Monday, June 27, 2016

Ironman 70.3 Boulder

On June 11, 2016, I completed my second half Ironman on a hot, exposed, fast course in Boulder, CO! I was much better prepared, thanks to my coach (Liz at Multisport Mastery), and was rewarded with a 29-minute personal record and my goal of being under 7.5 hours! While overall I did enjoy Toughman NM, I was legitimately HAPPY for more of Boulder and recovered SO much faster. 

The quick details. I improved my time for each leg!
1.2-mile swim: 51:43
T1: 7:44
56-mile bike: 3:27:49
T2: 7:14
13.1-mile run: 2:50:15
Total: 7:24:45


The journey started Thursday, when Laura and I loaded up her minivan and drove seven hours north to Boulder. 

My coach gave me specific instructions for Thursday and Friday, on what to eat (basically lots of salty white carbs and very little fiber), how much sleep to get (over eight hours on Thursday), and how to prepare by working out on location, driving the bike course, and so on. In other words, as soon as we got to Boulder, we ate pasta and went to sleep. 

Friday was busy. We started with a large carb-filled breakfast (classic pancakes at IHOP) and headed to the Boulder Reservoir to explore Ironman Village and pick up my race packet. I am impressed by Ironman's efficiency--the slick organization reminded me of Disney parks!

The reservoir opened at 10am for the tiny little rectangle below. I swam around with several other people for ten minutes to get a feel for the water until I got tired of the small laps. It was refreshing, as the temperatures were already in the 80s! Following my swim, I rode my bike for 15 minutes and ran for 15 minutes, completing my baby triathlon pre-race workout.

Next on my schedule was bike check-in. We walked my bike over to transition, where I nervously left it and memorized the lay of the land for Saturday. I was close to Swim Finish and Run Out, and pretty darn far from Bike In and Bike Out. My transition times were so slow as a result (I swear I wasn't taking a nap). Ironman-brand races apparently are GIGANTIC. There were 2429 athletes in this race, and imagine how huge transition was. Also, after turning lobster red at Toughman, I was careful to slather on the sunscreen in both T1 and T2 (and still managed to get some nice red stripes). 

Clutching a map, Laura and I then drove most of the 56-mile bike course. We noted that it was mostly flat and beautiful, with a couple of long hills that looked intimidating on the elevation profile, but were not bad in person. The drive was a major confidence booster. Laura noted several gorgeous farm houses for sale and instructed me to stop for fliers on my way back there the next day. I am devastated that I forgot.

After I napped in the hotel while Laura ran errands, we headed back to Athlete Briefing at the reservoir. The take-away message was that it would 99% certainly be wetsuit legal and that rules are now that you have to stay six bike-lengths behind the person in front of you, unless you pass, in which case you have to pass in 25 seconds. That stressed this rule-follower out. Good news: I did not a yellow card for drafting. Or littering or peeing on the side of the road. SUCCESS.

Finished, finally, with pre-race prep, Laura and I met my crazy ultra-marathoner friend Marianna from Ft. Collins for pasta, took her back to the hotel, and after verifying for the millionth time that I had everything packed and several alarms set, we turned out the lights and tried to go to sleep at 9pm.

Race morning

One thing was clear at the Reservoir on Friday: there was not a ton of parking close to the action. Hence, Baumgaertel genes kicked in and we got up at 4am in order to leave the hotel (after downing terrible hotel coffee) at 4:30 when we were ten minutes away and transition opened at 5:30 and my swim wave was at 8:09am. Let me tell you: we got an AMAZING parking spot.

Marianna and Laura were such troopers!!

While we waited in the dark for transition to open, I ate my banana and bagel with peanut butter and took deep breaths. Laura and Marianna were excellent company. I got body marked and was at my #1977 spot soon after 5:30. My bike was still there!! What a relief. I organized my gear and was ready to go by 6am. So, I headed back out to sit with my friends for half an hour. I returned to put on my wetsuit, grab my goggles and cap, and get out of there right before transition closed at 7am. Just as I was wondering if this time, I really did overkill the early arrival, a busload of athletes frantically ran in to set up. Traffic had gotten so bad that hotel shuttles took an hour to drive a few miles and people were being let off at the entrance to the Res, a mile or so away. Never mind: excruciatingly early is the way to go.

