Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ironman Boulder 2017 Race Recap

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.  

T2 Time-5:58

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

Unfinished Business

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.