Friday, August 16, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Boulder Race Report

Ironman 70.3 Boulder was a race I put on my calendar this year when my friend, Dave Christen, invited me out to Colorado. Dave and I went to college together for two years and played soccer at Roberts Wesleyan before he transferred to Liberty University. Dave now works for Ironman and is the race director for the Boulder Tri Series, which includes 70.3 Boulder and next year will include the first ever Ironman Boulder.

My dad, sister, Becky and I flew out to Boulder on Wednesday for the Sunday race. I wanted a chance to at least acclimate a little bit to the elevation. I had never even been to elevation like this before, let alone trained or raced in it. The closest thing I’d done was ride up Whiteface with my friend, Mike, but that was only nine days prior to the race and it was only up to about 4200 feet at the top. To say I was nervous about racing at elevation was a massive understatement.

The trip out was without incident. We arrived late Wednesday morning, which is also when my bike arrived. I had sent it via FedEx the week before rather than fly with it. I don’t like having it taken apart and packed up, but there was no other option in this case. I picked up the bike box from Dave and took it over to Colorado Multisport to have them build it up. While I was there I saw Miranda Carfrae’s bike on the stand getting worked on. This shop works on all the top level pro bikes. It was pretty cool.

Thursday morning I went for an easy 10K run and then for an easy swim up at the Boulder Reservoir, where we would be swimming on Sunday. I could definitely notice a difference from running and swimming at home, but it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. That was a little confidence booster for me and made me a bit more comfortable.

Thursday afternoon we drove up to Estes Park and went to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountains were beautiful and the views were stunning. We didn’t have time to make it all the way up to the top because we got up there a bit late and it was getting dark. However, we did end up going back on Monday and we did get up to the top. It was absolutely worth it. We saw elk and bighorn sheep, and were able to hike up a ways to the top of a peak. It was awesome.

Friday was a relaxing day. I picked up my bike at Colorado Multisport and then went over to registration. When I picked my bike up they told me that my brake fairing had been cracked during shipment. They had glued it back together and made it functional, but it still sucks having that happen. At least it would work for the race and I will replace it later. After registration we drove down to Idaho Springs to meet Amber, a friend from high school. We had dinner in this little town that looked like it was out of the Wild West and then went for my first hot springs experience. Let’s just say that was an experience and leave it at that…

Saturday was pre-race day as usual. I went up to the reservoir early to get an easy spin in. My power meter was working, so that was a plus. Everything seemed to be in order with my bike so I put it back in the car and headed back to the hotel to shower and relax. At 1pm we went back over to the reservoir to watch the pro panel and attend the athlete briefing. The panel was great as this race is full of top level pros because it is where so many of them live and train. Joe Gambles (I think he wins almost every 70.3 there is…), Ben Hoffman (3 or 4 time Ironman champion), Greg Bennett (former Olympian), Melissa Hauschildt (70.3 World Champion and Olympic qualifier), and Leanda Cave (70.3 and Ironman World Champion) were all at the panel. Not too shabby…

After that was done we went out for dinner. Guess what I had? If you guessed chicken parmigiana you are catching on. After that we headed back to the hotel so I could head to bed early.

The night before the race I slept better than I normally do. I even made it all the way to my alarm before waking up. That rarely happens. I got up just after 4am, had a quick shower, and ate half a bagel with peanut butter and a banana. Then we headed over to the reservoir. It was a little chilly in the morning, which was welcome relief to the earlier heat of the week. It had stormed the night before which brought in some cooler temperatures. The storm brought a ton of hail with it, which had also brought the water temperature down to 72 from around 76, which meant it was definitely a wetsuit legal swim. Once my transition area was set up I headed over to the water to relax before jumping in for a short pre-race swim.

