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Boise Half-Ironman Race Report

Amazing how life always does not match expectations.  Looking at prior finishing times from Boise, I believed I would be competitive enough in my age group to legitimately pursue a spot at the Half-Iron World Championship.  Given a noon start (instead of the typical 7:00am), I thought that would make the morning a little more tolerable than normal.  Considering that the swim takes place in a fresh water, beautiful lake, I assumed I would have a sub-30 minutes swim.  After reviewing the elevation map of the bike course, I thought it would be a course designed for my “strengths” on the bike.  The two-loop run around a river running through downtown Boise was shaded and cool, which should yield some pretty fast run times. Of all those, some were accurate and some were totally, completely, and utterly wrong. Dead wrong. The reality was that, while I am happy with my performance, Boise was simply not my day.

Boise itself though, and the race course in particular, is gorgeous. As a summertime destination, I would highly recommend it. The town is clean. The locals are genuinely friendly. Plus, surrounded by beautiful county, the valley in which Boise sits is very scenic and picturesque. The race course, from the swim in Lucky Peak, descending into town, to the run around the “BoDo district” is wonderful. This will definitely be a race I try to include in future calendars.

The day started pleasantly enough.  Unlike every other race I have ever done, I did not need to set an alarm.  (I still did, but only out of fear that I would phase into hibernation and miss the race.)  I awaked, took a shower, ate two packets of oatmeal, and surfed the internet, just like other race mornings.  Oddly, though, after an hour of wandering the internet, searching for the most elusive of offering, engaging content, I was bored.  So, I did what any enterprising triathlete would do: a took a second shower and shaved my legs.  Again.  For the second time in two days.  After finally killing sufficient time, I headed to the shuttles for transportation to transition.

(One little side story here, the “shuttles” were the regular, old school buses nearly every kid took back in the day.  Presumably, all driven my licensed school bus drivers who live in Boise.  Thus, one would deem it likely they know Boise.  Better than a tourist like myself.  Yet, our driver got lost and I recognized she was headed in the wrong direction BEFORE she did.  Wow.)

In spite of the forecast of a chance of thunderstorms, the day was glorious.  No clouds, just bright, blue clear skies.  As the day progressed, a very minor cloud cover developed, but that was actually welcome, at least to the athletes!  The lake was calm and peaceful.  A bit deceptive as it was also degrees.  Cold, I believe, by nearly any definition.  According to the locals, an abnormal spring had resulted in a late-run off.  Someone later explained to me that this meant we would be swimming basically in BARELY melted snow.  Yikes, I was not really looking forward to that.

Pre-Race

Nothing remarkable here.  Given that I took the earlier of the two shuttle options, I had a ton of time in transition.  So, I slowly and mellowly prepared, ate an apple, and then sought some shade to relax.  One odd and peculiar thing, because of the late start time and the fact that Boise is a point-to-point event (meaning Transition 1 and Transition 2 are in different locations), my transition area seemed oddly sparse and I kept having that nagging feeling that I was forgetting something.  I had that sensation all morning.  Eventually the time came to queue for race start.  By this point, as bizarre as it seemed, everyone was hot.  Wetsuits are nearly completely black and made of thick neoprene.  I waited until the last possible moment to don mine.  I also waited until just before entering the water to don my goggles and swim cap.

Swim

Nothing like a little extremes to shock the system.  From standing in the beating sun, dressed in a rubber suit, and wearing goggles and a swim cap to jumping into an ice bath awakens everything.  I am not overly susceptible to chill but that water was C-O-L-D, cold.  I knew upon entering that I had a mere three minutes to my wave start, but I swear that was the longest 180 seconds in the history of time.  Every square millimeter of exposed skin strongly, unequivocally, and clearly communicated that it was NOT happy and getting cold.  Thankfully, my hands and feet turned to ice about about 90 seconds, so they finally stopped hurting.  Finally, the gun sounded and we were off

The swim itself was standard.  Some people shot out like torpedoes, only to weaken and ultimately be caught.  The four waves already in the water became the unfortunate recipients of the typical Type-A Male in my age group.  Other than the typical small group of a few crazy-fast swimmer who seemed immune to water resistance, I could see a group of my age groupers and I opted to simply pace off them for a while.

The swim itself was in a triangular shape with nearly half the total distance on the first leg.  After reaching the first turn buoy, I increased my effort and increased it even further upon reaching the second (and last) turn buoy.  The last leg became very congested as people struggled to the finish.  I was repeatedly either swimming over or around people.    While I never intentionally will swim over someone, at times it is unavoidable.

My overall swim time was 31:29.  Definitely slower than normal, but given the chill of the water, not surprising.  I was 17th in my age group (out of 179) and 122 overall (out of 1420).

Transition 1

This was tough.  We had just exited freezing cold water.  That reduced everyone’s feet, hands, and brains to uselessness.  (I had a tough time merely removing my goggles.)  But, just to pile it on, getting to transition involved running up a faily large hill.  It was crazy and painful.

Reaching my bike, I crammed my wetsuit, goggles, and swim cap in my T1 bag (for later retrieval), put on my sunglasses and helmet, grabbed my bike, and sprinted to the exit.  A smooth flying mount had me on my way.

Bike

The bike was generally great.  Only two short, semi-steep climbs, tons of rolling hills, and an overall negative net elevation should have meant a fast bike.  Exiting the lake area led immediately to a rocketing descent.  Usually, any descent is welcomed.  I love flying downhill on my bike and think the faster the better.  This though, was different.  I did not have blood in my legs yet.  My dexterity was next to nothing.  It was a bit hairy.  After the descent was some flats, giving everyone time to acclimate and prepare for the bike leg.  This was quickly followed (around mile 6) by one of the two legit climbs of the day.

