Ben Wilson 720-378-2327
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Comprehensive Race Day Report from Boulder Ironman

Race Day Report Ironman Boulder 2014

August 3rd, 2014 actually started in June 2010 when I began cycling. Thanks Brian Roush for getting me going. Thanks Bruce Vaughn and Christine Rogers for being great training partners and motivators. And thanks this year to Dave Shattuck and Kevin Sipp for tons of fun riding around Boulder County.

From January-July this year I logged 46 miles swimming, 2374 miles biking and 269 miles running. There can always be more but it is balanced out with getting to the starting line healthy enough to go. I accomplished that with foam rolling almost nightly the last two months and with an hour long weight session each week. I felt ready to complete the swim, most confident to complete the bike barring mechanical issues and I had no freaking clue about the run. Never done more than 18.5 miles before. The half marathon at the 70.3 in June was more suffering than I had anticipated and I was going twice that far.  My plan was to finish the bike in enough time to walk the marathon if need be and still beat the 17 hour cutoff time at midnight.

Thursday before the race was the Konaesque underpants run. Originally a protest against a ‘dress code’ for athletes at Kona it has evolved into a major tradition and fundraiser. It was a blast to see IMBoulder have one. I went with boxers, coat, tie and top hat. A tad over dressed. There were plenty of true underwear runners on hand to fill that slot. Pro Michael Lovato led  the way from Boulder Running Company up Pearl about a mile to the Pearl Street Mall where we stopped and Michael led us in quasi stretching and hilarity. There was a free cup of PBR for anyone who wanted to partake. Mostly there were giggles and waves at passers by in cars with smartphones out taking videos and pics. :) DSC00719

Friday I checked in for the race. Got to meet Michellie Jones. She’s a former Kona champion and Olympic Silver Medalist. She loved holding Nora June just as current champ Mirinda Carfrae did during the Half Ironman in June. Nora June brings me good vibes and fun at the check-ins.

DSC00729Ann was there this time too. She’s been exceptionally supportive through this whole year leading up to the race. Especially so considering the race fell on our 29th anniversary!  Our 30th anniversary will not be spent racing. :)

Saturday it was required to drop my bike at Boulder Reservoir in Transtion 1 or T1. T1 is where we go from swimming to cycling. It’s slightly unnerving to leave the bike there overnight but since it was mandatory that’s what I did. With 5-6 million dollars worth of bikes there I trusted there was adequate security in place.

Off to the house to be nervous and finish packing my Special Needs bags. Our Transition bags had to be dropped off with the bike. Special Needs bags include whatever a person wants to place in them to be picked up halfway through the 112 miles on the bike or halfway through the 26.2 mile run. I put socks, chamois butt’r, a Payday and a supplement called X2 in the bags. I’ll try to put some frozen drinks in them next time.

I took a sleeping pill on Friday to guarantee good sleep because I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep on Saturday night. I’d been ready to race for a week so I was getting antsier and antsier.

Wake up came at 0230 on Sunday morning. I sipped some coffee,  ate a little breakfast and got Ann up. She is so amazing to do this with me. She packed around stuff on race day even though she just had carpal tunnel surgery the Thursday before. Yep, she’s really amazing.

We parked in downtown Boulder near the finish line.  We walked around with all the other Iron Zombies at 0345. At 4 we had dropped off our Special Needs bags and were on the bus headed to the Boulder Res. We arrived there at 0430 and walked over to check on my bike. I pumped up the tires to 105psi (some go higher but I don’t want to blow out in transition). I sat around with Ann pretending to be relaxed. We also saw our friends Jake and Ashton who were racing. Friend Christine was also in from Missouri but she wouldn’t get there until I was lined up for the swim start.

One never ponders going to the bathroom as much as on race day. Bowel movements are pondered with accountantlike precision. :)  I’ll save you the sophomoric jokes but everything was ok amidst all the Dr. Who references I heard.

I donned my wetsuit for a five minute warmup swim. I learned the year before to do a warm up swim. July 2013 I didn’t do one at the Boulder Peak Tri. The first 200 yards I couldn’t get my breath and feared the 3D’s: death, drowning and DNFing (Did Not Finish). Fortunately, I remembered that I could just stop. I caught my breath and went on to finish but learned a valuable lesson about warming up.

We self seeded in a big long line. I chose the end of the 1:15-1:30 section. I figured 90 minutes for the swim. I pretty much just have one speed. I’ve really only been swimming for 3.5 years and still feel like a novice there. I had only swam 2.4 miles one time in practice in a pool, but I did get a half dozen open water swims in which helped my confidence.

