Ironman Boulder 2015 | Race Report | Part 1

By S

Race: Ironman Boulder
Where: Boulder, CO
When: August 2, 2015

  • Swim – 1:17
  • Bike – 4:57
  • Run – 3:19
  • Total – 9:44

I started writing this race report and soon realized I had way too many thoughts for one post. As such, in a first for our blog, this will be a two part race report.

Part One – the ‘normal’ race report
Part Two – everything else

First off, some light pre-reading:
Ironman Boulder | The Plan
Ironman Boulder | Training Update I
Ironman Boulder | Training Update II | Ups and Downs

Compared with IMWI, check-in for Boulder was great. Living 30 minutes away from the action can really make a difference…go figure.

One new thing for me in this race – I rented race wheels. For those non-triathletes/cyclists out there, race wheels are funky looking bike wheels (oh, and expensive…very expensive) that are designed to be more aerodynamic and thus allow you to go faster with the same power output. I.E. “free” speed. Since qualifying for Kona was my goal, I figured every second counted, and if my competition was going to have race wheels, I figured I should as well.

Scott and I Checking in our Run Bags

Scott and I checking in our run bags

Other than the normal check-in process and logistical issues, I tried to stay off my feet as much as possible on Friday and Saturday.

Race morning
Morning came quick, per usual. Also per usual, I was barely able to sleep the night before the race. I think I got about three hours of sleep. Not ideal, but I’ve read countless times that your sleep two nights before your event is more important than the night before.

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm.

My goals for race morning were simple – think only positive thoughts and don’t think about the ‘competition’. In the weeks leading up to the race, I had done quite a bit of research on the other folks that were competing in my age group… This is what happens when you cut back on training volume. You spend your time obsessing over the aspects of the race you cannot control. Through my research, I had decided that I was probably not going to win my AG, but I was confident that I would be in the running for 3rd place. And in my AG, there are usually three Kona slots awarded…so I was on the cusp.

I had a quick breakfast; the Sam special – oatmeal with peanut butter, brown sugar, and strawberries – and some coffee. Then Danielle and I met up with Scott and drove to Boulder High School. We parked, dropped off our special needs bags, and hopped on the shuttle. Easy.

After arriving at the Boulder Reservoir, I spent a good 30 minutes trying to get air into my rented disc wheel tire. Turns out, I couldn’t use normal air pumps because fancy wheels require fancy pumps. This added a bit of unnecessary stress to my race morning, but it worked out…that’s why you arrive early! I had a few minutes to sit and talk to D, and then it was time to make my way to the swim start.

Me pretending to be calm while asking everybody in sight if they had a pump that would work for my fancy rental wheels.

Me pretending to be calm while asking everybody in sight if they had a pump that would work for my fancy rental wheels.

Goal – 1:08
Actual – 1:17

The difference between my goal and actual race time is a good summary of my swim.

What went well:

  • I didn’t drown.
  • I wasn’t too tired when I exited the water.
  • No stomach issues. I took a charcoal pill right before the swim start because I had heard that many folks had some GI issues they attributed to intaking copious amounts of reservoir water. I definitely drank about a gallon of the water, but no GI issues for me, thankfully.

What didn’t go well (I.E. how long do you have to read?):

  • First time swimming in my speed suit – rookie move, Johnmeyer.
  • I wore a tri top under my speed suit (chafe city) – rookie move, Johnmeyer.
  • Did I mention chaffing? – did I mention rookie move, Johnmeyer?
  • Constant barrage of wetsuit swimmers – this was just unfortunate.
  • Poor sighting – my watch said I swam 2.57 miles instead of 2.4.
Unaware of the chaffing that was about to occur.

Unaware of the chaffing that was about to occur.

So, the swim. The water temperature kept rising in the week leading up to the race. Initially, I figured I would just swim in my tri shorts if it ended up being wetsuit optional, but eventually I buckled and bought a Roka speed suit…two days beforehand. I didn’t go for a test swim in my speed suit (round of applause please) which ended up being a dumb decision. For those wondering what the purpose of a speed suit is…as the name would suggest it is supposed to make you slightly faster through the water. Slicker some say. Maybe 2-3 minutes over the course of 2.4 miles.

On race day, the water temperature was announced at 78.1 (F). Under WTC rules, if the water temp is below 76.1 (F) you are able to wear a wetsuit and still be eligible for awards. Above 76.1 (F), you can wear a wetsuit, but you are no longer eligible for age group awards, Kona slots, etc. if you choose to wear one. Since I was aiming for a Kona slot, this meant I was NOT going to wear a wetsuit.

The calm (and warm) reservoir on race morning.

The calm (and warm) reservoir on race morning.

