If I had a penny for every time Josh Lander“(my mentor and chiropractor at Josh Lander Health Sciences) asked, “What are you doing about altitude?” I would have enough money to buy the Hypoxico equipment intended to prepare athletes for such races! I continue with my personal mantra, Josh is always right! Oh yes and my Mum…J
Going into Boulder I planned for it being a training race knowing that I would be at a disadvantage and strategically planning my training so that Ironman Maryland would my main event of the season. However, competitive in nature I had some goal paces and times I was keen on seeing. Having done Machu Picchu marathon last summer I thought an Ironman at 5,000 feet would be barely noticeable, always humbling to be proven wrong! With Ironman the time and training for me has been so specifically geared at certain paces and times that trying to maintain those at altitude was near impossible, yet great training for me. At Machu Picchu last year I was simply going to finish, not to set any records.
My Mum and I flew into Denver on Wednesday evening and drove down to Boulder on Thursday after picking my sister, Emma up from the airport. I went for an easy run and swim on Thursday morning and was shocked by the un-Denver like rainy and somewhat chilly weather. We walked around Denver a bit and had a yummy lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Linger. Then we headed down to Boulder and did a stock up at Whole Foods for supplies for the weekend. Pre-race staples for me include as little fiber as possible and focus on good raw ingredients, nothing too complex. I have found corn tortillas, white rice, brown rice cereal and sweet potatoes to be great things to stock up on prior to a big event.
The next 2 days were Ironman crazy. The logistics of the race were complicated as the transitions were in different locations. After a loop of the expo I spent some time at the Compex (electrical muscle stimulator device) booth where I had a great meeting with Jim Bruskewitz. I recently purchased a Compex and Jim spent a great deal of time going over the programs with me and discussing my future thesis on the product. The Compex has really helped my recovery this past training block, but it also has some great strength and power programs that I plan to experiment with in the off season before starting my thesis on it next year.
The rest of the day Friday was spent organizing piles of swim bike run gear to make sure I had everything I needed in each separate bag. There is a swim to bike bag, a bike to run bag and two special needs bags. The special needs bags are waiting half way into the bike and run and contain whatever you feel like you might need or emergency supplies.
Saturday morning I woke up and went for an easy run with a couple of strides around Boulder. It was so nice to actually have a sidewalk to run on and not keep dodging cars like you’re in the middle of a real life video game! We headed to Tri bike transport to pick up my bike, dropped off my swim to bike bag and made our way to Boulder reservoir. The guys at Tribike were offering a valet service where they would pick up your bags and bike after the race and you could collect them on Monday. I was now in full ironman brain mush mode and the guys laughed, as I needed my sister to explain the details of such an offer, reluctantly swallowed my pride and paid him for it. On Monday I told him it was the best $40 I ever spent…
My mum and Emma dropped me off a few miles away so I could test out the bike and check everything was in order. In my infinite wisdom I decided to keep biking into the reservoir and before I knew it I was dropping my bike off at the transition area. Once I had surrendered my shoes I realized I had to walk all the way back to the gates….with no shoes. Nice one Milly. I finally made it back to the car, grabbed my last bag and dropped it off ready for tomorrow. Phew. All done. Sometimes I think they purposely make the ironman preparation so exhausting that the actual Ironman itself seems easy!
We headed back to the condo, as I was anxious to put my feet up and relax for a bit. Jean had generously offered to let me take a pair of Normatech recovery boots with me; I think I used them everyday! One of the benefits for me using the boots is forcing me to relax and put my feet up, which works wonders!
Sunday morning my alarm was set for 4:15, luckily that is not too early for me, so it doesn’t shock my system. First things first is to down some Vega performance protein with almond milk and put my Udi’s white rice based bagel in the toaster. Smothered on some almond butter and eat with a nice peppermint tea to calm the stomach. After that I doused myself in a lubricant spray to help ward off the underarm and heart rate battle wound scars I have. Got a bit excited and sprayed it all over the floor which caused my Mum to go for a bit of a 4am ice skate around the condo, she loves getting her heart rate going early in the morning like that!! J
We decided to walk to the shuttle as it was only a mile away and I almost lost my green card when in my ironman single-track mind I stormed across the street on a red light and got yelled at by a policeman. The best part was I was oblivious to him yelling at me until Emma told me! Oops, I’ve never really been one for staying in line! I dropped off my bike special needs bag (I don’t generally use one for the run, in my mind, by the time you get to 13.1 miles on the run your bound to feel less than ideal so just put your head down and get it over with!)
