2019 IRONMAN Boulder

When you think you have your season all beautifully planned …

After coming back home from a long holiday break in late December / early January (where my level of eating was quite unparalleled) I realised that my physical shape looked more like the typical Shopping Mall Santa Claus than the average triathlete.

Because I saw this coming I planned to have my first 2019 season race in late July, so as to give me enough time to get ‘back on track’. I enrolled into one of my top bucket list races: IRONMAN Canada. It takes place in Whistler, British Columbia … as part of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics set of venues. It has a swim in a crystal clear lake, a beautiful but challenging bike course, and a stunning marathon in the middle of nowhere next to pine trees, mountains, squirrels and the aforementioned lake.

When I saw the banner below, I couldn’t stop myself: the classic pulling out of the credit card like a cowboy in front of the active.com shopping basket … if you have raced an IRONMAN-branded race you know the drill. I’m not sure if the marketing department at IRONMAN is really good, or if it is actually very easy to be in the marketing department at IRONMAN as the product sells itself with little effort.

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I mean, pure triathlon pornography.

So the first thing you might be asking yourselves is ‘why is this guy talking about IRONMAN Canada when the title of the blog post is ‘2019 IRONMAN Boulder’???

Well, this is where my friend … let’s call him Mr. D … comes in.

I forgot exactly when, but my friend Mr. D told me one day (obviously AFTER I had already planned for IRONMAN Canada AND my other two important races of the year) that he was getting married in 2019!! … Yay! Congrats!! Celebration!! … hmmm hold on … actually … I have a whole racing season planned … a lot of mental F-words followed …

The ‘best’ about this unexpected announcement were the wedding details: ‘sometime, somewhere’. Brilliant!

So there was a dark period between this announcement and the actual final confirmation of the wedding details. A period where in multiple occasions (during a meeting at work, in the shower, while in the swimming pool, or even in my dreams) I thought about the undated and unlocated wedding … every time with cold sweat on my forehead and my eyes lost in the horizon with fully dilated pupils, as if I was on a high dose of cocaine.

Anyway, the confirmation finally came for a wedding in a nice Caribbean country where I haven’t been yet (yasssssssss) … but it was only TWO weeks before IRONMAN Canada. And honestly the idea of going to a Latin American wedding, where there is definitely no end time on the invite, only two weeks before race day, sounded quite dangerous and jeopardising for my race success odds.

With a heavy heart I said goodbye to my bucket list race and started looking for an alternative. IRONMAN allows you on most full distance races (140.6 miles) to do one of three things when your personal plans change. Firstly, you can get a refund. But the refund is honestly quite miserable, and to be fair I think I’m a converted customer so I’m sure I’ll be racing for sometime still. Secondly, you can defer your race (at no cost) to the same event but in the next year. But to be fair … 2020 IRONMAN Canada??? … They may cancel the race, or I might not even make it to 2020, so my motto is #YOLO. Therefore I had only one other choice, which is to transfer to another race on the same year and the same region (North America), for a reasonable fee.

It had to be a race not too early season for a Santa-Claus-body person and not too close to my already booked late season races. The only race that matched this profile was IRONMAN Boulder, in Colorado. As an uber-logical engineer I am, time came to analyse this option:

  1. The race had a very similar nature to IRONMAN Canada: you would swim on some sort of reservoir (like a small man-made lake), cycle with the view of snow-peaked mountains (just not on top of them, so it was a much flatter course than Canada), and a marathon that would go through a creek and end in downtown Boulder.
  2. Boulder is known as another mecca in the sport. For some ‘strange’ reason many known professional triathletes live and train there. And since my experience in Kona last year was amazing (another triathlon mecca), then I started to get my interest spiked.
  3. Mike Reilly, who is a celebrity in the world of triathlon, also known as the ‘voice of IRONMAN’, was going to be the race announcer at Boulder, and it was on my bucket list to be called an IRONMAN by Mike Reilly someday.
  4. London is connected to Denver via DIRECT flights (as seen below) with not one, nor two, but THREE airlines: BA, United and Norwegian. AND the ticket price was very attractive. I was almost convinced, but just almost …
  5. However, the drop that spilled the glass: Colorado is home to over 200 craft breweries AND has legalised recreational use of Cannabis.

SOLD! APPROVED! STAMPED! … Race TRANSFERRED! … when are we going? … can we go now? … is it time yet?

