CAMTRI Race Report: My First ITU experience

March 10, 2018

CAMTRI American Championship

Sarasota, Fla

750 m swim, 18.3 km bike, 5 km run

 

“You very nearly lost your fiancé,” I said to Lauralee as Matt was grabbing his cycling shoes from a table and putting them by the bike. I’d just finished grinding my teeth as Matt and Lauralee scrambled around searching for Matt’s bike shoes. Originally, Matt thought they were in the car, then he searched his bag finally realizing he’d taken them out and put them on an officials table about 50 yards away. If we hadn’t located Matt’s shoes before transition closed we would’ve had to been extremely creative, like Matt riding in running shoes on the bike (definitely not preferred). But, crisis averted we meandered over to the swim start.

This was a very different event that I’m used to competing in. For starters, everyone in this race was a paratriathlete. Whether it was a physical or visual impairment, all the participants were here to collect points on the ITU (International Triathlon Union) circuit to help improve their world rankings to hopefully be selected to represent their country at the World Championship or for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. This was my first ITU race and I had no idea what to expect. The distances were short—750 meter swim (about 820 yards), 18.3 kilometers bike (11.37 miles) and 5 kilometers run (3.1 miles). I compete in the PTVI (paratriathlon visually impaired) Male division and I’m designated as a B1 (totally blind) athlete. As such I’m required to where goggles and glasses that have been blacked out so that no light gets in for the entire race. I also get a 3 minute and 16 second buffer (also known as compensation time) ahead of visually impaired athletes who have some usable sight. Today, I’d be competing against six other male visually impaired athletes. Five of us represented the United States, one from Canada and one from Venezuela. By far this was the largest field of visually impaired athletes I’d ever raced against in a triathlon and I was curious to see how I’d stack up.

My guide for today was Matt Miller, who’d guided me to a PR (personal record) at the 70.3 distance in Boulder the previous August. This was Matt’s first time guiding an ITU event as well so we were both slightly clueless when it came to procedures. There were so many rules and regulations I had to try and wrap my head around that it was almost a little overwhelming. For example, swim tethers couldn’t be longer than 80 cm (31 inches), run tethers couldn’t be more than 50 cm (18 inches), the distance from guide to athlete head could not exceed 1.5 m at any point during the swim, the guide could not move the athlete forward at any point (give them a little tug forward to make them swim faster as Matt had done a couple times when we raced in Boulder), and a million other rules that I tried to keep straight.

The day was cloudy and drizzly. Wind was making small waves on the surface of the lake we were swimming in. But the weather didn’t concern me. In fact, I love racing in the rain because I tend to perform well whereas some athletes dread the rain and stress about it. What stressed me out more was the seeming lack of organization compared to other events I’ve attended. For example, we stood around at the swim start, with no loud speaker or bull horn announcing, “athletes in wave X are on deck”. There was just someone calling out (in a soft voice) “next up”. The athlete briefing the night before was an official showing stuff on a powerpoint saying “you guys have all done this before. The run course is this, the bike course is that, the swim goes here.” And while the powerpoint apparently showed times and such for check in, number pick up etc, it wasn’t verbalized for those of us who couldn’t see a thing. Whatever, I was just ready to race.

Matt and I finally lowered ourselves off the dock and into the water for the swim start. Matt, thinking he’d not need a wetsuit because this race was in Florida, sat on the edge of the dock until the 20 sec warning. Meanwhile, I desperately had to pee, so I relieved myself in my wetsuit as the clock ticked down. As soon as I finished, the horn sounded and I quickly put my head down and took off.

Swimming has generally been my weakest discipline, however I’d really been working hard on my swim over the last six months and in this swim it looked that work was going to pay off. I settled into a good high tempo rhythm. I didn’t punch or hit Matt too terribly much and I felt as though my stroke rate, and body rotation were as good or better than I’d ever done in an open water swim. I kept slapping the heels of a swimmer in front of me and kept upping the pace wanting to get around him thinking I was stuck behind a slower swimmer. Then all of a sudden I felt a yank on the tether and it started slipping down my leg. “F*ck!” I screamed (whether in my head or into the water I can’t remember). I wondered if the tether had broken, or if someone had grabbed onto it. I popped my head out of the water and Matt was working at the tether. I reached back and felt a buoy behind and to the left of me, right between me and Matt. We’d gotten hooked and our momentum was dead. We got the tether unhooked and back to swimming, but we lost probably 15-20 seconds in the process. That would cost us later on in the race. Swim time: 13 min 27 sec

We scrambled up the swim exit and onto pavement and started running toward the bike. “We’re about 10 seconds down on Brad,” Matt said. (Brad Snyder is an elite Paralympic swimmer who holds a few world records and five gold and two silver medals from the London and Rio Paralympics. He is now trying to qualify for Tokyo in triathlon. It was apparently Brad’s feet I’d been slapping before we got hooked by the buoy. Oh well, the bike was Matt’s and my strongest discipline so I figured we could make up the time. We only had 18 km to do it in though.

