Welcome to my new blog! I’m still figuring things out, so bear with me as we continue this journey together!
I thought it would be very fitting to kick off this new chapter with a race report of grand proportions: My very first 140.6-mile Ironman race!
The build to this race has taken the better part of the last 10 months, and a lot has happened during that time. To fully lay out all the details would take too long, so here are the highlights: Started law school, quit my full time job, totaled my car, wife lost her job, bought new bike, wife started new job, I worked four different jobs, raised money for Tourette Syndrome research. Whew! So much happened in such a short time, and we were very thankful for the trip to arrive.
Natalie and I left on a Saturday, stopped in Kansas City overnight, and continued on to Denver on Sunday. We stayed one night in Denver, had dinner with good friends, then began our stay in Boulder on Monday. I knew that acclimating to the elevation would be a key to my success, and arriving at elevation a full week before the event was a very good head start on that acclimation.
On Tuesday we went out with one of my best friends to do a hike and get some serious elevation under my belt. Rich took us on one of his favorite hikes up Mount Audubon in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. All told, after 7 ours of hiking we gained 2,789 feet of elevation, reaching a peak elevation of 13,223 feet! Fortunately the race would not be at that elevation, we raced at a measly 5,480 feet in Boulder.
On Thursday we headed over to the Ironman Village for packet pickup and a mandatory athlete briefing. I’m not really sure who keeps track to make sure the athletes actually attend these “mandatory” briefings, but I went nonetheless. The Race Director, DC, had done a great job of getting info out to the athletes through YouTube before the race, so there wasn’t much new information to absorb. After hitting the Ironman Village, we made a quick stop at the Ironman store and picked up a couple of souvenirs. We then headed back to the house we were staying at, and crashed out. It had been a long couple of days, and we were more than tired.
My parents arrived on Saturday, and they helped us get my bike dropped off at the Boulder Reservoir (The Res), as well as getting my bike and run gear bags checked in. We ventured up to Rocky Mountain National Park to do a short, easy hike with them before heading back to bed. I packed my special needs back, and I was surprisingly able to get some sleep the night before the race, something that doesn’t happen very often for me.
On the morning of the race, I set my alarm for 3:00. Yes, AM. I knew that the shuttles to the Res would be leaving starting at 4, and I wanted to be on a bus by 4:30. We got everything packed up and into the car, and headed down to Boulder High School, which was central to everything but the swim. We parked the car on a side street before the sun was up, and boarded a shuttle headed to the Res. We overheard that the swim would be wetsuit legal, with the water at a comfy 72 degrees.
Once at the Res, things started to get real. It started to sink in more than ever what I was about to set off to do. 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running in less than 17 hours. I started to get a bit nervous, which helped uh, loosen things up if you will. I hit the porta-potty for a race morning clear-out, and found a good spot to sit down, relax, and get into my wetsuit. Around 6:00, gathered with teammates and family, we had a couple of prayers, took a couple of pictures, and we headed off to the swim start.
Leading up to the race, I had been trying to decide if I would go out with the first wave of swimmers (sub-1:00 estimated time) or the second wave (1:00-1:10 estimated time). After the purchase of a wetsuit, I felt comfortable enough with my time to go out with the first wave. I fully expected to swim in around an hour without a wetsuit, so with a wetsuit I figured it would not be an issue to swim under an hour.
As I stood in the corral waiting to start, I sucked down a gel, and put on my swim cap and goggles. I was really nervous about my cap and goggles, because to this point I had never put them on when dry. I would always get my hair wet and fill the cap with water before putting it on, and then dunk my goggles in the water before putting them on to get a good seal. Fortunately, with the added buoyancy of my wetsuit, I knew I would be able to reposition them in the water if they didn’t cooperate.