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Besides, my coach (or like Spanish football players call their respective coaches: ‘El Mister’), the one and only David Diaz, came to Boulder to race as well. And that made it quite an awesomER experience! (and of course we took it very corporate, as seen below).

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When you think you’ve made the right choice …

A couple of weeks later while talking to my coach and planning for race # 1, he mentions the word ‘altitude’. But at the moment I was all like – ‘yeah, yeah, of course, we’ll deal with all of this’. It took me just a couple of hours to realise what that tiny word meant.

First shock comes after doing the classic Google search.

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Second shock came after trying to understand what that meant.

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17.3% effective oxygen in Boulder vs. 20.9% at sea level = 20% less oxygen up there. Bollocks! … more mental F-words …

Third shock came after digging out a bit more information.

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Avoidance response?

Oxygen at a premium?

Ill?

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)!

WTF!!!!

Typical AMS symptoms include …

The only cool AMS I know is AMSterdam. But F**K this AMS!!!

This was actually the ‘strange’ reason of professional triathletes living and training in Boulder, CO. If you get your body used to training at altitude where oxygen is at a premium, then you are able to perform at a higher level when racing at sea level. Smart.

Forth and final shock came after my hard drive rescued a memory from my childhood, stored deep in a hidden sector somewhere in the back of my brain.

I remember going once with my family on a road trip to Merida, Venezuela, which sits also at quite an altitude and I didn’t particularly have a good time. I remember a specific moment when I was feeling extremely nauseous while being on a tiny lift in our hotel whilst telling my mom (who I had right in my face) – ‘I think I am going to …’. Needless to explain the disgusting aftermath.

So in a nutshell: I ended up signing up for a full IRONMAN race (140.6 miles) at a place over 5,000 feet of altitude, where I would have 20% less oxygen in the air, having a history of not dealing well with altitude, and knowing from experience the TREMENDOUS effort it took me in two previous occasions to complete an IRONMAN race at very very innocent sea levels (IRONMAN Norway and IRONMAN Taiwan).

Lovely.

I was doing the very opposite to professional triathletes: let’s train at sea level and then let’s race at altitude.

Smart. #smartAF

When you think like Bob Marley – ‘baby don’t worry, about a thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be alright’ …

Sunday June 9th, 2019: Race day.

I honestly don’t know who this ‘Murphy’ person is, but his famous law tends to apply like clockwork on race days in some way or another. It never fails to deliver.

Let’s take a look at real historic weather figures for Boulder, CO.

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As you can see, beautiful sunny weather with highs of 28-29 Celsius. Constantly day after day. From Tuesday June 4th all the way to … Saturday June 8th.

Race day (Sunday June 9th) was the only day of the week, thank you Murphy, with overcast clouds and temperatures between 6 and 17 Celsius. And as the cherry on top, on Monday 10th it went back to normal sunny 26 Celsius again.

Needless to say, race morning was coldAF. And the exact moment when I had to finally strip to my trisuit and leave my dry clothes behind (right before queuing to get in the water) … I cried like a baby on the inside. But … always keeping a ruthless assassin look on the outside, of course, to keep your opponents intimidated at all times.

Regardless of … we were ready … it was time to kick-off the 2019 IRONMAN Boulder! (the last ever edition of IRONMAN Boulder).

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When you think you are going to die in the freezing water …

Mike Reilly (voice of IRONMAN) was keeping the atmosphere pumped up while we waited on the looong queue to get into the water. He kept calling out race stats of nationalities, ages, specific people who came with specific challenges, and some words of hope and encouragement.

Everyone on the queue (almost) was on a wetsuit, swimming cap on and goggles on the forehead. Luckily the wetsuit provided great protection from the evil cold air. I did see one utterly insane person WITHOUT a wetsuit. I still haven’t seen any official announcement of anyone dying on the race, but my prayers are still with him.

Walking on the queue was very painful as the road was asphalt and filled everywhere with tiny rocks that get into your soles like devastating small lego pieces. I was clearly suffering, but the rest seemed very calm like Hobbits (with a natural thick protection layer on their soles).

Finally, after 45 minutes or so queuing, I get into the water and start my 2019 IRONMAN Boulder!

As expected, the water was very very still. As it was a closed reservoir, with not much wind, and not much boat traffic, it felt like an outdoors swimming pool. So that was great.

However, my first surprise came after realising that the temperature of the water was not really that cold. It was actually more comfortable to be inside the reservoir than in the super cold air. Another ‘thumbs up’ for the water!

