Also known as 14 and a half hours of hell but lets step back.
Six weeks previously I had completed IRONMAN Texas and set a new PR of 12:47. The marathon had not gone great but was still happy with the time and was IRONMAN 1 of 5 scheduled for 2018 to get me to the magical 12 total which will enable me to apply for the legacy program and a chance at Kona. I had maintained my training however I had done little to account for the 6000 feet altitude. I also didn’t swim at all between Texas and Boulder as I was having knee problems and swimming aggravates it but swimming is always the warmup for me at IRONMAN and not super concerned about it.
To help adjust for the altitude we (my wife and 2 youngest kids came with me) set out on Tuesday driving from Texas. We drove nearly 11 hours and stopped at Colorado Springs which is about 90 minutes from Boulder and the same altitude. We booked into a cool hotel called the Mining Exchange that still had the safe from when the hotel was an actual exchange location!
I got up early Wednesday and went to the hotel gym where I ran 12 miles on the treadmill (in the 68 degree air conditioned gym) and felt totally fine. No signs of any difference because of the altitude which was awesome and gave me a lot of confidence that the altitude would not be an issue. How naïve of me 🙂 We headed out and completed the final miles to get to Boulder where we checked in at the Boulder Marriott which was about one mile from the High School which was the location of the athlete village and shuttle pickup/finishing line. The hotel was going through a modernization which meant multiple times the elevators were not working and our room was actually kind of dirty (chewing gum on the floor under the desk, loads of other dirt on the floor) and the bathroom had a glass door with no blind for the massive window in the bathroom. This becomes an issue when you have young kids that want to go to bed at 7:30 and the sun does not set until 8:30 meaning there is a blaring light for a full hour and when you have an IRONMAN the next day and want to go to bed early.
Thursday morning we went and did a whitewater rafting trip which was fun (although my wife and son could not do it as he broke his arm 2 weeks previously) and then went to the IRONMAN village to check-in. I have AWA status so you had a separate check-in however even the regular line had no wait and was super fast as I’ve found all my IRONMAN check-ins (except Florida 2017 which was a complete cluster). You tell them your number (or name), show an ID, they give you the forms in which you just check its all correct, write in your hotel and phone number, give them back then grab your rack packet which has your bib, stickers and swim cap. They put on your bracelet then you go grab your race bags and timing chip. For the backpack you head over to the store where they give it to you. All done in less than 10 minutes. TriBike Transport was also right there so I grabbed my bike and took to the car. Meanwhile my family checked in to the VIP area so they would have a good view at the finish. About half mile North of the village are a lot of restaurants serving all types of food. There was a Cheesecake Factory we went to quite a few times. Also an awesome ice cream shop which we frequented often which would actually prove to be a problem as there was also a great candy store which we also visited but it was a family vacation so that’s OK right!?
Friday was quiet and I just kept an eye on the weather forecast which was showing Sunday at 95 degrees. Ouch, but I’d done Texas and other IRONMANs at that temperature so was not super concerned. I trained Thursday and Friday morning lightly but rested Saturday. I did not participate in a practice swim, with hindsight a mistake because of the altitude! I packed my bags up Friday and checked them multiple times. As usual I would recheck the bags constantly. I always lay everything out on the bed head to foot and visualize what I need and compare the equipment list in the athlete guide. Additions this year was a headlamp in my morning bag (awesome when pumping up tires and when using the port-a-potties), a plastic grocery bag to help put on the wetsuit (put on your foot as you slide into the suit to avoid friction) and a lubricant to spray on the back of my neck to stop my neck being cut by the wetsuit.
Saturday morning we got up and drove to the reservoir to drop off my bike and morning clothes bags. TriBike did offer a bike shuttle where they would take your bike but I preferred to see my bike on the bike stand and put it there myself. There was plenty of parking at the reservoir and the whole drop off of the kit went super smooth and like the check-in was fast and event free. We then went and had lunch, didn’t really do much then ordered Cosmos pizza for dinner (which was awesome). I went to bed the same time as the kids and had a raging headache (which I never get). This was because of all the ice cream and candy which I’m just not used to anymore. Damn you delicious sugar. I eventually fell asleep but woke up multiple times checking the clock.
I set an alarm for 2:30 at which point I got up ate my apple sauce, protein shake and bagel. At 3:30 I walked down to the high school (took about 20 minutes) where I dropped off the bike special needs bag (which had a single spare inner tube) then boarded the bus (which were all already there) at 4am for transport to the Boulder Reservoir. The headlamp came in handy here as well as we walked from the bus drop off to the transition area.
We arrived a little before 4:30 (the time of transition opening) but they started the body marking and then headed in to the bikes. I put on my drinks (I decided to try without an aero bottle for this IRONMAN as always found it a pain filling it up during the event and instead just use bottles since that is what they provide at the aid station on the bike course anyway), took my bike to the mechanics where they inflated to 100 and then headed over to check my bike and run bags were still there 🙂 At that point I just settled in at the bike area since the actual swim start had no port-a-potties and knew I’d want to use the bathroom before starting. I had my last drink at 5:30 along with a 5 hour energy, put on my wetsuit (water was 70.9 so wetsuit legal) along with sunscreen then dropped off my morning clothes bag. It was a rolling start where you self seeded so I put myself at the back of the 1:20 to 1:30 section.
