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2013 Ironman Boise 70.3 Race Report

Ironman Boise 70.3Hey, I just met you…
And this is crazy…
But, here’s my number…
So call me maybe!

Carly Rae Jepsen, 2011

There were other things that happened before this moment at the Ironman Boise 70.3 event, my third time racing at the Boise Half-Ironman, but in my mind that was how my day really started.  Normally, the music playing at pre-race is a mixture of various upbeat songs.  Some are good and some are so-so.  But, at Ironman Boise, the playlist was a bit more eclectic than normal.  That was how I found myself absentmindedly singing and lightly dancing to Call Me Maybe while waiting with my swim wave about four minutes before we started.  I’ve never heard that song at a race before, but my daughter loves it, which means I love it too. Not my normal pre-race visualization techniques, but having happy thoughts about my daughter is always a good thing in my book!

Pre-Race

Having done this race the prior two years (here’s my Ironman Boise 2012 race report), I was familiar with the set-up, the course, and the odd timing of a noon start.  The only differences were that 2013 promised to be much, much warmer and windier than 2011 and 2012.

The noon start always makes for an interesting race-day morning.  I set no alarm.  I awoke after sunrise.  I ate a full breakfast.  I even ate lunch.  As for my gear, I even prepared it all that morning.  Then, I took a shower, shaved, and relaxed a little.  This mellow, slow-moving preparation pace is extremely different yet rather pleasant.  After all that, I slowly wandered over to Transition 2 to drop my Run Bag and then made my way over to the shuttles for the drive to Transition 1 and race start (While waiting for the shuttle, I ate my lunch.  As odd as it feels, the noon start is pretty pleasant!)

Ironman Boise Run

Love the colors along the run course

Reaching transition, I quickly turned my attention to the final bits of preparation.  I rechecked my bike (e.g., brakes, gearing, etc.) and attached my shoes to my bike for a Flying Mount.  I made sure my nutrition was organized and ready.  This race, I decided to eat a little more than normal as I knew it was going to be pretty hot and that would mean more liquid.  I wanted to accompany that extra water with extra calories.  So, I had one bottle with three scoops of PowerBar’s Ironman Perform for 210 calories, four PowerBar gel packs (110 calories each), and nine salt stick tablets (225 mgs of sodium per tablet).  I opted to carry only one water bottle to start, but had a second cage ready as I intended to grab a water bottle at each of the three aid stations on the bike.  Given the heat, I was going to both drink and douse myself with those in the hopes of keeping my core temperature under control for as long as possible.  Heat is the ultimate limiter in endurance racing and with temperatures forecasted to reach into the high 80s/low 90s, I knew staying as cool as possible would be critical.

After finishing my final preparation, I simply chilled and chatted with friends.  A decent number of Wattie Ink athletes were racing, including three pros Heather Jackson, Ben Hoffman, and Erin Green.  Plus, a few friends from Arizona were at Ironman Boise too.

Soon enough, my wave start was approaching and I headed over to the swim start.  Finding a bit of shade, I ate a gel pack about 20-25 minutes before I was to start and continued sipping water.  With about ten minutes to go, I put on my wetsuit, crammed the rest of my pre-race stuff into my Morning Clothes bag, and started to get excited.  After dropping my bag, I found my wave and got in line with everyone else.  Within minutes, we all were treading water and waiting for our cannon shot.

Normally, I have to “politely” push my way to the front for the swim start.  I have no clue why, but on this day, no one seemed interested in leading.  There were literally two other guys on the front line with me.  I asked both of them what their anticipated swim times would be (as I was pondering trying to draft off of them).  To my total shock, they each responded in the upper 30s.  My face obviously betrayed my surprise as they both asked what my goal was, I said 28-30 minutes, and they proceeded to move behind me, leaving me alone.  I’ve never experienced a swim start like that.  Shortly thereafter, the cannon fired and the day had begun!

Ironman Boise SwimSwim

Given the wind, I knew we would be in for a rough, choppy swim.  After about 200 yards, I passed the point that breaks any chop and was greeted with a strong, steady wind on my left.  This required a small, yet easy, adjustment to stay straight but I knew times would be slower than normal as the buoys would never be straight with a wind that strong.  I also knew, given the direction of the wind, that the second and third “parts” of the swim, would be challenging.