The cannon sounded (Yeah, we got to start with the cannon!) and we were off! A cannon start is typically reserved for the pro wave, so I was pretty excited to get the honor of going on the cannon blast. I knew that we had to keep the buoys on our left, and that a lot of the other competitors would be staying as close as possible to the line of buoys. I opted to move farther out to the right to try to catch as much clean water as possible, but I still found myself very much in a washing machine of bodies for the first 400 meters. During this time I had what I would call my first real freak out in an open water swim. I was getting beaten up, run over, running over people, having difficulty seeing the buoys, and questioning whether I could continue doing this for another 3+ km, or if I should grab a kayak to catch my breath. I decided to swim farther out to the right to try and get into cleaner water, thinking I might be able to calm myself down enough to be able to continue. This was probably the best decision I made all day, as I was finally able to get myself into a rhythm and press on with the swim.
After making the first turn, I started to find another gear. I knew that the first two legs of the swim were pretty long, and that the last leg would be fueled by a little bit of adrenaline as I swam toward the finish. I started to pull a little harder with my arms, focusing on all the drills I had done in the pool with pull buoys. Before I knew it, I made the final turn for home.
At this turn we found ourselves in a big patch of seaweed. It was long enough for even a shallow pull to grab a chunk of weeds, and the water became a bit of a seaweed minefield. I found myself at one point fighting to get a chunk of it off of my face so that I could actually breathe. I started to pick up my tempo as I made the swim to shore, being careful not to overexert myself and lose control of my breathing. It was at this point that I noticed how beautiful the mountains were this morning. On our right was the front range, perfectly illuminated in hues of pink and red with a band of fog hiding the peaks. With each breath I took I was amazed by their beauty.
Soon enough I had the tents of the finish line in sight, and I started to push the cadence more. I focused on long, loping pulls with a slower, 2-beat kick. I watched the tents grow larger, and the finishing arch came into view. I swam up the shore until I saw someone beside me stand up. I know I’m one of the shorter athletes, so I took a few more strokes to make sure I could stand up comfortably. Once up, a volunteer grabbed my arm to help steady me as I moved onto shore and toward the wetsuit strippers. After spending 2.4 miles in a horizontal position, you can be pretty loopy when you get upright. Fortunately I didn’t have too many issues with this, and only needed minimal assistance.
On my way to the wetsuit strippers, I saw the family of a teammate along the tunnel, and I smiled and gave them a thumbs up. I quickly checked my watch, 1:05. A little slower than what I wanted, but still very close to being on target! I got my wetsuit pulled off by a couple of volunteers, and moved toward the changing tent. A volunteer grabbed my bag of bike gear, and handed it off to me as I entered the changing tent. I sat down to put my socks on, and as I opened the bag I noticed something was not quite right.I had someone else’s bag! I closed the bag up and headed out to the volunteer to get the right bag. She was extremely apologetic, and I told her it was no big deal. I took my bag back into the changing tent, and got ready to go. A volunteer in the change tent helped stuff my nutrition into the pockets of my race kit, another volunteer slathered me with sunscreen, and off toward my bike I went!
Coming out of the tent and into the bike area, I saw my family cheering for me. I smiled, waved, and shouted my swim time to them. I grabbed my bike and started to walk toward the bike exit. Other athletes were running their bikes out, but I decided to stay calm and walk mine out to the dismount line. Once on the bike, I was off on the first of 3 loops!
I knew I needed to pace myself on the bike, or it would be a very long, miserable 112 miles. I started off going pretty easy, as I knew my own tendency to go hard for the first 3 hours and blow myself up. I took advantage of the downhills and tailwind sections, and spun a light, easy gear uphill; I was feeling pretty good! Around mile 5 we hit a section of road that was under construction, and a bump sent all of my nutrition skittering along the road! I knew I would be sunk without it, and I stopped to gather it all up. I knew I had a choice to either be really upset about this stoppage, or to just laugh it off and stick to my own plan. I decided that getting upset about something so minor so early in the race could ruin the whole day and experience, so I opted to plaster a smile on my face and to enjoy the ride.
