You know, races are funny things. Sometimes they’re a test of physical strength, sometimes mental strength – and sometimes a combination of both (as well as usually a bit of luck).
The other challenge with races is that the more experienced at a given sport you get, the more focused you become on a specific goal – and when it appears that goal is out of reach during the event, one starts to question the rest of the attempt at that goal.
See, for me, the day was a relatively simple numbers game. In order to reach my goal (4:30’s), I needed a fairly simple and quite achievable day that consisted off these rough block times:
1) Swim: 30 minutes
2) Bike: 2hr 30 minutes
3) Run: 1hr 35m or less
4) Transitions: 5 minutes total
From a race standpoint all of this should have been fairly achievable for me – as I’ve done all of this before in different half-iron races. I’ve got sub-30 swims in rough ocean water, 2:25 bikes and sub-1hr 35 half-iron runs on far more difficult days and courses. This was in essence going to be the perfect race course for me, both in design and with respect to weather. I just needed to pull it together for an overall PR of a couple minutes.
But, just like virtually every airplane crash – it’s never one singular major event, but rather a cascading chain of small things going wrong that leads to ultimate failure. Thus, my race.
You know what’s the best part about Boise 70.3? The 12PM start time. Yup, noon. It’s brilliant. So my day started with waking up around 9AM and grabbing a bit of breakfast before we headed over to drop off our run bags. Like Providence 70.3 in previous years, this is a clean transition area, which means that everything must be in the supplied run bag with your number on it. The trick is to arrange it in such a way that allows you instant access:
From there we walked a few yards away to the school bus line to get the shuttles from downtown to the reservoir a dozen miles away. The Boise course is point to point, which means the swim is one place (the mountains) and the run is another place (downtown along the river), and you have a bike course connecting the two.
Once we arrived up at the lake it was a beautiful warm day – low 70’s, virtually no wind, and perfect for racing.
My bike had been racked the previous night (we managed to get in just in time after our nightmare 26 hour trip from DC to Boise, involving sleeping overnight in Denver after numerous delayed and cancelled flights). So upon arrival in the morning I simply got into transition and got everything else all set on the bike.
Along the way I did notice two minor issues. One, my one piece tri-suit zipper detached from the cloth, which left me unable to zip it up (thankfully it goes no lower than my belly button). Not a huge thing, but certainly not stylish – I used four safety pins to close it up and hopefully have it be a bit more aero during the bike. I would later remove most of these during the run just so it didn’t look so funny.
Additionally, I somehow managed to forget a pair of socks. I can bike just fine without socks – but my feet haven’t quite built up to running 13.1 miles without them. What’s ironic about this is that normally I actually have two pairs in my transition bag as spares. But with the ‘clean’ transition area setup I neglected to remember either. No worries, The Girl had an extra pair – albeit tiny, but still functional.
With that, I headed on over to bag drop-off and eventually into the swim line for my 12:45PM start.
Now would be an ideal time to mention the water temperature: 52*F.
I know it may be hard to understand how cold 52*F water is. After all, you’ve probably swam in mid-60’s in a triathlon before and survived just fine. But let me tell you: 52*F is a whole different world of cold. Not quite Polar Bear cold, but really darn cold.
It’s so cold that when we first got in the water, everyone was holding their hands above the water, as if trying to pass a treading water test at the local pool. No hands went below the water until the horn sounded.
While we had four minutes to acclimate – we were not permitted to swim around, so my acclimation mostly consisted of dunking my head as much as possible to get used to it. Regrettably, I wouldn’t say I was successfully acclimated.
Once the horn sounded…it was pretty much miserable for me. I now know what the feeling of panic must be like for new triathletes in a rough swim. The first 90-120 seconds were a barely controlled swim of fear and inability to breath in the chilly water. Still, I tried to keep in mind my own post on exactly how long it takes for breathing to acclimate in cold water. And while that was mentally interesting, it was far from comforting. I’m reasonably certain that the entire wave passed me during this time. Sure, I was swimming forward…but probably not very fast.
That said, after those first two minutes I got into a bit of a groove and it really wasn’t that bad. I had worn booties and a neoprene cap, so I was actually pretty warm after my face got used to it.