The swim course is shaped like a right triangle, with the longest leg being the first.  The direction of the wind was such that (a) it would coming perpendicularly from the right on the second leg and (b) straight in front on the third.  This meant waves would be crashing onto swimmers every time anyone breathed to the right, which is what most swimmers do while pushing everyone to the left.  In other words, a high potential for chaos.  This prospect was very exciting for me.  I love swimming and don’t mind it being tough.  The way I look at it, everyone else will suffer more than I will from crappy conditions (e.g., Ironman St. George 2012 LINK), so bring it on.

Ironman Boise Run

One of the best 70.3 runs anywhere

I had counted the number of buoys between each of the turns and just focused on swimming strongly and proceeding from buoy to buoy.  Even with the wind and corresponding waves, I reached the first turn buoy relatively quickly and easily.  The only real issue I encountered were two over-aggressive drafters.  Look, I know the rules and have no issue with someone trying to draft off me in the water.  Provided, however, one doesn’t materially impact my swimming.  Incidental contact here and there is fine, but hitting my arms, body, head, legs, etc. is simply not acceptable and will merit a response from me.  Well, these two dudes were constant in just getting too close.  So, I dropped a few depth charges to let them know I was annoyed and, thankfully, they backed off.

Beyond those morons, the swim was challenging but uneventful.  I stayed focused, had easy sighting, and kept my effort steady.  While I knew my time wasn’t going to be anything special, I felt fast and smooth.  I wore my blueseventy sleeveless Reaction and loved it.  Water temperature was 60 degrees and I was plenty warm.  Reaching the exit, I did my typical “swim until there’s only inches of water remaining” and then sprang up and out of the water.  Why people stop swimming in waist deep water and then slowly wade to shore is beyond me.

Regardless, my swim time was a seemingly unimpressive 33:05.  On any other day, I’d be pissed at that time and wonder if I had donned a turtle shell but, given the wind and chop on this day, I knew that is better than it looks.  I was 13th in my age group (out of 181 athletes) and 91st overall (out of 1278 total).

Transition 1

Within moments of exiting the water, I had my wetsuit down to my waist.  Upon reaching the strippers, I dropped to my butt, presented my legs, and was relieved of my wetsuit in a single tug.  Springing back to my feet, I sprinted the remaining distance to my bike and was happy to see very full looking racks around me (meaning most of my fellow age-groupers were still in the water).  I crammed my wetsuit, goggles, and cap into my T1 bag, donned my helmet and glasses, and was gone.  My T1 time was 2:31, which I think is very fast given the logistics.  After a flying mount, I was off!

Bike

Ironman Boise Bike

The Ironman Boise bike course is great.  I would say it is challenging but not punishing and fast but not flat.  There’s basically four “hills” to climb and I say “hills” because they aren’t all true hills.  Two are, but, the other two are just long, uphill slogs.  There’s nothing overly steep or technical (except for one turn, where I crashed in 2011), just some fun, rolling prairie.  I’ve heard the race described as a “biker’s race” because the run is dead flat, while the bike is tough yet fast.  I think that’s a very fair description.  So, my plan was to ride the bike as I should but not be afraid to work.  I think I am too timid on my bike and afraid to really push it.

Additionally, I was riding my Reynolds Element disc for the first time in a long course race.  During the last two months of training I had it on my bike and sought out every hill I could find, regardless of how steep.  I felt pretty confident racing with it after thousands of feet of climbing in training but racing and training are different.

As soon as I was on my bike, I noticed two things.  One, it was going to be a very, very windy day.  I would estimate the wind was a consistent 15-20 mph all day.  I knew this would punish people and likely drain many athletes long before they would even reach the run.  Even worse, while wind like that can be extremely physically demanding, the mental aspect can just be demoralizing.  Having to face the relentless battering of a strong, steady wind can easily eat away even the strongest athlete’s will to work.  I was determined to not only prevail over the wind, but enjoy it.  On the sections where I would face a headwind, I’d just get tiny and be strong.  On the sections with a tailwind, I would really enjoy it and maybe even recover a bit.

Ironman Boise Run

More colors…

The other thing was the heat.  I knew the forecast but it just felt a whole lot warmer than the high-80s I’d seen all week.  I immediately decided that I’d deal with the extra weight of a second water bottle.  I knew that keeping my core as cool as possible would be critical.  There’s nothing you can do, other than stop and cool, once you get too hot.  So, at each aid station, I grabbed two water bottles: one for my aero mount to carry and one to gulp and douse before reaching the end of the aid station.  I am convinced this small, yet significant, addition to my plan was crucial.

