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 hot...in 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 reason...at 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!