As I ran through transition I struggled to get my wetsuit down off my shoulders and around my waist. Then I had some trouble getting my swim cap off (note to self, get my haircut before the next race). Once we got to the bike I dropped my goggles, tether and cap into the basket we were required to put stuff in that came off our body. Then I worked at getting my wetsuit off. As always, it got hung up on my heels. Swearing like a sailor I worked at it furiously until Matt was able to step over and help me out. We pitched it into the basket as I yanked on socks (note to self, screw socks next time), cycling shoes, helmet and blacked out sunglasses. Finally, we jogged to the mount line, clipped in and took off. Transition 1 time: 1 min 33 sec (way too slow)

Once we were out on the bike I started to settle in mentally. Matt is an incredibly strong cyclist and we quickly overtook Brad and his guide to move into 2nd place behind the Canadians. We hammered at the pedals but weren’t able to reel them in any further. Then came Aaron Scheidies and his guide zooming past us on the right. Aaron is the top ranked visually impaired triathlete in the world and has only come in 2nd place or worse twice in his ITU career.

Matt and I were able to consistently hold between 25-27 mph on the bike for the three loop bike course. Each lap I grabbed a swallow or two from the bottle of Base Performance rocketfule I’d prepared and put on the bike prior to the start of the race. On the last lap, I passed the bottle up to Matt who hadn’t put any nutrition on the bike for himself. Bike time: 26 min 18 sec (25.9 mph average speed)

As we rolled to the dismount line I made the mental shift from biking to running. We unclipped and ran to rack the bike. I got my helmet and shoes off and for some reason struggled getting my running shoes on. I grabbed the run tether and snapped it around my waist. Then Matt and I were off onto the run. Transition 2 time: 1 min 9 sec (still too slow)

For some reason, my left shoe was rubbing horribly against the arch of my foot. But it wasn’t hindering my run so I just ignored it. It turns out the inside upper fold of my shoe didn’t get fully flattened against my foot which eventually cause a small blister, but since I’d run a lot farther before with much worse blisters, I simply ignored it and put my efforts into running and syncing my arm and leg turn over. Strangely enough I felt surprisingly good, even though I’d pushed myself hard in the swim and on the bike. The only issue was Matt’s and my arms kept hitting each other. We probably made the tether a bit too short. Next time, I’ll be sure to measure it out to exactly 50 cm so we have the maximum length allowed. We hit the first aid station and grabbed water. Then we started approaching the turn around. Matt glanced back and saw Brad and his guide coming up on us fast. Brad was pushing everything he had. He caught us just before the turn and opened up a gap. We were now sitting in 4th place, just off the podium, with Aaron way out in front leading and the Canadian, Jon Dunkerley holding 2nd. I opened up the throttle a bit more intending to run Brad down and claim that final podium spot, but it wasn’t meant to be. Tired with our arms continuously whacking into each other, Matt unbuckled the tether from around his waist and held it in his hand and fell a step or two behind me. He was now guiding me more verbally than with a quick bump on the arm. We held our position and ran it in settling for a 4th place finish, just 14 seconds back of Brad and 1 min 38 sec of Jon. Aaron was nearly five min ahead of us. Run time: 22 min 16 sec (7 min 10 sec per mile pace)

Total race time: 1 hour 4 min 39 sec

When we crossed the line, my legs and lungs were a little tired, but I honestly felt as though I’d only done a tough work out. On the one hand, it was a ton of fun to have a race only take me just over an hour, but on the other hand I kept thinking “that’s it?”

Take Aways

There were three big things within mine and Matt’s control that went wrong which cost us a podium spot. First was the swim tether getting hooked on the buoy costing us 15 or more seconds. Second was my transition times. When looking at splits between me, Brad and Jon, I noticed that I gave 24 seconds to Brad in transition and 44 to Jon. These times need to come down if I want to seriously compete at an International level. Finally, I never truly “redlined” it. Meaning I was giving it absolutely 100 percent especially on the run. I felt my swim and bike efforts were executed just about perfectly, but I eased up on the run when I should’ve used that time to go full gas.

Things that I do feel good about though include, my fitness is far ahead of where I thought it would be, especially on my swim and run. Knowing that Matt is such a strong cyclist on the front of the tandem I predicted within 20 seconds of our actual bike time. So all in all, it was a successful start to the season but with definite room for improvement.

For a while, many people in the triathlon world have said I should switch to ITU racing exclusively and they’re all absolutely positive I’d enjoy it more than 70.3 and Ironman distance. All I can say to that is… We’ll see 🙂 I am extremely intrigued with traveling and competing internationally collecting points toward qualifying to represent the United States in the Paralympics. But there are a lot of things to consider and work on.

