Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Ironman Boulder would be my 11th Ironman, all since I turned 50, and now I'm almost 58 (already 58 in triathlon years). One more after this and I'll get a Legacy spot in Kona. I'm signed up for Santa Rosa in just 7 weeks. I did come to Boulder a week in advance to acclimate to the altitude and was feeling pretty good prior to race day.
I woke up with my alarm at 2:40 am, having slept pretty well since just after 7am. I had awakened around 12:30 and and eaten my avocado/bell pepper/olive oil and salt mix. I ate a sweet potato, and drank some water with electrolytes. I felt good and ready for my day. Arriving at the reservoir on the first bus there was no pressure and I felt very relaxed, go my tires pumped up and used the port-a-potty one last time. No issues. Got my wetsuit on and made my way to the starting corral early, where I sat down for a little while. The only think I noticed all morning was that my voice was a little hoarse for some reason, but I felt good, ready and loose. I seeded myself towards the front and we made our way down to the water. They had the swim start set up so that only one person at a time actually went through the gate at the end, which made the water entry quite easy and not stressful at all. This allowed me to immediately get on the buoy line, where I literally stayed the entire race. As best as I can tell from my garmin distance, I did a decent job of not weaving from the line. The water was perfect, 68 degrees and I felt comfortable in my wetsuit. Finding feet in the Boulder reservoir was impossible, for me, not being able to see much even a foot in front. I didn’t want to stress on this, so I just focused on a strong regular stroke. I felt good, in fact, felt like I was moving very comfortably, not too easy, not too hard. Only got hit a few times the entire swim, and then, nothing significant. Never swallowed water as well! There are two turns on the swim course, and after the first turn I did notice the water getting choppy. Considering what were probably 10 mph winds on the bike, this was probably when the winds came up. Since the pros started more than 15 minutes before the age groupers, that may be why their swim times were more normal. They were almost finished when the winds came up. Nevertheless, I just shortened my stroke a little and kept moving forward. I made the second turn and headed back to the swim finish, again, comfortably with a solid stroke. Every so often I would kick hard to move my legs and keep the blood flowing so I’d feel good when I got upright. I came out of the swim, unzipped my wetsuit and made my way to the wetsuit strippers.
Swim time-1:20:16, Overall-519, Gender-428, AG-27, from an AG placement perspective, this is pretty close to where I normally am, with the exception of Chattanooga, where I seem to do much better (perhaps because there’s no wetsuit and I have good form, and I’ve been able to draft, and find the current). Still, the top two guys swam 9-10 minutes faster. Any efforts to improve speed still need to focus on the bike and run:)
T1: I had a little trouble getting my left arm out of my wetsuit, costing me several seconds, but then after my suit was stripped, I got my bag, went my favorite bench on the way to the changing tent, took off my goggles and swim cap, put on my glasses, headband and helmet, put my wetsuit in the bag, and grabbed my aero cycling gloves. Jogged with my bag through the changing tent, handed the bag to a volunteer and went to the sunscreen folks, who applied sunscreen while I put on my gloves (realized prior to the race that this was the best time to put on my gloves, which takes a little focus). I jogged to my bike, got it off the rack and jogged to the start. I had put my shoes on my bike, saving time in transition and keeping me from jogging in my tri bike shoes. Got on the bike easily, right foot in and left foot on top of the shoe and went through the start.
T1 Time-5:22, First two guys in age group took 5:12 and 6:10…my T1 work has paid off, no time lost here!
As I rode from the start, I put my left foot in my shoe and dialed both feet in, on my way! I took the short, steep hill just out of the Rez comfortably, my HR was right around 140 as I began, but I just relaxed and allowed it to come down to ~135 as I made my way up the false flat that defines the first segment of this bike course. My bike ride was pretty simple. My legs never felt good for some reason. I rode right at my HR of 135, rarely going up to about 140-142 when I pushed up climbs or short hills. I stayed measured on all of the climbs, and in fact, as the bike ride went on, I felt a little better going up Nelson each time. My bike splits were incredibly consistent for the entire race. In fact, if anything, I went little faster during the 3rd loop, especially as I got more comfortable with the downhill sections and allowed my speed to go up a little higher. The feeling in my legs never got worse. If I had to describe it, I’d say that my legs were sluggish and felt a little uncomfortable, but that feeling never got worse. While the bike never felt hard, I would say that I probably felt a little tired of being on my bike towards the end. Mentally, I used my meditation techniques to stay focused and relaxed. People passed me going uphill and I caught and passed them going downhill and on the flats, same as usual.
My nutrition was good, but if there’s any area that I need to consider in relation to what happened to me on the run, this is probably it. I brought 1300 cal of Tailwind with me and drank all of it. I probably also took in 200 cal of gatorade towards the end. I took two packets of almond butter (200 cal) during the first hour. I took about 8 MAP tablets throughout the latter half of the bike. I drank water regularly, but not too much.
I also feel like I did a really good job staying aero for most of the bike, occasionally sitting up to stretch when going uphill with a tailwind.
I didn’t pee during the bike, but did so during T2. I got my feet out of my bike shoes as I turned the corner to the bike finish and did a “flying” dismount.
Bike time-6:12:17, Overall-434, Gender-370, AG-16, 11th fastest bike split in my AG
Of note, my bike split was 15 minutes slower than last year, but the fastest guys in my AG were 15-20 minutes slower than last year. Also, the course was long by about 2 miles, and it was hillier, having to go up the false flat and Nelson one more time; making my time very comparable to last year’s time in relation to my power output.