And the second surprise came after realising that I was not feeling the expected ‘pajara’ (or shortness of breath) due to altitude swimming. So there seemed there wouldn’t be any surprises ‘knock on wood’.

As you can see from the below chart (my real swim GPS data), the swim course was composed of three straight lines forming a sort of triangle, with only two left turns. Very simple to follow.

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There were only two things that made my swim less than ideal.

Firstly, my goggles got fully foggy after only 100m into the swim. And unlike in IRONMAN Norway, this didn’t seem to solve by itself. So I had to stop at the first turn buoy (the upper right corner of the swim course above), took off my goggles, rinsed them off, and continued the swim. From this point on, I had no further problems with the goggles.

And secondly, I still made the mistake of combining front crawl style with breast stroke. Ideally I would hold on to front crawl style all the way, as it is faster. But I am still getting used to swimming in open water where you need to make sure you don’t move away from the course or you don’t crush too many people along the way. Swimming breast stroke gives you the sensation of having more control, as you can see where you are going and you can also keep a distance from other swimmers. This is something I defo need to fix if I want to improve my race swim times.

I did look at my swim exit picture (below) and now I feel I was maybe slightly overweight? LOL. I’m obviously super self critical of every aspect of my performance. I was theoretically at 82Kg (4Kg under my post holidays weight). The only thing I can say with certainty from this picture is that the three people on it are showing the exact same feet position (left foot flat on the ground while right foot swinging from back to forth).

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Overall, if compared with IRONMAN Norway (also a 3.8Km lake swim), I had a worse performance. It looks more similar to my earlier rookie 2017 70.3 races, which involved a lot of breast stroke as well. Self tsk tsk tsk. I was so good at Mallorca last year though. LOL.

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When you think you can fix something at the very last minute …

Time for the bike!

Overall, it was theoretically speaking a course on the ‘easy’ side, as you can see below.

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It has a total accumulated elevation of roughly 1,200m, which for an IRONMAN course is quite normal. It was a 2-lap course, so we had to do twice the course you see on the above map. It was a very interesting experience to do such a straight-lined course, filled with loooong straight roads, which seems to be the norm in races on the North American circuit. Clearly very different from the crazy shapes bike courses tend to have in European and Asian circuits (the ones I had done so far).

This is the ideal course to stay on your aerobars for as long as you’d like.

As you can also notice, the mountains are on the west side of the course, so anytime we went westbound you would expect some hilly sections (and false flats). But when we went eastbound it was a speed party. If I had had the legendary DeLorean’s ‘Flux Capacitor’ from the movie ‘Back to the Future’ on my bike, I think I would’ve had enough speed on any eastbound road to create lightning bolts all around and disappear into 1885. Nelson Rd, baby!

So .. let’s go back to the race.

I’m unsure whether this was due to the cold, but after exiting the water and going into T1, I felt I wanted to go to the loo, however I also wanted to avoid wasting further time on a diversion into the loo, so I just mounted my bike (Shaqueesha) and left T1. Shortly after, at approximately Km 10, I felt I may have made a mistake regarding my loo decision. But also, at this very point, a classic image from supporters at previous races came to mind …

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You shouldn’t judge an IRONMAN competitor unless you have been one before. And is sort of liberating too. All you need to do is stop pedalling (but keep going, coasting), then stand on one pedal and lift your bum from the saddle to unlock the pipes (I quickly discovered nothing would happen if you kept pedalling and sitting on the saddle … sorry I never took Anatomy 101). You may experience some uncomfortable feeling of a rather warm liquid filling up your trunks (I can imagine your face expression right now), and also you will actually see it dripping down the seat post and into the chain itself. But hey, it is liberating and time saving.

It is very interesting how something as simple as that could be seen as catastrophic to go through if it happens to you while sitting on your desk at work (not to mention how shocking for the colleague sitting right next to you) … but out there, in a time-constrained triathlon race, on the bike, with very little other human presence, and in deep need … it is a true blessing.

Talking about human presence … I thought I was alone while at it, but I managed to spot a very silent cyclist who decided to pass me right at that point, and could also see him with a big smile on his face. Is what it is, folks.

