June 11, 2017
Where to begin?
We did it. My brother Michael and I finished Ironman Boulder side by side in 14 hours 56 minutes and 39 seconds officially. This was his third Ironman finish and my first. My journey started specifically two years ago at the finish line of Ironman Boulder 2015 when Michael stated that he wanted to do his next one with me, but was truly fostered through our 35+ years of being brothers.
I arrived in Denver, CO about dinnertime Thursday, June 8, after a nice 14-hour drive from our sister’s house in Terre Haute, IN. Happy to be out of the driver’s seat and unpacked we walked downtown for a bite to eat and catch up. We decided to hold off on beers until after the race while I took in extra water to help acclimate coming from lower elevations. I had a slight headache from the altitude, but knew it would subside within a day or two.
Friday morning was relaxed and we started with a big breakfast at Syrup downtown Denver, blueberry pancakes and an egg omelet with all the fixings. Friday was also day 1 of the 2 day check-in process. We made sure we had our ID’s and USA Triathlon cards with us and proceeded to Boulder High School. Check-in was easy and smooth; double-checking emergency contacts, pick-up timing chips, swim caps and a nice goodie bag backpack for all competitors. We took some time to visit all the vendors whom were setup and bought some Ironman swag while we waited for one of the mandatory athlete meetings to start at 11am. The meeting lasted an hour while we baked in the 95-degree temps. We were both glad to have put on sunscreen available at one of the booths. At the meeting we learned of the unusual record breaking heat Boulder had been experiencing and that the reservoir water temps had climbed from 69 to 73 degrees within the last day. This was putting the thought to be guaranteed wetsuit legal swim into question (cut-off temperature is 76.1-degrees). Making peace with that news, I was swimming 2.4 miles Sunday morning regardless; a wetsuit just makes it easier. No sense in worrying about things I cannot control. After the meeting we walked into downtown for lunch and found a trendy pizza place.
Before heading back we decided to drive the bike course to have a look at the turns, ups and downs. We’d be doing three 36-mile loops before an additional spur lead us back into town for T2 at Boulder High School. The course looked fun; a couple of uphills, two fast downhill sections with S-turns along with a good dose of flat to rolling hillside with great views of the Rockies. I was psyched to get on my bike and ride.
Back in Denver we hit up the grocery store for the weekends food allotment. We planned to cook and eat in until after the race while we stayed off our feet. Now back at Michael’s apartment we started to organize our transition bags; one for swim to bike and another for bike to run. Helmet stickers, bike stickers, bike shoes, run shoes, socks, body glide, wetsuits, goggles, sunglasses, jerseys, shorts, Clifbar’s, gels, Bloks, everything we planned or thought we planned to use on Sunday. While doing so, I went over to my bike and grabbed the breaks. Well that’s funny, the rear brake lever easily slammed all the way to the bars. I tried a couple more times without the characteristic resistance of the brake actuating. I picked up the bike and spun the rear wheel and grabbed the break, it eventually slowed down, but it was effectively not effective.
I looked at the time, 6:30pm, and asked Michael what the nearest bike shop was; Turin was his reply, the best in town. I knew it was a long shot phone call, but I proceeded and they confirmed they couldn’t help in the short amount of time, which I understood. Michael and I had a good laugh as I said wasn’t planning on using the breaks anyway; the goal is to ‘Go’ not ‘Stop’. Thankfully the front break still worked and the bike is my best event and where I feel most comfortable, adapt and ride on.
Saturday morning we loaded our bikes and transition bags into my car and drove out to the Boulder Reservoir to drop our bikes and first transition bag. We were also able to walk down by the waters edge to get a look at the swim start and feel the water temps. I remember years ago when I’d look across open water and thought about swimming any of it. Anxiety and nervousness would quickly follow. Today I looked across and felt calm. Training had prepared me well.
Over to Boulder High School for our T2 bike to run transition bag drop-off, lunch at Panera Bread and back to Denver to relax. Our stage was set. We made chicken and pasta for dinner while planning our 2:30am alarms. We lay down at 8pm for the night.
I was happy to have slept well until our alarms went off. Michael hit the shower and I made my oatmeal breakfast with fruit and nuts. With most of our gear already stationed we didn’t have much to gather in the morning. We did double check that we had our timing chips, goggles and swim caps. Not much traffic at 3:30am and we easily found a parking spot before the short 3 block walk to the shuttles which would take us to the reservoir. We were both glad to have at the last minute grabbed sweatshirts, morning temps were about 60-degrees.