I was expecting to be able to swim around a 1:08, per my aforementioned goal. I swam 1:12 (in a wetsuit) in Wisconsin and I was around 12 seconds/100 yards faster in all of my swim workouts versus my training leading into Wisconsin. As such, I was pretty confident I would be able to swim a 1:08 without a wetsuit, with 1:10 being my worst case scenario. So I lined up in the 1:00 – 1:15 pace group at the swim start, right next to Scott. In the moments before we started the swim, I tried to focus on the day ahead and think positive thoughts.

And then we were off! The first 10-15 minutes of the swim were great. I made sure to start out slow and, in doing so, I felt smooth and in control. Halfway down the ‘out’ section though, things started to unravel. First of all, my armpits started chafing. I attribute this to wearing my tri top underneath my speedsuit. Lots of fabric…not much space. At the time, I knew there was nothing I could do about it, so I just tried to ignore the pain. Second, the wetsuit swimmers started to catch up to me. Oh boy, nothing like wave after wave of wetsuit swimmers swimming over top of you to get you all riled up. This continued for the rest of the swim – one hour of chaffing plus neoprene arms and legs swimming over me. Add in some poor sighting on the return trip to shore and you have a recipe for a poor swim time.

When I finally exited the water, however, I was SHOCKED at what my watch said. 1:17?!!?! I had to look at it 3 times to make sure I was reading it correctly. When it finally registered that I had indeed swam so slowly, there was a split second where I completely gave up on getting a Kona slot…I thought to myself, ‘there is no way I can make up that time’. Then I remembered an article I had read earlier in the week with a quote from Danielle Mack, female champion at Ironman Canada

And female champion Danielle Kehoe reminded the audience that she arrived in T-1 after the swim to an empty bike rack, but for her sole remaining bike. She was able to turn around what could have been a damning mental blow at the start of the day. She said after the race, “If you ever feel like you’re last out of T-1 in your life, keep your head up.”

So, I told myself, “It is a long day. A lot can happen. Execute your race.” Although they sound silly, these mantras can really make a difference during a long race. Your mindset is important.

T1 was pretty straightforward, nothing to write home about. I saw Danielle at the bike mount line. She was doing a great job of maintaining a positive attitude, but I could tell she was just as shocked and worried about my slow swim as I was. After the race, she confessed that she had the same thoughts as I did…that Kona was a long shot.

Goal – 5:10
Actual – 4:57

The best way to describe the Boulder bike course is to put your left hand out in front of your face (palm out….talk-to-the-hand-cause-the-face-don’t-understand style). The course is two loops of your 4 fingers and palm (a little over 40 miles/loop) and then a third loop of your thumb (pretend like you have a really fat thumb). The third loop ended up being about 30 miles, bringing the total to a tidge under 110 miles.

Me and my fancy bike starting the bike course. Not pictured...the glare I gave Danielle when I mounted my bike that said, "I can't believe I swam that slow."

Me and my fancy bike starting the bike course. Not pictured…the glare I gave Danielle when I mounted my bike that said, “I can’t believe I swam that slow.”

My plan for the bike was to ride in a consistent effort in the 190 watt range. 2 weeks prior to the race, I did a 4 hour ride on the course around 200 watts and was able to run four sub-7 miles off the bike at a fairly easy effort level. So heading into race day, I was pretty happy with my bike fitness and confident in my approach.

As I mentioned previously, my main focus at the start of the bike was on staying positive after my slow swim. I also made sure to remind myself to stick to my plan. Trust your training! So for the first 20 miles, I made sure to take it as easy, averaging around 170 watts. Around mile 20 I accidently hit the ‘lap’ button on my watch which changed my settings from bike to run. I had to mess around with my watch for a minute or so to get it back to the correct setting, but this also meant my total mileage for my bike was going to be off the rest of the day. Small nuisance.

Soon thereafter, I arrived at Nelson road. Nelson road is the largest climb on the course. Leading up to the race, Nelson had built up a reputation for being a terrible climb. I never really understood the hyperbole some racers attached to Nelson. I mean, this is Boulder, CO. There are dozens of amazing mountain climbs just outside of town….and Nelson road wouldn’t be anywhere on that list. It just isn’t much of a climb. 5 miles. No terrible gradients.

Either way, I made sure to keep my power in check on both trips up Nelson. I was amazed by how many folks were getting out of their seats and ripping up the climb. There were several guys that must have been cranking out 300+ watts. I made sure to take it easy…I needed that energy for the run.

Overall, the 2 main loops of the ride went by relatively quickly. I had ridden the main loop 5 or 6 times prior to the race, so I was pretty familiar with the course. My legs were a little heavier than I was expecting them to be (190 watts wasn’t coming as easy as I expected) but I made sure to stick it out and trust my training. And fortunately, my legs came around towards the end of the bike.