This proved to be another great choice, as I continued to move well for the next 30 miles. I was enjoying the scenery, appreciating the speed where it was available, and embracing the suffering of the hills and headwinds when they could not be ignored. I found myself smiling at the spectators and cameras, cajoling with the other competitors, and genuinely having a great time.
Around mile 35, near an aid station, I was faced with yet another challenge. I reached into my jersey pocket to grab some trash to leave with the volunteers, and my tube of BASE salt fell out. Not only did it fall out, it was crushed by a bike behind me. I continued through the aid station, trying to figure out what in the world I was going to do without this extremely important part of my nutrition plan. I knew I had a spare tube in my special needs bag, which I thought was available at mile 40. “No big deal,” I told myself, “you have an extra tube in less than 5 miles, and you’ll stay right on schedule.”
Well, it turns out that special needs stop wasn’t until mile 60, so instead of just 5 miles away, it was actually 25 miles away. That was a very different story, and meant that I needed to come up with some kind of a contingency for sodium and electrolytes, STAT. I knew that if I went 25 miles without any kind of electrolytes or sodium at all, I would be sunk. I passed mile 40 and started to panic, had I missed a turn off for special needs? Did I miss the sign? Would I not be able to get my extra tube of salt until mile 80 now? That would mean 45 miles with no salt, and probably a very bad day. I decided to utilize what the course gave me, and not to worry too much.
At the next aid station, I opted to slow down and take a couple of big mouth-fulls of Gatorade Endurance. I knew I didn’t want to take the whole bottle, and I’m sure I frustrated some volunteers as I took, drank, and discarded the Gatorade all within one aid station. I knew I just needed to keep myself afloat as long as possible, and that the Gatorade was my best option to do that.
I did stop at an aid station to use a porta-potty, and it looked like I was doing okay on hydration. This was encouraging, so I decided that my current plan was working. I started to feel that I was chafing a bit in my underarms, as I started to feel some burning as sweat started to run. I was a little concerned that this would have a big effect on my run, but decided that worrying about that could wait until I got to the run. I hopped back on my bike, and was off again! A few miles later a teammate pulled up behind me, and slowed down a bit to check on me. He asked how I was feeling, we had a quick chat about the swim, how the bike was going, and decided that we would see each other on the run. Just like that, he was off again!
As I approached mile 60, I was really beginning to settle into my backup plan of taking the Gatorade in place of the salt. I knew that it was working in a pinch, and that I could make it all the way in that way if I had to. Fortunately, I saw a big flag advertising that Special Needs was coming up. I moved into the pick up lane, and welcomed the short break to take what I needed. I had extra nutrition, including salt, in my special needs bag, and a small tube of extra chamois cream. I only took the salt with me, and left the rest to be donated or recycled. Back on the bike, I took a couple quick licks of the salt, and settled back in for the second half of the ride.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck as I was coming around for my second loop. A cyclist was struck by a vehicle and later died at the hospital. I was fortunate enough not to be near the accident when it occurred, but the image of the bikes laying alongside the road will stick with me. I said a brief prayer for those involved and their families, and continued on.
As I entered the last section of the second loop, I encountered another cyclist who was struggling with cramps. She asked if I had any salt, and I gave her a bit from my extra tube. I’m guessing she was unfamiliar with how the salt should be consumed, because she poured a lot of the salt directly into her mouth. I asked for the tube back, and found it nearly gone. I knew I only needed to have enough for 3-4 more licks, but it was going to be close.
I also had an issue with my shifting the entire way through the course. My rear derailleur was moving to a position between gears, not really seating into one gear effectively. I had to keep constant pressure on the shifter to make sure I didn’t accidentally slip into a harder gear. This had me frustrated early on, since I had the bike tuned up just before leaving to avoid an issue like this. I again made the conscious choice to smile through it, and not let it get in the way of enjoying the day.
