Ironman Boulder Race Report

With a little extra time on my hands this week, I thought I would tell more about how race day unfolded. I find the usual race reports a little dull and prefer to tell stories about things that happened on the course. So, if you came by looking for all of the info such as the details of my pre-race routine – what time we got to the High School, how much I ate, how long the lines were at the porta potties – you are probably going to be a little disappointed. Sorry!

Swim – Time 1:13 (I always scroll down immediately to read someone’s time, so I will save you the trouble)

I don’t have much explanation for how I shaved 3 minutes off my Ironman PR and swam better than anyone expected. I can tell you that I have continued to work in the pool, went to long course masters a few times, and did a practice 2-mile race in the Rez two weeks before the race. Beyond that, I am as mystified and amazed as anyone else.

I was unsure what the swim would be like with the new rolling start procedure. It ended up feeling like a normal day at a 70.3 as far as the congestion in the water, without the added element of swimming over the slower swimmers or getting swum over by the faster people. I’m a fan. I can also tell you that I pretty much stuck to the buoy line, tried to draft when possible, and swam in a full-sleeved wetsuit.

Bike – Time 5:40

Out on the bike, I immediately noticed my heart rate was sky high. Scary high. I ignored it and assumed it would calm down within 20-30 min, but it took a full 90 minutes at least for me to see a heart rate that seemed more normal for me for Ironman. I’m not sure what the story was with the high heart rate other than the adrenaline of the day, and possibly the fact that I may have taken it out a little bit hot. I didn’t know my swim time since I don’t wear a watch in the water, but I realized fairly quickly that it was probably pretty decent (for me) since I was getting passed on the bike by people who I assumed were much better swimmers.

Lots of people went by me in the first half. It felt like the whole race was passing me by – mostly dudes – but quite a few of them came back to me after mile 80 or so.

I had a mental shift from “just doing my thing” to “hey, I might actually do something here today” around mile 60. That’s when I saw Sonja on the side of the road cheering and she told me that I had been 12th out of the water and was making up ground quickly. I felt great at that point, so I got to work riding hard.

Happy to see Sonja at mile 60

Happy to see Sonja at mile 60 – photo courtesy of Sonja Wieck

The rest of the ride was uneventful until I arrived at T2. I knew from watching the awesome pre-race videos from the Race Director that the dismount line was on the east side of the high school, but we were supposed to run with our bikes along the back of the school, across a bridge, and onto the track where the T2 bags were located. Honestly, not the greatest set-up I have seen. I have never tried to master mounting and dismounting with my shoes clipped in, so my only options were to run in my bike shoes, or stop, take them off and run in my socks. I went with option two and ran to the track in my socks with shoes in one hand and bike in the other. I didn’t have issues with burning my feet on the track while getting my T2 bag, but apparently a lot of other people did. I’m confident they will come up with a fix for that next year.

Run – Time 3:41

One of my big goals in Ironman is to run a 3:30 marathon, something I fully believe I am capable of. I thought I had a great shot in Boulder because of the flatter bike and run, but I was only about 5 or 6 miles into the run when I realized a 3:30 was probably not in the cards for me. It was in the mid-80s by that time, and the run course – which is 100% on bike paths – didn’t have many flat spots. Having biked harder than I had planned on, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to hold myself together and was legitimately concerned things might turn south at any given moment. On the other hand, I feel like I don’t have a ton of talents in this world, but running well off the bike, in the heat, is one of them.

My bike nutrition plan is pretty specific, but my run nutrition is much less so. I can run a stand-alone marathon on just 1 gel – but at some point on the first lap, I realized I was going to need some calories and started considering what to eat. Nothing seemed appealing. My stomach felt ok, but it was one of those times when I felt like the slightest wrong move could cause me big problems. I settled on orange slices, water, and an occasional handful of grapes. I tried to hold off on Coke as long as possible because I worried about energy highs and lows, but I was already into the Coke by the halfway point.