I'm the one in the middle with a ponytail.

Traditional Transition Photo.

How did I spend my hour between transition closing and my wave starting? I took a hit of my inhaler and walked barefoot over gravel, goose poop, and sand about half a mile to the swim start, where I found Frank, a Los Alamos friend who was there to volunteer. Then, a woman said, "HEY, are you Jessica from Los Alamos?" and she turned out to be Emily, who stalked everyone from Los Alamos doing Boulder and--as it was just herself, me, and her friend Ann--memorized my number to look for me. Passing the nerve-wracking time talking to them was perfect. Twenty minutes before go time, I got in the tiny, crowded warm-up area for a few minutes of breathing and stroking. About ten minutes before go time, Ann and I joined our purple-headed age group of 30-34-year-old females and slowly shuffled to the edge of the water, until we were told to wade in up to our armpits.

1.2-mile Swim: I AM A LEAF ON THE WIND

Look at those slightly wavy, yet mostly straight, GPS swim lines!

My race plan developed with Coach Liz said to swim it steady, never pushing it, in order to keep my heart rate down in anticipation of the long, hot day ahead. She's well aware that swimming at best worries me and at worst scares me. I, personally, forgot this about myself, and excitedly ended up in the front of the pack of women before the start. WRONG MOVE.

The horn blared and suddenly the water was churning and arms and legs were EVERYWHERE. My heart rate shot up and I was clawing at wetsuited bodies and taking kicks to the chin and being swam over. I paused, treaded water, watched the faster horde splash away, and then began again. Must keep it smooth, must keep it steady, must not panic or push. "I am a leaf on the wind" popped into my head, and I alternated telling myself that and praying for calm and occasionally swearing for the next 51 minutes.

Thanks to beautiful is Boulder?!

After the initial insanity, the swim was not exactly enjoyable, but mostly comfortable. I swam the 1.2-mile single-loop course fairly straight--particularly after the second turn, on my way back to shore. The swearing usually happened when I ran into The Backstroker. She was, unfortunately for me, slightly faster than I was, yet could not swim in a straight line (sighting buoys is hard from that position). Consequently, she continued to swim suddenly into my path the entire race. Near the end, I became the person I hate, and I essentially swam over her a couple of times in frustration and determination and a healthy dose of indifference. I'm sure she's fine.

Halfway from the second turn to shore, someone jostled my goggle, water washed over my eye, and almost took my contact out with it. I treaded water and fixed the goggle, and blinked my contact mostly into place without touching my eye in the middle of a dirty lake. I was so relieved to make it to shore, super dizzy upon standing and worried about losing my contact and possibly deciding between biking with messed up vision or dropping out.

Watch me swagger while trying to keep my contact in my eye and not trip from disorientation.

My contact was wonky as I ran to my bike, and I spent a minute getting it situated. Praise the Lord, it stayed in, and spare contacts and glasses are on my list for next transition bag. I spent another couple of minutes getting the wetsuit off (dude, where were the strippers), reapplying sunscreen, getting bike gear on, and clomping so awkwardly in bike shoes all the way to Bike Out and the mount line. 



I LOVED this ride! Relieved to be out of the water and in possession of two contacts, I had to be extremely conservative and conscious of my pace and heart rate. The plan for the bike: FOLLOW HYDRATION AND FUEL PLAN. Set myself up for a good run! Keep it easy for the first 20-30 minutes, and then let it go (but remember the run). Being so nervous about drafting (MUST OBEY AUTHORITY) and passing certainly helped rein me in for the first, flat or gentle uphill part of the race. When I got more comfortable, I really started to have fun, especially on downhills. None were too technical, so I flew.

Watch me chew my Honey Stinger Chews.

The farmland around Boulder is gorgeous. Many adorable cows, calves, and horses lazily watched us, and for the most part, car traffic on the open course was minimal. The mountains against the bright blue sky brilliantly contrasted the soft green grass of the fields. The breeze from riding was enough to make the unrelenting sun and soaring temperatures bearable.

