Boulder Ironman 70.3 Race Report

I swam well, I biked well, I blew up on the run, I finished. Everything after this can be summarized exactly like that. I am extremely happy that I have completed this 70.3 because it represents 7 months of my life that have been more or less dedicated to this cause. In order to appreciate the magnitude of the change in my lifestyle that I went through we should compare where I was in October/November of 2013 and where I am now. In October I could not run two miles without stopping. In October I could not swim more than 300 meters without stopping. In October I averaged about 15 mph when I was on my road bike. I am about 25-30 pounds lighter now than I was then. I can run 13.1 miles without stopping (fresh that is, we will get to that later), I can swim 1900-2000 meters without stopping, and I ride the bike at 20-21 mph.

There were some key milestones along the way:

January – 10K, longest run
April – 13.1 miles, longest run
May – 70 miles, longest bike
June – 1st Triathlon

Each of those are accomplishments in there own right but putting it all together is another challenge all together and one that I respect much more now than before I went through this experience.

Pre Race – Check In

Check in started at Boulder Reservoir the Friday before the event for people that wanted to be insanely early. On that day I made a phone call to my wife asking her to please take my bike to Wheat Ridge Cyclery and have a pair of Bontrager race wheels fitted. Originally I had not planned on renting race wheels but on Thursday night I felt like it would be nice to try a new wheelset. Basically everyone was sold out except for my favorite bicycle shop in the Denver area. Sarah had the day off and she agreed to run to WRC for me, bike in tow, to satisfy my geeky need for new equipment.

WRC was great to work with. The Bontrager Aeolus 5 D3 wheels I wanted were not compatible with my 11-speed cassette (which I found odd because it says they did on Bontrager’s website) so they fitted a pair of Zipp 404 Firecrest clinchers instead. They even gave Sarah two tubes with the 80mm presta valve which they won’t charge for unless we actually use them. All in with the cassette and brake pad swap it was $100. Keep in mind the firecrests run about $1000 a wheel retail!14 - 1
The ol’ Domane looks ready to race with the big zipps and 25 millimeter Vittoria tires.

The lifetime group checked in Saturday morning after a short taper workout where we worked out any last minute issues. One in our group bent the wheel on her bike because it fell off her car. Luckily the bike mechanics onsite were able to true the wheel up and fix it for her.

While we were there we did some shopping (Ironman is big on branding stuff) and Sarah and I got some Project Rudy interchangeable lens sunglasses. I have been wanting new sunglasses and was eyeing the Tifosi brand sport sunglasses but we really like the PR ones. They say don’t try new equipment on race day but in this case it seemed OK.

The in-laws were in town and staying with us so we spent the rest of the day with them. We hydrated and ate well. Surprisingly, we slept extremely well, wakening to the alarm of whiny dog at 0400 exactly the next morning.

Race Morning

Sarah and I arrived at 0500 which was when the transition area opened. There were about 3000 athletes at this event (it was sold out) so getting there early and setting up was critical. I lucked out in two ways. My row was third back from the bike out and run out. That made it easy to find. The person right next to the guy next to me didn’t show up, which meant he could move his bike over a little bit and the whole row got a little more space. We ran into people we knew, and it was smiles and happiness before the misery started. 10462358_10204171687915099_671822268153115111_n
Leslie and Sarah get a quick selfie while in transition.

This was a big day for the Lifetime Tri club and a couple of other clubs as well like Endurance House and KompetitveEdge. Lifetime and KE set up tents right next to each other along the run course for athletes to hang out at before they started. This was nice because for people like me, who were in the penultimate swim wave, there was 3.4 hours between the opening of transition and my swim wave. 10457463_10204108732416064_6329469260466835351_o

It was a little cold in the morning too, so we were dressed warmly! 1537590_10204108743456340_2480395605097662459_o

While we were hanging out waiting for the event to start I had an opportunity to talk to Fiona Dretzka who is otherwise known as the “Millennial Blogger” on 303Triathlon and her mother. Fiona is the youngest person signed up for Ironman Boulder and a high performing high school athlete. She did so well that she earned a swimming scholarship from Siena College in upstate New York. She was unhappy that while her friends were traveling Europe on a end end of high school trip she was in Boulder training for Ironman. When she goes to college there will be plenty of kids who went to Europe, she is probably going to be the only one (maybe in the whole college) in her incoming class who is an ironman. Besides, going to Europe with a bunch of chaperones would suck, doing it your junior year of college with your buddies is much better.

