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Monday, August 22, 2016

Afterward


One thing I wondered about was how I would feel in the days or even weeks following an Ironman finish. Would I need a wheel chair? Would my GI tract be treating me like I was drinking water out of the East River? Would I be arthritic? 

Thankfully, the answer to all of these was no. In summary, here are the consequences I personally experienced from putting my body through this. As always, YMMV.  

Muscular-Skeletal 

I definitely had some soreness, especially during the first few days after the race. On the Tuesday that I returned to work, I walked slowly and deliberately although I think I managed to avoid displaying the old-man walk. By Wednesday afternoon, I felt good enough to go mow my lawn.

Gastrointestinal 

Fortunately, there were no issues here. Having felt kind of sick to my stomach for much of the run and not feeling all that hungry in the minutes following the finish, I was concerned that I might have some unpleasant after effects. Those never materialized and I was soon back to enjoying food and drink as always.

Appendages

Okay, I sort of made that category up to discuss my toes. They did not look great. My left big toe turned purple under the nail. It was the result of a great big blood blister that I think started on the bike and got worse on the run. My right pinky toe also sported a shade of dark purple. Nothing has been especially painful, but there were definitely impacts from all of the…well…impacts.

Mental

I have heard of some folks feeling kind of a let-down after the big day is over—kind of an Ironman training post partem depression of sorts. I did not have that experience. I was not giddy at being done but just relieved and looking forward to doing some training that will be easier on my body.

Illness

Yep, I got sick afterward. A few days after the finish a minor sinus infection started to take hold. By the next weekend it had gone nearly full blown and by the start of last week it had spread to my chest. It’s been stubborn and over two weeks after the race, I’m still trying to shake it. My single piece of advice on this would be to take care of your resistance as best you can. I wish I had chugged a big bottle of orange juice the next morning.

Tattoo Pain

No, not yet anyway. I am seriously looking into this but I’d like to be over the sinus infection and bronchitis first.

Next

I am thinking about what kind of off-season training plan will keep me conditioned but not wear me out or take excessive amounts of time. I have a few good ideas that I think I’ll put into place.

For 2017, I’m excited about the prospect of doing some short-course racing (watching the Olympics certainly motivated it as well) and in the new year, I’ll be working with my coach on a plan to get better at the 51.5km type of races. 

As always, thanks for reading and always feel free to use the comments section to ask anything I didn’t address here.





Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Race Report: Ironman Boulder 2016






No point in burying the lead: I did it!
In what was without question one of the longest and hardest days of my life, I managed to cross the finish line in Boulder and hear Mike Reilly call my name announcing that I was an Ironman! The satisfaction (as well as relief) I feel at having accomplished this is difficult to put into words.
It was a long journey leading up to a long weekend. The best place to start all of this is probably at the start of that weekend.

Days Leading Up

Friday

I took Friday off and began the day by getting a haircut so that I had comfortably short hair for race day. The same man has been cutting my hair since I was fourteen so that means trips up to my hometown of Greeley about every three or four weeks. A lot of people find that absurd but I like his work and on some things, I am loyal to a fault.
With that task complete, it was about an hour to Boulder to park near Boulder High School and walk over to the exposition area that is referred to by the organizers as Ironman Village. In addition to vendors demonstrating their various wares, the logistics of the race are there and it’s at this location where on checks in.
That process was straight forward and I completed the requisite medical forms and releases and within a few minutes was in possession of a very nice back-back and some other swag as well as the things I would need for race day; timing chip, bib, bike stickers and gear bag stickers. Somehow my swim cap didn’t get in the bag but I was able to pick up a replacement the next day.
During the process, I realized I had forgotten to attach my bento box to my bike and had no practical way to carrying the nutrition I would need. As it happened, there was a very extensive bike shop in a tent at the village selling everything except actual bikes. I was able to get a very nice X-Lab box and solve that problem. I had also forgotten to pack a pair of bike shorts to pull on over my triathlon shorts during the ride but I decided to forgo that and just wear the kit like everyone else.
The rest of the day was just to get some food, relax, see a movie and get a decent night’s sleep.

Saturday

I was up a little after 7:30 Saturday morning to do an easy 30 minute run. My coach typically puts this on the schedule the day before any race. The idea is neuromuscular activation, not to go out and set any world records.
Since my hotel was adjacent to part of the run course, I headed west to see some of it in person. It was clear after reaching Eben G. Fine Park that there was going to be at least one big hill leading to the west turn around. I was feeling fresh and strong so climbing it on Saturday morning proved to be no problem. The run was over soon enough and soon my wife and I were having a nice brunch at a place across the street from our hotel.
Once the meal was complete, it was time to start preparing in earnest. I had printed up checklists for everything I needed to pack and step-by-step she and I went through the items one by one until both the bike and run gear bags were ready.
The hotel we had chosen is one of the nicer ones in town and even with the Ironman discount it was expensive. However, it was incredibly convenient and the walk back to the village and the run bag drop off was short.
I arrived just in time for the 11:00 athlete briefing and sat through most of it before the weather started showing signs of rain. They had gotten to the run portion of the brief at that point and I knew that while there might be some surprises, I did not expect anything major.
Dropping off my bag at the track was much like last year. Volunteers had them all aligned in sections grouped by bib number. The threat of rain overnight had prompted me to put my shoes in their own plastic bag just to ensure that they and the socks tucked inside them would stay dry. I also cinched the bag up fairly tight.
The next step was to go back to the hotel, get my bike and load it up into the car for a drive out to Boulder Reservoir. The weather was holding off for the moment, but the clouds were thick and it really felt like we were going to see some moisture at some point.
Parking was in the main lot near the swim beach which meant a much shorter walk from there to the bike racks which were my first stop. After a picture at the entrance (which I’m sure is for insurance purposes) I found my spot and proceeded to rack in.
Ironman races are known for their high level of service. The backpack I got at check-in is a tangible example of this. The plethora of food and beverages along the course and the generous meal voucher for $25 at several downtown restaurants are also good examples. Unfortunately, the bike racks are cheap and largely inadequate.
My bike has a stand-over height of slightly less than three feet. Factor in the seat post height and the two bottles that go in back and it clears that height and then some. Bottom line was that there was no way to hang my bike by the seat without tipping it to the side first. While that’s no problem when there’s no bike on one side, it can get pretty tricky when the rack is full. There are times when a business, like WTC, needs to invest some money into capital improvements. This is one of those times.
Since there’s not much I could do about it, I just racked in and then covered my saddle with a plastic laundry bag from the hotel. I saw others had covered their cranks and handle bars but I was mostly concerned about keeping my but dry since I figured the saddle had the greatest ability to absorb and hold water.
Normally, I would be letting air out of my tires to prevent a tube burst that was the result of the afternoon heat. However, on this afternoon it was barely breaking 70* and having checked a few tires around me, no one else was deflating theirs either. I decided to keep them full which was around 110 to 115 psi.
Satisfied that I had positioned everything correctly, I moved on to the bike gear bag drop-off which sits just outside the change tents and very near the swim exit. Here again, volunteers were making efforts to line the bags up in order. I got mine situated and figured it was best to cinch the draw string tight to try and keep moisture out.
I spent a little time walking around the area and observed the buoys positioned way out on the lake. But there was really nothing else to do out there and I didn’t want to exert too much energy strolling around.
I headed back into town, stopping off at a grocery store for my special needs nutrition and then went back to the hotel to pack those bags.
We had an early dinner with my brother and his wife and soon I was back to my room and ready to call it a night. I was in bed by just after 8:00 and I think asleep by 9:30 or so. I slept restlessly but I probably got a little over five hours which was not bad.

