I took a little solo road trip to Boulder last weekend to test out my fitness at the Ironman 70.3 event in the so-called "Mecca of Triathlon". It had been a LONG time since I visited Boulder (seven, maybe eight years?) but it was much the way I remembered it, and in a strange way even more familiar despite the long absence. I think this is because geographically it reminds me so much of Salt Lake, except of course that the mountains are on the "wrong" side, and now that I've lived in Utah for over eight years that type of mountain terrain seems normal to me. Once upon a time I actually considered living and going to school in Boulder and this trip reaffirmed my suspicion that I could be quite happy there. Salt Lake is a pretty outdoorsy place but Boulder puts it to shame; there are bike lanes EVERYWHERE and a real sense of community fitness. I was astonished by how many people were out riding their bikes and even more so by the number of organized running groups out training on Saturday morning---complete with coaches holding stopwatches and calling out splits. It was really pretty awesome to witness!
The race was an important fitness check for me as I've been plagued by a very unhappy ankle since mid-June and was forced to take a little time off from running. Despite the importance of the race and the inevitably strong field that it drew because of it being a "hometown" race for so many pros, I went into it without feeling any pressure and was pleasantly surprised by the low key atmosphere. It also helped that I had people other than myself to focus on! My dear friends and "adoptive" Utah parents Betsy and Victor Pollak were there as Vic was attempting his first half-ironman race and we had a really lovely pre-race dinner together. Vic is in his mid-sixties and is a "slow and steady" type of athlete, so his main goal was to finish the race before the cut-off time. I definitely felt more anxiety over Vic's race than my own because I really really really wanted him to have a good experience and be successful---which he was! It was great fun hanging around the finish line area when my race was done, bopping around to the music with Betsy and awaiting Vic's arrival. I definitely love racing but spectating can be a lot of fun too!
I also had the opportunity to check out the Ironkids race on Saturday morning. It's kind of a complicated story, but basically a good friend of mine used to do health coaching over the phone for a large insurance company, and one of his former clients is a triathlete who was racing at Boulder. Over the course of their consultations my friend mentioned me and the triathlete---his name is Rob Robinson---looked me up online and found my blog. Rob has a ten-year-old daughter named Mabry who also started reading my blog and she was somehow inspired to do a school project about me! How flattering! The entire Robinson family was racing in Boulder including Rob, his wife Lauren, Mabry, and her younger brother Blake. They came to the race with their friends the Cosgroves (Linda and Greg and their kids Riley and Hannah) who were also racing, and we discovered that without having planned it we were all staying at the same hotel. Small world! So I spent some quality becoming friends with them and promised that I would be at the Ironkids race to cheer them on. The kids race was really something else to watch! The event was super well organized and the kids were pretty darn cute. Some of them were obviously very well-coached and had REAL bikes, fancy race kits, and did some pretty impressive things in transition including flying mounts. I suspect some of those kids may have had last names like Alexander, Legh, and Reed! Mabry, Blake, Riley and Hannah had quite the cheering squad as two sets of grandparents as well as an uncle and a few other friends also turned out to spectate. I had an absolute blast cheering for the kids, and couldn't help but be impressed by the way the entire family was involved in the sport. How cool is that?! I didn't even know what triathlon was until I was in college and here are these kids being raised smack-dab in the middle of the multi-sport lifestyle. I would say that the future of the sport is definitely bright!
As for my own race, it was a solid effort that left me sore in all the right places. I knew that my swim and biking strength was coming around but the big question mark was if my ankle would hold up on the run and whether or not I had the fitness to maintain a race effort for 13.1 miles. My fastest mile split was actually my last mile so I think the answer to that is a resounding YES! Despite being well down the list in the results I am pretty pleased with the performance and it's a good indication that things are heading the right direction for some strong races in the next few months. My swim was good but not great. I don't quite have the speed to match the best swimmers in the sport (some of whom were there of course!) and I ended up swimming alone the whole way. Two things about the swim surprised me: first, how warm the water was for a "mountain" reservoir and secondly, how I actually felt the altitude! It wasn't horrible but breathing was noticeably more difficult, even at just 1000 feet higher than what I'm used to. Going against my own advice, I hadn't gotten in to swim the day before because the Boulder Res has some very odd ideas about water safety and swimming was severely restricted. If I HAD tested the waters the day before I definitely would have known to wear my new blueseventy Helix Sleeveless wetsuit rather than the full suit! Ah well, hindsight is 20/20.
I exited the water in 5th place, then was almost immediately passed on the bike as eventual-winner Melissa Hauschildt motored by. I returned the favor by overtaking Christine Anderson, but roughly halfway through the bike Christine reappeared and then took off after we traded back and forth a few times. I knew it was a fast course and that I was riding well, but there were some really strong ladies out there! The bike course was one big loop on fantastic road surfaces with minimal traffic. It began with a steady false flat climb then turned into rollers for the rest of the course. There was one short out-and-back section near the end of the ride where I was pleased to see I was within a few minutes of Leanda Cave and Amy Marsh, but once I made the 180 turn I was dismayed to see that there were also two girls right on my tail! Darn. They---Uli Bromme and Jeanni Seymour---caught me just before we turned onto the road leading back to the Reservoir. I transitioned quickly behind them and hit the run in 8th place.
I LOVED this run course, which is pretty funny because I remember having a healthy dislike for it many eons ago when I did the Boulder Peak Triathlon. The 70.3 run course is two loops on mostly hard-packed dirt roads and gravel trails around the Reservoir. There are rolling hills at the beginning of each loop and not a speck of shade to be found. If the temperature had been what it was the day before I think I wouldn't have enjoyed the run half as much, but a well-timed storm had rolled through and cooled things off which made the run not nearly as oven-like as it could have been. The course has distinct sections which helps with getting a good mental grasp of it and staying focused. With the exception of a slight lapse between miles 8-9.5 I held things together and was absolutely thrilled that my ankle didn't bother me. I think the packed dirt was a nice forgiving surface that was about the best thing that could have happened for it! I didn't catch any of my competitors on the run and in fact was overtaken by one other girl, so I ended the day in 9th place---not awesome, but pleased to be back on track.
I spent the rest of the afternoon being a cheerleader for Vic, Rob, Lauren, Linda, and Greg and hanging out with the entire Pollak/Robinson/Cosgrove clans. What a blast! I left Boulder that evening with a good feeling in my heart---of a job well done, new friends made, and sharing in the successes of old ones. Friends, that is. Ah, Boulder! You have been good to me.
Thank you: to the Robinsons and Cosgroves for letting me tag along; to Betsy and Vic for dinner and your wonderful company; to Albert for holding down the fort in my absence; and to my sponsors for their unfailing support---Powerbar, Blueseventy, Rudy Project, REV3, Powertap, Maxxis, Recovery Pump, Reynolds, Fezzari, and The Bike Shoppe. I couldn't do it without you!