The Swim

In typical Ironman fashion, the swim starts were perfectly staggered in 5 minute increments. The pros started, then the all world athletes, then the normal age groupers. We had people spread across the age groups so once the all world athletes were off people started getting into the water to warm up. In this race the organizers packed the older folks in the first waves and the younger ones in the later waves. 

The girls had to get there obligatory wetsuit photo…

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I, of course, wait until the very last moment possible before I put the wetsuit all the way on. 10469164_10204108767816949_6029462497398385783_o

Nick and I were in the same swim wave so we had time to burn. Jason (pictured right) was hanging out providing race support. He had competed the week before in Ironman 70.3 Kansas.

Sarah went out a few waves before me and soon we were wading chest high in the water waiting for our signal to go. The swim course was set up like a giant staple again with the key difference between this and the sprint (my only other triathlon to date) being that the course was more than twice as far. 750 meters for the sprint compared to 1900 for the 70.3. When we finally started I immediately had a problem. My aquasphere open water goggles started letting water in on my right eye. I cleared the goggles once, happened again. Cleared it again, happened again. Cleared it a third time and I adjusted my cap. I was then immediately kicked in the left eye by the swimmer in front of me. After that, the leak didn’t come back for the duration of the swim. I am not sure if adjusting the cap did it or if the swift kick sealed it up, either way I was back in the game.

The first set of buoys went by quickly enough, there was some crowding around the first turn buoy so I swung wide. You are allowed to hang on to the buoys if you need to rest and some people were taking advantage of this rule. It was on the second leg (the course looks like a big staple from above so this would be the top part) I became a little disoriented. I was still passing buoys like I was supposed to but they changed color halfway through and I lost my land reference in the chop. I raised my head to spot a couple of times and sighted my buoys but that didn’t comfort me too much because that wouldn’t tell me if I was going in the wrong direction, or if I cut off a turn buoy. By the third time of raising my head I was able to sight the turn buoy and my disorientation faded. By the time I got around the second turn buoy my wave had spread out. I looked up and was able to see the swim finish on the horizon. It is an interesting sensation to see a line of buoys into the distance and a tiny little finish on the horizon. At this point I had settled into a rhythm and my sighting was good. I was starting to run into slower swimmers from waves ahead of us and they could be hazardous. I encountered a few unexpected backstrokers and people who spontaneously started breast stroking. Coach Nicole told me to start walking out of the water only when your hand hits the bottom. I did that and and trudged into the swim finish in 39 minutes.

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T1 was uneventful. I didn’t have the wooziness that I did in the sprint and I managed a quick trot from the swim exit to T1. I heard my buddies cheer me on as I got my arms out of my wetsuit. I was feeling good at this point, the swim didn’t take it out of me completely and I was ready to get on the bike.

The Bike

Let me get this out of the way, I did this too fast. I did it in 2:40 which is twenty minutes faster than I ever did in training. I have done that pace plenty of times, but on 30-40 mile rides with 3 or 4 mile transition runs. Never 56 miles with a half marathon afterwards. In fact, the time I did a run after this exact course I cycled the course in 3 hours.

Now that the negative is out of the way, lets talk about how friggin fun it was. At that time of day it was sunny and cool out with just a slight touch of wind. I was outfitted with my cool race wheels and I was able to push the rig a little. I passed cyclists not one by one, but by tens and twenties. I have an aptitude for climbing the bike so on the long grinding climbout from Boulder Res to Broadway Street I was passing people by the droves. In fact, the first 20 miles on the bike was spent getting around the age groupers that had early swim waves.

I am very familiar with the bike course so I was extremely comfortable on it and it felt great. The winds started picking up near the end of the ride but it was not unmanageable.

I saw almost everyone that I knew was racing that day on the bike course. Unfortunately a member of our team and a friend of ours crashed out on her bike when she took a turn at too high a rate of speed and flew off into a ditch. The medics checked her out and she seemed OK but by the end of the race she was in a visible amount of pain. She went to the hospital and it turns out she fractured her skull! She literally broke her head but still finished the race.