At the reservoir we received our body-markings, black marker numbers on each arm and our age on the right calf. Next it was to our bikes to fill the tires to our required pressures, I rode at 100 psi, and to add last minute gels and water bottles. Afterwards a quick time check showed 5am, we got through everything way faster than we anticipated, but we felt good to have extra time rather than rushed. We found and area to stretch and relax before donning our wetsuits at 5:45a. Wetsuits on, cap and goggles in hand, timing chip on the left ankle, we were ready. We gave our morning clothes bags to the designated volunteers as we made our way to the swim start, lining up behind the 1:30-1:40 projected swim sign.
BOOM. The start cannon sounded the start of the pro men’s group at 6:05a, the pro women started at 6:10a. We age-groupers started filing in the water at 6:20a, Michael and I hit the water about 6:35a, we had begun. Yellow buoys were on our left. I stayed more to the right to avoid the start line congestion. I worked to stay smooth and relaxed, but likely started faster than planned due to adrenaline and other people being around, I’m slightly competitive. A couple of breaststroke strokes to recover and I was back into rhythm towards the first red turn buoy. It felt like it took forever to reach that first turn buoy but I made it there without much trouble. The water was cloudy but clean.
Around the left turn buoy I was beginning to need to pee. I flipped over on my back to try and relieve myself but it didn’t help. I kept swimming and holding it in. Soon the buoys changed from yellow to orange, designating the second half of the swim. I couldn’t hold it any longer and found a kayaks bow to hold onto while I took the most refreshing pee ever. I thanked him and got back to swimming with renewed energy. Our second and last turn buoy came quickly and now my sights were on the white change tents and swim finish. I was really feeling in the groove now and even though it looked close I knew to not get too excited. I had a few leg and calf cramps, but was able to deal with them without interrupting my stroke too much. I could hear Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, calling out names as people exited the water. Soon, I was one of those names, I looked down at my watch, 1:37, holy shit that was faster than I expected.
Goggles and cap off first and then pulled the wetsuit off my shoulders down to my waist. At the top of the boat ramp we sat down on the grass as 2-3 volunteers helped strip the wetsuit the rest of the way off and handed it back to me. I found my transition bag, Michael’s was already gone (he’s a better swimmer and finished in 1:17), and walked into the changing tent. I toweled off my face and feet, put socks and bike shoes on, put my cycling jersey on, sunglasses and helmet. A quick application of chamois butt’r and I was out. I stopped at volunteers for sunscreen; face, arms, legs, low back. A couple more turns and to my bike, lift the rack to remove my bike (tall guy problems) and continued my walk to the bike mount line. Total T1 time: 9:45.
Now I’m in my comfort zone. It began with a downhill role to a left turn out of the park and then a short out of the saddle climb before settling into first false-flat steady climb of the day. Those first 6-8 miles could be disheartening because it didn’t look like you were climbing, but if you relaxed on the pedals you would quickly come to a stop. Knowing I had some leg cramps in the water told me to drink water and take some sodium tablets. I also opened into one of my Clifbar’s to start biting at it. After the climb, a short fast downhill followed as I dodged those with less confidence in their bike handling ability. In the flats was our first aid station and I grabbed a fresh Gatorade endurance and water bottles, something I would do at every aid station I passed. Ironman is great, I only need to slow down to 10-15 mph, call out what I need and a volunteer gets it for me on the move. Old bottles are tossed to the side.
The second climb of the day was a touch longer and steeper. I remained relaxed as I pedaled past a few others giving ‘hellos’ and encouragement as I went. This took us to mile 30. The next downhill was fun; steeper, longer and with a blind rollover S-curve. It looks like I topped out at 45-50mph each lap on this one. Roads were smooth so I stayed on the aerobars and let it roll. The remaining 6 miles back to the reservoir were flat to rolling but I had nice views of the still snow-capped Rockies. I kept an eye out for Long’s Peak a place and climb I wish to return to soon, but that will be another trip.
Back in the reservoir area and through the bike start archway. Lots of family and friends remained to cheer us on and listen to the band playing next to the race course. People were everywhere on the course; holding signs, ringing cowbells, giving encouragement and cracking jokes. Some even set up stereos playing music for us. It was amazing and extremely helpful to have so many out in support. Thank you. I also remember seeing almost just as many people out biking on their own as were doing the Ironman. Just incredible and something you never see here in Ohio. Active people are awesome.
