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Boise 70.3 Ironman Race Report

Boise 70.3 Ironman LogoWow.  I am having some truly amazing luck with races this year.  Unfortunately, most of that luck ranges from bad to “worst ever” territory.  Out of four races in 2012, one has had good weather.  Three have had bad to dreadful weather.  One has been shortened due to the weather.  I have raced in (a) four to five foot swells in a LAKE, (b) 25-45 mile winds, in my face, for 25 miles of climbing, (c) rain, (d) freezing cold, and (e) rain with freezing cold with 15-25 winds.  I mean, really?  I literally have friends on facebook requesting my 2013 calendar so they can AVOID races I am doing.  Perhaps they should consider eliminating races I am considering.  I was debating between Mooseman 70.3 and Boise 70.3.  The weather at Mooseman was, unsurprisingly, terrible too.

At each race, I always try to find some lessons, something valuable to take away from the day, regardless of how well I perform.  At Boise, I don’t think there were any lessons.  Well, unless I am allowed to bring a motorhome into T1 for relaxation, warmth, and pre-race preparation.  Aside from that, Boise presented such an unusual set of circumstances, I don’t know what I could have done differently.  So, without some obvious new bit of knowledge, I am going with that some days aren’t just what you want them to be.  Glorious sunshine and cool temperatures are a rare combination on race day and sometimes you just have to go with it what is presented to you.

Pre-Race

After two days of wonderfully pleasant and cool weather, race day morning was rainy, windy, and freezing.  At race start, mind you that happens at noon, the air temperature was in the mid-40s.  That doesn’t even factor in the wind chill.  Yeah, it was COLD.  So, 1,700 of my closest friends and I bundled up and headed to the shuttles for the ride to T1.  The shuttles awesomely left early and we all were forced to sit outside of transition until ten, when they finally allowed us in.  THAT was just a little frustrating.  Setting up my bike took about twenty minutes, leaving me with, oh, over two hours before my wave start.

Boise 70.3 IronmanNot being overly excited about standing around in the pouring rain and driving wind, a friend, the great and wise Dylan Harris (a buddy of mine who had come to race Boise as well), suggested we get in the back of a moving truck.  That proved to be an amazing turn of events as the truck began to fill and the weather worsened.  As the truck filled, 20-30 of us closed the gate and huddled like refugees to stay warm.  The best description I can think of to describe how I felt was is: vacillating between uncomfortably cold to freezing cold.  I had long since donned my wetsuit for warmth (minor improvement).  I was wearing my thermal underwear, jeans, two t-shirts, a jacket, gloves, and a beanie cap, ALL on top of my wetsuit.  I had a welcome stranger on my left and Dylan on my right and part of me was hoping someone would ask if they could sit on my lap.  The one time I emerged to use the port-o-johns, I concluded immediately that I had made a mistake and decided I would not leave the truck again until after race start, about ten minutes before my wave start, no matter what.Boise 70.3 Ironman

Around an hour before race start, race officials announced that the bike portion was going to be reduced from 56 miles to about 15, essentially riding straight back to town.  The reasoning was, no shocker here, hypothermia, dangerous winds, and slippery conditions.  I also heard the “out and back” section of the bike, which travels through open countryside, received snow…  Regardless, with a mere 15 mile bike, the race changed dramatically at that moment.  Dylan and I actually discussed riding in our wetsuits.  Crazy?  Yes, but potentially the right move.

When I finally did emerge, it took about 0.000000231 seconds before I was freezing and shivering uncontrollably.  I raced to my bike for some final preparations and then raced to the swim start to get in line.  The five or so minutes of waiting in the swim start line left me cold to the core.  The water temperature was 57 degrees and I was certain it would feel like a hot tub when I entered.  Wonderfully, it did.  Hard to imagine 57 degree water THAWING your face, but somehow it felt like it did.

Unlike last year, with warm sunny skies but fifty-ONE degree water, I swam to the start line as soon as my wave entered the water.  I frankly didn’t care about “wasting glucose” or “getting to warm in my wetsuit” as I only cared about getting warmer and moving through a liquid medium seemed like a decent strategy.

