It has been a while since the race, and it is time to post this blog that I have written up a while ago. I just never got around to post it. While absolutely nothing has changed in my life since racing as a pro this year, being listed as a pro has a few perks like free race entries, home stays and a bit more attention on race weekend. My overall goals are the same: Race happy, meet people, improve myself, learn about myself, and get healthier. This is the write up on Ironman Boulder, a race that hopefully stays on the Ironman agenda. It is a beautiful location at the base of the Rocky Mountains with a vibrant and welcoming community.
I arrived in Boulder a few days earlier in an attempt to acclimate to the high elevation (a whooping 5400 feet difference to where I live in Oregon) and I also wanted to visit a research collaborator/company that has their headquarters an hour and a half north of Boulder.
(Boulder has some incredible sunrises... I got to admit that I only saw two. This one was race morning.)
Via the WTC homestay program, local Boulderette Pam organized my amazing homestay and I could have not have had a better host in Todd! Todd is a gifted Chinese medicine therapist and took care of my diverse ailments that bothered me before the race (race week ALWAYS brings them out). I am first to admit that due to my busy work schedule recovery often comes a little short and at soon 41, my body is not as forgiving as it used to be. In addition, I have had been working on glute max activation all winter in combination with strengthening my calves to help my Achilles injury (which seems weird as I have inherited huge calves from my mountain biker dad). As a result, my glutes seem a little overworked and sore/tight all the time, while my Achilles well – still hurts (luckily not during the race, or lets say the pain blended in with everything else that hurts during the marathon, but the day after was really bad). So especially Todd's acupuncture skills were an amazing relief and he definitely knows how to hit the spots with his massage art... ouch!
(Three loops and then a popsicle into the 2. I have found the course to be very entertaining and the scenery beautiful. Neva/Niwot and St. Vrain are fast, Nelson and 36 slow and the rest rolling.)
I came off a few rest days, as I had quite a bit work stress to get rid off (a lesson learned from my DNF at Ironman 70.3 St. George – where I kept editing a million dollar research proposal the night before the race in order to make the submission deadline). And also had accumulated fatigue from some awesome bike sessions (check out my 15,000 feet climbing extravaganza on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1010756756?source=global-footer ). So the days before the race, we had built up a bit of intensity and also race week was stacked with a few good workouts. My coach Chris checked in every day asking how I felt to fine tune those last sessions and also see how I got used to the elevation and the HEAT! Running felt weird and hard pretty much up to race day, but I was stress free and Todd’s magic helped stay as loose as I could.
The Pro meeting took place in the changing tent in T2 and the group was much much smaller than in St. George but even more friendly. And there were a lot of questions, especially concerning safety on the more crowded laps 2 and 3 on the bike. Also it was announced that the water temperature in the shallow reservoir was already high and expected to be non-wetsuit legal for the Pros and wetsuit legal for age groups. Luckily, some cold water was routed into the lake the night before the race, so it stayed just under 70F on race day, which meant wetsuit legal for everyone (and I almost did not bring the wetsuit on race morning...)!
After the meeting, I still had to sign the check-in tables. 14 Pro women were signed up, but since there were a few empty lines, I nervously counted the names. 10! That would mean I would make my race day goal of finishing in the top 10, and it also meant to re-adjust my goals. Arbitrarily I picked the number 8. I wanted to be in the top 8. Interestingly, I felt like my self-imposed pressure was lifted and I was looking forward to race day without any anxiety. I do race against myself, but I always set goals, because if I don’t then my race usually sucks.
In the last 2 years, I did not look so much at my age group results, but rather how I stacked up against the pro fields. And now in the pro field, I am curious how much I can get out of myself, knowing that I am likely at the upper end of work responsibilities. The last few moth have been even busier with nightly proposal writing, but my coach with whom I now work for the last 5 years knows and we reduce workout stress accordingly. I am a bit desperate to get my research funded, as it will determine my future in the USA. but that is a story to be told another day. Another goal might be to be faster than the female top age groupers, but it is almost more a motivation than a goal, as I have indeed never been better than third overall in an Ironman and definitely did not expect to accomplish this goal here in Boulder.
But back to the race: After the pro meeting, I was interviewed by Ironman, but I mentioned Norseman and that was likely the reason they cut that interview... Oops, lesson learned, dont mention another franchise...