T2:It was good to be off the bike, and I jogged to the bike drop-off this year, handed off my bike, jogged to pick up my bag and jogged to the changing tent. I sat down and a nice volunteer helped me, though I didn’t need much help. I took off my helmet and headband, put on my cap, wiped down each foot with a towel with vaseline on it (I’d already put powder in my socks), put on my socks and shoes, grabbed my race belt and was off! Quick transition, one of my best. I stopped to pee (took less than a minute), not light, but not too dark (not dehydrated), stopped to fill up my water bottles and get a little more sunscreen and hug my friend Shelly.
The top guys in my age group took 4-5 minutes, so, I really only lost one minute peeing. Honestly, couldn’t have done this any faster, and it also showed consistency in my transition execution.
I got out on the run course and immediately tried to focus on going easy and keeping my pace down to 10 minute pace. I actually had trouble doing so! I wanted to run at 9 minute pace naturally, but by the end of the first mile (slight downhill) was honing in on the 10 minute pace. Of note, I felt really good! First of all, it felt great to be running rather than biking. My feet felt good and bouncy in my Hoka’s and I just felt comfortable. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be for long. My first mile was 9:30 (HR 137) and I actually ran through the first aid station, grabbing some water and gatorade. I had 100 cal of Tailwind in my bottles and drank that within the first two miles. My second my was 9:57 (HR 141) and I made sure to walk through the aid station where I think I actually grabbed some coke and water and put ice down my suit. Mile 3 was 10:11, a slight uphill, and I was feeling relatively comfortable, my legs were ok in particular, but I began noticing that my low back was stiffening up on my. My HR had come up slightly to ~144, though I really wasn’t focused on that. I began doing my meditative breathing to keep myself from focusing on my back. Mile 4 was 10:07, a slight downhill and I continued my “comfortable” effort. I say “comfortable,” because my legs felt fine, but my back was definitely giving me problems. Still, I successfully “ignored” the pain/tightness, and just focused on my run. As I ran out to the outermost part of the course, I kept grabbing coke at the aid stations and putting ice down my top. Mile 5 9:59, Mile 6 10:04, Mile 7 10:16. And, now the climb back to the start/finish and the top of the canyon. Mile 8 10:49, Mile 9 11:23, Mile 10 10:39, Mile 11 11:32, Mile 12 11:34, Mile 13 10:04, Mile 14 10:55, Mile 15 10:33; my back was still bothering me, but I kept focused on meditating the pain “away.” There is no question that throughout this period my back was really bothering, but I also started feeling sick and feeling like the nutrition wasn’t getting absorbed around Mile 15-16; and I began to lengthen my walking break through the aid station. I had been drinking coke, but it now didn’t really seem to be right…always the interesting phenomenon during an ironman. You know what you want and what you can and can’t take. Nothing was really appealing to me at this point, and my pace started to slip a little over the next few miles, due to some additional walking, but not too much. Mile 16 11:45, Mile 17 11:22, Mile 18 11:59, Mile 19 12:40, now the wheels are beginning to slip, mile 20 12:58, Mile 21 14:33, and the wheels have come off. I realized that if I tried to run at this point that I would either throw up or pass out, or both. I also knew that I had Santa Rosa IM in 7 weeks. No need to wreck my next race, considering that I wasn’t looking at a podium here. Mile 22 14:28…at this point my Garmin battery read low and I stopped recording…I walked until the final turnaround just before Mile 25, after getting some “manna from heaven” around 24 miles, chicken broth! I actually felt good enough to run most of the last downhill mile, probably around 10 minute pace, stopping to walk a little before the final turn down the red carpet to the finish. I exhorted the crowd to make a lot of noise and stopped for a good picture at the finish line.
Run time-5:15:04, actually had the 9th fastest run in my AG, six guys went under 5 hours.
Final Time: 12:58:57, Overall-406, Gender-325, AG-10
If I’d been able to maintain my pace over the last 9-10 miles, I might have gained one place in my AG, not really worth the effort and the risk. I’m actually quite happy with my effort and my result. Now, I just need to recover and start training for #12, which I plan to give my all, despite the fact that it will qualify me for the Legacy program and a guaranteed trip to Kona!
On a side note, I’m recovering quickly. Just a little IT soreness and stiffness throughout my body, but no hot spots and no quad soreness. Not too bad for an ironman. In fact, 2 days later, in Washington, D.C., here for some meetings, I’ve already walked 5 miles (including my ritual visit to the Lincoln Memorial) today. Great recovery stuff!