Coming into town was exhilarating. The streets were lined with fans and spectators, and their cheers helped wipe away some of the pain of biking 112 miles in unexpected heat. The high temperature for the day was only supposed to be 84, but we ended up closer to 94 or 95 on the day.
As I came into transition, I knew I wanted to leave my shoes on the bike, so as not to have to run the 1/4-1/3 mile into run transition in them. I was able to get one of my feet out of my shoe coming in, but I didn’t want to risk falling down on a flying dismount. In a shorter race a flying dismount is worth the risk, but not knowing how steady my legs and balance would be, I opted to come to a complete stop with one foot still in the shoe, then take off the shoe and dismount.
I had a huge smile on my face as I jogged with my bike toward the run transition. I was waving at people I kew, and taking in the cheers of all the supporters lined along the tunnel. I saw another teammate who was volunteering and catching bikes, I tried to get my bike to him, but another eager volunteer grabbed it before I got to him. I gave him a high five, and off I went to gather my run gear bag!
On my way, I checked my watch to see my time for the bike: 6:23. I was hoping to be done in around 6 hours, but I would have been happy anywhere between 6:30 and 7:30. A 6:23 meant my average speed was 17.5 MPH, right on target!
I sat down in the change tent and a volunteer came over and asked if I wanted some help. I wasn’t about to say no, and he helped get my fresh socks and shoes ready, laid out my nutrition, and grabbed some body glide and chapstick for me. I got everything on, switched out my sunglasses, put my headband on, and headed out of the tent. I stopped to get sunscreen applied, and boy did those volunteers jump on it! I had 4 volunteers hit me with sunscreen, one on each leg and arm. I got a bit in my hand to rub on my face, and that’s when they told me that the sunscreen had alcohol in it. I felt it start to burn some of the places I was chafed, but it quickly went away as I entered the Boulder Creek Path to start on the marathon.
I immediately ran past Natalie and my parents, along with the family of my teammates, and was feeling great! I saw that I was running a little too fast, hovering around 8:00 miles, and knew that I needed to back it off. I pulled back to around 10:00 miles, and held that pace for the first 3 miles. I made the decision at mile 3 that I would walk that aid station since I was starting to feel sloshy in my stomach.
Looking back, I think I should have pushed through and kept my pace down to 9:00 miles. I knew in my training that I could hold 8’s for at least 17 miles, and then my pace would fall to 9’s. Before the race I had made the decision to start with 10:00 miles and then reevaluate when starting the second loop. Either way, once I broke that pace, I fell off hard. I started to really struggle mentally, and I was not very happy to see my pace falling off so hard.
I walk/jogged as I felt able, but I was struggling with my heart rate. Just a little bit of jogging and my heart rate felt like it was skyrocketing. I had a hard time catching my breath, and I knew that my 10:00 pace was gone for the day. I picked my jog up as I headed back through the crowd of people near transition, and I saw my mom. I was already pretty emotional, and I fought back tears as I jogged slowly and painfully past her. A few hundred yards further were Natalie and my dad, and I was still fighting back tears as I passed them.
I wanted so badly to stop and talk to them, to pull up and just sit for a bit. I was tired, I was in pain, I was now behind my goal and knew I wasn’t pulling it back, and I felt a little defeated. Something my mom had shouted at me stuck though, “You WILL BE an Ironman!” I knew that stopping was not an option. I had put in too much time, worked too hard, come too far, and had too much support and love to stop this close to the end. When I had come off the bike I knew that I could walk the entire marathon and still become an Ironman, I just needed to dig deep and find the iron in me to get to the line.
Shortly after I passed my family, my day was nearly unravelled by my body. Around mile 10, I took a lick of salt and immediately felt nauseous. There’s a bit of nausea that can creep up on you during a long run, and I’m familiar with that. This nausea came on so fast and so hard, I stopped in a grove of trees, doubled over, certain that I was going to puke.