Right now, my #eyeronvision isn’t 100 percent razor sharp. I have some goals I’d like to achieve this year, but I don’t have the laser focus on one specific goal quite yet. But I might be changing. And the only way for you to find out what my eventual #eyeronvision is is to keep reading these newsletters and following me on social media. Follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kylecoonspeaks and on Instagram @eyeronkyle 😉

So until we meet again. Remember to keep an “eye on your vision!”

#eyeronvision

Kyle Coon

 

Breaking 12: Ironman Arizona 2017

November 19, 2017

Tempe, Arizona

2.4 mi Swim, 112 mi Bike, 26.2 mi Run

 

My race nearly ended before it started. The morning had started well, I got up on time, mixed my nutrition, met up with Will and taken care of all necessary pre-race routines and rituals. I zipped my dry clothes and extras into my Ironman Arizona backpack and handed it to my friend Omar to hold on to until I was done with the race. I’d even pulled up my wetsuit over my shoulders and was ready to zip it up. Will and I were walking toward the swim start when I realized something rather important was missing… “F*ck! The swim tether!”

Fortunately, we hadn’t walked far and we immediately turned around sprinting back toward where we’d last seen Omar yelling his name. I was able to get the tether out of the backpack but then had to briskly jog through a swelling crowd of people to get to the swim start. As a Physically Challenged (PC) athlete, I’d been given permission to start with the female pros, five minutes ahead of the rest of the age group swimmers. This is crucial to not just my success but to the success of my guide as it’s much easier and less hectic to start behind professionals who clear out quickly giving us several minutes of smooth water to swim in. If we start in the crowd of age group athletes there’s far more risk of getting kicked, punched swum over, and slowed down because my guide and I would be forced to stop, pop our heads up and communicate and regroup. Being the ultra-competitive person I am, I didn’t want too much stoppage once I started swimming.

Crisis averted with the swim tether, we made it to the steps leading down into the water, zipped up our wetsuits, put on our swim caps and goggles, and plunged into the balmy 67 degree water of Tempe Town Lake. We stroked over to where the female pros were gathering just behind the start line and got the opportunity to briefly meet the other blind athlete in the race. Hiro was competing in his first Ironman. We briefly shook hands and wished each other luck before the announcer yelled for us to get ready.

Will and I treaded water just behind the last line of female pros. Will, being the trash talker he is couldn’t help but say, “Ok female pros, you’re going down!” Several laughed and one even looked over and said, “Don’t run me over.” Then the start gun went off and the race was on!

 

Finding A Guide

“Hey, I know you haven’t done an Ironman in a while, but would you consider guiding me at Ironman Arizona?” I asked Will Fisher on an eight mile training run on Basalt Mountain in late May. “Let me think about it,” was Will’s response. A few days later, Will texted me and said “I’m in for Arizona.”

I’m very fortunate to have been paired up with incredible guides for both training and racing. It’s definitely not easy guiding a totally blind athlete in an open water swim, piloting a tandem bike, or running on the road or single-track trail. To find someone willing to put in the time and training for an Ironman on top of guiding me through the entirety of that event isn’t the easiest thing to ask of someone. I’m also typically not the type of blind athlete who likes meeting my guide just a couple of days before the race. I like to train as much as possible with my guide so we can be as seemless in our communication as possible come race day. With this in mind I thought I’d be in a bit of a bind for Arizona. I wasn’t sure if my previous guide, Mike, would be able to guide me due to some previous health/injury concerns as well as a very tight work schedule. Plus, Mike and I now lived 2000 miles apart and our opportunities to train together would be almost 0. I also wasn’t sure if Matt, who was going to guide me at Boulder 70.3 would be able to guide me because of his insane work schedule running Base Performance. So I’m very fortunate that Will committed and sacrificed the second half of his racing season to guide me through my second Ironman.

Will Fisher is known by many in the Roaring Fork Valley either as a crazy endurance junkie, or the head Priest at St. Peter’s of the Valley Episcopal Church in Basalt, Colo. Will’s athletic background is notably extremely impressive. He attended and rowed for Brown University. He then rowed professionally in the 90s and took sixth place at the Olympic Trials in 2000. He’d also been dabbling in triathlons at this point and would eventually go on to complete five Ironman triathlons between 2008 and 2011 with times ranging from 10 hours 44 minutes, to 13 hours 14 minutes. After some bad bike crashes and a move to Basalt though Will decided to focus on ultra-marathons. Since 2011, he’s completed four 100 mile mountain runs and numerous other trail races. While I was in Boulder racing Boulder 70.3, Will was running his fourth 100 miler in California. Just a couple of weeks after finishing the Angeles Crest 100, Will turned his focus to getting prepared for the swim and bike portions of Ironman Arizona.

