Friday, August 19, 2016

The Season & Ironman Boulder 2016


2016 has been a long list of personal challenges for myself and my family. It actually started last fall with the passing of my brother in law, with a quick discovery and even quicker loss to cancer. Then there are the ups and downs of the oil industry which got the best of my wife with a lay off after that (thank goodness she's back on the horse again though). In sport, the recurring soleus injury from 2015 Duathlon Nationals (the ONLY race I lost in my age group), where I tore it part way through the first run--continued to haunt me all of 2016.

I did one local duathlon, preparing with about six rides on the trainer and some on again/off again runs and no speed work. It turned out okay and had I raced in the Elite wave, I'd have actually made money from prize purse offered. There was Bolder Boulder, an even bigger mess with one of my worst times in that race, but still managed a first place by two minutes over the second place guy. Pretty disappointing time for me, but rolled with it. Boulder Peak was cancelled, so there was what was to be my first race of the year, didn't happen. All this time the 2015 injury cropped up each 3-4 weeks even while doing about 12 miles a week. Another thing I had not done this year was lift weights, due to the injury, so felt weak all season. Running never really gained traction (pun intended).

I literally ran in pain all season long and finally decided after a long search, to go with a less light weight shoe for Ironman Boulder, in exchange for cushion. HOKA Clifton 3. After some work getting elastic laces adjusted, these worked fantastic until the squish from being wet cropped up.
Leading into the race meant pretty much a couple of what I deem "medium length" runs and one long 20 mile run in the HOKA shoes. In order to get over the soleus issue, after about 11 months, I decided I had to stop running all together. So on my work lunch break, I would just use the elliptical trainer rather than walking on the treadmill. After 2 months, the soleus issue was clear! 

But...not so fast, a new hip issue (opposite side from the soleus tear) from the elliptical (because the pedals were too wide compared to my narrow hips), cropped up and stayed with me right until this writing post Ironman. However, I could run again only with a nagging strain feeling from the overused, odd position the elliptical placed me in. Eventually the elliptical thing just had to stop. At least it hurt mostly only during cycling. What a mess! The hard part was keeping confidence up that finishing an Ironman on a total of 7-8 hours a week, dealing with injuries that obviously would not be gone by race day. There were really no 4,000 long swims (lucky to have gotten in a 2,000 yard swim at all!) Running required at least two days to feel ready to run again, while cycling--just took more time than I had this summer. The goals for Ironman Boulder were simple:

1) Finish and not throw up a lot like 2014, or walk.
2) Pace all day long, much easier than normal, while keeping cool and fueling best I could.

Now the race details...
Flipped 5x on my back to keep putting my cap back kept sliding off the top of my head during the swim. Breathed 2x on the right, 2 on the left--then SIGHT THE BUOY. Nice and easy, barely felt like I was swimming, the effort was likely way too minimal and felt like a warm up. A sub 1 hour swim should I choose, definitely is possible even off the fitness I have now.

Blazed through super fast until I exited the change tent...pee break #1.

BIKE: Held back more than I wanted to, but patience in Ironman is KEY. Pacing and nutrition should be the main things for age groupers to focus on. From 2014, I knew too many tend to over-cook the bike and die out on the run. The plan was to nail 21-22 mph even if going faster was possible. Never felt the 112 miles have such little impact as I did in this race. Feeling that fresh was sort of scary, usually it hurts at that point. At the special needs aid station, I had to get off the bike and pee again (a good sign), so a guy held my bike while I did the duty.

T2: Blazed through again, only to have to stop just as I exited the change tent, to take what I'll just refer to as a lengthy porta-john break. Details left out for those less inquiring minds-- never eat a 3/4 large pizza the night before an Ironman race. It'll come back to haunt you--guaranteed!

RUN: Literally had figured I'd blow up due to the lack of running and injuries. The first 13-15 miles were focused on fueling, super short steps, and just poke along sloth-like. This was the greatest question mark of the race for me...can you do any Ironman on 7-8 hours a week? You should be training more than 15-20 miles a week for Ironman (total). The long runs were really so few and far between, I couldn't tell you if I actually did ONE per month or not. It may have been longer, and would require looking into my online training log...but knowing my weekly totals...yeah, they were 15-20 unless it was a long run week.  One far off goal I had to was run slowly towards the front, to see if even on a 7-8 hour training week, with injury, how close I could come to a Kona Qualification slot. Not that I ever planned on taking the slot (I have ITU World Long Course Triathlon Championships in September so Kona was out due to that).

One guy from Colorado who is always in the mix, Kevin Dessart, was someone who is typically a faster swimmer/bike than I am, who also holds the % of wins in head to head competition over me, by quite a bit. How close could I get? The cards were stacked against me in more than one way for this race, but whatever, give a go right? He would start a wave ahead of me so that was a 2 minute head start. If I saw him on the run, I'd gauge the effort. It was surprising to see him shortly after the first turn around on the run. I would continue to slowly--really slowly, close that gap all day long. Unfortunately, I lost a solid 5 minutes with 4x porta john breaks throughout the run (damn pizza!) I would just see the back of him, nearly catching him 4 times prior to the actual "catch" but lost a good 75 seconds per stop each time. Finally, around mile 23 we were even (although I knew I was actually 2 minutes up due to the chip time). He floored it and we were battling back and forth in an epic Mark Allen/Dave Scott Iron War of our own. As long as I could keep him about a city block in my sight, it would be a rare win over him. In the end, it was a blast, just so much fun! As we went around the final bike path cones a few blocks before the finish, Kevin took off like a Usain Bolt and put about 20-25 seconds on me (the same thing I had done to his friend Neal years ago at IM CDA in the last half mile). I had already used up all my energy just to make up the 2 min. swim deficit, plus the multiple overly long bathroom breaks. That was a good 7 minutes total I had to dig for, that last sprint effort was more than was in the tank at that point. Kevin Dessart, it was a pleasure being pushed to the limit by such an athlete of your stature, thanks for the monumental memory!

The race was over and at the awards, I had finished 3rd in the 45-49 and 12th overall (no pro field), all while spending the season injured, racing injured and training the distance of a sprint of Olympic distance triathlete. I'm calling it a massive success as I met my original goals of not getting sick during the race, finishing the race and qualifying my 19th time for Ironman Hawaii. As I said, I did not take the slot due to ITU Worlds. Never had I finished an Ironman and felt so fresh the following day. My recovery is going much better than anticipated, although that is just because I'm actually motivated to continue training and WANT to work out. That is a sign that I'm not burnt out from my non-existent season. In fact, I won't have enough triathlons to be ranked at all in 2016, as the 2015 Long Distance US Champion for Triathlon M45-49. I won't have any duathlons to be ranked in 2016, as the 2015 Long Distance US Champion for Duathlon M45-49. Wow, from high ranked to non-existent.

The take away here? It doesn't matter where your place is until the finish line. This was clearly the EASIEST all day long effort of any Ironman completed. This was clearly the LEAST amount of training ever done for an Ironman completed. This was clearly the HIGHEST overall placing of any Ironman completed. This is clearly the QUICKEST RECOVERY from any Ironman completed. Maybe there is a message here--just stop training all together and do the races?  I'll have to think that one through...

(*Special thanks to Jen Schaffner for the lead photo from Twitter at the top of this post.)

Next for Team USA at the World Championships!