Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ironman Chattanooga and 2014 Ironman Recap

Wow! What a year. I started in March with Ironman New Zealand. This would be my first year doing multiple ironman competitions, and I didn't know how my 55 year old body would hold up. I guess I got my answer yesterday. After placing 22nd in my age group at New Zealand, 15th at Boulder, at IMCHOO I managed an 11th, but more importantly, was only 9 minutes out of 6th, and only 45 minutes away from a Kona slot.
The week was a whirlwind, driving home from Lake Tahoe after the cancellation from the fire, getting into Chattanooga, and flying out a day later. I had prepared assiduously for Tahoe, and realized that would not be possible. So I decided to relax and just enjoy myself. I went with the simple race strategy that my coach, Frank Castle Lucho, always give me. "it should feel easy until it feels hard." And, it did!
My friend Tj and I got to transition early and caught an early bus to the swim start. We were seeded in the first couple hundred people. The seeding had nothing to do with predicted swim time. In fact, the slower swimmers were probably at the front out of fear of a 16+ hour time cut-off (it's usually 17 hours). So, we just hung out and rested. We were told that the race would not be wetsuit legal. This was fine with me, as a wetsuit doesn't help me as much as others due to the fact that I have very good swim form to begin with. I got in two bathroom breaks and before we knew it we were lining up.
We made our way to the dock, crossed the timing mat and jumped in the water. I immediately headed towards the middle of the river, as TJ had suggested the current was faster there. I swam mostly by myself for about 300-400 meters, and then a guy (#1782), swam past me on my left. I thought to myself, this is it, and got on his feet, where I stayed until we climbed out of the water 2 miles later. While others were staying closer to the buoy line, we stayed closer to the middle of the river. I had to stay focused in order to stay on his feet. I tried not to hit them too often, but did occasionally tap them. He pulled up once to sight, and I almost swam over him, but I pulled up and waited and we kept going. A couple of times sometime tried to swim between us, and i wouldn't let them. My effort was solid, and I focused on my form and keeping my strokes long. From an effort perspective, this was my best and most solid swim ever. The current certainly helped. The pros swam between 38 and 42 minutes. I swam 52:50. Wow!
When I got out of the water, unlike Ironman Boulder, my legs felt good. I even ran, albeit slowly, up the ramp to transition. Got my transition bag, sat down in the tent, put on my helmet and visor (should have forgone this, more on this later), put on my arm coolers and bike shoes and was up and off to get my bike. On the way to my bike I out on my aero gloves... Needed help from a volunteer to pull one one, but well worth it. Got my bike and was at the mount line. 6 minute transition, very solid, considering the run in and out of T1. As soon as I got on my bike, I turned on my garmin bike computer. "Low battery," what the heck! I had just charged it. Not a problem, I did IM New Zealand without electronics, and I rather enjoy not racing with data in front of me. I know my body and am comfortable racing by feel. Besides, the feel was that it should be easy...for the whole bike! The outward leg of the bike course was a gradual uphill, but I never felt it. I wonder if there was a slight tailwind, because I found afterwards that I was going over 21 mph. The humidity caused my visor to fog, so I stuffed it in my tri-top and ditched it at the first aide station. I started my nutrition early and often. I had two red potatoes, 2 Justin's almond butter packets, and 1000 cal of liquid (200 cal of UCAN and 800 cal of Tailwind). I'm pretty sure that I took in 400+ cal during the first hour. I also took several tablets of MAP, an amino acid formulation. I drank water sparingly, as the weather was nice and cool. The miles flew by, and before I knew it I was going up the longest and biggest hill just before the turnaround. I had a gel under my bike seat and it was velcro'd...I spent the entire ride up the hill, loosening it up and pulling it out. I used excess energy here, but it wasn't from my legs! I actually rode the hill super easy. The ride back towards town was downhill, but probably had a little headwind, but my pace stayed above 20mph. The mile markers kept coming quickly. I felt really good. The course was quite pretty. The only issues were packs of riders who were clearly flaunting the no drafting rules. After the race I heard some people say that it was hard not to draft on this course. Honestly, I had few problems staying four bike lengths behind people. The packs were literally riding 3-4 abreast, with wheels almost touching. I never saw an official the entire day. The worst part of the packs (I counted four of them, ranging from ten to thirty people) was that they were dangerous as they passed you. I tried go ahead of one, but that took too much energy. The funny thing, and the most telling, was the fourth pack of about 10-15 people. They would pass me, then we'd come to an aide station and I'd pass them. It would take them several miles to pass me again. Before I new it, I was nearing the end of the first loop, where there was a screaming descent. Unfortunately, a pack had passed me just before this descent and held me up from bombing the descent the first time around. I didn't let that happen the second time. My nutrition remained good, continuing at about 400 cal/hr. When I started the second loop I still felt good, but now there was a headwind as we went uphill. Still, I was managing 19+mph. I also was standing up when I could and stretching. This course called for staying aero as much as possible, and my back was noticing. Three days before the race, putting on my bike shoe, I had a horrible spasm in my right low back. It was scary horrible. I had spent three days doing all kinds of therapy on my back. Foam roller, stretching, icy hot, even one day of aleve (which I avoided the day before the race to avoid any stomach issues). My back was 95% the morning of the race, but I needed to pay attention all day to keep it that way.
