Monday, August 8, 2016

Ironman Boulder 2016 Race Report

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!