Ironman Boulder 2017

June 15, 2017
In the aftermath of all of the soreness, hobbling around, and celebrating a job well done with photos, phone calls, and text messages, I’m finally sitting down to reflect on my first Ironman. 🙂

In the two days prior to the race, what I found most surprising was the overwhelming sense of calm I felt. I expected to have butterflies in my stomach and a feeling of dread or fear, but instead, I only felt a desire to dive in (literally). I was so ready to begin my race day journey. On Friday, Mom and I drove up to Boulder so I could get a wetsuit swim in the Boulder Reservoir before packet pickup. The water temperature was perfect, and honestly, that was the clearest water I had ever seen in that lake. Ever. It was nice and refreshing, and my love for open water swimming resurfaced after a long winter of pool swims. We then rolled to packet pickup and athlete briefing, where the officials warned of a weekend with record heat. Even as we sat out there in the sun, I felt relatively calm about the race. I never have done well in heat. It’s definitely my biggest downfall in racing, and my training had not prepared me at all for the forecasted temperatures. In fact, winter ran very late this year and we had had snow only a couple of weekends before! Still, I breathed deeply and told myself to focus on the factors I could control, which included my effort and my nutrition/electrolyte intake. For my remaining time pre-race, I was diligent to stay calm, prepare all my gear, and visualize the race and how I would handle any potential setback.

In the last hours before I went to bed on Race Eve, I was surprised by an anonymous donation to Epic Experience. With that last donation, I had reached my fundraising goal of $5000 dollars. To whoever you are, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Those donations in the last weeks gave me so much motivation and drive! I believe that my sense of calm came from the fact that in my heart, I knew I couldn’t fail. I had to finish this race, for everyone who donated, for everyone who had encouraged me. There’s not an easy way for me to explain the sense of security I felt in the fact that the task at hand would be done, no matter what the race course threw at me. On top of that, right before bed my dad informed me that the weather forecast had cooled down by about 5 degrees. I was over the moon with excitement, it was game time.

The alarm went off at 2:45 a.m. for me. My sleep had been somewhat restless, as my mind was going a million mph all night. After driving to Boulder and catching the race shuttle to the Reservoir, I ensured all of my gear was in place and ready for the big day. I started to shake uncontrollably. It was probably a combination of the morning chill, nerves and excitement, but nonetheless, I smiled big. I just wanted to get into the water!! I hugged my loved ones and friends one last time before heading to the swim start.

The atmosphere of the swim start was one of my favorites. As music began to blast over the speakers I stretched my shoulders a few times and looked around. The sense of calm I felt was reflected on almost every other racer’s face. We all were pumped and ready to get started. People all around began to wish each other good luck and smile. I’ve raced many triathlons, but the sense of camaraderie and encouragement on this day was unlike any other. We all genuinely wanted every racer to succeed, and there was hardly a sense of fierce competition like I’m accustomed to. With the age group cannon, we started to walk down the boat ramp to the water.

We swam in a rolling start fashion, meaning that our individual times did not start until we entered the water. This can be an obstacle when trying to gauge where you are in comparison to your competitors, but I personally enjoyed the spread of swimmers. It was incredibly easy to navigate around others and I didn’t get kicked in the face/swim over another person once. The start of the swim is always a flood of adrenaline and huge effort is required on my part to ease into a comfortable pace. Being the longest open water swim I had ever done, I kept thinking to myself that the swim had to feel easy at all times. I had a long day ahead of me, so I focused on keeping a low enough effort to breathe bilaterally and spot the buoys easily. There was a decent amount of chop in the water at the far end of the Rez, but overall, the swim felt good, like a long warm up to the bike. As I exited the water, I heard the cheers of several friends and my parents. Now it was time for the tough parts, the bike and eventual run.

One of the great things about local races is that you can train on the course and prepare yourself for what race day might feel like. By the time I got on the bike for the 3 loop, 112 mile bike ride, I had ridden that route at least 10 times. I knew every hill, every turn, every pothole like the back of my hand. I knew to save my energy on the climbs that would inevitably have to be repeated three times, and I knew which areas I could rest my legs, get some food in, and bank up on free speed. I spent a good part of the first loop trying to get my heart rate down from the excitement of the swim, taking all of the hills conservatively. I got into a rhythm of eating a homemade portable every hour, sipping Skratch constantly, and eating salt every 5-ish miles to keep my sodium up. At mile 35, I rolled through the reservoir, and was greeted by a couple of seconds of frantic screaming by my favorite spectators. This was just the recharge I needed for the next 35 miles. I tried to hold a pace similar to the first loop, and was once again barraged by screams for another quick morale boost at mile 70. My parents, boyfriend, and friends were all there, surely enjoying the spectator party between my brief appearances, but now it was time for them to head to the run course. The third loop, I used what I had left to finish strong. As I rolled through the reservoir for the last time around mile 100, I noticed that it had turned into a bit of a ghost town. The majority of the spectators were gone, and the heat was starting to permeate the air, despite the chilly conditions 7 hours earlier. With the sun beating down on my back, I was tired of my saddle, and tired of basically force feeding myself. I was ready to get onto the run.