Before I knew it I was climbing the hill before the turnaround and heading back, again with a slight headwind. I began to dial down my nutrition, which was about the right time, as my stomach felt a little queasy. On comment on that. I recently added activated charcoal and Gaia acid relief to my regimen. It definitely keeps my stomach settled. The miles continued to fly by, and despite no electronics, I had a feeling that I would have my first sub-6 hour ironman bike. As I hit mile 90, I realized that I had no doldrums on the bike. I never did. I bombed the descent this time and finally began the long ride back to transition. I say long because the bike course was 116 miles long, four miles longer than the standard ironman course. While I had saved 15 minutes on the swim, I'd add almost the same on the bike, plus the fact that the bike effort on the legs adds up more in relation to the run. Whatever:). I just kept feeling really good and maintained a very comfortable effort back to transition, where I got off my bike and clomped in my bike shoes to pick up my bag, sit down in the tent, take off my helmet, gloves and bike shoes, put vaseline on my feet (my successful method for preventing blisters), put on my compression socks, shoes, hat and race belt, and make my way out of transition. I had to pee, it would have been bad form to pee while on the chair, so I made my one port-a-potty stop for the whole race. Still out of transition in under 6 minutes.
I felt great! All I could think was how I was having the perfect ironman. I had a feeling I had ridden under 6 hours (5:51), so that I was near 7 hours in terms of race time. This was a place I never been before. In fact, I would see pro men and women on the run, albeit doing their second lap. I ran down the ramp and immediately did something I've never done before. I raised my arms as I passed the fans and urged them to cheer for me. And, boy they did! What an adrenaline rush! They seemed to love this goofy old guy with flowing white hair egging them on! I did this the rest of the day, even when it became more of an effort towards the end. As I ran up the long hill in the first mile of the run, I realized that I shouldn't go out too fast. I still had a marathon to run. Still, my first 5 miles, running conservatively over flattish, with that first hill, and a number of "bumps" were run around 9:30 pace. I talked to people, which helped me to pass the time, egged on the fans when they were large enough, and walked on as far through the aide stations as I needed to get a drink and some orange slices. I drank gatorade perform, which worked ok at Boulder, but I'm not so sure it worked here. I was feeling a bit nauseated, so became very careful about my nutrition. I did take a charcoal capsule and another gaia, and some MAP. Before I knew it, I was heading over the bridge towards the hills that began at around mile 8. These were definitely hills. A lot of people were already walking, but I had already dedicated myself to running no matter how I felt. So, I took it easy, and ran slowly uphill, then ran comfortably on the downhills. I only ended up walking about 100 yards up a steep climb where I realized that I could power walk faster than I could run. My pace edged up to between 10 and 11 minute mile pace on this section. The last 3 miles back to the end of the first loop were hilly and my pace was 11:00 min/mile. I still felt good! It was great to feel this way at the midpoint of the ironman marathon! I egged on the crowds and they responded enthusiastically.
I headed out on the second loop and realized that I was feeling bloated. I felt my stomach and realized that it was full. Ok, I thought, don't increase my effort yet, and it's time to start sips of coke. Also, I stopped to get my special needs bag and put on my Ironman Lake Tahoe finishers shirt, which I wanted to wear across the finish line. My timing for this was perfect as it had just started to drizzle. Up until this point, I had used cold sponges and ice at every aide station to keep my core cool. The drizzle and cloud cover might have made me too cold, so this was good. I passed Susan Haag, no time to stop for a hug, but still a boost!
I kept running, although my pace had dropped about one minute per mile from the first loop. Not bad, but not my plan. I began to breath harder and started my "grunting" ritual, where I grunt with each exhalation. I call it my Jimmy Connors approach to running. It keeps me focused, helps ward off side stitches, and scares everyone I run past. On the side stitch front, I had put Golden Tiger balm on my cheat earlier and now repeated it. I also started jamming my finger under my diaphragm on the right side of my chest. This helps. I took sips of coke at alternate aide stations, missed the first station with chicken broth, and kept slogging along. The easy had become hard. I had hoped at mile 21 to increase my effort, which I suppose I did, although I could't maintain my earlier pace with the increased effort. Still, as the hills came, I stubbornly ran them, only walking twice for about 100 yards each on the steepest climbs. I did finally get some chicken broth, which tasted great! I saw TJ, he looked good, and I shouted that I was on my second loop, which was probably obvious. The last mile included a bridge, I wanted to run faster, but couldn't. Of note, I managed to keep the exact same 11 minute/mile pace each time I ran this section. Hence, I think I ran as fast as I could at the end. Finally, there was a downhill to the finish and I was able to open it up a little. As I came down the finishing chute, I knew there was someone behind me, and I wanted my moment to be my moment, so I pushed to keep my space. As I came to the finish line, I pointed with both fingers to my Lake Tahoe Finisher's shirt, and heard Mike Riley point out that I was one of eighty (someone later told me the actual number was 78) people from Lake Tahoe who were racing. I gave a double arm pump, and raised both arms in exultation. I knew that I'd had the best ironman of my life (thus far). 11:31:59, forty five minutes faster than my previous best at New Zealand. I was only 37 seconds out of 10th place, and 9 minutes out of 6th. 45 minutes faster and I'd be going to Kona. It actually doesn't sound so formidable. I was "only" 64 minutes out of 1st in my age group.
I'm excited because this result will move me, albeit temporarily, up the All World Ironman standings, probably into the top five. One of the things I like about the standings is that it reward endurance and consistency, in addition to speed. Too bad it doesn't come with a Kona slot:).
I can't think of anything that I would have or could have done differently during this race. I was in the moment all day, stayed with my race strategy, and was completely spent when I crossed the finish line. I had, in fact, had some visions of passing out after crossing the line. Fortunately, I didn't, but kept my volunteer "catcher" with me until I was safely seated and had gulped down two cups of chicken broth. The night was complete, when after going back to my hotel and showering, I came back in time to see my friend TJ finish and also to meet my FB friend and fellow triathlete, GlennGlenn Cook woke up this morning with a sore back, but otherwise feel pretty darn good. I don't want this adrenaline rush to leave me, but I know it will. It's time to spend some quality time with my wife, who is incredibly supportive of my ironman addiction. Then, the training will begin for next year, with three more ironman's on the agenda, Couer d'alene, Boulder, and Maryland. Unless I win a Kona slot in the Lake Tahoe special lottery (about a 5% chance of winning):)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ironman Boulder Race Report

