It's been a couple of days now since IM Boulder. The day after, I felt truly awful. Very sore and extremely tired. As many folks have mentioned, it's ironically difficult to sleep after an Ironman, and I managed only about 5 rather fitful and interrupted hours of sleep after the race. I was so tired in fact, that on the drive home I had to stop at a gas station for a quick power nap! Each day since has been a little bit better. I am able to sleep and while I'm still somewhat sore, I don't feel too bad. I would expect that within in a couple of days I'll be back to feeling normal again. Here's a rundown of the entire experience.
|Ironman Village at Boulder High School|
I left home around 11:00 a.m. and headed north to Colorado Springs where I met my brother. After lunch and a quick goodbye to my lovely wife, we headed up to Boulder and check in at the IM Village (located at Boulder High School). It's been a while since I've been in Downtown Boulder during the summer, and it was great to be back. The town is so close to the mountains and there are incredible views all around. We sailed through the check in and received our commemorative backpacks for the event. These are very nice backpacks. I'd hoped to use mine for work, but given it's size, I see it as more of a travel/ transition bag at this point. After checking in and briefly perusing the expo, we checked out the run transition area before heading back to Parker for the evening.
|Official Race Backpack|
|A preview of T2: The "Run Bag" pick up area|
I awoke early on Friday and did my last mini-workout prior to the race. This consisted of a 10 mile bike ride and a one mile run. The hills around my brother's house are short but fairly steep and so I just took it easy. The last thing I wanted to do was cook my legs prior to the race. Looking at the data later on, I chuckled to think that I had climbed nearly 1,000 feet on such a short ride (IM Boulder has 5,149 feet of gain on the bike course). After the ride, I threw on my running shoes and went for an easy one mile run. I'd been having problems with my right Achilles and had only run about once in the last two weeks. I still felt a bit of soreness and hoped it wouldn't be an issue while out on the Boulder Creek in a couple of days. Later that day, my brother and I took a ride up to Greeley so that he could get a haircut. Then it was back to Parker, just taking it easy. That evening, I spent a few minutes getting my "Bike Bag" and "Run Bag" ready for the race. I also put my race numbers on my helmet and bike (for the record I was #2077). Then it was off to bed.
Saturday, August 1st, 2015-
By 8:30 it was off to Boulder again. We headed straight to the Boulder Reservoir for bike check in. IM Boulder has two transition areas. Transition 1 (Swim to Bike) is out at the lake, and Transition 2 (Bike to Run) is back downtown at the high school. You have to visit both locations on Saturday before the event. Even though we arrived at Bike check in a mere 15 minutes after it had opened, there was already a significant crowd parking their vehicles. As we entered T1, race officials took a picture of each bike (I asked them to send one to my wife!). I found the numbered space for my bike and briefly scanned the area for landmarks to help me remember its location. I also deflated my tires a bit so that there wouldn't be an issue of the tubes bursting in the afternoon heat. Standing in the transition area we noticed that the weather was already very warm for 10 o'clock in the morning. I'd heard some chatter on the forum about recent water temperatures being recorded at 76 degrees meaning that there was a chance the race would be wetsuit "optional." This meant that if the temperature increased by just .1 degrees, you could wear a wetsuit, but you wouldn't eligible for age group awards or a Kona slot.
|Transition Area early on Saturday before the race. Already warm temps mid-morning.|
|Entrance to the Run Course|
|The race briefing at IM Village in Downtown Boulder|
After stopping at the store to buy the next morning's breakfast, we checked into our hotel. We met my brother's coach again for a pasta dinner, and then it was back to the hotel for final preparations. With all bags packed and ready to go it was time to hit the sack. Wake up time was at 2:30 Sunday morning, and although I knew I wouldn't get a lot of sleep, I hoped I would at least sleep well.
|Leaving our hotel around 3 a.m. It was going to be a long, long day!|
My brother and I made it to Boulder in no time on Sunday morning, arriving just before 4 a.m. at Boulder High School. The only vehicles allowed to go into the reservoir were the buses reserved by Ironman Boulder. They were staged from the High School with the first one scheduled to leave at 4:00 a.m. We took our special needs bags to the designated area and then headed across the street to the High School. As we walked to the bus, it dawned on me that I had completely forgotten to bring the water I'd purchased to fill the water bottles on my bike. I hoped that I would be able to find something out at the reservoir as the thought of having to wait until the first aid station on the bike was not appealing. We were on the first bus out to the reservoir which meant that we would have plenty of time to get ready. As soon as we arrived we got our body marking completed and then headed into T1 which was . . . dark! I hadn't even considered that and so it was a bit challenging to get tires filled, lube the bike chain, etc. A few folks were much more prepared and had brought head lamps. I managed in the dark but it's definitely something I'll remember for any future early races. I also discovered that they had set out several jugs of water so I was able to get my water bottles filled without a problem.