I ended up losing three of my water bottles on the course. 3!! I lost my first one during the first railroad crossing. My plan was to cross the tracks on the far right hand side (as I did during all of my training rides) but I just so happened to run up behind a pack of four riders immediately before the tracks, so I ended up crossing the tracks in the middle of the road. Not good. One of my full bottles of nutrition went flying, with 360 calories still inside. Fortunately, I had included Gatorade Endurance in my training (the on-course nutrition), so I was prepared for the situation.

My race plan was to drink four bottles of EFS (mixed at 360 calories/bottle), eat one Kit’s bar, and supplement with water from the course. This adds up to 1,630 calories or around 326/hour.

In reality, I ended up losing one bottle of EFS (dem railroad tracks tho) so I consumed three bottles of EFS (@ 360/bottle), two bottles of Gatorade Endurance (@160/bottle), and one Kit’s bar (@190 calories) for a total of 1,590 calories or 318/hour.

During my second loop, I made sure to cross the tracks on the far right. It was amazing how many bottles were on the side of the road by the tracks though…there had to be over 100 bottles in a pile. I also lost two of my empty water bottles on the second loop of the course. No idea where they fell off. I guess the moral of the story is that my rear bottle cage is terrible. Profile Design rear bottle cage…don’t buy one.

By the time I started on the 3rd loop (the thumb) things were starting to thin out. I noticed there were fewer people around me and that I was passing people less frequently. Great news. This meant I was making my way toward the front of the field. Contrast this with the beginning of my bike leg where the course was extremely crowded. That’s what happens when you are a slow swimmer…you put yourself in a position where you have to pass lots of folks.

The last five miles of the course were really fun. You are done with the major hills and you start to make your way back into Boulder proper. Moreover, since I was by myself at this point, it felt like I had a police escort through town. There were police officers at all of the stop lights stopping traffic as I flew through. For a few seconds, I felt like I was leading the race.

Taking inventory of my body, I felt pretty good. I was ecstatic with my nutrition (so many calories!), pretty happy with my legs, and I was VERY ready to get off of my bike.

Prior to the race, I had written down a list of names and given it to Danielle. This was the list of folks in my age group that I was expecting to be ahead of me off of the bike. Danielle’s task was to give me updates on my current place and how far I was behind the folks on that list. Heading into the day I expected to be in 10th place in my age group getting off of the bike. After my slow swim, however, I thought I might have lost a few places – maybe 15th?

I heard Danielle yell my name when I reached T2, but I did not stop to say hey…the real race was just about to start. T2 is pretty long, but I did not mind that much because I was just happy to get off of my bike. I did not know it at the time, but I arrived at T2 in 11th place in my age group and 90th overall. And holy cow, it was amazing. There were maybe 10 other guys in the change tent. I found a seat right by the door and an amazing volunteer helped me unpack my bag, organize my shoes, pack up my bike stuff…everything. It was phenomenal.

Compare that with Wisconsin, where I arrived in T2 in 614th place to a CROWDED changing tent. It was difficult to find a seat and all of the volunteers were busy assisting other people. Needless to say, being faster comes with a few perks.

Goal – 3:10
Actual – 3:19

My plan for the run was to run my first two miles around 7:30 pace and then pick up the pace until I reached my upper aerobic heart rate…around 150 bpm. In training, this zone typically resulted in a 6:50-ish pace. Dealing with the heat plus being 6+ hours into the race, I was expecting the same effort level to produce a 7:10-ish pace for the marathon.

As always, it was difficult to hold back the pace for the first mile, but I did a decent enough job, I think my first two miles ended up being around 7:20s. I say ‘I think’ because I somehow paused my watch for my first mile. Once I finished mile two, I picked it up a bit and started to focus on getting into a rhythm.

Between miles 2 and 3, I finally saw four of the guys in my age group that were ahead of me. At the time, I did not know how far ahead they were (I thought they were much further) but it was nice to be able to see how they were doing…several were struggling. One of the great things about the Boulder run course is that there are three out and back sections that allow you to judge just how far back (in my case) or ahead you are compared with other folks in the race. At this point, I still did not know what place I was in in my age group. In fact, I thought I was in much worse shape than I was.

Around mile 6, I finally saw Danielle, DJ, and Kari and received my first update on my ranking within my age group – Danielle told me I had started the run in 11th (this was very surprising to me) and I was currently in 8th. This was great news! It was a huge confidence boost and for the first time since exiting the swim I began to think that I had a shot at Kona.

Miles 6 to 13 were all about keeping my rhythm and making sure I was getting enough water and nutrients. My pace was a little slower than I would have liked, but I was gaining confidence by the mile, especially seeing how much other folks were struggling.