Fortunately, a familiar face came up, and he encouraged me to walk with him. He kept talking to me, made me laugh a bit, and soon enough I started to feel a little better. I took a bit of water every now and then, but did not eat anything solid beyond one bite for the rest of the race. To those of you who aren’t familiar with this kind of racing, that doesn’t sound like a big deal. Let me tell you, that was probably a pretty dangerous thing to do. I had minimal amounts of water, one more lick of salt around mile 16, a bite of a banana (which was quickly discarded), about two grapes, and a sip of Rocket Fuel, until the chicken broth came out. I did continue to dump a cup of water on my head at every aid station, and dumped a cup of ice down the back of my jersey at every other aid station.
Special needs was accessible at mile 11, and I stopped to grab a packet of notes that Natalie had collected from friends, family and loved ones. To those who sent notes, I cannot thank you enough, from the bottom of my heart. I knew that I was loved and supported not only by those who wrote notes, but those who were present for the race, and countless others watching from afar. Thank you all so much for supporting me and loving me. I needed every bit of it to get through the last 13.1 miles.
The second loop seemed impossible, and like it would never end as I set out. I knew I still had a long way to go, and I had covered every step of it once before. I knew it would be excruciating at times, I knew exactly where it would be hot, where the wind was and was not, and that the number of familiar faces on the course would be thinning out. I had decided that I would try to hold a 15:00 mile pace, in an attempt to keep my finish time around 14 hours total. Fortunately, about 5 hours into the run, a storm started to build over the front range, and the temperature dropped significantly. We even got a little sprinkle! Chicken broth started to appear at the aid stations, and I decided I would give it a try. Wow. Never before in my life has plain chicken broth tasted so good. I was well over 130 miles into my day, and nothing hit the spot better.
As the sun started to set, I was nearing the last turnaround before heading to the finish. I had read some of the most touching notes, and I was in a pretty sappy emotional state. As I climbed a small hill toward the turnaround, I saw the most amazing thing in front of me. At the end of the path were the foothills, the start of the mountains, every bit a mountain in their own right. The sun had set behind the front range, but was still sending enough light to backlight the mountains in a glorious red and blue, with a cloudless sky above. The end of the path was illuminated spectacularly by a generator with four white lights attached to it, also partially illuminating the foothills and forming the perfect picture of peace and completion. I knew I only had 1.6 miles to go to the finish, and that I would in fact, become an Ironman.
I picked up the pace a bit, and headed for home. The tears built as I drew ever closer to the line, and the pain in my legs and chest started to fade. The smile started to come back to my face, and I started to enjoy the race again. I barely felt the hills as I climbed them, urged on by screaming spectators. My mom was acting as lookout, and saw me as I climbed one of the final hills before turning away from the looped course toward the finish. I saw Rich as I neared the chute, and grabbed a high five as I picked up the pace further.
I turned the last corner, and there it was in front of me: the bright lights and loud sounds of the finish line. I jogged down the chute, looking for Natalie and my parents, finally finding them about 40 yards out from the finish line. I got a huge hug and kiss from Natalie, some high fives and hugs from others, and I handed off my water bottle and other items before heading for the finish line.
I know Mike Reilly never said my name, but at that point I didn’t care. (Though now I do a little, it’s still a very minor part of a major accomplishment.) Triumphantly, I ran across the finish line, and let out a scream. I had pictured that moment in my head countless times, during training rides, during training runs, and especially in the days leading up to the race. This was a huge moment, and I celebrated it in style.
My total time was 14:07:58, a time that, while not near my goal, represents very accurately how the past year has gone. Things started off smoothly, going well but with a few hiccups here and there. Then, all at once, the shit hit the fan, and hard. To push through it was a choice, and the only way to do it was to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The reward at the finish line was that much sweeter for the suffering endured along the way.
Thank you again, from the very bottom of my heart, to those who have supported me on this journey. Friends, family, teammates, coaches, even casual observers. I feel so very loved, and each one of you played a role in my journey to the finish line.