Just a few minutes after we'd arrived, an announcer came over the PA system to let us know that they'd checked the water temperature and it was at . . . 78 degrees. I kept waiting for them to say they were just kidding, but they never did. That meant that it was now a wetsuit "optional" race and I had to decide whether or not to wear a suit. On the one hand, I knew that a wetsuit would almost certainly make me faster and the added buoyancy would probably make the swim easier and I'd leave the water with more energy. On the other hand, I hadn't done a single OWS in a wetsuit all summer. In fact, I'd only managed to get into the pool earlier in the week with it. Another factor was that those wearing wetsuits were moved to the back of the start meaning they would have to swim past everyone else, and I was anxious to get going. In the end, I decided that I would go ahead and do the swim without the wetsuit. As we moved into position for the rolling start, it looked to me like the field was split about 50/50 between wetsuits and non-wetsuit athletes.
The scenery in the Boulder Valley is breathtaking even during the swim. At one point I turned my head to breathe and I could see the sun starting to shine on the flatirons in the distance (these are the sharp cliffs that rise above Boulder to the west). At another point, I saw a hot air balloon launch in the sky off to the East. There must have been 20 balloons in the sky. How lucky to be competing in such a great location! After a good 90 minutes of swimming, I was definitely ready to be out of the water, but I tried to savor the last few yards. It isn't every day that you get to do an Ironman, so I wanted to take the time to enjoy each part of the race, reminding myself that one of my goals was to have fun. Overall, I was pleased with my swim. My goal had been to get through it without feeling too exhausted, and that's what I did. My final time was 1:31:22. Not my fastest performance, but given the lack of a wetsuit, I was just fine with that.
One of the many great race volunteers asked for my race number as I entered the transition area and another one ahead of me ran to get my bag. I started toward the changing tent when I noticed a number of athletes just standing off to the side outside of the tent. I decided that this would be preferable and spent the next couple of minutes drying off and getting my bike gear on. I'd raced without my tri top on and getting this on gave me a bit of trouble, but I managed after a minute or so of struggle. Once I was completely ready, I handed my bag to a volunteer and then it was off to the bike. Unlike most sprint/ olympic races, the transitions are fairly long, so I spent at least a couple of minutes walking.
The bike was by far the hardest part of the race even though it didn't start out that way. I made it up to the mount line and took my time getting out of the reservoir area. I was definitely in the "thick" of the race with what seemed like hundreds of other athletes making their way onto the bike course. Over the first few miles this would be a bit challenging as I found myself behind a number of riders who were on a slower pace for the ride than I had planned. Highway 36 isn't the ideal spot for this as there is limited space on the shoulder of the road. A few folks were a bit forgetful and would ride off to the left side. As a result, I'd find myself sliding up on their right. This would cause me to slow down and wait for them to move over so I could pass on the right. I made every effort to observe the no drafting rule, but it was very difficult. It was also clear that a few folks weren't trying at all. This surprised me as I saw a number of marshals out on the course. At one point they passed several of us, and I could see the marshal counting the amount of space between each rider. Once we'd turned onto Neva Road, things opened up a bit, and while I was rarely "alone" on the ride, it did spread out a fair amount for most of the race.
At about twenty miles, I hit my first "dark spot" in the race. Turning onto 36 after the climb on Nelson Road, I felt a bit of fatigue and given how early into the ride I was, that concerned me a bit. A big factor was the temperature. The problem was that the morning heat wasn't blatantly obvious while riding, but it became very noticeable when stopped. I constantly had to remind myself to keep drinking during the ride and I bet I filled my water bottle three times. I had my first stop a couple of miles outside of the 20 mile mark when my chain came off of my bike. Moving off to the side of the highway, I took just a few seconds to get it back on, but then waited a good minute before a space opened up among the riders where I could start riding again. I continued to ride and tried to take nutrition along the way. At about 40 miles, I took some water from an aid station and refilled my water bottle. The rest I squirted onto my head which felt lovely!