Race morning came around and I was not able to find sleep until after 12:30am. I usually sleep good before races, but not this time. I know however that the adrenaline of the day and the caffeine will keep me going and I was curious whether I would sleep well after the race (which would also be a first – and I did!). One of the perks of being a pro, is that you can bring your bike on race morning and that we had parking passes at the Boulder reservoir. So Todd who had a media pass gave me a ride up.
I made my stuff ready and there I heard that the swim is wetsuit legal. Thankfully, Todd had convinced me to bring my wetsuit after all (that would have been a stressful scramble to go back to town to get it)!!! SwissTriathlonCoaching athlete Pat came over to say hello and we hung out while got suited up with my wetsuit… Nothing more elegant like squeezing your butt into one of those… NOT. I then headed down to the swim start, where all the other pro ladies were already waiting at the boat ramp while the pro males where in the water already lined up. I was confused for a bit, why none of the ladies did a swim warm up (maybe I was late?). So at least I went and filled my suit with water and wet my face.
There was much joking and chatting going on between the ladies and that is the coolest thing – so much more friendly and relaxed than between the top age group ladies. One girl shouted: "We all get paid today!" And everyone burst into laughter.
(ROKA Maverick X girls! Love my silver mirrored ROKA goggles they look almost green here)
(Female pros in the water; all age groupers penned up behind the swim arch; I actually never looked back and did not notice until I saw this picture)
I found it very special to hear the National anthem while being out near the start line at St. George and standing at the beach with some of the best here in Boulder was no less special.
The men got off and I switched sides to start on the inside, behind Rachel Joyce. I had no intention to get at her feet because she is so fast, but I just wanted some free space around myself and no one else lined up on that side.
(Shortly before the canon. Rachel Joyce with the Roka suit and the blue-ish goggles and Heather Jackson in the Blueseventy Thermal Helix. I wonder whether she ever got too warm with that suit as the temp was in the high 60sF.)
(and off we go: me still all the way on the left, obviously a little slower starter...)
So the start was pretty uneventful until about 50 yards in when googles started to leak badly. Shortly after I inhaled some water and started coughing. I was like - great, I am the pro who breast strokes not even 100 yards in. But I quickly got my googles emptied and back on my head and started swimming. From then on it was fine and I found myself swimming at the shoulder of someone almost up to the first of two turn buoys. That person tended to veer to the left, where I was swimming and I had to speed up before each small buoy so she would not push me to the inside of the buoy. I don’t think she intended to push me over, she could simply not swim straight, while I tend to veer to the right. At the first turn buoy I sped ahead, so she came to swim behind me for a short time but then got off course and swam way wrong to the inside of the course. She swam faster than me, so by the last turn, I finally caught up and got on her feet and since she swam somewhat all over the place I touched her feet twice and got greeted with a few furious kicks, which made me worried for her that she would get a calf cramp. So I tried to stay clear of her and decided to swim my own, straight(er) line. I was pulling the second group and when the person behind me touched my feet a few times, it filled me with pride that I am fast enough to be able to pull some pro females. I had similar ladies at my feet like in St. George, which I thought was cool. All the swimming up to 6x a week is finally paying off and I feel confident in the water. Except for the far end of the course, when I noticed that the water had a yellow color, which I attributed it to either being very shallow or having plants in the water and likely both. And shortly after I grabbed a handful of plant life… Yuck. High elbow, high elbow… just keep swimming. Good thing, I did not really see much of the underwater world…
Some of the kayaks were manned with people wearing orange and stayed right in front of the buoys which made sighting very hard and confusing (in that case it was a young lady wearing an orange shirt or life jacket). I remember when I spectated in Arizona last November, there was a female pro that stopped swimming and yelled at some kayak to get out of the way because she could not see the buoys. Now I can totally relate to her.
(This is the second fastest male age grouper, me followed a few second behind on the right. Note that I am already hassling with my wetsuit zipper leash)
A few hundred yards from the finish the first male age grouper passed me... super fast… Not a chance to get behind his feet. I tried to get on the second male's feet for a few moments until he pulled away. Seeing the black finish arch, I only had one thought: This time I like to lead the group out of the water and not getting passed through the end of the group like in St. George. So I increased my effort and got out of the water in 5th place leading the second group.