Race Day

Pre-Race

I was kind of already awake when my 3:00 am alarm went off. Despite the obscene hour of the day, getting up was really no problem and I proceeded to consume my usual pre-race meal of a bagel and cream cheese, a bottled smoothie, a banana and a cup of coffee from the in-room machine. I then dressed and found that I still had nearly an hour before I needed to head out the door.
My nerves were starting to work-up a bit but I remained mostly calm as I thumbed through social media on my tablet and willed the minutes to go by. They did and soon I was kissing my wife goodbye and hauling my gear bags downstairs.
Not long after dropping everything except my morning clothes bag, I hooked up with my brother who had generously and graciously offered to come out to the reservoir with me and hang out prior to the swim start. We soon boarded a Boulder County school bus and were there in just a few minutes.
It was dry but overcast and a bit foggy when we arrived. Of course, it was also still dark so that did not matter. I noticed right away that the transition area was better lit than it had been last year. Nevertheless, my headlamp was helpful as I set about filling my bottles with water and Gatorade and otherwise preparing the bike.
The seat cover proved to be a good choice because it had indeed rained the previous evening and while not bone-dry, at least it was not drenched either. Both tires were at the right pressure and it looked like there would be enough room to tip to the side when it came time to un-rack.
I was satisfied with my set up and then went to check on the status of my bag. Everything inside it was dry much to my relief and I knew I’d be ready to go. With that done, all that was left was to wait.
My brother had brought stadium seats for us to sit on which beats the asphalt parking lot. We chilled while he made a couple of Facebook posts and in what seemed like really no time at all, it was time for me to don my wetsuit and get going.



My energy levels were up and I was feeling pretty anxious at this point. I had cut it close enough that I was having to make my way through the crowd to get to the front of the swim corrals but I finally got there with a few minutes to spare. It was time to race.

SWIM

I waded in to about waist deep and then took a big dive forward and was underway. This year’s field was considerably smaller than last year’s and that made for less of a washing machine. Indeed, for the first few minutes, I wasn’t really encountering anybody and getting a nice steady rhythm proved to be no problem at all.
However, after I started to sight, I noticed that I had gone pretty far to the right of the buoys and had to make my way back in. I can’t say why, but all through the swim, I found myself pulling right. Nevertheless, I was feeling pretty good and fatigue was never really a factor.
It’s a long way to the first turn but it still felt like it came up fairly soon and I was pleased to discover that the pushing and shoving match from last year was not present. The buoys turn from yellow to orange about halfway through the back stretch and I mistakenly thought the first of these was the turn. As I got closer it was apparent no one was turning however and as I went by, I recalled that the number on the side started over. I was not let down, though. As I glanced at my watch, it showed about 35 minutes had passed so I knew I was on target for my goal pace.
Another uneventful left turn had me heading in and this section seemed to go by quickly. The sky remained overcast but visibility was good and I could see the various tents and finish arch. Not long after that, I could hear the PA system announcing swimmers as they came out of the water.
When my hand touched the bottom near the exit, I remembered that we were on a boat ramp rather than a beach so I accepted the hand that was helping me out and moved cautiously until I was on the carpeted runway and making my way to the change tent. Volunteers stripped me out of my wetsuit quickly and then my number was called out ahead and a volunteer handed me my bag.

Time: 1:09:19

T1

I was pleased to find a change tent that was not crowded at all. Unlike last year when I was wedged in between groups of naked men, I found a chair with no one around, sat down and began the process of getting my bike gear on.
Because things were less crowded, volunteers were able to offer individual attention and I had a nice gentleman packing my suit in my bag as I pulled on shoes and helmet. There was a table with water and I downed a glass before running out. My coach was one of the volunteers in transition and I said hi on my way out. I think he was surprised because as it would turn out, my time was far faster than expected.
Sunscreen was applied generously and then it was on to my bike. As I ran, I felt something in my shoe and then realized that I had failed to apply chamois cream. This was no time to be bashful so when I arrived at my bike, I opened the packet, applied it to my hand and shoved my hand down my shorts and rubbed it on. Not particularly polite behavior in most circumstances but this was not most circumstances.

