Monday, August 04, 2014

Iron Retirement: An Ironman Boulder Race Report

I want to believe that Ironman Boulder will be my last ever Ironman but I know myself and know I should never say never when it comes to things like this.  However, I sincerely believe that if I do another Ironman it will be when I’m retired and I have my days to train.  Ultrarunning takes up a lot of time but I really love running trails and so it doesn't feel like I’m “training” it feels like I’m playing and exploring.

Ironman, or even half-iron triathlon is a different story.  You really need to train for those because of the distances covered in the bike and the swim and the money involved.  Were it possible to train for these events exclusively by trail running then I’d probably do them whenever a larger group of my friends went out to do them but you can’t, not really, which brings me to my current story.

About a year ago I somehow became aware that there would be an inaugural Ironman Boulder.  I have no idea how I became aware of it because I have gone deeply into the ultra running and marathon worlds and triathlon has become somewhat foreign to me.  However, through circumstance I discovered this event and immediately felt compelled to do it.  Not because it was an Ironman, that was actually the only drawback.  I wanted to do it because it was inaugural, because it was in Boulder, CO and because I had several friends who were talking about doing it and so I registered both myself and the GeekGrl and almost immediately regretted it.

I knew I didn’t have the motivation to actually train for an Ironman, knew it.  I knew that I think both swimming and cycling sucked and i knew that all I really cared about was running.  However, I also had been sitting at seven Ironman finishes since 2008 and that has actually bugged me it just hadn’t bugged me enough to pull the trigger on an eight Ironman, that is, until last year.

My plan then was to “train” for this Ironman almost exclusively by running.  Sure I told myself that I would get in a few long rides and get some swimming in but that never really materialized.  On race morning of Ironman Boulder I had swum a whopping 16, 060 total meters for 2014 and I had ridden my bike, get this, 169.77 miles…for all of 2014 and that included two “long rides” of 38 miles and one 40K bike split at an Oly Triathlon.  Actually, my running has been a bit sub-par because of a couple military schools that disrupted my schedule but at least that was at 1365 miles for the year.  So, that was my Ironman Training.

People kept asking me how I thought I’d do, how my training had gone and so on.  I honestly had no earthly idea.  I mean, my training was obviously crap if you think about Ironman training.  However, in the six years since my last Ironman I have completed eleven 100-mile trail races and a mix of 67 other marathons, 50Ks and 100Ks.  I have even completed the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, in other words, I’m no stranger to serious endurance.  However, that’s all running.  Obviously I can run but what about a marathon that’s preceded by a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike.  I didn’t know how to answer that one but now I think I do, we’ll call it fast-average.

Of my now eight Ironman races my first was 14:27:18, my second 15:54:46, my third, 15:35:52, my fourth, 15:05:51, my fifth (and PR and one I trained like a demon for) 12:31:21, my sixth, 12:47:40, my seventh, 13:12:25 and now my eight at ironman Boulder, 13:15:02.

Frankly, I was shocked.  Hand to my heart I told someone I thought I might be able to hit 13 and a half hours but I thought something in the 14 to 15 hour range was more realistic.  I kept thinking back to one particularly brutal 112 mile training ride that I had developed for myself and how i had utterly fallen apart at about mile 100 and I had to pull over to a gas station, get a big bottle of Gatorade and a liter of full-sugar mountain dew and a red bull and lay in the shade while I drank it.  I kept imagining that kind of epic blow-up that would end in a 26.2 mile death march well into the night.

First off, I liked the swim start.  It began like a standard large marathon with people seeding themselves in corrals by their anticipated swim time.  I seeded myself into the 1:16 to 1:30 group and when the cannon went off we all just moved forward slowly and they released groups of maybe five to seven swimmers at a time with a few seconds between each small group.  It was not your typical Ironman washing machine start.  From the get-go you had your own little block of water to swim in though there was still the usual bunching and bumping but nothing like IMCdA or IMAZ.  I just found a comfortable groove and swam.  Occasionally I would run into a group that seemed to be fighting each other for position but I would just move out of the way and find new water.  What was more surprising is that my arms didn’t get tired.  The worst of it was getting bored and ready to be out of the water.  My swim time was 1:21:47, I think my third slowest IM swim.

T-1 was smooth and took me about eight minutes fifty seconds, mostly because I really had to pee and so I stopped at a port-o-potty just before heading out on the bike.  I had imagined that I would fumble around like a novice like I did at the recent City of Lakes Oly Tri but the fast transitions in the short local races are completely different from the giant transitions in an Ironman.

