I hope everyone enjoyed the daily video reports from Boulder leading up to and after the Ironman event. This being my 4thIronman I didn’t want to take one moment for granted because the reality is that you never know if it could be your last. Believe it or not, I’m usually pretty introverted leading up to a competition because the more you put yourself out there in public, the more pressure it seems you put on yourself when all eyes are upon you. But even though this is an individualistic sport, we can’t forget that what we are doing may inspire others that are watching or hearing about it, without even knowing it. Whether someone has the aspirations to do an Ironman, a 5K run or anything in between for the first time, what we do and how we do it may change a person’s life. Six years ago when an office colleague of mine asked if I’d like to do a 5K, I looked at him almost in disgust! Little did I know those words would change the course of my health and my life. So share what you do with everyone. Be proud of what you have accomplished and are trying to accomplish. You aren’t showing off as much as you are showing others who you are and how living healthy has changed, or is changing, your life.
When I signed up to do IM Boulder I knew my biggest challenge would be overcoming the altitude affect and the elevation on the bike and run courses. I could train for elevation, relatively speaking, but there was really nothing I could do for altitude affect; except maybe buy those silly looking training masks. But altitude affect is a product of your blood and not so much your lungs. So I took the risk of doing an event where I wasn’t in control over a very important aspect of the outcome. Little did I know the other huge factor we never have control over, the weather, would play even a bigger role in the outcome.
As most of you were able to see from my videos, I did have trouble breathing in Boulder, especially for the first 4 days. There’s also this funny feeling you get that I can’t explain. You just feel off inside; it’s strange and hard to shake. I thought I did a great job acclimating myself the best I could by going up in the mountains on walks, so when I came back down to Boulder elevation it didn’t seem so bad. Lots of yawning (lack of oxygen), tired, stuffy nostrils (bleeding), soar throat and chapped lips from the dry air. Other than that….it was perfect! Honestly…it didn’t seem that bad and it absolutely didn’t bother me one bit leading up to the event. I didn’t drink alcohol all week (kill me now…beer town!) and I drank water with electrolytes all the time. Half of my visit I spent in bathrooms! What concerned me most was my practice swim 2 days before the event. Boulder Reservoir, wet suit on, not a lot of people, low stress and when I started swimming I couldn’t breathe properly. It was like breathing through a straw. I had to pop up out of Free to Breast and catch my breath several times. I finished the 800-yard practice swim and my confidence level had quickly lowered. I had heard if you’re not used to altitude, the swim gets people every time. They say there’s a method to blowing the air out under water and sucking the air in above. I don’t know, but there was no time to learn something new….so I was concerned. People take the swim for granted but it truly sets you up for success on the bike and run. Wear yourself out too much on the swim, especially in an IM, and you are going to have a long day…or a very short one. So at that point I spoke with my coach and he said don’t worry about the swim time. Take it super easy and we can make up time on the bike and run. The day before the event the weather report forecasted 90 degree weather during the height of the day; part of the bike and all of the run. At the Ironman athlete meeting they actually announced that they shipped in extra ice and that they would provide athletes a cold towel on the run out and a sock filled with ice at mile 5 that we could refill at aid stations throughout the run. As nice as that was to hear, I knew my aspirations of a PR were in jeopardy. The bottom line is, hot weather slows you down considerably, unless you train in hot weather. Well, we live in Florida but most of us don’t train from noon to 2pm in the summer months. We should, but we don’t. So I let those that are close to me know that I wasn’t going to jeopardize finishing this event by not being disciplined enough to know when to slow down and survive if the heat was just too overwhelming.
Woke up at 2:30am to get ready. Needed to leave the house at 3:15am to get to Boulder High School where all athletes were to park, drop off special needs bags and catch a school bus beginning at 4am to Boulder Reservoir where transition opened at 4:30am. Transition was at the Reservoir this year and you could only get there via athlete bus rides. The finish line was in downtown Boulder near the High School. These are all things we take for granted when preparing for an event. So I had to eat my breakfast at 3am, take my vitamins, drink liquids, and pray that my normal “bathroom” activity would be on time before the start of the event. YES! First victory of the day did happen before I left the house! We (my Sherpa Bill and I) were on the 2ndof about 30 buses, and made it to transition at 4:30am. Pumped my tires, set up nutrition on the bike and did my walk-through of swim exit, grab bike gear, run to changing tent, run to bike, bike out, bike in, grab run gear, run to changing tent, run out. Done! Checked bike again in transition and stared at it for a while like we all do, spoke to some athletes and left transition to walk towards the swim start. Time to put on the wetsuit, which is no small task. Sometimes it takes an army to zip mine up. I needed a 5 min practice swim but it was all the way on the other side of the park. Really, it wasn’t convenient so I skipped the practice swim. Gave Bill a hug goodbye and walked in swim start.