Time: 0:07:53

BIKE

I jogged the bike out of transition and got to the top of the hill and turned left instead of right like last year. Once on the mount line I was rolling down a hill and ready to start. I had to struggle a little bit to get my wife’s Scoshe to pair with my Garmin but I figured it out after a few minutes.
It was still overcast and fairly cool as we rode southwest on the diagonal highway and the shoulder had been black-topped the day before making for pleasant riding. I had some concerns about the under the highway but when I arrived traffic was light and getting through was really no problem.
My initial plan had been to stay in the small ring as I rode northeast in the direction of Longmont figuring I would need to save some energy. However, the decline was such that shifting up and pedaling just a little harder was really not taking a toll and giving me some additional speed. I kept that up most of the way down the stretch until reaching Highway 52.
That climb really felt like nothing this year. I did not flat and it was not hot. There were also very few people along this section and that’s where the lower overall registration again showed itself. No complaints from me, though. After cresting, I was able to cruise down to Highway 287 at around 30 MPH.
Climbing back up on Lookout Road was not easy but neither was it devastating. I just kept spinning my lowest gear and taking each section one at a time until being rewarded with a fairly steep downhill to 75th Street. The sun had come out of the cloud cover by now but the temperature remained mild. Going by the spot where I dropped out last year gave me a bit of a psychological boost and I felt good heading into the two big laps.
I was getting dropped a lot on the initial sections and really didn’t mind. I was determined to do my own, fairly conservative race and just make sure I left enough matches in the book to complete the run. The section from Jay Road and 28th Street all the way up until the right turn at Neva Road is one of the more difficult on the course. The shoulder is tight, there can be high wind and there’s a fair amount of climbing. I managed to stay focused and fairly positive throughout and the reward is some speed as you head back east. Then it’s a nice easy stretch all the way until 63rd Street.  The rollers on that street were fine and I continued to make good progress and anticipate the truly most challenging section: the climb up Nelson Road.
While it’s said that familiarity breeds contempt, in my case, it made that section seem a lot shorter. Twice on last year’s ride and twice more on training rides this year made me mostly familiar with the stretch. That’s not to say I went up it with blazing speed—because I didn’t. However, I did see the distinct sections more clearly and on the very brief downhill sections, I got to recover some.
Rolling north on Highway 36 to its intersection with Highway 66 near the town of Lyons is the most rewarding part of the course. With only minimal pedaling, I was still making great time as I tucked into aero position and relaxed the legs. Things got a little more difficult as I headed east on 66 end route to Hygiene but I think that was just because I had gotten so used to the free speed. My Training Peaks analysis says I managed to go almost 20MPH through this section while only expending about 123 watts of power so it actually was going a little better than planned.
I took my first actual rest on St. Vrain Road and it was quick. A volunteer had cold water and bananas so I ate one and washed it down with the water before using another bottle to refill my torpedo. I was off in less than a minute and still feeling good as I got into some of the flatter sections of the course.
I hit special needs and only stayed long enough to collect a pouch of peanut butter cookies, my extra nutrition and some Gatorade mix for my nutrition bottle. There was no water there so I rode on to the next aid station and stopped again at the next aid station where I filled my nutrition bottle with water.
I had been doing a fairly good job of consuming a CLIF shot near the top of each hour and taking several large drinks from my bottle at the bottom. I did not feel hungry or week but as time went by, I did feel a little queasy. My guess is that all of the sugar was just a bit too much for my system. The problem was relatively minor, however and I kept going.
There’s no denying that fatigue was starting to set in as I began the second and final lap but the fact that I only had to run it one more time provided good motivation. After clearing Jay Road, I once again made the climb up 28th Street for Broadway where I knew relief would come in the form of a downhill.
As I neared Broadway, I could see a police vehicle blocking the left turn lane but since it was to the left, I didn’t think it was anything other than a minor traffic accident. Then I started to cruise downhill and I saw several vehicles and it was clear something was wrong. A volunteer was making the universal slow down signal (both arms extended, palms down and waving arms at the ground) and I heeded the warning. A brief glance to my right and I saw a couple of bikes on the side of the road. That there was an accident was obvious, but I didn’t see an ambulance or paramedic’s motorcycle so I had no idea how bad. What I learned later was very upsetting.
For the time being, I took it easy and stayed to the right of the shoulder. This is a tough section of course because the paved shoulder drops off a couple of inches to the unpaved side of the road. I’ve gone off it a couple of times in races and it is disconcerting. I was trying to avoid that while also letting folks pass me on the left.
Once again a Neva Road, the cruising downhill was enjoyable and while just a little slower than the first lap, I still felt good. I was also slower on 63rd Street but not noticeably and the time was passing by fast. Sure I wanted off the bike, but I wasn’t miserable and I’m not sure I could have said the same at that point in the race a year earlier.
I made a stop at the Nelson Road aid station and poured cold water on myself which felt great if a bit shocking. That shock was what told me it was working. The day had not become overly hot, but the sun was out and I was sweating a bit more than I had at the start of the day.
As I headed down the steeper section of US 36 back toward Lyons, I figured I could pour on a bit more speed by shifting up into the big ring. I was completely spun out in the small ring and figured since I still felt reasonably well, this would be a good spot. Then my chain dropped.
It’s frustrating after two tune ups and a couple hundred dollars spent that a shop can’t adjust the front derailleur so that it doesn’t happen but it did and I found myself on the side of the road putting the chain back on. Fortunately, that was easy and soon I was rolling again, albeit with much less momentum.
The flatter roll along Highway 66 to 75th Street did not seem as bad this time and part of that may have been that I was looking at hitting the 90-mile mark. That’s not really where you see the barn but it does mean a fairly short and not overly difficult portion remains.
I had planned on making a second stop at the St. Vrain aid station again but went through before I could determine whether or not there was cold water available. Turns out it was, but I was already cruising away and I figured I could just hit the next station at 63rd Street and the Diagonal Highway.
That’s what I did once again dousing myself with the chilly liquid including my face this time and feeling better for it. I had not passed the 100-mile mark which was symbolically important in that it was further than I made it last year.
The sick feeling was persisting a little bit but I was also absolutely determined to get off the bike and onto the run. There’s no cycling equivalent of walking. If you are going up a big hill, you have to push down on the pedals and go. Once on foot, I knew I could ease the pace regardless of terrain.
As I approached the intersection of Jay Road and 28th Street for the last time, I saw my brother and two of his in-laws who had all come out to cheer me. I would have done this race if not a soul in the world knew about it, but it was terrific to see them there and I was feeling like I was having a good ride.
The roll down Folsom Street to the finish was even easier than I imagined it might be. The one hill at Valmont Road was really nothing more than a bump and after that I just kept cruising right up to the finish.