This race used the new swim start format, where people lined themselves up by time for the swim rather than starting in age group waves. The first wave was 30 minutes and under. I went in the second group, which was 30-32 minutes. That was a little bit optimistic for me given my results in the past, but I figured I’d see how it went. This swim start format is definitely tailored to the weaker swimmers. I ended up swimming a 32:12 with a beach start, which is a PR swim for me, but it was the hardest swim I’ve ever had in terms of fighting for space and contact. I have never been kicked and hit as much as I was in this swim. My goggles were knocked off once to the point where I had to completely stop to get the water out and fix them. I kept trying to get to the outside to find clean water but it was pretty hopeless. After the second turn I finally managed to get on the back of a group and just tried to conserve as much energy as possible. When I came out of the water and saw my time I was very pleased, but it was a frustrating swim.

The run to transition was padded with nice mats to save our feet, which was great. I got my wetsuit off pretty easily, grabbed my bike, and off I went.

The first 8-9 miles of the bike were a grind up a false flat. I had ridden some of this stretch the day before when I went out for my ride, so I knew what to expect, but it was tough. Plus my legs didn’t feel great and I could find a comfortable rhythm. The best part of the ride was how much space there was on the road. I’m used to starting in a late wave from my 70.3 races earlier this year, so being out of the water and only having a couple hundred of people in front of me was great. I was moving through traffic pretty well and by mile 12 or so I started to feel a bit better. The course was pretty fast (it was a new bike course this year) and the roads were in great condition. Around mile five I noticed that the cage I put on behind my seat was not holding my water bottle and it was almost falling out. That was my bottle of coke for the end of the ride, so I couldn’t lose it this early. Instead of fighting with it to try to get it to stay I took the bottle and stuck it down the front of my shirt and rode the last 50ish miles with it there. It beat losing it. I was careful to never push too hard and ride conservatively. I was still nervous about being at elevation and that I would suffer at some point. I still biked my way to a 2:15:09, which is a bike PR for me.

I hopped off the bike and was out onto the run course. I felt like I had asthma. The first mile or so I was breathing really hard. I was running next to a guy in my age group, and not knowing where he started I wanted to hang with him and at least not get dropped. After my breathing settled down I was able to pass him and start moving along. It was sunny and hot. There was zero shade on the run course, which circled the reservoir on a dirt road. Joe Gambles and Greg Bennett went flying by be on their second loop a couple miles into my run. It’s somewhat disheartening to see how fast they go past when you still have 11 miles to run. Anyway, on the first climb of the run course I caught another guy in my age group and moved past. Both guys I passed must have started in the first swim group though because the timing from the race showed I was second in my age group off the bike. My stomach hadn’t been feeling great since about mile 45 on the bike. I haven’t really had GI issues when racing before, and I’m still not sure what caused it, but right in front of the third aid station at mile 3 it came to a head. I puked. There were four successive dry heaves and I could feel it coming. Then just like that, boom, puke everywhere. I stopped for about 20-30 seconds to let it all out, and then moved forward. The timing was pretty fortunate because I was able to grab water immediately from the aid station and wash my face and mouth off. I returned to a jog and noticed that I actually felt better than I did before. My only concern now was whether or not that would deplete my energy before I finished. I returned to my normal pattern of coke, water, and ice at each station and the miles were ticking off. By the time I started the second loop I was feeling steady and much better than I had been. I had my eyes on a female pro up the road from me from mile one of the run and my goal was to reel her in. I picked up my pace the last couple of miles and passed her about half a mile from the finish. I ran a 1:33:05, which isn’t my best run, but it only dropped me to third place in the male 30-34 group, so it meant my third podium finish in three 70.3 races this year. Final time: 4:23:23, only about three minutes slower than my PR I set in Florida earlier this year. I raced conservatively and smart so as not to blow up too badly on the run and overall am really happy with the day.

Overall this was a great race with an outstanding pro and amateur field. The venue was beautiful with the mountains just off to the west of the course. Finally, I can’t thank Dave Christen enough for having me out to race and for everything he did for my family. He got them access to everything and got them as close to the race as possible. He went out of his way to make sure they had a great day as well. Dave knows how to put on a phenomenal race, keep the athletes safe and meet their needs, and make sure they have a fantastic experience.