From Goggles to Wheelchair
This is a Part 2 to last month’s blog, where we talked about how to handle an injury before a big race. Here’s how it turned out. Ironman Boulder 70.3.
Though my alarm was set for 3:45 a.m., I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and that was it. No rolling over for a few more minutes. The 70.3 miles waiting for me was plenty of motivation to get up. My strategy for a half-iron distance race is to eat about 400 calories three hours before the race starts. A quick 100 calorie gel about 15 minutes before the gun and that’s it. I’ve found that less really is more before a race, so I eat the minimum amount possible without “bonking” during the race itself due to a loss of caloric energy.
My bike had been racked the day before along with probably 2,500 others and my gear was packed carefully in my backpack the night before. So, a quick brush of the teeth and a warm washcloth on the face to help alert me was it. Jumped into my new racing kit with my favorite company’s logos on it and was out the door. Transition opened at 4:30 a.m., but there was only one single-lane entrance to the Boulder Reservoir and I didn’t want to get stuck in a long line. That did not happen as I was about #5 in line with my gear to get into transition right at 4:30 a.m. I did have to park about a half mile away.
It was kind of weird to realize my race wouldn’t start for 2 hours and 45 minutes. I slowly got everything set up by my bike….swim gear…run gear…nutrition and fluids on the bike… Wait, where’s my wetsuit?? Oh great, I left it in the car! Glad I have tons of time. Walked in the dark back to the car and then back to transition. Nice one mile warm up walk. It actually beautiful out and the horizon was just starting to lighten up.
Chatted with some friends a bit, hit the big blue plastic boxes a few times, gathered my swim gear and started the long walk to the swim start. Bye transition. Hope to see you again real soon.
“Mistake” #1 was forgetting my wetsuit. No huge deal. Mistake #2 was not bringing an old pair of shoes to wear for the long walk. I’d not done this race before, so I didn’t realize the walk would be on some very rough asphalt and sand. I felt the bottom of my feet taking a beating. I sure hoped that wouldn’t affect my run. (It did – read on.) I’ve got baby-butt soft feet that blister easily. If not shoes, I wished I’d brought an old pair of thick socks to pop on and then toss when ready to swim.
Once on the beach, I gathered with a group of friends, mostly from Omaha and we discovered the race had been postponed for 30 minutes, meaning we had another hour to wait. The sun was up and it was already getting hot. We’re at 5,000 ft. and that sun was intense. Hurry up and wait, what else could we do?
This race had a rolling start meaning that every five seconds, four went into the water to start the swim. That’s about 50 per minute and if there were 2,500 in the race, well that’s a long time, so I moved up as close to the front as possible. The swim course was a “U” shape swimming straight out, then a right turn…keep swimming til the next righthand turn, then the long straightaway to the exit. I didn’t like the swim at all. Couldn’t get into any kind of rhythm. Had a hard time breathing because of the altitude. Had to keep slowing myself down for that reason. The water was surprisingly choppy. I was happy with my 35 minute swim time and it ended up being the second fastest in my age group, but, I hated every single one of those minutes.
Was SO glad to run to my bike (again across rough asphalt – ouch). Grabbed it and off I went. Cycling is my favorite part of a triathlon and this course was challenging with some hard parts, but also beautiful with some very fast sections. After the first ten miles, I was averaging over 23 mph which, is a bit aggressive for me but it was the easiest part of the route. Felt like I was flying. I’d been warned about getting dehydrated, so my goal was to have two waters bottles down by the time I hit the first aid station at 17 miles. Check.
Racing 56 miles on the bike takes serious patience. Especially after a lot of years focusing on short-course racing where it’s pedal to the medal the whole time. So, I tried to settle into a good but controlled pace dictated a bit by the terrain. Head west, you’re going up. Head east, you’re going down, fast! It was a fun course by and large and definitely, the best part of the day.
Two more bottles down by the 30 mile aid station and likewise or close to it, by the 45 mile station. Flew going down some of the descents at close to 40mph. I knew I had to be extremely well hydrated heading into that blistering hot run. I took in 600 calories of Hammer Nutrition products and keep up on my electrolytes. I started to feel a bit tired and hot between 45-50 miles and worried a bit about the 13 miles that awaited my running shoes…with me in them!
Was hoping to go 2:40 for the bike or maybe even sub-2;40 but alas, I climbed off my steed and jogged into transition with a 2:45 bike split. It’s OK because you’ve got to save a lot for the run in Boulder. Fairly quick T2 and was off…walking. Decided to walk the first minute to let my heart rate come down and ease onto the course. Lots of people cheering and the energy was high, so all the more reason to walk. I hit a big blue box and was in there longer than planned, but that told me I was VERY well hydrated.
The first mile or so is on a dirt road around the reservoir. Then you hit pavement heading north and you’re completely exposed to the sun. The 3rd+ mile is due west, slightly uphill. The aid stations were great. I utilized the ice cold cloths they were give out and they felt great wrapped around my neck. Ice under the hat that slowly melted also felt good. Kept the fluids going along with Hammer’s Electrolyte Caps . The run course is a double out and back, so you go about 3.25 miles out, turn around and come back to the start, then head back out to do it again.
That type of course is mentally tough. And man, it was heating up. There was a slight breeze from the east that you felt heading that direction, but that was about it. It was getting hotter and hotter. High was supposed to be in the low 90s but felt like 100+. People started melting down around me.
Couple of items stand out to me about my run. My feet started burning at about the 4 mile mark. Remember walking on the rough asphalt before the race? Also, (and this was mistake #3 on the day) I wore socks I’d never worn before in a race. I’d worn them around but not racing 13 miles. That advice about not doing anything new on race day…yeah, it’s solid. Rookie mistake. Those socks might have been contributing to the burning. Don’t know. But walking to the race start barefoot got things off on the…yeah, it’s coming…the wrong foot. I had a small packet of lube in my race belt but didn’t want to take the time to stop and lube my feet unless I absolutely had to. Kept running.