Time: 6:36:25

 T2

I’m usually pretty good about getting of the bike and jogging it in, but when I saw others around me walking in, it kind of made sense. Sure, I could save a minute or two but it was hot and I was tired.
I walked at a moderate pace until crossing the pedestrian bridge before entering the football stadium. I had the presence of mind to get what I needed off the bike (sodium tablets and my Garmin) and then let the catcher take it away.
Getting my bag from the track was easy but now I was really feeling the warmth of the afternoon. I didn’t worry about it but I knew it could be a factor later on. I continued on to the tent. It’s a long transition at nearly a quarter mile from dismount to the tent.
Once inside the tent, I was again pleased to see it mostly empty and found a chair right away. Changing out items was easy and I found myself on my way in short order, albeit with a stop at the porta-potties to relive some of the copious amounts of water I had been drinking on the bike.
Sun screen reapplied, I looked down the start to the run, hit the lap button on my Garmin and began the last, long stage of the event.

RUN

I had switched from my wife’s Scoshe to my own in T2 and I decided to wait until my first walk break to pair it with my Garmin. As I had planned, I ran for five minutes at a fairly easy pace and was under no illusions about setting any marathon PR’s.
Pairing the HR monitor with the watch took a bit longer than I expected and the scheduled one-minute walk break actually took ninety seconds. I felt okay about that and after another five minutes, I took 1 ½ minutes again.
All of the water was giving me a bit of an abdominal cramp right below the center of my rib cage. It wasn’t debilitating but it did hurt. I was also still feeling a bit queasy still. I think I may never be able to consume another CLIF shot again!
After about five of the intervals, I was feeling especially tired. My HR was not especially high, but I felt gassed and my legs were complaining. I did one more section near the turnaround at Baseline Road and the Foothills Parkway and then took an extended walk break. It was clear that my running race plan was going to have to be changed on the fly.
For roughly the next half hour, I walked at my best possible pace (around 15:35 per mile) and let the cramps subside and my stomach settled down a bit. I was taking water but nothing else sounded good so I avoided it.
There’s an aid station near the northeastern turn around and not long after passing it, I managed to talk myself back into running some more. I had initially thought about just going a minute at a time but I felt strong enough to make it two minutes. Then I walked for five. Part of me wondered if I was being too conservative, but a bigger part said that finishing the race was all that mattered.
As the course approached the underpass at 55th Street, I was anticipating a turnaround, but the course made a sharp left and paralleled the street. It made sense. Unlike the first two years of this race when the finish was near the Pearl Street Mall, they had moved it south this year to avoid closing the busy streets of Canyon and Walnut. The distance had to be made up somewhere so this little stretch was it. It may have felt psychologically worse than it was.
As I approached the turnaround, my brother was there to cheer me on. After returning from the swim venue, he had seen me on the bike and now I was seeing him for the first of several times during the run.
I was just hitting a walk break so he walked along side to see how I was doing and give me encouragement. I let him know about some of the difficulty I was having but also that I still felt okay.
He caught me again when I passed back by the aid station and he suggested that if my stomach was still upset, I should try having a cola. That made sense and I made a mental note to look for it.
Ted also told me that our wives were a few miles ahead which I knew meant near the high school which not the true center of the course but is its main focal point. I continued my progression of running for two minutes and walking for five and while I was not exactly setting the course on fire, I did find it sustainable and faster than 100% walking. When I found an aid station with cola, it wasn’t flat so I took but a sip and then dumped it.
There were only a few empty sections of the run course though they became more plentiful as the day went on and became a night. I struggled on with my 2 minute run, 5 minute walk pace until I was at roughly mile 16. I took a longer walk break and the decided it was best to change to one minute runs and keep the same walk interval. I knew it was going to be a slow run and that I was probably going to miss my soft goal of a fourteen hour race, but I was more concerned with finishing than anything else.
I had seen others going by the wayside and I wanted to keep moving, even if it was only at walking pace. Several others around me seemed to have the same idea. Truthfully, it was more about mental discipline at this point. My legs ached, my heartrate shot up into the 90’s even when walking and I was hot. But I was not discouraged. I knew that the challenge of finishing would be difficult, but with each step, I felt better.
Around mile 23 I encountered my coach who asked how I was doing and encouraged me to keep going. I knew he had been in the same situation himself and he was keenly aware of how difficult things get at this point.
As I climbed up into the canyon for the last time, I was astonished by how warm it was. The sun was down and I was walking along a swift creek that had been snow melt not long before yet the wind coming at me was not just warm but hot! It was crazy but I shook it off.
Going around the last turnaround was a huge relief. I had all but given up on running at this point but I was able to make a decent walking pace and was relishing the thought of being done.
Coming back under Broadway my coach was still there and told me I had to jog the finish. I was too tired to argue so I gently picked up the pace and only walked up the steep slope you encounter after you go under Arapahoe Avenue. Now making a right turn like a freeway onramp, I was in the chute and I knew when I made the final turn, I would see the finish line.
I could hear Mike Reilly making his finishing announcements and I could see bright lights framed by the black finish arch. I was not going fast, but I was going to be an Ironman.
It was noisy but through the din I heard it:
“Paul Johnson, Parker Colorado, you are an Ironman”