Approximately at Km 85 (almost finishing my first lap) I feel someone who passed me super fast on my left and yelled me: ‘Carlooooos Cabeeeeza! Cabeeeezaaa!’ (the mind! the mind!). It was my coach who was trying to give me encouragement. But he was already headed rapidly into T2 while there was the whole second lap still waiting for me, so not too sure the encouragement worked. LOL.

Anyway … 180 Km on the bike, is a looot of cycling. And this is the longest part of the race out of the three disciplines. So obviously, anything you do on this leg of the race has a significant effect on your finish time.

I was lucky to have attended one of the two sold out BTS (the ultra famous K-Pop band) shows at Wembley Stadium just the weekend before. Which means that I had been practicing all BTS hits for weeks on my daily commute on the Tube prior to this. Which therefore means that I had a full repertoire of BTS tunes to sing to myself, as I usually do on the bike leg, over the course of lonely 180 Kms.

This is also my third year in the sport, and back when I started I had no idea how good or bad I was at each of the three disciplines. So I had to get a couple of races in to understand this bit. And with the help of available timing data from all competitors on my races I was able to perform some quick analysis to get a grasp of where I stood in comparison to my fellow age groupers (M35-39).

Turns out I’m a slightly below average swimmer. Turns out I’m usually an above average runner (this is what I’ve done for the longest, so it makes sense). But I was shocked to find out how awful I am at the bike. I don’t want to say under average because that would be an understatement. I am usually amongst the bottom 10%-5% slowest cyclists on any given race.

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So with being so bad at the bike, and the bike having such a great impact on your finish time, my coach and I decided to place an important focus on the bike on this training block ahead of IRONMAN Boulder. LOTS of hours on the saddle. And numbers-wise I think I managed to get my highest ever FTP (Functional Threshold Power), which is a measurement of your cycling fitness, pretty much. And that’s a very positive message for your self confidence ahead of a new full distance triathlon.

However, there were four things that I believe had a significant impact on my bike performance in Boulder.

Weather: As explained before, it was a very cold day. And even though this temperature is very similar to what I’m used to training in back home in the UK, I was not mentally or even materially prepared for this unexpected weather condition. I managed to put on a base merino wool long sleeve shirt (that I took to Boulder juuuuust in case) and a cycling maillot on top, including double socks on very open triathlon cycling shoes. Still my hands felt freezing at times, when I was on the fastest segments and the wind was obviously more heavily felt.

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Altitude: This is more of a theoretical assumption I am making. For some reason I did feel the bike effort was harder than usual on a course that was not precisely hilly (in contrast, IRONMAN Norway had 2,000m of accumulated elevation, for example). So maybe the concept of ‘racing at altitude while training at sea level’ was having its effects after all? (20% less oxygen in the air, anyone?).

Power Meter: Once you become a more seasoned triathlete you normally want to be able to control your performance a bit more, especially when you have to run a bloody marathon after 180Km on the bike. So you start training and racing based on the famous ‘Watts’ concept, which is the actual output of your efforts pedalling (your power output). Is a way to measure more precisely how much intensity you are putting on your cycling. The ‘FTP’ value I mentioned before is very much related to this. Once you have your current FTP value (obtained after a gruelling ‘FTP Test’), you can plan to race at a specific power range (e.g. between 160 and 175W, or similar to saying 60% to 80% of your own FTP, for example). This ensures you make the most of your training during race day but also you don’t overdo it and then run out of leg-energy for the ensuing marathon. So … firstly, apologies for the long boring explanation of Watt-based cycling. Secondly, the point I want to make here. To make sure you know you are in the power range you need to be, you need a … drum roll … power meter. And during this race I had to navigate in the dark, since my power meter didn’t work for the entire duration of the bike. I had to race based solely on heart rate, which is a not-so-bad way to do it, but MUCH less accurate than the power output. Did I waste my training because I was not putting enough Watts? Or on the contrary, did I overdid it and killed my legs ahead of the run? Good question.

Nutrition/Hydration: This point hurts. To put it simple. To minimally function; to survive and live life everyday we need to drink a minimum of water and eat a minimum of food per day. And during your whole life you are taught to eat about three times a day and drink water or liquid at some points as well. Your body is used to a nutrition / hydration rhythm. Likewise, to be able to perform in a super long race as a full distance triathlon, which in my case has lasted in the past anywhere between 13 and 15 hours, you need to EAT and DRINK. Lots. During exercise your body is constantly consuming your energy stores (glycogen in muscles and stored fats … those stored fats that have been hiding my six pack abs my entire life). And again it is very tricky to keep a proper balance. How can you fuel enough to make it until the end but at the same time not upset your stomach with so much eating? I have to admit this is a point I have barely looked at during my time as a triathlete, and this is something that must be practiced, practiced, and re-practiced. Just like your ‘living’ nutrition / hydration rhythm, you need to get your body used to the kind of heavy binging on a race with the kind of foods of your choice (e.g. your race nutrition / hydration rhythm). Reality is that I tried to get last minute tips from my coach on this regard but it was a bit too late to put into execution successfully for IRONMAN Boulder.