Monday, May 8, 2017
Saint George and I have a very long history. In 2010 I completed my first Ironman there. At the time the run course was clearly one of the most challenging in Ironman history. Of course, for an Ironman it was two loops. I never forget getting to the base of the first major climb on the run course and realizing that there was no way that I was going to run up that hill or many of the hills. Interestingly in 2012, when the run course changed to be in the city with very little climbing, I ended up running my best Ironman run from a time perspective. Two years ago I decided to do the 70.3 and unfortunately as I put on my running shoes my low back went into a severe spasm, which clearly and quickly made it very easy to see that I was not going to run up any hills. That run became a huge slog, and in fact, I ultimately decided that that was the end of my St. George racing days. Fast-forward two years and finding myself in excellent running shape I decided a couple of months ago to take one more shot at the St. George run course. My goal from the very beginning was to run the run course and not walk. Two weeks before the race I had some spasming in my left low back which ultimately turned out to be related to some sacroiliac joint issues. The pain came and went as did the spasms, and as I got closer to race day I knew that I would be OK, albeit I would probably have some discomfort. This wasn't that new for me, as I've had similar situations prior to Ironman races, in particular Chattanooga in 2014 when I had one of my best Ironman races. I arrived in St. George two days before the race and registered. The day before the race my back was feeling reasonably well, but I suffered from some gastrointestinal distress. I'm not sure whether it was something I had eaten or whether I had a short term bug but suffice it to say my system was pretty well cleaned out, although it also felt a little raw. I was a little concerned as to how this would affect me nutritionally during the race, but I wasn't that concerned knowing that I would be sticking only to liquid nutrition and that my caloric needs were not as great as they used to be with my new lower carbohydrate diet. With that said on race morning I actually had the opposite problem, whereas normally I have no trouble getting cleaned out prior to starting the race, I was having difficulty on race morning. This led to a few trips to the Porta potty that were not successful but one last trip about a half an hour prior to the start of the race at least had me feeling like I would be OK. I had put on my new HUUB wetsuit, which I've been concerned was a little too tight. I made sure there were no tight spots on the wetsuit but I did notice that my shoulders were pulled a little bit forward in this new wetsuit. That said it was going to be what it was going to be and I'd already decided to swim easy, bike easy, run easy until it got hard, and that was my race plan. Before I knew it it was time to get in the water and as I swam to the starting point I felt reasonably comfortable in my new wetsuit. However, I did not feel like I could swim hard and feel comfortable. With that in mind as the gun sounded I just tried to get into a rhythm. And because of this discomfort, I realized I absolutely did not want to get in the mix of thrashing arms and generally try to stay clear of the masses. I believe that this ultimately led me to some zigzagging on the swim course, which my Garmin ultimately showed that I swim nearly 2200 yards. That probably is what accounted for a swim time at 41 minutes, easily the slowest swim time I've ever had for a half Ironman. With that said I did not use up any matches on this swim and felt fine coming out of the water. I quickly got to my bike, sat down to put on my helmet, I unracked my bike and got out of transition in a relatively quick time. I got on my bike and just started pedaling easily, looked down at my heart rate and I had one focus for my bike ride which was to keep my heart rate under 145. It was already a little windy by the time the bike started probably with winds around 10 miles an hour sometimes the winds were in front and sometimes the winds were behind. I endeavored to stay in my aero position as much as possible. I had forgotten how many climbs there were on this bike course The St. George 70.3 bike course does not really have rollers, it has climes and descents. Again, my goal was to stay very comfortable on the bike and to not burn any matches prior to the run. As is very common for me I did get passed by some people going uphill and rarely got passed going downhill. I did get passed by more cyclists on the flats than usual but once again I was trying not to expend excess energy. I had very little trouble staying in the moment during the bike on what is easily one of the most beautiful bike courses around. I never really felt tired while occasionally my quads felt a little burn but marginally so. I finally reached the snow canyon climb on which there might of been a tailwind but to which I just focused on spinning as I went up the climb and not pushing too hard, while staying comfortable. As I got to the top of the climb I changed to my large chain ring and dropped my chain. I actually ended up unclipping briefly while changing into my lower chain ring briefly and then back into the higher one and somehow managed to get the chain back on without having to get off my bike. Now it was time to do the final 10 miles back into St. George but it was also time for the winds to pick up to 20 to 30 miles an hour with Crosswinds making the descent much more challenging and much less relaxing. In fact I don't believe anyone passed me on the last 10 miles of the bike ride and I passed a number of people. That said I had to be careful in the Crosswinds and the headwinds clearly scrubbed some time that probably ended up leading to a slower bike time than I had expected. Of note I came out of the water 41st in my age group and my bike time was the 43rd fastest time in the age group. So, I came off the bike probably around 40th or so in my age group. I did a flying dismount and as I started walking with my bike into transition I noticed that my back felt a little stiff, so I did try to run a little bit to the bike rack just loosen up. I racked my bike sat down put on my socks and my shoes my hat and my race belt and ran out of transition, realizing that I left on my Aero gloves on my hands. I briefly thought about turning around and leaving them but that didn't make any sense so I realized that I would just run with them on, which actually turned out to be a good idea. As soon as I got out of the transition I saw some Porta potty's and realize that I had a full bladder, So I stopped. This took at least a minute, perhaps a little longer, which added to my runtime for my 1st mile. As I started to run my low back was feeling a little stiff, But fortunately there was no spasm of the sort that I had two years ago. I just endeavored to get into a consistent run form. I did not worry about running too hard and fast but to start running. The first 2 miles are very gradual uppill and my pace was close to 10 minute mile pace. I grabbed some water at the aide stations as well as some Gatorade some ice and a little bit of Coke as I walked through the aide stations very briefly. Mentally, I felt reasonably good physically I did feel somewhat tired but I found myself able to maintain a consistent run effort. When I hit the 8% climb I found myself able to run up the climb which I've never done in three previous attempts on this run course. That was clearly a confidence booster, and quickly became my pattern on the run course. The St. George run course is all up or down and the uphill never felt like a problem and the down hills were fine as well. Also, the 20 to 30 mile an hour