From a pacing standpoint I wouldn’t say I was pushing as hard I should have been though, at least to the first turn buoy. Speaking of which, here’s a quick diagram of the course was supposed to look like:
In reality, it looks nothing like that, but rather, more like this:
(Interestingly, the run course also varied a fair bit from the published athletes guide route, nothing that mattered race-day wise, other than to confuse my automated tracking alerts).
Once I hit the first turn buoy I locked onto another guy within my wave and we went stroke for stroke almost all the way back. We were definitely moving along, and passing many people in my wave. The only challenge with being the very last wave to go was the carnage on the course that you had to navigate. A lot of folks treading water right on the perfect swim line. Sometimes you just didn’t see them until the last second.
As we neared the boat ramp and exit I was feeling pretty good. I knew about 100 yards out I was going to probably miss my 30m marker, but not by much. As I went to go place my foot down though to stand up, the telltale sign of massive cramp set in down my right calf.
And instantly I went back down into the 2’ deep water. Just like a turtle upside on his back, stranded. I couldn’t stand up to save my life.
The assist folks would end up having to drag me out of the water onto the side of the boat ramp, where thankfully a paramedic was standing there to try and stretch it out so I could at least stand up. I really wanted to ask them though if they could at least drag me across the swim timing mats a few feet away, but I decided this probably wasn’t the time to do so.
A few minutes later of upside-down turtle action, I was on my way limping up the ramp.
After a short run I found the biggest, burliest wetsuit stripper I could find (that’s my rule by the way – bigger is better) and seconds later I had my suit stripped off. For those not familiar, wetsuit strippers assist you in removing your wetsuit. You simply lie down on your back in front of them with your legs up and they rip the suit off of you in about 1.2 seconds.
From there I zipped through transition as fast as I could, dodging the unusually high number of people sitting in the middle of the transition aisle. Race Tip: If you sit in the middle of the aisle stretched out across it, don’t be surprised when people get upset with you.
My official swim time was 33:15, three minutes behind schedule, which may not sound like a lot – but when you combine that with 3:50 T1, I was looking at the 37’s going onto the bike – which mentally put me quite a bit further behind than I wanted to be.
As you probably know, often times you’re highest heart rates on the bike course will be within the first 1-2 minutes of the bike, thus it’s usually key to try and get things under control quickly (regardless of how you pace your race). But that’s what’s great about the Boise bike course. You traverse the length of the dam – just enough time to get into your bike shoes, and then you get to descend for a minute or two at 40+MPH. This gives you plenty of time to recover before pushing along. Here’s a view of the road that you scream down (you can see the dam to the right, and then the road curving around to the left, eventually down to where we are in the bus driving up):
(Btw, another Race Tip: If you’re uncomfortable on a high speed descent, that’s cool and understandable. Just remember to try and stay to the right and hold your line. It’s just as scary for me when one is completing snow-plow style slow ‘S’ turns down across the two lanes ahead of me.)
With the fun descent done it was largely just a matter of getting into my heart rate and power zones. My race plan had two different numbers I was working with. First, I had heart rate – to use as a general guide. But I also had power numbers as well. The power numbers were primarily a max-limiter, and the goal was for both power and heart rate to lineup. And in general, they did. I was a bit lower in the HR zones (which is good), for the power I was putting out. I had this all programmed into a workout on the Garmin Edge 800, which looked like the below when on the unit (I took this screenshot the day before):
And, for the first 35-40 miles of the bike I was rockin’ it. I was nailing my power numbers and my heart rates were spot on, or slightly lower. The laps were based on sections of the course, and thus I had different HR/Power targets for each one (generally speaking, they aligned to climbs, flats or descents). You can see the drop-off in the last sections/lap. Though, some of that would be lower since there were 2-3 good descents in the 2nd to last lap where I was easy pedaling while descending for 1-2 minutes per pop.
The course itself is rather scenically quite pretty. It’s mostly just slightly rolling roads in farmlands along with long stretches of flats and and an few longer (though not steep) climbs tossed in for good measure. Here’s a few pictures I took the following day:
Making the course even better is that virtually all of it was on closed roads – a huge rarity for a course this length. No cars to worry about was awesome!
Around mile 40 I started noticing my heart rate and power were dropping. At the same time I was doing some mental time math and it still wasn’t working out in my favor. Between these two simple factors I think it mentally started to snowball a bit. My power numbers for the last 10-15 miles were pretty bad – not at all in line with race plan or what I should have been biking.