Oh hey there. How you doin'?

I was only stressed about using the bathroom. To indicate that my hydration was on track, I was supposed to go by the 2-hour mark. I had to, but we would get in trouble (does anyone know if we ACTUALLY would?) for going on the side of the road, and more hardcore triathlete techniques weren't working for me (I mean I tried to go on the bike while coasting), so I had to wait until the aid station around the 3-hour mark. Which was on a hill. One of the few hills on the course had the one aid station I needed to actually get off my bike and visit. Sigh. Mounting and clipping in was special, between the hill, the stream of cyclists, and the suddenly constant car traffic. Oh and Frank, on the back of a race-official motorcycle. "Hi, Frank! I'm not drafting, see?" With MUCH GRIT, I was successful and back on course.

So happy.
Chugging up the longest hill of the course, which was nothing compared to rides around Los Alamos or in Durango a couple weeks prior, people were complaining. No no. No whining. We GET to do this!! Just keep swimming. I mean pedaling. You'll make it.

With 16 miles to go, I realized that I would smash my bike time from Toughman. Not entirely fair, considering the difference in profiles...but 56 miles is far, and I was thrilled. I also realized that as long as I didn't completely walk the run, I'd have a half Ironman PR quite handily. I passed so many people in the back half, and yet I only rose in my age group from my place after the swim, 82, to 80 and actually lost spots overall from 1708 to 1717. 

Laura and Marianna greeted me at Bike In with signs and cheers!! With MUCH GRIT, I successfully dismounted in front of many people without a fall. After an awfully clumsy jog back through transition to #1977, I again took my time and reapplied sunscreen. I point this out, because I ended up getting quite burnt, especially that little strip of pale white back you see in the pictures below, AND I WANT TO PROVE THAT I TRIED.

Just pull your shirt down.


Seriously, why didn't you just pull your shirt down?


Two loops of this hot, dusty, sunny puppy.
Back in my comfort zone, in running shoes, I trotted out of transition for the leg that is least likely to kill you or ruin your race with mechanical issues. I stopped at every aid station, because of the 93F scorcher, including the first.

Hello, Marianna!

Oh yes, yes I do need water!

Once we left Ironman Village, after a blissful stop under a sprinkler, we ran on grass and sand for a quarter of a mile or so, and then the majority of the course was a hard dirt road. My basic strategy (from coach) was to find a pace I could hold for ten miles and let it go in the last three, while walking through every aid station (there were five in the loop, which we ran twice, so approximately one every 1.2 miles) and employing any method I could to stay cool. Besides drinking two dixie cups of water at every station and taking my salt pills about every 30 minutes, my saving grace (thanks, Lani!) was ice down my bra. I got into a rhythm of seeing station, dropping to a walk, chugging water, pouring a cup of ice down my front, stuffing big chunks of ice volunteers hacked off bagged ice into the back of my bra, maybe taking some sips of Coke or my Gu or salt, saying yes to anyone who wanted to spray me with water, and picking up the pace. I'd take ice from my bra later and stuff it under my hat or in my buff at my neck, or sometimes I'd hold it in my palms for a while, or I'd suck on it. There is little shame in endurance sports.

So hot. T-Rex arming it up.
The run was pretty, though not as lovely as the bike. We got a tour of the backs of some neighborhoods, and a nice man sitting in the shade sprayed us with a hose. We saw the entire reservoir and some other little lakes. There were a couple of short hills, and especially once I realized everyone else was, I walked them. I walked them faster than I could run them at that point, anyway. I enjoyed passing many men, but felt bad, too--they started before I did, and few of them looked like they were enjoying themselves by that point. Happily, when I passed one guy who was walking, and said, "WE GOT THIS, DUDE," he started running, and we played leap frog the entire second loop. He was doing run-walk intervals, and I was pretty much steadily running except at the aid stations. He encouraged me a few times, and I saw him finish with a smile!

