Obviously, I never got around to writing about my day at Boulder 70.3 in June. After the race, life got really hectic, from cheering and sherpa-ing at IM Coeur d’Alene, to working much more than I usually do in July, right up until I left for Ironman Boulder. And all that leads to not being able to write my race report.
The short story of Boulder 70.3 is that I had a wicked race and I loved every single second of it. I was so happy the entire race, smiled the whole time, and was pumped with my result. I have wanted to go to Boulder for SO LONG and when the opportunity to go twice this year presented itself, I jumped at the chance. And let me tell you, Boulder did not disappoint. I instantly felt at home and comfortable and if I could ever find a decent job in the area, I would move in a second.
I had no expectations for the 70.3 because my training since the LA marathon has been horrible. I have suffered from fatigue (my longest ride was 67km), inability to wake up in the morning (I did not do any workouts before work since the winter, and really no bricks), lack of motivation, etc. Basically all the signs of overtraining. I know. But arriving in Boulder I felt rejuvenated and ready to go. The swim was slower than my usual, an expected result of hardly swimming due to my chlorine-induced nausea. The water was really warm and there’s not a lot to sight off of in the Res. The bike was awesome, new 70.3 bike PR by 5 min! I passed so many people especially in the last half of the race and I NEVER pass people! On the run I had decided to walk every aid station and walk every hill. I was not into entering the hurt box especially since I knew I had to come back for twice the fun in 6 weeks. So instead, I smiled the whole way and cheered everyone passing me or who I passed. And still when I was on my second lap I was passing people who were still on their first lap! I ended up only 6 minutes short of a PR but I wasn’t looking for that anyway. It was so awesome NOT chasing a time, watts, or pace and instead to just chase a feeling.
I thought that Boulder 70.3 would be the turn-around point for me, that my body would start feeling better and that I would really be able to hammer out some solid training in the following 6 weeks until IM Boulder. However, the struggle continued, made even worse by my increased work hours. I came to the tough realization that although my job allows me great freedom for travel and time off, when I’m at work, I need to be 100% there and “on” all the time, and boy does that make me tired. Unfortunately I don’t have a desk job where I can zone out and just make it quietly through the day. I can’t completely crush myself on the weekends (or during the week for that matter) because people’s teeth depend on me! So that’s fine, I just needed to realize my limitations. But the point is my body never came around. My longest ride was a terribly slow and painful 150km 3 weeks before Boulder. My last long-ish ride 2 weeks out just ended up being a 5km ride to the pub. And running sessions (my favourite) were more like walking sessions. My longest run was the half marathon I ran on April 27. For the 3 weeks before Ironman I spent a lot of time crying. I think I cried every day for those 3 weeks! My original goal for IM was just to not cry but I wasn’t even sure I could make that goal! So I restructured my goals and decided I just wanted to be happy. I wanted to be thankful that my body allows me to go 140.6 miles and I wanted to smile the whole time. Throughout the race, I repeated to myself hundreds of times “Be tough. Be happy. Be thankful”.
I ended up being able to arrive in Boulder a week before the race. This had little to nothing to do with altitude acclimatization and everything to do with de-stressing and relaxing. Looking back, this was was one of the best things I could have done. I did some shopping and was able to get pretty much all my race needs/nutrition in empty cycling and tri shops before the throngs of triathletes arrived.
Thursday was a super busy day of driving to Denver to pick up Rob, athlete check-in, riding the run course, the underpants run (!) and attending a talk at Training Peaks and getting to meet Apolo Ohno, Mirinda Carfrae, and Crowie!! (my absolute favourite)
Friday was a “rest day” which involved driving back to Denver again to pick my mom up from the airport, another trip to the expo, vegetarian lunch, and organizing transition bags.