Time: 6:14:26

Total Time: 14:18:31

Post-Race and Some Observations

My coach was the first person to greet me in the finish area. After introducing him to my family, I made my way out of the area away from some of the heat and toward some refreshment. A volunteer asked me if I needed any medical attention and I politely but emphatically declined. If I never enter another medical tent, it will be too soon.
Ted met me just outside the finisher area and I sat down on one of the benches that faces the giant band shell in Boulder’s Central Park. Soon the rest of the family joined me and after finishing the coke I had been drinking, we headed over to Reuben’s for a late meal.
It was a long walk back to get my bike and gear bags from the stadium, but I really didn’t mind and soon my wife and I were back at the hotel where I took a much needed shower and did my best to scrape away the hours of sweat, salt, sunscreen and who knows what else that had accumulated. My legs hurt and I had profound saddle sores but I was still in good spirits. Although poor sleep can be a risk after these races, I actually slept pretty soundly.
I learned at this point the bike crash aftermath I had seen had been fatal. A young woman named Michelle Walters from McCook, Nebraska had been hit by a vehicle. I’ve since heard she may have veered out of the shoulder on a section where I warned in this very blog that things can get dicey. I am absolutely heartbroken at the news and feel terrible for her friends and family. My day was one of celebration while theirs was…well I just can’t find the words. I don’t know who was at fault and I really don’t care. I’m just sorry it happened and I hope it’s the last time we hear of such a thing even though I know it won’t be.
Like all USAT sanctioned events, an Ironman is a non-drafting race. I understand and agree with that. However, the distance has gone from three bike lengths a few years ago to four and now to six. Short of Andre the Giant riding ahead of me, I’m not at all clear how I am getting any kind of a wind shadow from that far back.
As we climbed up Highway 52, an official’s motorcycle was clocking people to see if they were drafting. My own pace up this section was under 10 MPH. No one is getting any drafting benefits here. I think Ironman needs to revisit this rule, especially as it is applied to those of us in the middle and back of the pack.
The Boulder Creek path is a public, multi-use path. It is not closed to public access during the race and I think some folks out there had a genuine need to be on it. I’m not a parent, but if I were, I think Ironman Sunday is an absolutely horrible day to take your young child on a bike ride along it. Other folks just walking along or bringing their tubes up to the top of the creek seemed less intrusive.
In spite of all of my gripes, however, I have to say that an Ironman branded race is a good one. That’s not to say that I don’t have a few problems with some of the ways they conduct business (equal numbers of professional men and women to Kona is a major one) but from an age-group athlete perspective, it’s a good race.
For the tragedy that happened, I hope some smart people can figure out a way to make the course safer. I really don’t know how you avoid U.S. 36 as it makes its way out of town. It might be advisable to send the traffic up Olde Stage Road and down Lefthand Canyon at least for the portion that is headed north. It might mean metering the traffic the way it is when you get on a freeway during rush hour. Truthfully, I don’t know.
I don’t want to end this post on a down note however. I am proud that I can now call myself an Ironman. I am grateful to everyone that helped me along. That means my coach and his diligence to get me ready for this, my brother for his moral support and encouragement, my wife for her patience, for every stranger that read my name off my bib and cheered me on, to all of the distant friends and family that gave me encouragement on Facebook even though I was not aware of it at the time.
Two days after the event, I’m still very stiff and sore. My left big toe is a shade of light purple that does not look normal and I have two big red arcs where I sunscreen did not get fully applied and I’m still happy about it all.
Thanks for reading about this race and about everything that happened on the journey.

The quest for an Ironman finish is complete, but the blog will continue!


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Ironman Boulder Race Plan: 2016 Edition



Just under a year ago, I began a post with the words “This is one of the most difficult posts I’ve had to write.” I went on to chronicle the events that lead to my first and fortunately so far only DNF. It was two days after I failed to make it out of the bike stage of the 2015 Ironman Boulder due to what turned out to be nothing terribly serious. It was enough, however to make me drop out of the race and nearly every day since, I’ve thought about trying again. The day to make that attempt is nearly here.

In all candor, this race scares me a little bit. I knew going into last year that it would be challenging, but it was not until after several hours on a hot bike course that I realized just how truly difficult it would be. Add in a failure to finish and I find the prospect of trying the again a little daunting. Doing so within a month of my 47th birthday creates even more doubt.

Nevertheless, I have been training more or less constantly for most of the last two years to be in the position I am in today and I feel ready. Long and hard workouts make me tired but not exhausted. Heat is annoying but not debilitating. I’m a little anxious but not riddled with anxiety. It’s time to go out and be an Ironman and below is how I intend to do it.

PRE-RACE 

No trips back and forth between Parker and Boulder this year. I’m spending most of the weekend in Boulder and I’m happy about that. I plan on arriving in town on Friday afternoon and going straight to check-in. After that, I have a downtown hotel booked and I’ll spend time there except for trips to drop off the bike and transitions bags. My wife and I enjoyed a long weekend in Boulder for the Boulder Peak race (unfortunately canceled) and had some fun. This time it’s about staying rested, hydrated and hopefully, calm.

The day before the race I have a short run of 30 minutes which is really just about keeping things loose and maybe burning off a bit of nervous energy. I’m going to do this on the creek path and cover just a small part of the run course. 

Other tasks include the careful packing and double checking of my transition and special needs bag as well as making sure I have everything I need in my morning clothes bag. I don’t want to obsess, but I’ll be going over these multiple times just to be sure.

Like last year, I’ll hit the sack early but I expect some sleeplessness. I won’t say I was not tired at the end of the day last year, but I also don’t think that it had much of an impact on my race.

My hotel is less than half a mile from the special needs bag drop-off in Central Park so I’m planning on rising at about 3:00 or so Sunday morning. First order upon waking will be a breakfast consisting of a bagel and cream cheese, a bottled smoothie, a banana and probably a small cup of coffee. Race day is no day to give up caffeine!

Hurrying and scurrying to make it out to the lake on time is never a good idea so I’ll be on one of the first buses out there. Better to wait around than suffer the anxiety about making it on time. I have mixed feelings about a swim warm up. I may do a very short one but I’ll wait and see how I feel. Wetsuit legality may also factor in so no wetsuit means no warm up swim.

The remaining pre-race business includes doing my pre-race business, making sure my tires are pumped up properly and possibly locating my T1 bag though hopefully a volunteer will just hand it to me.

THE SWIM

Assuming a wetsuit legal race, I’ll line up with the group expecting to finish in 1:10. My own finish goal is a touch slower but I’d rather be at the back of this group and maybe get a little open space. Drafting is a great idea, but I’m not confident in finding anyone who will actually be at the right pace for me to do so.

Assuming I am indeed on my own, the key is going to be finding a comfortable rhythm and remembering that the first few minutes are likely going to be uncomfortable until the field stretches out a bit. 