The Run

Everything was going great, then I started running and it all turned to poop. My plan had been to be between 10-11 minute miles, which didn’t seem out of the question because I did that without drama after the bike in training. However, the combination of the opening swim and pacing too quickly on the bike proved to be too much for my race plan. To be clear, the half marathon was always going to be challenging. Doing an open half marathon isn’t easy, doing it after working out for 3 1/3 hours is a huge challenge.

I was able to hold my planned pace for about a mile or two but then it started falling apart on me. The first two miles of the course are very hilly and I started walking on the second hill. I never really maintained a steady mile over mile run after that. This was a two loop course and the first loop was emotionally draining. I knew I had done this exact workout in training and to start failing on game day was heartbreaking.

I ran into the millennial blogger on the first loop and had talked with her for a moment. She had a fantastic swim, which we were all expecting. I talked to a few other people on the run course who were utilizing the part of the rules that said walking was acceptable. Some more experienced triathletes had clearly made the same mistake I had and went too hard on the bike. I was passed by one of my friends (who ended doing the thing in something like 5:18) who was cranking out the run like a seasoned professional…even though this was only his second triathlon ever.

Eventually my mental anguish went away because I was clearly not the only one that had to walk/run the half marathon. By the time I made it to the second loop it was obvious that I wasn’t going to DNF and I wouldn’t even be close to the last person in so I relaxed a little bit. I used a porta-john at an aide station which had a broken latch. The winds had gotten blustery by then so as I was peeing the door was opening and shutting in the wind. Luckily a volunteer was posted outside and told people it was occupied.

After the longest half marathon in history, I got to the finishing area where I saw my team (and the two guys who finished before me) cheering at me which helped me run it in without looking like I just got hit by a mack truck.

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I got to the finish line and was medaled by one of my friends who was volunteering at the time who also gave me a big squeezy hug. Another friend of mine who was volunteering got my timing chip off and a medic handed me a bottle of water. I didn’t fall over or lie down but I was awfully ready to sit down and relax for a bit. I got back to the Lifetime Fitness area where someone let me sit down for a minute. Here is my “after” picture grimacing a little bit at some minor hip cramping. As strained as I look I was thrilled to be done with the thing. 10382162_10202276107847068_555311661750922174_n

I chatted with my friends for a while and Sarah came in about thirty minutes after me. She had a rough run as well but a really good bike. Seems like we both learned our lesson that day.

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Sarah got in and we put on our cool Ironman Boulder 70.3 finisher hats – a hat I will probably use in training because the top of my head got burned when I had my visor on.

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The rest of our team (that hadn’t come in at this point) made it to the finish line within the time limits. We didn’t know at the time that our friend who took a tumble on the bike was rather seriously hurt. We saw her come through the finish line and she went immediately to the medical tent where she was carted off to the hospital in an ambulance. Our coach was a little annoyed that she wasn’t pulled off the course but medics are trained to tell if you have a concussion, broken arms or legs, severe abrasions, heat stroke, regular stroke, heart attack, dehydration, etc. They can’t tell if you have a fractured skull. They do not have MRI vision. The medic that initially did treat her tracked her throughout the course to monitor her and that is testament to the professionalism that these races are conducted with.

Closing thoughts and future goals

You might be tempted to say that if I were to do another long distance triathlon I should try slowing my bike down. On this day with that level of fitness you would be right. However, my goal for another long distance triathlon is to actually have the same swim and bike but improve my run. If I ran at my training pace I would have been across the finish line 26 to 30 minutes sooner (assuming I did the same pace on my swim and bike) which means I really just need to train on the run more. That experience really underscores how in-shape you really have to be in order to run the entire half marathon. Those of us who walk/ran the half marathon and those run ran the entire distance are on two different levels. I respect 70.3 and 140.6 athletes even more now that I have gone through this experience

My goal for my next long distance triathlon is to be well under 6 hours which is totally achievable with a faster run. I started this thing with the singular goal of finishing the 70.3. At this point I don’t want to waste all this training so I am looking at other long distance and Olympic distance triathlons. I have been pulled into the community of triathlon and I am not sure I want to leave it. Alp-D’Huez or Ironman 2015? Maybe…

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