At this point, I recognized I was working harder than my pace indicated.  I still an unsure why.  Perhaps it was the altitude, or maybe the noon start, or even the frigid swim.  Likely some combination of many factors, maybe even just heavy legs.  Regardless, I was forced to concede some speed out of fear of overloading my legs and being unable to run effectively later in the day.  This was a very bitter pill to swallow and I knew it decreased the likelihood of me getting a Vegas allocation.  But, the alternative was to continue working harder than I should and almost certain reduce my Vegas chances to zero.  So, slow a bit I did.  I still rode aggressively when I could, but overall I had to dial back my intensity.

Unfortunately, right around mile 10 my day changed.  I entered about a five mile stretch of a consistent downhill section and I wanted to build some speed.  Dropping down a descent hill, I prepared for a hard bank into a right turn.  The moment I began the turn and saw the severity of the sharpness of the turn, I knew without a doubt that I was going to crash.  There was simply no way I could stop quickly enough, make the turn without going off the road, or any combination thereof.  So, I slowed as much as I could without locking the wheels and turned as much as I could without laying down the bike, and then steered off the road into the roadside dirt and rock ditch.  I attempted to continue slowing and once I ran out of dirt, I simply laid down on my right side and tried to “lift” my bike, hopefully to prevent significant damage to it.

Needless to say, crashing sucked.  My right shoulder, arm, hip, leg and knee were trashed.  I was covered in dirt, luckily mixed with blood in places.  But, after doing a full-body assessment and bike assessment, I appeared to have avoided any significant physical injuries or bike damages.  A motorcycle cop, who had stopped when I crashed, was awesome enough to follow me for a few miles to ensure I was able to continue.  After a bit, I gave him the thumbs up and continued on my way, getting some quizzical stares and glances from fellow athletes and spectators alike for the remained of my day.

This crash also did not increased my chances of getting the ever-so-coveted Vegas slot.

The rest of the bike was a balance between struggling and riding.  The feeling of “I am working to hard to be going this slowly” never changed.  I could not sit comfortably in aero (as my right elbow to forearm was trashed).  I was just generally uncomfortable and wanting to be done with the bike.  Mercifully, at Mile 54 was the last big descent and it wonderfully lasted about a mile leaving my with a view of T2.  I finished the last straight-shot mile, did a flying dismount, and was on my way.

Transition 2

Pretty standard point-to-point T2.  My shoes and visor with in their bag.  I racked my back, exchanged my helmet for a visor, put on socks and my running shoes and was off.

Run

The run course was a two-loop around the river running through the middle of downtown Boise.  With tons of tree cover, the proximity of the river to the run path, and generally cool temperatures all day, this run seemed primed to yield some impressive times.  While Vegas seemed like a very distant possibility, if a possibility at all, I still wanted to give the run everything I had and push myself as much as possible.

With that in mind, I started my first loop holding about a 7:25 min/mile pace.  While not an exceptionally aggressive speed, I wanted to give my legs a mile or two to warm up.  After the second mile, I felt good and held a 7:20-7:25 for the entire first loop.

One thing I did a bit differently was my nutrition.  Typically, I will only drink water and maybe a few sips of gatorade during the run.  This day, however, I started the run thirsty and feeling low on energy.  Not an ideal situation.  At the second aid station, one table had soda.  I have heard and read of the seemingly magical properties of soda during the run and started drinking a bit at every or every other aid station.

As the run progressed, unsurprisingly, I had to dig deeper and deeper to maintain my pace.  By about Mile 5, I was beat but unwilling to concede and start walking.  Rather than focus on the seeming endless miles remaining, I just focused on getting to the next mile or the next aid station, whichever was closer.  Mercifully, like feeling good during a race, I started to feel better as I think the sugar and caffeine from the soda hit my system.  At this point, I hit the second loop and dropped my pace to about 7:15.

This wonderful “good feeling” lasted forever.  Sadly, I wish.  It actually only lasted until about Mile 8 and then the heavy legs returned.  But, at Mile 8, I was close enough to the end that I could start playing mental games to stay focused.  I kept telling myself to just “make it suck” for 15 minutes.  If I could do that, then I would relax, which of course is a lie.  But, we all lie to ourselves now and then and this seemed reasonable to me.

Reaching Mile 10 and knowing I had a paltry 5K remaining, it was time to drop the hammer.  Passing the 10 mile marker and hitting the last aid station, I slowed, drank an entire cup of soda, and pushed the pedal as far as I was willing to go at that point.  My pace dropped to right around 7:00-7:05 and I held that until Mile 12, passing athlete after athlete.  I tried, as best as I was able, to offer words of encouragement.  I probably spit more than I actually spoke, but the intention was good.  Those two miles seemed to last an eternity.

Finally, Mile 12 came into view and I knew I had just one more mile to go.  It was time to “go somewhere else” and see what my body had left.  I dropped the pace a little more, ran as hard as I could, and reached the finish line about 6 minutes off my goal of sub-5.  After finishing, I “walked” to a chair and “sat down”.  (Meaning, I was mostly carried to a chair and lowered by two wonderful medical volunteers.)

They kept asking me if I was ok.  Obviously, they were not real medical professionals because I am sure I was looking perfectly fine and the picture of health at that moment.  I mean, I only had blood dripping down my right arm and leg.  I was drooling and barely able to speak.  For some odd reason, I did not have the dexterity to remove the timing chip from my ankle.  Why would they possibly think something was amiss???

After a bit, I wandered over the medical to get my wounds cleaned and covered.  En route, I took a picture, claimed my finisher’s medal, and grabbed my hat.  All in all, pretty good day.  Well, maybe not the 53 degree water and bike crash, but beyond those two, Boise 70.3 is an awesome race and I fully intend to return.

Next time though, I might slow just a touch more on that one descent…

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