Ironman Boulder Race Report

I was hoping to pull a Chris Leiferman and win my first Ironman attempt, but I fell short by one spot. I came closer than most people probably expected, though leading up to the race I really did think I was capable of winning, which was most likely delusional as I had no clue how anyone else would feel on race day, and there were at least three or four guys that had the results in the past to be marked as true contenders for the win, unlike myself. I’m still sore as hell on Wednesday, three days after the race, and I have a nice head cold to add to the misery. Definitely worth it.

The Swim

Despite spending a small fortune on a new wetsuit, I swam the same speed as I did last year and the year before. I did the swim two years ago and the swim and the bike last year for training, not attempting to finish the race either year. Both those previous years I was in the 54 minute group. I figured this would be the case again for me, as in the past there have only been three swim groups—the leaders, who swim sub 50 minutes, the main pack that swims 54 and change, and stragglers who were part of that 54 minute group but fell off after the last turn buoy. I have not been working that much on my swim, with the main reason being that I knew I’d be in the 54 minute group no matter what I did.

The first few minutes of the swim were exciting; I was on someone’s feet who quickly charged to the right and momentarily got behind Brent McMahon (I think). Then we got dropped, along with just about everyone else, and the pace drastically died down. A large group of 7-10 guys formed, with Justin Daerr, Matt Hanson, and Tyler Butterfield all taking pulls at the front from what I could tell. I sat a few lengths back, glued to Sam Long’s feet, hoping that my clawing wouldn’t give him a staff infection. I consider a stroke to be succesful only if I take a chunk of skin out of the person’s feet in front of me. Kidding aside, I do like to get up real close and personal. The most efficient position I’ve found is to get so close that my head is about five inches from their feet, which requires that I take wide strokes on the outsides of their legs. It’s a risky position to be in since if I run into their feet I’ll get my goggles kicked off.

The Bike

As I predicted, we came out of the water in 54 minutes, though I didn’t know it at the time. The only thing on my mind was to quickly get on the bike and begin executing the plan that Sam and I had hatched a few days earlier. Whoever got on the bike first would ride steady and wait for the other person to catch up. The person behind would ride extra hard to close the gap quickly. Then, we’d take pulls evenly, with each pull ended by a hand wave for the other to come around. The person in front would get to sit up and soft pedal for 20 seconds as the person from behind made an easy pass. First, I needed to speed up in transition because Sam had just grabbed his bike and was running for the exit.

Because of the cold air temperature, I had planned to wear socks and cycling gloves on the bike. This may have been a mistake, because 45 degrees doesn’t actually feel cold when I ride hard, and I immediately lost 40 seconds to Sam fumbling to put on my cold weather gear.

I hit out moderately hard for the first few miles to close the gap down. Sam and I exchanged a shout at the first turn around at mile two or three, letting each other know that the plan was still on. Around mile eight I caught up to Sam, who took the first long pull. Over the next 20 miles I could tell he had good legs, as did I. My average power at 40 minutes was 295, significantly higher than I had planned to hold for the duration, but we were focused on creating a gap to everyone behind, in addition to quickly slashing the gap to the leaders, which was more than four minutes out of T1.

We passed Jeremy Jurkiewicz quickly, then it was just Brent McMahon and Tim O’Donnell up the road, who were riding separately. By mile 20 or 30, Tim already had a minute or more on Brent, which was to our advantage since neither would have anyone to work with.

For those who aren’t familiar with the bike course, it’s mostly flat with a few rolling hills. There is just under 4,000 feet of elevation gain, making it a fast course. The roads are wide-open, blanketed on the green and gold planes just east of the Rocky Mountain foothills. Last year the race was held under sweltering 96-degree conditions. Today, it was windless and cool. Perfect for riding fast, and then later running fast.

One of the few hills.

Sam and I cresting another hill. These two photos are by Andrijan Smaic.