I managed to catch up with my brother just shy of the hill on Nelson Road during the second loop. We were just starting to climb and I don't think either of us felt like chatting much! When I reached the top, I again shifted into the big ring and again managed to push the chain off again. Although I was able to get it on more quickly this time, I thought I'd heard my brother pass by me with some other riders. Hoping to catch up, I kept riding and reached the bike "special needs" area at 58 miles. At special needs I took only two things from my bag. The first was a package of "Nutter Butters" that I'd stashed away. These went into my back pocket on my kit. The second was one of several letters that my family had written for me. It contained some inspirational quotes and a personal note from my wife (I'd asked them for these so that I could stash them in bags along the way). As I opened the letter, one of the volunteers joked with me about needing Kleenex in case I started crying. I laughed a little bit, but as I read the note, I did start to feel a bit teary-eyed. My favorite quote at that moment was "If you're going through hell, keep going" (attributed to Winston Churchill). I placed the letter back in the bag and set off again. I didn't see my brother and assumed that he'd gone on ahead.
With more than half of the ride completed, I was heading southeast on Highway 66 when I had a bit of a scare. I'd just passed a non-athlete rider which is always a bit nerve-wracking. Because they aren't racing, they don't always stay to the left which can make it tricky to pass them. Once past, I moved over to the right again. I leaned in to sip some water when I heard the unmistakable sound of a bike crash about 30 to 40 yards ahead of me. I'm not sure what exactly happened, but I saw three riders in front. One had just slammed hard into the pavement, another skidded off to the side but managed to stay upright, and a third went off the road and over her handlebars. I slowed down and stopped on the side of the road past the first rider. Looking back, she'd managed to stand up and move over to the side. The rider who had gone off the side of the road was conscious but in obvious pain and shock. We did our best to calm her and let her know that she was okay and that help was on the way. Fortunately, there happened to be an Ironman staff member passing by in his vehicle and he was able to stop and assist within a minute of the accident. I clipped back in and started riding again but seeing the crash was a reminder about how quickly a race can change. I resolved to pay attention and stay focused for the rest of the ride, even if that meant slowing down a bit.
After a second pass through the town of Hygiene, Colorado, I started to struggle again. Miles 70-80 were very difficult. Looking at my watch I noticed that my heart rate was dipping lower despite my continued effort. My speed was also starting to decline, and I felt very hot and fatigued, almost sleepy. Somehow, I'd managed to get behind on my nutrition, and my hydration was suffering as well. In short, I was starting to "bonk." One of the toughest things about an Ironman is staying properly energized. It requires the intake of calories, but this ingestion almost always leads to an upset stomach (consuming energy gels over several hours is akin to drinking a cup of syrup!). I realized that I was feeling a bit nauseous and as a result, I'd skipped eating a gel for the last hour. The Gatorade formula in my water bottle was starting to warm up and didn't taste good either. It was time to regroup and I hoped I could get my nutrition back on track. Just prior to turning onto the diagonal highway, I decided to take a quick break at the aid station. I got some cold water and another bottle of Gatorade Endurance. Drinking half of the water I poured the other half over my head. This helped to cool me down a bit, and the short break of 3-4 minutes helped me to feel much better. I started riding back down the diagonal highway towards Boulder before turning around at the bike path and heading north again. I was really tired and didn't bother to stay in aero position much. I actually felt like I was riding stronger up on the bull horns, so I continued to alternate between those and the aero bars. I forced myself to eat four of the six nutter butter cookies and after a few minutes I started to feel a bit better. Before long I was headed east on Highway 52, with the first of two big climbs ahead. I felt pretty good on this climb and managed to keep a steady pace all of the way up. At the top, I grabbed another water which went into my water bottle and over my head. Then there was a brief downhill stretch before the course turns back west again. This time, the climb was more drawn out as we made our way up Lookout Mountain Road. As I climbed the hill, I noticed a tent off to the right at the top of the hill. I thought I heard a woman saying something about snow cones, and sure enough, they were passing these out to riders. These couldn't have been placed at a better point in the race for me. As I rode the next little bit, I enjoyed my Skratch Lab Snow Cone immensely!
The last part of the ride brought us back past the reservoir and into Boulder. A highlight was definitely the right turn onto Arapahoe. Heading west over the last mile, the entire road was closed down and athletes had it all to themselves. With the barriers in place and the cheering fans, it felt a bit like a being a pro!
After dismounting at 17th street, I made the long walk to drop my bike off and pick up my run bag. As soon as I got my bag, I opened another letter of inspiration. This one was from my incredibly sweet 9 year old daughter Lily. She wrote that she was proud of me and how much she loved me. It was written very much in her own style and it put the absolute biggest smile on my face as I walked into the changing tent. I sat down and carefully put on a fresh pair of socks. The running shoes felt fantastic and I made sure that I had my race belt on as well. I was tired, but I felt confident that now that I was off of the bike, I would be able to finish. I left the tent and turned onto the course.
