After many months of training, neglecting the missus and blowing out the mates my time had finally come....IM Boulder 140.7!
We arrived in Boulder 3 days early, where my true appreciation of the race really sunk in. At this point I didn't realise that the bike and run transitions were in different locations (not the same for all IM's I believe, but the majority), nor that I had 2 transition bags, 2 special needs bags and a morning bag to fill with my belongings, and that these, together with my bike, had to be delivered to the transition areas before race day (mental note to read all race information in advance of future events)! It was also at this point that I truly acknowledged the scale and organisation involved in setting up an Ironman event, which was mind blowing, all of which would not be possible without the 100-1000s of volunteers.
Following the long flight from the UK to Denver I was keen to get my bike rebuilt and have a couple of test rides in the heat and altitude. I took time to ensure my bike was set-up on every mark I carefully identified with blue electrical tape when I dismantled it back home. Things were going well until I over tightened the fixing bolt on the seat post bracket which immediately snapped with a resounding 'ping'. I accidentally tightened it to 10kN - almost twice the required resistance. Naturally I blamed the owner of the torque wrench I was using (Trevor Mingail!), user error was not a consideration! After an appropriate amount of verbal abuse we ventured to a bike shop in town. Convinced I'd end up gaffer taping the seat post into position I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of it being repaired with a perfectly matching bolt. Panic over.
The night before the race consisted of a fairly relaxed evening with a few final checks of my 2 special needs bags and morning bag, followed by a pasta supper. I've read conflicting stuff about carb loading the day/night before but I've found it works for me. An early dinner followed an early night, and an even earlier morning! Much to my disgust my alarm went off at 3.40am to allow us sufficient time to consume enough calories and travel to the event.
When we arrived at Boulder reservoir the sun was only just rising, the water was deathly still, mirror like. I had a positive feeling but the nerves were building and my stomach had that churning feeling...
The swim: not being a particularly strong swimmer I always dread the swimming leg of a triathlon and this was made worse in my opinion by the rolling start. A rolling start is essentially all 3000+ swimmers queuing to get in to the water in a continuos flow of mayhem. The surface of the water resembled that of an organised Dolphin attack on a shoal of unexpecting prey. I tried to blank out thoughts of drowning or having my googles ripped off by an ironman lunatic or a drowning participant, but sure enough my worst enemy was my breathing.... I've always struggled with open water swim starts and breathlessness when putting my face in the water for the first 5 minutes or so. I put this down to the water temperature, but the water temperature at Boulder reservoir that morning was 77f, like a warm bath, and still the same problem. I ended up breaststroking the first 25-50m which I can reassure you wasn't an easy task considering that there were anything between 5-8 other swimmers within arms and legs reach. It was like an orgy in a frog pond....I was being violated from all angles.
I quickly got in to front crawl and found my rhythm, although this was restricted to the speed of the person in front. There were so many people I found it too taxing to move forward in the group and didn't want to blow myself out on the first stretch, so I went with the flow until it started to 'thin out' (I use that term loosely). The first bouy took ages to arrive... But when it did I started to enjoy myself a little and actually felt relaxed, so much so that I experienced no shoulder burn whatsoever (not normal for me).... Maybe the assistance of additional adrenaline? Or was it all the unavoidable drafting...
My enjoyment quickly ceased when I started to become very aware of swimmers behind me grabbing my feet or just generally having their hand in the way of my kick which was throwing me off my rhythm and dropping my body in the water. I was guilty of serving up the same treatment on the person in front but I'd quickly made a point of moving my position or spreading my arm stroke to avoid a collision. Thinking outside-the-box for the crazy American(s) behind me wasn't that easy and they persistently push and grabbed my feet. I let it go for quite a while but on 2 occasions I did unleash the Essex Boy, turning around and serving up the "death stare", but I soon realised that it wasn't very effective with goggles on! I quickly resulted to kicking as hard as possible on any hands or body parts that came within reach. I did get hit a couple of times myself by a passing foot and a few hands but it wasn't that bad and I just carried on without a second thought. Nothing worse than a Monday evening swim session with JB tri club I told myself.