I heard the blast and we began our slow waddle to the water. Once in the water I tried to site down the buoys and swim a straight line. They might as well call me Zorro for my swim pattern. Every time I look up to see where I’m going it ain’t where I think I’m going.  It can get frustrating but I just try to keep moving knowing that I’ll eventually get there after bumping into a dozen people or so. At one time I went inside the lines and had I known that was ok I could have saved a minute or so on time. One only has to be outside the buoys at the corner ones. 

It seemed like forever to the first corner (about a mile) and I made the turn west. My head felt cold and my back felt hot and my stomach was mildly upset and getting worse.  I headed west about to the half way point and stopped. I peed and wanted to see if I would throw up. Everyone pees in the wetsuit. A highlight of the day was a five second belch as I pondered the Rocky Mountain Foothills. My stomach felt better and off I went. I turned south at the next corner and could see the swim finish arch way off yonder. But at least I knew it was the last leg of it. More zigzags, along with a hundred yards of weeds tentacling my hands and legs. You can’t just say yuk and stop with that slimy unknown stuff grabbing at you. So I kept going and eventually made it to the arch.

I walked up the concrete, feet still in the water and felt a pull on my arm. Some people are dizzy when they get upright after the swim and the 60 something man grabbing at me was one of those. He apologized and I let him know to take as long as he needed. Helping really is the spirit of the day. Many have helped me along the way and it took all of 3 seconds to help him get steady.

I pulled off the top of my wetsuit, laid down in the grassy mud and got stripped by a stripper. 1:32 for 2.4 miles. I’ll take it.

The swim was over. It’s always a highlight of any tri for me because then I get to have fun on the bike! I went into the change tent where strangers become the best of friends hanging out naked and semi naked as we dress for the bike. I completely changed to regular bike shorts and bike jersey. I wanted the full padding in the regular shorts and the non tank top jersey was for sun protection. The jersey proved wise as I saw some lobster shoulders on others later in the day. The shorts, I don’t know, my butt was going to hurt after 112 miles no matter what.

I saw Ann in transition and got an anniversary kiss. We kiss in transition, a tradition started last year at Kansas 70.3. I appreciate all her help on race day and it’s the very least I can do in acknowledging her. Christine had also made it there for the swim.

It was a long transition so my T1 time was 11 minutes and change. I hadn’t factored those in for my time. But I wasn’t going to rush through those.  A bad minute now could cost an hour later.

I walked my bike the hundred yards or so to the start and mounted up. Her name is Pearly Mae or Baily. Officially she’s a Valdora PHX Black Pearl.

The scenery on 36 is gorgeous though it’s tough to take in with all the cars and other bikes. I generally pass a lot of folks early on the bike. As a substandard swimmer I am a better cyclist. After the swim overall I was in 1789th place out of around 2300 folks. After the bike I would end up in 1303rd, passing 486 bikes.

I made it the 12 miles or so to St. Vrain. It was a funny little addition to the course. I screamed downhill around 40 mph hour on the top and then around 30 down to the turnaround. I saw the first casualty of my day. A man had gone down on his bike and was sprawled on the side of the road being attended to. It was a good reminder to stay aware. There were tons of people around as we passed the aid station and headed up the hill doing less than 10mph.

My strategy on the bike is pretty simple. I try to go steady semi pushing it on the flats and downhills and take it fairly easy on the uphills to not burn myself out. It was working pretty well, through the first 44 miles on the bike I was averaging 18.44 mph. This Cinderella story had to be pleased with that since I was hoping for 18 mph on the bike.

I also had committed to refilling my 50 oz of water or sports drink at every aid station along with other nutrition I had on me and would pick up. It’s easy to get behind on fluids, salt and energy at altitude. I didn’t want to bonk and DNF though that ended up happening to some really good folks. It’s easy for it to happen with the adrenaline on race day.

I made it through the beautiful area of western Loveland and headed east underneath I25. At the aid station around there I made a mistake. I missed the sports drink early and got another bottle of water. I should have just grabbed a second bottle of water but I held out for another sports drink that never came. I’ll be alright I told myself.  Being an addictive type it’s easy to slip back into denial. How do you know an addict is lying? His or her lips are moving. :)  Or in my case my thoughts were moving.

