Monday, August 5, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Ironman 70.3 Boulder

I didn't have nearly the level of anticipation leading up to this year's 70.3 race compared to last year. That's okay. There can only be one first time. In truth, it felt better to have at least some idea of what to expect.

While the anticipation may have been lower, my concern for how this event would go was high. No, it would not be out on the hot plains of eastern Colorado, but it would still be in some potentially difficult conditions and certainly with a much bigger field.

Given the rush that came with setting up my transition at the Boulder Peak, three weeks ago, I wanted to be in Boulder on race morning. There was no race day pick up for this one so I had to be there on Saturday anyway. My wife and I decided to spend Saturday night nearby at the Harvest House (a Boulder institution). It's only about 15 minutes away from the venue and comfortable.

I was pleased to learn at the pre-race meeting that everyone would be assigned a spot in the transition area. They were still using those terrible saw-horse type racks, but at least each was clearly marked with the participant's bib number. Here's mine:

And here's the vast transition area on Saturday, less than 24 hours before the fun began:

Once all was set, we grabbed some lunch and then checked into our hotel and rested until dinner time at another Boulder institution, Pasta Jay's. It's also famous for its long waits and, indeed, we waited about an hour to get a table. But no problem. I noticed several other athletes there for dinner. You could identify them by the blue wristband that everyone wears to gain access to transition.

As is often the case before a big event, sleep came fitfully. I did probably manage something between 6 and seven hours before the 4:30 alarm hit me. Then it was time to get a little breakfast which for me consisted of two bananas and a bottle of frappuccino.

Despite being nearby, it still took time to get to the Boulder Reservoir. That's because there were 2000 registrants and around 1700 or so actual participants and they all pretty much converge at the same time. It took me the better part of 30 minutes to drive the last mile. When I finally got near the reservoir, I was greeted with this view:

No one ever said that Colorado isn't pretty.

Despite the long line of cars in front of me, I was able to park fairly close to transition and was soon marked and setting up. Being the thoughtful competitor that I am, I set up a small area. It turned out I could have probably pitched a pup-tent, but more on that later.

Shortly before unpacking, I shot this one on Instagram:

It's a little blurry. That's probably because I was a bundle of nervous energy. No, this was not my first rodeo, but I still felt anxious and really wanted to just get out there and see if I had the chops to do this race or not.

I set everything up and then it was time to don the wetsuit and do a couple of warm up laps.

Boulder Reservoir may have the best set up of any swim venue for this. Since it's a functioning park most of the time, there are not only boat facilities, but also beach facilities including a roped off swim area that is ideal for racers wanting to get in a warm up before the gun. I did a couple of really slow laps around this area and felt good. It's a nice opportunity, also, to see what the water feels like. It was not warm but not cold either and about as clean as it ever gets.

The Swim

Going back to the first race in the series, the Boulder Sprint Triathlon, the organizers have been trying something new with the swim start. Instead of going by age group or gender, they ask athletes to line up based on their anticipated swim time. It's very similar to the corrals you see at large marathons. It's all voluntary, but they urge folks to be honest since where you start does not impact your time. Timing starts when you cross under the arch and over the timing mat. This may not work perfectly, but it seems to help a little bit with the washing machine effect.

Like a lot of beach starts, this one begins with running the first few feet into the water until it's deep enough to start swimming. When I began, it was  almost impossible to see anything in the water because it was so churned up with sand. Fortunately, that didn't last long and soon I was under way.

When so many people are racing, it's nearly impossible to not to run into folks. I had a few bumps and grabs along the way, but I find that I've gotten used to it. I stayed mostly to the outside to avoid the worst of it.

Unfortunately, my Garmin decided to lose satellite reception along the way so I lost about half the swim. Fortunately the timer kept going. My supplement to the map is the fatter red line:

 This was the fourth time I've been in a race at this venue so by now I knew my way into transition quite well. I had made a point of counting the number or sawhorses--I mean bike racks--I needed to pass to get to my row and that helped.