Rolling swim start, which means you seed yourself in line with athletes based on your anticipated swim time. Similar to run corals with pace setters. I stood by the volunteer with the 1:20 – 1:30 sign, and it seemed like forever before the start. That’s the only issue with getting everything done early; you wait. But I’d rather do that than panic late and have to push athletes out of the way to get to my swim spot like many did. Pro’s go off at 6:15am. Age Group athletes begin at 6:30am. As I stood there and talked to and watched other athletes, I needed to go to the bathroom. Nerves, drinks, and cold air…you get it. I am in my wet suit so that’s ok right? I just didn’t want to be the only one standing in a puddle. Not many athletes looked like they did a practice swim and they were standing in a puddles. So, why not? Don’t judge me! I then realized, I had slight digestive gas or maybe worse…but I wasn’t going to trust what was going on…if you catch my drift, so I held it. That worried me because those issues don’t go away. They gradually get worse. Ok…pros are off and then the National Anthem. Weird they let the pros off and then play our National Anthem. Don’t they need the inspiration and blessings from our Country like Age Groupers do? Probably the worst sung Anthem I’ve heard but nevertheless, I shed a tear. How blessed am I to be standing here getting ready to do this in the greatest Country in the world and arguable the most beautiful State. Our line moved toward the water like a herd of cattle and the famous IM announcer, Mike Reilly, was high fiving athletes, me included! As I touched the water I realized I haven’t even set my watch to triathlon mode! Come on Nick! Boom…I slothed in the water. Take it easy Nick! Real slow! I did…nice and calmly. But there were a ton of people around me and go figure…people in front seeded themselves too fast so now I’m stuck in the back of them while people are all over the side and back of me. So naturally I pop up to breathe and calmed down, and slowly pushed people out of the way. I actually felt under control. There were a few more pop-ups but for the most part I fell into a rhythm and took it easy. Three quarters of the way through I fell into another traffic jam so I drafted a bit behind a guy who was going about my speed. But on the side of us was a girl who I swear was doing kick drills. Every time my face came out of the water to breath the splash of her feet went in my mouth. Near the end of the swim I sped up like everyone usually does. I could hear the announcer and the crowd. Excited to get out of the water and now running T1 through my mind. Got out of the water, stripped the upper part of my wetsuit down, found a wetsuit stripper for the bottom half and off I go up a steep swim exit boat ramp to grab my bike gear. I yelled out my bib number so a volunteer could find my gear bag. Once I grabbed it, I ran into the tent. There were probably 200 chairs in the tent and it looked completely full. Men everywhere! Squeezed between 2 guys (fill your joke in here), dumped my gear bag out and put my swim gear in the bag and gave it to a volunteer. Ran out of the tent a long way to grab my bike and then a long way to the bike mount.
Swim Time – 1:22:54
T1 Time – 0:05:20
The ride was a 2-loop bike course. My goal was to hold a 155 Normalized Power (talk to me or anyone who knows what that means if you don’t because it’s difficult to explain in writing) and an average HR of 140. 155 NP means my average speed would be around 19 – 19.5 mph. I also needed to drink 2 – 20oz bottles of EFS liquid nutrition, eat 2 Larabars, 1 cliff Blok Chew, take a salt lick every 45 minutes and drink 2 bottles of water for only the first half of the 112 mile bike ride. My coach said if I don’t pee at least 2 times on the bike I’m not hydrating enough. That’s a lot to think about and manage. Oh by the way, that little digestive gas issue I had at the beginning of the swim…still there but I trusted it more and was able to ease the stomach issues. So I needed to make sure by mile 53, where our special needs bags were waiting, that I completely finish all my nutrition on the bike so I can reload the same nutrition for the second half of the bike ride.
I felt great on the bike to begin with. I was a little above my power and HR target to start but not bad at all. I took what the road and the elevation gave me to hold that 155 NP. The thing about doing IM Boulder, you never get used to how beautiful the backdrop is with the mountains. I wish I had more time to appreciate it on the bike, but I had a lot of work to do. The course was very challenging. Some sections of the road course were closed to traffic, but most were not. But Boulder has big bike shoulders/lanes, so I wasn’t too concerned about cars, except for one highway that was under construction and you had to be real careful when passing other cyclists. There wasn’t much room and it was a fast portion of the course. The course had many sections where we would go down one long section of road, only to turn around and go back up it. So you continuously had cyclists riding with you and on the other side of the road riding against you. And most of the time those portions were up hill and down hill (climbing up the mountains and going away from them). The up hill elevation was usually a gradual 2 – 3 mile climb with a steep 9% grade ending. I think my speed on some portions was about 4 or 5 mph, using a lot of power. But boy when you turned around to go back, it was fun! I love going fast for long periods of time. Top speed on one stretch was 45 mph. Again, keeping my NP 155 and at an average speed of about 35 mph down these stretches. But then you had to go back up again. I think miles 30 – 40, and subsequently 80 – 90 were the toughest playing that up and down physical and psychological game.