At 56 miles I pulled into the special needs area, went to the bathroom, walked to the very end where my old guy stationed bag was and put my bike down. There was no water to hand out at special needs. I needed some to take a pain pill, as precaution for my slightly arthritic left knee. I changed my socks and took a bite of the Payday. I was out of water so I saved half the candy bar. I asked a volunteer if there was any water around and the saint gave me some of his to take my pill. Thank you Mr. Orange Shirted Volunteer Man.  All of you were great throughout the day.

Now it was time for Chamois butt’r. This is cream for your nether region to not chafe. All modesty is blown to Kansas on a race day. Changing my socks felt great because my feet were on fire and the pointy bone on the outside of my right foot was aching. I wasn’t walking the 100 yards back to johnny on the spot for modesty. I got some cream on my hand and stuck my hand in my shorts on both sides. It may be tmi for some of you but I felt "ahhhhhhh" as I did so. And I didn’t get a ticket for lewd behavior as I might have in any other location in Northern Colorado that day. :)

The saintly orange man had said it was three miles until the next aid station. Other than my feet I was feeling pretty good. I made it and guzzled some extra water at the next aid station and rode on.

The second half of the ride was a cunning beast. 30 miles in a row, mostly straight, seemingly always slightly uphill or a lot up hill and more exposed to the sun and the wind that day. Though, the wind took it easy on us compared to what it might normally be on a summer afternoon. Mental toughness is key at this point to just keep pedaling, keep on with the nutrition and hydration plans, and to just plain keep moving forward.

A high of 85 degrees sounds nice in the summer. But in Colorado the sun is intense! On the blacktop it bounced up, making it about 98 degrees on the road. This snuck up on some and is part of the reason for the 249 DNF’s.

I felt the heat but had trained enough in it to feel that I was going to be ok. I was dropping some salt tablets as part of my nutrition.

Gratitude is key for making it through the tough stretches of races. In every tri during every swim, every bike, every run I always at some point remember to thank God for giving me my athletic life back. When I moved to MO in 2006 I was around 300lbs. I went up and down between then and June 2010 and was back at 300lbs. That’s when I started riding, then the next year doing tri’s. I raced the Ironman at 195.

I also thought of full of life Nora June, my 1 year old granddaughter, my wife, kids and other family, and my workout buddies back in Warrensburg. I was thankful for Brian, Bruce and Christine for helping me get started on this journey. In some ways I felt I was representing them as Brian had knee issues, Bruce had 3 kids under 5 and Christine is still working her way up to the full Ironman. I am grateful for these friends.

As I neared 90 miles I must say I had thoughts of quitting after the bike. I never really entertained them but they did pass through my mind. Would anybody fault me for a good 8 hour workout on a hot day. My feet were boiling, my quads were yakking at me and what would be wrong with a full Aquabike workout. Most people would be amazed just at that.

Then I would see Nora June’s joy filled face, or see a sign that said Lebron would have cramped by now, or a girl with a strapless top, holding a sign up so it appeared she was au natural, that said ‘Ironmen are sexy’ or another woman holding a sign that said, ‘I like your endurance. Call me.’ Also there was, “It wasn’t easy getting up early to make this sign either.” All these provide a mental break and give energy and courage to ride on.

I also met Brad from Santa Barbara. On the bike and run I tend to fall into pace with one or more folks around me. During the Half Ironman in June it was Struan who runs a touring company in Thailand. This time it was Brad and we exchanged a few jokes as we rolled down the road. Sometimes I would pass him and lead and other times he would be out in front. Conversation helps to ignore the muscles that are complaining.

One marker that was important this day was the gorgeous Flatirons that hover behind Boulder. From the turn south it was 30 or so miles to pull even with them. As they began to get closer to perpendicular from my southern route my hopemeter gage tipped more and more to full. I didn’t ever doubt I would finish the bike. It’s just that pedaling for 6 hours and 9 minutes requires some mind games to get through.

It was with great relief when those red rocks were finally straight on my right then straight ahead after the turn to head west. Fifteen to twenty miles to go. Only the short and tough uphill, three bitches (not my term) remained at mile 100.  They are tough because they’re at mile 100 but the view from the top allows one to see the mountains from Pikes Peak to north of Ft. Collins. Sure, that is metaphor for life and this race all the way through. Suffering, gratitude and appreciation of beauty are huge themes. I enjoyed the rest of the ride rolling back through Gunbarrel and into Boulder. I arrived at Boulder High School and took my shoes off. There was a long walk with the bike to T2. Once at T2 I handed my bike to another orange shirted Samaritan.

