The whole weekend was an unforgettable experience; one I will take with me the rest of my life. Let's break it down starting with Thursday.
The original plan called for me to fly out to Minnesota to help my friends, the wonderful Kris and Mark, fly out to Colorado to cheer us on. I was going to assist them in this venture because I was having them travel on buddy passes. That meant they were non-revving out to Colorado. Non-revving is great in the fact that you pay a very cheap amount for an airplane ticket. It sucks in the fact you fly standby. If the flight is full, you go nowhere. Being that this is nothing short of nerve racking and can be downright traumatic, I planned on going out there to help them with the process.
Problem is, I couldn't get to Minnesota. A late afternoon thunderstorm shut down the western arrival corridors for Denver and my flight was massively delayed. Being that I was already going to get very little sleep, this would only increase that. I decided to make the prudent decision to stay behind and instead gave Kris and Mark all the instructions for non-revving step by step. I closed off the phone call with instructions to call me in the morning no matter what. Either they would get on or they wouldn't. It was up to the fates to decide.
I was awoken at an ungodly hour by Kris, telling me they were in line to get on the plane. Even in my sleepy state, I was elated. They made it. On a flight that was ridiculously oversold, they still made it. T woke up and we contemplated going back to sleep, but were too excited to see our friends! We got dressed, ate some breakfast, and headed for the airport. As our timing was, we were planning on just picking them up, but since they had to be vectored around from the north to the south to land facing north, I instead could meet them at the gate. I breezed through security and found their arrival gate. Very shortly after I got there, they emerged from the airplane. I think they were surprised to see me. We walked to the exit where T was waiting. While walking, they told me that most aircraft coming into Denver were diverting to Cheyenne or Colorado Springs. It almost seemed like destiny that they made it.
We drove to 303 Coffee so Mark could do his work for the morning. While Kris and Mark caught up on their day jobs, T and I drove to the new Ikea so we could try their breakfast. It was definitely a 4 dollar plate of eggs and bacon, that's for sure. Nothing good about it, really.
Back at the coffee shop, Mark finished up, so we decided to do a bit of geocaching before we could check them into their hotel. We also gave them a tour of the house.
After they got settled into their room, we hit the town for a tour of Denver. We had about 4 hours before our softball game, so we toured Denver, got some ice cream at Bonnie Brae, and geocached some more. It definitely kept the mood light, having our friends in town!
T and I played softball and lost like 8 kabillion to 2. We finished up the evening with some more caching and then dropped them off at the hotel for the night. We promised to meet up in the morning for the race expo.
We were hungry so we went to get some dinner at Fox and Hound. We met up with a friend, but didn't chat long with him. After dinner, we worked our way home where we crashed. We were excited for the next day, so we decided to get some rest.
We actually slept in a bit on Saturday. After waking up, we headed over to the hotel to mooch free continental breakfast. :-)
Eaten, we began the trek to Boulder for the race expo. In addition to packet pickup, we would have to listen to some race rules and get lots of opportunities to buy stuff. The 5430 Sprint Tri did a great job with their expo, so I was looking forward to this one.
When we got up there, the first thing we saw was the parking lot was jammed full. Turns out that morning there was an IronKids event. There was also an insane amount of 140.6 stickers, 70.3 stickers, and 26.2 stickers on the cars. Yeah, we were definitely in the big leagues of races.
All 4 of us were planning on taking a lot of pictures and documenting our experience as much as possible. I also started feeling a bit more focused. Unintentional focus, but it was happening for sure. While Kris and Mark checked out some of the sponsor tents, T and I headed to registration. The volunteers at registration were very nice and helpful. I picked up my packet and got one of those cool bags that you hold on your back with the strings. I have wanted one of those for awhile, but only if it had the MDot on it.
After we got registered, we met up with Kris and Mark and toured the rest of the expo. We saw quite a bit of fun stuff. While they visited with Gypsy Runner, T and I hit the store to browse. T had won 50 dollars from a contest Kris and Mark were holding for their new race company, UpTempo Race Management, so she was picking out some various swag that would be purchased for her. :-) While she was browsing that, I listened to the race briefing. Apparently, back in the day, this race was actually a 140.6 course, with the bike taking you all the way to Fort Collins. Eeeeek! I also heard that Andy Potts would be at the PowerBar tent signing autographs. I never need an autograph, but the opportunity to meet Andy and get a picture was too good to pass up. I told T about this and we agreed she would get her stuff and we'd head over there.
When we got there, Andy had just gotten there. He stood up to greet us, and I told him no autograph was necessary; all we wanted was a picture. He took a picture with each camera and then chatted with us for a few minutes about the race. He gave a couple tips that we definitely came away with. Most pleasant individual.
