Last weekend I competed in IronMan Coeur D’Alene, my 3rd IronMan. Every race you learn a few new things about yourself and about racing, and this one was no exception. Overall the race went almost perfectly — except for the fact that my fitness wasn’t quite where it needed to be.
Race morning started early, I set my alarm for 4:00. Not a ton of sleep, since Michelle and I had driven all the way to Spokane the night before to find a good spot for dinner (we settled on The Old Spaghetti Factory — in this case their standard lack of flavor sounded perfect!). For my first two IMs in St. George, I’d rented a condo with a kitchen, but no such luck this time so I hurried down to the lobby where several other athletes were queued up for the microwave. No one seemed in much of a mood to chat, so I heated up my oatmeal and headed back to the room.
We set off for the race start area around 5:00. This all seemed fairly leisurely compared to the bus system at St. George. We drove into town and parked just a few blocks from T1. We ran into a few friends on the way in and all the pre-race rituals — special needs bags, nutrition on the bike, morning clothes bag, port-o-potty line — went very easily. Soon, we were packing into the corral leading to the beach. Someone in front of me got an early start on peeing in his wetsuit, and standing downhill I noticed I was standing in a very warm stream exiting his ankles…this would turn out to be a theme for the day.
After we passed over the timing strips on the steps down to the beach everyone began spreading out looking for their perfect spot. A friend Gretchen and I went down to the water, center-right, and I went down to dunk my head a few times. I have discovered that holding your face in the water before cold swims really helps avoid adrenaline-fueled panicked breathing when the gun goes off. Apparently it has to do with the mammalian dive response. Whatever it is, it works to pre-numb your face if you can.
When we came back up, I’d lost Gretchen. I figured she’d gone off to find her own happy place in the crowd for the swim start. I had been dreading this start as my only other beach starts were the most unpleasant racing I’d done yet — frenzied, chaotic whitewater, with tons of contact — and that was with only 300 people. Today, we had 2400+ all crammed together. And, I was more up-front than I’d planned, but somehow my spot felt pretty good. For whatever reason, the people up the beach didn’t look quite so packed in as in other areas and I liked the idea that there wasn’t a massive crushing wave coming behind me.
I secured the Zoot neoprene cap I’d purchased the day before at the expo, and put a little water in my new AquaSphere Kayenne goggles (I love those goggles). The energy at that point is fun — anything can happen, great races and race disasters may unfold, and everyone will finish in their own time (or not finish), but for these last few seconds we are one big group of crazy people with one singular focus. And then the cannon goes off.
Somehow that cannon always takes me by surprise. They don’t really do a countdown or anything. Maybe it is best that way. Just BAM! It’s on!
I heard the sound of the gun, and was about one row back from the water. The entire mass of black wetsuits shifted forward and I did the same. Time seemed to slow a little there, and I wished I could have frozen everyone in place to take a picture. We hit the water and I just started swimming, trying to both make enough time that I wouldn’t be overtaken by the masses behind me, and slow enough that I wouldn’t get winded (winded + kick to the face or missed breath = panic). There was a lot of contact, and I did have a moment where I’d missed a couple breaths in a row and choked in some water, but all told it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d expected. The water temp wasn’t even a factor — definitely warmer than St. George either year, and my cap kept me cozy.
One thing I did notice though was that you never got fully free of the group. At St. George (with 1,000 fewer starters and one loop) it wasn’t very congested after the first maybe 600-700 meters. In this race, I was always with people (lots of them seemingly swimming directly across my line…or me across theirs maybe). We came back up on the beach at the mid-way point and ran through a timing point. I heard Mike Reilly say something about 34:30, so I knew I was a little behind my 1:05 goal.
The rest of the swim was more of the same. Occasional bumping, trying to find feet to follow. The wind and chop did pick up through and it was a bit harder the second loop. I had one person directly on my feet for probably 800 meters, literally touching my toes with every stroke. I put one little burst on to try and lose them, but no, they were like a barnacle. I thought maybe my friend from Masters had surprised me and signed up for the race at the last minute (you know who you are!).
Swim time: 1:11:05 – A little slower than I’d hoped for, but given the conditions, probably about right.
Transition went pretty well, my new Xterra Vector Pro wetsuit is much tighter than my previous one. So I had a little trouble getting it off. And, I wore my Garmin over my wetsuit cuff, so I to take that off on the run from the beach and accidentally hit the lap button, so it added my t1 to my bike split. And, I forgot my race belt in my T1 bag — so saying it this way, I guess T1 was kind of a cluster? I stopped by an extremely zealous sunscreen crew and made for the bike exit.
My plan was to hydrate as much as possible, mostly with sports drink from my Speedfil, and consume about 200 calories/hour from Gu packs. Supplementing with the occasional banana at the aid stations I figured I’d be getting close to 400 calories/hour which is about right. My bento box contained 6 cliff-shot gels, a packet of shot-blocks, and a few enduralyte salt capsules. Hydration was pure gatorade at first, supplemented with the powerade they had on course.