Lap 1 is when I realized I had not done a perfect job with my course recon and had failed to preview the biggest hill on the course, an overpass on Pearl Parkway on the northeast side. This was an out-and-back section, so we were treated to that hill 4 times with the fourth time occurring after mile 20. Pro triathlete Tim Don was on the side of the path cheering on this side of the course, and I remember thinking it was funny that Tim Don was cheering for me instead of the other way around. I tried to think of something clever to say to him when we headed back. I ended up yelling something that I am too embarrassed to repeat here, but which made him laugh, so that was a fun moment. Sadly, he was gone by lap 2.

Lap 1 was harder than lap 2. There was still so much running to do and I honestly wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out. I was holding a solid pace, but it was definitely hard and I was having to use all of my mental tricks to make it through. In the run, I try to give myself a lot of positive self-talk, and toward the end of lap 1, when I was feeling hot and struggling a bit, a thought popped into my head – “it was hot like this in Cozumel and you ran well.” Yes! It was true. Cozumel remains my fastest IM run and it was a hot race. That thought sustained me for a while. I knew from Sonja that I was in 8th place out of T2, but at this point in the race, people’s body marking had worn off, and I didn’t know what was what.

Around mile 16, Sonja was right about where she had been on lap 1 and she gave me the low-down: “Jen, you are in 4th place and 3rd is about 90 seconds up. You are running 30 seconds faster per mile. Go get her!”  She told me who I was looking for, and not long after, I made the pass and knew it would be for good. Now I was in 3rd place(!), but still doing damage-control by walking all of the aid stations and I still had to get up and over the Big Hill two more times. Luckily, that all went pretty well, and by the time I passed back through town again, I was just hoping the race would end soon and I could stop running.

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Doing the hard work with my race face on

If you were out there and cheered for me, I apologize if I didn’t acknowledge you. I tried to wave to friends and acknowledge some cheers with a point or a head-nod, but this was hard work for me and I had to to focus exclusively on the task at hand. I wish I was happy-race-face girl, but that’s just not me.

I had seen Mark on all of the out-and-backs. He was ahead, but not by a lot. Back through town the second time, Sonja told me he was just up ahead, and I knew I would catch him. Some people have asked if he was mad or if he cared that I beat him and I want to clarify that the answer to both is NO. Even though I used to think he was sometimes competing with me and used to feel like we were racing each other in workouts, I realized this summer that he doesn’t care if he is ahead of me or not, so I started not caring either. He is 100% supportive of me and understands the goals I have, although it may bug him a tiny bit that I don’t have to work quite as hard at it as he does. I have said many times that if you were to combine Mark’s work ethic with my ability, you would have one kick-ass athlete. My success in Boulder was his success too, and we were thrilled to be at the finish at almost the exact same time to celebrate together. Also, he let me ride our new 404/808 Zipps with power tap, and if that is not a selfless act of love, I’m not sure what is.

That said, no, it did not occur to me to slow down to run in the last 1.5 miles with Mark. I am always trying to run one of the fastest run splits of the day, and I was trying to do that in Boulder. On Pearl Street with the finish line in sight, I considered whether I might pull off an amazing finish line jump, which I don’t usually do, but it looks really good in photos. I couldn’t do it. The best I could do was smile, wave my arms like a lunatic, and high five a few strangers.

Time: 10:43:33 – 3rd AG; 12th OA (PR)

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My finish line catcher served her purpose and dragged me away from the line as I kept repeating that I just needed to sit down. The finish area was pretty empty and they let me sit there and wait for Mark. The photo we took at the backdrop in the chute was not cute, but we had Ryan of Kompetitive Edge take this one later.