(Still tugging up instead of down...)
(Danielle Mack showing how it is done. Not even out of the water and wetsuit already open and halfway down the shoulders.)
Right behind me the later third place finisher and fourth place finisher. Both of which passed me in transition and I never saw them again… But I was happy with the swim that seemed to be 4400 yards instead of 4200. Kudos to the first and second age grouper, who passed us. The second one just a few seconds ahead of me. I swam until my hands touched the ground (which felt like it was just under the arch) and got up and scrambled out of the water. Funny thing is that I could not figure out how to open the wetsuit, I tried to pull up (probably muscle memory from the blueseventy suit I have had), but the Roka suit opens from top to bottom.
(I swam a 1:04 not super fast, but I also recognize that as an age grouper you have plenty more options to draft of faster people and having fellow pros draft off you is a pretty cool confirmation of the hard work my coach and I had done. Also as a regular reader of the race tracker updates during race days, it is cool to be in one of those blogs!)
The changing tent was great. I got confused for a second as I expected wetsuit strippers just after coming out of the water, but they might have not been in place yet, so the ladies in the changing tent stripped the wetsuit off me. Awesome volunteers!
The run out of transition was long, so I grabbed my shoes and ran out with in hand. I put them on when I reached my bike. (I crashed once trying a flying mount... I might need to practice that at some point.) From there it was a short distance to the bike mount line and off we were on the 112 mile bike ride. Probably my most favorite moment that gave me a good giggle was seeing Rob Gray jumping up and down near T1, when I rolled by (dont remember though whether that was during loop 1 or loop 2) But THANKS Rob!
(Did not realize that suit is so see-through on the sides...But the bike looks cool! :D)
Anyways - pretty cool to be at the front end of a race: The road was empty in exception of the occasional male age grouper blasting by me (looks like I passed about 30 of them back on the run)! I stayed in view of the female pro ahead of me, but I kept losing her on the first half of the loops (hilly) and caught up with her on the flatter, rolling sections of the course in each loop. The first aid station was just waking up, as even though I slowed way down for the bottle grabs, I kept hitting 3 bottles right out of the hand of the volunteers and was not able to get a single bottle. But it was still cool out, so I had half a bottle of Gatorade on board and it was plenty to get me to the next aid station. At the back end of the course we had an aid station "prototype" on the left side of the road that was reserved for pros only. These guys knew how to hand bottles at full speed! Right after was the age grouper aid station, so I could grab water for cooling and Gatorade at the same time. Hope they implement these aid stations at other races, it makes it faster and safer for the faster riders. Not that I was all that fast, but I kept passing the back end of the race, early on my second loop. I gave the last people some encouragement and hope they made the cutoffs. Going by the reservoir three times was great, as there was music and a lot of people cheering.
The ride was pretty uneventful except to the occasional inconsiderable guy who dropped his Gatorade bottle like a hot potato right in front of me, rather than tossing it to the side during the aid station, and the big (and I don’t mean tall) guy who wheel sucked for an unknown time behind me and finally gave himself up by coughing, of which I sat up and forced him to go by while giving him an earful of how cheating sucks. He had no business drafting at my wheel, as I easily passed him as soon as I was out of his zone a few moments later. The bike course in general is awesome, super scenic, entertaining and you are always changing gears.
(Like these photos with the shuttle bus behind me. Great contrast with the yellow.)
(Kinda like this photo as you even see my eyes through the visor. Full focus for once. Also I wonder whether shimano could make woman friendly brake levers, my hands are almost too small to comfortably reach the levers.)
(BTW aid station volunteers freak out when a pro shouts THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS... HAHA. I had a fun time during that bike ride, it went by so much faster too while having fun.)