And in looking at things the day after while unpacking/packing my bags, I suspect some of this might have nutrition, as I noticed how little I actually took in – something I didn’t realize at the time as I was getting the right amount of water in, but apparently missing some of the gel (I should have had consumed 1.5-1.75 bottles by the end of the bike):
I finished up the bike in 2:33 – again, another 3 minutes ‘behind plan’ putting me some 6 minutes behind my desired plans. While 6 minutes may not sound like a lot, it is when you’ve got almost no margin to work with.
That said, I was ready to roll on the run and give it my best – looking forward to a solid PR.
And then…I got off my bike.
And I couldn’t walk.
Back about a month or so I had finished up a run and the left hip flexor hurt quite a bit – so much so that within 5 minutes of the the training run I literally couldn’t walk anymore. But oddly, when I woke up in the morning I was fine. Not thinking much of it, I let it go. Then again, a few weeks ago it happened to a lesser degree after a bike ride. Again, it was fine by the next day.
Today, not so much.
Without question it was the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in a race. Probably more painful than when I got hit by the car and still finished the race. I was about as close I have ever gotten to just DNF’ing.
So the first…while…was a hobble to try and get up to a run. I found though that after I got moving it wasn’t too bad, and in fact, I ran pretty well for the first 3-4 miles following it, before it started to hurt again.
Around the 4 mile marker I decided I would walk an aide station, get some fluids/nutrition and then make a go at it again.
That hurt. In fact, it hurt a lot.
I was better off running. Which was fine, except I couldn’t quite get up to speed. I needed to be sub-7, and while I was at times, I wasn’t solidly sub-7 enough to make the paces I needed to turn around the loss on the bike and swim.
Add to the previous 6+ minutes I was in the hole and things just mentally fell apart for me. You get to the point where you’re just questioning why you’ve just spent half a year training when you can’t hit the times you should easily be able to, and thus the PR you want. And while I certainly recognize you can’t PR every race, this was the one race I felt like I was fully ready to PR. Everything had come together in the last week for me – my times were rock solid in training recently and it was looking really good. And then to have it all end up like this pretty much sucked.
I will point out that the run course itself was probably my favorite half-iron run course to date. Incredibly fast course, well protected from the sun in most areas, along the river, and one that offered nonstop distraction – it was ideal. I enjoy courses where I can’t see more than a 100y ahead of me, simply because I don’t have to think about how far I have to run.
I ended up finishing with my slowest half-iron time in three years, though I did make it a goal to try and run/walk/hobble to a sub-5 finish. And the last two miles were respectable, mostly because I was so desperate to make it end I just ran more or less as hard as I could, damn the pain.
It goes without saying that my race fell short of my goals. At this point all I can do is learn from the race, and try to apply those lessons learned to next time. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the DC Tri Sprint Triathlon this upcoming weekend. I think that in general I perform better at races where I have no expectations or specific goals – just simply to go out and enjoy the day, and have fun.
Looking forward to it!
Oh, and I should at least mention this highlight of the post-race experience – The Beef Recovery Zone. Fear not vegetarians, they also served pizza, bananas and other non-meat items:
And finally, thanks to everyone who cheered me on either in person on the course, or online and tracking me. I really appreciate it! I’ll be putting together a post a bit later in the week on how the tracker experiment went – though I’d be interested in your feedback as well:
Oh, and you should definitely head on over to The Girl’s blog for her race report, as she ended up with a bit of hardware!
Thanks for reading!
I am sorry it was such a disappointing day out there for you, but good job holding things together and getting it done! I agree that for most of us, the lower-stakes local races where we go in for fun rather than with an ambitious goal are likely to lead to better performances! In particular this thing of multi-leg travel with bikes and luggage to go astray contributes to stress in the couple days preceding the race that is fairly hard to overcome….
(I had a calf cramp on the swim the second time I did the Florida 70.3 – ditto, you stand up and literally suddenly realize you can’t put any weight on the leg! I could feel it throughout the bike, kept trying to stretch it out by pointing and flexing, but when I got to the run it was pretty clear that I still couldn’t put my heel flat to the ground without fairly excruciating fine. It was a long, hot walk that day!
