Before the Race
For the first time in the 5 Ironmans I’ve done, I was ready on Friday (two days prior to the actual Ironman). I felt really prepared and excited to race, I was very rested and just eager to go out there and give it my all. It has been a tradition for our family that anytime that Ironman hosts an Ironkids race before the Ironman, we sign the girls up and have them race also. Since I had everything ready and packed up, on Saturday after breakfast, we went to Downtown Boulder for the 1 and half mile races. The race started at 9am, which was perfect, so I could drop off my run gear after the race, at 10am. The race was so much fun, first up was Sophie, our 4 year old, she was running the half mile race, which they held at the high school track. This is also where T2 was located, so it was very convenient as I would drop my bag off and head to the Boulder Reservoir to drop my T1 (bike) bag.
We got there with only 5 minutes to spare, I could hear Mike Reilly pumping the kids up for the race. He explained that the half mile race would be 2 laps around the track. Sophie didn’t want to run it alone, so mom went with her. The kids were so pumped up that a lot of them (half of them) false started and Mike had to get them all herd them back to the starting line. Sophie had so much fun, since it was on a track I ran back and forth to take some pictures of her. When she finished, she was so happy, which made Emma, our 5 year old, more excited to race.
I told Emma, that she would have to run 4 laps. As soon as she started heading to the starting line, Mike of course let everyone know that they would be running out of the stadium. Christelle had to explain to Emma that dad was wrong, of course. I waited for Emma at the exit of the stadium to take some pictures. Watching her come through was amazing, when she saw me, she had a big smile on her face and ran faster. When she came back and crossed the finish line, she was out of breath and had a pain face. I think this was the first time that she had felt that “running pain”, she was adorable!
After we finished, we took some pictures, headed to the Ironman Village to take a couple of family pictures and of course we ran into people that we know. A quick picture visit, turned out to be a 30 minute chat and photo session. We ran into Kenny Withrow and Colin Lauhery. You probably know Kenny already from all my blog posts, Instagram and Facebook posts. He was picking up his media badge. Colin is a fellow BTC Elite team mate, who happens to be a professional triathlete.
After chatting and the pictures we went to the reservoir, dropped my bike and T1 bag off and I was home by 11am. Never before had this happened. All I did that afternoon was eat, rest and I was in bed by 8pm.
Woke up on my own at 3:30am, by 4 am I was eating and by 4:15 we headed out of the house. First stop was T2, to drop off my nutrition and my special needs bags. During the drive, Christelle and I were surprised of how awake the girls were, they talked the whole car ride. Christelle and I expected them to be passed out in the back, but they were having full conversations with us, which took my mind off the race a little. We had gotten a parking pass to the Reservoir from a friend, Liz West. It made it very easy for me to drive with them but most importantly I liked being able to spend more time with them, prior to the mayhem.
After parking I dropped my nutrition off at T1 and went to my bike to get it ready. My routine is to fill the water bottle, pump up the tires, sync my computer to the power meter and HR monitor. After that, I went to find Christelle to get my wetsuit on and head to the starting line. While I was changing we heard the national anthem and the male pros get started. I kissed Christelle goodbye and headed to the starting line. We did have an incredible sunrise, I was able to take the picture below.
If you have been reading my blog or know me, you know that I swam in College and I like to start at up in front. I made it all the way to the front of the line by going through a ton of people. Finally I made it to the sign that said “less than 1 hour”.
In previous years it felt like there had been more people in that corral, but this year for some reason it felt a little empty. I saw and talked briefly to my coach, Eric Kenney and started getting mentally prepared. Although I look scared out of my mind on the picture below I was pretty calm and ready.
After lining up in the front I saw a friend that swims masters with me, Sue Buchman, I was so excited to see her. I walked over to were she was and gave her a big hug. I remember her saying: “This is your day, Conrad”. I was so happy. She volunteered for the swim start and she told me she would be at the swim exit. Of course Kenny was also there taking pictures and video.
Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder, it was Matt Malone. I had no idea that he was competing until a couple of days before the race. He is an amazing, super fast triathlete, so I knew that I would see him on the course when we would eventually pass me. I just never expected to see him at the start, which was amazing, clearly based by the picture below.