I don't usually like two-loop courses, but it was essential for breaking it up and helping my mental game. I counted down aid stations in the first loop ("Four to go, four to go. Just keeping swimming. Three to go, three to go. Just keeping swimming."), then saw my friends again!

On to counting down aid stations to the finish line! Soon into the second loop, we got blessed cloud cover. We prayed for rain (I know it was "we" because of short, exhausted conversations as I passed or was passed), but no lightning. No rain came (though I did savor memories of PFR and childhood bff Laura). The shade was welcome. I walked more the second loop, but my splits didn't change, so I pushed the energy as high as I could.

The course was, in order, grass, pavement, sand, grass, dirt road (most of it), pavement (SO FAST), dirt road, pavement, grass. The second long stretch of dirt road included the best (and second-to-last!) aid station. They might have been drunk. They were...enthusiastic. Dressed up in boas (men and women), they were the most energetic, blasted the loudest music, and had Thor and Black Widow cardboard cutouts. When I passed it the second time, I knew it was really time to push it. Not that I had much left. Mentally, I was focused on that finish line.

There is a whole string of pictures me with this face, so I definitely didn't just blink.
When I passed the final aid station, there were no more smiles. There was only focus. There was only finish line.

I might be dying.
Then, okay, who am I kidding. I saw the finish chute and I could not contain my elated grin, even with the beginning of my traditional endurance event chokes and tears. Happened in my first half marathon, happened at mile 23 of every marathon, and happened at both half IMs. Can't even.

7:24:45 later, I finished with my 29-minute PR and some blubbers. Yes, volunteers, I am ok. It's normal.

Thanks for this, Marianna. Hahaha.

At the end: I rose from 82 to 80 to 77 in my age group, and 1708 to 1717 to 1551 overall (out of 2429). I got my medal and finisher's hat, found Marianna and Laura, and we took some pictures.

One of the most amazing benefits I discovered from working with Coach Liz was post-race. At Toughman, I couldn't eat solid food until 9pm that day. Here, probably due to carefully calculated and meticulously rehearsed nutrition on-course, I immediately ate a slice of pizza. After Toughman, I hobbled for days. I was sore the next day after Boulder, but I could have gone on a little run or ride (I didn't, psh, but I could have). Thanks, Coach!!!

Post-Race Recovery: ice cream and beer

My dear sherpas took me back to the hotel, where I showered, pulled on my compression socks, and elevated my feet. They drove off to buy me aloe (yeah, so red and painful) and a Blizzard. Ice cream is THE best recovery food, I'm convinced. We eventually made our way to Avery Brewing, where Laura and I had eaten lunch the day before, when I was abstaining from beer. I had a delicious porter, and my stomach survived. I also had fantastic fajitas or something, I don't even remember, but stomach was so happy. Again, incredible improvement over Toughman. NUTRITION and HYDRATION, folks: you have to get this right for long events!

I can't say enough about what an amazing experience Ironman 70.3 Boulder was. (Clearly. This is long. CONGRATS FOR FINISHING!) I'd do it again, though I have other plans for next year. Thanks especially to Coach Liz, my tri buddies/mentors Liz and Lani, and Laura and Marianna for being with me all weekend.

NEXT UP: 106 Degrees West on September 10th. How's this for marketing?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Do you have a person who left such a rich mark on your life that it helped define its path? James was a integral player in a vivid couple of summers that led to my whole world today. He touched so many lives this way, and last Friday, way too early, we lost him. 

James and me at the party I hosted for the 11th anniversary of his 29th birthday. November, 2008

In 2003, I was a shy and nervous 18-year-old traveling alone for the first time, all the way to New Jersey, for the week-long course that preceded my first job in science as a plasma physics intern in San Diego. James was the administrator of PPPL's summer programs. We all assumed from his emails that he was older and gruff, and were surprised to find him young (early 30s), warm, and energetic. He welcomed us, teased us, and put us at ease before shuffling us off to our labs around the country.

