Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ironman Boulder Race Report 2017: Pity Party and a Silver Lining

“Surprisingly disappointing” is the phrase I’d use to describe my race at Ironman Boulder. With five years of full distance racing under my belt, I thought I was prepared for anything. As predictably unpredictable as ironman racing can be, I should have known better.

My plan going into the day was the same as always – smile and be patient. Focus on the process. If there’s one thing I’m keenly aware of when racing Ironman, it’s that the way you feel now is not going to be the way you feel in a few minutes, or in an hour: whether you’re feeling good or bad, it will change.

I once saw a video of Andy Potts that stuck with me, where he talked about the power of staying positive. To paraphrase, he said: “If the swim is crappy, who cares? Now it’s time to crush the bike! If the bike isn’t going well, that’s ok; you’re going to do great on the run! The first half of the run isn’t going your way? That’s ok, negative split it! Just stay positive.” What great advice for a long day of racing. I was determined to follow it.
Me and Whiting pre-race, excited to see what the day would bring.
Which is why I wasn’t worried when Trent swam around me 400 meters into the swim. We’ve always joked that no matter the distance of the race, I’ll beat him on the swim by 2 minutes. He was planning to swim on my feet, so when he went around, I was a little surprised, but felt confident that I was pacing my swim well. I felt a little “off,” but I was in Andy Potts mode (meaning that I was staying positive, not that I was winning the swim as he always does!) and I just kept racing my own race. I came out of the water 45 seconds behind Trent. (He’s not going to let me forget about that anytime soon!)

I noticed that I was gasping for breath as I ran out of the water, and I continued to do so for several minutes on the bike. My loud breathing even caused a spectator to tell me, “settle down, it’s a long day,” so I made a concerted effort to chill out. The bike course was three loops of a course I have ridden countless times in practice. I was confident that I’d pace it well. But, I couldn’t push the watts that I normally do in training. I backed off the pace and tried to stay positive – this would turn around! But it didn’t. I never really felt great on the bike, but I didn’t really feel that bad either.
My prairie dog cheerleaders never showed their little faces on race day but I still love them - peep peep!
Winston the famous neighborhood pig was there for 2 out of 3 bike laps, though.
I made some mistakes with nutrition that would cost me later – I had a headache and I figured I was dehydrated, so along with a couple of Motrin, I started drinking lots of water, instead of the Gatorade that I usually pick up at aid stations. By the time I was on my second loop, I was hungry, which is never a good sign. I stopped at Bike Special Needs, which I had previously declared is for emergency purposes only, and grabbed my Snickers and Red Bull that I had stashed there. It was like Ironman Texas 2013 and that damn donut all over again.

Bike Special Needs was a bright spot in my day, because my friend Ariana was there, and she was overflowing with positivity. I remember telling her “My legs have no watts today!” and she said, “That’s nonsense, your legs have ALL THE WATTS!” which made me laugh. Six and a half hours later, I was running through T2, still thinking about Andy Potts. If my swim and bike had been this lackluster, this run was going to be freaking awesome!

Ariana snapped a pic of me stuffing my face with Snickers and Red Bull at Bike Special Needs.
As always, my plan was to ease into the run, but I was so excited to be turning my legs over at a 9:30 pace that it was really hard to hold back. I forced myself to slow down and save some energy for later. Everything was great! Boulder is the home base for our Big Sexy Racing team, and we had a cheering crew out in full force, led by Chris and Erika McDonald themselves. We had tons of teammates out there cheering who had come in from all over the country, including our friends Mike and Jenna who had come up from Brownsville to Sherpa for Trent and me. I loved running past my BSR team members who were cheering so loudly in the first mile. A few minutes later, I recognized famous coach Siri Lindley standing with her bike on the side of the path, and she yelled at me “You are winning the race with that smile!” I was feeling pretty good for about half an hour.
I was not actually happy here, but Jenn made me laugh by overtaking me and snapping some totally posed photos. Those signs on the left... of them was created by our fabulous Sherpa, Jenna!
Then I took my first gu, and everything went downhill. Analyzing the day after the fact, I know that I made the nutrition mistake that pretty much every newbie who is walking on an ironman run course makes. The lack of Gatorade on the bike caused a calorie deficit that I couldn’t dig myself out of, and as soon as I put that first gu in on the run, my stomach couldn’t process it. I started to feel nauseated, so I switched to bananas and water. It didn’t work. The waves of nausea washed over me, and I started to slow down. Finally, I was one of the walking dead. I had more than half a marathon left to do, and I have never felt sick like that in a race before. I’ve had stomach pain on the bike, and I’ve been very uncomfortable, but I haven’t felt sick.