Saturday was bike and gear check-in. It’s always a little more complicated to do that stuff when there’s two transitions and there is no shortage of people complaining about this, but lots of races have two transitions and it’s really not a big deal. It’s just something that people like to complain about when given the chance. I got out to the Res early (-ish, like 10am) to drop off my bike so there was no problem with lineups and I had a super close parking spot. I heard there were bad line ups and people complaining about having to pay for non-athletes to enter the Res. My opinion is it just requires better planning on the part of the athlete because the whole process and costs involved were very clearly laid out in the race package and videos posted online by the RD. I had a quick swim in the small roped off area and made the decision then to swim without a wetsuit for the race. That water was WARM. I did Vineman 70.3 a few years ago when the water temp was 74 and I wanted to quit at halfway in the swim because being hot in the swim is the WORST! So I knew I wouldn’t be able to tolerate 2.4 miles in warm water with a wetsuit. I only have a full sleeve Huub wetsuit. I had never done an open water swim with just my bikini (I don’t have a swim skin) but I’m very comfortable in the water, I surf in my bikini, and I love the water so I knew I would be fine. Don’t do anything new on race day, they say! Whatever! I was just 100% certain I did not want to be too hot. Then I had to drop off my T2 bag at the Boulder high school. I had a short shake out run to do which felt awesome. It was very hot (for a Canadian anyway) and I was at the school around the time I would be in T2 on race day. T2 was a long run, with the bike, from the dismount line to where we can hand the bike over to the volunteers, and then our bags were sitting on a black track. The recommendation was to remove your cycling shoes for the run. However, I don’t wear socks when I ride and when I put my bare foot on the track for like 2 seconds, my foot was burning. There was NO WAY I would be able to go barefoot on that hot track so I just decided to keep my shoes on, like I always do. Then it was back to the hotel to put my feet up, continue to hydrate, and just hang out. I was completely relaxed. No nerves at all.
I hate mornings and I hate waking up early. I can’t even remember what time I woke up at. 4am or something ridiculous. Everyone, all athletes, spectators, everyone was required to park downtown near the high school and take shuttles to the Res. We were able to park in a lot right across from the school and boarded the buses no problem. I was super impressed with how easy the whole process was. The sunrise at the Res was specatcular. I don’t see many sunrises so they’re always pretty special to me! They announced the water temperature was 74.5. I say bullshit. It was warmer than that. They likely just found the 1 spot in the lake that was wetsuit legal and announced it. I said good bye to my mom and Rob and made my way to the swim start.
Boulder has a rolling swim start based on predicted swim time. I prefer the mass start a la IM Canada Penticton. My first experience with this start was in Tahoe and I hated it. It pretty much guarantees you to always be surrounded by people swimming your pace, so I found it very difficult to have clear water in Tahoe. And, I have never been passed by so many people in the swim as I was in Tahoe (1:12, still a good swim but my slowest swim before Boulder) and that was really hard mentally. It just set up a tough day. Since I haven’t really been swimming, and I haven’t been swimming well, I decided to seed myself at the back of the 1-1:15 group with the plan to swim through people. There were a few of us non-wetsuit wearers and so many people commented that I was so “hard core”. I’m not. I was just being smart for myself. I was the last person to enter the water in my group. Right away, I knew I had made the right decision to swim in my bikini, the water felt SO awesome!! I just put my head down and went to work.
I felt really strong the whole swim. I passed so many guys. Like SO many guys (and girls), like hundreds. I was smiling and giggling to myself as I cruised by them. I took an inside line on the left so I swam actually inside the buoy line then came out around the buoys at the 2 turns, then back to the inside. It was fantastic. I found feet when I wanted and open water when I wanted. I did the same in Canada in 2012 when I swam 1:08:00. From the way I felt and how many people I was passing, I was SURE I was on track for a swim PR (even though that didn’t make sense given my poor training). The back stretch felt really long. I was fine, there were just more and more buoys even when I thought we should be at the turn. A lot of people after the race said their Garmins read 2.6 miles but they are notoriously unpredictable in the water so who knows. (The swim really did feel long)
I got out of the water and had no idea what my time was. With the rolling start I didn’t know what time I had started and I don’t use the timer on my watch. So whatever. What mattered was that I *FELT* like I had completely crushed the swim. It felt like I had swum faster than 1:08. Turns out I didn’t even get close, 1:18, which is actually my slowest IM swim ever, but it didn’t and doesn’t matter. I was SO HAPPY. Be tough. Be happy. Be thankful. (I do wonder, however, how I passed literally hundreds of people, after being the last person to hit the water in the 1:15 group, and I swam 1:18. People aren’t seeding themselves correctly, or one of life’s great mysteries.)
The only problem swimming in a bikini is it requires a change in T1. So what. I have done complete changes in T1 and T2 in all my ironmans by choice (IM Canada x2) and by necessity (Tahoe – snow). It also allows me to wear cycling shorts on the bike since I haven’t able to build up the necessary “undercarriage tolerance” to wear tri shorts for 112 miles. Yes it takes a little bit extra time but since I’m not going for a Kona or podium spot, I’d rather be comfortable! I saw my friend and fellow Betty Kristina in the tent and she exited just ahead of me.
The first part of the IM course is the same as the 70.3 aside from a small out and back. I had rode the out and back section earlier in the week (and was angrily honked at and almost hit) so I knew what to expect. It was a right turn to head downhill, then a 180 degree turn and head back to the main highway. On the way back up a guy came up to me and said “I thought for the longest time your shorts said I’m a baby!” (They say I’m a Betty). I also caught up to Kristina here and for the rest of the day we were within a couple kilometers of each other and it was awesome!