We did our best to get together every couple weeks for either a swim, bike or run. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any opportunities to practice swimming in the open water, but did the best we could in the pool practicing with my swim tether. We mostly spent our time training together getting comfortable on the tandem. The area of Colorado where we live is extremely mountainous. There really aren’t very many flat places to practice easy riding. So just about all of our rides consisted of dirt, roads, steep climbs, and long technical descents. Needless to say, even the most supremely confident and skilled of bike handlers have a little tighter grip on the handlebars when piloting a tandem over such difficult terrain. Nevertheless, we made it to race week safe, fit and healthy.

 

Race Week

I arrived in the Phoenix area on Tuesday night after driving more than 12 hours in the car with my dad, dog and bike. We spent the night with one of my dad’s old marine corps friends, who we call Beto. Wednesday was spent relaxing while my dad helped Beto with some chores around the house. Then dad dropped me off at the house I’d be staying at with a couple of other athletes.

Thursday morning was spent doing some interviewing and video shooting with David and Melinda Downey, who do the majority of the audio visual digital work for Ironman. I was one of the featured athletes for the weekend and shared a good portion of my story with Dave and Melinda. They also got some footage of Matt Miller and I doing a very easy spin on the tandem. After that I went back to the house and relaxed.

Friday Will arrived and we got all checked in receiving our swag bags and instructions on how things would go race morning. That night we attended a get together for the Base Performance athletes racing Ironman Arizona. It was a potluck, and my contribution was of course some Bubba BurgersJI think they were enjoyed by many.

Saturday was all about getting ready for Sunday. Will and I did a short 10 minute open water swim. Then we did a short bike ride to spin out our legs and to do any last minute saddle and handlebar adjustments. We followed this up with a quick one mile easy run. Then we headed to lunch with one of Will’s old rowing coaches. Iskra was a four time Olympian for Bulgaria and she made Will and I delicious lunch packed with protein, carbs, fruits and vegetables. Then it was back to the house to finish mental preparations for the following day. My parents and sisters came over to the house for a short visit and then I was off to bed by 7:00 PM for a 3:30 AM wake up.

 

Back to the Swim

The starting gun went off, I hit the start button on my watch, put my head down and immediately started stroking. A couple of hundred yards into the swim Will tapped me on the shoulder and told me to relax a bit, I was pushing just a bit too hard too early. I settled down and found my rhythm. I did my best to focus on good technique. A little more than a month before I’d spend several days in Kona, Hawaii focusing on open water swim training. Apart from doing numerous swims with my buddy and first triathlon guide Mike, I spent a little less than an hour and a half swimming with an elite open water swimmer and coach Meredith Novack. She gave me some fundamentals to really focus on and I found myself repeating those fundamentals to myself as I swam. “Swim tall, have a quick catch and keep your fingers pointed toward the ground during the majority of the stroke.” I also focused on just putting my head down and arching my back so my feet came up closer to the surface to reduce drag.

I’m not sure how long we were swimming before the fast age groupers starting catching us. Surprisingly, I didn’t get kicked, punched or swum over too much. I accidentally caught Will in the goggles with my left elbow at some point but he returned the favor with a well aimed elbow shot to my left goggle at some point as well. But apart from that, there were no real mishaps in the swim. I did find myself reaching down and yanking up the swim tether every few minutes so that it was higher on my thigh. I figured the bungee cord wrapped around my thigh was losing its elasticity after two plus years of open water swimming. Then, all of a sudden I thought I heard the loud speaker as the announcer was calling out the names of people coming out of the water. I also thought I heard cheering and music, but I was only catching bits as my head was primarily still underwater and there was no way we could be finishing already. But then my hand hit the metal hand rail of the steps leading up out of the water and a volunteer standing on the lower steps was helping me up.

Will and I clambered up the steps and then down onto the carpet that led to the wetsuit peelers. I unzipped my wetsuit and yanked it down to around my waist and also slipped the tether off my leg. I flopped onto my back and let the volunteers help me get my wetsuit off. Then Will and I ran to grab our bike gear bags and headed to sit down and change into cycling tops, shoes and helmets. Then it was off to grab the bike and head to the mount line to take off.

Swim Time: 1:14:42

Transition 1: 8:16

 

The Bike

We launched smoothly enough and I was able to clip into my pedals fairly easily. Sometimes I can’t nail the clip exactly and can lose precious time fiddling trying to get clipped in. Even after 15 years of using a variety of pedals, I still sometimes feel like a beginner.

We started easy just spinning our legs out in some smaller gears before getting out onto the open road where we had almost a straight shot with only a couple of turns for the next 18 or so miles.

