I have been racing triathlon for a long time now, and never really felt the urge to race a full distance. For many years, I loved the challenge of the 70.3 and the fact that you still have time to lead a normal life. However, once I started to coach at Evolve, I realized that I wanted to experience the joy and pain of a full Ironman. And so I decided to take the leap and sign up!
Step one was choosing a location. As I started the search for a race, my first inclination was to sign up for Ironman Texas – not a location that calls to my heart or a course that fits my strong points. I thought the timing of IM Texas was perfect, but that was before I realized we would have a wet/snowy winter and spring. Even Coach Sam told me that Texas didn’t play to my strengths, so the search continued. My schedule was going to require an early season race; Ironman gear with the Colorado logo brings an instant smile to my face; and my heart was in agreement. I chose Ironman Boulder.
As was the case for many, this past winter and spring were not ideal for training and I spent many hours on a bike trainer or riding in the rain, or worse starting in the rain, and finishing on the trainer. These days made me stronger in the end, it was just a little hard to see that at times when I was freezing or on my fourth hour on the trainer.
This spring, I felt like multiple things were “off” and hadn’t gone right. But no matter what, I kept charging though the training. It was incredibly lonely at times, riding 2 to 3 hours with teammates and then still having another 3 hours of riding. The hard part was controlling the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) in my head. This lingered in my head up until about 2 weeks before my race. That weekend I had 115-mile ride. Teammates, coaches and friends stuck with me for the day. At that point, I began to realize I was ready. I then spent a week in Boulder to wrap up training and knew I was totally prepared.
I approached this race unlike any other race. I have plenty of experience at altitude and understood how to counter the effects as best I can. I texted Sam to tell her I was going out early and sleeping in a tent prior. Her response: “Perfect – Love it – you are Rich Roll.” (Rich Roll sleeps in a tent on his roof.) Needless to say, packing for a camping trip on top of an Ironman pretty much fills your vehicle…
I camped at 8500 feet for 5 days and then went into Boulder for 4 days to acclimate. While being at altitude was a great perk, the best part was that I got to train during the day on the race course. I was able to swim at Boulder Reservoir 3 times and biked 120 miles on the bike course on multiple days. It was a great advantage to know the course really well going into the race, but also, I wasn’t stressed out trying to get things prepped pre-race. I basically was living the life of a Boulder triathlon pro. The only thing on my plate was my workout each day. I absolutely loved each day leading up to the race.
And just like that it was race day!
On race day, the swim in the Reservoir was amazing. I took the swim conservatively and I think it went as I would have expected. A few times breathing/sighting, I would get a glimpse of the mountains and think how amazing this is. I found this to be a nice, calm swim. I brought an extra set of goggles for the swim that I had on my leg as a just-in-case backup (this is a staple at Evolve for Ironman). I was surprised with how many comments were made about them. In fact, another athlete signaled to his family and did the same thing. It was a small preventative measure (I wear contacts and cannot swim without goggles) that cost me nothing in terms of time or hassle, but would have been invaluable if I had needed the goggles. I got out of the swim and thought that it went slower than I expected, but in the grand scheme of the race, the extra minutes on the swim didn’t matter.
Transition at an Ironman is significantly different than a 70.3. You have volunteers helping you put on your gear. I had made arm warmers out of some long argyle socks where I cut off the toes. I figured that if I got too warm, I would rather toss those at an aid station than my $50 arm warmers. Colorado is cold in the morning and I needed these throughout most of the day. The guy helping me in transition said that that was the most ingenious thing he has ever seen. I wish it was my idea… Thanks, Coach Sam.
The bike is where I knew I had the ability to really shine. Just as with the swim, I took the bike conservatively. The goal was to have a solid ride but not cook the legs. In retrospect, I could have hit the bike harder as my HR was low. But I knew that success at an Ironman is just consistently moving forward and slowing down the least. I moved up around 500 people on the bike course. With only 1009 people finishing, that is a lot of the field to pass.
My second transition was pretty uneventful. Again, the volunteers in the tent were amazing. Ironman does a really great job. This is where my Naked belt really was helpful. I was able to load it up with everything for the run, but it feels like it is not even there.
As I entered the run, I approached a hill that Sam had remarked on the day before: “Oh, shit you have to run up that.” My attitude was that hill was nothing and I just kept charging. Keep in mind that prior to this race training, the longest I had run was 15 miles. Ever. Did I mention I love the 70.3 distance and short course? I just have never embraced long course (140.6) or marathons. So, going into this marathon I really had no idea what to expect. I just knew after Florida 70.3 in April that I had suffered a lot and would need to focus on running and moving forward.
I approached the run 1 mile at a time, which was the perfect way to attack it. Trying to break it into larger chunks can be too much mentally. I just remembered, “1 mile at a time,” and suddenly I was at mile 18 taking my last salted caramel gel for the day… Hallelujah! No more gels! At about mile 18 is when I could tell I was slowing down, but still running. I just kept moving forward despite a long climb. The thing that kept me going is that Coach Sam, Lauren (My Wife) and my sister, brother-in-law and nephew were on the course. Seeing their faces would just keep me pushing until the next time that I knew I would see them.
Around mile 25.5 I could suddenly hear music and the voice of Mike Reilly, and it is amazing how the run just seemed to pick up. This is the point when I realized I was that close to finishing my first Ironman! As I was running down the chute, I realized it is still solid daylight out and could see my cheering squad. The hugs and tears all came out. I finished and thought – wow that was hard… But felt amazing. I felt totally prepared for the race. I think it surprised people, but I know that is what differentiates Evolve from so many other training options. You will be prepared for your race. I know I was.
As I look back on my triathlon journey, I had always avoided the Ironman distance race. I had a number of reasons why, but ultimately, I am glad I did the distance and specifically Boulder. When I finished I thought to myself that I am ready for the next one, and can build off of what I learned at this one. I really didn’t care what my time was; I just wanted a solid day that I could learn from. I also knew racing in Boulder would be different than many other courses. Clearly, others felt the same way, because this was the last year for this race due to low numbers.
For those that have avoided the distance, but are considering jumping in to a full Ironman, I would encourage you to sign up with a trusty training partner. “Misery loves company” is one of my training partner’s mantras. As I look back on my journey, the things that went wrong this spring were just small blips along the way. I have to agree with the sentiment that there is nothing like finishing your first Ironman. If you are doing an early season Ironman distance, your training partner will be the key when you are stuck indoors on the bike for 3 to 4 hours on the trainer. My wife and family were amazing support during the training and race day, and the support of Coach Sam and the amazing work of Dr. Lauren Hendrix is what made it possible. So what are you waiting for? Go sign up for an Ironman!