Saturday, 9 August 2014

#DFQ..Back to the Future Ironman

In my previous installment, I noted that I was to soon to attempt Ironman Boulder and would not quit, until I was done. Well stick a fork in me, I'm done.

Having raced the full iron distance before, I knew what to expect, how to train and about how long it would take. This time, however, a couple of elements stood against my usual 14-hour(ish) finish:
  • I trained for hills on the bike, but not adequately for distance beyond 120km
  • I did not have enough miles in my legs, and struggled through 21km training runs
  • I was about 15 pounds heavier than I should be
  • The IMB course was at altitude 5,430 feet (1,655 m) compared to home
    1,893 ft (577 m)
  • I was a little burned out from five straight years of Ironman races. Three successful, and two DNFs.
This is starting already to sound like an apology or an excuse. But believe me, it is not. My experiences at Ironman Boulder during the race, as well as pre and post, are now etched in my mind as some of the most memorable and triumphant experiences I have ever had in my triathlon career. 

While this blog entry will cover the race portion, I hope to write quite a lot about my experiences in later blogs. These will include the wonderful experiences with friend and family in Boulder, and the not-so-wonderful travel experiences. 

Normally I put together race results as with this 2010 Ironman Canada race report; I would write how I prepared, what went right, what went wrong, how I did and what I blame or thank.

Here's the thing. As I noted,  I'm a little burnt out. That means that not only was I sick and tired of training long, but I am equally bored of writing about the fine points of race prep and completion. I mean, seriously, how many more times do you want to hear what I ate, and how I pooped?

And don't for a minute think that I am anyway ashamed of being one of the last finishers. Long before the race started, I decided that I would take all the time I needed and challenge my resolve, more than my body. After all, I had challenged my body many times before this time it was time to test my mind.

So. I should note how I did, just for reference. 16:44:23. That's 15 minutes or so before Mike Reilly turns off the lights and goes home. Mike was there, by the way, and he did remind me that I AM AN IRONMAN, the second time he has personally done so.

The swim took place at the Boulder Resevoir. This is an  unremarkable body of water, that I water-skied on when I was 14 years old. Well, to say water-skied is a bit of a stretch. A boat pulled me and I was introduced to enemas. This is, ironically, when I first gained an appreciation for wetsuits.

The Reservoir, also was where T1 and the bike drop off was on the Saturday before the Sunday, August 3rd Race. There was a lot of commotion on Social Media about either the Boulder Reservoir administration or Ironman Management asking for $20 for entry into the area to do a practice swim. Both parties denied it was them, but it was still charged.

Similarly, a $20 fee for every person without an Ironman wrist band was expected on Saturday, bike drop day. So, in theory, a family driving their athlete would each have to pay $20. I had my First Wife drive me and, at the gate, in bumper to bumper traffic, I explained that I don't drive manual transmission. The money-collecting clerk shrugged and let us through. This wasn't so much of a lie, as First Wife often argues that I do not drive standard as well as her.

All this stress was for naught,  though.
Race morning at The Rez. was a picturesque delight, without a spec of wind, beautiful sunrise and the best swim I've ever had. I should note that the morning started out at 3 a.m. with a short walk from the-best-race-hotel-location-that-was-only-two-blocks--from-the-athlete's-village to Boulder High School and waiting school buses that took First Wife and me to the Rez. This was very well organized, although, special needs bag drop off was inexplicably an additional two blocks from where the buses were, but I digress.

The swim was a rolling start, which means athletes placed themselves in a line according to their assumed speed. The professionals, of course, went first then the under one hour swimmers and so on. I placed myself in the conservative 1 hour 30 to 40 minutes slot. Although I absolutely loved starting simultaneously with 3,000 other swimmers, as I have at Ironman Canada (Penticton), there are some merits to the rolling start. There is also one huge disadvantage if you are going to be out all day and night: you have 17 hours to race. Everything shuts down at midnight. Rolling starts begin before 7 a.m. That means that you could theoretically cross the finish line before midnight, but still have been racing for more than 17 hours and thus get a DNF. This was my fear as I pushed the 17 hour window, and my resolve.

The swim itself was fantastic. Although I did not get a chance to have a warm-up (inexplicably again, the warm-up was a long walk from the start area - at the finish area). This didn't leave me with enough time. I also really needed to pee, and could not/did not before or during the swim. Many however did, and as we walked down towards the swim start, the boat launch ramp was wet with liquid filtered through kidneys and neoprene.

Despite having to pee, I swam well. I was comfortable, although at one point a vague pain in my chest gave me lots to think about, such as life insurance and eternity, both of which I have plenty. I slowed down a little, for this unexpected episode and then sped up again. I did hear some stories of panic and anxiety attacks where racers took off their goggles and wetsuits while in the water. Of note, as well, for two weeks prior to the swim, it was communicated that the water would be too hot for a wetsuit-legal swim.

