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Ironman Boulder- No Fear

June 19, 2018

Fourth place can be one of the hardest outcomes to face. After all, it’s well off the pace of the winner and it’s the first position that misses the podium. For me, however, the outcome of Ironman Boulder was worthy of big-time celebration. Not only is it my best finish to date, but I experienced both a mental and physical performance that previously only existed in my heart.

 

I opted to tackle my first Ironman a bit later this season (as opposed to last year’s Ironman Texas in April). I had hired a new coach, Marilyn Chychota, in January and I wanted to give the two of us time to settle into our groove before ramping up for Ironman. Boulder is an easy flight, I’ve got some great local support and logistically it was a cruise. Thanks to Dan Markowitz (Ironman rookie no more!) and Allison Moore for driving my bike down from Boise, I needed merely to do a final check and load it up with Clif product for race morning.  

 

Swim

Photo courtesy of 303Triathlon

 

Race morning gifted us with one of the most memorable sunrises I’ve seen. Shades of purple, orange and magenta graced the final transition prep and gear bag drop. I knew a few of the ladies with whom I was racing, and I had the pleasure of chatting with Sarah Jarvisprior to the start as we headed down to the water. Pre-race camaraderie always helps me remember that we’re all human, and places an emphasis on racing with integrity, professionalism and respect. I will see these women again after our day is over and at future start lines.

Above: Women's Pro Swim Start (Photo by 303Triathlon)

 

My plan for the swim was to go out strong enough to find a fast pack, but “nothing bananas,” as Marilyn likes to say. Boulder has about 2700 ft of elevation on Boise. It wouldn’t crush me, but I had to consider it and race intelligently.

 

 

From the gun, I found myself swimming in a group of four who held a steady pace with minimal surging or shuffling. It turned out to be one of the most relaxed Ironman swims I’ve ever had, thanks to Sarah’s reliable sighting and riding the bubbles in Angela Naeth’s wake. Breaking an hour swim in Ironman would please me to no end. I was within 30 seconds of this at IMAZ last November, and my swim fitness has improved since then. I exited the reservoir not knowing what my time was, but aware that I was with some real contenders in my group. I felt relatively fresh, which put me in a great mindset to start the bike. (After the race I learned that I swam a 1:00:29- so close!!!) Left: Exiting the swim and moving through transition (photos courtesy of Finisherpix and 303Triathlon)

 

 

Transition was a blur, although I vividly recall running across what felt like broken glass all the way out to the bike mount line. Yowch!! Next time I’ll walk around transition in bare feet prior to the race to determine whether running in bike shoes might be quicker and less painful than tip-toeing barefoot over sharp chipseal.

 

Bike

 

Starting the bike leg with competitors in sight is always motivating. Boulder has several out and back sections on the rolling course, so it’s easy to keep tabs on the other racers as the day goes on.

 

I had two objectives for the bike course: 1) execute my fueling plan (which has been revised but practiced ad nauseum in training) and 2) stay in the game. Everyone has power and heart rate targets to give objective feedback during a strong but sustainable bike effort over 112 miles. But I also had my coach’s voice in the back of my mind saying, “Don’t wait for things to happen. MAKE them happen.”

 

It was with this resolution that I made some efforts to challenge the ladies around me- namely Sarah Jarvis and Kim Goodell. We all played a little leap-frog throughout the day. I’d push in a section where I felt particularly tenacious, and they’d answer down the road with a strong surge. This game of cat-and-mouse yielded some honest racing and kept me engaged throughout the bike leg.

Above: Moving for a pass on Kim Goodell (photo by 303Triathlon)

 

The rolling terrain was a true test of fitness and discipline on the bike. Pitchy climbs were peppered in with flat or descending sections that allowed for a little recovery and rhythm. Dan and I had driven the course a couple days prior, and he reminded me that when you’re heading west toward the hills you’re generally climbing, while easterly travel has you generally descending. This helped me adjust my effort and my speed expectations accordingly.

Photos above by Jeff Yingling, FinisherPix and 303Triathlon 

 

Just as I thought I’d gotten a good handle of where to push and where to recover, lap two presented new challenges: wind and heat. Boise gets relentless spring winds, so I’m no weenie when it comes to getting pushed around on the bike. But that second lap demanded focus and strength. We had a head/cross wind while riding toward the hills- which only amplifies the demoralization when you’re pushing through mile 80 of an Ironman! By this time the sun was high overhead, rapidly heating the air to the predicted 95 degree high of the day. Holding my target power became more difficult as my heart rate drifted upward. 