We finished by grabbing a picture up on the stage, the same stage where the race winners would have their press conference after they won.
With everything essentially wrapped up at the expo, we headed out to take Kris and Mark on a drive up Old Stage Road, the road T rode on for the Boulder Peak Triathlon and mercifully, the road I missed since I was flying. We were all in awe of how steep the grade was of this road and again, I was thankful I avoided this in a tri. After that, the drive back down to our house to pack up everything. First though, we had to do a pre-race ritual: sushi at Charlie's.
I got a new transition bag for my birthday, the same model I got T, just a different color. I was blown away at how huge this thing was and how it could hold everything I needed. We made sure we had everything, then attempted to load the bikes into the car. To fit all of us + all our crap, we'd have to take both tires off both bikes. Melon doesn't like to have the wheels taken off of it, so doing this was going to have to involve all of us. Thankfully, Mark and Kris both seem to be bike technicians, so this process went smoothly and efficient.
The car loaded, we headed downtown to do a bit more caching and show Mark Falling Rock, which is essentially any beer fan's heaven. There's a picture somewhere of him just mouth gaping looking at the wall of bottles. Hysterical. T got root beer, I had a Somersault, and Mark had something. Kris had wine, I think a merlot? It helped that she was telling us all weekend to ingest calories!
We worked our way to the hotel in Boulder. After checking in, we decided to grab a quick bite at an IHOP. I thought getting something to go would be brilliant, since I do really well on breakfast food and was thinking I could just microwave some eggs in the morning as well as some bacon.
After dinner, we chatted a bit, then all crashed. The morning would come soon.
I swear, no one bolts out of bed excited for a race. All 4 of us kind of did this staggering out of bed thing. I quickly got dressed and microwaved my scrambled eggs and bacon. TOTAL disaster. The eggs were rubbery and the bacon tasted really salty. Nevertheless, I needed something in my stomach, so I forced it down. I also tossed on my headphones and iPod. I have a pump-up playlist that I like to listen to.
While we were putting our stuff in the car, I realized I forgot my Gatorade in the fridge. I ran back upstairs to get it. Safely with my hydration tools, we headed to the res, with a quick stop for gas. Kris and Mark grabbed coffee.
At the res, we parked the car with plenty of room to maneuver it out. We pulled the bikes out, and in the darkness, assembled them back together. Thank you again, mechanically inclined friends! Kris had joked that she and Mark would be carrying our stuff to transition; I didn't realize she was serious. Mark offered to carry my stuff but I declined. T had her bike wheeled in by Kris.
When we got to transition, I quickly got set up. This gets easier every time, I promise. I quickly got body marked and of course got the smiley on my leg. Filled up my water bottles. Added gels as appropriate to my bento box and my race belt. T and I met up and found Kris and Mark outside transition. We told them we needed to hit the porta-potties and would find them after.
The porta-potty line was ridiculously long. Not surprising. After we finished, we found Kris and Mark and chatted for a couple minutes. We took a spin around the outside of the trans area, looking at some pros and their bikes. Then we got into our wet suits, at least 1/2 of them, and headed out of transition. No turning back now!
The male pros were scheduled to go off at 6:30 am and the female pros were scheduled to go off at 6:33. Because Boulder has a noise ordinance in effect until 7:00 am, the national anthem was real quiet. I got to yell SIOUX! though so that made me happy. We saw the male pros and female pros go off, then our group just talked, working the jitters out. T decided to go for her warm-up swim. Since I was going 25 minutes after her wave, I held off, not wanting to get too cold too early.
She was done and found her spot in her swim wave. After some good luck hugs from our cheer squad, she headed towards the water. I decided to stay with her as long as possible and then get into the water to see her off. At precisely 7:05 her wave left and off she went on her first 1/2 Ironman adventure! I cheered, then headed back up the beach to talk with my motivators. I told them I was going to warm up in the water, which I did.
Now I had about 10 minutes until my wave went off. Kris and Mark talked some strategy with me one last time, and I hugged them. For the thousandth time, I thanked them for their generosity in coming out for our event. Words could not express how thankful I was. And still can't, to this day. We also saw what was going to be the first DNF of the day, as one of the swimmers got towed back. It was a unfortunate reminder of what lay ahead.
In my wave, the M25-29, it was quiet. The race announcer said so. He told us one of the guys in our wave was proposing at the finish, so we clapped for him. Then the countdown began and off we went! My 1/2 Ironman was officially underway!
My plan for the swim was profoundly simple and yet somewhat complicated. I'm not the fastest guy in my age group by any means; I'm not the slowest either. I usually start in the back of my wave; only to overtake many of the men, sometimes causing me to swim over them. I decided this race I was going to start more in the middle. The strategy seemed to work, as my start was smooth and seamless. No getting hit early on, so I thought that was really good.