I took my usual CLIF bars on the bike, however this time I added something new to the mix: two bottles filled with a combination of fruit punch Gatorade and LOTS of performance energy gels … authentic nuclear radioactive material.

One of the bottles I brought with me straight from T1, while the other I put into the famous ‘Special Needs Bike Bag’. This is the first time I use this on an IRONMAN race. Is a bag where you can put anything you want to have access at halfway the bike. There will be a ‘Special Needs’ station once you reach the 90 Km mark where you can get it.

Whilst the first bottle passed down alright, the second nuclear device was VERY hard to swallow. That thick texture. That uber sweet sugary taste. That disgusting combination of different flavours all into one nuclear warhead (fruit punch, orange, strawberry, lime, coffee, watermelon, etc.). But I know I needed the calories and I clearly hadn’t practiced my race nutrition with this weapon of mass destruction, so I forced myself to finish it. My stomach was slightly starting to shut down, as it usually does at the end of the bike.

Anyway … this was slightly the fastest IRONMAN bike leg I’ve done. Yay!

However, I still can’t seem to manage to get below the 7-hour mark. How to get better? Do I need to lose weight? Do I need performance enhancing drugs? Or maybe do I need to have an agent of the HMRC (UK taxes authority) chasing me behind for 180 Kms? … I was again bottom 5% of finishers on the bike in my age group (e.g. only 5 finishers did a worse bike time than me).

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When you think pizza is a game changer and saved the day …

I arrived turned into dust into T2. Not only my legs were hurting, but my neck and lower back were a mess. These had been nagging me for over 100Km on the bike. So I sat down with my red bag (my bag containing my run gear) very calmly to try to get my mojo back for the run.

Then I hear an angelical (with harps and all) voice who asks me: ‘excuse me … would you like some pizza?’. It took me about 3-5 seconds to process the information. I laughed and replied shameful smile: ‘sorry, I must be exhausted, I even thought you asked me if I wanted PIZZA, you know? … as in dough with tomato and cheese? … my bad!’. The voice came back saying: ‘sir, you might be tired but you heard right, would you like some PI-ZZA?’.

I have never been offered PIZZA on T2 … like EVER. But it was the most amazing thing. Finally, I was having calories with pleasure again. Calories my body was pleasantly digesting. And of course, I had not one but TWO full slices of mushroom pizza. I thought ‘this is going to help me finish the marathon like a bull!’. Vale. Venga. Vamosssssss.

Praise The Lord. A-men, brodas’.

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The run course … the 42.2Km marathon course is not the easiest out there (sarcasm included). It is defo not flat. But it is not crazy hilly either. And most of the way is on concrete which was not good for my left knee. However, I appreciated the fact that it was not your IRONMAN classic boring 3-4 looper. In fact, as mentioned earlier, speaking of the devil, this course is called the ‘Flux Capacitor’ since it has the shape of the bloody damn thing from ‘Back to the Future’ (photo below course map for comparison).

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The course has also some human presence along the way, with almost everyone using the same encouragement phrase which I found a bit disturbing: ‘Great Work!’ … what do you mean ‘great WORK’?? … is this an 8-day worked PowerPoint deck I’m showing you and you are my boss? … Please, America! … This is a triathlon. A hobby! … drop the corporate / work life speech at least outside the office. LOL.

I had been stopping quickly at every aid station and getting some water, FINALLY some salty items like pretzels and chips, and the lovely coke, of course. My stomach still could get in something, especially all salty things.

But at the aid station at mile 4 though, something incredible and just as new for me as the pizza at T2, was about to happen. I saw on the table that unmistakeable ice cold yellow nectar. The guy at the aid station was offering BEER. He offered. I didn’t think about it for a millisecond. And the guy was actually gladly surprised I accepted, so I don’t know for long had he been offering this, which technically makes me a monster? … All I know is I can’t describe the pleasure of IRONMAN run aid station beer … and I had 22 miles to go still.

