Tuesday, August 4, 2015

IM Boulder 2015

A few days after Ironman Boulder, my body hurts but I'm happy.

Training going into the race had been going well and I felt like I was in good shape. As usual it's hard to back things off 10 days before a nine hour race but you have to trust your training and your coaching.  The last week before the race, in the back of my head, I was always telling myself, "Save it for race day!" Because that's really when it counts.

I arrived in Boulder a few days early to get organized. Running around town was a little stressful at times but eventually things were done and the day before the race I was able to relax with other MP Multisport athletes and enjoy some food and company! I've found that I enjoy myself much more if I'm involved in activities and around other people instead of holing up in a room and over-focusing.  The environment in Boulder was fantastic and a lot of people contributed to making the event fun for the athletes.

Race Day
My morning started off at 3 am. I made a big smoothie (coconut milk, greek yogurt, GU strawberry watermelon recovery mix, 2.5 bananas, a few frozen berries and ice cubes) for breakfast. I estimated the smoothie to have around 700 calories which would give me plenty of energy for the day. And because it is never okay to leave half a banana, I ate a big scoop of sunbutter with the leftover banana.  Before leaving the house, I wrote some key words on my hand: "Relax", "Focus" and "Smile".

After dropping off special needs bags, Erik and I jumped on a bus and arrived at the reservoir around 4:45.  Walking into transition, someone with a microphone informed the athletes it would be a "wetsuit optional swim" because the water temperature was 78 degrees. This meant no wetsuits for those who wanted to qualify for age group awards or Kona spots. I was alright with this news, and mentally made a note to try and use my legs as little as possible. I quickly set up my nutrition, bottles and computer on my bike before heading to put my tri top in my bike clothe's bag (shoulders can't be exposed in non-wetsuit swim). 

After using the bathroom and a 10 minute run, I laid down to relax and watch the sun rise. I was excited and ready to go. I pulled on my Roka swimskin.  My girlfriend, Geneva, and her mom met up with me as I headed down to flop around in the water before the swim start. The warmup area was about as big as a large apartment, with about 100 people in it.  It wasn't much of a warmup but it was better than starting completely cold.  Eventually I made it over to the boat ramp where the start would begin.

As I navigated my way up to the "less than 1 hr" sign, I couldn't stop smiling. Finally, the day we had all been waiting for was about to begin. All the training and hard work was finally going to show and after not getting to swim at IM Florida last fall, I was finally going to get to try a "full triathlon". I found coach Mace and he said enjoy this moment, so I started crying.

The canon went off, and despite all the pent-up energy, we walked calmly down to the water's edge before starting our journey.  I started swimming hard for a few minutes before settling into a rhythm. For the most part, everyone around me was swimming a straight line with minimal contact. There was a lead paddle border for us about 50 meters away that we could sight off. I broke the swim up into thirds separated by two turns. For the first section, I wanted to take it easy and draft as much as possible. This part went by quickly and I made sure to smile because we were still getting to watch the sun rise and it was beautiful. 

The next section I began picking up the pace a little bit and by about half way was leading a line in our group. My swimming felt good. Not pretty and effortless but good. The last third I tried to turn up the pace and increase my stroke rate. My tinted Roka goggles worked great with the sun and I was able to easily see all the buoys on the way back. Or what I thought was buoys. I accidentally sighted to one of the volunteers for about 30 seconds. In my defense they were wearing orange reflective vests that looked similar to the buoys. After mentally apologizing to the swimmers drafting off me, I corrected and made my way to the swim exit.

Dem goggles
Running up out of the water I got major chills.  The crowd was huge.  The boat ramp was lined on both side with people. Screaming.  It was so cool. I tried looking for Geneva in the crowd but couldn't find her on the way to grabbing my bag. Into the change tent, my volunteer emptied the contents of my bag. Trying to lower my heart rate while I put on my top, I asked him to undo my matched socks. I buckled up my Rudy helmet, grabbed my shoes and ran out to the sunscreen station. I bent over, asking them to "get my tramp stamp area" before I continued on to find my racked bike.  I trotted my way up to the line, slid my feet into my shoes and hopped on my bike. 