A few rain storms during race week cooled it down so all wore their suits. It was still warm, however, and I found myself on several occasions swimming deep so that water would rush into the space between my neck and back to cool me off a little.

All Finisherpix to be updated
My swim went so well, that I found myself pulling ahead of the group I seeded myself with and catching a group ahead of me. I realized, after checking my swim finish time, that this wasn't the faster group, but the slower swimmers of the faster group. Still. I caught up to them, drafted, got faster and enjoyed the swim. I got out of the water in pretty good shape and ready for the challenge of the bike.

I took my time in transition. Dried my toes, lubed my nether regions with the incredible Hammer Seat Saver and put on arm coolers. I had cooling calf sleeves on under the wet suit. I was acutely aware of the coming heat and extant elevation. I was not going to let the elements beat me. Besides, I had raced in 33 C temps at Penticton, and I knew the importance of cooling was equal to that of hydration and nutrition. As a dedicated Sufferlandrian, I wanted to wear my national bike jersey, but the temperature was just too hot! So I stayed with the Regina Multisport Club tri top.

So on my bike I went and started off. The ride, I hate to say was uneventful. It was beautiful. The roads were pristine. The traffic control, thanks to the law enforcement personnel and volunteers was great. I dropped my chain once and, to my surprise, had to get off the bike to fix it, I can usually get it re-engaged while pedaling. But I could not coast. And this is where the issue begins.

The course did not have the monster hills of Penticton, or CdA or St. George. In fact, other than the "three bitches" at mile 100 (who were actually quite lovely) I don't remember any steep hills at all.

Still there was considerable elevation change. The whole course seemed to be full of false flats! I was aware that this may be the case, so I didn't waste time checking my brakes, as I have in the past. It just meant that the ride was a constant uphill. Unlike wind, which you can perceive, false flats are insidious. They sap your strength, rob your speed and make coasting impossible. I found my average speed plummeting as the course progressed, and the effects of the 90 F + temps (102 F on the black tarmac) and the elevation took hold on my tired, overweight body.

I did not bonk. I did not have heat stroke, although many did. There were bodies strewn under trees and in shady corners throughout the course. I kept to my hydration/cooling and nutrition plan. This included  my secret stash of Hammer Nutrition gels, a 3-hour bottle of Perpetuem and Endurolytes. Equally important, I poured  a bottle of water over my head, on arms and legs every time I replenished, and sometimes in between.  I got tired, and slow and a little dejected, but that was a result of lack of long-distance training, not on-course action. And, unlike many I saw and read about later, I did not have any GI problems - other than losing the desire to eat during the run.

I must put a plug in for coconut water (500mg Potassium) and dill pickle and juice. These were in my special needs bag (both for the bike and run) and I have proof they made a difference. The quadricep cramp that ended my race at IMCdA last year. showed up at about KM 80. Every time I stood up, or attempted a steeper section, I could feel that familiar pull just above my left knee.

So I took it easy until I got to special needs. Out of my bag I pulled the magic pickle and poured the coconut water into my bottle. The volunteer at special needs said he had seen everything. He had never seen a lycra clad, sweaty, fatman on a bike sucking back brine and chewing on an 8-inch polskie ogorki!

This stuff was magic. The knee pull and the cramp were gone! Sadly, so was much of my strength, tapped by the sun, elevation and the constant climbing. It didn't help that the second half of the ride was all uphill, with very little chance to recuperate. All the way to Boulder, and even the last road to T2, on Arapahoe Ave., the route was all uphill, or at least seemed like it was!

I finished in what was my slowest ever bike time. Blame? Naw...I didn't train long rides enough. Even my rides through the Rockies with harder climbs maxed out at 110 kms. 

As I dismounted, and faced what seemed like a 1km run to transition, I knew I was in trouble. I didn't run. Most people didn't. I did, however, keep my bike shoes on. Some didn't and blistered from the hot, black track that the transition bags were on. I blistered too, both feet.
But I suspect this was from the heat coming up through the pedal on the bike. These blisters and both my middle toes (now with black toenails) caused me no end of grief during the last part of the race. But I never stopped for them, other than stopping to put some Glide lubricant on the side of my foot that seemed to be developing a "hotspot" early in the run.

Now to call this a run, would be like calling a tortoise a rabbit. Getting off the bike, I was tired. My feet hurt. My hips were seizing, my back was sore and, well, I was a little bored. I ran a little, and very quickly noticed my heart rate raced to 165 bpm. (it should have been about 150 for that pace). So I settled in for a long walk. I had walked 21.1k at IMCdA, so how much more difficult would double that be?

The run course was dubbed the "Flux Capacitor. In reality, the end effect was that I felt like I had to time travel back to the future in order to finish. The course was on Boulder Creek, which, thankfully was shady and made the afternoon hot temperatures bearable.

