September 11th, 2011 – The 10 year anniversary of 9/11 was the day I did my first triathlon. A sprint tri at my local rec center where I was scared to death to of the 500yd pool swim before heading out on a 12 mile bike followed by a 5k. I finished 9th in my age group that day, but I knew from that 1 hour and 15 minutes that I discovered something that I could really sink my teeth into. I’ve run for years, but after that race I made the decision to start training specifically for triathlon. I didn’t have any goals other than to do more races. Along the way the distances began to increase, the weight came off, and I began to understand what it takes to be successful in this sport, regardless how you define success. Flash forward 3 years and I have now completed six half Ironmans and two full Ironmans. I podiumed at my last 70.3 and I’m going to the 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant, and after IM Boulder I’m going to the Ironman World Championship in Kona. It’s been an unbelievable journey and I am humbled by what I have accomplished in such a short time. This sport has been so amazingly good to me, showing me that truly anything is possible if you’re willing to put in the hard work. Work truly does work!
Anyway, on to the race report. Here are the headlines:
Mark Cardinale Age: 44 Weight on race day: 145 FTP:255 VDOT: 52
Finished: 10:12:50 – 7th in M45-49 and 47th overall
Here is the long story if you are so inclined:
You know the drill. Up at 3:00am, 3 cups of applesauce with whey protein, a banana, a honeystinger waffle, and a 32 ounce bottle of Gatorade all while getting ready in the dark. Sounds like fun, right? Left the hotel by 4:00am and was dropped off a couple blocks away from the high school. Dropped off special needs bags and boarded the bus to the reservoir. For all the talk leading up to the race about the shuttle buses, I think it went off without a hitch. I arrived at the res., got body marked and then worked my way through transition. I hit the porta potties several times, and I think from now on my strategy here will be to go and then just get right back in line again, doing so will save me so much time. Not sure why it feels like I’m done, but then I always need to go again. During this race I cut it real close getting out of my last porta potty stop with only 10 minutes to go before the start of the race.
The swim coral’s were broken up into 15 minute increments. I lined up toward the middle back of the 1:00-1:15 minute group with a couple minutes to spare. Once the gun went off it was a very orderly walk down the boat ramp and into the water. I believe I was in the water and swimming in less than 3 minutes after the age group start. The swim in Boulder is a big triangle and I was a little concerned about swimming into the sun on the first leg, but the sun was actually off my right shoulder and not an issue. For the most part there was very little contact during the swim. I had periods of 5 or 10 minutes at a time where I was not even touched by another person. I really tried to focus on saving heartbeats and being steady. I tried to maintain a slightly higher cadence than normal and I focused on keeping high elbows. This seemed to work well and I felt fresh throughout. After making the second turn when I was heading back in I had this annoying person on my feet. They weren’t bashing me, but they were just tickling my toes with every stroke and after 10 minutes I was starting to get annoyed. I wanted to turn around and kick them, but I stayed in my box and just kept swimming and eventually they went away. I have a history of calf cramps during the swim and I felt pretty good until about ¾ of the way through. It was then that I started to get that feeling of an impending cramp. I decided to pick up my pace and pull harder to tire my arms and divert my minds attention away from my calf and to my arms and shoulders. This helped and I thought I was actually going to make it without a cramp. About 5 meters before the end of the swim it finally happened. I felt my right calf cramp, I stopped and tried to touch bottom but couldn’t quite reach. I took a couple more strokes and I was able to touch and then proceeded to walk up the boat ramp feeling relief from the cramp that was calling my name moments before.
No real issues in T1. It’s a little bit of a run through the grass and into the parking lot where the bikes are racked. Overall, it’s a pretty straightforward transition.
Once on the bike I made my way out of the reservoir and started drinking immediately. I was thirsty from the swim which is typical so I made a point of drinking a lot at the start of the bike. Once on to Jay Rd. I reached for ½ powerbar and started eating. After I made the right hand turn on to 36 it was time to get busy. My plan called for me to ride around 178-180 watts for the first hour or so and then increase to 183-185 if possible. The rollers on 36 are a lot of fun and there’s lots of opportunity to carry speed from the downhills into the subsequent uphills. I hit my max speed of the day descending St. Vrain. Going back up I spiked my watts a bit but I tried to keep the watts under FTP and for the most part I was successful. The rest of the section along 36 was fast, as was the section heading east prior to the turn on 75th. The wind at this time of day was minimal. In fact there may not have been any wind at all. I finished that first hour right on target at 179 watts, but my VI was a bit higher than I would have liked probably because of the out and back on St. Vrain and getting settled in to ride 112 miles.