For the first hour of the ride, my plan was to stick to the lower end of my watt range with a slightly higher cadence. In Matt Dixon's book, The Well-Built Triathlete, he recommends that for the first quarter of the bike you do this as you change from swim to bike mindset and to get your muscles sending the biking neuromuscular messages quickly.  Strava here

I started eating and drinking about 20 minutes into the ride. My stomach felt good and I wasn't too hungry yet but I knew my stomach could accept some calories. About 30 minutes in, I had to pee. Good, I thought, this means I'm hydrated and I've practiced peeing on the bike.  I knew the bike course and waited for a downhill. For whatever reason, I could not seem to relax enough going 40 mph downhill. Guess I have to practice more.

My nutrition throughout the ride was cut up dates stuffed with sunbutter, walnuts and some chomps.  I had placed them in my top-tube box somewhat organized but everything quickly molded together. Eventually I stopped trying to pick things out and grabbed a small handful of the mixture.  I smiled to myself because I had told Geneva my nutrition would be a "grab bag" of goodies I could choose from. It was exciting not knowing what I was going to get. It all tasted delicious and more importantly, gave me energy.

Other than trying to will my bladder to empty on a few downhills, only to become frustrated, the first loop of the ride was uneventful.  I was passed early on by a few bikers, never to be seen again but then stayed in my same overall place.  The CSU and CU Tri aid station was just after Hygiene and it was awesome getting to see all my friends hollering at me as I went by. After the first loop, I focused on drinking more liquids. I knew the day was going to get warmer and I'd pay for it dearly on the run if I started dehydrated.

After the second loop, the course headed east for the last 25 or so miles.  I hadn't ridden this section of the course before and reports I'd received ranged from two hills that "weren't so bad" to "mind-crushing walls".  I just reminded myself that everybody does the same course so just watch the watts and get up and stretch because the run is coming! I caught someone ahead of me fading on the second loop and was screamed at by Angela (Team EMJ member Ricardo's wife) as I headed back to the high school.
I had noticed that my heart rate was increasing as I continued holding the same effort. This indicated to me that the temperature was rising and that it was getting harder for my body to cool down. Instead of forcing myself to bike at the same watts, I "relaxed" and "focused" and tried to ride with my heart rate close to 155.  Coach Mace and I had talked about this before the race, putting a cap on the bike heart rate so that I could still have a good run.  Back into town, at some intersections, it took police officers a few seconds to realize a biker was coming at 25+ mp and I was scared the cars weren't going to stop but eventually I found myself dismounting at the high school.
After handing my bike off to a volunteer I entered the change tent and was immediately joined by Billy Edwards and Steve Johnson.  Mace and I had also talked about strategies going into the race and I knew that being around these two heading into the run was a good thing.  While one volunteer had my watch start looking for satellites, another filled up my handheld water bottle.  I put on new socks and my Saucony shoes and headed out just behind Steve Johnson. Mace said we were about 12 minutes down from first place. That's over a mile but a lot can happen over 26 miles! I had no ambitions to win and just wanted to focus on putting together a good marathon.

My plan going into the run was to run above 7 min/mile pace for the first 10 or so miles before picking it up if things felt alright.  Running about 10 seconds behind Steve, we were going just under 7 min/mile pace but it was downhill. I knew Steve was a very experienced Ironman athlete and wouldn't push the first few miles which it is surprisingly easy to do these events. Out of transition, there was an enormous cheering section, screaming. I smiled at everyone but tried to focus on the next three hours of running. 

 The bottoms of my feet started to bother me around mile three. It felt like there were hot spots forming and I really did not want to get any blisters.  I altered my running form a little to run with a midfoot / heel strike which felt a little uncomfortable and slower at first but eventually I was able to ignore it.  I saw Geneva and David with a big water gun about four miles into the run. I smiled and said yes to being blasted with water. 


