As most endurance athletes near the finish line of a race, they relish in the applause and cheers from onlookers and use it to close out their sweaty efforts with a bang. But when Dave Sheanin, a 49-year old triathlete from Erie, Colorado, closes in on a finish line, he prefers the crowd’s attention be on the person directly in front of him.
Sheanin isn’t hoping another athlete will edge him out right before the finish line; instead, he’s acting as the engine behind his Athletes in Tandem partners as they swim, bike and run to countless finish lines as a pair. Athletes in Tandem (or AiT) is an organization that focuses on cycling, running and triathlon events, pairing endurance athletes with those who require use of adaptive equipment to participate in these activities.
Boulder is the perfect place for an Ironman, of course! It’s home to some of the fastest professional and age group triathletes in the world, and the 18x collegiate national champion CU Triathlon Team. Who wouldn’t want to race here? Nobody. Of course you want to race here. Following are 16 specific tips I have gleaned from my experience on the course both racing and training.
Remember that Boulder is at 5,430 feet above sea level–even higher than Denver, the Mile High City. The air is thin up here and if you’re coming in from out of town, be sure to stay up on your hydration and don’t forget the sunscreen.
There are two separate transition areas–T1 is at the reservoir and T2 is at the high school. You’ll take a bus from the high school to get to the Rez on race morning. This is the only way to get to the race start. Ironman has a ton of buses and there usually isn’t much of a wait, but my strong recommendation is to arrive at the high school first thing. Better to have a little extra down-time out at the Rez than be standing at the high school waiting on a bus.
This is one of the best IM swims on the circuit! Not because the water is crystal clear (it’s not) and not because it’s an ultra-beautiful venue (we locals think it’s just fine). No, what makes this an awesome swim is that you swim north, then west, then south. What’s the big deal? Let me remind you that the sun rises in the east. You’re never swimming into the rising sun.
IM uses a rolling start in Boulder so you’ll self-seed by time per the normal procedure. In the past, this race has been held in August and the Rez typically heats up to or above the wetsuit threshold temp, but in June, I would expect the Rez to be in the mid-60s and wetsuit legal.
The course is very well marked and only has two turns (both lefts). You’ll exit on a boat ramp then make a right to pick up your T1 bag and a u-turn to head into the change tents.
Do not skip the sunscreen volunteers as you exit the change tent and head to your bike. It only takes a couple of seconds to get fully slathered–you’ll want that protection in the Colorado sun.
Each year this race has been held, the bike course has been different. 2017 brings a new course which I expect will stick. It’s a three-loop affair with two moderate climbs per loop. If you ride by TSS, it’s pretty convenient to shoot for just under 100 points per lap.
Climb one is the first 5 miles straight out of transition. It doesn’t really look like a climb when you’re on it–just a steady 2 percent (give or take) until you reach the edge of town. It’s tempting to push too hard in these first few miles because the grade is deceiving and you may be thinking you’re going too slowly. Mind your watts or RPE. Because there are two more loops, you’ll repeat this section around miles 35+ and 105+.
Climb two looks a bit more significant as you head west on Nelson Road starting a bit after mile 15 (repeating at miles 50+ and 85+). This climb has ruined a lot of triathlete’s days in Boulder. The total distance is about 4 miles and there are a couple of little kicks, but it’s otherwise pretty steady. Again, mind your watts and pay no attention to the folks who rush up this climb–especially on the first lap. They’re either on their way to a really outstanding ride, or more likely, you’ll be seeing them later. Note that the wind typically blows from the northwest so you’ll be going into it as you head to the mountains and getting a push as you ride away from them. It’ll likely be pretty calm in the early hours, but if you’re not among the fastest riders, the afternoon winds can make the third loop an extra challenge. This climb into the wind is not so fun.
At the end of the third lap, you’ll turn left instead of right as you exit the road from the Rez (51st) and head downtown to the high school for T2.
Although the run is completely on concrete (probably a good race for your Hokas), it is a pretty comfortable run as Ironman runs go. There are no major hills, but nothing in Boulder is really flat. The run is two loops.