We got on the shuttle and made our way to the reservoir. Emma and I had a good pre-race heart to heart about divine intervention and whatever happened was meant to be, my goal to qualify for Kona might happen this year, it might not. And if it doesn’t its because my journey isn’t complete and I have to go another route, I embrace that. I am so impressed at how both Emma and my Mum have taken on this Ironman life with me and are so supportive. They are behind me 100% and their genuine interest for my passion shows what amazing people they are. I told Emma I want to do a sprint triathlon with her, she was always a good swimmer when we were little (and I was drowning/clinging to my Mum for dear life) so I think she would do well and would enjoy it.
I got to my bike, pumped up my tires, situated my bottles (filled with skratch and Vega energizer) and stuffed pre-opened bonk breakers into my bag. It was time to get the wetsuit on, drumbroll please. Triathlon is a very different sport than running and your body adapts to the new stimulus (that is why you have to change things up no matter what your level of fitness!) Last year at Ironman Florida, my wetsuit ripped at the start of the race, unbeknownst to me who was so focused on the task at hand. I sent it off to a company in California who put in some stretchy material perfect for growing Iron bodies! Poor Emma took a deep breath as she tried to zip it over my shoulders, I later asked her if that was more stressful than zipping up her best friends wedding dress a few months ago!
I gave Emma and my Mum a big huge and headed to the swim start lining up with the 1:15-1:30 swimmers. Everyone was nervous and I threw out a comment that I was going to start an Ironman duathlon (just bike and run) my fellow runners giggled…
The first time I did a triathlon and actually enjoyed the swim was 2 weeks ago at the Litchfield Hills triathlon so I was feeling confident and excited to get out there. I have really learnt to enjoy and have nailed pool swimming and am working to transfer that over to the open water. I dove in and got straight into a good rhythm. I find swimming to be quiet meditative and the breathing in and out is almost similar to yoga to me. I decided to take the route of swimming on the edge of the crowds, the extra distance was more appealing than having to stop and start in a jerky pattern. My sighting was good, the water was fresh and clean and the view of the sunrise and the mountains was breathtaking, I remembered exactly why I choose this race.
I felt good in the water and in a good rhythm, but I was aware that I was breathing harder than usual. I put it down to adrenaline and excitement for the day and pushed on eager to see how fast I could cover these 2.4 miles. My goal for Ironman Maryland is 1:20, so I anticipated coming in between 1:20-1:25 with the adjustment. I stormed through transition, got my wetsuit removed from the wetsuit strippers and found Emma and my Mum at the bike mount area. I yelled through panting breath 1…..2…….1 (meaning 1 hour and 21 minutes), they screamed with excitement (you’d think they’d just seen Ryan Gosling go through the wetsuit strippers) and I smiled and headed off on the bike happy with a 12 minute PR on the swim since Ironman Florida.
I immediately realized that my heart rate was 15bpm higher than normal at the same pace. Stubborn I decided to push on keeping the same pace to see how long I could hold it for. Normally while descending my heart rate really drops but not today, I couldn’t get it down. I like to start my day with a few minutes of deep breathing and I recommend it to a lot of my clients to help deal with stress, anxiety and just to work on proper breathing. I was practicing that here in my aero bars! What a sight.
This last block of training I had focused on hill repeats, which made some of the sharp climbs in Boulder really fun (there is actually a rather pathetic picture of me literally smiling up one of the hills they call 3 bitches which puts heartbreak hill to shame). The elevation gain is Boulder was triple that off Florida, so I was happy to match my time of last year at 6:30. By mile 80 I slowly realized that would not be happening, I was hit with a pounding headache like I had a nail going through my temples and my chest was wheezy like I had bronchitis. I pushed on but the headwind back into town made my difficulties heightened. Normally the last 15 miles of the bike I am so excited to run, but here I was getting nervous. I finished the bike in 6:40, staggered off and headed to the transition tent where I was greeted by a lovely lady who helped me (this never happened in Florida!)
I took a moment to gather my senses aware that this was clearly not my day and took the time to stop at the porta-potty. I don’t think I have ever done a race where giving up has even crossed my mind but for a moment here, it did. The though of a full marathon in the condition I was in was daunting. I told myself before the race that if I wasn’t going to make a Kona spot I didn’t want to trash myself knowing that Maryland was just 7 weeks away.
I staggered out to the course telling myself, it’s a training race just go and grab a 2 mile transition run, just like training. After 2 miles of running at a decent pace, I began to feel like my chest and head were weighted down. My legs were running smoothly without too much discomfort (this is relative considering I just biked 112 miles) but my chest was literally sore. I began to slow to a run a mile, walk .1 a mile which kept me at a decent pace but that .1 mile slowly became longer and longer. I finally found Emma and my Mum and was able to give them a big heavy hug, Emma told me I was in 5th place at the time and said “Mills you’ve got a big race in 7 weeks, just finish this, ok?” I thought about that the rest of the way, she was right, the goal was to come and all I had to do was get through this and check it off.