My body did not feel hot but I got ice in my hat at every aid station and slowed down to get a few cups of cold water. Even though my body and mind was raging to go, I reminded myself, your still only five miles into a 26 mile run.  It will hurt, no need to go searching for it just yet. Instead I "relaxed" and "focused" on my form and nutrition through about mile eight, eating a chew about every mile.  
As soon as we turned back to head west and finish up the first of the two loop run, things got a little harder. I still felt  good and strong but noticed I was working a little harder and we were holding around 7:05 min/mile pace - a little bit slower. People had said that we would notice the uphills heading west. It wasn't steep but it was not flat.  Steve and I passed Billy and Rafael (first overall out of the water) on the first loop but kept our pace steady. Running behind Steve, it was impressive to watch his calm and steady pace. He wasted no energy on facial expressions or gestures towards others.

After we made it to the high point on the course and started heading back downhill to begin the second loop, I started picking up the pace. I wouldn't say I put in a surge but I decided to just not hold back on the slight downhill.  I had finished off my water bottle and picked up a two extra packages of chomps.  After passing Steve, I was running in third place which meant...lead biker :) 

My third place lead biker was awesome. He constantly was rallying the crowds to cheer for me and providing encouragement himself. He also estimated some time gaps and told me when Steve had faded from view behind me.  My form felt good and while my feet hurt, I knew I was going to make it, the only question was how hard could I go and would I blow up.  The crowds were three people deep in some sections. Their cheers gave me energy and when I smiled back they cheered louder.  

Beginning the second lap, I stuck to my nutrition plan and drank water and had ice at every aid station, slowing down as needed to make sure I got a few solid cups down.  As I passed Curt for second, he praised me and said well done. Hearing that, from someone I respect gave me energy and confidence. I got a new lead biker and set off to run back uphill. I thought that if the blow up were to happen, it would be on the uphill from miles 20-24.  My legs hurt but they never gave in. 

I told myself to keep running for all those people watching and cheering for you. I focused on controlling my upper body and having good form. I drank some coke at mile 21 but didn't notice any drastic effects so switched back to cold water. Heading back uphill, I was close to eight minutes behind Clay. I knew anything could happen in the final miles but it would be hard to close that gap either way so I focused my own process. Once I reached the high point again, with only two miles to go, I tried to really enjoy the last few minutes. Mace had said I could be right around nine hours so I tried to push a little to hope I could make that.  I made the turn up towards the finish shoot, thanked my lead biker and smiled all the way to the finish.

As I'm sure every Ironman athlete would say, the feeling of crossing that finish line was incredible.  I leaned on my volunteer for a while before finding Geneva and others.  I took off my shoes, relieved to not find any enormous blisters on the bottom of my feet and hobbled around to get a massage.  My hips were very tight and more or less everything hurt but I was happy. I had trained hard, tapered well and executed a good race in front of people I love. 

I chose a few things from the food tent, salty chips tasted really good, and sat down to watch  other finishers. Soon after, Ricardo finished, qualifying for Kona for the first time. 

A race like this does not happen without a great support system and there are so many people that played a role in this.  
Masters swim coach (and triathlete) Eric Nielson has been running some fantastic triathlon-specific swim sessions this summer that I feel has really maintained my swim fitness. Green Events has also organized weekly open water swims at Horsetooth were a big help in getting more open water practice.
I was able to borrow two different race wheels for Ironman Boulder and Patrick Ray worked on my extremely finicky bike for a long time to make sure everything was safe, fast and working properly.
Big thank you to my parents who are always huge supporters and there for me through the lows and highs.  

Thank you to everyone out there on race day cheering us on, namely the CSU and CU Tri teams. I really liked seeing your faces and the excitement. I really appreciate all the comments and messages these past few days.
Thanks to Geneva, whose support and encouragement leading up to the race was just what I needed. Having others tell you they believe in you, makes you believe in yourself. And I also really liked the post-race, personally-selected food options Geneva provided for me :)

Thanks to Team EMJ for motivating me every weekend and the team's sponsors for keeping us looking and smelling fresh on and off the course. 

Up next for me is recovery! After a few easy weeks, I will focus on building back up to get ready for Kona. I learned a lot by starting back to regular training after IM Florida and plan to be smarter this time around.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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