Let me begin by saying as I write/edit this I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.  I actually write my race report before the race and use it for visualization, and then I edit it afterwards for what actually happened.

As soon as I completed Ironman New Zealand in March I began thinking about this race.  First of all, I had dedicated myself to having my best ironman performances this year at the age of 55.  As I like to say, I’m good enough to smell a Kona qualification spot, but not good enough to taste one.  With that said, I’ve really been trying to achieve my best results this year.  My wife and family know how much I’ve been focused on this for the past five months.  I began to realize as the race got closer that I was thinking about it when I went to bed, when I got up, and pretty much most of the day in between.  I guess that this is one of the “advantages” of being semi-retired.  Ironically, I really don’t feel any pressure, despite setting a goal that is over an hour faster than my best ironman, which was actually New Zealand (my best time by a half an hour).  The reason not to feel any pressure is the uniqueness of ironman that makes finishing the ultimate goal.  In many ways, the actual result is secondary.  Nevertheless, I only know how to operate with a goal, and usually a lofty goal at that.  In life, and in sport.  

My preparation for Ironman Boulder included a nine hour, 121 mile bike ride with over 14,000 feet of climbing, the Mulholland Challenge, in April.  I got in three 16 miles runs that were of high quality.  I also did some very solid workouts on my VASA swim trainer, even managing to get close to an hour on the trainer.  Check, check and check.  I’ve done five previous ironman’s, there is now a fine line on overdoing the training versus getting in quality workouts.  My focus, with the great help of my coach, has been on quality.  

With all of that in mind, I have really tried to focus on the other aspects of my preparation.  The first, how to adjust to the altitude of Boulder, began with a 3 week trip to Colorado in June with my wife.  I could see a significant improvement during the two weeks we were in Boulder.  The second day, I did the Boulder sprint tri and could hardly breath during my best effort on the 3 mile run, going ~8:45 pace.  Two weeks later, I did the Boulder 70.3, and actually managed an 8:45 pace over the last 7 miles of the race, again, going as hard as I could.  I was definitely acclimating.  With 3 weeks of altitude under my belt, I arrived in Boulder 9 days prior to race day.  I immediately noticed that I wasn’t noticing the altitude.  However, I did realize that if I pushed my effort too much, I would notice the altitude, which is actually a good thing.  The key to having a successful ironman is not to waste energy during the day.  

Arriving in Boulder with over a week before the race, I had the opportunity to truly rest.  And I definitely took advantage of it.  I spent most days laying down, sitting down, just resting.  I believe that I went into this race with the most quality rest time that I have ever had prior to a race.  

One of my biggest ironman issues has been my stomach.  I have a very sensitive GI tract, and I’ve been dedicated to changing this.  I watched my diet all week, continuing with my good fat/protein, relatively low carbohydrate diet that I have been on for most of this year.  Yesterday, I did allow myself a few gluten free pancakes in order to get some additional carbohydrate into my body prior to race day.  However, on friday and saturday, I stuck with my race day breakfast of an avocado with olive oil.  I’ve also been starting each day with coconut oil, fish oil, extra CoQ10, glutamine, B complex and a few of my other regular supplements (prontandim, energease, recoverease).  I’ve been testing Gaia’s Reflux Relieve as well.  My pre-race diet was fairly light for a change.  I didn’t finish the pancakes at lunch, and slowly ate them until about 5:00 pm.  Also, had a couple of packets of almond butter, and a bell pepper.  I continued to sip on water and electrolytes.  My final intake of the day prior to bedtime consisted of a sweet potato and some UCAN superstarch.  I was also very careful not to overhydrate, as it is quite possible to leach electrolytes from your body in that circumstance.  The one exception to this whole process, was, when I went to sip on my bottle of electrolytes and UCAN, air must have built up when I shook it, and it spurted out into my mouth, similar to getting a mouthful of water during the swim.  Fortunately, I didn’t drown from my electrolyte mix and despite a half an hour of irritation, did fine.

I had gotten a solid night of sleep on Friday, with some very bizarre dreams (which I am way too embarrassed to share), but a good night nevertheless.  As always, I went to bed at 8pm the night before the race, and began my bedtime race visualization that always manages to help me sleep, as well as prepare for the race).  I usually fall asleep before I get past the swim, but tonight I must have gone through the race a few times.  Not sure when I finally fell asleep, may have been 11pm. Got up once to pee (hydration is key) and like clockwork, woke up at 3:15 am from my alarm, which is unusual as I usually wake up on my own, took my glutamine, ate my avocado/olive oil/coconut oil/salt mixture, ate a sweet potato, took some Master Amino Protein (MAP) took my Reflux Relief and put on my race outfit.  I wear the 2xu tri suit, with ICE technology, which truly does help cool you down when it’s hot.  Put on Aloe Gator sunscreen, which I’ve learned will stay on all day, gathered my special needs bags and took the shuttle from Endurance Sports Travel to Boulder High School and the busses to the Boulder Reservoir.  

With the exception of Ironman Lake Tahoe, I have found myself to be quite calm the morning of an ironman.  I didn’t have much to do, having pumped up my tires to ~135psi the day before, so that they would come down to about 115-120psi on race day.  I would turn on my garmin computer, so I wouldn’t have to fuss with it once I started, and so that it would engage the satellites.  I also had to put my two red potatoes in the bento box on my bike.  Spent time sitting down and relaxing, and used the port-a-potty a couple of times.  With that, it was time to get into my wet suit and prepare myself for the swim.  