A spotter told me on the second loop that I was in sixth, obviously she was wrong, as I don’t think I got passed on the bike after settling in. Looking at the bike splits, I think Maggie was not far behind me and kept making room on me, which is not surprising, she is probably the better bike rider than myself. I think I rode well within my means, completely paced by feel, which was quite conservative I think, and in compare to my Arizona 2015 race, I did not stop for bottle exchanges or bathrooms. So definitely a a bit better skilled now…. 😊 The only thing I could have done better: I should have previewed the bike trail leading back to town. I did not really know where to go and there were many blind corners. So I was a bit shocked to be passed by the first female age grouper right after that trail but in hindsight it would have been nice if she would have passed me before the trail, as she was a local triathlete (and super swimmer with 57min), obviously knowing the way and I could have followed her at full speed… Which I then did through the downtown roads to T2. She got off the bike seconds ahead of me while we made our way by the school and over the bridge into the football stadium where T2 was located.
Bike 5h27 for the slightly longer course with 114 miles (only one female age grouper was faster than me, so I guess the bike was pretty good! The other thing I am slightly proud off: I built and tuned my bike all by myself including installing an iced chain, latex tubes with sealant and experimenting with a really low tire pressure for race day.)
Again, the run in transition was kind of long including some stairs going up to the changing tent. I expected it to be hot running barefoot, but they had covered the tartan around the football field. I passed the age grouper in T2 (to my surprise) and headed out. The run course was along the Boulder Creek on the trail and it was lined by so many people! It was pretty awesome, but it was probably also the only a little cooler place on this day that definitely got hot. I had a headache coming off the bike and there were medics on bikes on the trail (which I think was an awesome idea, but I think they left later as the course got crowded) and one rode alongside of me early on the run and asked me how I was doing. So I told him about the headache after which he rode ahead and I saw him talking on his radio. A little later he showed up and offered me a gel (to relieve the headache??). I would have gladly accepted if it would have been a painkiller… but a gel was the last thing I wanted. So I thanked him, saying I would get some ice at the aidstation. I grabbed a lot of ice which I put under my hat and into my top and down the shorts (I swear this works!!!). I also held some ice for a while and that all helped to probably bring my core temp back down and the headache disappeared.
(I quite literally ran from aid station to aid station, just one mile at the time, trying not to stop until I reached it and then allowed myself to walk a few steps to grab a few drinks.)
The start was rough, my legs did not feel so good. I had to walk aid stations unplanned early, hoping that would reset my legs and indeed they go better throughout the first loop. I saw the leaders go by with their bicycle escort a few times and it was really cool to see Todd (my host) as he was one of the escorts. I just kept running with them for a very short stretch. There were 3 out and backs on each loop and on each turnaround I always checked the gap to the age grouper (and other pros) right behind me (for the very first time in a race, because usually I have no idea where I am at position wise), she kept up on the first lap but then faded back.
I also saw my friend Pat who had a stellar swim and bike at the top of her age group, but the heat and elevation took a toll on her during the run, leading to a DNF (even though she probably could have walked it home for a top 10 finish, but I do respect the decision to pack it in for another day - I have been there too; but her swim and bike definitely a nice confirmation that she is fit and furious). The run is not very rhythmic, there are numerous underpasses with small climbs to overcome, a steep, short grass section to climb up to a parking lot with an aid station, and lots of concrete to overcome. And throughout most of it you have that wonderfully inviting, cool creek right besides you...
(Love trucker hats. This one is from Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. Commemorating recently passed owner/operator Max, a fellow Swiss who was related to my brother-in-law.)
Personal opinion/side note: Two male pros missed a turnaround and got DQ'ed and then the tri-community partially blamed the bike escort which is complete BS. Those bikers are advised to stay behind the athlete and not to communicate as it would be an unfair advantage to the other pros. And the bikers are not required to ride the entire course (the turnarounds are often too narrow to bike around anyways). In addition, I would estimate that those pros have seen plenty turnarounds in their career and should really know how turns are marked (and they have timing strips close by). However, I am convinced it was not intentional and I feel sorry for them, but those male pros are career triathletes and should have known better.
The second loop got tough, the sun was relentless on the shadeless first half of the course. I got a hot cup of overly sweet lemon Gatorade in the early stages of the marathon and that put me over the edge and I just could not get myself to take a single gel or any more Gatorade. So I had a little coke but basically ran on water until I got the special needs station where I had a little bottle with 3 Glukosenergy gels ready. Those "gels" are less sweet and very liquid, so I had no problems getting them down, but definitely need to improve my fueling as that was pretty much the only thing I had on the second half of the marathon. Even though I got slower, I dont not think my energy got any low, it was just painful. Glutes, hamstring and Achilles everything was just one painful acquaintance. The last part of the course is a steady uphill to the turnaround and then a bit more than a mile back to the finish which is a sharp turn onto the carpet. I cannot say that I smiled much during that second loop and especially the last 6 miles. But I also did not get passed by anyone. It was awesome to see fellow Dimond-ite and local coach Rob Gray again during the last 4 miles and that got me out of my funk.