Photo by @beanmachinetri

After the first lap, my average power had settled down to 286 and I was still feeling good. McMahon was minutes behind us by then and the gap to O’Donnell was about 2.5 minutes. Our initial progress on him had been rapid, but it was dying off now. We discussed what to do on a pass, and agreed that O’Donnell was over biking. That, or he was just a beast. Either way, it would be unwise for us to ramp up or pace.

On a few of the hills that second lap, I distanced Sam unintentionally. Sam had just raced, and won, the previous weekend at Victoria 70.3, and was understandably starting to suffer. I sat up for him on a few descents so he could catch back on as soon as possible. I was starting to feel a bit tired at mile 95 and, having dropped Sam a little ways back on a climb, rode moderately easy until he caught up six or seven miles later near Hygiene market. We took steady, easier pulls from then on out. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to run well if I continued riding hard the last 10 miles, so I was content with our easier pace. Unfortunately, it meant that our gap to Matt Hanson, who was just two minutes behind us, never really changed much on that second lap.

I came in at 4:07:59, which was the fastest bike split of the day and the bike course record for Boulder. I averaged 275 watts, with a normalized power of 287. During those 4+ hours I consumed a shit ton of calories. I think I had seven Clif Blok bars, a Snickers, two gels, two Gatorades, and 600 calories of drink mix for a total of 2,250 calories.

The Run

Everyone loves to say that you bike for show and run for dough, which is an idiotic saying. I think a more accurate saying is you bike to drain and run for pain. I was tired after the bike, but of course the real pain doesn’t come until the run.

Yet, by mile four the pain didn’t seem too bad. I was hammering out a pretty solid pace by then, just having reached the bike path that 95 percent of the course would follow from there on out, and feeling better and better. Or, at least I wasn’t feeling worse. My memory quickly reset itself multiple times during the marathon, and there is a chance that the first mile sucked and I just don’t remember.

The time gaps I was hearing regarding O’Donnell’s shrinking lead were encouraging. He had a 2:40 lead on Sam and I off the bike but I had cut it down to 2:00 already in the opening miles. Sam had been close behind for a few miles but was feeling the full affects of racing back to back weekends and had dropped well out of sight by mile five. Since I don’t have eyes on the back of my head, I guess that’s a dumb way to explain how far back someone is.

Anyways, I thought I was alone at mile six but was suddenly passed by a flying demon in red. Matt Hansen. Fuck. Moments earlier I thought about how I was going to win. Now? Just hold on! This was my first thought. I picked up my pace, which was already really fast. I’d been averaging 6:16 per mile, which was fast even considering that the majority of the run had, at that point, been slightly down hill.

Despite still feeling okay, increasing my speed to 6:00 pace now, my fear was that since I had no idea what I was capable of in a marathon, I could easily blow sky high if I tried to stay with Hanson. Even for just a few miles. Instead of sticking on him, I just tried to minimize the gap he was pulling out on me. I stayed relaxed, continued eating a gel almost every mile, and focused on catching O’Donnell. The course bended west, leaving a formerly industrial area of Boulder that’s now populated by prairie dogs, and entered the heavily shaded part of the path that winds alongside the Boulder Creek. The course was still sparsely populated with spectators, though that would eventually change the deeper into the race we ran.

I caught O’Donnell at mile 11, fumbled and dropped my gel flask at special needs, cursed, went back for it, and hammered downhill on the creek path after Hanson. By mile 15 I was still averaging 6:18 pace—way faster than I had ever hoped for—and the gap to Hansen was still between 80 and 90 seconds. It had been there for at least five miles at this point, since the only time he had built his gap was the first few miles after he came around at mile six. Confident that I would hold off O’Donnell and everyone else behind me, I decided it was now or never to start chipping away at his lead.

Over the next few miles I wavered between trying to catch him and just trying to focus on my own running (AKA preserving my 2nd place). I knew the last 45 minutes of the marathon would be the hardest, and the final three miles were almost all uphill. I didn’t quite have the confidence in my endurance to make an all out assault on Hanson, who was still a minute and a half ahead of me despite my half hearted efforts to close the gap.