Sorry the race didn’t go well, but good for you on keeping a positive attitude. Like you said, you can’t PR in every race. There will always be another race, though – and you will get your PR. Thanks for the detailed race report!
I could tell something was up when I was tracking you out there – sounds like a painful day but you were strong and persevered through all that! The run course truly is gorgeous, I loved it even though it was nearly dark out (the race started at 4pm back then) by the time I was on it. That descent from the dam on the bike was scary my year though, because we had raging crosswind and pouring rain – NOT the kind of conditions I like to descend at top speed in! Good job surviving the day, even if it wasn’t what you’d hoped for. Now on to wedding stuff!
Sorry you weren’t able to meet your original goal. Hope your hip flexor is behaving now.
Oh, I feel your pain! I had a hard time and an uncharacteristic slight freak out – it was hard to get acclimated in the very short 2-3 minute window we had. I think it was not most people’s version of ideal swimming conditions by any stretch of the imagination. Your outlook is perfect considering the circumstances! Sometimes I think we learn the most from disappointments. Great job pushing through some major challenges and good luck this weekend, and the following weekend for the “big day”!
Sorry things didn’t work out for you. From the terrible airport experience to the cold water to the cramps. It sucks that this was the “A” race and things didn’t pan out the way they intended, but there will always be other races.
How does your hip feel now? Is it like before, where the day after it is ok? Hope you can make it to the DC Tri – I’ll be out there!
Thanks for the report! Sorry to hear you didn’t reach your goals, but lots of people would’ve just quit at one point or another: you at least went on!
Sorry to hear, although your still going to be much faster than me. I’ve got my first triathlon next wednesday followed by a 70.3 on the weekend.
How are you storing your gel flasks on the bike? I haven’t heard much since the tennis ball carrier
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I believe what defines an endurance athlete is the moment you seriously start the mental process of wanting to drop out and fighting past that to finish. Parts of your body have shut down, you are mentally fried, but you force your body to move along and compete. Overcoming the mere thought of dropping is victorious in itself. Hang in there, and way to keep grinding it out.
Ray, Ray, Ray…..Ray.
If no one else this week tells you that you are an “inspiring” person, let me be the one. You are courageous to put your performance and training on line for thousands to view and judge. Bravo Ray. Having said that, please allow me to be your alter ego for a moment.
I have pleading with you for the last 6 weeks to fire your coach….the time has come . In Chicago we say “…da coach, its time to fire you ”
Perhaps in Ray’s world, its time to fire the coach”
Ray, still an awesome true grit effort! I’m inspired. As I was flying around on Fri, I saw Boise show up on one of those in-flight maps and thought of your race. I enjoy reading the blog. Don’t beat yourself up too much over it. I think the “run a sprint with no specific goals” is a good way to clear your head.
I ran a mara in mid May with a 3:10 goal. Training was perfect – a 2:11 30K race at the end of march (PR) and thought I had this in the bag – a 3:08 was even possible. Anyways, I had the same kind of “whoops that shouldn’t be like that moments” with tendons and before I knew it I was walking the last 4miles to the finish. As I tried to get my leg to restart, the pain was just too much – I cried on the run. A bitter disappointment. I still finished and now that I’ve had time to reflect, I’m glad I did.
You did awesome finishing that through all the pain, so sending some healing vibes – hoping its not serious and GL to more races and PRs soon!
Thanks for the great race report and I certainly FEEL YOUR PAIN! I had my first sprint tri of the season on Sunday and NOTHING went right.
The swim started off great with another athlete and myself battling out for first, that is until we both were told we cut a bouy. We had to back track and complete the course – that sucked. I was able to fight my way up to 4th out of the water (I was a swimmer in college).
Now onto the bike…Transition went well and fast. First race with Cervelo P2, Aero Helmet, etc. 100 yards into the bike course and BLAM – a flat! I was thinking just stop now, no sense pushing on – it’s just not your day – THEN I remembered the video you posted of the girl in the mile running race fell and got back up and won the event.
So I changed the flat tire (in 4 minutes – good for me) and headed out. I started picking off people one by one and felt strong. 3.5 miles into the race right after a steep incline – BAMB, another flat tire.
I was DONE! No more tubes and no more C02. I turned around and headed back. I walked back barefooted but safe (they had no one on the course to pick me up – the cop couldn’t even get anyone on the radio).