The Ironman Arizona bike course is three loops of about 36-37 miles. On the way out of town you climb up a very slight incline for about 10 miles. Typically the wind is also blowing into your face. Thankfully Will and I trained on super steep climbs so this excuse for a climb felt pretty flat. We settled into a good rhythm and started passing people. We also got passed a few times. Will let me know when he was in the arrow bars and not so that I could get out of my drops and stretch my back. We also let each other know if we had to stand to relieve the pressure and give our butts a short break.

Throughout the last year I’d dialed in my nutrition plan and immediately got on it during the bike. Every 15 minutes my watch alerts me with a vibration and alarm tone letting me know it’s time to eat/drink. Every 15 minutes I take one or two licks of Base Performance salt. At 30 minutes I take a 100 calorie gu jell (I prefer vanilla flavored without caffeine). At the top of the hour I eat a 200 calorie Base Performance Limeberry Real Bar. In my water bottles I have a mixture of Base Performance hydro, amino and salt (Base athletes call this concoction Rocket fuel). I carry four bottles on my bike and put one in an area known as special needs if I need it later on. Based on how I felt during training I typically went through a bottle of rocket fuel every 20-25 miles on the bike. On hotter days I tend to drink more, and on cooler days I drink less. Every few aid stations I’ll grab a bottle of water to drink and spray over me if I need to cool down. During this race the wind was blowing and the sun wasn’t yet beating down so I drank less than I probably should have, but I felt good and hydrated throughout the bike.

Will and I reached the turn around just past mile 18 a little less than an hour and 15 minutes after we started the bike. The turn around was rather tight so we took it cautiously with the tandem. Once we were on the straight away through we were on a slight downhill with the wind at our backs—AKA every cyclist’s dream but especially on a tandem. We flew holding speeds upwards of 35 MPH on the way back before we made the turn to start our second loop. I heard people cheering and thought I heard my family. I definitely heard the announcer yell about one of the blind athletes. Then just before we made the turn to head back out of town Will looked over to the right and saw one of the top American female pros, Heather Jackson, cheering from the sidelines as a spectator. Again, Will’s trash talking nature came out and he yelled “Princeton sucks!” (Heather Jackson played hockey for Princeton before getting into triathlon and as noted above Will rowed for rival Brown University. However, just in case this newsletter makes it onto Heather Jackson’s computer screen, I would just like to say that wasn’t the guy on the back of the tandem yelling at you. I’ve got no problem throwing Will under the bus on that one LOL.)

We successfully executed a second lap on the bike, stopping around mile 60 to get off and pee in one of the port-a-potties on course. Ideally I’ll eventually be able to just pee on the fly, but I’m not quite at Matt Miller level yet. (For those of you who are new to this newsletter, I invite you to go read my race recap of Boulder 70.3 at www.kylecoon.comand you will then get that reference.)

Even with the pee break around mile 60 we were only a couple of minutes slower on our second lap. Now we were down to the final lap, about 18 miles of uphill and headwind and the rest a fast cruise. After we made the turn and started heading downhill for the last sixth of the bike course we started to hammer. We pushed the pace as hard as we could while not blowing up. On each lap we’d seen Hiro and his guide, Greg, on the other side of the road and would shout encouragement to them.

Around mile 108, the wind shifted and we were suddenly riding into a headwind. Thank goodness we only had a couple miles left. We downshifted and started spinning our legs out getting ready for the run. I took my last swallow of rocket fuel and then Will was counting down to when we’d dismount.

We dismounted smoothly, I snatched one of my empty bottles off the bike and a volunteer took the bike to go rack it while Will and I grabbed our run gear bags and headed to the changing tent. I changed my socks, emptied my Bubba Burger cycling jersey pockets of trash, and filled the empty bottle I’d grabbed off the bike with a disposable bottle I’d filled with rocket fule that morning. I through on my Hoka Kona Clayton running shoes, put on my visor and headed out of the changing tent. After a quick pit stop in the port-a-potty we’re were ready to start the run.

Bike Time: 5:42:00

Transition 2: 8:25

 

The Run

Throughout the history of Ironman Triathlon it are those who can run strong off the bike that succeed the most. I’d been a cyclist growing up and thought I’d be able to shatter records if I could just bike like a maniac. I quickly learned that makes for a miserable triathlon experience at any distance. Strangely though I’d identified as a runner for about a year before I did my first triathlon in 2015. I’d made steady progress as a runner, but hadn’t had a break out year until this 2017 season. When I step back and look around I firmly believe that if you want to learn to run fast and efficiently then the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado is a pretty darn good place to learn. Yes we have hundreds of miles of trail and road to run, but more than that our running community is incredible. Running with elite level runners will definitely motivate you to try and keep up. However, even though I’d had a break out year as a runner having run the Boston Marathon and setting personal bests at a variety of distances, I hadn’t done much run specific training since running Boston back in April. I just hoped the massive run block I did leading up to Boston and the runs off the bike I did once or twice a week would pay off in Arizona.

