I have to say, it’s pretty awesome doing a race in your home town. I get to train on every part of the course whenever I like, I can sleep in my own bed and eat my own food. There is no bike transport, and everything is easy to get ready. On top of that, I know many of the volunteers, supporters and other athletes. So it’s a lot of fun and not much stress at all!
Since I had already turned down a Kona slot at IMAZ, and I wasn’t planning on taking one here either (although I did think about it), my main goal of the race was to have a big training day, and go sub 9 hours. I was also going to ride the bike pretty hard, as to make the run a bit harder. Using bestbikesplit.com I calculated that something in the region of 4:25 would be achievable on around 250 watts. This was close to the bike course record, so I had that in the back of my mind as a goal. I programmed the course into my Garmin so that it would give me the ETA while I was racing, to see if I was on target for the time goal.
My day started very early. Despite living less than 3 miles from the start, it was mandatory for all athletes to take a shuttle from Boulder High School. So I had to get a taxi 8 miles to get to the shuttles, then get a shuttle all the way back to the swim start. I woke up at 3am, had 3 scoops of UCAN plus a serving of Isopure Colombian coffee whey protein. I had a small amount of oatmeal but I had zero appetite so couldn’t get much down. The zTrip (taxi) arrived at 3:45am, a seemingly cool Rastafarian driver chilling to the beats of Bob Marley as we set off towards downtown. However, not all was as it seemed. This guy kept on randomly swerving his car, accelerating and decelerating, and braking, despite us being the only vehicle on the road. Soon we came up on two yellow school busses that were side-by-side… fortunately for us a 12 foot gap opened up in between them, which coincidentally was exactly the length of the taxi, so no problem we squeezed through! I wondered if I’d actually make it to the start line in one piece… then lucky for me the road was blocked so I could get out and walk the 2 blocks to the High School.
I first put my frozen bottle in my run bag, then dropped off my special needs run bag before getting into the school bus. It was a short ride to the swim start, and I arrived around 4:45am. There was plenty of time to pump tires, set up nutrition and then chill out before the start. I hung out with Chris Blick (ex Dimond now Roka) until the start, and it was cool to see my athlete Amy Craft who was also using this race as an Ultraman training day. Her husband John was already practicing his crewing duties, with a backpack full of water, gatorade and athletic-friendly snacks. He even gave me a bottle of water which saved me a long walk over to the athlete water area (thanks John!).
Chris and I headed over to the swim start at about 6am, and quickly dipped in the res to get some water in the wetsuits. Then we just hung out until the start. I saw Conrad Rodas a few minutes before the start – I let him go right to the front since I knew even with an all-out effort he’d be too fast for me. I also saw a guy that beat me in the previous weekend’s Bare Bones 3 mile swim (Andy Freeman), but I knew I could swim with him so I stood just behind him.
At 6:20 the cannon sounded and we were off. I started a few rows back to let the really fast guys go. Since we hadn’t warmed up I started as easy as I could, just to try and settle into it on Andy’s feet. For the most part I had very little contact, but a few hundred meters in, Andy stopped suddenly (presumably google malfunction), then gave a huge breaststroke kick right into my face with his heel – I got a nice shiner to show for that one!
The rest of the swim was pretty relaxed. I lost Andy but had feet to draft off for about 75% of the way. I did zig-zag a bit which always seems the case in this lake. A few times I felt that I was swimming way too easy, so I would start swimming really hard. However I was not gaining much ground over the people around me when I did that, so in the end I just settled back into the easy pace until the end.
I exited the water just over an hour, in 41st place overall, which was slightly faster than expected. I ran up the ramp and found my neighbor Lara Edwards (Billy’s wife) who was volunteering as a wetsuit stripper. She made me lie on the grass and they had the wetsuit off in no time at all. I picked up my transition bag, which only had my helmet inside, and ran through the change tent, only stopping to give the volunteers my wetsuit and goggles. I put on my helmet and then put my sleeves on while I was running to the bike (I swim with the sleeves rolled down, even with the wetsuit swim).