Swim

The moment the gun sounded, I was gone.  Normally, I will start the swim slowly and build my effort.  This time, I could have cared less about anything other than building some body heat.  Going hypoxic (oxygen deprivation), burning too much sugar, and so on meant nothing to me.  I wanted to work and work NOW.  So, like the gun shot, I shot away from the line as well.

With four minutes between waves, it usually doesn’t take me long to start reaching other swimmers.  This day, it took less than thirty seconds.  But, I started to feel better and was no longer shivering.  That alone made all the extra effort worthwhile.

Prior to entering the water, I had counted the number of sight buoys in the three lines.  One by quick one, I passed them and ticked them off in my mind.  Reaching the first turn, I was extremely disappointed to see a mass of swimmers cut the corner.  Sadly, this happens far too often.    I just focused on my effort and swimming.  Seemingly very quickly, the swim exit approached and I gave a final burst of energy.  My swim time was 31:15, good enough for 10th in my age group (out of 233) and 96th overall (out of 1691 total athletes).  I wanted to be sub-30 but the reality is that the drama of the morning probably rendered that goal impossible.  I exited the water and began the long run to transition.

Transition 1

From the water to transition at Boise is easily a minute or more run, uphill.  Even though I used a wetsuit stripper and “ran” to my bike, I would be stunned if I covered that ground in less than two minutes.  The moment I left the carpeted section of the swim exit, my feet began to throb painfully from the freezing, rock-hard ground.  Reaching my bike, I attempted to quickly don my arm warmers, gloves, and Garmin.  Given the cold and my total lack of dexterity, I probably could have done this faster during college.  On a Friday night.  AFTER shot-gunning a 12-pack.  Nothing worked easily.  I was forced to sit and struggle mightily with everything, eventually ditching the gloves (they were soaked anyway) as I could not get them on my hands.  My total T1 time was 4:58, not terrible, but not the speedster I usually am.

Bike

Boise 70.3 Ironman

Yes, I am FREEZING...

There should have been a sign when I left the bike that said: And now begins forty-ish minutes of pain.  In spite of all my attempts to stay and get warm, I was cold to my soul.  The shivering chill I experienced at Oceanside was nothing compared to Boise.  My jaw actually spasmed at one point from chattering so much.  Yeah, it hurt too.  My hands were, more or less, frozen on the aerobars.  I didn’t even attempt to drink from my water bottle.  I did eat one gel pack, very, very feebly I will admit.  All in all, I hated the bike, was pissed the weather had stolen a chance for me to test my bike fitness, and just wanted to start running (and get warm).  All thoughts of “racing” fled my mind as I was totally focused on surviving.  My time was 39:49, a terrible and day-ruining effort.  I don’t know what I could have done differently, but what I did, didn’t work at all.  I went from 10th in my age group to 28th.  Pretty much rendered the rest of my effort totally moot.

Transition 2

Boise 70.3 Ironman

Everyone's Goal: the Finish Line

Reaching T2 colder than when I left T1 made the simplest of moves rather challenging.  A cadaver could have been faster than me.  I reached my Run Bag and tried to change quickly, but just like T1, nothing worked.  I finally resorted to sitting, something I have NEVER done in T2, to put on my shoes and visor.  Yes, I said visor.  I needed one hand to hold the strap on my head while the other held the brim and, for whatever reason, I could not execute that maneuver standing.  Pretty sad.  My T2 time was 2:22, relatively comparable to my age-groupers so minimal damage done here.

Run

I cannot express how happy I was to be running.  While my body hurt, especially my feet, I knew that in one or two miles, I would warm and feel better.  I ran the first mile a little slower than normal, a 7:58, simply to give my body time to adjust and warm.  During my second mile, a 7:16, my body mercifully warmed and began to feel better.  My feet were still blocks of lead, or at least that’s how they felt, but I was happy to be able to feel the gel pack I was holding in each hand.