This was also the first time I used the ‘Special Needs Running Bag’, which I used only for my usual Venezuela flag, so I didn’t have to carry it the entire 26.2 miles as in Norway and Taiwan.

So I was there again trying to unlock the secret to successfully finishing an IRONMAN marathon; a feat at which I had miserably failed back at Haugesund and Penghu. At Haugesund I had a complete stomach shutdown (with nausea) at around Km 30 which forced me to walk quite a bit, plus some left knee pain as the course had some quite steep sections and on concrete. At Penghu I had the same nauseous stomach shutdown at halfway PLUS a severe contraction of my respiratory capacity with extreme hyperventilation, and this forced me to painfully walk the entire second half of the marathon.

This time I managed to improve slightly my situation, I believe via better nutrition? … maybe the nuclear radioactive gel drinks? … maybe the T2 pizza? … maybe the bloody beer? … the main improvement was that I had no nauseous stomach shutdown and no hyperventilation issues at Boulder … however, at some point near Km 10 my stomach said ‘I don’t want to eat anything else’. Like a 7-year-old kid who doesn’t want to eat the vegetables on the plate. So my pace quickly started going down down down until Km 20 where I had to start walking. Somehow my legs said it had been enough.

‘Another failed marathon’, I quickly said to myself. At least I tried to power-walk like a Korean Ajumma at a park in Seoul (e.g. Korean lady in her 50s+ wearing a super sporty and colourful outfit, a strong perm that makes her hair look like a microphone head, and a cap with a VERY long visor), to try have a decent pace.

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This way I managed roughly a 9:00min / Km pace, at which pace I calculated that it would take me 3 bloody hours to get to the finish line. On top of that, as the ‘cherry on top’, I started having severe pain on my left knee again from Km 35 or so (even only power walking!). At times, I tried to start running again but between the leg muscles and the painful knee I had to stop immediately again.

An understatement to say it was not a good picture. It was mentally very hard to do. Several dark thoughts started populating my head. You could see a mini dark cloud with mini thunders just above my head and following me throughout the course. I thought about leaving triathlon completely. I thought three consecutive failures was enough. So many hours of training and so many things put aside to make time for training. I thought I was not made for this. I thought that I needed the time for other things I had been neglecting in my life anyway. I would be refunding all pending races and booked flights, as much as possible. I said I was just going for a final push and walk the 3 hours to finish the race and get my sport farewell medal. It all sounded perfectly backed with ‘logical / practical’ reasons, and very well scheduled too. It seemed blatantly obvious that I had to do it.

However, all American spectators (AND nearby athletes) kept all three hours with the same ‘Good Work!’ thing … which by now started to feel like daggers. I didn’t even have the moral strength to strike a BTS tune anymore.

Finish line was now just meters away from me, and I started sprinting like a horse that wants to get back to the stable after a long day of work. However, I had to limp as my left knee was not making it easy. And because I was like a mindless horse, I couldn’t prevent not to run to the finish line right behind not one but TWO ladies. And you might ask yourself ‘what is the problem with that?’. Well, please take a look.

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Yup, the finish line glory is robbed.

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And it gets worse … her VERY fat elbow right on my face. And I paid for those two finish line pictures. Thank you very much, FinisherPIX.

However, what I had been waiting for … the celebrity Mike Reilly did say: ‘From Venezuela … Carlos Galan … YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!’ :O (with a nicer, now fully individual, finish line picture … still, for the price of three).

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You can see my face expression after three hours of walking with a dark cloud on top. Didn’t seem very happy, did I?. LOL.

Regardless of anything that had happened on this long day … the third IRONMAN was now in the books!!!!

I got my North American circuit badge, my Northern Hemisphere badge (North America + Europe + Asia), and was also 9 IRONMAN races away from a legacy slot for the World Championships in Kailua-Kona.

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I have to acknowledge that this was the first time my stomach allows me to eat something other than ice cream at the finish line. I managed to have a proper hot dog and ate it with pleasure.

Oh … one more thing.

Right before leaving the finish line athlete area, I was offered to get a picture taken with my medal … and since I’m paying for the picture package anyway, then why not?

Photographer sees my VENEZUELAN flag and says ‘oh, but let’s take a picture with the flag but making sure we show … the Mexican Eagle’.

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Yup … Mexican Eagle.