Mark's shirt was a crowd-pleaser

Mark’s shirt was a crowd-pleaser

I need to say a few more words about Sonja and what she did for me last Sunday. When Sonja first starting coaching in 2011, I was one of her first athletes. When we parted ways in 2012 (I may also be the first person she fired), she told me she would always have my back and support me, even if she wasn’t my coach. True to her word, we have remained friends and occassionally train together. When I have something hard on the schedule that I really want to nail, I know I can call her up and she will try to be there for me if she can. She had five athletes she was supporting in Boulder, so I did not assume she would be focusing on me, but I sort of knew in the back of my head that if I was lucky enough to be “hunting” on the run, she would probably help me out by giving me placement info. It’s possible I might have executed the same race without all of the info Sonja provided, but there is no doubt having her there was a huge help. I am extremely grateful for her support on race day and all of the companionship leading up to it. Hopefully I can repay the favor some day.

A last thanks goes to the littles. At the risk of sounding in my last post like I was some sort of supermom whose kids didn’t even notice her training all summer, please know that my kids spent quite a few hours sitting on the pool deck, entertaining themselves while I rode the trainer, and even accompanying me on some brick runs (after a bit of begging on my part).

Ironman is our lifestyle and it is pretty much all they know, but I am grateful to have the support of the kids in the long months leading up to a big race. I can’t wait to make more memories in Hawaii with these two.

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How I got myself back to Kona

I had a post all tee’d up in my head last week that I was going to put up in advance of Ironman Boulder. It was going to be titled “Confessions of a (former) Kona Slot Chaser.” I was going to talk about how I had finally moved on from slot-chasing and in doing so, had actually found more happiness in the sport than I had in years. I assume that most of you reading are friends of mine in real life and know my “story,” but in case anyone is new, I will give you a quick recap:

I started doing tris in 2010 and Ironman Coeur d’Alene that year was the second tri I had ever done. I love the marathon and I knew that my place in tri was in Ironman. After two Ironmans in 2010, I qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona at Ironman Canada in 2011. There were 75 qualifying slots at that race and it was my first year in W40-44. We had 4 slots and an additional slot because Sister Madonna started but DNF’d. Incredibly, the slots rolled to 9th, which was me.

When I arrived in Kona 6 weeks later, I had convinced myself that I didn’t really belong. Back then, you could still pull up the Kona qualifiers in the results, and I think I had the slowest qualifying time from Canada, except for a few 65+ men and women. I spent the week worrying about feeling out of place and not enjoying the excitement because I was scared, intimidated and embarrassed. Not surprisingly, I had a terrible day on the course – maybe my worst performance from a mental standpoint. I started the swim in the back and too far wide (scared), never got it together on the bike course, and started crying to my family at mile 5 of the run that it was too hard and I couldn’t do it. I yelled at my husband late on the run course when he was trying to motivate me to finish in sub-12 . He got frustrated with me at the finish and we left the whole scene in a huff. I spent the rest of the vacation stewing about how terribly I had performed, beating myself up mentally for days.

I knew how to erase the bad memories from 2011. I would re-qualify (ideally without a rolldown) and I would have one giant do-over in Kona. It would all be different the next time around. I would enjoy the pre-race activities and excitement instead of hiding from them, and I would be a different person in Kailua Bay and out on the Queen K. I would prove to myself that I was a good triathlete, a feeling that had always eluded me. People close to me told me that I should be happy with myself and my accomplishments and I knew they were right, but I never felt it. I decided another Kona slot would change everything for me.

I got down to the business of re-qualifying. I jumped into the field at Ironman St George in 2012 without having trained for that event. Everyone knows how that went (terrible). My next Ironman was IMAZ in 2012 and I had a breakthrough day, achieving a new PR and finishing just off the podium in 6th, my highest placement to date. After that, I set my sights on Whistler. To drum up support for the inaugural race, WTC allocated 100 Kona slots to Whistler. I figured all I had to do was finish 6th and I would be Kona bound. Whistler ended up being much harder than I anticipated and I got out biked by a lot and couldn’t make up the time in the run. I was 10th and devastated. It felt like my last chance at Kona and I had blown it. I talked a lot about quitting the sport and returning to something that I was good at and made me feel good about myself (running), but in the back of my head, I knew I could be better than I had been in Canada and I wanted to give it one more shot.