As the bike progressed, I knew I was riding well.  Few riders passed me.  (Well, fewer than normally pass me.)  Plus, I was blowing past many, many riders.  Sure, I started in a later wave (4th from the last on the day) but I was still passing scores of riders during the first 35ish miles of the bike.  Not only did that boost my confidence, but all those riders gave me “Nascar Drafting” opportunities, meaning I would ride right behind them and then zip around at the last, safe moment.  (Note here, the rules require that cyclist pass within twenty seconds of getting inside four bike lengths.  I was never behind any of these riders for more than twenty seconds.)

The real entertainment came on the climbs.  Admittedly, I enjoy hills.  I am light, yet powerful, on my bike.  This weight-to-power ratio enables me to climb better than those with a less favorable ratio.  Being able to steadily spin my pedals up the hill, without blowing up especially with the disc, was incredible.  I was working but not killing myself and just loving every second of it.  I almost felt bad for some of my fellow athletes as I could tell they were really working to climb the hills while I felt light and fast.

Reaching the last descent, I knew once it was done, the last ten miles would be dead into the wind.  I had no doubts it would suck, but I also knew that if I could stick to my plan and maintain my effort, I’d have a solid ride and put myself in position for a good day.  So, I did just that.  I kept my head down, stayed aero, and resisted the urge to relax and ease off the effort.  I wanted to finish the bike and finish it strong!

My final bike time was 2:44, keeping me 20th in my age group after the bike.  (Side note, my time was 25th in my age group.  I am extremely happy with this as it is usually much worse than that.)  I had wanted closer to 2:30, but the wind would simply have required too much effort for a time like that from me.  Reaching the bike dismount, I executed a flying dismount and was done riding!

Transition 2

Being a point-to-point race, I planned on a speedy T2.  I sprinted to my bag, racked my bike, and changed.  My time was 1:28.  I could have gone faster but I wanted socks for this run and dropped my sunglasses upon entering T2.  The volunteers got them to me quickly but that and my socks still cost me some time.  Regardless, I was quick and gone.

Ironman Boise Run Start

Start of my run…

Run

Here’s where the day really starts.  Did I override?  Was I already dehydrated?  Was I already too hot?  Had I eaten enough?  All these thoughts were rolling through my head as I started my run.  While the run course is gorgeous, the day was hot and the bike was tough.  I was pretty confident I had done all I could to balance being fast with being smart but one never knows until it matters.

My plan was to run more by feel than anything else.  I would monitor my heart rate and pace, but because of the heat, the wind, and the slightly higher altitude than normal for me (3,000 ft vs 1,000 ft), I planned on using perceived effort as my main metric.  My big goal was to reach the start of the second loop feeling happy and ready to begin to work.  I was confident if I could do that, I could have a great day.  With that in mind, I began attacking out of T2.  I didn’t run with crazy focus, I just ran.  I kept my eyes forward and did my best to stay happy.

Given the heat, I drenched myself at each aid station.  I knew I was sacrificing a bit of time grabbing half a dozen or more of water cups, but the payoff seemed worth it.  Each cup would send a cooling feeling down my body, even into my shoes, and I loved it.  For food, I had put a Jolly Rancher in my mouth and was letting it dissolve.  I also ate a PowerBar gel after twenty minutes of running.  My time was steady and, other than a slow-running pee break around mile 5, the first loop passed quickly, pleasantly, and most important painlessly.

Starting the second loop, my goal was to forestall the impending pain as long as possible.  I knew discomfort was coming, but I wanted to stay positive and mentally loose as long as I could.  Yeah, that lasted about one to two miles.

Much sooner than I would have preferred, I began to fatigue.  My legs felt heavier.  My breathing became more labored.  I wanted very badly to walk.  Actually, I wanted very badly to jump into the cool, beckoning river.  I would gaze at its refreshing-looking liquid with a longing stare and wonder how bad it would be if I just jumped in.