Before the race Ann and I had coffee with Stan, Elayna and Jake Utley on the river in Estes Park. Stan was excited for me doing the Ironman. He said something acknowledging my mental strength to get the job done on race day. I carried his encouragement and belief in me as my feet told me not to dare step one foot on the marathon route.

The walk on the hot black track at the high school actually helped my sock footed sore feet. I think it was a naturally massaging effect. Others who moved on the track in the bare feet were burned with blisters. Ouch!

I made my way into the changing tent and was greeted by a smiling, giving man. I was so glad to sit on a full chair instead of my bike saddle. Part of me wanted to take a nap.

This man helped me get my gear out of the run bag. Another full change. Everything was off but my shorts and he was still attentively kneeling in front me handing me fresh stuff and putting soiled clothes in the bag to retrieve later. I was ready to stand up and take my shorts off and paused. I thought, ‘Uh, dude, I’m going to, uh, stand up and you know take my shorts off and you’ll be, uh, just a little too close for my comfort since you’re about waste high. Lol.

I kinda turned one way and he turned the other and we managed to maintain our dignity as I put my new Boulder Triathlon Club kit on for the run. Fresh socks were so nice. I drank a bunch of water and headed outside to kiss my bride. We had mapped out a way for her to get next to the gated path that led to the marathon. The day before we traversed down through the woods from the CU campus. Around one turn we startled a buck sporting a healthy rack on top. Worried he might feel cornered, we stopped. He wanted little to do with us and disappeared into the foliage. We then made our way down the path where the homeless and deer bed down at night and discovered how to get to that gated path for the next day.

I encountered Ann and showed off my new tri kit. Ann gave me a smooch, and took some selfies of us. She offered some encouragement for the Boulder Creek path and I ambled out. T2 took 16 plus minutes with the long walks, my love for that chair and my love for my bride.

The first 10K went well. I was on pace for a run between 12-12:30 pace which was my goal. The first 10K was mostly shaded and mostly downhill. I was really behind pace though the numbers didn’t tell me so. I drank at every aid station walking through it. My plan was to run 3 minutes and walk 1 everywhere else. The route was nicknamed the flux capacitor for its Y shape. I wished for a DeLorean to transport me about 4 hours ahead in time. :)

Going out the second leg on the Y I began to feel the heat. The quotidian afternoon clouds were taking a Sabbath.  Aurgh! Nothing I could do about it but keep moving and drink more. I hit the turnaround and headed back. Back meant mostly uphill for six miles. And the reality of the course began to sink in.

However, there was good news! My friends and co-workers were hanging out on Boulder Creek to cheer me on. What an oasis it was to encounter them near the Millennium Hotel. Pam, Kevin, Stacey, Lauren and Will along with Ann and Christine were there just to pump me up. And they did. It was so wonderful to stop for a minute, feel their love and excitement and find more motivation to keep going. I mentioned Ann and Stacey but they missed me this time. They were gone on a water run. :)  Ditched by my wife. No harm, she was amazing the whole day and beyond.

I shuffled on up the hill to the turnaround. I was lax in scouting the run course so it was all new to me. Won’t do that ever again. It’s just good to know what is around the corner. I hit the halfway mark and sat down with my special needs bag.  I changed socks again. Didn’t realize how wet mine had become. My feet were little prunes but just had a normal level of ache for having been on the move for eleven plus hours. I also drank the 2ounces of X2 and scarfed some salt tablets. It was magical. My quads quieted down from a scream to a whimper.

I was rolling downhill in the shade and feeling better. I ran into my friends and cheering squad again at mile 14 with the two loop course. Ann was there this time and I gave her a big dip and a big smooch. Happy sweaty anniversary to you hon! DSC00830

People remarked how fresh I looked after 128 miles. I didn’t really know what to say. I was having fun! I was swimming and biking and running and being celebrated by friends. The fruit of four years of change in general and seven committed months of training specifically, was coming together on this Ironman day. I could move. I could be athletic. I could spend a few sweet moments with these friends who came to see me on a challenging, painful and beautiful day. I joked as I left, “Only a half marathon to go.” Absurd.

Going downhill I was feeling pretty good. Pretty being a most relative term after twelve hours. My back started to cinch up a little so I shuffled along with a little less up and down pounding on the concrete path. The high of the X2 hard worn off and my quads chirped in pain with each step. At mile 18 I stepped into the sauna, I mean the portapotty. I hadn’t gone to the bathroom since mile 56 on the bike about 8 hours ago. If I was hydrated, the few minutes in that thing certainly made me less so. I’m sure I was a little low on fluids because my stomach was full and it was work to get anything down in me.