At mile 53 I stopped to grab my special needs bag. I had finished my nutrition, more or less. I think I had some EFS drink left but nothing overly concerning. Dumped my bottles and took on a whole new set of nutrition and off I went to finish up the first loop. My NP was about 158; average HR about 142 and average speed about 19.5. I peed twice on the bike and took as much water in as possible and dumped it on me several times. I thought I was doing pretty well. It was now about 11am Boulder time and what I did start to notice now was how hot it was getting on the bike at the start of the second loop! And then the wind picked up; really picked up. About 15 – 20 mph winds out of nowhere! And it was either a crosswind or in your face. Everything seemed to change at that moment. It was like a football game where the first half was perfectly played and the second half nothing would go right. I slowly found out I couldn’t hold that NP at 155. My HR was lower at 135 but the power in my legs started going away and there was nothing I could do about it. Wind in the face going up the mountain and when you go 5 – 10 mph with the sun blazing down on you for long stretches, it takes a lot out of you. Heard someone say it was 95 degrees out! Cyclist became very quiet. I started seeing medics treating cyclist on the side of the road, others just lying down next to their bike, and when a guy had a blowout right in front of me it freaked me out. God please don’t give me a flat right now. I couldn’t imagine being on the side of the road, 95 degrees out and changing a tube. The stretch from mile 70 – 90 was the worst. My NP was down to about 136; I couldn’t stand any of my nutrition and all I wanted was water at the aid stations so I could pour it on my body and in my mouth. I knew I had to force feed myself and I did. It was terrible. I could feel both of my quads hurting and on the edge of locking up. I had to refrain from getting off the saddle on those 9% grade climbs because I was scared they would lock up. At mile 80 it was the first time in an IM competition I thought I might not be able to even run off the bike and I have a marathon to run. That was a terrible feeling. I knew if I could make it through mile 90 the rest of the course was essentially down hill, with some slight climbs…but fast. So I get through mile 90, which is a steep climb, I’m a little out of it at this point (loopy), and I go to shift into big ring gear upfront and I can’t. I have electronic shifters and it wouldn’t move! The back gears moved but the front wouldn’t. I was thinking holy cow, what if I was in big ring and couldn’t shift down for those climbing portions? Well, I had no power left in my legs anyway so I said it’s probably a blessing that I stay in small ring to spin these legs out for the last 20+ miles. But there were portions of that home stretch where I could have gone 23 – 25 mph and was limited to about 19 – 21 mph. Right now I just wanted to get to the changing tent and see if I could run without cramping. In the back of my mind I was thinking how was I going to run in this heat and these legs? The first 1 – 2 miles of the run course was up hill and no shade. I had never seen so many riders who looked like they were suffering. Usually it’s only on the run. From a nutrition standpoint, I was about 300 – 400 calories short of where I needed to be. I just couldn’t swallow solids and the thought of drinking my now borderline hot EFS drink was disgusting. I made myself but it wasn’t good and I couldn’t finish it. I was worried. Same old story!
I made it to T2! I was a bit out of it and didn’t know what to do when I got off the bike. I forgot that the volunteers grab the bike from you and I just needed to run to grab my run gear and go to the tent. When I got to the tent there were about 25 – 30 guys there and all looked like I felt. I sat down and tried to compose myself. I saw guys with their head in their hands trying to compose themselves as well. It was quiet. I changed socks because mine were soaked, put on my run shoes, bib, hat and glasses. Off I went.
Bike Time – 6:15:08
T2 Time – 0:06:19
Volunteers were handing out those cold wet towels. I grabbed mine and put it around my neck. The good news, I was able to run! All be it a 10:30 pace, I was running. My goal was to start at a 9:00 pace and hold a HR of 149, but at this point, goals went out the window. It was survival time! Guys were walking out of T2 and down the road, so I felt blessed that I could run. When I came to them I just offered as much encouragement as I could. I kept saying…”Survival time guys…survival! Keep your head up. You’re going to make it to that finish line!”