Once out on the bike I felt good and had driven the course the day before so generally knew what expect.  The strangest thing about maybe the first third of the IM Boulder course is that it’s right up against the mountains and so while there really aren't any serious climbs there are a lot of shallow climbs and descents and because they are in contrast to the sharply sloping Front Range sometimes it looks like you are on flats but you are going uphill, sometimes it looks like you are going uphill but you are actually going down and sometimes you look like you are going downhill but you are going up.  It was very weird but you just have to trust the way your legs feel or your bike.  On the “flat uphills” it felt as if my tires were made pf gum and I kept looking down to see if I had a flat.

The next third or so of the course has some short climbs followed sometimes by big descents that would carry you up the next hill or long shallow descents that would peter out into equally long flats.  This is a very fast section of the bike.  The last third or so is continuous shallow rollers, which allow you to ride at a nice steady pace, that is until mile 100 where there is a monster climb that has about four distinct summits, the first is the worst.

I was pretty amazed and how well I was doing on the bike and how much of my bike handling skills I had retained.  i am more nimble on a bike than most age-group triathletes and so was able to whip by a lot of people on the curvy downhills and 90-degree turns.  However, my legs were NOT used to be clipped into one place and being forced to make exactly the same movement over and over for hours on end.  I was motley concerned with having to sit on my ass for several hours but that really wasn't much worse than it ever was.

The thing that killed me the most were the balls of my feet.  I swear to god by mile 80 I had several bouts where I just wanted to start crying.  I felt like the balls of my feet had been split open and filled with salt.  I kept trying to lift them off the pedal, I tried peddling more by pulling upward than pushing down and I got some relief but there really isn’t anything to be done, you are locked into one position and you have to use that one position.  The other thing that happened is that the tendons behind my knees started to become painful and finally, about mile 90, my left hamstring and calf cramped up really badly and I could not bring it into an upstroke otherwise it would start cramping again so I basically coasted for the next 5 miles massaging my leg and drinking everything electrolyte I had on my bike, which was fortunately quite a lot.  If you look at my race results for that segment you see I was passed by 61 people and my average pave dropped from 18.5 mph to 16.9 mph and that includes me still doing well at the beginning of the segment and making a comeback at the end.  It was pretty brutal but I credit my general experience in ultra endurance events for my being able to pull out of it without any significant or lasting damage.

I hit T-2 feeling about like I remember feeling at my last few Ironman events when I was actually trained for such a think, legs were kind of sore and stiff, butt hurt, feet hurt but I was in good spirits and clear headed.  I got through T-2 in about 10 minutes 40 seconds but I had to take extra time to find someone with some tape so I could tape my bib back onto my race belt, I had accident torn off one corner, and I had to stop for another bathroom break, which I don’t mind because it means I’ve been hydrating and the alternative costs a lot more.

I came into this race with two major concerns about the run, one, as mentioned above, I thought I might have a spectacular blow-up on the bike and have nothing left to actually run with and two, the course is 100% concrete and I have recently suffered a knee injury running a marathon on a course that’s probably about 60% concrete.  Well, worry number one never really materialized and worry number two, all i can say is that it’s a hell of a lot different running a marathon on concrete at a 3:37 pace versus a 5:17 pace.  I actually ended up really enjoying the run course.  There was lots of support, lots of shade and it was composed of three out and backs that you ran twice so you got to see everyone as they worked their way through the course.

The only problem I had with the run was due to a completely rookie mistake.  Somewhere around mile 16 at one aid station I ate a gel and some gatorade type drink, they call it Ironman Perform, I think I also downed some coke and water and I pretty much immediately became sick to my stomach and this cut my pace by two to three minutes per mile for the rest of the race.  I didn’t start feeling better until I finally threw up somewhere around mile 25.  However, I can’t even complain about this little mis-step because, once again, I knew exactly how to handle it.  I knew how to minimize the damage and how to maximize my performance given the circumstances.

So what can I say other than I had a good race, all things considered I had a really good race but I don’t chalk it up to dumb luck.  I have a deep base of endurance and the kind of strength that is needed for these types of events.  I hals have a deep reservoir of knowledge related to taking care of myself under adverse circumstances and I can pretty much always diagnose what’s going on with my body and come up with the right fix.  If those things weren’t true and I think things could have gone far worse.

All in all I had a pretty good time but the good time was really just visiting Boulder again and seeing friends and family.  The race itself was fine but it didn’t spark anything within me that rekindled my desire to do more IM events.  I was glad I finished as well as I did and i was proud to have finished but when I was done I was simply ready to collect my shirt, hat and medal and head back to our hotel room not only because I was tired but also because I didn't feel the pull of the Ironman scene.  I guess I’ve come to like my sports quieter and less flashy.  Having said that, I’m grateful there is such a thing as Ironman, I’m glad to have been a part of it and I’m not ruling out some additional events ten to 15 years down the road but for now I’ll take my eight finishes and call it good.

Next up, the Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival (I.M.T.U.F.) 100 mile endurance run.