Boise 70.3 Ironman Run

Part of the Beautiful Run Course

Once my condition improved, I dropped my pace to a seven-minute mile and held that.  I wish I could say that run was amazing or I conquered some dark demons but, in truth, the run was pretty mellow.  I held that seven-minute mile until the end and, while my required effort to maintain it slightly increased, didn’t really ever feel tested.  On my second loop, I started playing a mental game of fish with any male runners I could see for entertainment.  I tried to give positive words to those who looked like they needed some.  I interacted with spectators as I passed them, mostly by cupping my ear and saying, “I can’t hear you!”  I felt good and enjoyed it.

For me, the biggest disappointment about my day wasn’t the cold.  Rather, it was missing the chance to test my abilities.  I wanted to ride the 56 miles at race pace and then run like I know I now can.  The inclement weather robbed me of that, so I made the best day that I could.  My run time was a 1:33:03; I am including the :03 because that is the second fastest half-marathon I have ever ran.  My only better time was in January 2011, when I ran a 1:32:53, a mere 10 seconds faster at an OPEN half.

My total time was 2:51:27.  The last Half-Ironman World Championship slot in my age group went to the 18th finisher, who had a time of 2:49:38.  Two minutes and ten seconds would have earned me that spot.  Oceanside all over again… Extremely disappointing but just more fuel for the “I must work harder and get faster” fire.

While I certainly didn’t know it at the start of the run, I could easily have run faster.  It is extremely easy to say that after, but I know how hard I was working and how I felt.  I should have started with a 6:45 min/mile.  While I cannot obviously know for certain, I feel very confident that I could have run that same pace even after biking the full 56 miles, had the conditions been somewhat normal.

Boise 70.3 IronmanTo be blunt, I don’t feel there’s much to take from the day.  Should the moral be, “If it is freezing, wear your wetsuit on the bike”?  That’s exactly what Matty Reed did, one of the two first-place finishers.  (The top two were given a tie via photo finish; a first in Ironman history.)  I heard that over half the pros wore their wetsuits.  Kinda wish I had done the same.  Should the moral be, “Always bring a (1) generator, (2) motor home, and (3) space heater for extra warmth, you know, just in case”?  Well, that seems a bit ridiculous.  Should it be, “Always know when it will be freezing and add some extra adipose tissue for insulation”?  Yeah, I think I’ll just skip that one.

Boise 70.3 Ironman

That's NOT my race time btw...

I really struggled after the race to find some lessons to take from the day.  I think there’s two things.  One, just accept that some days are FAR beyond your control.  I believe I did all I could to stay warm and conserve my energy before the race.  I even had some good luck (finding that moving truck).  Other than wearing my wetsuit on the bike, I don’t think there’s anything I could have done better or differently.  When you have days like this, just roll with the punches and know that, eventually, it will be over.  And, two, on these days, make the best of it.  I could have easily quit the race before the day even started.  Hundreds of people did this, including about ten in the truck.  I will admit, it was extremely tempting.  No one would have given me any legitimate grief had I called it a day and said no thanks.  I also could have quit after the bike.  To say I felt terrible is a gross understatement.  Again, no one would have called me weak for dismounting at the entrance to the medical tents rather than the entrance to T2.

But, whether it is a sign of strength or insanity, I like the test.  I enjoy tough circumstances.  I WANTED that run and felt like I had earned the right to enjoy a good, hard run.  So, that’s what I did.  I made the best of that dreadful, crappy day.  The funny thing?  By about mile 3 of my run, the sun was out and shining, making it an amazingly GLORIOUS day for running.  I would have missed all of that had I quit.  I would have missed passing hundreds upon hundreds of people.  I would have lost the chance to build my running confidence and self-belief.

So, even when the day appears to be a total waste, if YOU want, stick with it and find that thing that will give you something positive.  Very, very rarely will the entire process be a waste.  Have the faith, stay focused, and good things will come!

Up next for me…  Lake Stevens 70.3 in July!  Thank you for reading!Ironman

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