The northern section of the course is mostly farmlands and is pretty straightforward as well. I focused on keeping a steady effort constantly monitoring my 3 sec power. There were several instances where I noticed that even though my average speed was quite high I was still under my power targets. It was clearly an advantage to race this course with power to help identify areas where even though it feels fast, you are still underachieving relative to your optimal power output. In short I used my power meter as a whip to keep pushing, but only to the point where I was still at my target watts. I really tried to focus on staying aero unless I was going uphill or under 12mph and I also tried to remain focused and engaged throughout. On the 70.3 this year and on my race rehearsal, I feel like I lost focus at times and had stretches where my power numbers dipped, not necessarily due to fatigue, but more due to lack of focus. The course was well regulated by the police, although in many parts the roads were still open to traffic and with the roads being highways, I was occasionally blown around as I was passed by oncoming traffic. No big deal just something to be aware of. Also, with Boulder being a 1 loop course there were parts of the ride that were very desolate. People were spread out pretty well, but I would occasionally approach a large group of 20 or so people where I would quickly move through them, but then it might take me another 30 minutes or so to ride up to the next large group of riders. On the subject of groups, there may have been a little drafting, but for the most part I feel people were riding pretty clean. All day long I focused on drinking as much as I could. I started the race with my A2 full of perform and then a 2nd emergency bottle behind my saddle. My plan was to take at least one bottle of perform per aid station. I peed around a half dozen times and feel like I was well hydrated throughout the bike. Nutritionally, I took in a powerbar gel every 30 minutes or so and then occasionally substituted a half of powerbar when I was craving something different. I have used this nutrition plan for the past 2 years and it’s bulletproof for me.
When I think back about my ride what I remember most is thinking all the time about my ROI – what was the benefit I was getting for the watt expenditure at any given point on the course. As mentioned, I think riding with power on this course is key. There were perceived flats that were actually downhills where you might do 24mph at low watts but you could, with a slightly higher effort hit 180 watts and be in the low 30’s. Not sure how you would know that without a PM. There were also times when I was going mid thirties at lower watts and I was ok with that trade off, again it was all about the return on my watt expenditure. Overall, I’m really happy with how I rode the bike. I was trying to thread the needle in that I wanted to race a little closer to the edge, but at the same time I wanted to ride the bike that set me up for a strong run. In my division I was 110 out of the water and by the time I finished the bike I was 24th. Here are my numbers.
Dismount in front of BHS and then run with bike to track. It was hot on bare feet especially crossing the bridge to the track and the track itself was hot. Would still do it again but if it was much hotter or it was later in the day I may change my approach.
I started the run using the go bag approach and I thought I was going to get tackled by the race officials leaving transition because I hadn’t yet put on my race number. I eventually got it on and when I hit the boulder creek bike path it was like I landed in another world. After 5 plus hours on the bike, alone with your thoughts, the spectators on the bike path were cheering and screaming my name. They were lined up on both sides of the path and it was really cool running through that section. I remember thinking to myself, game on! I feel really, REALLY, good! My biggest challenge was just keeping my pace in the neighborhood of 8:15. Even 8minute miles felt like I was crawling. At the first aid station I stopped to fill my 2 flasks of Gatorlytes. I use concentrated Gatorlytes to spike the Perform that I grab at the aid stations. It’s quick and easy and I feel it gets sodium in my system much faster than salt sticks.
Between mile 1 and 2 I saw my family and that gave me another shot of energy. After seeing them it was on to the 2 out and backs. Both out and back sections on the east end of the course are very exposed and the South out and back also has a nasty little uphill section. It’s one of those uphills that if you were just out running you might not think much of, but every hill on the ironman marathon becomes a mountain to climb. I kept monitoring my heart rate and wanting to go faster, but I kept hearing coach Rich in the back of my head – “keep to a do no harm pace for those first 6 miles”. When I did get too speedy I walked a bit longer in the aid stations to get my average pace back down where I wanted to see it. After the first 6 miles I allowed my pace to drop, but I wanted to still keep it in the neighborhood of 7:50-8:00. My plan was to keep witling away at my average pace such that I finish the race with an average pace 8min/mile for a 3:30 marathon. Yes, very ambitious! After the 2 out and backs, its back the way I had come. I saw my family again and my wife told me I was now in 17th.