winds continued during the run course sometimes at my back and sometimes in my face. I never let this bother me and occasionally tried, when possible, to get behind another runner in order to draft. Unfortunately this was very uncommon primarily because I was passing so many people running consistently. Turns out that I probably passed over 250 runners during the run part of the race. But heat started to pick up during the run and probably got to 90° although this never really either bothered me. I did put ice in my jersey at most aide stations and occasionally was able to put ice in my hands which actually was much easier with my aero gloves on, note to self for Ironman Boulder". My nutrition on the run course was primarily Coke and occasional Redbull and some water. I didn't worry about drinking too much as for a race of this length I wasn't overly concerned about me becoming too dehydrated. After 9 miles I even stopped walking at the aide stations and just ran the rest of the way my pace settling in at approximately 8:30 per mile pace. I was breathing hard and my heart rate probably rarely went above 150 or 155. Ironically I felt like I only had one gear that I was running in the entire time although I was very comfortable in that gear. I was never really able to pick it up more than that but I also never felt like I needed to drop down a notch at all either. My final run time was two hours and five minutes included my Porta potty stop and so my average running pace was under 9:30/mile. This turned out to be the 15th fastest run time in my age group. I ended up passing at least 15 people in my AG to finish 25th out of 117, and 750th overall out of 2000 people.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Many have said not to sign up for an Ironman if I’m signed up. The inaugural IM St. George in 2010, water temperature was 52 degrees (http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2010/05/st-george-ironman-race-report.html). IMStG in 2011, temperatures in the 90’s(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2011/05/ironman-st-george-race-report.html). The IM with the highest DNF rate of all time, the 2012 IM St. George with 5 foot swells and 40-50 mph wind gusts(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2012/05/2012-ironman-st-george-race-report.html). The inaugural IM Lake Tahoe, where I had to scrape ice off my bike in T1(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2013/09/to-achieve-good-time-or-to-have-good.html). IMLT in 2014, which was cancelled by local fires. I had to leave the country to find an ironman with no major issues, which was Ironman New Zealand in 2014(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2014/03/ironman-new-zealand-giving-it.html). Ironman Boulder just has to stand on it’s own as a challenging course at altitude(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2014/08/ironman-boulder-race-report.html, http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2015/08/ironman-boulder-perseverence.html, http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2016/08/ironman-boulder-2016-race-report.html). I was actually registered for IMCDA in 2015, but withdrew due to back issues, missing temperatures in the 100’s. IM Maryland, 2015, was postponed by a hurricane. With all of this in mind, Ironman Chattanooga in 2014 had near perfect weather conditions, so I figured it would be a good Ironman to do again(http://wassdoc.blogspot.com/2014/10/ironman-chattanooga-and-2014-ironman.html).
A few weeks prior to the race, the forecast was in the mid to low 80’s, but the temperature kept rising with each subsequent forecast. Who would know that Chattanooga would experience it’s hottest late September day in over eighty years? Who could have predicted that IM Chattanooga would experience the second highest DNF rate in Ironman history, second only to IMSTG 2012? Nevertheless, I did my best to prepare, keeping my hotel temperature at 78 degrees and making sure I was well hydrated going into the race. I also had given a lot of thought to my hydration plan and realized that this race was going to be primarily mental. I was right.
My mental preparation for the race began with making sure I was near the front of the line for the swim. The main reason was not to be stuck with a lot of bike traffic on the roads, which turned out to be a good decision. The current was not as fast as in 2014, but the river swim allowed me to find the feet of a faster swimmer and hold those feet for nearly the entire swim. I also focused on keeping a solid effort, not hard, but solid. While it’s hard to know exactly how my swim time compared to other races, my 1:00:37 swim time was 12th in my age group (out of 112 men) and 290th overall. I’ve never had a swim placement that high. I felt good coming out of the water and actually ran up the ramp to T1. For the first time ever in an ironman, I had my bike shoes on my bike in transition, so all I had to do was put on my sunglasses and helmet, grab my bike and get out of T1. This led to my fastest bike transition time ever, 4:55.
I was looking forward to the bike, as my 2014 IM Chattanooga bike split was my fastest bike split ever, despite a 116 mile course. I was very patient, not pushing too hard, but keeping a consistent and solid effort. I also took the opportunity to draft for twenty seconds most of the time that someone passed me, which is within the rules. I also focused primarily on nutrition and hydration, taking in more calories in the first few hours (nearly 1500 cal) than I have ever taken in, and pushing fluids throughout the bike. With that said, I actually pushed the fluids and nutrition to the point where my stomach couldn’t take in any more. While it was hot out, I felt pretty comfortable during the first loop of the bike. It was during the 2nd loop that I began noticing the heat. There were a few times that it felt like we were riding in a furnace. The heat of the ground was causing my feet to burn a little. Also, at about mile 70, my chain dropped, though I was able to get it back on while pedaling. The winds changed during the second loop and we had a headwind coming back. I did begin feeling like my energy level was a little lower than I would have liked, and reduced my drafting efforts. My chain also began making noise and I had to be careful with shifting. Somewhere after Mile 80, I did begin looking forward to getting off the bike and running, although my bike pace really didn’t drop off much. I also had some issues with my back during the bike, starting in the area of my right ribcage where I had popped a rib out of place a year and half earlier. I needed to reach back and push on the rib to adjust it several times. It was hot out there, with a high of 97 degrees and significant humidity. My bike split was only 17 minutes slower, which considering that temperatures were over 20 degrees higher than in 2014, was probably not a significant difference. I rode the first half of the course in 2:59 and the second half in 3:09, which included greater headwinds. It turns out that my bike was the 10th fastest in my age group, and 357th overall, also relatively unheard of territory. During the last 10 miles of the bike, my chain started making very loud, scary noises. I tried not shifting much, and I’m sure my chain issues had to have some impact on my second loop pace. I came into T2 and did a flying dismount for the first time ever in an ironman and jogged to get my transition bag. I have to say, jogging didn’t feel good, my back was definitely affected by the bike ride and the heat, but I chose to ignore this and keep jogging to the tent, where I quickly put vaseline on my feet, put on my socks and shoes, hat and quickly got out of transition. My T2 time was a quick 4:15, easily my fastest T2 ever. However, that was a mistake.