I guess we live to race another day. Next race is in 2 weeks!!!!
Next time will be better.
Loved the updates on Twitter, had the screen open all the time!
Twitter only updates alone are however a bit sparse, access to the website with map, etc. would make the whole experience much better. Garmin will have to work on this, and I think it makes the product much more interesting for a lot of people. Technically it can’t be that difficult, considering that on Garmin Connect you can already make activities public and make them accessible by anyone.
In the meantime an idea would be if you would post the course map with your geofences before the race, then anyone following you can look back on he map to have a better understanding of the race.
Don’t underestimate the draining influence of your travel snafu the day prior. I doubt you were on 100% reserves at the start. Even if you were on a business trip, with no physical activity, you’d probably have felt off after the botched plane connection. I’m sure the top “pro”‘s arrived days ahead to get the travel out of their systems.
it must be very frustrating to experience those mishaps after training for a long time. what i like about it is your positive attitude towards the result of your race.
thanks for sharing your race results and your experience during the race itself.
Ray, good for you on the positive attitude, completing in such obvious pain is really inspiring. Ben
Ray, Very sorry to hear that you were not rewarded for all the effort you put into your preparation. Hopefully you got all of the season’s mishaps over with in this race and the rest of your season is stellar.
I have my “A” race for the season this Sat June 18 in Pat Griskus and have had several recent setbacks including hurting my back June 4 as volunteer at Rev3 Quassy when I bent over to pick up a 5 gal jug of water.
Good luck with the rest of your sesaon.
Ray, great effort out there considering all the setbacks and unplanned events. It just shows that no matter how much we train, there’s still so much out of our control, humbling to say the least. Kudos for persevering through it all, finishing as strong as you could and sharing your experience, it reminds us not to take anything for granted. You exemplify Lance Armstrong’s quote: “Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever”
This was great! Boise was my first ironman event and I really enjoyed it…except i fear that I may have been one of those annoying slow bikers going downhill! Yikes.
Well, with that kind of setbacks, congratulations on finishing!
Also, thanks a lot for sharing all the race with us, very enjoyable reading indeed.
Hope you get your new PR next time.
Good job finishing. Sometimes we don’t always get what we want but at least you finished. Many would have quit and been bitter. You have a great attitude and I’m sure you will get that new PR. Keep your head up and the great work.
Ray, I am dealing with an achilles injury, and thus not racing right now, so I understand some of your frustration. I must say that you did an excellent job to finish under adverse circumstances. Good luck in your next race.
Congrats on finishing a tough race. Get the hip flexor looked at, possilby accupuncture if you are open to that. I know that it was dissapointing to have the race go the way it did, but you finished in the face of adversity and there is something to be said for that. Congrats again on the finish
Congrats Ray ! How’s the hip ? Had that a few month ago, hurts like hell…
I feel your pain for the swim. I am stationed in Hawaii and train here year round. Obviously we have lots of beautiful weather and training. As a member of the All-Marine Corps Triathlon team this year I was able to compete in the Armed Forces Triathlon Champpionships in Pt Mugu California. The Temp for our swim was 53 degrees. It was the most painful and challenging 1.5k swim that I have ever done. I had a neoprene cap but no botties. About 150m into the swim I lost all feeling in my feet and legs. Because that race is ITU we do a two loop swim and you have to run up on the beach and around a bouy for the second lap. I have never dreaded getting back in the water so much. After the second lap I was so numb (hands and feets) that I could not even get my wetsuit off. (we had no Ironman volunteers unfortunately). Eventually I made it onto the bike and made up some time. It took until mile 4 in the run for my feet to start tingling and have feeling again.
The moral of the story is I hate the super cold swims and feel your pain. I don’t think the body can rapidly adapt to the cold water when it trains all of the time in the warm (76-78 degree) water. I think it can have an impact on the rest of your race both mentally and physically.
A job well done pushing through 13 miles of pain at the end and not giving up. Congrats to The Girl for a great 3rd Place in her AG!!