I got to the bike, ran up the hill to the mount line and then started my favorite part of the day! The first 20 miles of the bike course is a rolling/hilly section that goes past my house. First, there is an out-and-back section along hwy 119, which allowed me to see the leaders coming in the opposite direction. I did a quick time check when I passed the same place and was about 10 minutes back. Conrad and I had spoken before the race, and based on our assumptions that he would be 10 minutes ahead, and the difference in our planned bike power, we estimated that I’d catch him at around the time that we started lap 2. So I was on track at this point. A part of my pacing strategy was to avoid the temptation to ride the hills hard, and just keep my power around 250 watts. I was feeling really good, so I went a little over this, ending up around 265 watts but it didn’t feel like I was working too hard. I did, however, work hard a few times dropping a Colombian guy named Felipe.
Let’s take a short interlude to talk about Felipe. My very first experience with him in this race I thought to myself “This guy belongs in Kona”. Now, many of you may think that’s a compliment, but let me explain what I mean. You see in Kona, there is this phenomenon that you don’t really see in other races. You pass a rider, and next thing he sprints back past you, realizes he can’t sustain the power, and then sits up right in front of you and slows down. The rules say that you need to drop back 12 meters once someone passes you, so stuff like that really kills your momentum. But at Kona, it feels like more than of 3/4 of riders do this. In the end, I believe he did get his Kona slot (congrats Felipe) so all of you racing on October 8th, be sure to say hi to him when he blasts by then sits up in front of you on the big island! I can assure you he won’t be the only one…
Anyway, so I burned some matches riding away from Felipe, and soon he was out of sight. This section ends with a fast descent down Lookout road with a sharp left turn into 75th. I saw my friend Adam Hecht on the corner who was doing a superb job of cheering! Next I saw Billy Edwards wearing a clown wig, who told me I was now in 11th place, 9 minutes back. A few hundred feet later I saw Michelle and the kids – she somehow managed to take a few photos, give me a split, and cheer at the same time!
Now that I knew how far back I was, I could count off the number of people I passed. Between this point and mile 46, I worked my way up to 6th place. Having said that, I was obviously “in the zone” since I actually passed Conrad without realizing it. I must have counted him in my head, but been oblivious that it was him I was passing. As I turned onto hwy 66, I did a time check with the ETA on my Garmin. It had me arriving at 11:51am, which was pretty much on track for my plan. I could see a rider in the distance ahead of me (which I think was eventual winner Clay Emge). My power up to this point was on track, 259 watts, but I was feeling really good so I upped it a bit and focused on the chase.
About a mile down the road, I felt the dreaded thump, thump, thump of my rear wheel… UGH – a flat tire. I jumped off the bike and initiated Plan A, which was my latex canister. I always use one in training so that I’m familiar with how it works and how well it works. Usually, it take 30-45 seconds to fix a flat using this method. It all started well, and the tire inflated. But as soon as I took the tube of the canister off, the foam started spewing out of the valve. It went all over the wheel and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Plan B… let’s change the tube. All good and well, except that the tire was now so slimy from the foam that I couldn’t get it off. I tried for several minutes but to no avail. Fortunately, the race neutral support guys arrived soon after this. They helped me change the tube, but alas it would not inflate (another valve issue). He had another tube in the vehicle, so we tried that one, and third time lucky, it worked). While I was standing there watching everyone pass me again (Conrad Rodas, Bob McRae, Steve Johnson, Frikkin Felipe and more than 10 others), I thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of the break and drink some of my nutrition. This sounds like a smart thing to do, but really it wasn’t, because I was already 100% on top of my fueling before the flat happened, and I was already pretty much at the max.
All in all I was on the side of the road for 15 minutes, and when I got back on the bike I felt terrible. Firstly, my legs were now cold and stiff. No problem – I could just ride easy for a few minutes until it came back. Secondly, I now felt bloated and sick, probably because I was just eating stuff for 15 minutes without being too conscious of how much I was having. My power was just not there – I was now struggling to hit 210 watts – and even at that power I didn’t feel good at all. Also, my bike time goal was now obviously out of the window, and I really didn’t feel like chasing those guys down all over again. So mentally I started to try and figure out some new goals. I figured that since I was riding easy now, I may as well use the time left to solve my GI issues and save my legs for the run. For the next 90 minutes I pretty much just drank water, and eventually my stomach cramps disappeared. I started taking in fuel gradually, and then felt better and better towards the end. Mentally I still felt despondent about the bike. I was coming in around 4:55, over 30 minutes slower than expected. Still, I was arriving at about 12:20, so with a decent 3:15 run I could still go under 9:20. I was also feeling very happy that my stomach was now all good again.
