After the smooth transition, I quickly came up to speed on the way out of the reservoir. Turning up the hill, I saw coach EK but was in the process of passing someone who at the time was shouting at him and he never saw me. I was hoping for a quick piece of his sage-like advice but it wasn’t to be. It was apparent very early on that the heat was going to be a problem and hydration would be very apparent. The first 30 or so miles of this course is part of my regular rides and is the same as most of the races from the res as it moves out 36 towards Lyons.
Though I had been nervous about it, I handled the first aid station with ease, soaking myself, filling a bottle and getting a drink. The rest of the stations would go just as well.
In the first hour, I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to hit my power number and as a result needed to back off a bit. The goal was somewhere around 80% of my FTP but the first hour I was more like 70% and that would be what I averaged over the course. As a whole, the bike ride was uneventful and I got to see some parts of Longmont that I had not yet visited. The North part of the bike course goes up towards Carter Lake, but turns east instead of West and up to the lake. The course then works its way through Longmont and back to the diagonal highway and proceeds back into the res.
I spent most of the race passing riders, and focusing on hydrating, but as I came onto the diagonal highway, the wheels started to fall off. I had been fighting leg cramps most of the day, but suddenly, they were severe. I slowed from 20 mph to 5 mph and immediately all the people I had passed started flying by. Since I can be a bit chatty during longer events (imagine that) nearly everyone shouted some form of encouragement. Though I never stopped, that might have actually made breaking the cramps a bit easier. I took in as much fluid as I could, shifted into an easy gear and started spinning with very little resistance. After several agonizing minutes, I was able to slowly bring the power back up and drag myself back to the Res.
Amazingly, I still beat my 3 hour target on the bike, though for quite a bit it was seriously in doubt. The same cannot be said for the run.
On the surface, T2 went ok. I never like spending 3+ minutes in transition, but I executed a good flying dismount and then hobbled to my rack on the far side of the transition area. That’s when the fun started. Nothing worked right. My hands wouldn’t work and I had trouble getting my shoes on. I nearly fell twice. Finally got my feet slipped in but didn’t bother spinning the Boa dials to get them fit properly. I grabbed my nutrition bag but neglected to drop my bike repair kit. I also neglected to grab the ice bags out of my cooler. I did however get a huge drink of cold water which helped get my system calmed back down.
As I turned to start jogging towards the exit, my body refused. There was little I could do except pull over and desperately try to stretch out my legs and convince them that the next 2 hours would not be nearly as bad as they were telling me it would be (of course they were right, but come on!). Nothing worked, so I just hobbled out of transition and into the first aid station.
I was in much worse shape than I ever imagined I would be starting a run. This was going to be a long afternoon. I realized quickly that I had a gap in my mental preparation that I would need to shore up before my next race. Later research would also point to the need to switch to a TT bike as the awkward position I had to ride on the CAAD-10 likely contributed to my inability to run coming off the bike.
On the way out of T2, I realized that I still had my bike gear back in my pocket. At that point I made the decision that it was more important for me to have ice in my pockets than the ~$50 worth of repair gear I was carrying. I pitched the bag to the side expecting to never see it again (amazingly, I was able to find it sitting on the table at the end of the race!). Pouring ice water on my head, back and well, pretty much all over myself, I was able to col off a little, but my legs were furiously cramped and nothing I tried would bring me up to speed. About 100 yards from the Reservoir exit, I saw my coach for the third time. “Dude, I’m DYING!” is all I could get out. Either he didn’t hear me, or he completely ignored it and shouted a few quick directions: “Cruise down the first hill, take your time, rest up then get back up to speed after the first aid station. GO!” Solid advice if my legs were working.
As I rounded the corner, I ground to a halt and had to borrow a spectators shoulder to try desperately to stretch my legs out. After an agonizing minute, I found that squatting would lengthen my quads enough that I could keep going. As I started down the hill, I hear an angel’s voice beside me “Talk to me goose, what do you need?” My new friend was just starting the half marathon leg for her relay team and was fresh as could be. She graciously gave me a few salt pills (rule breaker… I know) and ran with me for a bit before I was able to bring the pace back up. I would see her again after the race and repeat the same conversation. I may have called her Sarah a few times in my altered mind state, but later I worked out that she was Jill. Jill saved my race. I would love to link to her, but for her privacy’s sake, I won’t unless she gives me permission.
Coming up to the first aid station, I heard a familiar voice cheering my name and I came upon fellow BTCer Charles who was working the first aid station and taking pictures of all his peeps as they came through. Once again I loaded up on water, gatorade, coke, really anything I could get down my throat. By this point, I was digesting just fine, but felt like I was way behind on my salt intake despite having taken every salt pill I had on the bike and a few from Jill. I knew I was in for a slog.
The hardest part of the race for me came at the halfway point of the run. Knowing that I could easily stop and enjoy a nice afternoon in the tent with my friends, but that it would be full of disappointment and regret I trudged onward. The last part of the bike and the entire run were about fighting my demons and blocking out the voice in my head that wanted nothing more than for me to quit so it could then make fun of me for doing so. There were spurts where my legs came back, but always under the threat of additional cramps. I had to carefully think through every footfall and ensure my angles were such that I could avoid cramping. It was not a pretty day.
Coming over the reservoir dam for the last time, I saw Jill again and once more she loaded me up with salt and I was able to once again accelerate away and kept the gas on (such as it was) all the way through the finish. Coming down the chute was extremely emotional for me and unlike anything I’ve felt in sports. I suddenly found myself gasping for breath and choking back tears. I have a vague recollection of someone removing my chip, giving me a cold towel a medal and a hat. I lingered for a bit, found Jill, gave her a huge hug and few words of thanks. After calming down a bit, I made my way to the tent to see how the rest of the club fared. I was thrilled to see that the rest of the folks racing put up some serious times because competition in Boulder is unlike anywhere else in the world and what may be a podium anywhere else may not even crack the top 25 in Boulder.
I spent the next few hours with the club winding down and deciding how to spend the rest of the day.
Post Race Thoughts
I missed my goal of 6 hours by just 12 minutes. While I was very disappointed about that, I had a great race and came away learning a ton about myself and racing long distances in general. I’m fully aware that to be successful at the the full IM distance, I will need a lot more volume on the bike and run to prepare.
Looking back, now from several months later, I still see this race as the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It was the most physically and mentally demanding experience I’ve had and though I finished, I know I can do better. The experience I gained here will help me as I prepare to do this race again next year and then advance to IM Boulder in August 2014.
By the Numbers:
- Swim – 42:59
- T1 – 3:25
- Bike – 2:58:40
- T2 – 3:21
- Run – 2:23:38
- Total – 6:12:03
- Division 105/151
- Overall 974/1595