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!