Ironman Boise Run

Start of second loop…

Somewhere between four and five miles remaining, I began to really suffer.  I knew my pace was deteriorating.  I tried to get a pick-me-up by eating about half of the second gel pack and taking a swig of soda but that didn’t seem to produce anything.  I simply had four miles of painful running remaining.  But, I was determined to give it all I had.  Each time I felt myself slowing, I’d force myself to run hard for a few seconds just to regain my speed.  Each time I felt the urge to walk “just for a bit” I’d repeat that people who go to Vegas never walk at moments like this; they always keep running.  Over the course of those last few miles, I repeated that mantra in my head.  A lot.

Mercifully, those last few miles did pass.  Amazingly, even though I was running with tons of discomfort, I was still passing people.  I didn’t really think getting a Vegas slot was possible, but I still used that for motivation.  I wasn’t going to give anyone an inch, no matter how bad I felt.  I finally reached the last bridge on the run.  Running underneath it, I knew I was less than a half a mile to the finish.  Gritting my teeth, I gave that last stretch all I could and was done.

My run time was 1:41, a 7:45 min/mile average.  Just like my swim, I’d normally look at that and be very disappointed but, on this day with all the conditions, I was pleased.  I ran hard, didn’t quit or cave, and worked to the bitter end.  That effort got me a 1:41 and I’ll take it.  Amazingly, that was the 10th fastest run in my age group!  I don’t believe I have ever had a better run than swim time!  Pretty ecstatic about that!

My final time was 5:03, which was good enough for 10th in my age group and 90th overall.  Not too bad for a non-cyclist on a cyclist course.

Ironman Boise Run Finish

And done!

Post-Race

After a bit of recovery time, I found some of my Wattie Ink teammates and began enjoying some post-race relaxation and nourishment.  I asked, while they were looking at their times, if I could check out mine.  That was the first time I learned I had finished 10th in my age group.  I’ve had better finishes before but not at an event of this stature.  I quickly headed over to the table where Vegas slots were being awarded to see how many my age-group received.  The answer: five.  Holy S***.  I have a shot at the Half-Ironman World Championship in Las Vegas.

Once I knew that, I gathered my race stuff and headed back to my hotel.  Quickly eating, showering, and changing, I made my way back to awards and roll-down.  Any unclaimed spots “roll down” to the next finishers.  So, for instance, if there are three slots allocated to an age-group and two go unclaimed, then the 4th and 5th place finishers get them if they want them.  If they don’t, the slots continue to roll down until someone takes them.  So, for me, I needed at least five dudes to decline a spot.  Not the best odds, but better than zero!

Checking right before the start of awards, I learned that only two of the five spots had been claimed!  That was amazing news as that made my magic number drop from five to two!  With eager and nervous anticipation, I sat and tried to chill until it was my age-group’s turn.  After what seemed like the longest award ceremony in the history of the universe, roll-down started and finally reached the Male 40-44 category.  I was terrified.  Had I done enough?  Would I miss a spot again by mere seconds???

The PA called the first name, which received no response!  That meant I only needed one more dude to pass…  He called the second name and that guy jumped up yelling YES!  Ok, deep breath, no worries.  There are still two spots for three guys.  Decent odds right?!?!?!  He called the third name and that guy jumped up.  Crap.  I am now beginning to mentally prepare for the seemingly inevitable devastation of missing a World Championship spot again by just seconds.  Please, O please, let this last guy pass.  Please let him be at home.  Let him be at a bar.  Hell, I don’t care, just don’t let him be here!  The PA looked at his list and called the next name: mine.

I flew out of my chair and ran to the stage!  I don’t know what happened but I wasn’t going to give him the chance to change his mind or realize he missed someone’s name!  I didn’t care; I wanted that spot and I wanted it bad!  (I later learned that some guy had come by and declined his spot in advance.)  All the effort and pain was gone in a flash as I signed a waiver and paid a ridiculous fee.  Somehow, someway, I was going to the Half-Ironman World Championship!

So, ummm, yeah, Ironman Boise is my favorite race of all time.

Lastly, just a quick note of thanks to those that help me: Wattie Ink for giving me the privilege of racing on an amazing team and giving kick-ass support; PowerBar for keeping me fueled; K-Swiss for making my favorite pair of running shoes; blueseventy for a super-fast, comfortable, and sleeveless wetsuit; Reynolds for making super fast wheels; ISM for making amazingly comfortable saddles; and last but definitely not least Triple Sports for always being there and supporting me!  I could not do what I do without them!

And, thank you for reading!

Ironman Boise Awards

O. M. G.

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