I’ll just say this. To all the volunteers at Ironman Boulder: You guys are the absolute best! When I reached transition 2, a volunteer grabbed my bike, and another volunteer handed me my run gear bag. I hardly had to lift a finger as the women in the change tent switched my shoes and socks, filled my water bottle with ice, and reapplied my sunscreen. You’d be surprised how tough all those little tasks can be when you get off a 6 hour bike ride, but these women were the bomb. You all rock!

Now, the run. I can honestly say that the run was both easier than I expected in some ways and harder than I expected in others. I don’t really want to break it down too much, but instead I’ll highlight that eating salt, putting ice in my hat, and walking the aid stations saved me. I estimate that I was running at a good pace, despite stopping to walk every mile. On top of that, I had many thoughts that kept me going through the pain and discomfort. I tried to focus on one good thought for a mile, then move on to the next thought. I’ll list a few that went through my head, in chronological order.

Mile 4: See? Not so bad, your’e already almost a 6th of the way done with this run.
Mile 8: Woohoo! My old teammates are all here! This is awesome!
Mile 11: So many Epic shirts! Thank goodness my friend Nicolas is squirting me with cold water every time I pass!
Mile 13: OMG, only 13 miles to go. Is it weird that I’m saying only 13?
Mile 15: There goes Heather Jackson. Isn’t this an incredible sport where a mere mortal like me gets to compete on the same course as some of the best athletes in the world?
Mile 20: 6 more miles. That’s just one more hour. If I run fast. Which I’m not doing. Who am I thankful for?
Mile 22: I’m thankful for Tess, because without her I wouldn’t even be running at all right now. I might be puking in the creek like that guy I just saw.
Mile 23: I’m thankful for Geneva and Matt, who have been so supportive and understanding of me even when I’m a sleepy hungry zombie.
Mile 24: I’m thankful for my dad, who got me into this crazy sport and picked me up after the 10th time falling in my clipless pedals, and who is proud of me every day.
Mile 25: I’m thankful for my mom, who has ridden by my side through the long runs, who inspires me to be my best, and who I am running in honor of.
Mile 26: Above all, this is for me, I’m achieving my dreams, and I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M ALMOST DONE!

I rounded the corner to the finish line and saw the red carpet. It may have been less than a second, but for me, time stopped. I couldn’t believe that I was just 100 meters away from completing something that had scared me to death for almost a year. I almost didn’t want to finish because I refused to acknowledge that it was already over. In my head I considered this, but my tired legs told me to stop being sentimental and continued toward that finish line. I saw so many friends lined along the finisher’s chute that I couldn’t absorb all of the faces through the tears that began to fill my eyes. As I got closer, I saw my mom, standing there, with my finishers medal. That’s when I almost lost my breath. I ran right across that finish line, hugged my mom tight, and cried. I then hugged my dad at the side of the chute, and he was teary eyed as well. I can’t describe the feeling of overwhelming joy I felt in that moment.

In all of my life, through all of my endeavors, I have never felt more supported than I did that day. I spent the next few minutes struggling to stand, but overflowing with emotions as many friends and family came to hug me and congratulate me. I have never been so happy. I was humbled by the sheer number of people who had come to watch me and cheer me on.

It was only after a couple of minutes that Matt informed me I had gotten 3rd in my age group. I had never expected or anticipated making it to the podium, but upon hearing this, it was like a cherry on top of the cake. Not only had I finished my first Ironman strong by my standards, I had also managed to remain competitive. All of the hard efforts, 4 a.m. wakeup calls, 6-7 hour long workouts on Saturday mornings, they were all worth it.

Ironman Boulder was and will remain to be one of my absolute favorite race experiences. The outpouring of support not just from my loved ones, but from the volunteers, other racers, random spectators! It’s one of those few instances in your life when you get to witness the best of humanity. Everyone is excited for you, everyone is encouraging. Despite being in a hell of a lot of pain, we all manage to say “you’re doing great” to one another as we pass by. To me, it wasn’t a race in the traditional sense. It was a challenge that we all helped each other to complete. Some of us finished before others. Some had their heart set on a Kona qualification, and some were simply proving to themselves that they were strong. I am still in awe of the strength of all of these athletes, young and old, big and small. Personally, I achieved exactly what I set out to do. I proved to myself and my family that I could do anything, that I could be stronger than I ever dreamed. I hope that I also served as an example for Epic Experience of living life fully, and of not taking each day for granted. It was the best way to close my fundraising efforts for Epic. To everyone who has followed me the past 2 years, thank you. I have enjoyed every step of this journey, and cant thank all of you enough for your contributions to Epic Experience and encouragement, which has fostered my growth as a person and an athlete. I would not be the same if not for this quest to race for Cancer Thrivers, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Much love to all,


Ali is a member of Epic Experience’s Outreach Team.This blog originally appeared on Ali’s personal blog. Follow along with Ali’s latest adventures at Swim, Bike, Run, Smile!