August 2nd, 2015, brought in the second edition of the Ironman Boulder triathlon in Boulder, Colorado. The event hosts nearly 3,000 triathletes over a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride followed by a marathon, a 26.2 mile run.
Many local athletes and athletes from around the United States and some from outside the US flocked to Boulder to race in the pinnacle distance event in the playground of the professionals of the sport. The day proved to be a challenge with a wetsuit optional swim, altitude, wind and rising temperatures in the afternoon. That’s all in addition to the sheer magnitude of tackling a 140.6 mile triathlon.
Your Endurance Sports Examiner was one of the lucky to race and complete the 2015 Ironman Boulder triathlon. From our experience comes our take on the management of the event and review of the course. Read on for the 2015 Ironman Boulder triathlon race review.
Registration : A
Most all Ironman events are ran through Active.com for registration. Ironman Boulder was not an immediate sell out and athletes could register within a few months of the start of the event. Registration was pretty straightforward with no site glitches and no difficulties understanding the process.
Branding and Outreach : A
Once signed up for the events, participants received timely emails and the Facebook page was regularly updated with information and triathlon relevant material.
The Ironman brand in triathlon is pretty unmistakable. It’s everywhere and triathletes from all walks of life immediately know what you’re talking about when you mention Ironman. It’s not just a Marvel Comic superhero in the movies.
The emails about the event were timely and appropriately spaced out. Not too much, not too little. The only issue was the commercialism of the emails promoting sponsors, services and other races. Some emails contained no new information, but only promoted related services and events. Understand that Ironman is a business and not a charity service, and you can for the most part overlook that aspect. After All, those sponsors and partners help keep the cost down from being downright astronomical.
Ironman Boulder, and specifically the Race Director, was all over the Facebook page. They posted timely and informative posts, answered questions and utilized tools like Google Earth and Youtube to post pertinent and informative videos. Other Ironman races and RD’s could learn some valuable lessons about how to utilize Facebook to maximize athlete engagement. They even hosted a selfie contest on check in days for athletes to post pictures with volunteers. That’s the first time we have seen that.
Planning and Strategy Leading up to Race Day : A
As mentioned about Facebook, the IM Boulder crew was all over covering the logistics of check in to race day procedures. If athletes didn’t know where to go and what to do from the emails, athlete guide or Facebook posts, they had no excuse other than living under a rock.
We would be hard pressed to find a flaw in the events leading up to race day. Management organized a swim day at the Boulder Reservoir for athletes (although parking and entry twas a mess and the course was only actually open for an hour and 15 minutes instead of the 2 hours advertised). They set up vouchers for dinner Friday night that could be used all weekend at very reputable eating establishments in Boulder. We tried LYFE Kitchen and it was excellent. We did have an issue figuring out where Tri Tats should be placed if athletes purchased them as opposed to having someone draw the race numbers on at body marking on race morning. The information both in the Ironman Village wasn’t exactly helpful and no one would answer the question on the Facebook page, but that’s pretty minor stuff.
Arrival to Event : A
Being a two transition event, athletes were shuttled from T2 to the swim start and T1. Parking was ample around T2 and the buses were plentiful resulting a stress free trip to the start and very little waiting in line for transportation. What could have been a cluster was a very smooth process.
Athletes did have to walk around a mile from drop off to T1, but when there are no cars to deal with and ample time to get settled in for race start, you can’t really complain. It was a good warm up walk.
Special needs drop off was at T2 as well before the bus ride. It was a little confusing finding the right location, but volunteers were very eager when you found the area and dropped your gear. Did we also mention the ample supply of port-a-potties around T2? No one should have had issues peeing there pants with so many places to take care of business.