I looked away in this picture both in an attempt to look artsy, but also not to appear pissed off by his comment. LOL.

Mexican Eagle. WTFFF??!!!?!?

I thought about three possible options with this fella (individual or in combination).

  1. He is a white supremacist, that thinks all Latin Americans are Mexicans and should be kept south of the border at El Paso.
  2. He was quite stoned with all the available legal cannabis around.
  3. He surely has never traveled outside the borders of the state of Colorado in his entire life, and is therefore #ignorantAF.

When you think you are badass for being an IRONMAN finisher …

After waking up the next day, I posted this delightful story on Instagram.

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But did you know that sweat and pee are almost the same thing? … whereas pee has a stronger concentration of urea. So it is just strong sweat. That’s all.

Anyway, this was my first time attending an awards ceremony, as I usually flee the race scene straight to an airport early morning the day after the race.

Two main reasons for me to come this time around.

First, the breakfast was included. Another opportunity to maximise the consumption of all athlete entitlements behind the hefty price tag of an IRONMAN race. And they had BREAKFAST BURRITOS! … An amazing American invention to breakfast. How didn’t society think about this much earlier?

Second, and most importantly, ‘El Mister’ believed to have accomplished his mission in Boulder. We just needed the official confirmation.

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And official it was. David qualified for the FIFTH year in a row to the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, and couldn’t lose the opportunity for a pic with the highly coveted coin. EPIC. #ElPutoAmo #WeAreTheChampions #MyFriend #WellKeepOnFighting #TillTheEnd

Regarding the ceremony itself, all award winners across all age groups were presented on the podium. First, they are given the awards for placing on the podium on their corresponding age group. And then the very top ones are offered a slot to Kona. If a person is already qualified to Kona via a previous race, or simply doesn’t want to go, then the slot goes to the next person in line. Very much like British Royalty.

I was particularly surprised to see the older age groups (over 60s). They closely resembled the famous ‘hipster grandpa’ you see on the internet memes. White long hair with tattoos and flip flops (or sockless leather shoes). Long perfectly trimmed white beards. Only missing a surf board.

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 09.43.31

I mean. I can see it. ‘I’m 75 years old. I just completed an IRONMAN in a state where cannabis is legal. And I managed to get into the podium. Of course I’ll be the #hipsterGrandpa.’

During the ceremony, I have to admit I felt both puzzled and slightly envious. Well … super envious … I wanted to start stabbing everyone with a knife out of envy. OK. No. Not like that. Maybe not. Maybe? 🙂

To be fair I questioned myself: ‘How is it possible to be this competitive in the sport when we are not professionals?’. Isn’t this supposed to be just a ‘hobby’?

I am definitely not questioning the dedication into training of all of those in the podium. But I am comparing the fact that I think I personally already dedicate quite a lot of my available time to training, and these people are just MILLIONS of MILES away from me in terms of performance. Is not like I finished 5th and there were only 4 Kona slots for my age group. Is that I finished 92nd! … Meaning I needed 87 people to decline their Kona slot in order for me to qualify for Kona. It’s a HUGE gap.

If you deconstruct this (again, I’m an engineer, so forgive me in advance), you need to look at two things, essentially.

  1. Required Time
  2. Available Time

And answer a simple question: do you have enough available time to train for the required time you need to put in according to your ambitions?

In terms of required time, the first thing you look at is race distance. It is not the same the time you need to train to complete an Olympic distance triathlon (swim 1.5K + bike 40K + run 10K), than that for a 70.3 Half distance triathlon (swim 1.9K + bike 90K + run 21.1K), or even less than that for a IRONMAN Full distance triathlon (swim 3.8K + bike 180K + run 42.2K). You would expect to see a significant increase from one to the other (as seen below).

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 10.20.33

The next thing you look at is expected competitiveness within the chosen race distance. It is obviously not the same the time needed to finish an IRONMAN, vs. the time needed to qualify for Kona at an IRONMAN (as seen below).

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 10.26.06

So this people who were given Kona slots at this IRONMAN Boulder ceremony chose to maximise the time required for training (on the red bar). They were being aggressive. Ambitious.

On the other hand, you have to look then at the available time. And there are a number of components to this.

From the 24 hours a day has, you need to roughly divide it amongst the following competing categories: work, sleep, family/social, other commitments, commute, eat/cook, etc. Only after you have allocated enough time for ALL of those items above is that you have your available time for training. How does that compare against the required time to train to qualify for Kona at an IRONMAN race? (please see below).