The next year, while I had only been rated "average," he advocated for me to come to PPPL for the entire summer. I had an office next to his and thrived. Our cohort of students grew inseparable as we learned about fusion energy, ran amok all over Princeton, and became close friends with our leader. James became an uncle, a confidant, and advisor. While tears made him extremely uncomfortable, he allowed me to cry in his office once and encouraged me to press on through the situation. He never stopped cheering for me. 

Over that summer and the following one, when I and several of my intern buddies returned, Uncle Jimmy the former tennis pro and art aficionado patiently (sometimes exasperatedly) gave us tennis lessons, drove us up to MIT for a tour of their fusion facilities and Boston, and took us to art museums and out to Falling Water (Frank Lloyd Wright's house) in Pennsyltucky (on one epic ten-hour roundtrip day). He became extremely irritated when we moved a book in his office out of place or sharpie-d out a day on his wall calendar in the WRONG DIRECTION (he redid an entire new one), but he loved us so much. We loved him back, by covering his office in Post-It notes and filling it with inflated garbage bags. 

1000 sticky notes.

Teresa and me during Jimmy Tennis Lessons, summer 2005

Our tennis pro and John, summer 2005
John, James, Justin. Falling Water, summer 2005

Falling Water, summer 2005

Exasperated at us for some reason in the best student office ever, B346.

Yankees game, summer 2004. That summer, used this picture in every end-of-summer student presentation. You're welcome, Jimmy.

Andrew, the head of Science Ed, and James, wearer of Armani suits, at APS DPP 2004

James was an unofficial voice of recommendation for me when I applied to graduate school at Princeton, and moving from Washington to New Jersey was easier knowing I already had family there. He took me shopping for my new apartment and had dinner with my parents. Over the years, he met my entire family, loved them, and always, always asked about each one. He encouraged my mom to attend Plasma Camp for teachers at PPPL, which was highly enriching for her. He was impressed with mom's and brother's tennis skills. One fine day when my brother visited me, he and James played an intense game of ping-pong and then some intense games on the Wii. I forget who won. It was so much fun.

Autism Walk, Jersey Shore, Oct 2007
As great as James was with his summer students, he was just as good with the graduate students. He harnessed us for Science Ed outreach activities year-round. We judged Science Bowls, gave presentations in schools, and performed sweet demonstrations at Princeton and APS expos. He was one of the chosen ones who got swine flu that one year from one of the messy children (we all assume).

Me, James, and Sarah at APS DPP 2007.

James, Doreen, me, and Luc at APS DPP Expo 2008. 

A brilliant stage actor on the side, he had an unquenchable flair for the dramatic and silly. His impressions delighted (or horrified) us, and he was always up for crazy ideas, like when I wanted to play chess on a roller coaster. It took us at least five rides to time it correctly (it's hard to hide all that equipment and bust it out at the right time while, oh, riding a roller coaster).

The most nonchalant game of chess ever. 2007

Reactions!! 2007

Alissa and me with James after he starred in Leader of the Pack. January 2009

Through his many plays (he was a fantastic Boo Radley) and trips to museums in Philly, NYC, and Seattle (he stopped by for our November birthdays with Justin my senior year of college), he encouraged our cultural development outside of physics. The afternoon he, Kelsey, and I spent in Manhattan wandering around, visiting the Frick Collection and my favorite lunch place in all of NYC (Via Quadronno, Upper East Side, is one of my favorite memories of the City.

James, Karl, and Luc. Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, APS DPP 2006

The last time I saw him was June, 2012, when my parents, my cat, and I were driving off the East Coast out to the Southwest for my new postdoc life. James had left PPPL as his health started to deteriorate and was living in Maryland. We visited him, he made fun of my cat (who once almost clawed him to death--he CLAIMED), and I hugged him goodbye, having no idea that was the last time. We kept in touch, but oh how I wish we did a better job. 

Blurry, but I love it. June 8, 2012

His touch is still present in my New Mexico home--from the bright yellow flower on my wall, to my first pair of opera glasses and Hungarian vase on my shelf. He himself was an utterly beautiful gift from God. We lost him before the 20th anniversary of his 29th birthday. I hope to see him again someday. 

I love you, Uncle Jimmy.