The first half of the bike course was beautiful. It ran along the foothills north of Boulder with just rolling terrain. There was one point where an ambulance came screaming past going the other way, and I said to a guy close to me that I hoped it wasn’t for someone in the race. He said something about the “big, scary descent” we had just been down so maybe there was an accident there. There was NOTHING about this course that justified the words “big scary descent”. I was so confused! I just thought I would be worried about that guy if he ever did the big descents in Tahoe, or in IMC from Richter Pass of Yellow Lake!
It was starting to get hot and I just knew I had to be diligent to keep myself cool. Aside from the first aid station on the out and back, I stopped at every aid station the rest of the ride. Like stopped completely. Both feet on the ground. I got ice down my top. Poured 1 bottle of water all over me and my arm coolers and made sure there were enough bottles on my bike. That was another super smart decision for me because I had no problems with the heat on the bike. And apparently there were a lot of DNFs due to the heat. I think it got over 90F on the back side of the course.
At mile 56, halfway, I took stock of how I was feeling and came to the (super duper surprising) conclusion that I was feeling amazing! I had been on the bike about 3:10 and it didn’t feel more than 5 minutes. My legs felt absolutely fresh. WTF. After 56 miles in Tahoe last year I was completely smashed. Somehow, I don’t know how because I haven’t spent enough time in the saddle this year, my cycling has improved quite a bit. So now here I was, half way through the Ironman bike feeling brand new! Time to crank it up a bit. I kept waiting for the ride to get hard. I had heard the back half of the course was harder and more boring so I just kept expecting things to get tough. They never did. I don’t remember struggling mentally or physically on the straight false flats (in fact I don’t remember the flats at all!). I don’t remember the ride being boring. Maybe it’s because I was stopping every 15 miles at aid stations (probably only for less than a minute) but maybe that helped to break things up?
There was one girl, in my age group who was around me most of the day, who drafted pretty much the entire ride. I never once saw her riding on her own. She was very small, like I’m talking under 5ft tall, for sure on 650 wheels and she was always tucked behind some guy. Around mile 80 I could sense that someone was behind me. I look back over my shoulder and sure enough, that girl is right on my wheel. I was so pissed! Where are the course marshals when you need them?! I took one look at her and said there’s no way this shit is going down, took off, dropped her, and never saw her again thankfully.
There was another older guy who I was leapfrogging all day. At about 85 miles, while I was in the midst of dropping the drafter I cruised past this guy. He yelled at me “you have such a nice bike and such powerful legs! Go!” It was awesome. I told him he just made my day and continued on.
Just about mile 100 was the last big challenge I had heard about on the bike course. The 3 bitches. So in IMC we have the 7 bitches, and they really are bitches. So I was expecting something really bad. After screaming downhill on the highway we made a sharp left hand turn onto the first bitch. There was quite a crowd gathered, I suspect to watch people drop chains or struggle up the climbs. The first climb was like 15 seconds. (Maybe it was longer but that’s what it felt like). Then a bit of relief followed by the second climb. I passed probably close to 10 people and I felt like I wasn’t even trying. Up and over the third bitch no problem and then the final stretch to T2.
Throughout the entire one loop, 112 mile course the fan support was awesome. People were sitting at the end of their driveways cheering and every corner was packed with people. I was really impressed!
Somehow, miraculously, I set a Ironman bike PR. 6:16. My previous best was in IM Canada 2012 (6:27), and Boulder hurt WAY less. Of course, riding 112 miles is always hard, but I did not find this bike course hard. I think I’m one of the few, and I think it had ALL to do with my mindset. Be tough. Be happy. Be thankful.
For all the fuss and worrying about whether to leave shoes on or take them off the for run through T2, I didn’t even remember any of that. I just did what I always do, which is get off my bike and run in my cleats. No problem at all. Also, I was just so damn excited about my bike PR that I was running through T2 like a maniac telling everyone how well I rode! The two volunteers who helped me get dressed in T2 were both named Amy. How cool is that?
I came burning out of T2 like a bat out of hell. OMG. I have never felt so good after the bike, ever. I was bouncing all over the place, waving at everyone, high fiving, yelling. It was crazy. I was so excited to see my mom and Rob and tell them what a good bike I had! The Boulder run course is entirely on the Boulder Creek Path, through the city, so the path was almost entirely lined with spectators, especially the area around transition and the finish line. It was crazy. The most spectators I’ve ever seen for the marathon. The other thing that struck me right away was the number of people walking right out of T2. And the pros that were walking. First, I’ve never been on the run course while the pros were still running, and second, I’ve never seen pros walk. It didn’t occur to me to be a bad thing, just interesting. I thought mom and Rob would be closer to transition so I kept expecting to see them around the next corner, or the next corner. It wasn’t until mile 2, and by then I had calmed down considerably, that I saw them in their pink IronAmy shirts (well, Rob was dressed as a banana), and boy, did I have some talking to do! Basically, they thought there must have been drugs in T2 because I wouldn’t shut up! My mom pretty much had to push me away so I would keep running!