Much to my chagrin, I failed to set my socks out. I usually put them on out of the water and then don't worry about them for the rest of the day. I decided might even have to run without them, but that was not front of mind at the moment.

Instead, I put my cycling shoes on over my bare feet and headed out.

The two open transition slots on either side of my were never used. I don't know what the odds are that not only one, but two DNS's (Did Not Start) would be next to me, but I think they're pretty thin.

The Bike

Again, the route was familiar. Out of the reservoir park, then south on 51st Street to Jay Road. West on Jay to 28th Street, then north. Being on such a long ride, I paid little notice of landmarks along the first part of the course. Before I knew it, 28th Street had become U.S. 36 and I was cruising downhill and picking up speed.

This is a really nice stretch of highway when it's not windy or too hot and neither was the case as I made my way north toward the town of Lyons. There was a fair bit of traffic along the way, but every car gave the riders a wide berth. Boulder County has been the site of some bad bike vs. car publicity in the last year and I think no one who encountered the group wanted to end up in the news like this case or this one. Plus, most folks in Boulder are patient and understanding when it comes to our states share the road laws.

The drive up U.S. 36 is the longest single stretch of road on the course, but it went by for me much more quickly than I thought it would. There were some climbs, but also lots of places to pick up speed. Soon after I arrived at Colorado Highway 66, just outside Lyons and was now headed east. This is just a short section which is good because they had to hold drivers on this road while the riders moved to the left to turn north.onto 75th Street.

This is the section where you are truly out in the country. There was less traffic and although some hills were present, it's mostly flat. I started taking nutrition in the form of Honey Stinger gels at this point. I didn't really feel hungry, but past experience has taught me that I need to keep the caloric intake up.

As you snake your way mostly north, but also a little east, you eventually end up in southern Larimer County, just west of the town of Berthoud. Then it's a couple of right turns and you are headed south again, back toward the town of Longmont.

This section is characterized by several rollers a couple of which were on the steep side, but still nothing like Olde Stage Road. Despite being steepish, they were all very short.

Before I knew it, I was crossing back over Highway 66 and had more or less entered Longmont. In the span of only half a mile you go from riding in the country to cruising through a residential area. That only lasts a few miles and then, just north of the Vance Brand Municipal Airport, you're headed west and then south again, now much closer to Boulder.

In order to round it out to a true 56 miles, the course has an out and back of about 2.5 miles on Niwot Road between 73rd and 63rd Streets. If you know the area, it is more or less the backyard of the IBM plant.

Once you complete that detour, you are directed out to Highway 119, locally known as the Diagonal Highway which connects Longmont and Boulder. I was curious to see if we would truly be riding 56 miles. You see, the last two races in the series have had the bike course detoured due to construction at 119 and Jay Road.

That was not the case on this day however and I continued on. Up to Jay Road and then back to 51st Street.

Along the way, it occurred to me that I was actually riding pretty well. As I arrived back at the transition area, it was clear that I had beat my previous 70.3 bike time by a decent margin.

The Run

I managed to find my socks tucked into my running shoes and got them put on and was out of transition in around four and a half minutes. Truth be told, I was not in a super big hurry.
On my way out, there was a young woman offering to apply sun screen to racers as they left. By that I mean she had big blue rubber gloves on and was pumping the stuff out of a jug. I took her up on the offer because the sun was directly overhead and no clouds threatened to block it.

I knew better than to think I would run the entire time. My plan was to run 3 miles, walk 1, repeat, and then slog it out for the last five or so.

The early part of the course has a few hills in it, and I could feel how tight my quads had become. I still felt okay, however and stuck with my plan, taking my first walk break at mile three. About half a mile later, I decided to run again because I was going mostly downhill and I knew there were some uphills where I would want to walk again.

The east side of the reservoir consists of two long, flat dams and a little point of land between them. There's no shade and unfortunately, there was also no breeze. I was already hot, but now I was scorching. I got through part of mile 5 before walking some more.