I started looking for Christelle and the girls and they were both cheering, I have never really gotten emotional at the start of a race, but this time it was hard to hold my tears back. I waved at them and smiled. Mike Rilley had been talking the whole time on his microphone or loudspeaker, I can’t even remember. I had so many good feelings and thoughts I kinda just blocked him out. With 1 minute to go they let us get close to the water and were told that we would start 1 by 1 through the gate.
Once Dave said, “OK, GO!”, I went through the little opening and ran took some steps in the water and dove in.
I don’t like to have people touch my feet, so for the first 25 meters I sprinted. Lifted my head to to make sure that I was still in line with the buoy, looked back and was surprised. I didn’t get touched once. I had 1 person swimming next to me and that was it. The guy that was swimming next to me started to swim a little faster. I decided to let him go. One of my goals for the swim was to save as much energy as possible. After he went ahead, I noticed that we were swimming at the same speed all the way to the first turn buoy. I did get a little frustrated, a couple of times I tried to catch up to him to get on his draft, but every time I tried to push it a little it seemed that he could sense me coming and he would also go faster. After 3 tried I decided to let him go and settle on my own pace.
It was the loneliest swim, in a race, ever. After making the first turn, I looked back and it seemed that I was about 40 meters ahead of the group, the guy ahead was still about 15-20 meters ahead. I was feeling OK in the water, but felt very slow for some reason. I decided to relax to try to save more energy, since I was all by myself, but didn’t help I was still not gaining any distance. About 200 meters before the second and last turn buoy I saw one of the female pros. They left 10 minutes before us, that’s when I knew that I was swimming slow. I’m usually able to catch them at the halfway point. I ended up passing 2 more females before the end of the swim. I was shocked that they didn’t try to draft of me, not even for a second, they were just in their own little world, like me.
With about 200 meters to go I slowed down even more, I wanted to relax my legs to have them fresh for the bike. I felt myself kicking more than usual on the swim, I guess I was just excited. As I came out of the water, I was expecting a little pull or cramp on my legs. Nothing came, I was so happy. There wasn’t anyone in front of me. The guy in front ended up gaining more distance on me and swam over 1 minute faster, so my exit was completely clear.
I ran over to the wetsuit strippers. They weren’t expecting me. They were chatting along and I had to ask them if they were stripping wetsuits. As soon as I asked they said: “lay down on the grass”. My butt had barely touched the ground when they ripped my suit off. It was so fast, ran to where my bag was, grabbed it and ran to the changing tent. It was so weird, it was completely empty just a ton of volunteers. Picked the chair closest to the exit and immediately had 3 guys help me with me stuff. I LOVE U.S. races as the volunteers are so helpful. In Europe, Latin America and Canada, they are just standing around you and all they do is stare at you and tell you where to put your bag, they are not allowed to help at all.
As I made my way to my bike, I saw Kenny running next to me taking video, I saw 2 female Pros also grabbing their bikes. I was running pretty fast and didn’t even notice. As I got closer to the mounting area I saw Eric, my coach, he immediately yelled: “calm down”. It was then when I realized that I was running as if it was a sprint tri, not the smartest thing. Being ALL alone in T1 with everyone cheering just gets you so excited to go fast!
As I got on the bike, could see the 2 female pros that came our of the water right before me. The bike course starts with a gradual uphill, so my goal for the first 10 miles was to get my HR down, get some nutrition in and relax to be able to get on my cycling plan. After passing both female pros I was by myself, it was weird, it felt like a training ride with nobody around. It was cloudy, I looked down at my computer and it said 58 degrees. As we approach the end of the gradual hill on HWY 36 I could hear 2 loud cheers, I looked up and I could make out 3 people. Rachael Norfleet, Steve and his brother, Ernie Mantell. The loud cheers were coming of course from Rachael and Ernie, Steve looked like he was also cheering but if you know him you know he is super quiet and his cheers might have been overshadowed by Rachael’s and Ernie’s. It was so great to see them so early in the race. Rachael and Steve had driven on Friday from Kansas City to watch the race, then after the Ironman, they would drive back, all night. Monday they had to go to work…simply amazing!
Boulder is a 3 loop course, I knew that I would be lonely for the first lap, but I didn’t expect to not see anyone for miles and miles. I passed 1 or 2 other female pros and I got passed by a couple of amateurs, but other than that I was all alone. I did see Christelle and the girls. The first time I saw her, I actually saw our car parked on a side street, she hadn’t seen me, as she was getting out of the car, I yelled and waved. It was great to be able to see them before the saw me, I really think that it was only because I was feeling great. My head was completely in the moment and very aware of my surroundings.