You’ll exit transition and head east along the creek. You are running downhill. Your brain may not register this fact until you turn around at mile 7 (and 20) and head back to the west. At that point you’ll notice the slight uphill.
At about mile 2 (and 15), there is an out-and-back that heads south. Once you reach the “slinky” bridge at mile 4 (and 17), you’re on a long straightaway that becomes a zombie-walk late in the race. Don’t let this be you! Pacing is always critical on the bike in order to have a great run so do the right amount of work throughout the race and run past a lot of folks on this stretch.
Once you’re back on the creek path and at the eastern turnaround, you’ll head back up to the west. You’ll run past the high school for a little more than a mile through Eben Fine Park to the western turnaround. The steepest section of the run is as you exit the park. It’s short, but be aware that it’s there. You’ll head back to the east to complete the first lap and again for the finish.
The downtown central park area will be packed with spectators and is a good place for your friends and family to get a look at you as you power past them on the run. It’s also the place where you’ll draw a lot of energy from the big crowds. The areas at the ends of the course (south, east, and west) tend to be pretty quiet.
Stay up on your nutrition and hydration. Although the new June date for this race won’t likely be as hot as the previous August races, the altitude is no joke–be smart about fuel and drink.
Good times in Boulder!
Coach Dave Sheanin approaches coaching from a holistic perspective. Adult age-group triathletes typically have substantial demands in their lives outside of training and racing. Looking at any individual component of an athlete’s training (or life) is a data point, but it rarely tells the full story. I make it a priority to understand what’s going on in an athlete’s life beyond triathlon in order to build a plan that is smart, fits their lifestyle, and builds toward appropriate goals.
Of the four legs of triathlon (yes, transitions count too), swimming is arguably the most technical. And, not surprisingly, it’s the leg that many athletes struggle with the most. I believe there’d be general agreement that the “easiest” way to become a great swimmer is to start when you’re young, have great coaches who help you hone excellent technique, and then put in lots of yards under watchful eyes through high school and eventually college. I’ll bet that any triathlete who followed this simple plan is one who leads the pack into T1 today.
That’s nice for the few, but what’s the right path for everyone else? I am absolutely certain that the right path is not what most people take. I see so many triathletes, in their quest to become faster swimmers, make every mistake they can make–all the while, believing that they’re doing what’s required to become faster. They are on a long, inevitable march toward disappointment (and slow swim splits).
If you have been frustrated by your improvement in the water, the key to getting on the right track is multifaceted. It is probably obvious that making technical corrections to your position and stroke is key–something that’s difficult to do on your own. Nothing beats having an experienced coach providing individualized and immediate feedback and using tools such as video to provide detailed analysis. That’s not a realistic plan for most folks on a daily
basis, but having these resources is the absolute key to improvement so work them into your training, even if only occasionally.
Many of us use to-do lists in our daily lives, but how many have a stop-doing list? Stop-doing lists are just as critical as to-do lists for success (in life and in swimming). Here are my recommendations for your swimming stop-doing list.
1. Stop doing what you’ve been doing! If you’re happy with the way you swim now, you should ignore this advice. But if you want to get faster and haven’t been able to do so up to this point, what makes you think that doing more of what you’ve been doing will work? Before you read the next item, pause for a moment and think about this. Really think about your commitment to improvement. If you aren’t willing to adhere to this piece of advice, there’s no need to read further.
2. Stop caring what other people think!
3. Stop swimming 3-4 times a week and striving for big yardage!
4. Stop “shopping” coaches for swimming advice!
5. Stop expecting immediate results!
6. Stop thinking toys are the key to improvement!
Now (the offseason) is the right time to be working on your stroke. Remember that it may take months (or even years) to dial in your new, faster, more-efficient, safer stroke. The pressure of going fast on race day is generally antithetical to improvement–give yourself as much runway as you can. Put the right effort in once and avoid a lifetime of frustration. It starts with your stop-doing list. Get started today.
Be sure to read Coach Dave’s full article on D3 Multisport.com here