After about an hour and ten minutes, and on the home straight, I started to hear music. looking up I could see the swim exit and the masses of spectators and faster swimmers emerging from the water. I smiled and started to feel excited, the end was approaching. I resisted looking at my watch to avoid any disappointment at this stage... I just wanted to be on land ASAP. I started to push now with only 100m or so remaining. I could see people standing up in front but it felt like ages before I got there.... I finally felt the ramp under me and quickly stood up and found the zip on my wetsuit. I ran up the ramp and out of the water.... Initially it all felt normal, just like any other triathlon...... Until I turned the corner to what I can only describe as a psychopathic gang of American college girls...... The strippers!!! These weren't your usual strippers these were badass psychotic strippers screaming and shouting at me to "come here, get on the ground". A gang of girls shouting 'come here and get on the ground' in an American accent should have been a pleasant experience but it wasn't, I was genuinely terrified. I stood there like a zombie rocking backwards and forwards while I tried to workout what the hell was going on. My initial response was "it's ok I can take my own wetsuit off", but the strippers weren't satisfied with my response and repeated their verbal assault until I finally dove on the grass in front of them.
As I lay there, on the ground, with a gang of wild girls tugging at my wetsuit from every possible angle I had an instant bolt of fear.... I didn't have my tri shorts on. Ok, don't panic, I was wearing short compression shorts but they were a little loose (last minute purchase). I was worried that they may come off or down with the aggressive manner in which I was being ejected from my wetsuit. I had an image of the potential situation and quickly assisted the wetsuit manoeuvre over my undershorts to avoid them being removed with the suction. It worked. I rose from the floor and run to collect my change bag and then onto the change tent.
The bike: it was already quite warm at 7:45am and the change tent held a noticeable aroma of lake water and nut-butter. It was a hive of activity but I quickly focused on getting changed, whipped my cycling shorts on over my undercrackers, followed by my tri-top and my cycle shoes (I had decided to go sockless - after all it was only a 112 mile cycle in 38-40 degree heat). The bike transition was about 100 metres from the change tent so I had to run the distance in my cycle shoes which is never ideal, but I considered it a little leg loosener before getting on my bike. On route I saw my amazing girlfriend and stopped for a quick smooch. She has put up with my training schedule since the start of the year and being 7 months pregnant she deserved it - not to mention the long day ahead she had trying to support me in the heat. At the bike mount I scrambled to clip my shoes in with all the other frantic riders and soon got going. I was feeling pretty good and started to overtake one rider after another. I tried not to look at my watch for as long as possible but when I did it told me I was averaging just over 19mph. Albeit the first section wasn't too hilly this worried me as i assumed my speed was going to be closer to 17mph, especially considering the heat, 5430ft of altitude and 6000ft of climbing. I toyed with the idea of slowing down but I didn't feel like I was really pushing it so I told myself that as long as I kept an eye on my nutrition and stayed hydrated I'd be fine..... About 60 miles in and getting close to the special needs stop now and I was starting to feel a bit feral. All I could think about for the previous 5 miles was my cheese sandwich and crisps I had packed that morning in my SN back (inset smiley face with licking lips). I rolled in to the SN stop and was handed my bag promptly when I shouted out my bib number (I took a mental note of being impressed with the organisation). I went straight for the foil wrapper and revealed a very soggy and sweaty cheese sandwich - the heat had virtually melted the cheese. It wasn't the best cheese sandwich I had but I happily pushed it in my face and inhaled the barbecue crisps simultaneously. I stood there for a bit chatting to some of the other cyclists. I must have been there for about 10 minutes in total and whilst I appreciate this isn't the image you probably have of an IM I believed it was detrimental to me finishing the race (tortoise and the hare affect).
Getting back on the bike I felt good and I pushed on, but after 5 minutes I started to feel the side affects of the cheese sandwich..... I was entering food coma land and was yawning repeatedly. At that time I wasn't sure if this was the end of me or if it was just a 'phase', but gradually I started to feel my energy coming back and the power of the cheese sandwich came good. After 5:49:45 minutes (including the cheese sandwich) I reached the dismount line and it felt so good to get off the bike, although I felt nothing like I normally would after a 100 mile sportive or social ride. I didn't feel too bad and was chuffed with my time considering the heat and altitude etc. I originally thought I was going to be closer to 7 hours. Maybe it was the beautiful weather and scenic route through Boulder which made me quicker? Maybe my watch was broken? Or my contact lenses had fallen out?
