Boulder, Colorado, USA
Ironman Distance (swim: 2.4 miles, bike: 112 miles, run: 26.2 miles, total: 140.6 miles)
Air temperature at the start: 67 degrees. Water temperature: 69 degrees.
What a day! I felt very prepared going into the race. My nutrition plan had worked well for the Boulder Peak Triathlon, which was my ‘test race,’ so I stuck with it. Throughout the Ironman-distance race, I ended up drinking 10 full water bottles, 2 bottles of Hammer Perpetuem, 15 Hammer Gels, 4 bananas, and more salt tablets than I can remember. I was mostly happy with how the nutrition portion of the race unfolded. More on that at the end of the blog.
Pre Race – The setup for this race was different than any I had been to before, because T1 and T2 were in totally different places. We had to get our bikes set up the day before, and leave them racked in transition, but no other gear was allowed to be left there. Everything I would need for the first transition was put into a Bike Gear Bag, and that bag was dropped off with volunteers after I had racked my bike. On race morning, we’d have to park near the finish line, then take buses to the swim start. This caused a bit of anxiety, because until you actually put on the wetsuit, and get ready to go, you’re not 100% sure that everything is in order. Instead, I needed to be sure about everything before I even got on the bus to head to the start. No going back. I ended up with just about the best racking spot you can get, being the last bike on the rack, right next to the bike exit. I was next to the pro rack, so got to watch them prepare, also. Pretty cool.
Swim (2.4 miles/3,862 meters) – I had the typical anxiety that I have prior to a big swim, but was able to remain calm. I knew that I could swim the distance, even if I went from buoy to buoy. By my calculations, I would be able to complete it in 1 hour, 37 minutes, so I lined up in the 1:45-2:00 group for the rolling start. I figured those people would be just about my speed, and if I swam a little faster, that would be ok. I had a good warmup swim, then headed to the start line. What I didn’t count on was the cramping… The water was a perfect temperature, and my wetsuit was relatively comfortable, so the swim started out great, but about 300 meters into the swim (more than 3,500m still to go), my right calf cramped. Soon after that, my left calf joined in. I had to stop about every 50 meters and massage them out, which was horrible. By halfway through, my hamstrings had started to cramp as well, and by the end of the swim, every muscle in my legs were cramping. In fact, when I was about 25 meters from the finish, I had to stop for a full 2 minutes to be able to continue, and get out of the water. The good news is that I finished. The bad news is that I was further behind than I wanted to be, and that my legs were already toast. As I exited the water, my watch said 2 hours, 1 minute. Not sure where the discrepancy came from, but my official swim time says 2:07:16. Regardless, I was ahead of the 2:20:00 cutoff. On to the first transition.
T1 – I was able to jog to the area where the wetsuit strippers were waiting for me. They quickly ripped my wetsuit off, and I dashed into the changing tent. I downed a bottle of water, put my bike shoes on, and quickly applied some sunscreen. I donned my helmet as I jogged toward the bike, which was one of the last bikes still left in transition (boo). It was literally 10 steps from the exit, and 10 more to the bike mount point. Time flies, as I expected T1 to take about 5 minutes, instead it was 9:41. A ton of opportunity for improvement, for sure. The same can be said for each leg of the race.
Bike (112 miles/180.25 kilometers) – I was so happy to be on the bike! I knew it would be my favorite leg, and it didn’t disappoint. I was prepared from a nutrition standpoint, as I mentioned, so I ate and drank properly throughout the bike leg. I passed quite a few people that had handily beat me on the swim, so I felt pretty good about being able to “recalibrate” and maybe make up the half hour I had already lost. Alas, it was not to be. The toll that the swim had taken on my legs manifested itself again about 60 miles in, as my quads began to cramp. I was maintaining a pretty low heart rate (average 128) so was in the right zone, but nevertheless, my legs were certainly not up for the challenge. There was a substantial amount of climbing throughout the course, and a lot of it was concentrated in the later portions of the stage. At mile 90, after a particularly brutal climb, I stopped at an aid station for water. I decided to get off my bike and stretch for a minute, and as soon as I started walking, the cramps really kicked in. I wasn’t able to get back on the bike and start pedaling for about 8 minutes. Once I did, I was fine, but in the last few miles, there was one final tough section, called the Three Sisters. It consists of three tough, steep climbs, and although they’re not very long, their placement at the end of the bike leg made them very difficult. I made it through, even though I couldn’t stand while climbing. I’d immediately cramp and have to sit back down on the seat. I was going to finish the bike, but was not looking forward to the run. My goal time for the bike was sub-6 hours, but I finished in 7:01:15. I’m capable of better.