As I came by the reservoir to start my second lap, people were still coming out of the water. I knew at that point that my loneliness had come to an end. During this lap, I noticed that one of the female pros, Uli Broemme, always passed me on the hills, then I would catch back up and pass her on the downhills. We played this game all the way until the last lap when after first hill on 36th I didn’t see her again until the run.
At the beginning of my second lap, the wind had picked up a little. In May, Boulder is so windy, that I was used to it, I had some really windy days on the bike. I not only liked it but embraced it. The temperature was still in the low 60s and I figured that if I could feel the wind everyone else would probably feel it even more. Being a bigger guy, the wind doesn’t affect me as much as it does all the skinny triathletes. As I was riding up Jay Road, I saw Aaron and Jenna Provance, they were holding this amazing sign with my name and number on it. Aaron even ran next to me, just like how people run next to the cyclist at the Tour de France, it was very exciting to feel that. Although for a second I thought: “Am I riding so slowly that he is able to run next to me?” If you have ridden up Jay, you know is a little bit of an uphill. I looked down and I was still riding about 18mph, so I just smiled and waved. So happy to have seen them and so thankful their cheering.
I was very surprised that going through the aid stations there weren’t many people just hanging out there. Having 3 aid stations per lap was great, it meant that I could get water, which is the only nutrition I grab, 9 times throughout the 113.7 mile ride. Still during my second lap I was feeling pretty good, my power was right where I wanted it and my HR was very low. As I came by where Christelle was I felling so great that I blew her a kiss, usually I’m just trying not to cramp or trying to get to the next aid station, this time though, everything felt great.
Before the start of my last lap the sun started to come out. It was incredible, as soon as it did, I saw my HR go up by 7-9 beats per minute. It was at that point that I figured out that things felt “easy” on the bike, because it had been cool. I even thought to myself: “I’ll probably never get another race with such amazing conditions”. During the last lap I didn’t get passed by anyone, I was doing all the passing and it felt great. Before hitting the downhill on Neva, still on HWY 36, I had to pass a group of people. There wasn’t any gap in between them so I would have to make a pass of maybe 6-7 bikes. As I made it to almost the lead bike I heard one of the guys yell: “Yeah, keep crushing” very sarcastically. It made me laugh out loud, but then I felt a little bad, as I knew he still had at least 60 miles to go and probably thought I did too.
As I passed the reservoir one last time, I just wanted to relax my legs. Before getting to T2 we had to take one of the many bike paths in Boulder to make it to the final stretch. It was great to see so many people cheering on the side of the path. I saw Russell and Kelly Herbert. They were really close to the beginning of the bike path, they both cheered and he told me I was 4th in my age group. I was a little surprised as only 6 people had passed me, which meant that 4 of them were in my age group. I knew then that there were a lot of fast guys that showed up in my age group. I was still very happy with my bike. As you can see, I am smiling in all of my pictures, something that has NEVER happened before. I just felt happy and enjoyed the entire 113.7 miles.
As I made it to the dismount area, I got off my bike. Started running and heard someone yell: “Hey, wait…you dropped your shoe”. For T1, I put my shoes on in the tent and run with my shoes on, but for T2 I take them off while on the bike and leave them clipped on. I guess when I dismounted I hit the left show and came off. I turned around and thought: “Screw it, I’ll get another pair”. But then I saw that one of the volunteers was running towards me to give me the shoe, so I just waited for him. I was not going to go backwards, especially since I had a marathon to run still. As he gave me the shoe, I thanked him and made my way to T2. Grabbed my bag and as I was going to the changing tent I saw Rachael, Steve and Ernie again. Of course I only heard Rachael cheer, but I know that Steve and Ernie were cheering also, even if it was internally.
As I made my way through the changing tent, there was nobody there. I sat down at the farthest chair again and had 3 volunteers help me. Changed my socks and as I was drying off, one of the volunteers took my running shoes out of the bag he said: “Wow, are these the new Distance VI? How cool! Do you like them?” I responded: “Yeah, thanks, I love them”. He was so nice. He reminded me to take my nutrition probably 3 times and I still almost forgot. Ran out of the tent and I could hear Rachael again, it was so cool!