As soon as Will and I came out of T2 we started running. If you’ve never run immediately after riding a bike, it is a very weird sensation. Fortunately I had nearly three years of practice running off the bike and my legs had never felt better. I did my best to focus on smooth running form and technique—landing on my midfoot, trying to stay light on my feet, sinking my arm swing with the cadence of my legs and focusing on breathing slowly and deliberately. I’d decided that my run strategy was going to be run from aid station to aid station, walk through each aid station while taking in water, coke and any other items I needed for as long as possible. I wanted to avoid walking between the aid stations as much as possible.

For the first few miles I felt incredibly good considering I’d been racing for the majority of the day. The strategy of walking the aid stations was working out beautifully. As we came to each aid station I’d grab water, then one or two cups of coke. If there was ice at the aid stations I started shoving that into my jersey and shorts to keep my temperature down. I’d also through a cup of water over my head to help with this as well. The one area I was concerned about was my salt intake. I’d forgotten my extra tube of salt on the bike and was running low. Fortunately though I was able to grab an extra tube of salt at the aid station manned by Base. I also refilled my bottle with rocket fuel. Since this was a looped course I’d pass through the Base aid station four times—twice on each lap—so I was able to grab salt and rocket fuel each time.

I expected that I’d start feeling exhausted and heavy legged around mile seven, but surprisingly I continued running strong. In fact, I was on pace to run my fastest marathon (even faster than I’d run Boston) until mile 12. At the last aid station before completing the first lap I decided to empty my gut before I had to start worrying about any digestional issues. I ran through the turn around and heard my family cheering loud and hard. I even heard my dad’s friend, one of my marine Corps uncles, Beto yelling that he’d have a beer for me at the finish line. Then it was back to focusing.

Our mile splits began slowing down little by little. Will and I started extending our walk breaks around mile 14 or 15. We were definitely starting to hurt, but we were still both surprisingly ok compared to previous races. The year before at Ironman Boulder I just about walked all but a couple of miles of the marathon. In Will’s last Ironman back in 2011, he’d run the first 11 miles and then walked nearly the entirety of the remaining 15. So we were overall pleased with our performance. Then shit nearly hit the fan.

We decided to take an extended walk break after mile 16. We were right around the 10 hour mark for the entire race and Will’s stomach was starting to become a little upset. We walked and chatted about the race up until that point, how we thought we’d finish and future race plans. We also chatted with other people out on the course about this and that. Then as we hit mile 18 Will stopped, doubled over and started hurling. A couple people paused to see if we needed help, but we told them we were fine. I’m not sure if they believed us considering Will probably looked awful at that point. I wasn’t super concerned about not finishing, but I did think there was a strong possibility we’d have to walk the rest of the marathon. After a solid two minutes or so of spewing, Will straightened up and we continued walking. Then as we approached a slight downhill Will suggested we try a little jog into the next aid station which was only a few hundred yards away. So we jogged before walking through the aid station. Will took in some coke and we continued walking for a few minutes after the aid station. Then Will suggested jogging again. So we jogged easy until the next aid station and repeated.

As we passed through the Base aid station for the third time, Will got himself a bit of rocket fuel and I refilled my bottle for the last time. As we came out of that station we picked up the pace. Not long after that we hit the 21 mile mark. Will looked down at his watch and said “We’re at 11 hours. If we just maintain sub 12 minute miles we can finish in under 12 hours.” I didn’t want to believe him. Anything could happen, one of us could cramp, start throwing up again or just not have the will power to run. But what the heck, it was worth going for it and so we picked up the pace a little more.

We passed through the Base aid station at mile 23 for the last time around the 11 hour and 20 minute mark. Will grabbed some rocket fuel and just as we started running again, Matt Miller came running up and said “Hey guys can you stop for a sec so we can grab a picture?” At the exact same time Will and I said “NO!”

“I’m about to break 12 hours mother*cker!” I yelled over the pounding of the music that’s always thumping at the Base station. I think our response caught Matt a little off guard but then he yelled “Go do it!” And so we took off.

We hit the 24 mile mark, then 25. We grabbed water and coke at the last aid station and picked up the pace for the last time. Now Will was counting down minutes. “We’ll be done in six minutes…three minutes!” And then I heard the crowd, music and the voice of Ironman—Mike Reilly. We hit the last stretch of carpet leading to the finish line and I couldn’t hear over the enormous roar of the crowd. I caught the words “blind athlete and his guide,” and of course I caught the all important phrase “You are an Ironman!”

Run Time: 4:33:20

Total Time: 11:46:43

 

The Aftermath

After we crossed the finish line my excitement got the better of me and I jumped on Will giving him a bear hug. Unfortunately he wasn’t ready for it and collapsed, but no injuries so all good. After some hugs from the family Will’s stomach started acting up again and he started hurling. We made it over to the medical personnel and they put blankets around both of us and got fluids into us. They managed to get Will some sprite and I even managed to get down a few pretzels.