In trying to get out and running as quickly as possible, I neglected to put water in my two flasks, and I didn’t wet down my arm coolers, which I subsequently realized was needed for them to work effectively. I started out running, but when I hit the first hill, I realized that the hills were going to be tough. By the time I reached the first water station my mouth was as dry as sand paper and my arms were hot. I knew that I was on the dehydrated side, which was not a good way to start the marathon in 97 degree heat. I made a decision. I decided to focus for the next few miles on taking in electrolytes and fluid. I also began to place ice in my tri-suit and ultimately in my arm coolers. I began taking BASE salt as well. I mostly walked and jogged a little. My pace for the first 5 miles was around 13 minutes/mile. At the Mile 5 water station, I stopped at a porta-potty. The most important news was that I was able to pee. Mission accomplished. When I got to the Mile 6 marker, it hit me that I only had to do another 20 mile run, and so I began running, with the exception of hills, which I continued to walk up. I ran through the hills on the other side of the river and my pace over the next seven miles was right about 12 minutes/mile. My 1/2 marathon time was 2:44. Starting the second loop, I just tried to keep moving forward and running as much as possible. My pace dropped to 11 minutes/mile and when I hit the hills it did slow a bit. When I finally got to the Mile 24 marker, I had decided to run the last two miles as hard as I could, which was most likely around 10 minutes/mile. The second half marathon was done in 2:30. For the last two miles I pushed myself harder than I ever have for the last 2 miles of an ironman. I went into “grunting” mode, where I grunt with each breath. It was real. In many ways, my grunts were literally screams of pain, but I wasn’t going to give in on this day. My run time was 5:14:17, not even close to my fastest, but it was the 10th fastest run in my age group and 319th overall. This was a hard day. Everyone who did this race should be proud, no matter how far they got or how fast they went!
Final Time: 12:32:59
I was 47 minutes from 2nd/Kona slot (as I always say, I’m good enough to smell a Kona slot, but not good enough to taste one)
I was 12:30 from 5th/podium
I was 8 minutes from 6th in my age group.
Ironically, these were all similar placement numbers compared to Chattanooga in 2014.
Finally, I could have walked the run course, got another Ironman in the books on the way to 12 and the Legacy status that will get me to Kona. In the end, however, I have to give each race everything I have. Someone once asked me how I know if I had a good race. My answer is always the same. If I hit the finish line knowing I gave it everything I had.
Monday, August 8, 2016
I usually write out my race report prior to doing an Ironman, but this race was a little different. My plan was simple: swim easy, bike easy, run easy until it becomes hard. That’s exactly what I did, so unless you like the full details of racing an ironman, there is no need to read any further.
I have competed in Ironman Boulder in both 2014 and 2015 and knew one thing already. This is a deceptively difficult course. On paper, it doesn’t look that hard. The total elevation gain on the bike is only about 3500 feet, and the run appears pretty flat, although half of it is going down river and the other half is going up river. I think that the altitude definitely raises the ante, and I really felt it last year when, after just 2 miles of the run, the wheels came completely off. I realized that my newfound low carb, high fat, diet didn’t work well in an Ironman event at altitude. In fact, when I met with my coach just four days before the race and told him that I got lightheaded after a six mile run, he asked me if I’d be taking in simple sugars. From that day forward, I increased my carb intake and included simple sugars. My body didn’t like it (I actually get a burning/tingling sensation throughout my body), but it was necessary. I planned to take in as much carbs during the bike as possible. I also planned to hydrate well (by the way, if you don’t like reading about peeing on the bike, forget the rest of this post).
Race day arrived before I knew it and this year the swim was wetsuit legal. As I made my way down to the swim start (a rolling start), I walked by Mike Reilly, the “voice” of ironman, and made a quick decision to ask my friend Shelly, who was standing right there, to take a picture of us. A good omen. I entered the water and took a line right along the buoys on my left. I thought that I might have a greater crowd by doing this, but perhaps others steered away from this line because it never was crowded. Occasionally, someone would swim perpendicular to me (can’t figure that out), but in general it was pretty calm. I never got hit in the head, never swallowed any water and just swam easily and comfortably. I never pushed hard and just settled in to enjoy the swim. I came out of the water in 1:18:22, just about six minutes slower than my usual swim time, but I felt great walking up the ramp. I grabbed my bag and sat on the bench nearby (I hate the transition tents, especially the swim tent in the morning when my glassed tend to fog up). I put on my glasses, my headband and my helmet, then put on my aero gloves and my cycling shoes and that was it. I literally ran through the changing tent (where my glasses did fog up), got slathered with sunscreen, got my bike and walked/ran to the mounting area, which was up a short hill. I got on my bike and took off. T1 was 5:59, a very solid time, right in line with the top guys in my age group, and indicative of the fact that I wasted no time in transition.