As I came out of T2, I felt great, my legs felt great. The first mile or so, is the most shaded part of the creek path, it’s great because it feels cool. I didn’t see any other athletes for the first 2 miles, nobody ahead or behind me. It was so early, I guess, that there were not many spectators there either. Before the first aid station I saw Eric, my coach. It was good to see a familiar face. He asked me how I was feeling and told me I had had a great bike. I thanked him and concentrated on keeping good form.
It wasn’t until the second aid station (the flux capacitor), where Christelle was and I started to see people. Right before the first turn, I saw T.O. leading the race. I counted how many people were ahead, I could only count 7-8. Matt Malone was in second place, he looked so smooth. I was still feeling really well, but every other athlete I saw looked great too. After the first turn around, I started to see more people. I was still feeling great and my pace was on track, so I wasn’t worried. I was still thinking that I would have my best marathon yet.
As I approached mile 5, I reached back to grab some salt, as I pulled it out of my kit the cap opened. I had it upside down, which caused every grain of salt to fall on the ground. At that moment, I started to freak out, I didn’t have a back up plan for salt. I had put a little more than I was supposed to use in that tube, so it was supposed to last me until the end. I knew that the BASE salt guys were on the course, I just didn’t know where they were going to be. To my surprise they were at mile 6.5. I saw a Base salt sign first but there was nothing else around it. I had gotten excited and then deflated when I realized that it was just a sign, however about half a mile later I heard loud music and I knew it was them. “I’m saved I thought”. Ochy, Matt and Jenn were all there, I was so happy to see them, not just because I would be able to get salt, but because that little stretch is the worst part of the course. It’s so lonely and uncovered for the most part, having them there definitely gave me nice boost.
The first sign I was in trouble came when I turned around and a couple of guys passed me like I was standing still. I knew I was going up hill, this stretch is 4-5 miles straight up until the last turn around. I got really worried when I tried to stay with them when they passed me and I wasn’t physically capable. I looked at my watch and I noticed that my pace had dropped significantly. Uli also passed me right at mile 8, she went by me and I yelled: “Nice job, keep it up!” I started to really struggle to keep my cadence up and my pace kept getting slower. I saw her cramping, about 20 meters ahead of me and started to walk. I was so running so slowly that even when she was walking I couldn’t catch her. At around mile 9, I saw Ben Fenton, another teammate on BTC Elite, it was so great to hear him cheer and say that I looked strong, although I knew I didn’t and I felt terrible. I don’t even think I could respond or smile at that point anymore, I was focusing on shuffling my feet forward.
As I started making my way through downtown my stomach started to get upset. I knew I had an imodium pill at special needs, but before I could get there I thought several times that I wasn’t going to make it there. Eventually I got to special need, I saw Jeff Abbott. Jeff does the Tuesday track runs with us, he had told me he’d be there. As soon as I saw him, I asked him to get the imodium ready for my return as my stomach had settled a little. I didn’t want to slow down and I was very hopeful that my stomach would settle and not need it. Not 200 meters after I passed special needs I knew I had made a mistake. I should have taken it even if I had to wait. I struggled to make it to the next aid station, I ran to the porta potty, undressed as quickly as I could and barely made it. After a couple of minutes on the toilet, I felt like a million bucks.
When I came out, I started running well again, almost as if the stomach pain had been the reason for my slow running. However after reaching the turn around, or the top of the hill, as I call it. I started running downhill, I expected to feel better, to get my turnover higher but it never happened. I was still struggling to run, I was telling my legs to move faster but they simply wouldn’t, or couldn’t. It was so frustrating. As I went by special needs I saw Jeff, Ed O’Malley (another BTC Elite teammate) and Beth (his wife). They all sounded very excited were there cheering, I was barely holding it together. I took the pill, took in some more nutrition and continued my shuffle run.
As I came to the 13.1 mile mark (half way point). There were more people starting their first lap and I lost count of how many people had passed me. By this point I was running so slowly (9 minutes/mile) that I wasn’t really passing anyone. I was being passed by a lot of people and I simply couldn’t do anything about it. At that moment my goal changed. I knew I wasn’t going to run what I had planned, but instead I told myself that I would at least run the whole marathon without walking or stopping. Looking back I wonder if I had walked a little if my legs would have been able to recover. Sadly I will never know.