The swim course was a little different than the usual Boulder reservoir course, but the difference was nice insofar as we weren’t swimming into the sun.  The pros went off at 6:20 and at 6:30 the first, and fastest, age group swimmers waded into the water to start.  I had seeded myself in the middle of the second group and calmly made my way in, and began to swim.  This type of rolling start doesn’t completely get rid of the craziness that is an ironman start, but it is much more reasonable.  I pretty much know what my swim is like, and once I get going, it’s pretty routine.  There is no reason to exert too much energy during the swim, so I focused on drafting as much as possible and enjoyed the swim.  I did get punched in the eye early on, but fortunately, it didn’t knock me out or knock off my goggles.  It hurt very briefly, but not much.  I kept running into a crazy person who would swim over into me and flail away, I’m not sure if it was one person or more than one...always hard to tell during an ironman swim.  Of note, the best parts of my swim was when I was alone and was able to focus on my form and swim breathing to both sides.  I was able to make up ground on people in front of me, felt really good and smooth...but that wasn’t possible for much of the swim.  

I don’t wear a watch when racing, so all of the numbers I got were post-race.  My swim time was 1:13:54, off from my usual swim time of about 1:11-1:12.  However, looking at the race results, I think that the course may have been slightly long, as even a number of the pros swam close to 1 hour.  I came out of the water 17th in my age group (out of 116 people) and 607th overall (out of 2814).  Solid result, consistent with a solid swim.

Coming out of the water, I walked up the ramp, unzipping my wetsuit at the same time.  I felt fine from the swim, except that my legs felt heavy.  This is not a usual feeling for me, and I’m not sure what it meant.  At the top of the ramp, I took a right turn, got my wetsuit stripped off, and picked up my transition bag.  When scoping out the transition tent the day before, it looked to be on the small side, so rather than get caught up in the confusion that occurs in the tent, I stopped at a bench on the grass and took out my helmet.  Put on my arm coolers, my sunglasses, my headband, and my helmet before putting on my bike shoes and stuffing a couple of gels in my jersey pocket.  Put my wetsuit in my transition bag and made my way through the tent and then to my bike, where it waited, right at the front of the row, which made it easy to find.  Took my bike out of transition, and mounted it.  

My first transition was a very solid 6:03, considering the relatively long run that one has to make in their bike shoes out of transition.  

Coming out of the reservoir there is a very short steeply pitched rise, and I took great pains not to press my wattage too high going up it, then settled in to my aero position, taking care to keep my wattage below 170w for the first 10 miles of the course, most of which is a gradual uphill.  This was going to be the key to a successful race and I was very disciplined on this day.  A lot of people passed me, as expected, but I would catch many of them on the downhills and flats.  The first reprieve was going down St. Vrain, but then after turning around had to climb back up, again, being careful not to push my wattage too high, although I did allow it to come up a little higher this time, but still below 200w.  

The Boulder bike course is quite beautiful, with the mountains to the west and the plains to the east.  There are a lot of rolling hills and the key to my race was going to be not pushing too hard up the hills, but to make sure I could bring some speed and momentum into them, so as to effectively shorten them.  I thought that this would make the course relatively easy, but boy was I wrong!  That works for a half ironman, but in retrospect, maybe my bike fitness wasn’t quite what it needed to be for 112 miles of this.  Also, it was the 80‘s, but I admit my feet started getting hot inside my bike shoes (no socks).  My wattage seemed to run on the lower side of the 140-170w range all day, but I was also able to “draft” with all the people out on the course.  Of course, I kept the necessary 7 m distance between me and the people in front (not so for everyone...there were large packs throughout the race).  

About 60 miles into the bike I realized how I stay in the moment during an ironman bike.  I am constant monitoring my nutrition and how I feel.  I was determined to stay hydrated, so I would sip on water and electrolyte mix every few minutes.  I had 900 cal of a mix of UCAN/Tailwind Nutrition that I would take a gulp from and then wash down with water.  I had my two red potatoes with olive oil and salt in my bento box.  I stretched this out throughout the bike to help my stomach.  I also ended up taking in 3 honey stinger gels and a Justin’s almond butter gel early on.  I would guess that I took in about 1800 cal throughout the bike.  I have to admit that by the time I finished I was tired of gels, my mix, and my red potatoes.  My hydration was good, although not great, because I never had to pee during the ride.  Around mile 85, I finally went through the ironman bike doldrums...ironically, I didn’t think about this race.  I started thinking about why I do this crazy sport and why I had already signed up for ironman Lake Tahoe in just 7 short weeks.  The thought even crossed my mind to make this my last ironman race...all par for the course, I guess.  I suddenly realized, that this might mean my nutrition was a little light, but after a swig of my carbohydrate drink I felt nauseated.  I had taken a couple of capsules of activated charcoal earlier on, but figured that the heat and effort might finally be keeping my stomach from processing the nutrition, so I lowered my effort for the next 10 miles or so, which seemed to help and allow me to get my nutrition back on track.  I was beginning to look forward to the end of the bike.  The right side of my back was a little sore and I did keep sitting up on climbs or when I was in someone’s draft to help.  My legs never felt great during this ride, but at the same time, they never felt bad.

One of the interesting things about the bike ride was that my breathing was always pretty easy.  Surprisingly, I felt constrained by my legs, not my breathing, which is unusual for me at altitude.  

Around mile 100 there were three short steep climbs, but I had checked them out previously as was not concerned.  By this time, the excitement of finishing the bike was beginning to build and I had to be careful not to push my wattage up too much going over them, which I didn’t.  That said, I was able to solidly push up these climbs, which I noticed seemed to be taking it’s toll on other people.  At the final aid station I grabbed a bottle of cold water and poured it on my body, which helped to cool me down.  It was definitely getting hot.  I should have done this at the 90 mile aid station, but didn’t thikn about it.  In fact, I had left an open bottle cage on my bike for this least I finally had used it.  The final section of the ride is into Boulder, and I made sure that I stopped eating and drinking the last 4-5 miles.  

I started my bike 17th in my age group and finished it 18th, having dropped down to 20th at one point, but gaining that back towards the end.  Similarly, I had gone from 607th to 818th overall.  Of note, most of this occurred in the first 44 miles of the bike, after which I held my own pretty well.  My bike time was 6:11:55, with an average speed of 18.07 mph.  Of note, my three bike splits were very even...I had given a solid and consistent effort on a challenging course.  I had thought the course would be manageable, which it was, but it was definitely tough.