The other issue was, I’d not run for a month. I had a slight calf strain after a workout four weeks earlier but it didn’t seem too bad. Raced on it a few days later and it got worse. Another mistake. I had a decision to make. Do I train through it to try and get ready for the 13.1 mile run in Boulder, or just let it rest, knowing I’d lose run fitness and the run would be tougher than usual. I rested it. For a month. At mile 5 on the run I started feeling it. Oh no. Hit 5.5 miles and the pain was increasing. By 6 miles I knew I’d drop out at the 6.5 mile turn around and not head back out for another 6.5 miles.
I was OK with that. In fact, I was so hot and worn out by then I was glad to have a reason to drop (though I was going to feel just a bit guilty). Then, a miracle happened. The pain started going away. Crazy. That doesn’t happen. By the time I hit the turn around, the pain was gone and I really had no reason to drop. However, I wanted to know what place I was in because if, like, 13th or worse, I might drop anyway just to not reinjure the calf.
So, I stopped and asked a lady with a phone if she has the Ironman Tracker App. She did. I asked her to look me up and see what place I was in. Took her a couple of minutes but she said, “Let’s see, this says you were first out of the water (actually ended up 2nd) and it looks like you’re in 2 place right now.” That took 2-3 minutes. Dumb? Maybe.
Alrighty then! I have to head back out. Even if I lost three spots due to guys passing me I could still maybe hit the podium that went five deep. I dreaded it though. Seriously. The last thing I wanted to do was run another six and a half miles under that sun, in that heat. But head out I did. My lack of run training was taking it’s toll. I started the run averaging in the 8s (minute miles). Then it dropped to the 9s. I really wanted to keep up sub-10s.
Finally got off the dirt road around the reservoir and onto the pavement again, which felt like an oven. My feet were on fire so I decided to burn (pun intended) a couple of minutes and lube them. Plopped down at an aid station, shoes off, socks off, lube on, socks back on, shoes on… ”Hey, can someone help me up?” Two guys jumped in, grabbed me and hauled me up. As I trotted off I I yelled, “Hey is that legal?” One of them yelled back, “I saw nothing!” Love it. Thought I’d never hit that last turn around but it finally came and I only had about 3.25 to go.
When I got back to the dirt road at about 11.5 miles I started to pick up the pace, not exactly sure where the little added energy was coming from. I’d slipped to 10 minute something miles but was now back in the 9s. Saw two old guys ahead of me. It’s very difficult to tell what age group someone is in after about 55 yrs. old. I decide to pick it up some more and pass them which I did just in case they were in my age group. The last half mile is back on pavement, heading towards the finish line and the very last part is downhill. Oh boy, there’s two more old dudes ahead of me. Picked it up even more. Was now doing 7:50 mile pace. What?? Passed both. There’s a 90 degree turn that leads you straight to the finish line about 30 yds. away. I kept a fast pace and next thing I knew one of those old guys came back pulling up next to me. “Oh no you don’t. Game on!”
It’s an ugly thing to watch two old men who have just raced 70 miles try to sprint, but sprint we did. All out and hit the line side by side. Found out he was 61 and not in my 65-69 age group. Right after sprinting the whole world started to spin. I was super lightheaded. Grabbed the fencing that lines the finish chute and hung on.
A medic came and asked if I was OK. Told him I didn’t know. I was burning up. He poured a bottle of ice-cold water on me. Yow! I almost had a heart attack! Ha. He asked if I wanted to sit down? Yes. “Here,” he said. I turned as I was sitting back to see…a wheelchair. Ha. I laughed wishing someone I knew was at the finish line to take a picture. The world finally quit spinning and I walked out of the finish line area towards the food tent.
I stopped and asked a lady to please look up my finish. 2nd place in the 65-69. Wow. Miracle. I’ll take it! (Ultimately, I ended up 3rd as the winner’s results took some time to show up. He was a top pro in the 80s and was top ten in the Hawaiian Ironman.)
Going in, I didn’t know if I’d be able to run a mile, 3 miles, 7 miles or all 13. I had a lot of friends and family praying for me, that my calf would hold up. Wow. I’ll take that little miracle. Calf pain like that doesn’t just “go away.”
Grabbed a cheeseburger in the food tent. Might be the best tasting burger I’ve ever had. Didn’t know if it might wreak havoc on my GI system later. Fortunately, it didn’t. Long walk back to the bikes, then long walk back to the car. It was so hot but I had a very satisfied, grateful heart.
Back to my room. Quick shower and back to the reservoir for the awards ceremony. Felt like a truck had hit me, but was it pretty sweet to stand in the 3rd place position and receive a sweet Ironman 70.3 award.
I’m enjoying racing this distance. This year I’ve got a second (age group) at the CLASH Miami 70.3, and two thirds, Chattanooga and now Boulder. For me it’ll all come down to the run. If I can just get a good three months or so of no-injury training, lengthening out those training runs to 14-15 miles, I think I could maybe win one of these. At least it’s good motivation to keep after it.
To give that calf every chance to heal up, I chose not to run the four weeks leading up to Boulder. On race day, I walked the first minute out of T2 and walked through every aid station. I kept the fluids going and did everything possible to stay cool. I lost about 5-6 minutes with my foot lube and waiting to see what place I was in. That cost me 2nd place, but, those breaks could have served me well as little rest-stops. Lesson is, do ALL you can to make the best of a big race. Few have a perfectly executed training plan so be smart and take what the day gives you. Sometimes things turn out way better than you think they will.