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 11.03.31

After doing all this deconstruction, and as I was seeing these people being awarded Kona slots under the sharp alpine sun, I started to ask myself (category per category) …

  • ‘Don’t they have a full-time job? … Or are they all daughters and sons of papa and mama and live from the ever-flowing dividends of a multi-billion dollar self-running corporation? … Or did they win the lottery? … Maybe they go through a life of celibacy where they only spend on what they strictly need, live in a remote part of the world, and therefore don’t need much money, and therefore don’t need to work that much? … How do they finance this expensive sport? … Are they that good at it that they get all gear sponsorship in exchange of being an Instagram influencer? … Do they only do races within 100Km from home so they minimise travel and arrive at the venue hitchhiking on the road? … Do they couchsurf at every race? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • ‘Don’t they sleep? … Are they actually vampires? … Do they run on just 4 hours of sleep a day? … Do they go through life with uber red eyes from lack of sleep? … Do they sleep only on the commute to work? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • ‘Don’t they have a family? Parents? A partner? Kids? … Don’t they spend some quality time with them? … Don’t they call them? … Don’t they go to the movies together? … Don’t they watch Netflix together? Game of Thrones, anyone??? … Don’t they go on Tinder dates? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • ‘Aren’t they trying to achieve something else in life? … Aren’t they learning another language? … Aren’t they sharpening their professional skills in any way? … Don’t they attend religious services? … Don’t they watch the UEFA Champions League? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • ‘Do they live next to work? … Do they work from home? … Do they not work at all and therefore don’t need to commute? … Don’t they need time to go to the Swimming Pool, time to go to some running track, and more time to get to some decent area where they can cycle uninterruptedly without traffic lights, walking grandmas, senseless truck drivers, etc.??? … Or do they live in the woods with direct access to cycling roads, have a treadmill at home, AND an endless pool in their garage … so they never lose time getting to training? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • Don’t they have to eat? Take a leak? Drop a deuce? Cook? … Do they always get cooked for? … Do they always order Deliveroo? … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’
  • ‘Maybe they are genetically advanced or taking performance enhancing drugs, so they don’t really need as much time as I would need to qualify for Kona … or … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?’

Lots of questions, for sure.

Also, something else comes to mind, but maybe … Are they a PRO disguised as an Age Grouper?

I have NEVER been a sporty person. And I blame my school for it. LOL.

Firstly, I was born and raised in a city called Maracaibo, which has a steady mid 30s / low 40s degrees CELSIUS at peak times every single day of the year (as it is located quite close to the Equator, almost Singapore style), and with TONS of humidity. Secondly, my school had this thing called ‘Sports Club’ where you would practice sports after classes, and this thing started at 1:30PM, where you can imagine the nasty inhuman weather conditions at that time (didn’t fancy be a left fielder for 2 hours under that scorching weather). And on top of that, this Sports Club was mainly focused on team sports, which I suck at. Plus we had two abandoned tennis courts. Finally something I think I might enjoy. I was like WTFFFF?!?!?

Aaaaanyway … 20 years in the future (LOL) … I started now this sport with the aim to disconnect from the rest of the world, keep fit, and have fun. Very simple. A healthy hobby, in a few words. Individual sport and on top of that it has three disciplines, so I don’t get bored easily.

However, I have never seen such amount of ‘Alpha People’ in triathlon. People that see this less as a ‘hobby’ and more as a second job (if not the main priority in life). Flabbergasted. Astonished. And therefore it makes you feel somehow you aren’t doing enough.

But that’s triathlon. So embrace it!

So … next steps … did I really decide to quit triathlon for good and refund everything everything? …

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 11.31.07

I started to plan already for my time allocated to training blocks for the rest of 2019 season races, and I have also started the high-level planning of my 2020 season (St. George, Florianopolis, Subic Bay, Tempe, Mar de Plata, Cozumel …. hard choices).

And I need to work on:

  • Open Water Swimming (can I go straight on front crawl?)
  • Bike Watts (can I make it sub-7 hours?)
  • Nutrition / Hydration (can I finish a Marathon actually running? do I need to drink nuclear warheads for this?)
  • Strength Training (can I minimise my grandpa pains on neck and lower back?)

We will see what the future holds.

For now … Vale. Venga. Vamos.


One thought on “2019 IRONMAN Boulder

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