The second transition was actually longer than the first, having to walk/run our bike after dismounting, and in my bike shoes, this was mostly walking.  One of the exciting parts of this walk was seeing my friends Treg and Shelly cheering me on.  I didn’t expect this and it gave me a shot of adrenaline!  I finally made my way to the high school track, the walk was at least a quarter of a mile, where a volunteer took my bike before I then went to grab my transition bag.  My bike to run transitions are typically longer during an ironman than during shorter races, and I was endeavoring to make this one quicker.  Again, I found a bench before the transition tent (where it is always too hot anyway), off with my bike shoes, hat on, vaseline on my feet, compression socks on, left then right, shoes on, tighten the lace locks, grab my race belt and get the hell through and out of the tend!  I’ve got to get moving, is what I was thinking.

My second transition time was a remarkable 6:50.  I was very happy with this. 

This is where my original pre-written race report ended.  I never know how the run will feel anyway.  This race was dedicated to me giving the run everything I had, and ultimately I was not to disappoint, though I didn’t really realize this out on the course.  As  soon as I started my run, I knew I was in for a challenge.  My energy had been sapped by the strenuous bike, it was in the high 80’s, and I was already tired.  Fortunately, I wasn’t really sore.  I quickly decided to just start running at a manageable effort and walk deliberately through the aid stations.  It was important that I stay hydrated and nourished for the 26.2 miles.  That would ultimately define my run.  I hit the first aide station and looked at the smorgasbord that is an ironman aide station.  I took as much ice as I could and stuffed in my my jersey and pants.  I find this helps keep me cool.  I took ice and put coke in it.  Well, my decision was made, start with coke early.  I knew that at some point I would tire of the coke, but one step at at time.  Around mile 2 I saw my friend Rudy, who would ultimately keep me company for about 11 miles of the run (it was an open course, so Rudy was just out for his run workout).  With that said, he pretty much followed me at the pace I was able to keep.  The good news is that I don’t wear a watch and Rudy is a watch when it comes to running pace.  He figures that when I was running, I was running right around 8:45 pace.  I did walk the aid stations and usually a good 1-2 minutes after them, finishing my coke.  Also, I started eating orange slices early and often and an occasional banana.  My nutrition and hydration were pretty much on target.  

The Boulder ironman run course is deceptively hard.  The first stretch is a gradual downhill, but there are lots of little ups and downs, which got progressively more difficult as the day went on (more me, but also for everyone else).  My pace on the run was ultimately remarkable consistent, comparing the first loop to the second.  In fact, I almost even split the run...the effort, was something else, as it should be.  More on that soon.  

Unbeknownst to me, while I felt like I was having a rough day on the run, I was not alone.  This course was decimating people.  I began the run 18th in my age group and 818th overall.  Keep in mind that I almost always finish my race where I start it on the run.  Today was going to be different.  In the first ten miles I had moved up to 718th overall and had actually moved to 15th in my age group.  My pace was right around 11:30 per mile.  Coming back into town, my friend Treg and Shelly were once again there to cheer me on!  The final leg of the first loop takes you uphill, before turning around for a nice 2 mile gradual downhill, where I actually felt like I was getting a second wind and did around 9:17 pace.  I didn’t want to get too excited, however and start pushing the pace further as of yet.  This was actually the best part of the entire run.  

I had dedicated myself to having my best run possible.  I knew that my swim had been reasonable, and close to my predicted swim time.  I also knew that my bike had been about 20 minutes slower than what I had predicted...all in all, I was about 25 minutes off of where I had wanted to be, but that would still have kept open the possibility of a solid time if my run were good.  The ultimate irony of this is what my coach always reminds me of, it’s not the time, it’s the effort on any given day.  While my time would ultimately be well over an hour short of where I wanted it to be, so it would be for a lot of people.  By mile 20 of the run course, I had moved up to 602nd overall, and still was holding on to 15th in my age group.  This was the point at which I had hoped to “turn it on”.  I realized, however, that pushing too hard now could lead to a massive “blow up”.  This happens to the best of us, and in fact, during the first loop I was passed by a pro woman , Uli Bromme, on her second loop, and near the end of my first loop, I actually passed her, as she had fallen back from 2nd overall to fifth.  This might also have been an indication of how solid of a run I was having under the circumstances.  

I took a little extra time when I needed it walking the hills on the way back into town.  Ironically, it felt like I had slowed down, but my friend Rudy told me that my form was holding up and when I was running I was still keeping close to the sub 9 minute pace I’d had earlier in the day.  I had switched my nutrition over to Gatorade Perform, which, with ice, I was tolerating well, in addition to the orange slices.  However, nutrition just wasn’t feeling good at this point, so I switched to ice water and hoped to trudge to the finish without getting sick to my stomach...this might have been my one mistake, as I think I was pretty low on fuel when I hit the finish line.

My IT bands had also started feeling sore around mile 13, but I always bring Golden Tiger balm, which I put on my IT’s.  Both sides of my back were also hurting, and I put the balm there as well, which always helps.  All in all, I was hurting all over, which today I can attest to.  This course kicked the living shit out of my body!  

Honestly, I felt like I was dying the last two miles, but somehow, managed to maintain a 9:29 pace for the final leg to the finish line.  I kept thinking that I’d never felt this bad during an ironman, which I find hard to believe considering the courses that I’ve done and the results that I’ve had.  On the other hand, I think it is possible that I really pushed myself deep into my limits on this day.

When the dust had settled, I had moved from 818th overall to 580th on the run!  I came in 15th in my age group, my best age group result ever for an ironman.  My overall time was 12:34:19, my second fastest time ever.  Remarkably, 10:25:47 won my age group, although only two other people went under 11 hours, and just barely at that.  6th was 12:03 and 10th was 12:13.  My result was quite solid on this tough day.  

