Last week I finished the Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Boulder, Colorado. This was my second half Ironman; I did my first half at age 19 in Providence, Rhode Island. After using my first half as a learning experience, I thought that my second would be a piece of cake. I knew I had better planning, experience, and another 2 years of training under my belt. However, i underestimated a major obstacle in Colorado-the altitude. I live at approximately 500 feet above sea level and train at about 680 feet. The race in Boulder was at about 5,600 feet with a 1,200 foot gain. Big mistake.
I received my Athlete Guide for the race about a week before I was supposed to fly out to Denver. I knew that the altitude would be a challenge, but didn’t realize how big of a change it would be. It was good to be aware of this, but I knew there was nothing I could do about it so I tried not to psych myself. I also knew that with my hip injury I would be happy just to finish, and be surprised if I beat my PR of 7:23:00. My best friend Becca who lives in Utah drove out to meet me in Colorado for the race; I definitely couldn’t have done it without her.
Swim: Luckily Becca and I were in the 20-24 year old age category and were the 6th wave of 17 to start, which means I wouldn’t be playing catchup the whole race. Our wave color was neon orange which was perfect for us because our SkyHigh Adventure team colors are light blue and orange. The announcer was reading out some of the bios of people in our wave. One woman lost 100 pounds and another had lost 150 pounds to do this race. Triathlons bring together some of the most inspirational people I have ever had the privilege to meet. Becca had ACL surgery on both knees and was less than 6 months post-op at the start of the race. I had a torn labrum and hip impingement along with degenerative joint disease in my back (the first few doctors I went to said my running career was over-I disagreed) and was scheduled for hip surgery 4 days after the race. Neither of us had planned on these injuries when we registered, but it was never an option to either of us to drop out.
So they lined our wave up to start line to stand there during an agonizing 5 minute wait. They were blasting peppy pop music so naturally I found it socially acceptable to dance like an awkward white girl in my wetsuit and orange swimcap while waiting for the horn. Some people laughed at me, a few joined in. Haters gonna hate. I decided to be smart this year and start towards the back as to not get trampled by faster people behind me. This turned out to be one of my better decisions of the race as I ended up second or third to last in my wave. I’m one of those people that don’t get nervous at the start line so when the horn finally went off I just started out like it was one of my typical Tuesday night training swims. I saw Becca only for a few seconds before she took off like a fish. That was the last time I saw her in the race.
Within the first few strokes I knew I was in trouble. For one, I had grown out of my XTerra wetsuit and the new one I had ordered didn’t come in time for the race. The biggest problem was the hugely noticeable lack of oxygen. Every time I turned my head to the side to breathe I felt like there was a giant fat lady sitting on my chest and no matter how big of a breath I took I couldn’t get enough oxygen. It was the most frustrating feeling and it was hard not to panic. For a few seconds before I reached the first turn buoy I thought I wouldn’t make it through the swim. But I had DNF’d one race before and I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with that feeling again. So I decided to just keep going even if it took me an hour, which it almost did. It got a bit easier as I continued but my arms were burning. I finished the swim with an abysmal split of 51:39 and a division rank of 12/15. But once I made it to transition I had no doubts I would finish the race.
Bike: Heading out onto the bike I felt pretty good. My legs burned a bit for the swim but I was pumped up and ready to go. In transition two other girls from my age group went out onto the bike right before me so that was motivation to get moving. I passed one of them a few miles out of transition and the other one at some point later. The bike was two laps of the same course with markers every 5 miles, so it was pretty crowded. There was always someone right behind and in front of me which was kind of annoying but also gave me someone to chase. It always hurts your ego to see the pro men and women and the faster people from the waves behind you blow by you on carbon fiber bikes with Zipp wheels worth more than your car. Drool.
Because I had anticipated having trouble with the altitude, I decided to use my Camelback which was another smart decision even though it was kind of embarassing. I did see a few other people with them too so I didn’t feel like such a noob. I also made myself eat about every 35-45 minutes on the bike, which was a devastating mistake I made on my previous Ironman. That definitely helped me out a lot even though you really don’t feel like choking down a bunch of GU’s on the bike. Also, with the Camelback I was able to bypass most of the aid stations. I did waste time stopping two or three times to check if I had a flat tire because the bike was kind of shaky from the road texture. Luckily, I didn’t have any flats this race unlike the previous Ironman, just one instance where my chain fell off- an easy fix. I was also very proud of myself for grabbing a water bottle from one of the volunteers, which is way harder than it looks, especially for someone like me with absolutely no balance whatsoever.
There were only two challenging climbs per lap, which were hard but definitely not that bad. The course was mostly small rolling hills with a couple climbs and one huge really fun downhill. But 56 miles is always way longer than I think it is. I kept trying to guess when the next 5-mile marker would come up and it would take forever. The worst was when I reached what I thought was the 40-mile mark and it turned out to be the 35-mile mark. I definitely slowed down considerably the last 15-ish miles, mostly due to my neck and back hurting and my legs burning. But overall I felt way better with the altitude than I thought I would. My breathing was pretty good but I could feel my legs on fire from lack of oxygen. Ironically, I beat my previous bike time by 18 minutes and finished with a split time of 3:42:32 and division rank 9/15.
Run: Going out onto the run I knew I was going to struggle because my attempts at long runs at home hadn’t gone too well. My goal was to beat my last race time of 2:23:00 and run for 10 minutes then walk for one minute so my hip wouldn’t hurt too soon into the run. But at he first mile mark I had to stop to use the Porta Potty. In a 7 hour race sometimes you just gotta go. So that was a time setback. I grabbed pretzels while I was waiting for the bathroom and shoved a bunch in my jersey pockets to replace the sodium I had lost from sweating so much. I made sure to drink something at every mile aid station but I could feel my body starting to shut down in the 90 degree desert sun. By the second loop I was running for 5 minutes and walking for 1 minute, but my running pace was faster than the people who were just jogging so it evened out a bit. Towards the end I was walking for much longer and have given up my goal of beating my last Ironman’s total time. But then with about 4 miles left I saw two girls from my age group less than a mile behind me and started to push harder. I picked it up the last two miles and finished with a disappointing time of 2:42:17, division rank 7/15, much slower than last time.
My overall time ended up being 7:26:21, which I was happy with because it was under 7:30:00 and only a couple minutes slower than my Providence time at altitude with an injury. I took 7th place in my division, my best placing yet, and Becca took home an impressive 3rd place finish. Overall, it was a successful race. I’d like to do a full Ironman soon, but maybe not next summer. Also, does doing two half Ironmans equal a whole one?