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Richie Cunningham, a native of Australia but a long-time Boulder local, is primed and ready to race on Sunday at the inaugural Ironman Boulder.
“I feel good,” says Cunningham. “I’ve trained well. I’ve got a couple little niggles that won’t go away–things you just sort of deal with on race day–but everybody has something going on, so hopefully it all comes good. It’s just hard sitting around waiting!”
Cunningham looks forward to competing in his own backyard, although race day proximity to the comforts of home can be both a blessing and a curse, he says. “The same as with the Boulder 70.3, it will be nice to sleep in my own bed and get up and do my own routine. That’s always an advantage. The only problem is that I ride past my house twice. So if you have a bad swim and are feeling angry it’s hard not to just duck in and call it quits; or on the last part of the bike, when you’re feeling really tired and if you’re off the back for some reason, it’s hard when your bed is right there and you just want to take a nap!”
While Cunningham’s 2013 season was derailed at its peak by a car vs. bike road rage incident in which he suffered a broken elbow, he’s proven he’s back in fighting form with a slew of successes in 2014, including second at Ironman 70.3 Auckland, first at Ironman 70.3 Texas and third at Ironman 70.3 Boulder. A relative rookie to the iron-distance, however, Boulder will mark only his third go at the full 140.6 miles. Cunningham raced Ironman New Zealand in 1999 when he first acquired a pro license and “didn’t know what he was doing”; then he finished an impressive fourth at Ironman Arizona 2009 in his second attempt at the distance.
“I’m a novice at this. People keep asking me questions and I’m like, ‘Uh…I might not be the best person to answer that question!’” he laughs. “I’m hitting up Crowie and [Ben] Hoffman and Barny [Paul Matthews] and all these guys. But I’m looking forward to it.”
Regardless of Cunningham’s Ironman inexperience, he’s intimately familiar with the Boulder course, having swam countless times in the Boulder Reservoir and trained extensively on every stretch of the bike and run routes. Here he shares his tips for each leg of the race; out-of-towners, take note!
“With the age group wave starts the main thing is not to get too ambitious. Take the swim wave that suits you so you’ll be in among people that swim to your ability. And it’s not salt water–it’s a lake, so it’s a little bit slower. It’s kind of a dead water swim, so it’s nowhere near as fast as doing it out in the ocean–maybe a minute or so off. I’m guessing it’s going to be wetsuit, since it’s cooling down. Last week it was looking pretty seriously like a non-wetsuit swim, but I’d be pretty shocked now if it was not a wetsuit swim. I don’t think it will be that hot in the morning, so not too many people will struggle with the heat of the wetsuit. I swam at the Res last Sunday when it was a lot hotter than it is this week, and I got a little hot toward the end of the swim, but I started at 8:00 and the race starts at 6:30. Just be sure to get a little hydration before you start, and then if it is warm on race morning don’t put the wetsuit on too early–you don’t want to overheat before you even start.”
“I think the conditions will be the biggest telling factor on this one. At some point there’s going to be either a head wind or a tail wind. I’m hoping the wind comes out of the north so that we have a tailwind for the second half of the course. But the first half feels fast–you have a long stretch up Jay Road and then along Highway 36, and from there on it’s kind of gradually downhill and fairly fast, so you can get kind of carried away and overcook yourself early. The second half of the course is so open and there’s just a lot of dead straight road where you’re going very gradually uphill and gradually downhill. It’s not like you’ve got corners and ups and downs where you get out of the seat and mix it up a little bit. The back end of the course is where you really need to stay in the TT position and just sort of hammer it out, and if you go too hard too early on this one I think you’ll really hurt at the end, especially coming back over the “three bitches” as everybody calls them. Those three little hills toward the end around mile 100, they’re kind of nasty but there’s nothing you can do about them. So just try to stay mentally focused on the bars, pray that it’s not hot and pray that there’s a northerly wind–then I think everyone will be OK!”
“The run’s going to be interesting because the first couple of miles are downhill, then you do an out and back section and then you have a little bit more gradual downhill, so I think people might get a little carried away with how they’re feeling, very similar to on the bike. You head downhill and then you turn around and have a long, gradual uphill. It’s not really much of anything, but it’s certainly maybe 20-30 seconds slower per mile coming up the hill. And it’s important to stay hydrated, because towards the end of the day it will start to get hot. I mean even if they predict cooler weather, 85 degrees is still hot to run in. So stay cool, use your special needs bag and make sure to get proper hydration in. The good thing about this run course is that there are focus points. Coming out of transition it’s sort of two miles to the turn, then you turn and come back two miles, and from there it’s maybe two miles down to the little lake turnaround–so you’re not getting long boring stretches of nothing. Up the hill it’s two miles to T2, then two more to the next turnaround, then you get to run downhill for a couple of miles–so it’s easy to break it up and you can give yourself little goals, like getting to T2 in a certain time or getting to the turnaround in a certain time. You can break the run up mentally instead of just thinking, ‘Oh crap, I’ve got 26 miles to run!’ That’s how I’m going to approach it at least, by giving myself little focus points all along the way, rather than stressing about how long the whole thing is and how badly I feel!”