I always say that it’s not about the result, it’s about the effort.  If I leave it all out on the course, I’m happy.  I left it all out on this tough Boulder Ironman course, and then some!  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ironman New Zealand: Giving it everything I've got, and then some!

Be warned!  This race report is my full report, and therefore is quite long.  Of note, I’d written all of this up to the bike start prior to the race and very little changed for me to edit.  I sometimes use my race report preparation for my visualization and preparation for race day.  It was a good idea!  Went to bed around 9pm the night before the race and got up every 2-3 hours briefly.  At 1pm I ate half of a clif bar with a little water.  Woke up around 4pm and finished my clif bar and ate most of a everything out of the refrigerator for my special needs bags and put on my race outfit.  I had decided to wear the top of my trisuit under my wetsuit, knowing that in the four minute run to the first transition, it would mostly dry out.  Plus, I always have a heck of a time putting the damn thing on in transition, and I just didn’t want to waste that time today.  I then applied sunscreen everywhere I could think of...that was going to be a major theme for the day, every chance I would get.  Also, put on some chamois butter in the necessary places.  Sipped some water...really avoiding any pure sugar, there is no reason for my body to feel the stimulus of sugar at this point, as I’m really believing the concept of focusing on fat burning early in the race.  Put on my race chip around my left ankle...I never want to forget that.  I had brought warm clothing as it would definitely be cool in the shivering allowed.  Get the clothes on and make sure I have everything I need.  By the way, bathroom breaks are typically sprinkled in throughout the morning preparation.  Went downstairs for the breakfast at the hotel and got in a few more calories before heading back up to the room to make final preparations.

Took the van to the race site and went right away to check my bike.  I had pumped my tires up to about 130psi the day before, so while they might have come down a bit, there was no need to pump them up further.  Put my bottle of Tailwind nutrition between my aero bars and filled my Shiv’s “bladder” with water.  Then, put my red potatoes in olive oil and salt in my new Fuelcell and in my aero bento box on my top tube.  Check, Check and check!  Checked to make sure my helmet was still secure and left it just like it was on the bike, since it worked to be there overnight, there was no need to fiddle with it.

Time to get to the changing tent and put on my wetsuit.  Thankfully, my coach had given me excellent instructions yesterday to put my wetsuit on in a way that would minimize it being too tight.  Body glide and vaseline (organic vaseline, that is) on my ankles first...put on wetsuit from the legs and pull it up, and then pull it up some more.  The key is to pull the wetsuit up all the wait to the crotch so that there is no space left, this will let me pull the wetsuit up further on my torso, where the major tightness problems could be.  Now, more body glide and vaseline around my neck (never like to have chafing around the neck), and then on my forearms.  Then, put the wetsuit on both arms and pull them up.  Finally, pull the wetsuit up from the bottom of the torso to make sure that there is plenty of “give” in the shoulder area.  Done!  Walk towards the beach and take the clothes I’d been wearing and take them to the drop area in my black “drop bag”.  I will leave my shoes on at this point...they are to be discarded down by the beach, but why not maintain some warmth and avoid stepping on anything at this point.

Got down to the beach around 6:40, just in time to see the professionals start the race.  It’s not quite sunrise, but it is always an impressive site to observe, albeit briefly, the start of an ironman.  Once the pros are off, into the water.  The plan, suggested to me the day before by Marcus and Muirie’s friend, was to get to deep enough water where I’ll have to tread, the newbies and the poorer swimmers will not be here, but stay left of the best swimmers.  The water is a bit chilly, but moving around in it, gets me acclimated.  I splash cold water on my face (a lesson I learned long ago), and went under to get a little water in my wetsuit.  As the water in the wetsuit warms to body temperature, I’m comfortable and settled in.  There’s so much adrenaline, it’s really hard to be too cold at this point.  Managed to get in a few strokes and continued to tread water in a way to keep my arms mobile, this will help once the gun sounds. Started feeling a little chilled, but it was almost time for the start. 

The gun sounds and we’re off, me and 1750 other athletes, moving forward in the washing machine that is an ironman swim start.  I made sure that I was horizontal when the gun went off, that is key, and I took off as hard as I could, bodies flying everywhere, trying to go over me, around me, whatever.  But today, I’ll have none of it...I keep my head up and keep my elbows up and I make my way forward without getting hit today.  There are people everywhere, but they’re not impeding me.  In fact, I’m getting a pretty good draft.  It’s my goal to breath every 4th stroke, to better maintain my form and perhaps lessen the chance of sucking water in.  However, at the start I’m breathing every 2nd stroke in order to go all out.  I’m also trying to increase my arm turnover a bit today to keep my moving forward.  Not that I’m really trying anything new on race day, but I did read an article that talked about the fact that when your arms aren’t moving, you’re decelerating.  Will have to discuss this with my coach later.  I had scoped out the course and it was simple.  Site initially to the big hill in the background and then site to the left of it as you get further along. By the halfway point of the leg out I’m about 10 meters from the red buoys, where I stay until the turnaround, when I swim about 5 meters past in order to avoid the scrum that usually occurs at the buoy, except, I see open water at the 2nd turnaround buoy and swim past it.  On the way back in, I keep drafting off other swimmers, and also keep a good line from buoy to buoy.   

Ironman is all about being in the moment and it starts with the swim.  I really don’t care how long the swim takes, I’m there, just trying to do my best and enjoying it.  So, that’s what I’m doing.  I know I’m having my best swim ever, but I actually try not to dwell on that, I want to enjoy the entire swim and stay in the moment.

As I make my way into shore, I’m prepared to do dolphins as soon as I get to thigh deep water.  I’ve practiced and realized that I can do it without blowing up.  It’s faster than walking!  I really don’t want to walk in the water if I can help it!  I actually make it almost all the way to the shore before I stand up. 