The turns last year were insane and I don’t much care about cutting them tight this year. I’ll swim a few feet off the buoys or at whatever distance is necessary to stay out of the pushing and shoving match. 

I’m a strong swimmer and all of my pool workouts have gone well this year. I did this successfully last year in just my tri shorts. I believe I am in just as good of swim shape; if I get to wear a suit, then so much the better.

Goal Time: 1:15:00

T1

If I am wearing a wetsuits, I’ll make use of any strippers. My experience has been they are a time saver. There’s likely to be a bit of muck on my feet but I’ll address that with a towel in the tent and then I’ll don my socks. That’s right, socks on the bike. In a shorter race I would skip them but for more or less 110 miles, I’d prefer the extra protection for my feet. I’ll also be pulling a pair of bike shorts over my triathlon shorts. I’ve been training that way and it’s comfortable for me. Then it’s just a matter of applying a generous smear of chamois cream, fastening my helmet, buckling my shoes and getting out of there with a short stop to get slathered with sunscreen.

I want to be properly hydrated but I had enough water last year that I made multiple trips to the porta-potty, let go a couple of times in my suit andstill had to make one last trip before getting my bike. I’m really hoping to skip that this year and save some time.

Goal Time: 0:08:00

THE BIKE

It’s without a doubt my weakest discipline. I’ve worked hard to be a stronger, fitter rider but I’m still a better runner and a much better swimmer. For me, the key to success here will be about managing my energy expenditure. No, I don’t want to turn in a seven hour bike split, but I am prepared for that.

When practicing on the course this summer I more or less employing my race-day strategy. A key element of that strategy is to ease up (not coast) on easier sections rather than push hard for additional speed. My own calculations suggest that cranking hard and boosting my speed in areas like the back-side of the Highway 52 hill or down the Neva and Niwot Road stretches would gain me a few minutes at best. I think I’ll be better served by giving my legs a rest when I can. The initial hills and two really long stretches along Nelson Road will be enough to ensure that my legs have more than enough opportunity to get tired. If I finish the bike stage in 6:45 instead of 6:30, do I really care? No.

I’ve not done a great job on nutrition during my practice rides but I’m getting there. I’ll be carrying 5, 100 calorie gels with me and consuming all by the time I reach special needs at which time I’ll have five more waiting for me. I’ll also be carrying a bottle with 300 calories of Gatorade and a baggie with replacement powder will also be in the special needs bag. It’s kind of a mixed bag about what else I might put in the bag. A PBJ sounds good but messy but it might be worth it. I could also do something that will not melt like peanut butter cookies. Whatever the case, it won’t be much.

From my perspective, there are two significant challenges on the course (though I’ll be prepared for the unexpected). First will be the second time around on Nelson Road. That’s at about 77 miles in so not only do I expect to be fatigued, but it may also be pretty warm (current forecasts notwithstanding). I don’t plan on stopping at a lot of aid stations but I’ll do so at the one located near Nelson and Highway 36.

The second challenge is the ride from 63rd Streetand the Diagonal Highway on loop 2 all the way up to Jay Road and then on to 26th Street. This is not a steep climb but it is consistent and again, I do anticipate having fairly sore legs (to say nothing of being saddle sore).

Last year’s bike failure ought to serve as motivation not to let it happen again however. No matter how crappy I feel, I plan to just keep going. I might have to hit an aid station and dump water on my head and down my back, but I’ll keep pushing. Unlike last year, the two big hills will not be waiting for me during the last 30 miles of the bike discipline.

The run down 26th Street/Folsom is not pure downhill, but it should afford for some easier spinning. That’s my plan for this section: higher cadence minimal resistance. There will probably also be a fair amount of standing and stretching my hip flexors as the bike winds down.

I’m looking forward to actually seeing this part of the course. It sounds like it has the highest concentration of spectators (at least for the bike) and pro-race-looking barricades down Arapahoe Avenue as you near Boulder High School. 

There will still be much to do, but if I get this far, I’ll be feeling pretty good.

Goal Time: 6:40:00

 

T2

I won’t walk through transition but I will jog. Pretty slowly in fact until I hand my bike to a catcher. I’m really not talented or coordinated enough to lose the shoes while they remain attached to my pedals so I think I’ll just wear them to the change tent.

Once in the tent the process ought to be simple: lose the bike shorts (which I’ll have been wearing over my tri shorts) and change out my HR monitor. My chest strap Garmin monitor, which I wore last year, is all but useless and no amount of work gets it to provide an accurate reading. Instead, I’ll be wearing my Scoshe Rhythm+ on the bike and then switching over to my wife’s Rhythm+ for the run. There’s not enough battery life in either unit for both disciplines, but one for each should do the trick. I’ll worry about getting it properly paired with my 910XT after I start running.

I’ve gone back and forth between wearing a hat or a visor. If the temperatures stay where they are forecast (around the mid 80* range) then I may go with the visor. If it looks to be closer to 90* at the time of the run start I may wear a hat so that I can put ice in it.

My running shoes are equipped with Yankz and prior to pulling them on, I’ll put on a fresh pair of socks.

It certainly won’t be as fast as other T2’s—especially given how long the overall area is—but I think I can get through fairly quickly.

Goal Time: 0:09:00

 

THE RUN

Running 26.2 miles isn’t the real challenge of an Ironman. It’s doing that distance after having already swum 2.4 miles and biked 112 (or so). Some people are just naturally gifted distance runners. They may never win a 100 yard dash but they can maintain a high pace for hours on end with minimal suffering. I am not one of those people.

After a recent training ride I had a 30 minute off-the bike run. The first part of this involves going pretty much all out for five minutes and within two, I was practically hypoxic. The purpose of the workout is to prepare me for the run but not to practice how I’ll actually start.

During that same workout I felt better doing the remaining sets at what felt like a comfortable pace (around the mid nine minute range) which was encouraging.

A year ago I felt optimistic about going for ten minute stretches without a walking break but I think that may have been unrealistic. It certainly is this year. My goal instead will be a series of 5 minute runs. Initially I think I can accomplish these with just a minute’s walk in between. The course is pretty flat but there is a net drop in elevation over the first few miles.