It was on the second climb of my second lap when I first spotted Michael. No rush, I’ll get to him soon enough, and midway up I did. I gave him some encouragement and told him I’d see him on the run soon. He later remembers thinking I made the bike look too easy as I continued to pass him and others. But I say the same to him in the other disciplines.
It wasn’t long and I was again going through the bike start archway a second time and beginning my third lap. I was continuing to ride well but again knew not to get too aggressive because I still have marathon to get through after this. I was happy that the climbs didn’t feel any more challenging on lap 3 as they did on lap one, a good indication to me that I fueled and paced myself correctly. By mile marker 100, my butt was ready to off the bike seat and I did my second stop of the ride for a pee break.
The last leg of the bike route was on the bike path back into downtown Boulder and ultimately to the high school. Here some guys were complaining that the bike leg was actually 114 miles and not 112, yes it would have been nice to stop 2 miles sooner but I was happy to be on new roads with all the twists and turns and people cheering us on. I crossed the bike dismount after 6 hours 17 minutes. Wow, that was the awesome. I averaged 18.1 mph for the duration and I still felt strong.
We walked to the bike handoff and volunteers helped us gather our transition bags before heading into the change tent. Another volunteer was with me the entire time and helped organize the bike gear I removed while asking if I needed anything extra, these people are simply amazing. Shoes, race number and DS visor on, I added some Vaseline to my nipples and inner thighs to prevent any chafing. Outside the tent I again stopped for sunscreen to the top of my head, neck, arms, legs and low back. A quick cup of water and I was out of T2 in just over 7 minutes.
Starting the run I was happy that my energy levels were continuing to remain high. Smooth through mile 1 and grabbed water/Gatorade at the first aid station shortly after. My plan was to consume fluids and fruit at each aid station approximately every 1.5-2 miles on the run. I continued this run walk through mile 3 and then felt a gut bomb that needed released and walked to the aid station port-a-john at mile 4. A nice 10-minute sitdown while I contemplated the chances of Michael passing me while I sat there and I was good to go, feeling much better. It wasn’t long after that I did see Michael heading out towards mile-3 and 4, he would be catching me soon.
I was run/walking at this point because my feet were starting to hurt, not a bad hurt, just hot from the days work and my quads were likewise talking to me. I again saw Michael about mile-6/7 in another area the course folded back on itself. My run/walks were becoming shorter and shorter runs, down to 100yds at a time in some places. This continued through mile-10 and then I made the decision to just walk. I have plenty of daylight and time to get to the finish line well under the 17-hour cutoff.
At between mile-11/12 I looked back to see Michael approaching and he did by mile-12. He was happy to catch me and walk along side. He didn’t realize I spent some time in the port-a-john and thought he’d catch me a bit sooner, but we caught him up on the race details as we power walked. And power walked we did, maintaining a steady 15-minute mile pace, only slowing at aid stations to continue the planned fluid and nutrient intake. We also were taking a pee break about every third aid station as well. Chips became Michael’s best friend as I stuck with bananas and orange slices. I picked up salt along the way as well and feel this is something I need to greatly increase the next time.
Our brisk walk continued as we talked about our individual races up to this point. We also reminisced about Michael’s first Ironman in Louisville, KY 2013. It’s still the one the proudest big brother moments I’ve experienced. He looked like death on the run but kept moving forward, never stopping, never questioning his ability to finish. I followed nearby on my bike for hours keeping watch and giving encouragement. He finished in an incredible 15:02. Now he was repaying the favor, staying with me through the finish line.
Spirits remained high as we continued our walk and the miles ticked away. Before long we passed mile marker 20 and were within 10k of the finish. It was also around this time my chest was feeling fatigued, not high around my heart (but thank you nurses’ mom and sister Kasha I was paying attention) but more around my diaphragm and ribs. For the first time all day I was starting to have perception of the altitude. It would increase with slight inclines, but never truly dissipate. Our paces slowed to 16-minute/mile but soon rounded the final turn and were headed for the finish line. The place was lit up and packed with fans. We began to jog again, energized by the crowds. Mike Reilly saw the Durniat brothers approaching and announced it as so. We started this race side by side and now 14 hours and 56 minutes later we would finish it side by side. Awesome.
Would I do it again? Absolutely, just give me a few weeks to recover from this one. Nothing is yet planned but Michael and I have already talked about Ironman Lake Placid, NY in the coming years.