My time out of the water is 1:08:56, my best ironman swim time by a few minutes.  I’m 17th in my age group and 541st overall (out of over 1500 people)

As soon as I emerge from the water, it’s off with the top of my wetsuit and start jogging to the transition...slowly.  I don’t want to overexert myself, but I also want to keep moving.  I make my way along the green carpet, I feel good, I love doing an ironman! There’s a slight chill in the air, but the excitement and the adrenaline of the day, as well as a solid swim, has warmed my body up. I get to the stairs and walk up them, no need to expend too much energy for no reason at this point of the day.  When I reach the top of the stairs I can see the transition tents to my left.  Get my bag for transition and into the tent.  

I get to a chair in the transition tent, by the way, which was very different from Lake Tahoe...about three times the size, lots of room... and, off with the thing about my new wetsuit, it comes off quickly! Opening my transition bag, I take out my bike shoes.  Off with my goggles and swim cap, on with my headband and sunglasses.  Sunscreen on my legs, arms and face.  Arm warmers on, which is always more difficult that I plan Castelli arm warmers are great, but they’re a tight fit...I struggle a little with them.  Shoes on.  Now, put the plastic bags under my tri top...makeshift windbreaker that our bike mechanic, Blair, suggested to me yesterday!  I decided during the run that it was warm enough that I didn’t need to put gloves on.  My Gabba top is still in the, don’t need it... That’s it!  Time to get out of transition...I had taken a little extra time putting sunscreen on, so my transition was probably a couple of minutes longer than the 8 minutes I’d planned for.  I came out of the tent, my bike is to my right, there’s an opening between a couple of bikes in the rack, so I pop underneath, as one of the volunteers had suggested the day before, and get to my bike.  Take the visor out of my helmet, put it on my aero bar, take the helmet off the bike, put it on, buckle it, visor on...take my bike off the rack and off to the exit.  My transition time is 9:53.  Not too bad for this course.  After the bike exit I reach the point where I can mount my bike...get on, clip in, and here I go!

My mantra today is to stay relaxed.  Already I start thinking about keeping my neck and arms relaxed, and just find a nice cadence and spin on the bike...there’s a bit of wind about, but going out it’s a tailwind.  I settle in and start thinking about being in the moment and enjoying the day.  I’m flying.  I get to the first hill out of Taupo and quickly get into my lowest gear (39/32) and easily spin up it to conserve energy.  I’m already using the advice I was given the day before my Marcus and Muirie’s friend, who is a race marshall, to stay about one meter inside the white line, using the track that the car tires run over to get smoother rode on the chip seal that makes this race so iconic.

Once on the road out to Reporoa I discover the challenge of the new 10 meter drafting rule.  Historically, one must stay 7 meters behind the bike in front of you.  The new rule is 10 meters. Hah!  I sometimes felt that I was the only one doing this.  I would be passed by a group of riders, some even riding two abreast, and watch them move up the road, definitely not separating.  Of course, in the early part of the race, it’s crowded. While my plan was to conserve energy during the first leg of the bike, I realize that if I continue to focus on not drafting, I might be going backwards based on the dynamics that have started to pan out.  So, I look for my best opportunities to move into and through these packs, and do so, all the while never allowing my quads to burn or my breathing to go up too much.  I’m passed by a bunch of people initially going up the hill, and in fact, up most hills, as they’re ignoring their wattage and I’m not.  Of course, on the downhills and flats, I pass them back.  I feel like after initially being passed by a bunch of people, I spend the rest of the day passing them back .  I really have to pay attention to the drafting situation, but I do so.  

The ride is quite beautiful, through the New Zealand countryside, with the occasional smell of cow pastures, which isn’t bad, since I grew up near similar pastures.  The smell is familiar to me.  The kilometers and passing quickly, 10, 20, 30, 40, and I’m already at the turnaround of the first loop.  I feel like I’m having a solid bike ride.  I’m also truly in the moment today, time in some ways is standing still, so no matter what, it doesn’t seem like it’s taking a long time.  I work my way back to Taupo against a headwind and keep wondering, where’s the climb before we get back to town?  Finally, I reach it and it really slows me down.  I’m climbing against a tailwind.  Some people are again passing me, but it’s not too bad, and I’m actually continuing to pass others.  This part did seem to go on for awhile, far longer than I’d expected, and it’s probably the main area of the bike where I lost most of my time.  My legs feel good, although I have an occasional twinge in my hamstrings.  Finally, we’re descending back into Taupo, and as we get into town, going through a fenced in section of the course, I’m behind a woman, but choose not to pass her.  What did I get for this act of chivalry?  She sits up on her bike and pees!  Fortunately, I slow down and avoid the stream of urine that is coming my way. 

I make my way through town and back up the hill out of Taupo, again, getting into my lowest gear and spinning up the hill.  The second trip out is quite uneventful, save the occasional challenge of passing the packs of people who are ignoring the drafting rules.  There were a lot of people filling up the penalty tents, however, so the draft marshals were hard at work today.  I can safely say the with one technical exception, I didn’t draft today.  There was one time that I worked my way through about 8 of 10 people in a tight group, felt a little tired and tried to settle in behind the final two.  I was closer than 10 meters, and I didn’t take too before passing them.  At first I tried to slow a little to extend the distance, but this is technical illegal, once you get in someones draft zone, you have to pass them.  Still, not bad for 112 miles.  

A comment about the chip seal.  There was a part of the course where they just put in new chip seal.  It was bumpy!  Still, my Specialized Shiv ate up the bumps and wasn’t all that uncomfortable.  Also, there was a moment on the second loop where a van came by me at a high rate of speed and probably came within a foot of me, or at least so it seemed.