Then I went back through the amazing crowd and then on to the west side of out and back. That section was a killer because it was short, but it was all uphill. I knew going through it that it was going to be a bear on the next loop. After I flipped it, I enjoyed the downhill, the energy of the crowd, and seeing my family for a third time. My wife let me know I was now in 12th place as I started the 2nd loop. The 2nd loop was tough in that it was hard to tell who was on their 1st lap and who was on their 2nd. I just focused on maintaining good running form and running my race. My feet were sore and I could feel things starting to break down. I dug deep and told myself, just get through these out and backs and then let the crowd carry you the rest of the way. All year long I thought how I underachieved on my run last year at CDA, specifically the last 8-10 miles. I felt I backed down and was scared when things got hard. I didn’t want to put myself in the hospital, but at the same time I didn’t want to crumble when the going got hard and have to live with that for another year. I think knowing the pain would come, even when I felt great – I mean really great, early in the run was helpful. I was mentally prepared for the challenge. For me that came around mile 19 – as I started the second out and back on the 2nd loop. This for me was the toughest part of the race. I was walking longer and longer at every aid station. My legs hurt and I could tell my feet were starting to blister. I wanted to be done and I wanted to sit down so bad, but I kept moving. At about mile 22 I ran by JT Thompson from my Endurance Nation team at aid station number 2 and I don’t even remember what he said to me, but it was enough to get me refocused and I picked up the pace. I passed my family one last time and my wife told me I was in 8th place. At that point I didn’t care what place I was in, I just wanted to be done. I knew I had about 4 miles to go with 2 of those being uphill. I made it to the turnaround, walked a few steps, and knew from there it would be about a mile downhill before I hit the turn off for the finish line. When I made the turn for the finish, someone told me that the woman in front of me was a pro, and to go run her down. Great idea after 140.1 miles! She was running a little slower than me so I pushed it and moved ahead of her but when the finish line came into view she put it into another gear and flew past me. I “decided” to let her go and finish at my pace and on my terms. It was super cool. Not the same level of emotion as when I finished my first Ironman, but so rewarding in that I knew I executed the best race I possibly could.
Normally during the last half mile of a race I switch my 910 to show my overall time as I approach the finish line. I do this so I know if I need to push it to finish under a milestone time. For this race, at the end I couldn’t have cared less about my time, Kona slots, or anything like that. As I was finishing I knew I executed a near perfect race and the time on the clock didn’t matter. When I finished my family came to see me and they said I was in 7th. I didn’t even think to ask about my time for pretty close to an hour after I finished. I guess when you don’t care about your time it’s a sign that deep down you raced at your highest level.
Physically, I was of course tired and sore after the race, but I felt pretty good. I think this is a testament to the fitness that I was able to bring to the table this year as opposed to last. Even though I went faster and harder this year, I think it took less out of me than my performance last year at CDA.
After I finished everyone told me to go the award ceremony the next day to see if by some chance I might get a rolldown slot to Kona. In the back of my mind, it was fun to talk about, but I honestly felt there was no way in hell a slot would roll 2, let alone 3 places. I didn’t even think about it the rest of the night. The next morning at roll down, Mike Reilly started with the higher age groups and I was surprised to see 50-54 roll to 7th and at that moment, I thought maybe there is a chance. Then he announced my age group had 5 slots (I was assuming 4) The first person already qualified, and then the 2nd person wasn’t there – Holy $hit – That means I just qualified for Kona!! Mike Reilly called my name and then my son Lucas and I came up and received our invitation and a lei to go to the Ironman World Championship. Never in a million years did I expect this would happen. It’s been almost a week since then and I still can’t believe it, although the reduction in my bank account reminds me that it is very much realJ!
As anyone who competes in triathlon knows, we may race alone, but it takes an army of support to make it happen. With that in mind I’d like to thank the team at Endurance Nation. Without the EN team, I would not be here competing at the level I am. There is no doubt we know how to work hard and race smart. It is such a great group of people I feel fortunate to be a part of. I’d also like to thank my local team at Altitude Multisport. Not only did they do a kick a$$ job at aid station #7 on the bike course, everyone is so supportive of each other, it’s really great to see and great to be part of. I’d also like to thank my family for being part of this experience and giving me motivation and inspiration throughout the day. Most of all I’d like to thank my wife for leading our support crew (she probably had a harder day than I didJ), keeping everyone entertained, and feeding me updates. I couldn’t have done it without her support and encouragement and now we’re going to Kona, baby!