T2 – I handed my bike to a volunteer at the dismount point. Along with having a wetsuit stripper, the volunteer participation in transition really sets Ironman apart from other races. No need to hunt down your spot, re-rack your bike, etc. They take your bike, and off you go. The bike-to-run transition consisted of running, in bike shoes, from the dismount point, along an outdoor running track, about 1/10 mile to the changing tent, while picking up the bike gear bag along the way. There were still more gear bags there than I had anticipated, so I knew I had made up some time on other people, despite my lackluster performance on the bike. Again, time flew as I changed into my running shoes, drank water, and again applied sunscreen. What I thought was 6 or 7 minutes in transition turned out to show as 12:52 on the clock. Wow. Bad.
Run (26.2 miles/42.16 kilometers) – I was feeling a little better as I started the run, hoping to run about a mile, then walk for about a quarter mile before running again. I thought I’d be able to alternate like this, and likely finish the 26.2 miles in less than 4.5 hours, which puts me at about a 10-minute mile. I was able to run almost a mile, but was not able to maintain that pace, instead averaging about a 13.5-minute pace, with far more walking towards the latter half of the race. My marathon time ended up at 5:54:28. Way past my prediction. I did drink and eat well throughout the run, drinking at every aid station, and taking in the occasional gel, banana, or bite of powerbar. I had no GI distress, but by the end of the race, I was covered in salt so heavily that it was crusting on my skin. With less than a mile to go, I picked up the pace, and did my final mile at a sub-10 minute pace, with the final half mile at sub-9 minute pace. I finished strong, so was happy about that.
Summary and Lessons Learned
My final time was 15:25:32, which beats the 17-hour cutoff by more than an hour and a half, but doesn’t make me happy based on my own predictions. Given that fact, I will indeed by signing up for another Ironman-distance race in the near future.
Completing the Ironman has a dream I held for many years. Actually getting it done means an incredible amount to me. As it turns out, Ironman Boulder will be the largest Ironman in the world this year, with 2,812 people starting the race (3,000 registered). I finished in position 1,667. My age group (M45-49) was the second largest age group, with 392 participants. I finished in 232nd position in my age group. In all the post-race reporting that I read, the combination of starting elevation (5,430 feet/1,655 meters above sea level) and ascending/descending on the course made this the most difficult Ironman this year, as well.
I felt as though I had adequately prepared for the race. I was careful to use the word ‘adequate’ because the expectation I had set for myself was that I would ‘exceptionally’ prepare. Upon final analysis, I completed about 65-70% of the planned workouts, depending on the discipline. I only completed about 25% of the optional strength workouts, which had the biggest effect on me during the race, I think. If I had possessed better muscular endurance, I may have been able to better compensate for the leg issues I felt from the swim. My cardio fitness was better than adequate, but really didn’t come into play because I wasn’t able to push it hard enough because my legs were failing.
When I started my official training plan, in February, I weighed 189 pounds, and 17% body fat. On race day, I weighed in at 158 pounds, and my body fat was 8.8%. I likely took off too much weight (31 pounds) which affected my endurance also. I lost more than 7 pounds during the race itself, which was obviously water, and gained almost all of it back in the following 2 days. My goal weight for the next race will be 170-175 pounds, and a body fat of about 11%.
A final note on nutrition: I got a blood test in the weeks following the race, and found out my magnesium levels were low. That could have easily contributed to the cramping I encountered. Also, I believe I took in the right amount of carbs, sodium, electrolytes, etc., but it is entirely possible that I actually OVER-hydrated, and that I flushed much of the sodium out without absorbing it, and leaving my muscles deprived of that key nutrient. I’m now taking magnesium supplements, and have had no cramping issues since.
I will take all of this information, and use it to create my training and nutrition plan for the next race. Having this experience will give me a better ability to create the right base, muscular endurance, and nutrition strategy to excel in the future. Tentatively, I have decided to race in Ironman Chattanooga in 2016. This race consists of a point-to-point swim with a downriver current, a mostly-flat, single-loop bike course, and a flat, two-loop run. It takes place in late September, so the weather should be in the mid-70’s, and the elevation is far lower than where I live and train. All those factors should contribute to a better race result than I saw for Ironman Boulder.
I’ll keep everyone posted as to how things go, but until then…