Ironman Boulder – Lasting Impressions

lasting-impressionsA week has passed since the wildly-successful Ironman Boulder.

After reading race reports and front page news stories, viewing endless photos of happy finish line poses and nasty blisters, and reflecting upon the many moments that made up those 17 hours, we, at 303Tri, have these lasting impressions.

We were greatly inspired by the pro finishes, bringing underdogs to the forefront for both the men and women.

justinMale champion Justin Daerr announced during his awards banquet speech he had devoted this race to his dad, saying, “I need to be the athlete my father believes I am.” He also pointed out, “This was my 29th Ironman, and my first time finishing first.”
danielleAnd female champion Danielle Kehoe reminded the audience that she arrived in T-1 after the swim to an empty bike rack, but for her sole remaining bike. She was able to turn around what could have been a damning mental blow at the start of the day. She said after the race, “If you ever feel like you’re last out of T-1 in your life, keep your head up.”

dave-and-barryWe also loved seeing Ironman Boulder race director Dave Christen sitting alongside former Boulder 5430 race series director Barry Siff on the dock at race start, tears streaming down their cheeks, realizing collective visions of a full iron distance triathlon in Boulder come to fruition.

Our favorite moments, the ones with staying power, resoundingly took place at the end of each leg: cheering in the final swimmers (and witnessing the care with which those who didn’t make it were treated by officials and volunteers), providing aid to final cyclists at mile 98 of the bike leg (including ice, water, shade, and EMT’s), and standing post at the finish line during the last two hours (so many tears, hugs, and medical tent visits…).

pre-swim-hugSo much of the day was about the volunteers. With a more than 1-to-1 ratio of athletes to volunteers, each competitor felt truly cared for, from the pre-swim hugs through the finish chute high-fives, from the pros through the final finishers, and especially those who didn’t make the cutoffs.

Here’s a story: Local athlete and uber-volunteer Jen Szabo, who headed up the changing tents, not only brought a boatload of enthusiasm and capable organization to her role, but she did not leave her post until well after her shift was over.

In fact, she was determined to make sure every athlete who missed the swim cut-off was personally walked in and comforted.

She said that morning, “I know how it feels. I’ve been there. I want to be there for them. They should not feel alone right now.”

Jen went on to receive the Ironman “Captain of the Year” volunteer award. Very well deserved.
bike-tent-EMTs-crowd_1The bike course has been reported as “tough” among some of the finest athletes of the day. For those who were not prepared, undertrained, or struck with unexpected ailments, the final miles took their toll.We positioned what we thought would be a “cheering tent” around mile 98 – the last big climb before the famous “three sisters.”During planning, our crew believed riders might need a little encouragement along this long stretch between aid stations, in the heat of the day.

bike-tent-sufferingWe did not anticipate how desperate some riders would be at that point. Amidst multiple runs to the store for yet more ice and water, we had athletes camped under our small square of shade, fighting to catch their breath and attempt to soldier on.

bike-tent-full-w-EMTsSome were locals, used to the altitude but having started out a bit too hard. Some were flatlanders, brought to their knees by the oxygen-hungry altitude, parched winds, and series of “false flats” that deceived the definition of “perceived exertion.”

Many of these racers were not competing for PR’s or impressive finishes.



The vast majority had greater purposes for turning out:

A soon-to-be father, intent upon improving his health and lifestyle before his son arrives in a month (reminded by the ultrasound attached to his handlebars);

A few DNF’s from previous races, intent upon making this their Ironman success story; a sister racing to raise funds for her brother, debilitated by chemo treatments.


Photo: Lester Pardoe

Toward the end, with the clock ticking and cut-off times hanging overhead like threatening storm clouds, these individuals were daunted by the climb leading to our tent.

We could see them at the bottom of the hill, looking up at us, wavering… putting a foot down, trying to catch a collective breath of determination.

Many climbed, slowly and resolutely toward us.

Just as many gave in to the pain and walked their bikes, leaning on their handlebars, simply trying to make forward progress.

We tried to walk alongside as many of those athletes as we could, offering ice cubes, and encouragement – that there was a downhill on the other side, and then another aid station, and then they had just 10 more miles…

Helping an athlete in the SAG vehicle.
Helping an athlete in the SAG vehicle.

For some, that may well have been another 100.

EMT-pulse-bike“I just don’t want to quit,” one woman said through tears, as an EMT checked her pulse. “I just want to get this done. At least the bike. I missed the bike cut-off last year in Wisconsin. I just want to make the bike.”

Some called it a day.

last-bike_0The last cyclist came through, surrounded by Ironman trucks and support.

As we were packing up we did not celebrate or exchange high-fives, for the hardest part was yet to come – the marathon.
dennis-PJ-T1By now everyone has heard the stories of Dennis Vanderheiden of Athletes in Tandem

Pulling and pushing PJ Snyder the entire 140.6 miles…



fireman-robAnd motivational speakerFireman Rob, completing the race in full firefighter gear in the sweltering heat, saying, “Every step leads to inspiration”…

Photo by Hillari Hansen

And Para-triathlete Jeff Glasbrenner, who found ways to encourage others along the course, despite completing 140.6 miles with an artificial leg.

But those stories never get old.

Photo: Jolene Nicoll
Photo: Jolene Nicoll

Seemingly caught by surprise, many, many athletes were walking the run course, having expended all their reserves on the bike, and stopped in their tracks by the undulating path and late afternoon heat. The narrow lane of out-and-back foot traffic was lined with spectators, volunteers, and lots and lots of cowbell.


Photo: Jolene Nicoll
Photo: Jolene Nicoll

While the pain was evident in hobbling blistered strides and grimacing, salty-white faces, there were frequent smiles, hugs, and bursts of energy drawn from the crowds.


Photo: Jolene Nicoll
Photo: Jolene Nicoll

And then, the finish line.

This glorious stretch of several hundred yards brought even the most pained shufflers back to a run, as the crowds erupted with each finisher, and the booming voice of Mike Reilly, straining to overpower the throbbing music, brought each and every newly-minted “Ironman” home through the arches.


After the finish line, the pain and suffering was evident.

med-tentExhausted athletes were curled in cramp-induced fetal positions, huddled under mylar blankets, being treated by red-shirted medical staff.

post-race-medicalIV’s were administered behind tent walls, while anxious family members crowded outside.

And yet, the atmosphere was jubilant, celebratory, triumphant.






Photo by Harry Hemstreet

Clutching finisher medals and chocolate milk, walking hunched in GI distress and carrying bloodied shoes, Ironman finishers still smiled, joked, leaning on devoted sherpas, and mustering energy for the ever-present question…

Are you signing up for next year?