Weather (in the form of heat) and my overall feeling of fatigue will definitely factor in but I think I can keep this up for about the first quarter or so of the run discipline. That’s where the most easterly turn-around is and there’s a consistent gain in elevation from that point.

Much as I’d like to think that I’ll be feeling better than expected, I’d rather plan on the conservative side. If I can run more and walk less, that will be great, but that’s a very best case scenario in my mind. What’s more likely is that I’ll want longer walk breaks. With that in mind, I’ll increase the walk interval to a minute and a half. Before I turn around at the west end of the course, I expect it to increase to two minutes. Regardless of the rest time, I’m going to try and keep the five minute running intervals. 

Predicting all of this is more art than science and so these guidelines are just a rough outline of the plan I hope to follow but I’m realistic in my understanding that things could be far more difficult than they appear to be on paper. I’d really rather not be crossing the finish line after 10:00 but I would absolutely take that versus not finishing at all.

Chunking the run (as well as the other events) down into smaller sizes will help make it more manageable and not mentally overwhelm me. I know some part of my mind will be thinking about when this is all over which is okay; I just can’t let that come to the forefront. No doubt, things will feel a little difficult if I can hear the finishing announcements over the PA as I am just passing the halfway mark. It will just be one other thing to put out of my mind. 

One positive of the run is that it’s probably the best part of the whole course. Most of it parallels Boulder Creek which is lined with trees beautiful scenery. What’s more, according to others, the spectators are in full force throughout which will be a great experience. Most of my runs have been fairly isolated experiences with no one around other than fellow athletes.

Goal Time: 5:06:00

Race Goal Time: 13:18:00

 

Brevity has never been my strong suit on this blog and this post has proven to be no exception. But itis a 140.6 mile race so there’s a lot to plan for.

Despite some nerves and normal self-doubt that I’m sure precedes most people’s ‘A’ races, I really do feel ready. Moreover, I feel a tug to get out and there and do this. I’ve waited and waited and really want that time to be over. 

As I face the inevitable struggles on race day, I’ll be keeping one particular piece of advice in mind from my coach: maintain an attitude of gratitude. After all, how luck am I to be able to compete in and have realistic hopes of finishing an Ironman? Lucy indeed!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

IM Boulder Bike Course Preview



I debated whether or not to even write this post but since the information is still fresh in my mind and itmight be of some value, I figured why not.

Not long after seeing that my Sunday workout last week would involve a long bike ride, it seemed logical to do it in Boulder using most of the Ironman course. I had done a similar but much shorter ride in June and not only would this now be a chance to gauge my performance against what is needed for race day, it would also be a chance to get a firsthand look at the terrain I’ll be riding in less than two weeks.

A lot can happen in that time frame and I don’t expect to be back before that but as of July 24, this is what I see.

Early Stages

There was actually a triathlon going on the day I showed up to train so driving up to and parking near the reservoir seemed like a bad idea. Instead, I parked near the condo I lived in way back when I was a sophomore in college. From there, it was a fairly short ride to the course proper. So while I did not actually ride 51st Street out of the Reservoir area, I think it’s safe to say it’s probably not changed.

Just south of Jay Road on the Diagonal Highway (aka 119) the shoulder of the road has been milled (i.e.: ground up into a bunch of grooves). It’s not a long stretch, maybe half a mile and I didn’t have any issues, but this is early in the course and if it’s not fixed and there is no detour around it in the right lane of the highway, I could see problems on race day.

The bike trail that passes under the highway is a clever way to get racers turned around heading back toward Longmont. However, it’s at about mile 3 of the course which means big crowds and large potential for accidents. The path can really only comfortably support racers two-a-breast and my guess is that they’ll force folks into possible single file. Be ready to slow way down and just take it easy. There’s lots of race ahead still.

After heading back out of Boulder on 119, things get better. There are some large orange, diamond shaped construction signs in the shoulder but I trust those will be moved aside. Much of the road is fresh, smooth asphalt which is good, but there are also some small bumps in that asphalt. This may be a warning to cars drifting off the road but it caused one of my water bottles to loosen and then eject when I went over a large bump turning onto Highway 52.

The Big Hills

As intimidating as the hills running up Highway 52 and Lookout Road are, they seemed much better on fresh legs and before the real heat had set in. Indeed, a steady spin saw me to the top of the first hill without much difficulty or pain. Personally, I found the Lookout Road hills (yes plural) to be more difficult.

The first hill is steep but short and starts just west of 95th Avenue. The second hill is almost two hills with a flatter (but not totally flat section) between two steeper parts. Finally, the third hill seemed comparable to the first. Once you crest it, you’ll benefit from some free speed going not only the rest of the way down Lookout, but also as you turn south on 75th Street.

Back to the Loops

The right turn onto Jay Road sees the course flatten out a bit and perhaps there is even a slight rise. It’s not especially difficult this early in the race but I did see my power increase while my speed dropped off. Once you turn left and head down 57thyou’ll get a nice downhill before a steep uphill (comparable to those on Lookout) and then you’ll be headed west on Independence Road going by the airport. Back to 47th street and out to Jay Road and then you’re starting the two main loops that make up the majority of the course.

The Climb to Broadway

Jay Road is definitely a false flat. You’ll only ride about half of it the first time you hit it but it’s the steeper half and I saw my speed drop off notably in this section. That’s just the beginning however because the ride northwest on 28th Street/Highway 36 is neither false nor flat.

It does not feel like an especially big hill, but it steeper than most realize. I ran a gauntlet of barrel shaped objects soon after turning onto the road but I again trust this will be removed. I spun this section all the way until Broadway. In fact, when you see the large barn—shaped flooring store you’ll more or less have crested the gradual but consistent hill.

Rolling Along to Neva Road

There’s a nice steep downhill after passing Broadway which most will find a pleasant respite after the climb. I enjoy the free speed as well but there are a lot of fast moving cars through this area and things have often felt tight and a little dangerous in this section. Hopefully the presence of law enforcement and lots of racers will slow drivers down, but I suggest caution.

Once you go up an equally steep hill (hopefully with some of the speed you’ve garnered from going down) you’ll pass Longhorn Road and then be out on the open section of Highway 36 as it heads toward Lyons. This is a good place to open up a little but wind could be a factor, particularly on the second lap. I had no particular problems but it did slow me down the second time I was there.