Sorry your race didn’t go as planned. This has been a cold wet spring for us here in the intermountian west. I had my second open water swim (oly) in a lake with a water temp of 56°f (I’m not sure how much warmer 4°f is in terms of water, anything in the 50’s is stinking C-C-OOOLLD-D) – I wasn’t as brave as you, I FREAKED out and bailed. congratulations for finishing a tough, personal race! Now time to enjoy getting married. . . congratulations I hope you and “the girl” have a perfect day
Ray, I am sorry to hear that the race went this way. I know this might not be a big help, but I just wanted to say that as an amateur photographer I love the new header photo on your webiste 🙂
And I am sure, you have many PRs ahead of you! Good luck and thank you for all the great reviews. I also agree with one of the comments on your Garmin story – do they still have innovation lab, or do they just read your blog? 😀
Thanks for venturing out to Boise for the 70.3. Sorry your race didn’t go as planned but glad you enjoyed the course (minus to water temps). I was keeping my eye out for you and you passed me on the bike around mile 20 so I gave you a nice shout out! Best of luck in your remaining races this year. Thanks for the fantastic gadget reports as well!
Ray, good job under tough race conditions. I think the lack of sleep and the stress of the travel took it’s toll. And I got cold just reading about that swim! I’m curious about your power plan on the bike — what’s your FTP? Those are impressive numbers but I wonder if you might have a better run if you maintain a more “steady” power output with a lower IF. Anyway, hope you get the hip flexor injury figured out.
Thanks for the read. Next weekend I am going to be doing my very first 70.3. (And I have much lower expectations than you did. A 6:15 would make me ecstatic. Anything under 7:00 will be a success.) But this is also going to be my very first race with a power meter. I was curious how you actually used your 800 and/or its “workout” for this. Your post on “how to race with a Forerunner/Edge” seems quite dated. My questions are:
1. I’m going to wear a 910XT through the whole race. But I’ll have a 500 mounted on my bike for better display while riding. If I turn on the 500 and calibrate the power meter in T1, when I get back from the swim, the 500 will have turned itself off. When I wake it up again, I assume I can skip the calibration? I have a Power2Max, if that matters.
2. I’m planning on trying to average 160W for the entire ride (very wimpy 205FTP). According to “The Power Meter Handbook” by Joe Friel, I should adjust my target at any point based on the speed I’m going. What’s the best method for doing this in the real world? I was thinking of laminating a small card with Speed/Power numbers and taping that to my aero bars. Then configuring my 500 to just display 10s Power, Speed, Cadence (just to keep me honest). It sounds like you actually target HR, with a max power? Did you actually set alarms for being out of your zones? I’ve been training with alerts on for specific power zones, but the alarms are extremely annoying since they are based on instant power. I definitely don’t want those going off during the race.
3. For your biking plan, did you use some type of “simulator” to estimate times based on power and terrain? If so, what did you use?
Thanks a lot for the great blog.
Thanks for preserving the memory. This event was my first and only attempt at a 70.3. I did an olympic distance the week before as my test for the event. I had no expectations except to finish and just for fun set a goal of 7 hours as the week before took 4 hours. You described the swim well. Full panic is the word as it was my 2nd open water swim. I did manage to get through it in 1 hour. Then 3 on the bike and 3 on the run with 35 minutes in transition. I was in no hurry as I was frozen when I got out of the lake. Having only done a 10 k run/walk before I did have to pace the run. I had been cycling for 3 years. I did the more is less training as I just wanted to see if I could do it and not injure myself training for the run and swim. That was enough for a 55 year old man. I’m sticking to the bike from now on.
Hola! I’m surmising your name is Ray based on my astute observational skills reading other comments. I will be doing the Boise 70.3 in June 2015 – this will be my second triathlon and my first half-Ironman. I really appreciated reading about your experience. Any advice to a newbie?
It’s a course that’s highly dependent on weather. The single biggest factor will be the water temperature (and it has been almost every year). So I’d ensure that you’re getting lots of cold water swims in so that it’s not a shock. And then during the race the second they allow you in the water, definitely do so to warm-up.
But if you swim throughout the spring in cold water temps, you’ll be used to that. Beyond that, depending on the weather keeping warm on the first portion of the bike may be an issue. So just ensure that if your body type gets cold easily, that you have a way to stay warm.
Good luck and enjoy!
Love reading your posts. Just bought an Edge 520 based upon your advice from CT. What is the tracking device that you are showing above and how does it work?
Keep up the great work, I have learned a TON from your website.