(That uphill... mini steps to the turn around.)
(My Garmin file that shows my run/walk technique... :) Definitely a little pace drop on the second loop (or longer walk breaks, but other than that I think a good effort as I tried to keep the HR at 160)
I felt pride and relieve when I turned towards the finish. Seeing the red carpet and remembering Mike Reilly say that the carpet meets the athlete, made my smile so much. It is as the pain pops off from you and it instantly gives you a pair of fresh legs for the last 100 yards. As the first female age grouper I would have probably celebrated that finish line quite a bit, but I figured as a pro that might not really be appropriate and I was also just so glad to be done. But on the inside I was definitely celebrating and my smile tells that. I think for my first full in the pro ranks, not fully peaked or tapered, at elevation on an unknown course, I did pretty dang well. :) So I am super happy and grateful for the day.
(at this point also a big thank you to the companies and friends who support me and SwissTriathlonCoaching - all of them in this picture... :)
It is almost like I could not stop, if you like to watch snippets of my race here is the clip...
Just keep running ala Forest Gump. After I finally came to a stop, a volunteer gave me a bottle of water and I just stood there hands on my knees. It is a funny feeling, my entire legs shook, or more like the muscles vibrated, as if they were still in working mode. Everything is hot and achy, but it kinda just feels sooooo good. I actually felt pretty good; during a portion of my run I was convinced that I had a fold in my sock between my right big toe and the second toe and that I would get a really bad blister (even looked down to see whether my shoe is turning red/bloody). But my toes have never felt better without a single blister or lost toe nail! Yay!
I think on the side there were just some more awards going on (or interviews not sure), so I trotted out into the somewhat loosely organized post-race area. The finish line area is oddly empty an hour after the top pros finish and before the big masses of the age grouper trickle in. There was really not much going on yet, so I found the food tent and grabbed a plate with bananas and other fruit, while volunteers brought in a few piles of pizza. I always wonder how people can eat hot and greasy pizza after a long and hot race (maybe if you are cold, then yes, but not after a mid 80F race, ice cold water melon would be so much more enjoyable). I did find the "massage" tent, which was a bit underwhelming in compare to other races as there were only 2 tables and about 5 athletes already waiting and it took over an hour until it was my turn. At least I made a few new friends and had a few nice chats while waiting. Shortly, after I went to pick up my bike and bags in the high school football stadium where T2 was located and bundled up my stuff to cycle home. After a cold shower, I finally was really hungry and went through the fridge and came out with a big plate of the various food leftovers I have had. After that I was hanging out with Todd's Normatec boots and Netflix. My host and I had plans to go back to town for the midnight finishers, but he fell asleep so I dragged myself to bed shortly before midnight as well. I slept great.
Upon waking and my first breakfast of the day, I headed out for a recovery short run (not the best thing I have ever done) after which I had a second breakfast and then dissembled my bike, before heading to town for the awards and more breakfast (they did offer a great breakfast at the awards)!
The awards, probably I memory I will never forget!
(Such an honor to be on the podium with my idols Rachel and Heather... totally star struck)
The end results:
My take on the results:
I am very happy with the division, gender and overall ranks! Seems like a slow marathon, but only one female age grouper ran faster... and only one biked faster, but I still put together the better overall race. That makes me happy, as I have not changed anything since getting the pro card, I dont work less or train more. It maybe only shows that consistent work brings slow and steady improvement. Also, even though I had skipped workouts due to work obligations aka research proposal submission deadlines, and still being plagued by an Achilles injury, my mental game is my best asset, even though it might not look or sound pretty when I race (I have pictures that proof the faces I can make when it hurts... lol). More than everything I race best when I am happy!
(The two Swiss on the pro podium! While this was Ironman-finish 8 for me, Mike has over 80 on his resume!)