 

To accommodate these variables, I took a more conservative approach, slowing up at aid stations for plenty of fluids and spraying cool water in my helmet and over my back. It cost me some time and I lost contact with the couple ladies I was riding with. Despite this, I stuck with my plan and focused on what would set me up for the best run I could have on the day. And I was prepared to have a damn good run!

 

Run

One of the best things about racing in the pro field is that transition is a ghost town aside from some enthusiastic volunteers. A gaggle of uber efficient women welcomed me as soon as I hit the change tent. One of them, essentially the quarterback of the group (who reminded me of Melissa McCarthy) whisked my run bag out of my hand as I entered. She issued  commands to her comrades (and to me) as she deftly emptied my bag at my feet. Like a poker dealer, she started organizing all of my gear before I could protest: shoes, socks, visor, sunnies, nutrition, race belt and hydration bottle. One by one the ladies handed me my essentials, while offering sunscreen, ice, water…anything I needed. Aside from a brief moment where my sunglasses were broken and then miraculously fixed (and in which time one volunteer swiped her own off her face and offered them to me), the transition was methodical- and intense!

Photo by FinisherPix

 

I didn’t have time to over-analyze how I felt running out of the tent. I was so thankful for those volunteers that my spirits were high no matter what my legs happened to be saying in those first strides onto the run course.

 

The marathon was the portion of the race I’d been anticipating the most. My build for Ironman Boulder included the highest training volume I’ve ever managed in my pro career. It was a new adventure for me, and I approached the run with confidence, enthusiasm and fierceness unlike ever before.

 

That’s all well and good until you get off the bike after 6+ hours of racing and your legs feel like cinder blocks. I promised myself there would be no judgment about how I felt- as Coach continues to remind me, “You don’t have to feel good to be good.” I recall one fleeting moment in the first couple miles of the run when I thought, “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be happening.” Meaning, I felt crummy, the effort was much harder than I’d anticipated, and I was well off my eventual goal of a podium. As quickly as this destructive thought popped into my head, though, I shoved it aside, locking it away for good. This run was going to be on my terms, and without the peanut gallery of negativity intervening.

 

One of the smartest things I did that day was carry a bottle full of Clif Hydrate to be consumed within the first 4 miles of the run. Thanks to this suggestion from my coach, I had something constructive on which to focus. Every time I’d start to feel hot, or my legs would bark back at me, I’d take a swig from my bottle as if to reassure myself that I was doing somethingto counteract any negative physical feedback that is inevitable in an Ironman. I finished the bottle just after mile 4 and magically this is when I started to feel my stride come easier and my mind perk up a bit.

Photo by FinisherPix

I didn’t have time to over-analyze how I felt running out of the tent. I was so thankful for those volunteers that my spirits were high no matter what my legs happened to be saying in those first strides onto the run course.

 

The marathon was the portion of the race I’d been anticipating the most. My build for Ironman Boulder included the highest training volume I’ve ever managed in my pro career. It was a new adventure for me, and I approached the run with confidence, enthusiasm and fierceness unlike ever before.

 

That’s all well and good until you get off the bike after 6+ hours of racing and your legs feel like cinder blocks. I promised myself there would be no judgment about how I felt- as Coach continues to remind me, “You don’t have to feel good to be good.” I recall one fleeting moment in the first couple miles of the run when I thought, “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be happening.” Meaning, I felt crummy, the effort was much harder than I’d anticipated, and I was well off my eventual goal of a podium. As quickly as this destructive thought popped into my head, though, I shoved it aside, locking it away for good. This run was going to be on my terms, and without the peanut gallery of negativity intervening.

 

One of the smartest things I did that day was carry a bottle full of Clif Hydrate to be consumed within the first 4 miles of the run. Thanks to this suggestion from my coach, I had something constructive on which to focus. Every time I’d start to feel hot, or my legs would bark back at me, I’d take a swig from my bottle as if to reassure myself that I was doing somethingto counteract any negative physical feedback that is inevitable in an Ironman. I finished the bottle just after mile 4 and magically this is when I started to feel my stride come easier and my mind perk up a bit.