From the get go, I planned to just ride comfortably and never push hard. This years race had the eastern out and back 20 mile segment at the beginning, rather than the end, which was nice as it has some long climbs. Lots of people passed me on the climbs, but I knew that I’d see them later, either on the bike or during the run. I also paid close attention to any time I was into a headwind that I stay in my aero position, with the exception of when I was going slow up a climb, when it was a good opportunity to sit up and stretch my back out.
The single most important part of my race plan was to take in carbs early on. I had 600 calories of Tailwind Nutrition between my aerobars and a couple of almond coconut butter packets as well. I finished all of that during the first two hours of the bike. After that it was the on course fluids, Gatorade, which I filled up my aerobat bottle with at each aid station, which meant that I was at least getting a couple of hundred calories an hour the rest of the way. I also took in a third almond coconut butter, some glucose tablets and several tablets of MAP (Master Amino Protein). My bike has a “bladder” which was filled with water, and I kept replenishing it. I started feeling like I needed to pee about 25 miles in, but couldn’t get relaxed enough for long enough, plus some of the downhills along I-36 were both fast and not that wide, requiring close attention to bike handling in case someone wanted to pass you. The one sad note of the day was that an athlete was killed straying outside the cones on the early part of that descent.
It probably wasn’t until mile 40 or so that I first was able to pee. It wasn't as easy as it was in practice, and I had to keep working on it and trying to relax and find the right terrain where I could coast and not lose much speed. I repeated the process a few more times and after washing myself off a couple of times at aid stations, decided that I’d hold my final time for the run transition port-a-potty. Of note, I took a fair amount of time trying to pee during various downhill sections when I could have been pedaling and getting some “free” speed. On the other hand, I never stopped for a “natural break.” I did stop at the special needs bag station, took my coconut water and chugged it down, so, a very brief stop to continue my hydration and calorie intake. Before I knew it I was onto the second loop of the bike and continuing to just pedal comfortably. In fact, any time that I found myself starting to push, I dialed it back. One thing of significant note was that my bike splits were almost completely the same throughout the race. Thus, no drop off in power during the bike. I also realized as I was coming into town at the end that I had never experience the bike “doldrums” that I have felt in every Ironman I’d previously done. However, as I dismounted my bike, I was glad, and finally felt a little tired from the 112 mile bike. My bike time was 5:56:54, my second fastest bike split ever and my fastest time on this course.
The one part about the Boulder Ironman course that I hate is walking from the bike dismount to the HS track to drop off my bike. Walking in bike shoes is just no fun (and after 112 miles riding, it would not be smart to try to run in them). I was thrilled to let go of my bike and quickly picked up my bag and made my way to the changing tent. Another quick and methodical change. Helmet off, headband off, cap on, gloves off, cycling shoes off, wiped off my feet with the gloves (note to self, remember to put a small towel in the T2 bag), vaseline (melted unfortunately, making it a little messy) on both feet, socks on, shoes on, hydration/race number belt on (got a new belt that allows me to have two flasks and my race number, and out of the tent. First a not so quick stop at the port-a-potty which took at least 2 minutes (seriously!). I had clearly hydrated well, or perhaps too well. Filled one of my flasks with water, hugged Shelly, and started the run. Time in transition 8:23, which was outstanding, considering the trek to the changing tent and my port-a-potty break.
As soon as the run started, I kind of knew that I was feeling good, but not great. Mentally, I put myself in a great mood, but also remembered (thanks to Shelly’s reminder) to keep it easy. I just settled into breathing every 6th step and just get into a relaxed and comfortable running pace. My friend Rudy found me at around Mile 1 and subsequently told me that I looked good. For the first six miles I just kept plugging away with a comfortable effort, which turned out to be just under 10 minute/mile pace. I walked briefly at each aid station, taking in primarily gatorade and water. I originally had planned to increase my effort at mile 6, but realized that it was already happening on it’s own when I got there. The next six miles were uphill and my pace was just over 10 minute/mile. Heading up the canyon, I realized that this year I had only walked briefly at the aid stations. As Rudy pointed out, I was running up any hills or inclines that I came to, a significant change from last year. Heading to the top of the canyon, I did increase my effort and my breathing, so that on the way back down, I realized that my body was beginning to feel the effects of the race. I continued to try to maintain my pace, but it probably dropped slightly at this point to just over 10 minute/mile pace. I continued to take in gatorade as well, which in retrospect, might have ultimately been a mistake.
Around Mile 17, my breathing changed noticeably. To keep my present pace, I began breathing harder, and even resorted to my signature “grunting” breathing pattern, breathing every 3rd or 4th step with an audible grunt (often worrying those around me when they see this old guy with white hair grunting with each breath). By the time I hit Mile 20, I knew that something wasn’t right. As I tried to push just to keep my pace going, I felt nauseated and lightheaded, so I decided to walk for awhile, and started drinking coke. My coach says that in retrospect, I probably could have switched to coke around Mile 15.