Seeing them gave me some adrenaline and I picked up the pace a bit but slowly came down again. People were so supportive and cheering me on when I was running I felt like a rock star. They were amazed how fast I was going and I didn’t want to tell them it was only temporary! In hindsight, I can see how the walk/run approach works, but coming from a running background this is a weird and demoralizing concept and experience. But, you do what you have to at the time!
Matt Miller of Base Performance was at mile 1 of the course. I had met Matt when I went to pick up some bike supplies from the expo on Friday. He showed me his product, which was essentially an empty tic tac box filled with Himalayan sea salt. I was certainly intrigued by this idea, as I am a big fan of Himalayan sea salt but wouldn’t want to try anything new on race day so I smiled and walked away. However when I saw Matt’s bubbling self jumping around at the tent I said “Matt, this is either going to save me or kill me, but at this point I’ve got nothing to do loose!” He laughed gave me a box, I took a couple of hits and it was like rocket fuel, I felt so much better and was able to get another solid mile of running in. This is definitely something I am going to experiment with going into Maryland and am wondering if I had kept this up during the bike would affect that would have had. I will definitely be checking out the rest of the Base Performance line as well.
With about 3 miles to go I saw Emma and my Mum again and knew that this was the homeward stretch. Mile 24 was painful I really had to dig deep just to keep moving but as soon as I made the last turnaround I got my second wind (at this point, I don’t think you can even call it a second wind!) and picked up my run so I was going sub 8 minute miles. (8-minute mile is my goal pace for Maryland) I was grunting and sounded like an idiot but making it through once I saw a girl in my age group I knew I had to hold onto to maintain fourth place, I yelled out to the volunteers asking where the finish line was, I didn’t want to accidently go off on the loop for a third time! I heard the announcer laughing that I was running so fast yet still questioning where the end was! Ha! I made the turn and knew Pearl St. was coming I saw Emma and my Mum again waved a number 4 sign and pushed on. I wanted to cross the line slowly to hear “Milly you are an Ironman!” I missed this in Florida because I came through too quickly but my priority was to keep fourth so alas I missed it again. I finished in 4:36, roughly 40 minutes slower than my 3:55 in Florida last year, and 1 hour off of my goal time for Maryland, ouch.
In the end I finished in 12 hours and 57 minutes and fourth place finishing just minutes behind 2 girls who lived in Colorado. Although I did not hit my goal times for this race I feel so confident that I placed and kept up with girls who weren’t fighting the altitude. At the awards ceremony the next day the overall winners described the bike course as “sneaky” saying that everyone over biked because it was a sneaky course that caught up with us. The median run times for Boulder were slower than that of any Ironman in 2013! My run split although the slowest marathon I have ever done for myself was faster than any median run split throughout all the age groups for the day. I have never seen more ambulances and people passing out at a race, which was an unnerving but humbling experience to remember what a physical undertaking the Ironman truly is.
I have to thank Peter Sikora, a podiatrist I have been working with this year. He has fit me with orthotics to help with my slight leg discrepancy, which previously caused some hip issues for me. He is so incredibly relentless and took so much time making sure everything was right for me. My body truly feels amazing after this race and I have him to thank for that. No discomfort, no pain, the muscle that hearts the most is my heart! I am fortunate that I have recovered well and the muscle soreness was low. It shows me that my body is ready to take on the distance, and next time to push the distance faster. I am taking a week of recovery to let my body heal and allow my heart rate to stabilize. The first few days I felt very breathless but am working on deep breathing and controlling stress to stay relaxed.
I left Boulder with my head high and with the confidence that I have the fitness to reach my goals at Maryland and completing that Ironman only helped me to go further in that direction. At the awards ceremony they announced my age group as “your future pro’s” I know I have the commitment, the drive and the motivation to get there and if that is what path I am going down, I embrace it, only time will tell for me on that. The next 7 weeks will be recovery, a few key workouts with ample recovery between to not accumulate too much fatigue and then I head into the taper for Maryland. Some people think I am crazy to do this (well aren’t we all crazy for doing it in the first place!) but it is amazing what the body is capable of and I know I have taken the steps necessary to have success. This was truly one of the first races I’ve ever had where things haven’t gone as planned and all I could think of was, thank goodness, yes this is great because for every bad day you have, there is a GREAT day waiting for you…let’s just hope mine is September 20th J