I pretty much ran all of the first 16 miles of the marathon. I know my splits don’t look like it (I guess that’s what altitude does? but I didn’t feel bad at all) but man, I was running. That’s the most I’ve ever run in an IM marathon. I was so proud of myself. I was talking to people, cheering others on, and just so happy to be out there running. There was one section of the course we ran by 3 times each lap (2 laps), and it was a complete shit show of aid stations, people, porta potties (the smell! omg!)
Also, I started to notice more and more people passed out on the side of the path being tended to by medical. Like, A LOT of people. My stomach started to hurt at about mile 16 but it was tolerable until I had to hit the bushes. Then at about mile 18 my wheels fell off. I became crippled with terrible stomach pains. I’ve never experienced this type of stomach nausea before. I kept trying to run because although my legs were tired, they felt fine and I wanted to run. I had done really well with my hydration and nutrition on the bike and starting right out of T2, I kept on with ice and water, salt pills, and starting drinking pop right away. I couldn’t figure out why my stomach was so upset but every time I started to run, I got light headed and dizzy, and felt like I was going to puke. I decided that it would do me no good to push myself to run only to pass out because then my race would be over, so I walked. With everyone else. There were hardly any more runners. I have never seen so many people walking the Ironman marathon. It was very comforting, I have to say! After the race, there has been much discussion about the number of people that had stomach issues, even early on in the bike. One of the theories is the high level of bacteria possibly in the Res after 24 hours of torrential rain on the Wednesday before the race. Nevertheless, it turns out I was not alone with my stomach problems. And it has also reminded me to NEVER AGAIN forget my Tums and Pepto!
Newton had a station set up at mile 20 where our friends and family could record 5 second videos of encouragement and the videos were triggered by our timing chips so we could get some cheering for the last 6 miles. It was awesome. I walked pretty much every step from mile 18-22. Finally I was able to begin “running”, by which I mean shuffling. I did my best to run past the photographer at mile 24, while going uphill, but that really hurt!
I always get a kick out of the spectators because at mile 24 you feel like absolute shit, you look like crap, you’re barely moving, and they’re holding out their hands for high fives and saying “you look so strong! You look amazing! Keep going!” It makes me laugh every time. The power of suggestion I suppose.
It wasn’t until about 200m from the finish line, that I realized I hadn’t cried all day. No meltdowns. No sitting on the curb crying, saying I can’t continue. That had become “my thing”, my MO, I was 3/3 for the good ole Ironman cry. But here I was, 200m from the finish line at IM Boulder and I had smiled and laughed my way through the whole race. So what did I do? I cried, of course! But this was a good cry. Relief. Pride. Happy tears. My eyes somehow narrowed right on to my mom, I ran straight to her, gave her a big sweaty hug, and finished my fourth Ironman in 13:43. Be tough. Be happy. Be thankful.
This was not my fastest Ironman, but this was my BEST Ironman.
Interestingly, Boulder was my slowest IM swim, and my slowest IM run (I didn’t know I could run any slower than my previous runs! I am the worst Ironman runner ever! But the general consensus is this was a brutal run course), my fastest IM bike, and my second fastest IM overall. But more important than all that, is that I held my composure, and I didn’t have a curbside crying episode. That’s completely amazing to me. That matters more than any time or PR to me. Now I think I can move on to getting faster and stronger because I’ve made it through an Ironman without crying.
This is the first time since finishing Ironman Canada in 2010 that I am not registered for any races. Not one. It’s weird. But my body was broken this year. I have never felt so not like myself before. I’ve never had to drag myself out of bed, even at 11am consistently, to get some sort of work out done. It’s been quite an experience. So I’m letting myself heal. And when I feel better, I will figure out what’s next. (Although yesterday I just found out I won a free entry to any 2015 North American Ironman. Seriously. When I started Ironman I was supposed to do one every 2 years. Which lasted 1 year. Then Tahoe was announced for 2013. Then Boulder was announced for 2014. And now I have a free entry, that’s $700! for 2015. The universe definitely works in strange ways!) But for now, I am eating poutine and drinking beer and it’s totally awesome. My heart is happy again.