The run: this is where the shit got real..... I'm not a runner (or a swimmer; or cyclist come to think of it). I've never run further than a half marathon, or ever wanted to! So I was very worried about this part of the race (ps if you haven't guessed this is my first 140.7).
When I arrived at at the change tent it was carnage. It reminded me of the morning after a festival or a scene from that 1970-80 TV programme M.A.S.H. It looked like a bomb had gone off. Between the detritus were a combination of triathletes ranging from chaotic to shell shocked. Some were like headless chickens and some were clearly focused, others were sitting down or mincing around by the free jelly sweets. Quite literally a mixed bag.
Leaving the change tent I had a obligatory wee and got lubricated by the suncream volunteers (not at the same time). The first couple of miles felt like any other triathlon. Shit. Although this one had the additional twist of feeling like I'd been hit by a bus. I was literally carried along by the crowds of spectators. It was a strange feeling of pure exhaustion and elation. Hairs on the back of your neck stuff. Unfortunately this probably lasted for about 5 miles, then I had to stop and walk.
I think we all have our opinions of Americans but I find them intriguing, very friendly and always happy. Words of encouragement were continuous but there was one reoccurring phrase.... "You got this". Quiet a simple phrase, but after 5 hours of "you got this" I was ready to start slapping people. There's a point when encouragement starts to becoming annoying and I discovered my threshold was about 2 hours. Not wanting to get arrested I plodded on. My remaining 21 miles consisted of a walk-run strategy. I made a point of stoping at every aid station and walking with a drink or some food and then running when I'd finished. I wasn't in a rush at this point. I didn't want to push my luck. I was really feeling fatigued.
After about mile 10 I was given a salt supplement by a promoter. I don't think I needed it but the guy convinced me it would stop me crashing. I'm not sure if it help or not but I can say it made me wee every time I took it! Every portable loo I went in was unstable, like a rocking boat. It was a really strange feeling to stop moving for a moment especially with the rocking. I got in and out as quickly as possible but it made me feel a bit sick every time I went in one.
If I'm honest I think I would confess that I spent most of the run with the hump. I know I should of been happy at this point but my feet and legs really hurt and I just wanted it over. Every now and again I'd see my 2 companions (Trevor Mingail or Leanne Johnson) and I'm sure they would confirm that I had a face like a smacked arse, but although I didn't show it they did cheer me up.
Trevor reminded me of a demented octopus on helium. Arms and legs flicking around but with a Cheshire Cat grin. You could tell he was loving the "you got this".
UK born Leanne (now living the American Dream) has adopted an American attitude down to a tee. I believe she was high-fiving and getting involved in most photo opportunities. I also have a vivid image of some chest-bumping going on....
I was coming near the end now. I could feel a new energy from the crowds of spectators and participants. I think I even smiled in them last few miles. I could hear the voice of ....... I was definitely smiling now. I started to pick up my pace even though there was a slight incline up to the finish line. I even hi-fived a couple of spectators coming through the final few metres and for a moment I felt like an athlete at a important race, like you see on TV. All my pains and aches disappeared in an instant and I crossed the finish line with my arms above my head, smiling from ear to ear. I didn't actually hear Mike Riley "Stephen Elliott you are an Ironman". It didn't matter.... It's was done.
As Jon Brown would say... I smashed it. Although I would say 'it smashed me'.
Finish time: 13hrs 16mins (I'll never forget those numbers).
Coming out the back of the finish line I was greeted with boxes of pizza. I took 2 massive slices and eat one immediately. I then started to feel like I'd drunk 15 pints of Stella. Not physically but mentally. I had to really concentrate on keeping my head clear. It was really taxing. I was sat on the road staring at my pizza when my girlfriend found me. I followed her like a dog back down the line of spectators to watch Trevor and Leanne finish but all I wanted to do was lay down and go to sleep. We ended up walking back to the bike transition and then back to the house we were staying at. About another 2 miles. I had a shower and crawled into bed..
My advice to anyone considering doing an IM is stop thinking about it and just do it!!! If you pace yourself and just go with the attitude of finishing it's perfectly doable, subject to having a reasonable level of fitness of course. I don't consider myself fit or good at swimming, cycling or running, but I can be stubborn. My final piece of advice is take a cheese sandwich and watch out for the strippers!!! You got this!