Pity Party 
In 8 ironman starts, this was a new experience for me. I soon learned that none of my “stay positive, mind over matter” techniques work when I’m sick to my stomach. I can run through all kinds of pain, but I couldn’t run through that. I began to wallow in the disappointment that the day never turned around for me. At some point during the first loop of the run, I walked up to a family of spectators with kids holding their hands out for a high five. This has always been magic in the past, and as I approached them, the mom leaned down and said to her daughter, “oh, this one really needs us.” I gave the little girl a high five and then burst into tears of self pity. How could my day be going this badly?

Luckily (?!), I have DNFed an ironman before, and I knew the only thing that would feel worse than this walk would be to not finish the race. So I kept going. I was a jerk the second time I came through the BSR cheering section, where everyone was shouting encouragement until the look on my face silenced them. Trent was there, finished with his race, looking at me with a worried expression on his face and asking me what was wrong. I was so ashamed about walking that I couldn’t even make eye contact. (I’d hear about that later, too.)

Every friend I saw on the course from that point on asked me with concern in their eyes if I was doing okay, and urged me to keep moving to the finish line. Finally, after 14 hours and 5 minutes, it appeared, and Trent was standing there waiting for me just before the chute. I stopped to talk to him and told him how sick I felt and that I needed a break from Ironman. Then I jogged down the chute, gave high fives to the people who were offering them, got my medal, and immediately curled up in the fetal position underneath a space blanket in the grass next to the finish line.
Whiting's hubby, Doug, snapped this pic in the chute. I'm still calling this a daylight finish. ;)
Silver Lining 
Trent and I talked about how Ironman Boulder would be a “hometown” race for us. It was the first ironman race where we’ve been able to sleep in our own bed the night before. We were happy about the idea of training on the course and in the conditions that we’d be racing in, but that’s not what ended up making it a “hometown” race. Of course, as always, it was the people! Of all the folks cheering and providing encouragement, many were from our BSR team and had come in from all over the country. But most were friends that we’ve made here in Denver/Boulder, through the triathlon community. I’m proud that Trent and I have developed relationships and started to build our new tribe here in a place we’ve only lived for a short time. That’s what made it feel like home. And that’s why, two weeks later, I’m filled with a warm fuzzy feeling about it instead of the gnawing disappointment that I expected to feel after a sub-par race. It's not just a silver lining. It's a huge, glorious sunrise!

And Of Course, the Lesson 
Through this experience, I’ve learned that you can’t just pick a race because it’s convenient, and that’s what we did. There has to be some driving desire to do it, whether it’s the location, the terrain, or just the allure of a particular race. That’s not to say I won’t do this race again: the allure next year might be to get redemption on this course. But two weeks later, I’m fairly certain that what I said to Trent in the chute was true - I do need a break from full ironman training. When you find yourself saying regularly in the months leading up to a race, “I can’t wait to get this Ironman over with, so we can do X, Y, Z,” you know you need a break. Although the experience of walking the marathon was unpleasant, it was a great reminder that you have to respect the distance. You must put in the training and passion that’s necessary to turn out a solid result. I need to get that passion back before I consider training for another full distance race. I’m putting this here to keep myself honest.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to training for shorter distances and taking our bikes on the scenic route up every mountain we can find (there’s lots of them here). But first, a spontaneous trip down to Texas this weekend for a joyride around the Buffalo Springs course!

Thank You
As always, thank you for the cheers and support from near and far. I am continually grateful for the friendships I’ve gained through this sport, for the lessons it keeps teaching me, and for being part of a community that makes the world seem small and warm at a time when that’s exactly what we seem to need most. Thank you for reading! xoxo
A little post-race fun touring the Coors Plant in Golden with our awesome Sherpas, Mike and Jenna.