Nutrition.  Ironman is about nutrition, and I tried something new today.  I used a product called Tailwind.  I had 800 cal in a bottle between my aero bars and kept putting that in the bladder in my bike.  I also had three red potatoes at the start of the bike.  I ate them intermittently.  I always have trouble with cramping, and today was no exception, except for the fact that it was more manageable than ever.  It didn’t slow me down and it wasn’t debilitating.  The feeling kept coming and going.  When I got to my special needs bag around mile 56, I took out my second bottle of nutrition and a fourth red potatoe, put them on my bike and jumped into the port-a-potty, where I spent about 5 minutes clearing out my colon and bladder (which was quite full by the way...I just can’t pee on my bike).  I also took the opportunity, while in the port-a-potty, to reapply sunscreen!  
Back on the course, I passed most of the people who passed me while I was in the port-a-potty.  Again, the time passed quickly and I really felt like I was in for a fast bike split. However, I could feel the winds changing and the tailwind on the way out seemed to be more of a crosswind.  The headwinds on the return trip were definitely greater and I began noticing some fatigue in my quads.  Still, I never felt tired or fatigued today.  I really felt like I was maintaining my wattage, although I might have taken it down a notch once I reached the climb at mile 100...which again, felt like it went on for awhile.  I didn’t want to stand at this point because when I did my quads were talking to me.  Again, I was passed by some riders on the hill, but seemed to catch them again on the way into town.  Riding back into Taupo, I was feeling pretty good, although I knew by now that my quads were not feeling good.  I can’t say that they were cramping or anything, but I had definitely used them on the bike.  I only used about 400 calories of my Tailwind nutrition on the ride back into town, as I was probably modulating my GI issues, and I did finish my red potato.  So, My caloric intake for the bike was about 1200 cal or Tailwind and about 600 calories with my potato, for about 300 cal/hour.  This seemed to work. 

My bike split was 6:17:31, for 21st in my age group and 670th overall.  This was my fastest ironman bike split, better than the 2011 Ironman St. George.  While this course had only about 3000 feet of climbing, the headwinds definitely made it tougher than it could have been.  Also, I kept my focus on the bike the entire time..and the time actually went by fast.  So fast, that I was surprised to see the time when I arrived at the bike return.  Oh well, everyone had to deal with conditions today.

I arrived in transition and got my bag and made my way into the tent.  While a volunteer dumped my stuff out of the bag, I went to the urinal that was set up in the corner of transition, nice touch!  I probably spent about 3 minutes there as I peed (clear, by the way, so I clearly had adequately hydrated during the bike).  Put vaseline on both feet, pulled up my new compression socks, the left one ripping at the top, not a problem.  Put on my shoes, my hat, my race belt and my fuel belt, and out of transition onto the run.   

Ah, the run!  The challenge of ironman.  It was my goal to run under 4 hours today.  That said, my main goal was to run the whole time (with the exception of walking breaks at the support stations).  I also was planning to maintain a breathing regimen of breathing every 4 steps for the first two loops, and then pick it up the last loop.  Let me start by saying that despite my overall run time, I did keep this plan!  

The first thing I noticed as I went out on the run was that my quads were tired, but I really didn’t need them, except up hills, so on the steepest short climbs, I did walk.  I also intermittently noticed that my mid and low back might spasm...although it never did.  I actually intermittently focused on the pilates breathing I’ve been learning, and thing that this may have helped me.  I slogged away on the run, again, maintaining the mantra of staying in the moment.  From the first support station, I started drinking coke.  From the energy perspective, this was useful, from a GI perspective, I’m not quite sure.  I had a bit of cramping, but not too bad.  I did have some potato chips at one station and some pretzels at another.  The run course was beautiful, along the lake, but on the way out was into a headwind, which may have had a impact on my pace.  The ups and downs through the neighborhoods at the end of the loop were also not meant for fast times.  Around mile 6, I stopped for a short port-a-potty break, and just ended up least I was still hydrated. Oh, yes, more sun screen! I made my way back through the first loop and out to the second...staying in the moment yet again.  If you start thinking about the time, you  shouldn’t do ironman!  I reached the half way point with an average pace of 6:10/km, right about 10 minute mile pace, although I didn’t realize it.  I was maintaining my breathing and running as fast as I felt comfortable.  I’m sure my stride was somewhat affected by my quads and the undulations of the course.  Still, I was happily consistent.  On the way back I stopped at the same port-a-potty.

Before I knew it, I was on my third lap.  I did walk a little bit more up the hills on the first part of this lap...I was breathing more frequently, probably had moved my breathing up to every third step...I was starting to suffer...but I was going to persevere.  I knew that I would PR today, and I wasn’t going to given in to the messages that my body was sending me...which were to walk and take it easy!  My stomach was very sensitive by now and I reduced my intake of coke, started taking in some water and diluted coke, but knew that I would be all right.  I started  running about 40-60 steps and walking 10-20 steps, this seemed to work.  I tried to match the walking with any small hills, and I realized that I was now breathing every 2nd or third step, even when I was walking up the hills.  My breathing was hard, getting the attention of those I was passing.  Did I say that was hurting?  No matter what, I knew that I was giving this race everything I had.  

The finish line was now in sight, I grabbed some water, got my headband wet and wiped the sunscreen off my face.  I wanted a good picture at the finish!  

My run time was 4:34:26, just a couple minutes slower than my best run at the 2012 Ironman St. George (after an interminably long bike, though).  

My final time as I hit the finish line was 12:17:00.  I managed to hit the number right on the button!  I was 22nd in my age group and 650th overall.  This was a personal best by a half an hour over my 2011 Ironman St. George result.  I have to say, entering the 55-59 year old age group, I have to be quite happy to have finished in the upper half of the race participants!  Of interest, I traded places throughout the race with the winner of the 65-69 year old age group. whom I did beat by about 15 minutes.  Can’t say the same about the 60-64 year olds, 10 of whom had better times than I did.  Still...not too bad!

As I crossed the finish line, I was done.  Honestly, I couldn’t have gone any further.  I was more worn out and sore at the finish of this race than I’ve been for any ironman.  In fact, I will admit to asking myself, “why do I do this”, as I picked up my drop bag and got my finisher’s shirt.  I’m sure that question will fade from my head pretty quickly, and it needs to, as I’m signed up for Ironman Boulder in August!