Between bouts of hurling, Will was chatting up the female medical volunteers doing his best to pimp me out. “Are you a student at ASU? How old are you? Are you single? Would you date a 26 year old blind guy?” Ah Will, not only does he guide me into a very elite group of triathletes who are blind or visually impaired, but he does his best to set me up on dates. Not sure the timing was exactly ideal, but I applaud the effort!

After a while we were able to leave the medical area and go change into our dry clothes and eventually make it to our beds. I still had a hard time believing that we’d broken 12 hours. I made my mom repeat our splits several times as we were driving back to the house. Even now after several days, I can still hardly believe it. It had been my goal when I started racing triathlons almost three years ago to break into that elite group of triathletes who are blind or visually impaired to break 12 hours.

To the best of my knowledge, I became the ninth triathlete who is blind or visually impaired to accomplish this feit. Ched Towns of Australia was the first to accomplish this in 1990 at Ironman Australia. No other blind athlete broke the 12 hour mark until Patricia Walsh in 2011 at Ironman Texas. That same year, Richard Hunter cracked 12 hours at Ironman Florida. It then took about three years before the frenzy began. Elizabeth Baker broke 12 hours at Ironman Chattanooga in 2014. Eric Manser then set the bar high with an 11:10:28 finish at Ironman Florida in 2015. In 2016 Ryan Van Preit raced an 11:08:30 at Ironman Florida, Haseeb Ahmad raced an 11:03:31 at Ironman Barcelona and John Dommandl broke the 11 hour barrier with a 10:44:31 at Ironman Western Australia. (I believe Haseeb also broke the 11 hour barrier at a non-Ironman branded race.) Then in October of 2017, Eric Manser again raised the bar with a 10:42:59 finish at Ironman Maryland. I look at all of these times and elite athletes and can’t help but feel a little awed to have a time close to what they have. The competitive side of me wants to get on the same course on the same day with these athletes and have a race. Because believe it or not, I think we’re all pretty competitive to some extent. Maybe one day. For now I’m just excited to see how much I can improve in 2018.

 

Thank you for all of your continued support.

 

#eyeronvision

Ironman 70.3 Boulder Race Report

August 5, 2017
Ironman 70.3 Boulder
1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, 13.1 mi run

“We just picked off another pro…and I gotta pee” Matt called back as we hammered away pushing the pace upwards of 40 miles an hour. I’d pegged this race, Ironman 70.3 Boulder, as one I wanted to do well at since signing up for it back in March. It was almost exactly a year since I’d completed my first full distance Ironman, Ironman Boulder, which also happened to be the last triathlon I’d completed. When I moved to Colorado in November, 2016, I decided to focus on and do my best to perfect each one of the triathlon disciplines, particularly my running. So I ran hard for six months before getting back on the bike or in the pool.

I’d recently joined the Base Performance race team after an extremely successful 2016 season using the various Base nutrition products. And since Matt Miller, President of Base Performance, has been guiding blind triathletes for more than 15 years, I thought it would be cool to do a race together. I also knew that Matt is a super strong triathlete and would push me to perform at my best. And so I packed up my racing kit, helmet, cycling and running shoes, and my Seeing Eye® dog and made my way to Boulder.

Matt and his girlfriend, Lauralee, hosted several of us at their house for a delicious dinner of sweet potato lasagna and salad two nights before the race. Immediately after the delicious food, Matt and a couple of others set up the tandem that Matt and I’d be riding on Saturday. My “Limo” was a bit too cumbersome to take apart, pack up, load on a bus and bring down to Boulder just for a few days, and I figured I’d be all right on Matt’s tandem for 56 miles. Friday was then spent primarily resting, double and triple checking to make sure I had all of my gear and getting in the right mindset. And then Saturday came.

My 70.3 race day breakfast consists of plenty of water, a few bananas and a bagel with almond or peanut butter. Matt, Lauralee and I arrived a little more than an hour before the start of the race. We set up our transition areas, snapped some pre-race selfies and headed for the swim start.

Triathlon is truely an amazing sport. It’s a sport where amatures and pros race side-by-side from start to finish. And since so many longer distance triathlon courses are looped, there are numerous opportunities to see pros and measure your progress against them. I race in the Physically Challenged (PC) division to ensure that I can use a guide and tandem bike. At this race, the PC athletes start in the same wave as the female pros. There were several people racing in the PC division at this race, which was exciting since it’s more normal to have only one or two PC athletes in the field.