I haven't attended another IM event, but I've got to say that Boulder really makes this a party! Turning onto the creek path, I was met by literally thousands of people lined up on the route. Everyone was cheering and shouting encouragement to the runners. It didn't matter if they knew you or not, they would cheer. There was a huge concentration in the middle of the course, but there were several other places along the route where people would shout and cheer. Early on, I stuck to my strategy of running a half mile and then walking for a minute. In no time, I reached the first aid station. My stomach was still feeling a bit queasy so I took water, ice, and Cola. For some reason, the Cola seems to reduce the nausea and the carbonation causes burping which also feels terrific (This is the combination that I would use for the rest of the run). I continued to utilize my strategy of run/ walk through the first part of the race. After mile 9/10 however, I started feeling like I could run a bit further each time. By mile 11, I was running from aid station to aid station. At mile 9, I heard some shouting off to the right. To my surprise, I saw my gorgeous wife and two beautiful children on the side of the path. I wasn't expecting to see them that soon and I was so surprised that all I could do was manage a quick hello before continuing up the path.
The run course is run along the path and consists of two loops with several out and back sections. Throughout the run, I kept looking for my brother. I saw one of the coaches from the Tri Camp in Steamboat and asked if he'd seen him and he said that he hadn't. However, given the out and back nature of the course, I knew it was possible that I'd missed him.
The run course goes all the way up to the mouth of the canyon, and while there isn't a huge amount of overall elevation gain, the steepest part of the race is the hill at the turnaround point. The aid station at the top of the hill was an absolute zoo. It's located in a park and so there was a combination of aid stations, families picnicking (oh the smell of grilling hamburgers!), and folks with inner tubes who were tubing along in the creek. I made it up to the turnaround point and then started back down to where the run special needs was located.
Mouthwash, Advil, Candy, Cookies, and Energy gels are just a few of the things I'd stashed away in my bag. However, I quickly opened the bag to take out the notes from my oldest daughter, and my wife. These were the only things I needed. My daughter had written and illustrated a few notes for me including some funny movie quotes that she knew I'd enjoy. My wife's card had more quotes and positive messages for me. To be honest, I don't really remember what they said now, but I could feel their love and support. With that, I set the bag down, and ran back onto the course for the last half of the race.
|Early on I stuck to my strategy of walking a minute at every half mile.|
I decided that I would skip the aid station after mile 24 other than to dump a little water on my head. The last mile in change is all downhill and even though I was tired, I wanted to savor the last little bit of the journey. With about a half mile to go, I moved to the right side of the trail to get around another runner who was more in the middle. Right as I passed a few portable toilets, one of the doors swung open and it hit me pretty good on the forearm. If it had opened just a split second sooner, I might have run right into it.
Turning onto 13th street for the final run I made my way up the last couple of blocks and into the finisher's chute. I could hear Mike Reilly (the Ironman announcer) on the PA system up ahead. There were just a few athletes finishing at that time and I slowed a bit to enjoy this last little stretch. As I ran down the last few yards, I raised my arms over my head and heard Mike calling out: "Theodore Johnson, You are an Ironman!"
After the race I reunited with my wife and daughters and my parents were also there. I was quite happy to see them, but I did need to sit down for about 10 minutes. I was a bit dizzy and just very exhausted. This feeling was very similar to how I felt after the Harvest Moon Triathlon last September. I was sorry to discover that my brother had to stop the race about 100 miles into the bike ride due to a medical issue. He wound up getting checked out at the hospital but fortunately he is okay. I know he will be back at it sooner or later.
Without a doubt the Ironman was the most difficult race I've done to date. I was curious to see how it stacked up against the 50 mile ultra marathon I did a couple of years back, and it was definitely more taxing both physically and especially mentally. Even though the time was relatively similar (I went about 11:15 for the ultra compared to 12:24 for IM), the distance covered is nearly three times farther. Psychologically, it's challenging to think that even after riding sixty, seventy, or even ninety miles, you are still looking at a full marathon. The run alone equates to more than half of the ultra distance.
I don't know what the future holds and whether or not I'll ever attempt something like this again. At this writing, the answer is no, but I won't say never. For the time being, I'm going to sit back and start thinking about the "off season" which will start earlier than it has in nearly three years!