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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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!