What I did have trouble with was the path was made of concrete. Like my marathon in Fargo ND, some years ago, the hard surface pounded on my legs, my hips and my ankles and just beat me up. Keep in mind that I was walking. I can't imagine what this was doing to the runners. It is interesting to note that post-race commentary described this as the slowest IM run to date, even amongst the professionals.

I was also challenged with the shape of the course. While trying to figure out mileage and convert it to kms, that my Garmin was showing, I had no idea how close or far the 3 turnarounds were. And there were two laps. Several times I got confused that I was going the wrong way. Even if I could run, I would have had trouble pacing myself, as the circuitous and convoluted route gave very little opportunity to gauge how far to go before the turnaround.

But again. This is my problem,. I personally, did not like the run course, but personally, I was also undertrained for a 42.2km run. But I walked. And I walked. And I walked. When I saw First Wife, at about the half way mark, I was ready to quit. That was enough. I didn't want to go on. I could not eat anything, not because I could not stomach it, my guts were fine; my nutrition plan went very well. I just could not deal with chips or pretzels or gels or Bonk Bars...I had some chicken broth and some flat cola.

But I was done. #Don't Fucking Quit, notwithstanding, the course had beaten me. I looked at my pace and how much time I had left: a little more that three and a half hours. I didn't think I could make it. Besides, because of the morning, rolling swim start, I didn't have till midnight, I had until 11:45? 11: 30? I didn't know!

I told this to First Wife and she reassured me that I could do what I want. Then told me, she'll meet me at the finish line, which, after two decades plus of marriage means, "you'd better finish!" She had successfully done this to me at IMC ending her finish line volunteer race catcher duties at 14:15 (I finished just past 14 hours) and a Stony Plain half, where she threatened to leave after six hours. I finished just under six hours.

So now, it was the finish the hell would I get to the finish line, without finishing;. I remember my embarrassment at IMCdA, where I abandoned at 21.1km and had to skulk past the finish line to surrender my timing chip.

#DFQ. Then it sunk in. Don't Fucking Quit. Just keep going! Who cares how long it takes. I've come this far, and I know friends and family are watching. I'm tired of quitting. Something strange happened at this point. I went from trying to figure out how to quit, how to cut the course short, how to fake an injury, to getting a thirst for the race!
My pace hastened, so much so, that I started passing walkers and some staggering runners. I walked through every nutrition stop, but only took coke (and a few of my stashed Hammer gels). I was a man possessed. No way was I going to quit. No way did I travel this far not just in the race, but from home, to call it a day.

I took my inspiration from some of the athletes I had seen, those running with prosthetics, others who were so cramped up that they looked like withered trees, but still,  they continued. I took my inspiration from my friends back home, many of whom had overcome far greater challenges. I thought of my Imaginary Friends, many of whom had beaten great challenges themselves, and were probably tracking me online.

So I walked. Then I ran. Then I shuffled. I just did not stop. And then. Unexpectedly (as I didn't know where the bloody turnarounds would be) I saw the exit for the finish. And then I saw First Wife. She lied. she was not yet at the finish line. She and a volunteer told me that I'd better run through the finish chute. So I started my kick.

I've got a pretty good kick, if I say so myself. I sped up to a 4 minute/km pace. Then my quad cramp returned. Who cares! I kept going. Then I heard my name and I saw Mike Reilly. I'm already an Ironman, I thought. But it was good to be reminded.

Everything went into slow motion! I was having fun. More fun than I've had the three times I've successfully done this before. I slapped some hands, I smiled.

I raised my arms.

And then. Almost 21 hours since I had woken up that day, I was done. I had a medal. I had finished. I was a finisher. All the grief and pain and doubt was washed away.

Then I found First Wife. At the finish line, as she had said. Her smile was better than any medal.

I posed for the finisher's shot, had some of the worst pizza I've ever tasted and some of the most delicious chocolate milk!

I was done with 15 minutes to spare. We cheered on the last finishers, First Wife looking for a few that she had seen hobbling past after me, including two sisters. They all finished. Then midnight came, and surprisingly, it was all done. Lights went off and the race went dark. Ironman used to allow for 15 minutes after midnight, I thought for DNF finishers. They had come so far! But no. It was done.

Then the aching started. Feet and hips. First Wife had already collected my bike and bags and dropped them off at the hotel. I thanked some cops and some volunteers and we hobbled home. More surprised than happy. But ecstatic that I had seen some very dark places in my head and I shut out the angry, lazy conspiring voices.

I did not quit. And I was still standing.

I remember a sign I saw on the course. "What do you call the last person to finish an Ironman? -- An Ironman!"


  1. Great blog, and a greta story. Well done.

  2. Congratulations on beating the demons that tell us to quit. Your story is inspirational :)


Thanks for reading and commenting. All comments will be reviewed prior to being posted.