After Whistler, I started working with a new coach, Vince Matteo, who I met through twitter (@felog). Vince is very data driven and analytical, which I liked because I am not those things. I had been using a power meter since 2011, but I didn’t really understand it and didn’t feel like it had helped my cycling in the way everyone claims it does. Vince was all about the power meter. He also didn’t mind that I wanted to do most of my bike training indoors on the trainer.

I was going to target Arizona, where I had had my best performance. But on the day of registration, I fumbled with my Active login for about 30 seconds and by the time I got onto the registration page, registration was already full. I didn’t have a backup plan. Cabo seemed too early in the year. The swim at CdA still scared me. My ideal criteria was a wetsuit-legal swim, flattish bike, and warm weather. It hit me like an epiphany…Boulder!  Mark was already registered and I had originally resisted signing up because it’s hard when we both do the same race and I had vowed I wouldn’t do any more summer races because it was a challenge to train with the kids out of school. But the more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it. I could train on the course and train with other friends who were doing the race. We wouldn’t have to travel. I didn’t think I could be competitive in Boulder, so I set other goals. I wanted to be a better swimmer and biker. I wanted to run a 3:30 marathon. Those were my goals – to just be better.

Winter rolled around and I put in a lot of long hours on the trainer. By spring, I had already done more long runs than I usually did in an entire Ironman build. My mindset had shifted from being completely results oriented (Kona, podium) to just focusing on my performance. Vince and I never talked about Kona. He knew that I dreamed of going back and having one more chance there, but it was never discussed. The closest we came to talking about it was in a phone conversation in late spring. I think I had been missing workouts and moving things around on the schedule like I typically do, and he said something like, “I know what it takes to achieve the goals you have and you are not really doing that work right now.”  He was right. I was not 100% committed and it showed.

Sometimes (a lot of times) I would tell Mark I wasn’t going to do the race. I didn’t feel like I was going to be good and didn’t want to try. Mark always gives it to me straight, and he said it was ridiculous to put in all of the time I had over the winter just to quit in summer when the weather was finally getting nice. He told me that I could be good, I had talent, but I was wasting it by not fully committing. In March, they announced a change in Chicago Marathon registration and I had an automatic qualifying time. My sister and I made plans to do the race. Chicago falls on the same weekend as Kona. I decided that I was moving on and made plans for the fall that did not include Hawaii or triathlon. It was a small thing, but making that plan to do Chicago gave me a lot of peace of mind.

Just at the point in the year when I usually fall apart with the kids out of school and no set schedule, I pulled myself together. Very much a night owl, I forced myself to do some training in the early morning so that it had less of an impact on my family. I asked for help with the kids from sitters and friends so I didn’t miss important workouts. I stopped drinking alcohol almost entirely because I wanted to nail my workouts every single day.

All of those small choices added up, and by last weekend, I was ready. I wanted it to be hot, and it was. I wanted to wear a wetsuit in the swim, and I did (after a scare the week prior). I hoped the bike course wouldn’t be too windy, and it was a very calm day.

I had some time and data goals for Sunday, but my biggest goal was to stay in the moment. I would not allow myself to think about the other girls or how I might finish. I would only focus on the work that needed to be done at that exact moment. Even throughout the entire marathon, I did not allow myself to think about qualifying. I simply wanted to run the best I could and pass as many people as possible.

Here is the result:

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In some ways it was a complete surprise, but in other ways it wasn’t. I had trained to swim around 1:15, bike around 5:45, and run a sub 3:40. Those were almost my exact splits (1:13/5:40/3:41). I focused on myself and my own performance and the results happened, just like some wise people had always told me they would.