Immediately before the halfway point I saw Danielle, Kari, and DJ again. I made eye contact with Danielle and she held up five fingers…5th place. When I got closer, she told me I was one minute behind 4th and four minutes behind 3rd. Heading into the day I tried to visualize myself getting to mile 13 and picking up the pace. I told myself over and over again that I was going to need to embrace the pain and keep on pushing if I wanted to qualify. And here it was, the time to make it happen. Miles 13 – 20 were a blur. By the time I saw my squad one final time at mile 20, I knew I was 2nd place in my age group. Danielle confirmed this by saying, ‘You’re in 2nd. BUT DON’T STOP PUSHING!’ Unfortunately, that did not happen.

For the first time all day, I stopped thinking about racing and started thinking about how tired my body was. Even more embarrassing, I thought to myself, ‘2nd is pretty good and I’m not sure I’m good enough to get 1st place in my age group.’ I think part of me was so surprised to be in that position that I did not know how to handle it. Heading into the day, I was certain I was going to be in a dogfight for 3rd place. 1st or 2nd never even crossed my mind.

Either way, once my mind decided it was content with 2nd, my body followed suit. That will never happen again. The last 10K of the marathon was a struggle. My pace slowed into the high 8 minute miles, even touching 9 minute mile pace for a bit. A little less than three miles from the finish, I was passed for the first time on the run, by a guy in my age group no less. This was the wake up call I needed. I tried to keep up with his pace for a bit, but I couldn’t hold on. (He ended up winning the age group by turning in a 3:05 marathon. An amazing performance. I spoke to him briefly after the race. Really nice guy and a 2:26 open marathoner. Unreal.) The last two miles were great. Mostly downhill and then a few quick turns to the finish.

Post Race
I crossed the line 3rd place in my AG and 13th overall. I was caught by two friends – Brandon and Theresa – which was great. I was pretty of out of it and they did a phenomenal job of navigating me through the finisher’s corral, to the food, and eventually to the medical tent for a few minutes.

I found a patch of grass just outside the finishers chute and stayed there for the next hour. My body was done. Blisters. Nausea. Soreness. Looking back, I’m not sure there was much more I could have given out on the course. I might have left a minute or two out there over the last 10K, but not much more than that.

The night after the race, I was equal parts excited and nervous. Excited because I had just done something I had spent two years dreaming about. Nervous because I still wasn’t sure I was going to get a Kona slot. Just the week before, the 25-29 AG in Ironman Lake Placid only received two Kona slots. Now, this is not a normal scenario, in most races the 25-29 AG receives three slots, but when you are sitting in the 3rd slot, the unknown can be extremely worrisome.

The next morning, we arrived at the awards ceremony and I made Danielle go look at the slot allocation…I couldn’t do it myself. Sure enough – three slots! I was Kona bound!! Well, after I paid all of the monies for the entry fee.


Woohoo! (I’m the pale one.)

Looking back, I could not have asked for a better result. More than anything, I am extremely happy with my focus and execution on the bike and run after my terrible swim start. It just goes to show, that anything can happen during an Ironman. It is a very long day…

The obligatory Kona shot with Mirinda Carfrae

The obligatory Kona shot with Mirinda Carfrae.

The thanks

  • DJ and Kari – The cheering squad. Thanks for spending your Sunday yelling encouraging words and commenting on how great my derriere looked in my tri shorts. That’s the real reason I tri…so I’m glad you noticed.
  • Scott – The sounding board. Thanks for the tri banter, training advice, and mental support for the past year. And a big congratulations on your finish!
  • Brandon and Theresa – Catchers of the year. Thanks for leading me around like a lost child at the finish!
  • D – Thanks for believing in me and pushing me! Most folks would have said Kona is a bit too ambitious for your second Ironman (especially when your first was an 11:07), but fortunately you’re not most folks!


  1. momwizard · · Reply

    Congratulations Sam! What an accomplishment!


  2. yaaaaaayyyyy! this was so awesome to read!

    1. wheels: are they worth it? we’ve tossed the idea around a bit …
    2. chafing: i’m starting to realize you just don’t avoid it in the swim. sucks.
    3. as you were the first person we officially “caught,” we apparently did things right. awesome.
    3.a. that’s what we were there for!!!
    4. KONA!!!!!!!!!!!! omg this is so amazing. and you’re ridiculous, but it’s awesome and we are SO PROUD.
    5. so the best sleep two nights before? that … actually makes a lot of sense, given my typical shit pre-race sleeps …


    1. The wheels definitely added some speed. I would say .5 mph…so, maybe? And yes, you might just have a career in catching 🙂


      1. sweet, more useless life skills! i can put “rock star ironman finish line catcher” on the list …


  3. […] Ironman Boulder | The Plan Ironman Boulder | Training Update I Ironman Boulder | Training Update II | Ups and Downs Ironman Boulder | Race Report | Part 1 […]


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