At the end of the second dam, there's an uphill stretch that doesn't seem so bad to look at it, but when you are already very tired, it can be tough. I walked some more until I was just uphill from end of the first lap and then ran through that area. It kind of sucks to see other people finishing and knowing you've only completed half the race. I kept it going until just before the reservoir exit when I began what would be an extended walk break.

I had been taking plenty of water and it was really just sloshing around in my stomach, not getting out into my bloodstream where I needed it. That, and the heat and probably low sodium levels all had me feeling a little sick. I could have run some more, but I began to be seriously concerned about ending up in the medical tent, or worse, the ER.

I don't really know if there is a solution to my trouble running in the heat. I can try to do more of it, but I have to balance that out against  the risk of illness and injury.

I walked at around a 15:00 pace knowing that while it was not great, it was better than running and then walking even slower or stopping altogether.

During the last three miles I decided I could run 1/4 mile out of each. And during the last mile, I'd run from the top of the hill above the finish line or for the last 0.35, which ever came first. Turns out, they were pretty much the same thing. It was hard finishing up, but the end sort of pulls you in like a tractor beam. As I entered the chute, I heard the announcer call my name and soon, I was done with my second 70.3:

Race Review

Next Time:

Bike Racks: I know I keep harping on this but the saw horses need to go. It was nice to have an assigned space and I think that goes a long way toward keeping the transition hogs in check. That said, rack where you can mount your wheel so that there's less chance of the whole works tipping and creating a domino effect is really what makes the difference.

Pre-Race Meeting: The website said everyone needs to attend one of the scheduled meetings. I'm all for conveying as much information as possible. But what happened to the video that they used last year for Boulder Peak? It was Barry Siff doing the meeting and participants could watch at their leisure or on a screen at the expo. When you have 2000 registrants, it's a better way to get the message out there.

And that's about it. I have to admit, Ironman has done a good job of making each race in this series that much better as they went along. 

The Good:

Bike Course: The new one loop bike course is a winner! It spreads the field out well and takes you through some scenic country from foothills, to horse country, to farms to lakes. I estimate that there were four police agencies involved in putting this together and it went really well.

Brand Value: WTC puts a lot of stock in their Ironman brand and they do a pretty job of it. This entire race was well organized and well supported. If you are going to charge a premium for your event, you had better be worth it. In large part, this race was.

Support: Aid stations were plentiful, volunteers helpful and everything just sort of clicked. It's impressive to see the small army of folks out there supporting this thing and I was very appreciative of them all. Since my name was on my bib, I heard lots of people who did not know me saying things like "Good job, Paul." It's a small thing that makes a big difference.

Swag: I got a really nice bag, an equally nice running cap (at the finish and dipped in ice water) and good looking tech shirt. Additionally, all of the medals in the series are big ones with quality engraving and an attractive strap. 

Experience: It's kind of hard to put this one into words other than to say that the race organizers know this is a big deal for most participants and they emphasize that throughout. It's part of the brand value and part of walking the talk. Think you have the best race out there, act like it. These guys do and I think they're going to have a very successful 140.6 on this same weekend next year.

Next for me:

My wife and I enjoyed a nice night out after I got a couple hours of sleep. Boulder is a lot of things, not all them good, but it is usually a lot of fun. After a couple of craft beers at the Walnut Brewery we enjoyed a great dinner at The Med. After that, I needed some more sleep!

Plans are to slowly ease back into the swimming riding and running this week. I don't feel especially sore and only a little tired so I think I can come back strong for the Rattlesnake Triathlon which is less than two weeks away.

As always, thanks for reading and if you were a participant as well and have a race report of your own, please leave me a link in the comments section.


  1. Thank you for the great race report! Planning for this race June 2015

  2. Thanks for writing this up! I'm doing this race next weekend and it helps to read about it first. Glad you enjoyed your experience- makes me more excited about doing it.

  3. Thanks for writing this up! I'm doing this race next weekend and it helps to read about it first. Glad you enjoyed your experience- makes me more excited about doing it.