However, early on, somebody who switched to backstroke corked me on my funny bone, causing me to have to shake it out. That wasn't too big of a deal, even though it definitely surprised me and gave me something to think about.
One of the things that amazed me during the swim was the amount of people that weren't crawling. I mean, this isn't some sprint triathlon where you show up and do what you want. This is a 1/2 Ironman! You better be able to move through the water quickly and efficiently! I pondered that as I made the first turn around the far buoy.
By now, I was settled into a great pace and was feeling amazing. Then I made the worst mistake a swimmer could make; I looked at my watch. Why I did this, I don't understand. I am angry at myself to this moment for doing it. I know better than that! Of course, once I checked my time, I started wondering how far I was, how much time I had left, etc. I had essentially my first mental breakdown of the day. Thankfully, it was a minor one and didn't cause me to slow down at all.
When I made the 2nd turn, it hit me how many people I was passing. I was passing waves that started 10, 15 minutes ahead of me. Sure, I saw some white caps passing me, but overall, I was moving through the water at a pretty good clip. More importantly, I wasn't tired or slowing down, and that meant I would have a lot of energy on the ride and run.
I emerged from the water and began the task of stripping down to my waist. I also removed my swim cap and goggles. Almost immediately, I saw Kris and Mark. I smiled knowing I had a huge amount of support. I began lightly running to transition to begin the 56 mile bike course.
T1 and the bike
One of the funny things about triathlon, at least in this guy's opinion, is how much the newbies are preached to practice transition. I get why; your first transition is hectic with all the equipment and limbs flying everywhere. However, it's one of those things that even the best triathlete isn't going to be able to truly master, and really, for an average age-grouper like myself, it isn't going to matter.
T1 for me, is all about catching my breath. It's about making sure my head is in the right place. Making sure I don't forget anything for the bike. I don't want to rush T1 ever, because I know what can happen when I do. I also took a salt tablet.
After I made sure I was ready, I took my bike down and off I went to the bike out. I saw Kris and Mark again and they wished me good luck. Like that, I was up and in the saddle. 56 miles of riding to go.
The first few miles were very similar to the 5430 Sprint Triathlon. Very gradual elevation gain, but still an opportunity to get some speed under your belt. I spent the first few minutes on the bike just getting my legs under me. In the 5430 tri, I cramped up nearly immediately on the bike and spent the whole ride fighting it. I was determined to not let that happen to me this time around.
I spent some time debating on my nutrition and hydration plan. I planned on sucking down a lot of Gatorade for the sodium content. However, I knew from my previous long ride that if I was going to not bonk, I would have to ingest a lot of water too. So for planning purposes, I brought my aero bottle and a disposable water bottle. At the first aid station, my plan was to grab a water and toss it on my bike. I would ditch the disposable at the aid station. And at about mile 10, the first aid station was in sight. I stuck to my plan, and had my first true hydration of the day.
For the record, they lied to us. They said it would be uphill for the first 9 miles. Yeah, try the first 12! Ugh! It was definitely a grind. By the time you get to the point where you want to go downhill, you're beatdown, withered, and in desperate need of a pick-me-up. Well, who better to provide it then the two greatest supporters in race history??? :-) Kris and Mark were right there, to cheer me on. These two were so friggin' fantastic, it's unreal. Seriously. After seeing them, it was the boost I needed for sure, right before an amazing downhill stretch.
The downhill stretch was great. I got into the 40+mph range and quite frankly, just enjoyed myself. Sure enough, a few miles later, there were Kris and Mark AGAIN!
I should point something out at this point. We're called Team Baby Dino in honor of me making dinosaur noises when I'm cranky or frustrated, but also because we have two stuffed baby dinosaur children named Ivan and Nelson. Most people kind of look at us weird when they hear we have dino children. Kris and Mark embraced our children! They took them with and had them cheering at every stop along the way. Seeing our little babies along with our friends was a pick-me-up to the nth degree.
Somewhere in the 20 mile stretch, a guy commented how he loved my smiley face on my leg. I told him he was welcome and off he went. It was nice to hear, and there wasn't a shortage of atta boys going around on the course. Something I haven't really experienced in a tri in the past, so to hear that was just awesome. I also saw Kris and Mark for the third time. I at this point had to say something, so I think I just yelled that they were the greatest or something.
Andy Potts gave us some critical advice the day before about the bike course. He said that first loop is fast and great. He said in the 23-26 mile point, start relaxing a bit, stretch your legs, drink some water, and prepare yourself mentally, because you're going to have to go out again. And it's tough to do. So that's exactly what I did. Mentally, I told myself that I was near the 1/2way point, but still had a long way to go. I was proud of myself up to this point, but still had a lot of work to do.