Then at mile 18 I was suddenly stopped by the head race referee and told that I had to stand still for one minute as a penalty for failing to put on my race number in T2. I remained surprisingly calm during those 60 seconds, admitting fault and that I had simply not seen it when I dumped everything out on the ground. I looked back around the bend in the bike path to see if I could spot O’Donnell, but couldn’t. I had at least three minutes, probably more, on him at that point and one minute wasn’t going to change anything.

When my 60 seconds were up, and my bib number was securely attached around my waist (the refs had brought it from T2 at the reservoir), I took off after Hanson once again. I shaved a few seconds off his lead over the next two miles in a fit of excitement and anger. But it was a futile attempt. I began fading, gradually realizing that it would be impossible to catch him unless he had to start jogging for some reason. Maybe if I had never let him get a gap on me, had remembered my bib number, and had an extra 1,000 mg of caffeine I could have stayed with him at least until the last few miles. Maybe. But he may have just sped up even more if I had attempted that.

By mile 23 I began suffering. The next three miles became a death march as my muscles gave out. My legs had nothing left in them despite eating a total of 17 gels during the run. In the last two miles I began running in a weird way by swinging my legs out wide and keeping my knees as straight as possible in an attempt to save my quads, which were wrecked. Those last few miles were excruciating, and I was still worried that I’d get caught even though I had a six minute gap now to O’Donnell. The fear of getting caught kept me pushing as hard as I could.

With a mile to go, I was gnawing away at the insides of my cheeks—an old habitat that I do when I’m in serious pain. Once I start to taste blood, or see it on my finger if I do a swab inside my mouth, I know I’m putting in a good effort. I downed one last gag-inducing gel and let out a groan of desperation. My entire focus was just to be able to stop running. Get to the finish line. Just be done as soon as possible so you can lay down, I thought.

Much of the creek path navigates cross-streets above, which means there’s a bunch of underpasses that have a short downhill one direction and an uphill on the other end. I refused to walk up any of the small little hills, fearing that if I walked even one I wouldn’t be able to start running again.

Finally I approached the last few turns and could hear the finish line announcements and commotion. My excitement built—excitement to be off my feet, which were barely holding me up at that point. Coming into the finish shoot, I gave my brother a high five and took a flowered lei neckless from my sister in law, Joslynn, not realizing that its purpose was to signify going to Kona, which I hadn’t even decided upon yet.

I crossed the line in 8:01, 4.5 minutes slower than Hanson, and collapsed at once. Looking back, it would have been awesome to go under 8:00 in my first Ironman, which is right about where I’d have finished if it weren’t for that minute penalty. Of course, none of this was going through my head as I lay on the ground. Entering the finish line shoot and the five minutes I lay motionless were just pure blissful relief of being done and hanging onto 2nd place.

Drained of everything. It was a good thing Adelaide was there. I was incapable of doing anything myself for the next hour. Photo by 303 Triathlon

Previous four photos by 303 Triathlon.

Stumbling through an incoherent interview where I thanked my wife and my dog, in that order.

Adelaide trying to get me up off the ground from earlier. Photo by Jeff Malin

Sam, who came in 5th, was a huge ally that day. Photo by Adrijan Smaic

My brother and I. Photo by Joslynn Corredor

It would appear that I’m about to throw down here with the head ref for giving me that penalty. Of course that wasn’t the case. I was probably just going in for a sweaty hug. He was a real nice guy.

 

Ironman Boulder was a great experience, and one that I’ll hopefully remember for a long time. There were so many friends and people I knew out there cheering for me, which felt amazing and really did help at times. My brother, Joslynn, Jeff, Adelaide, and I all hung out on the grass afterwards eating pizza in the sun as the accomplishment slowly washed over me. Thank you to Adelaide, my friends and family, training buddies, the volunteers, Ironman staff, A-Squared Bikes, and Vision Tech USA for helping to make this possible for me.

 

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