 

Just when I needed it most, I heard a shrill, familiar voice calling my name from the crowd. Sweet Stacy, with a set of pipes that are ten times her petite size, sang out cheers that cut through the chaotic crowd and forced an involuntary smile across my face. Does anyone remember the Care Bear Stare from their childhood days? That’s what it felt like. And I got a second dose of it just after the turnaround a few miles later.

 

 

By this time I had eyes on Kim Goodellas we entered the halfway point of the run. I had a new mission placed in front of me: to run her down. But damn- she was moving consistently and it took me over 5 miles to reel her in! 

 

On the out and back, I could also see Angela Naeth ahead and heard from course officials that I was in 5thplace. I’d assumed there had been some ladies dropping  out, as the placement didn’t add up based on the number of women I’d passed and my original placement called out by Michael at mile 6. At this point, though, it was a non-factor. I was focused on one thing only- digging out every last bit of fitness I had for this marathon. I continued to hear encouraging shouts from the crowd: “Looking STRONG!” and “You’re 30 seconds down from 4th place!”

 

Then at mile 20, a red-alert potty stop came knocking at my door. I had just passed an aid station and immediately regretted the decision, unsure if there was another one before the turnaround. Holy crap (pun intended) if I had to try to make it back to that other aid station to get relief I was in TROUBLE. As if on cue, I rounded another corner and saw a row of porta-potties. I had no choice but to stop.

 

Just as I made my way back onto the run course, I saw Kim rounding the corner. She’d caught me- literally! I felt like I’d been had. I know if I saw a competitor making a potty stop it would give me some added power to surge ahead. 

 

No Fear

From this point on I was running for broke. Kim was not fading into the distance and I’d lost some time on Angela in 4th just as I was spreading my wings. For those final 6 miles, I made the commitment to run with everything I had left. It was distinctly different from my historical Ironman mindset of “don’t give in.” Rather, I fought with every ounce of my being. I committed to running as hard as I could- fighting, digging and pushing- until my body physically gave out or I reached the finish (whichever came first!). Deep down, though, I knewmy body could handle it. I had no fear of the “what ifs.” Just utter confidence that my body would follow my brain’s commands.

 

It wasn’t until after I finished this race that I realized what was so different about those final miles. I’d executed the most demanding training block of my career in preparation for Ironman Boulder. Time and time again in training, I learned to not “think” my way out of executing another demanding training session. Rather, trust that your body will do what the mind tells it to do. Then just go DO IT. 

Photo by FinisherPix

 

The psychology of racing is not lost on me. I have gleaned some excellent self-talk and process-oriented mental tools through my years racing at the elite level. This time, I had a specific mantra- just five words- that I repeated all day (along with an earworm by Daya). Those five words came from conversations I’d had with my coach and specific concepts I worked to embody when the going got tough in my training. Sometimes I’d just repeat one word over and over until I felt it in my bones. Other times I’d repeat the five words in sequence to the rhythm of my footfalls or pedal strokes to keep me focused on the moment.

 

What was missing in previous races (besides a more refined fueling plan…hey, even the experts need some trial and error) was confidence in my core. Fitness and experience breeds confidence. I truly believed (and still believe) that through the demands of my training I could handle anything that the day threw my way. I did all the hard things in training so they didn’t seem insurmountable on race day.

In those closing miles of the marathon last Sunday, my deep belief that I could command my body to keep going was what resulted in a breakthrough performance for me. The marathon time is not a PR. The overall finish time isn’t a PR. Hell, I didn’t PR any leg that day! But it was a triumph in many ways, which is why I celebrate landing just short of the podium among good company in a solid field of very respectable women.

 

If you haven’t seen the video of my finish, I think it sums up my day perfectly: flying down the finisher’s chute, thanking the crowd with high fives and relishing my personal victory. 

 

Next up…

This weekend is Pacific Crest Beastman in Sunriver, Oregon. It is as close to a hometown race as I’ve got, and I’ll be gunning for a 4thconsecutive win there. No doubt I’ll have some great competition and an unknown level of fitness just two weeks post-Ironman. But I feel good, and I wouldn’t miss this race for anything! After a mid-season break, I’ll head back to Boulder for the 70.3 August 4th, then all sites set on Ironman Wisconsin September 9th. And right now my motivation is bursting at the seams!

 

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