Oh hey, that’s one other thing I took at run special needs! Tums! My stomach felt better for a while but next time I will carry Tums with me the whole way.

I left the portapotty and went out for the second leg of the flux and the day began to squeeze me. There was an overpass we went up and I walked it. I made it out to mile 20, the turnaround on the second flux leg and was about spent. I got some encouragement from a great Boulder Tri couple (had terrific support from BTC all day too) and turned around for a long stretch of uphill. The clouds still teased me hanging over the hills with the energy of a hound dog on a porch.

I ran some and walked some, yet I was going slower and slower. Newton had set up some spritzers and I spent a few seconds under those. They also had a cool big screen up for messages that were recorded by supportive family members during check in. The timing chips we wore set the recording to play. I watched a few others as I approached the trigger. You only have a 10K left felt defeating. A 10K uphill felt like 10000 knife stabs to my thighs! Not helpful.DSC00831

Then I saw Ann and Nora and I smiled. Ann closed with,“…and Nora loves her Grandpops.” My heart lightened. My thighs weren’t listening. I walked through the aid station having some water, a grape or two, a pretzel. All the time the overpass I had to go back up and over taunted me. I walked. I began to make peace with the fact that I was going to be walking in. I trudged and trudged up to the top. I had hoped I would feel like jogging down the other side. I just walked. I walked all the way towards the flux intersection. I averaged 18 plus minutes per mile for those 2.4 miles. My friend Bruce later said he was really worried about me at that point as he watched online.

But then I learned more about the power of community.

Two women went by me talkin’ and speed walkin’. Something inside me woke up and began to try to hang on to them and their pace. I stayed with them for a few hundred yards. Then they ran a little on a slight downhill. This was their gig. Speed walk and use gravity to shuffle faster when it was available. I stayed with them another hundred yards and wondered if they felt like I was a creeper. I asked them if they minded if I tagged along. They smiled and said of course not. Everyone is so supportive during the suffering of this sufferfest.

With them my pace improved the next uphill couple miles to 13:45. As my pace went down my spirits lifted. Turned out they were Ironman Vets. One had done 17 Ironmans and the other 14. They shared their tums and recommended the chicken broth. It was wonderful to drink something salty not sweet.

We passed the junction with the turn to the finish line. Charles from BTC gave a loud Yeeeeaaaaahhhhh Bennnnnn! So great to hear. Just had to go about a mile up the hill then a mile back down it and then make that turn and it was a little over a quarter mile to the line! I get chills and thrills just typing it.

It was getting dark and they were handing out glow necklaces. I held mine in my hand with contempt. I really had expected to finish in the daylight.  We made the final turnaround, circled through for some more chicken broth and shuffled down through the dark and crowd.

We took the right turn went up the creek a bit and uturned back onto Arapahoe. As we made the left hand turn onto 13th my energetic heroes said, “Go ahead. This is your moment. Go enjoy it.” I honestly looked up and decided to walk with them just a little longer. It looked too far to run all the way. :)

After another 100 yards I tossed my necklace and took off in a run. The energy tingled all over from the crowd and lights and music. People on the right had their hands out and I slapped each and every one feeling like a rock star. I went over and slapped some on the left too. I couldn’t see my family but knew they were there. As I got to the red carpet I pumped my fist over and over and heard Mike Reilly call my name…Ben Wilson, you are an Ironman!!!

As I crossed the line I raised my hands over head and heard family and friends to my left. “YOU DID IT BEN! WAY TO GO BEN!” After 4 years, 14 hours and 32 minutes I was an Ironman.

Kevin and Laura were there. Dave and his daughter Cera. Christine. Ann and my daughter Stephanie whose pride filled smile touched a deep chord of music in me. Her guy Ben was there with his sister, Meredith and his uncle Greg. An orange shirted kind man took my picture with Ann. It was wonderful and amazing and it felt odd to just stop Forest Gump. IMG_3139

I made my way out of the chute and connected with everyone. We spent time on Pearl Street as I tried to figure out what to do with myself. I wanted to eat real food but wasn’t hungry. I wanted to have a celebratory beer but that sounded awful. After I tactlessly changed into my finisher shirt we headed to the Laughing Goat for a cup of coffee which I hoped would cut some of the sugar in my gut. I don’t know that it did but it was sweet to hang out with family. That sweetness tasted great.