You can get an idea of how hilly the course is by looking at my speed profile:
Every one of those peaks is a fast downhill, and every valley is a slow climb. Some of them were pretty long. I liked the course though. The roads were perfect — very smooth throughout — and I think the kind of profile that has something for everyone. Big guys get some flats, wind and descents, light climbers like myself have fun hills to play on. Basically just a course that rewards a strong all-around rider I think.
Now, we come to the part of the bike that I hesitate to tell you about, because, well, it’s gross. This is the question of what to do about peeing. Well, you stop at a port-o-potty you say? Yes, that’s what you would do in the sane, rational world. But, we wouldn’t be doing this in the first place if we were totally rational. Perfectly executed, an on-bike pee is a thing of beauty — hopefully you remain pretty dry throughout the process. You’ve probably even seen it in the Le Tour coverage without even knowing it. But my execution was, let’s say, sub-optimal. I was left wondering whether those little holes they leave in the bottom of tri shoes for “drainage” had somehow become clogged in my pair. But, that didn’t stop me from trying again later! And again, and again…
Lest you think that I’m a total barbarian at this point, I’ll have you know that I carefully timed these occasions for moments when I had a nice long gap behind me, and a fresh bottle of water on hand for a rinse if need be. Others were not so encumbered by social etiquette concerns. At one point I was about 20 feet behind a guy (50-54 age group) on a fast descent when I see his butt lift off the saddle and then a spray of vaporized urine pretty-much coated me.
A couple of thoughts went through my head at that moment:
1) What the hell are we doing out here?
2) Oh, that butt-lift technique really seems to keep his shoes dry.
3) I’m so very glad I have a helmet with a visor right now.
I thanked him for the shower when I went by, and continued on my way.
Prior to actually riding the course, I’d thought I could beat my St. George time from last year (5:36), but I realized near the last turn-around that I was looking at closer to 6 hours. Fortunately, that last 15 miles or so has a lot of fast descents — two of my last three 5 mile splits were in the 25mph average, helping pull my time down to 5:41:42. Not too far off last year.
The only real mishap on the bike was at the last aid station — I’d run out of nutrition, and wanted one last gu on the way back. I grabbed one on the way through, but dropped it while trying to open it a minute later. Then, I realized I only had a few mouthfuls of sports drink left too. So, I came into T2 feeling a little short on energy — but overall not too bad.
T2 went smoothly, and I exited the chute onto Lakeside Avenue feeling good. I chatted briefly with a guy I’d seen over and over on the bike. He was a police sergeant in the 50-54 age group. I wished him well and then saw Michelle on the sidelines, stopping for a brief hug and I was on my way.
Soon, I recognized another person I’d been seeing on the bike a lot on the second loop. He’s a big guy and I said we’d make a great bike team, he could lead out the flats and descents, I’d do the hills. Later I checked his bike split, and he did a 5:20-something, so I’m not sure he needs my help on the hills really. We had similar goal times for the marathon — about 4 hours, or 9 minute miles, so we ran together the whole first loop. That worked pretty well — it definitely helps to have someone else keeping the pace when you feel tired and vice versa. Plus, he, being from Coeur D’Alene (Russell Abrams is his name) seemed to know everyone in town — it was fun just hearing the crowd cheering for him.
Unfortunately, at about mile 12 I could really start feeling my lack of run fitness starting to kick in. I’d had a nagging hip problem all winter that kept me from really building a run base, and now I was paying the price. When we hit the turnaround back at the start I stopped to see Michelle, and waved Russell on. My next six miles were quite slow — mixed running and walking, my 9 minute miles turned into 14 minute miles.
I saw a few friends out on course, and since at this point I knew my PR time of 11:11 was out of reach I did a little more stopping and talking. For a little while I walked with Robert Verhelst, a firefighter who is raising money for charity by doing the IronMan run in a full firesuit — in 27 races this year.
Eventually, i picked it up a little and tried to run between aid stations. Everything felt fine — hip felt good, knees felt good, nutrition wasn’t a problem (wasn’t bonking like I had on previous runs), it was just that my quads were screaming in agony with every step. They just weren’t used to this kind of punishment. I vowed to never do another IronMan without being in real run shape. I just hadn’t put in the miles.
I was very happy to be turning back down Lakeside towards the finish line. Everyone around me seemed to be doing a final kick to the finish, my kick was more of a shuffle. There must have been 20 people pass me in those four blocks! I stopped to say hi to Michelle just before the finish, then ran through (I heard Mike Reilly call my name). IronMan #3, in the books.
Final time: 11:45:49
Congratulations to everyone else up there. I know there were a lot of first-time IronMan finishers that day — great job!
In particular, Kathryn way to race hard despite your “challenges” on the run! Wes, amazing swim (2nd amateur) you’ll be incredible when that leg heals up. Gretchen, Tom and the Hardy Brothers… you are an IronMan! Barbara and Molly, you make it look easy now. Mike M — you must have done some fine coaching. And Jen, I want to run like you. Nice job everyone!
And, thanks to Michelle for some excellent cow bell and tri-sherpa work!