As we waited almost waist deep in the water I gave my friend, mentor and fellow blind triathlete Michael Stone a quick hug and a wish good luck, then rolled my shoulders eager to race. I tend to pull to the right when I’m swimming, so Matt set up on my left. We were tethered at the upper thigh using a series of bungey chords. Then the horn sounded and we were off. Usually my goal in the swim is to just make it out alive and with plenty of energy to hammer on the bike. I’ve written before about how chaotic and scary an open water swim can be as a blind guy. Surprisingly this swim went remarkably smooth. I swam strong occasionally feeling the tug of the tether as Matt directed us through the water. A couple of times I felt someone slap my ankles and the fear that I was being overtaken by a swarm of triathletes from the waves behind would creep in, but then I’d put a little more power in my stroke, rotation and kick and I’d be clear again. Then Matt tapped me on the shoulder and I popped my head up. “We’re done,” Matt said.

We jogged up the ramp and out of the Boulder reservoir. I heard someone say, “Wow, you guys can really swim,” as we jogged past. As I yanked on the zipper of my wetsuit and began shrugging out of it on the run Matt asked me what my best 70.3 swim time was. Apart from my 31 minute and 58 second down current swim at Augusta 70.3, my previous fastest swim had been 45 minutes and 1 second at Florida 70.3. “You just did a 34 minute swim.” I was speechless.

We arrived at our transition area and I peeled off the rest of my wetsuit. I felt like I was moving slow but tried to be efficient. I pulled on my socks and cycling shoes, buckled on my helmet and lifted the tandem off the rack. Then we jogged to the mount line and took off. Only a few hundred yards past the mount line though we had to stop because the gears wouldn’t shift. Matt made a quick adjustment and then we took off again. Now we could hammer. Matt had said before the race that he wanted to try and catch as many female pros on the bike as possible. I laughed thinking we’d be so far behind the pros that we wouldn’t have a chance of catching any of them. Little did I know how determined Matt was.

By the time we hit the 10 mile mark we’d already caught and passed three or four pro women and settled into a game of leap frog with a couple of others. As we rode Matt coached and gave me things to focus on, like making my pedal stroke smoother and making sure I kept my head tucked down behind him to decrease drag. As we approached the halfway point in the bike portion of the race Matt informed me that he had to pee. He shifted his wait a little and said, “Move your right hand,” and…yes he peed on the fly, soaking my right side in the process. But hey, you got to do what you got to do and we were having a super strong bike ride thus far, so stopping wasn’t an option!

We began to slow as we came into the final 10 mile stretch of the bike. We’d been hammering hard and a couple of the climbs had really zapped us. We rolled into the bike to run transition with a two hour, 22 minute and 41 second bike split, having averaged 23.5 miles per hour. We efficiently moved through transition, clipped on the run tether and got out onto the two loop, 13.1 mile run course.

We settled into a tough but manageable pace of around nine minutes per mile. Every mile or so we hit an aid station and walked through it as we took licks of our Base salt, drank water and coke. Then as we came out the other side of the aid station we’d resume running. Matt continued coaching as we ran. “Drop your hands. Pump your arms faster to get your feet turning over more.” Every mile Matt reminded me also “SALT!” And at every aid station Matt made sure that I was taking in fluid and calories. As we crossed the 10 mile mark of the half marathon I was hurting and that was when Matt began to really push me. “Come on Kyle! You got this! I want to get you under five ten!”

We hit the 11 mile mark. “Come on man, 17 minutes! That’s all you got, just 17 minutes!” 12 miles, “Sub five ten Kyle! You can do it, less than nine minutes!” I gritted my teeth and faded behind Matt so that he was running in front of me. My legs were screaming for me to stop, but I tried to command them to just “Shut up and run!” Then I heard the crowd at the finish line and I was able to muster up the energy to pull alongside Matt again, hook my arm through his and sprint across.

My splits of 34:16 in the swim, 3:17 in transition 1, 2:22:41 on the bike, 4:06 in transition 2 and 2:06:49 on the run gave me an overall time of 5:11:09 (five hours eleven minutes and nine seconds), nearly a whole hour faster than my previous best 70.3. The numbers astounded me and made me that much more committed to train hard and stay consistent to put on an even better performance at Ironman Arizona coming up in November.

Thank you Matt for your excellent guiding and to you and Lauralee for opening up your home for me and others to have a place to stay. Congrats Lauralee on your 70.3 PR as well! Thank you to everyone who made my Ironman 70.3 Boulder race weekend one of the greatest yet, especially to Omar and Amber for your help in refueling me after the race and for your assistance in the days leading up to the race as well. A big thanks to Nick for your help before and after the race, but particularly for giving me a ride home the following day. A huge thank you to all of the race volunteers, without you I don’t know if we have a race. Thank you to all of my family, friends and fans who tracked me during the race and cheered me on from afar. Finally, thank you to my sponsors and supporters who make it possible for me to race and provide me with awesome products and platforms from which to work. Bubba Burger, Base Performance, Independence Run and Hike, and the United States Association of Blind Athletes. I’m even more excited now to tackle my upcoming training for Ironman Arizona!