When I started the run I was in 17th place in my age group. During the run, I had passed several people in my age group and a bunch of people in younger age groups. When I started slowing at Mile 20, I realized that it was unlikely that any of those people, most of whom were walking, were going to pass me back. Still, I was determined to run as much as I could. I let my body dictate what I could do, but did walk all of the steeper inclines, and some of the others. If it was flat, or downhill, however, I ran. I can definitely say that easy had become hard, and hard had become very hard. The crazy thing was that despite the difficulties, I never had a negative thought during the run. In fact, I never had a negative thought during the entire race. This was a first for me! The final miles felt a little longer, but and my pace on the uphill sections were around 13 minutes/mile. Fortunately, the last mile of the course is downhill, and I was able to get closer to my 10 minute/mile pace for this portion of the race. As I neared the finish line and heard Mike Reilly saying, “Michael Wasserman, from Woodland Hills, California, You Are An Ironman,” I sped up briefly, didn’t have the wherewithal to make any gesture for the photo as I crossed the finish line, and was done. Literally, and figuratively. After getting my medal and having my timing chip taken from me, I bent over, with my hands on my knees. I didn’t want to move. Oh yes, my run time was 4:50:20, not as fast as I wanted to run, but my fasted time on this course in three tries.
My friends Rudy and Shelly, and our cousin (on my wife’s side) Kara and her boyfriend Alex (who had been volunteering at the run special needs station), escorted me to the food area, where I laid on the ground for close to 45 minutes. I didn’t feel like eating anything, though did manage a few potato chips and and orange slice, and took in some water and a little coke. I have never felt this bad (except maybe at the 2012 St. George Ironman) after a race. While I was laying there, Rudy looked at his phone for the results and told me that I’d gone from 17th in my age group coming off the bike to 6th in my division at the end! I’ve never been in the top 10 in my age group in an ironman, so this definitely lifted my spirits! It turns out that I also went from 520th overall to 352nd overall during the run as well. There were 53 people in my age group and 1490 people doing the race. I actually had the 4th fastest run time in my age group and only one of the six times under 5 hours in my age group for the run.
One final note. As I was finishing the run, my thoughts actually went to my next Ironman, which is Ironman Chattanooga in 7 weeks. The reason, not the usual, “why do I do this?”, but instead, I was looking forward to racing at low altitude. I realized that the altitude finally got to me around Mile 20 of the run. That won’t happen at Chattanooga!
Sunday, June 26, 2016
20 weeks ago I laced up my running shoes and walked out the door to complete the first of what would hopefully become 20 straight weeks of 20 mile runs, a goal that Coach Lucho had inspired. Today, I completed my 18th consecutive week and actually ran 21 miles and even managed to include a hard one mile uphill followed by a hard one mile downhill at Miles 18 and 19. Not to mention the temperatures touched into the 90s by the time my run was over and it was a bit humid out so despite five bottles of fluids during my run I still managed to lose 3 pounds. There are a lot of remarkable things I've learned during my journey the least of which is that I have not had any significant rest time although I have learned to improve my recovery both immediately after my runs and over the next day or two. I've also been paying more attention to my general recovery after and between workouts. I'm listening to my body, that's what matters! The other remarkable thing is that my long run is really my main running volume each week, and some weeks I will run a couple of other days during the week but I've had some weeks where I didn't run at all. With that said I have certainly maintained my biking during the week which clearly has had a positive effect on both my run as well as my recovery. I am also quite certain that the running has helped my cycling which can be seen by the fact that my cycling fitness appears to have improved despite the fact that I have not been doing a lot of long bike rides. I have however, been making sure that I do get a reasonable amount of cycling volume over the course of each week. That brings me to today's run, which gets me through 18 of my 20 weeks. The previous four days leading up to today's run included two trips to Sacramento that were part of 15 hour workdays and one day sandwiched in between of an hour of solid cycling and an hour of solid running that added up to about 20 minutes of tempo effort for each and did put some muscle strain on my legs that I could feel on Friday. Yesterday, I put the cherry on top with a four and a half hour solid bike ride that included three 20 minute hard efforts. I topped that off with a 2 mile transition run in 90+ degree temperatures. When I got up this morning I wasn't sore but I clearly did feel a little fatigued and a little washed out. Doing my 20 mile run has become such a matter of course, that I don't really think twice about it. I get up, lace up my shoes, and head out the door. I usually decide what kind of run I'll do once I get going, and today I just thought I would go easy the whole run. What happened was that the easy effort was fine for the first 8 miles and my pace was a reasonable 9:10 per mile pace, but then the next couple of miles I just slowed down, and I had a decision to make. I quickly made the decision to increase my effort, which turned out to be very interesting because what seemed to be me slowing down and being tired didn't really matter as I locked into a nine minute pace and just kept it for the remainder of my run. I even decided to run a little longer and to add a hard uphill climb near the end of my run. I have a 1 mile climb that is between 8 to 10% grade that normally takes me about 12 minutes to go up if I go pretty hard and it took me 13 minutes near the end of today's run. Immediately when I crest the top of the climb, I turned around and head down the 1 mile descent as hard as I can which normally is a little over six minute pace and today was closer to seven minute pace. That just goes to show that it's harder to smash tired legs but you can still put in a solid effort. The final 2 miles I maintained my nine minute pace and got home and then jumped on my bike for a half an hour which I regularly due to flush my legs and then jumped in the pool for 10 minutes which is always nice. My NormaTec compression pants still await me later today but I already feel pretty good, with the exception of a little bit of IT soreness which probably ultimately came from the downhill portion of my run near the end. I have six weeks to go before Iron Man Boulder, and I have to admit I'm feeling ready for the race. I still have two more 20 mile runs to achieve my 20 mile runs for 20 consecutive weeks goal but as I said in a recent blog that really has been to supplanted by other goals and foci. Today was a great example of that, as today's run became another experience in my journey and additional memories for my muscles and brain to get around when it comes to Iron Man training. Effective Iron Man training is about balance and I have to make sure that I don't stress myself too much at this stage of the game with just six weeks to go. Two weeks from now I will hopefully complete my last 20 mile run and begin my taper for Iron Man Boulder.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
While having my weekly call with Coach Lucho this week, I commented on looking forward to having something new to focus on. Lucho saw what I didn't, that my 20 mile weekend runs had become routine and were no longer something I even concerned myself with! With Ironman Boulder approaching in less than 7 weeks, I asked what I could focus on to improve my cycling in this period of time. That's how I got my marching orders for the next 4 weeks.