The 2nd loop was exactly as Andy described. I thought of it as the grind. The meat and potatoes. The Coach Troy. This was where my character and mental capacity would be tested. On the gradual uphill, my speed was a little slower and you could tell fatigue was starting to set in a bit. Also, I had taken in too much Gatorade and not enough water, so I vowed until the last aid station that all I would drink was water.
I saw Kris and Mark three more times, and actually had a comical moment at the last time. I thought one of my tires was potentially running flat, so I slowed down and asked Kris if I was running flat. She looked at my tires and said I was good to go. Later, I learned she didn't know that was me at all! Hehe. I also caught up to T on the back stretch. We chatted without drafting somehow and she told me to press on and she would catch up to me. I told her to take it slow and not worry about it; if she did we would run together.
On the 2nd loop, I took in my nutrition. At about mile 40 I ingested the Snickers bar I brought for energy. I also ate a gel early in the 2nd loop.
Coming back into the res, we dealt with an enormous amount of traffic due to everyone trying to come back in to see the finish of the race, or at least us age groupers. I kept my composure and balance and made it back in. While I was racking my bike I saw T come in, so she had an amazing run in the 2nd half of the 2nd loop. I was all set for the run; I quick re-sunscreened, grabbed my handheld water bottle, and T and I left transition together. 13.1 miles to go!
It was obvious early on that T was struggling on the run. It was definitely very hot and while I was up for running very slow, she couldn't do it. I was fearing she had bonked, but she pressed on like a champ. We agreed that the best thing to do at this point was put our feet forward and move. We ran every now and then, but for the most part, we just walked it. The sun only got hotter.
At every aid station, I was ingesting water. I was also taking in sponges and dumping ice in my hat. It was like running in hell.
T and I both realized somewhere around mile 4 that if we were going to finish this race, it would A: have to be together and B: it would be mostly walking. She wasn't going to be able to finish on her own; something went wrong with her nutrition and she was falling apart. She needed me for support and I was willing to give it to her. Knowing that we had many hours to finish and still call ourselves 1/2 Ironmen, I was more then happy to do it.
When we came in to the halfway point, we saw Kris and Mark. Mark said something about how he'd never be out here in this heat so the fact we were was completely awesome. Kris told us at this point, just keep moving. Do what it takes.
On the 2nd loop of the run, I started falling apart. The sun was really getting to me. At one aid station early on, they actually soaked my hat in ice water for me. It dried by the time we got to the next aid station a mile away.
However, we were optimistic. We knew that we were going to be 1/2 Ironmen at this point. T actually showed me some signs of life, being able to run a bit here and there for sporadic moments. I kept up with her for the most part and at around mile 11, we finalized our plans. T would go in about 2 minutes ahead of me so she would be there for me at the finish line.
The last aid station showed the harsh reality of what we were dealing with. There were like 2 people working it, most of the stuff was taken down, and it was essentially self service. This frustrated both of us, but we dealt. We also saw some EMT's on the course as well as Ironman officials. They asked us if we were on our first loop or 2nd. When we said 2nd, they said congratulations. That felt good. I knew now, since we were at mile 12, we would do it. It was all over soon. :-)
Coming into the finish, T went ahead of me, and I told her I'd see her at the finish. Just ahead of me, an age grouper needed 3 people to run with him to the finish because he was struggling that bad. I started congratulating myself a bit. When I made the turn, I didn't see Kris and Mark, but I heard my name mentioned and something about being welcomed to the Ironman family. I walked in, raised my hand to the finish sign, and stepped on the timing mat. My 70.3 ordeal was over, and I was officially a member of the Ironman family!
I got my medal placed around my neck, a soaking wet hat (mercifully) and a bottle of water. I collapsed in T's arms and started crying. The emotion of the day, the grinding out of training, the harsh reality of what I had just gone through was too much and I let it out for a few minutes. After that, Kris and Mark, as well as T's parents came over with hugs and congratulations.
We went to the food area to eat some pizza and soda (anything tastes good after that) and then hit transition to get our stuff together. This time, I let Mark wheel my bike to the car. :-)
The reality of it all, a week later, is that I did something that so little of the population has done. A 1/2 Ironman. 70.3 miles. I trained well, I trained hard. Things went about as predicted for the race. However, having the two greatest cheerleaders in the world there for us was a huge boost of morale that you cannot get no matter how hard you train. Again, Kris and Mark were absolutely fantastic, and I vow T and I will provide them the same service that they provided us that day. You two are amazing. :-)
Kris also provided me with the most important information at some point over the weekend, which I will carry with me the rest of my life. She told me that I have to trust my training on race day. She said you trained and trained well and on race day, you have to trust that it was good enough. She was right.