The age groups started getting in the water at 6:20 and I think I was in around 6:35. The water felt good but visibility was only a couple of feet. I started to swim and took my first breath, head into the water and OH MY GOD I NEED AIR is all that went through my head. I’M DROWNING. It was the sensation when you hold your breath and you’re at the end and need to gasp. The altitude seemed to have had no impact on me at all in the training since I’d been in Boulder however with the swim where you take a big breath was a huge difference. People had warned me about the swim but I really didn’t think it would impact me but it was super unsettling. I just had to keep telling myself it was OK, breath deep and slowly exhale. After a couple of hundred yards I got used to it and it was OK. The swim was one big loop but it seemed to take forever! Final swim time was 1:31:25 which is pretty typical for me. A quick run out and they helped you out of the wetsuit (sit on your butt on the floor and they yank it off), grabbed bike bag and into the change tent.
It was already getting hot! On with more sunscreen, bike top, nutrition etc and out to the bike where I hopped on. The bike course was two loops. Now I had been warned (by the manager at Papa Brothers funnily enough who had done a single IRONMAN which was Boulder) that the course was deceptive. If you were going towards the mountains you were going uphill even if it looked like a downhill which made no sense to me and I assumed he was crazy. HE WAS RIGHT. No matter how it looked if you are going towards the mountains you were peddling and going slow. There were sections I would swear were a fairly big downhill gradient but you were peddling hard and going 12mph. There were times I was going 5mph and I saw many people just walk their bikes up the hill which I’d never seen on an IRONMAN before. It was insane. On the other hand if you were going away from the mountain it was the opposite and you were going downhill. There were sections I got up to 41mph which was awesome. If you were parallel to the mountains then the visual of the gradient was accurate. It was hard. The first loop was not too bad however for the second loop the sun was out in force, there was a headwind as you approached the mountain and you were just tired. There were aid stations roughly every 10 miles which had as usual bottles of Gatorade Endurance, bottles of water and some gels.
The official temperature was 95 however I read that people say when you add the lack of shade, the radiation from the road, the altitude the “feels like” was 103. Who knows but it was tough! As I rode I kept hearing a weird crushing sound which I later realized was my soul as I was mercilessly beat down. Along the ride I saw multiple people just veer off onto the side of the road and crash where they had blacked out while riding! Fortunately none of those people I saw were seriously hurt. The road condition itself was great, it was really just very hot, high altitude and was a pretty tough course. Total time was 6:28:49 which is slow for me.
I got to transition and really didn’t feel great. I grabbed my run bag, changed and headed out which was about a 6 mile run (at a slight up hill gradient) with no shade to the town where you would then complete 2 loops for the 26.2 mile total distance. My goal was 3 minutes run and 1 minute walk. After one interval that changed to 2 minute run and 1 minute walk until it flipped round to 1 minute run and 2 minute walk. Then there were periods where I just walked. It was just hot hot hot and horrible. The sun would not go down (well it did at 8:30 just as I was finishing). The course was basically flat with the occasional up or down and there were aid stations every mile with cups of Gatorade, water, coke and various things to eat. Once you got to the two loop run along the creek there was shade so that helped a bit but by that point I was just burnt out. In the end I limped in for a 6:06:48 marathon which is my slowest ever (apart from my first IRONMAN where I had second degree sunburn by the time I got to the marathon 🙂 ). Total time of 14:30:37 which is nearly 1 hour 45 minutes slower than Texas which was 6 weeks previous! So obviously disappointed but at least I finished. I understand it was an 18% DNF (did not finish) and I saw a lot of people on the run that had passed out, being sick so consider myself very fortunate was not in that position and hopefully everyone is OK. I’m also pretty sure some of the mile markers were wrong as once I passed mile 25 it seemed to be about 2 more miles to the finish or my mind was just playing tricks on me but others I spoke to said the same thing 🙂
One great thing was seeing my family at the finish line which is why I have the big smile on my face but also made me feel guilty for taking so long and making them wait! Couldn’t do it without their support and was so grateful they waited for me to finish. Hopefully I can make it up to them at Lake Placid in 5 weeks and not make them wait so long!
A HUGE call out to the volunteers. It was tough being out there competing but there were also all the volunteers who were out there in the same sun helping us and really just can’t thank them enough as without them it would not be possible at all.
Thankfully my wife drove so didn’t have to walk back to the hotel where I showered, ate some pizza and couldn’t sleep a wink all night. I got up early, had McDonalds which opened up at 5 then walked to the village where I was second in line to the store to buy all my finisher goodies 🙂
Boulder is an awesome IRONMAN. It was well organized, very pretty scenery and a great host town. I think the altitude obviously is tough and we were just unlucky with the heat. The next day the high was 82, a full 13 degrees cooler! Oh well. Definitely recommend it but try and get there early to acclimatize and do a practice swim so you don’t freak out on the actual day!