Lucho shared a workout that he learned from Dave Scott, not bad company, which is to do 20 minute intervals broken up as 7 minutes in Zone 3, followed by 3 minutes in Zone 4, then repeat. These are tough, as I've already discovered by doing one of them just two days after my last long run. However, I'm already looking forward to doing a few of these during my long bike this Saturday. In fact, this is what I'm thinking about rather than my 20 mile run.
It's interesting how our goals can evolve and change, as just 17 weeks ago, the idea of running 20 miles every weekend for 20 weeks was somewhat daunting. While I never doubted that I could do it, there were certainly many things that could go wrong and derail this goal. Now, as I near the completion of this task, it has already been supplanted by another goal. That is life, and that is certainly my life. I always tell people that I always set a bar that I can't reach, because if I happen to reach the bar, I'll automatically set a higher one. Once again, ironman training imitates life.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
I’m now 16 weeks into my mission of doing a 20 mile run every week for 20 weeks. Coach Lucho tells me that last weekend I had a “breakthrough.” The crazy thing is that, in the week following a solid week of training that culminated in a very hard trail half marathon in the midst of my weekly 20 mile run, I “doubled down” with my biggest week of training in quite a while. I ultimately put in 18 hours of training, all of it very specific, in fact, 17 hours of training were done in just 5 days. In the four days preceding my long run, I did hard bike intervals, hard run hill intervals and two solid long bike days on my indoor trainer. Not the run up that I would expect to what turned out to be my best 20 mile run since I began this journey. And….I didn’t even run 20 miles! But, I digress. My run started innocently, my legs felt tired, but at least they only had minimal soreness from the preceding week. My first mile did give me a positive indication of what was to come. I ran the first mile in about 8:50, which was faster than most of my first miles, especially when I really try to keep it mellow and comfortable. Around mile 4 my left quad was a little sore and I was wondering what the day would be like, but the soreness didn’t last more than a mile or so and I kept clicking off 8:40’ish miles. Hmmmm, this was interesting. I try to break my progression effort into thirds. The first seven miles were done very comfortably, and the for the next seven I picked up the effort a notch to a moderately comfortable effort, all the while noticing that my paces were still solidly in the 8:35 range. By the time I got to mile 14 and started picking up my effort another notch, I was starting to think about how far I’d run. Coach Lucho had given me permission to run longer than 20 miles ‘if I felt like it.’ So, I began thinking, perhaps I’ll just run easy and comfortably and get an extra mile in….but I kept running hard, and my paces were now closer to 8:20….hmmmm, this is very interesting. By the time I got to running Mile 20, I just went as hard as I could, with no ideas as to how fast I was going. Mentally, I was prepared to slow down and even stop if I started to slow appreciably. When I hit Mile 20 and saw my time of 8:07, the adrenaline certainly kicked in to not only encourage me to run another mile, but to give it everything I had. The final mile, Mile 21, was also done in 8:07. I probably had more miles in my legs, but I have no reason to be greedy, so I finished and began my recovery routine, which ultimately includes easy spinning on the bike, easy swimming and about an hour with my NormaTec machine. Over the past 16 weeks, my best pace for 20 miles has been 8:42, and I tend to average right around 8:50 when there aren’t extenuating circumstances. My pace on this day….8:31. WTF! And, it wasn’t even for 20 miles, it was for 21 miles. And, I wasn’t sore that day, and really wasn’t sore (at least not to speak of) the next couple of days. How and why did I have this breakthrough? Coach Lucho says it's for a few reasons, the simplest of which may be that I have steadfastly learned to listen to my body and not do anything stupid. I have built into this gradually, paid very close attention to my recovery, and known when to take it easy. Most of my weeks during this journey have had me training between 10 and 14 hours a week, with a high degree of specificity. I rarely run more than 3 total days out of the week, and many weeks have only run one other day than my long run. Of course, when I’m not running I'm biking. Of note, I only swim about an hour a week, although I'm ramping that up a bit as I close in on Ironman Boulder. I have been trying to swim 10-15 minutes a day, in order to maintain the “feel" of the water. So, back to my “breakthrough." Mentally, 20 miles no longer feels long. In fact, my “long runs” feel oddly short, as if I’ve traveled through some type of wormhole. The proof, of course, will occur in eight weeks, when I step off my bike at Ironman Boulder and embark on another “routine” 20 plus mile run. Over the last 16 weeks I’ve run on tired legs, sore legs, in oppressive heat and humidity, literally with just about every circumstance I might encounter on the day of an ironman. A few years ago, I put the number “8:47” on my bathroom wall. Until recently, it was a lofty (and unrealistic) goal for an ironman run pace. This week, it suddenly became a real number, if not in Boulder (and it’s accompanying altitude), then in Chattanooga seven weeks later. Either way, no matter what happens, the journey continues to inspire me and makes me rather bear these workouts than fly to those that I know not of (my apologies to William Shakespeare).