As mentioned the first 1 – 2 miles of the run were up hill. Not just uphill, but a climb! I looked down at my watch and my HR wasn’t registering. It wasn’t engaged for some reason, so I had no idea what my HR was. I contemplated stopping my watch and resetting it but the reality was, my goals were out the window and I knew my HR. It was high and if it was too high, I would naturally stop running. So I pressed on up those hills. When I approached the aid station all I wanted was water and ice. I walked into the aid station and then I actually went to the bathroom to pee. My pace thereafter would start to slow down. My legs were hurting (not cramping yet) and my HR was high. I would walk when I felt like I needed to slow my HR down. After mile 2 the rest of the run was in Boulder Creek Park, a trail that ran along side the Creek and was open to the public. It as very tempting to jump into the Creek to cool off. In fact, some athletes did! They just had to be careful they weren’t washed down Creek. It was good to see people and everyone was really encouraging. The majority of athletes were walking. I ran and I walked, just hoping to make the next aid station for some coke, water and ice. I still needed nutrition to make it to the end. I had my EFS gel bottle on me and salt lick that I took on occasion, but really just drank coke and water at every aid station. Dumping ice in my kit and on my head, arms and back. The park offered up some shade but not much and it was a rolling up and down path. At mile 5, I was able to get that sock with ice stuffed in it, which I stuff inside my kit. The sun was blazing down and sunburns were common to see on athletes. The run course was a mash unit. Athletes throwing up, lying down, medics giving IV’s and others carted off.
From a physical and mental standpoint for me, this run was different than last year at IM Maryland. When I got off the bike in Maryland I was sick to my stomach and couldn’t run due to stomach issues. And in Maryland I had a pity party with myself for many miles. I was disgusted with the performance and very down on myself. But, I eventually snapped out of it and felt good about the finish in Maryland. In Boulder however, I was very happy and appreciative that I was able to get off that bike and run. It didn’t matter how fast. I didn’t think I was going to make it off that bike and here I was running/walking and feeling relatively good. I just had no power in my legs and I had to watch my HR. I was able to thank people who were complimenting me. I was able to speak with athletes who were suffering just like me, if not worse. I was determined to make it to that finish line and get what I came here to do. The fact that I wouldn’t reach my time goals didn’t matter to me this time. I just wanted to finish the race. I was dealt a hand of cards and I played them. But I had a lot of run miles left. Anything could happen and I knew that. I had to be smart, one mile at a time.
At the half way point I grabbed my special needs bag. I really didn’t know what I wanted in it but I grabbed it to see. I immediately grabbed the 2 Advil and took them without water! Almost choked them back up. Everything else seemed too difficult to deal with. New socks? Flexall pain cream? A breakfast bar? Not sure what I was thinking when I put that in there. I just moved on. I’m not sure if it was the crowd at that point or if the Advil kicked in, but I had a second…if not fifth wind. I think I actually ran under an 11 pace around mile 15. But then it all gradually started falling apart. My legs were done. Both quads were on the verge of giving in and with 7 miles left my breathing was waning. The dry air and high pollen count had finally started to take its toll. My left bicep was also cramping up from being in the running position….so I had to straighten it out. I had to resort to walking and picking certain points to jog just to stay around a 15 pace. Usually I jogged around crowds of people like we all do. “Looking good!” they’d say! I would just wave and say thank you. Little did they know I was crumbling inside. I heard a lot of positive Team Beef shout outs! People couldn’t see the name on my bid so they just called me Team Beef. I actually loved it. When I was 2 miles out I knew I could make it and I was getting excited. Secretly I was looking at my time and hoping I could make this my second fastest IM but just couldn’t make that happen. When the body shuts down, there is nothing you can do about it mentally. So I saved just enough to run the last half-mile in through the crowd and down the stretch. When I saw the IM red carpet I became emotional. There is nothing like that feeling. For those of you that have been there you know what I mean. It’s what keeps me going back. The crowd was amazing and my buddy Bill was waiting there for me at the finish line. It was the first time I finished an IM during daylight. At the finish line was also my BNB host couple, Gus and Beth. I thought wow, that’s really cool for them to be there for me. Turns out their Godson, who is a professional triathlete (Sam Long), competed and finished 5thoverall with an 8:29 time! But hey, they waited 5 extra hours to see me finish! That is cool! I crossed that line, a volunteer put her arm around me to make sure I was coherent, put the medal around my neck and gave me my finisher hat and shirt. I actually felt pretty good but I could barely walk.
Run Time – 5:38:53
Overall Time – 13:28:34
Age Group – 59 out of 141
Gender – 388 out of 863
Overall – 509 out of 1,207
16% of the field DNF
Knowing that all of you, along with many others I’m connected with, were following me on the IM tracker made this experience very special. It actually motivated me because I knew you were watching. For those of you that are close to me I’m sure you thought I would be upset with the results, and you probably felt bad for me. I’ve never been more ready for an IM; I’ve never been in better shape in my whole life; I’ve never trained so hard and shown such improvements. Yet, my IM results are the same, if not worse, than the others I’ve done. But I can honestly say I’ve never been as happy to finish an IM than I am IM Boulder. Boulder is epic. Boulder is difficult without weather factors. I came all the way from Florida and faced the challenges and finished the IM. I was discipline and smart. I did all the right things. I enjoyed the journey and I cried and smiled and laughed along the way. If I wasn’t as prepared and trained as I was, I would have never finished that race.
This is My Tri Story and is what that medal, which now hangs on my wall, represents and no one can ever take that away from me.