I dismounted the bike and then started the very long run into T2, on the Boulder High School athletic track. I handed off the bike, grabbed my run bag and made my way to the change tent. Clown-haired Billy Edwards was easy to spot, waiting with Brandon Watson to take my bag and get my stuff ready. These guys were awesome! It felt like I sat down for about 15 seconds and they had me ready to go. I started the run and immediately felt great. I always try and run by feel (EASY) for the first few minutes and then look at my Garmin to check the pace. My goal was to start at 8 min/mile (3:30 marathon) and then speed up if I felt good later on. I was a bit shocked when I looked down – pace was reading 6:52 per mile which is way too fast (that’s a 3 hour marathon). I tried to slow down as much as comfortably possible, but still was hitting just over 7 min/mile. Just before mile 2 I stopped to use the porta potty, so including that stop I was back on goal pace (2nd mile 8:15). The next few miles I was in the low 7’s but I felt good so I just kept going. I went through 10k in about 45 minutes, which was a little faster than I would have liked, but I still felt good. Over the last few months I’ve been struggling to get my run speed back, so overall this speed represented a good training breakthrough for me.
I was also on track with calories – one can of mountain dew and 6 Glukos energy tabs, for about 250 calories. Then suddenly at around mile 8, I couldn’t take anything more in. Even water was tough to take down. I had some Mexican coke waiting in special needs at mile 10, which I managed to get down. But after that, everything was a struggle. I ran with Conrad for a while, which helped a lot – it was fun to run with someone and shoot the breeze a bit. I got progressively slower as the run went on. I was happy to see Michelle around mile 15. I walked with her a bit and it was great to have a conversation in the middle of this run. I saw John Craft after that, but he had changed clothes since I saw him that morning, and I was a bit out of it, so I couldn’t figure out who it was until he said “Rob! It’s me, John!”… that should probably have been a sign that I was not quite “with it”! Around that time, I came across a woman (#632) lying on the ground, convulsing and throwing up. I stopped to help her and see if she was ok. She was totally out of it, asking me what she should do. I told her to try and throw up as much as possible, get some water, and walk it out. I stayed with her until the medic came and then continued my run. She was only at about mile 4, so I thought there was no way she was going to finish. But I’d later see her crossing the line in the race day video – anything is possible!
After mile 16, I started walking the aid stations, and my walks got longer and longer. I wasn’t even looking at my Garmin any more, I was just running the pace that I could run. Michelle rode next to me on a bike for a bit – it was really good to have a bit of company out there. I saw Amy Craft a few times on the run, going the opposite direction – she was looking strong which made me feel better too. She is going to nail that Ultraman run!
The last 6 miles was painful. Literally every step hurt. I’ve never had that in any race before (even the Ultraman 52 mile run was not this painful), and this is the first race where I’ve had to walk downhill just because my quads hurt that bad! I saw Adam Hecht again with 5k to go – not only was he cheering for me, but he made all the other spectators around him cheer for me as well… that’s another great thing about a hometown race – so much local support!
I never thought those last 3 miles would end, but eventually they did. Michelle, Adam, and my teammate Bob McRae were all at the finish line. Bob had an amazing race with an age group win and a superb time of 9:12.
So, it may have not been the race I wanted, but it was a great training day that kicks off my Ultraman Hawaii build. I had a great swim, my bike performance was great (until it wasn’t) and I have some run pace back. As with all bad races, I like to take away some learnings. The 2 main learning for me are 1) don’t take in too much nutrition if you’re standing around for 15 minutes 2) I need to come up with a simpler run nutrition plan for Ironman racing.
Overall, I loved this event and I hope to do it again in 2017!