Neva to 63rd Street

This has to be the fastest, sustained part of the course. While there are a couple of hills on the early part of Neva Road, you can hit them with some speed and still keep your momentum. After making an “S” turn where Neva turns into Niwot Road, you’ve got a steady slope down. It’s a good place to pick up speed or just recover depending on your own personal race strategy.

The 63rd Street Rollers

That sounds like a street gang, but this peaceful section of road just undulates gently proving ample opportunity to gain some speed but not too much as couple of the hills are short but steep. Once you pas Ryssby Church (a famous old Scandinavian church on the east side of the road) you’ll get a pretty steep downhill before the left turn onto Nelson Road.

The Nelson Climb

I suspect many a rider has seen their plans go awry when they head west on Nelson Road. It starts off with a long shallow climb but soon after it gets steep. From the point where the first big hill starts to its crest after making the curving turn around Table Mountain is 3.8% by my calculations. I’m sure certain sections are steeper. There’s a flatter section after that but then as you turn more westerly you’ll not only experience a net climb but also hit a rather steep hill. On the second loop, this comes not long before the special needs area so there may be some rest for you afterward. Technically, the climb continues after you turn right back onto Highway 36 but I’ve found that it feels easier.

Bombing Down 36 into Lyons

All that goes up must come down and that’s quite true of this section. Being as I was training and not racing, I did take a moment to enjoy the panoramic views from high on the course. Even if you don’t get to enjoy that, the ride down is fast and rewarding. Aggressive riders will no doubt push things in the big ring, but all riders will experience some of their most sustained faster speeds all the way to Highway 66. It’s a nice section of the course with a wide shoulder that allows plenty of room to pass and be passed.

Head East

While not nearly as steep as the preceding section, the ride along Highway 66 is a net decline and I’ve found I can maintain decent speed as I make my way down it. There are some flat sections and one slight uphill before making the turn back north on 75th Street near Hygiene, but overall you’ll probably be able to increase your average speed through this section.

Hygiene Run

For those not familiar, Hygiene is a very small town through which the course passes. It has a famous reputation as a popular stop for cyclists and indeed, during both of my training rides through the area I’ve stopped into the Purple Door Market to replenish my water supplies. If you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend patronizing this establishment. They’ve done a great deal to welcome the cycling community and are deserving of all the support they can get.

You obviously won’t be stopping in your race, but you will enjoy a downhill section as you move back toward the center of the loop. One word of caution I do have is regarding the train tracks that run across 75th Street just south of the market. It’s a water bottle grave yard. Last year, I ejected one of mine adding it to probably a hundred others. I don’t think anyone was getting a penalty, but losing a bottle is a penalty in and of itself.

Twists and Turns

A right turn onto St. Vrain Road will probably slow you some as you go west. A general rule is that if the mountains are in front of you, you’re going up. It’s not that bad and it’s quick before a left turn onto 65th Street which is a net decline and a good place to make up some speed. At the end the road, you’ll hit a “T” intersection with Nelson Road just a couple of blocks east of where you started the big climb earlier. Heading east on Nelson is decidedly easier, even if you begin by going up a slight hill. It’s also fairly quick and then you find yourself back on 75thStreet, south of Hygiene and headed back toward the northeastern side of the course.

The 75th Stretch

The southward trip on 75th Street is not the longest section of road on the course, but at a little over four miles, it is up there. You’ll actually be on 73rdStreet after a gentle curve about 1.5 miles in but the whole section feels pretty straight with no sharp lefts or rights. There’s even a nice downhill section ahead of Niwot Road. The leg has a net positive grade of 0.1% but it’s really a flat with on short up and one longer down.

Back to 119

Upon reaching Monarch Road, you climb very gently for about a mile and then turn left on 63rdStreet. There’s one big hump on 63rd Street just before you go down again and rejoin the Diagonal Highway heading back toward Boulder. This is a fairly unremarkable section of course but if memory serves, there is an aid station on or near that big hump. I found another large orange construction sign in the shoulder here, but again, I expect it to be gone on race day.

Finishing the Loop

The distance between 63rd Street and Jay Road on the Diagonal Highway is a little over two miles and while it’s not a steep climb (like Nelson) it is still a climb and on your second loop, you may also be feeling more pain. I also have found that wind can be a factor through here and while it might be behind you, it very likely could be right in your face as afternoon thunderstorms build. Fortunately, two miles goes by quickly on a bike and soon you’re climbing back up Jay Road.

To the Finish

If you’ve finished the loop for the first time, you’ll do all of this again. For me personally, the climb up Nelson a second time is the biggest challenge. Fortunately, there’s a nice recovery section right after.

If you’ve completed two loops, things change once you get back to the intersection of Jay Road and 28th Street. At this point you cross 28th and continue a couple of blocks west to 26th Streetwhere you turn left.

On my training ride, this was near the end but in the race you’ll still have a few miles to go. It’s a nice downhill ride all the way to Iris Avenue at which point 26th Street becomes Folsom Street. This will also be mostly downhill with the notable exception of a small climb at Valmont Road. It’s over fast however.

By the time you’re running down Folsom to Arapahoe Avenue, you’ll be very close to the finish. Though not personally experienced with it, I’m told the cruise down Arapahoe is pretty fun with that section of the street closed to traffic and barricades lining the sides. 

Conclusion

This is another long post, but it takes a lot describe a course with so many twists and turns. The overall condition is good with no potholes, or extended rough sections to speak of. Where this is chip seal work, it’s fairly smooth and not even that noticeable.

The biggest external factors to the rider are likely to be weather in the form of heat and possibly wind (rain is also possible but likely not until after the bike discipline) and traffic which has always been well managed by the officers from Boulder Police and Sheriffs and the Colorado State Patrol.

Having the big hills at the start of the course will definitely be beneficial but it comes at the cost of a probably log jam during the Highway 119 underpass. Otherwise, I think this is a good course (albeit on the short side of 112 miles). 

If you’re racing in Boulder on August 7, best of luck to you and thanks for reading!