The swim was a loop in the Boulder Reservoir. The reservoir is closed to boat traffic and pretty much smooth as glass minus 3,000 swimmers. It did have a nice supply of seaweed to swim in and out of control of the RD, the temperatures exceeded the allowable for wetsuit allowance. Wetsuits were optional, so those that chose to wear them started in the back. The swim initiative Ironman adopted in 2014 carried over for a rolling swim start were athletes staged on the ramp area and walked in passing over the timing mats as they entered the water. It limits the mass of humanity flailing around at the start, but if athletes were not honest about their abilities, you could have a glob of slower swimmers in front of faster swimmers creating issues. Word to those worried about cut offs, no matter where you started you have 2:20 to finish the swim.
The bike course was changed from the 2014 event and most reported a faster experience. There were two nasty climbs at the end that tested athletes after 95 miles of cycling, but after that is was a smooth ride back into town and T2. Athletes had ample coned off space to pass slower riders, however not all slower riders stayed to the right allowing for safe passing. Other athletes also lacked enough patience to wait for a pass to pass two cyclists and dart back in the coned off race path. Some athletes looking for speed felt it necessary to flaunt safety and pass with abandonment. But, that’s not exactly within the Race Directors control. The pavement was also in good shape and very few potholes and cracks were encountered.
The run consisted mostly of two out and back loops on paved trails by a local creek. For the most part, they were on a shaded course, but the scenery could get old after seeing it pass by 4 times. It makes for more safety not running on roads and dealing with vehicular traffic. It also provided support for aid stations every mile or two. The only real issue was a part on the back half were patrons filled the area, walked on paths with inner tubes for creek floating and were reportedly rude to athletes trying to get by. After time, police were spotted patrolling the area assuring athlete safety. Another small, but significant issue was not every aid station had vaseline, which was sorely needed around mile 16 of the run.
Post Race Swag and Vibe : A-
You’ve just finished 140.6 miles and for that effort you get a finisher shirt, hat medal and post race food! Ironman supplied pizza, chips, pickles, pop and water. Problem was after 26.2 miles of chips, pretzels, CLIF bars, bananas and other aid station fare, pizza was the only item that sounded good and where was the chocolate milk? Being a sponsor of the event, Got Chocolate Milk was all over the event posts, but no product was found at the finish line.
There’s also a logistical problem carrying a hat, shirt, medal, whatever you crossed the line with and food. Too much stuff, not enough hands and no place to sit. There was a distinct need for an athlete resting around at the finish where athletes could sit, relax and eat at their leisure. Pearl Street in Boulder had some seating, but with all shops open, regular patrols were taking the space. Athletes pretty much had to eat their food standing around and wonder back to T2 for their gear and check out, load up and head home. There’s a need for more congregating space to sit for athletes after the races.
Overall : A
As you would come to expect from Ironman branded events, you get what you pay for and you will pay a lot just for entry. They take care of pretty much every detail of race day and all the athletes need to do is train, bring their gear and show up. Well, they also need to swim, bike and run 140.6 miles, but Ironman makes it a less impossible proposition.
There were a few minor details lacking here and there, but total sum compared to the event as a whole, it’s a very small percentage of the experience. The volunteers were excellent and that’s a pure reflection on leadership of the event. If the RD is pooping on the volunteers and skimping, it will trickle down to those that directly touch the athletes.
Ironman Boulder compared to other Ironman 140.6 events showcased a comprehensive understanding of guerrilla social media usage. Traditional emails and generic postings across event Facebook pages were overshadowed by the RD and his personal interaction with athletes across Facebook. Never have we felt more connected the event from hundreds of miles away than this Ironman race. They built a strong connection and engagement from their customers and that in turn resulted in a smooth and painless race experience, unless you crashed, passed out or ended up in the ER.
Ryan Falkenrath is devoted family man balancing faith, family, Triathlon Coaching and racing. He is a certified USAT Level 1 Triathlon coach (www.SetThePaceTriathlon.com) and has formally raced endurance events since 2001 from 5k’s to Ironman distance races. You can follow his adventure on Facebook at Tri for a Hand Up, give to his Fundrazr campaign (), read more of his writing at Endurance Sports Examiner follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan or email him at [email protected]