A good friend, Matt Britton, was also racing he had passed me before the halfway point. It was great to see him on the course, as every time I would see him, he would have encouraging words to say and it always helped mentally. He looked great and I felt happy for him. I really don’t remember much of the second lap other than struggling to put one leg in front of the other. Wondering what had happened. Thankful that I wasn’t cramping on top of how I felt. I continued to take in a lot of salt to make sure that I wouldn’t cramp. With 4 miles left I saw Rob Gray, an ultraman athlete, who I’ve swam and biked with, he was on his bike with words of encouragement. I remember thinking: “I would pay a lot of money to get on his bike for the rest of the race”. I imagined how I would look if I sat on the top stem and had him take me to the finish line. It made me laugh and forget the misery I was in for a brief period of time.
With 2 miles left, my throat started to itch, as I tried to spit, I noticed that whatever came out was red. At first I thought it was the Red Bull I had just taken, but when I spit up again it was a darker red. I had taken so much salt that now I was spitting blood from the back of my tong. I was grateful that I only had a couple of miles to go. Toward to top of the hill again, I saw Yoni and Greg Lindquist, I must have looked so rough that all I heard Greg was: “Form Conrad, form”. I knew I was struggling but no matter what I did I felt like I was just shuffling out there. As I turned for the last time I thought: “Thank God, now it’s all downhill”. My hips and legs were in so much pain that instead of feeling good, it felt worse.
It is so embarrassing and frustrating, that last mile and a half is all downhill and I averaged over 10 minutes per mile and I got passed by at least 3 people who I though would never be able to catch me as they were so far behind when I saw them at the turn around. During these two miles, I tried to focus on the good things of the day. After focusing on that for a second, I felt very happy, as I had not cramped throughout the race, I gave it all I had, didn’t leave anything on the course, but I was also sad as I knew that I wasn’t in a good enough position to get a qualifying spot for Kona.
As I approached to finish line I stayed in the middle, I saw a lot of extended hands. I usually run to one of the sides to high five people, but I just wanted the shortest possible way to the finish line. As I crossed it, I raised my arms in happiness and almost collapsed. Sue was also volunteering there. She and Stacia Wilkins were “catchers”. I’m so glad they were there as I really lost feeling for my legs when I crossed the finish line and they literally had to catch me and hold me up.
After I regained control of my legs I hugged both of them and thanked them, but started looking for my wife and the girls. They had a VIP pass, which gave them access to the finish line. They were supposed to give me my medal. I looked for them and finally Stacia found them and let them in. Emma and Sophie came over and put the medal over my head. It was the best experience ever. Christelle was also there, I gave her a big hug and a kiss. I was so relieved my nightmare had ended.
We hadn’t kissed for almost 5 days as she was feeling a little sick and she didn’t want to get me sick. So for me that moment was so special.
I finished with a total time of 9:57:08, happy that I made it under 10 for a second race with a long bike. I knew it wasn’t good enough though. My run was very slow at 3:53, my bike 5:01 and I swam a slow (for me) 55:08, four minutes slower than 3 year ago. I am still very happy I competed and finished my 5th Ironman, but more importantly I am so thankful for all the people that were out on the course supporting the athletes. It was such an amazing experience to see everyone, It is truly an incredible atmosphere and everyone is there to help you get through that run.
It has been almost two weeks since the race and I still have no idea why my body couldn’t run the speed that I should have. The speed that I trained to be able to run. I am still reflecting on the race, feeling a little down, but mostly feeling more motivated to want to be better. Looking to the future without knowing what I will do. Right now I’m just enjoying the fitness that I have. I am very thankful to my coach Eric Kenney, who has helped me get where I am, a sub 10 hour Ironman. All my BTC Elete teammates of course: Kenny, Ben, Russell, Jonah, Ed, Colin, Erik and Rob, who have made me a better athlete. My family for their support, especially my wife, Christelle. She is the most supporting person I could have ever asked for and my little girls, who showed me that if it’s not fun I shouldn’t do it.
Last but not least I want to thank my sponsors/partners. Without their help, gear and technology it wouldn’t be possible for me to compete at this level: Thank you Colorado Multisport, Roka, Castelli Triathlon, Newton Running, Trailnuggets, Perky Jerky, Rudy Project and Tritats.
Until next time, signing off…