Race Report: IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene

 

Related post: IMCdA Pre-Race Preparation

Almost a month has passed since I completed IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene and it still feels like it was just a dream. No matter how many times I see my medal, pictures from the day, or the obscene amount of race merchandise I purchased, I can’t convince myself that it actually happened. My suffer level never exceeded “mild discomfort”, which seems unfathomable and is probably the reason that it doesn’t feel real.

Training for an Ironman means investing a year of time, energy, and emotion for just one day. You get one shot to achieve a goal that seems impossible when attempting it for the first time. Considering I DNF’ed both my last marathon and century ride, taking on an Ironman seemed like a tall order.

Goals

Since this was my first attempt at the iron distance, I approached it like a science experiment and used the race to collect data that I will use to set my goals for future races. These were my modest goals for IMCdA:

  1. Finish, and in a minimal amount of pain
  2. Avoid shitting my pants
  3. Thank as many volunteers as possible
  4. Have fun

I didn’t set any specific time goals for the day. I just wanted to be strong enough going in that I could take it easy the whole day without having to worry about missing any of the cutoffs.

Pre-Race

At 3:30 am, I woke up to my the sound of my Ironman theme song, “Best Day of my Life” by American Authors. I planned to consume about 800 calories for breakfast but my nerves made it difficult to eat. I managed to choke down a picky bar and a banana with peanut butter, roughly 600 calories. I got my BF and mom out of bed around 4:00 and then we made our way downtown. I popped in the transition area to pump up my tires, mount my bike computer (powered up and ready to go), and put two bottles of Skratch on my bike. After a quick pep talk from my coach and a trip to the bathroom, I squeezed into my wetsuit, drank a bottle of Osmo Preload (~3,000mg of sodium), took a dip in the lake, then seeded myself in the 1:31-1:45 corral for the swim start.

My mom requested a "KIm Kardashian pose" shot

My mom requested a “Kim Kardashian pose” shot

My friends, Carin and Ryan, generously made the trip to Coeur d’Alene to support and cheer for me. It was great to hang out with them for a few minutes while I waited to enter the water. I needed all the distractions I could get to keep from psyching myself out before the swim.

I'm about to do an Ironman, but first, let me take a selfie

I’m about to do an Ironman, but first, let me take a selfie

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Standard pre-race double thumbs-up

Finally, it was time for us slower swimmers to get in the water. As luck would have it, the speakers were blasting “Best Day of my Life” as I crossed the timing mat. It was the perfect way to start the race!

Swim

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My sighting skills still need some work. Can you tell that the second turn buoy tried to run away on the second loop?

The wind was very strong from the start and made for a very choppy swim. Despite choking on a lot of water and repeatedly getting punched in the head by the same guy, I managed to stay calm. The first few paddle boards were surrounded by swimmers needing a break but I kept moving forward, focusing only on making it to the next buoy.

The second lap was even choppier than the first, but by then I had figured out how to deal with the waves. I could feel when a wave was about to break over my head and waited for it to pass before breathing and this kept me from inhaling any water on the second lap. Once I learned how to handle the challenge of the waves, I fully embraced it and entered a mental state I never experienced before. It was like I discovered some badass alter ego I never knew I had and the chop was no match for her. (Now I have to come up with a good name for her!)

Swim time – 1:40:22. A very slow split for most people, but very good for me. I had a lot of doubts before the race, but coming out of the water, I knew I was going to finish.

HOLY SHIT, I DIDN'T DIE!!!!

HOLY SHIT, I DIDN’T DIE!!!!

T1

After a quick visit with the wetsuit strippers, I grabbed my T1 bag and headed to the changing tent to prepare for the bike. As I mentioned in my pre-race post, I packed clothing for every possible weather scenario. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining and I didn’t get cold during the swim so I didn’t need any of the contingency clothes I packed. Doing a full change when you’re wet is challenging because everything sticks to your skin. Next time, I’ll follow the advice of a volunteer and sprinkle baby powder in all my clothes before packing them in my gear bags. After changing, I stuffed my food and emergency numbers in my bra pockets, applied some chammy butter, and made a stop at the restroom before grabbing my bike and running to the mount line.

T1 time – 17:42. For me, it was worthwhile to sacrifice a few minutes in transition to have the comfort of dry clothes on the bike.

Bike

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Bike Course Map

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Bike course elevation

I was so excited to be on the bike. The people around me must’ve thought I was crazy because I was either giggling or crying (tears of joy, of course) the whole time. The course is challenging but it brings you through town four times so you never have to go too long without getting some love from the crowds. The first 14 miles is an out-and-back that follows the run course and is mostly flat. The rest of the loop is 42 miles of hills and wind. Then you have to ride both sections a second time.

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A little breezy on race day

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During the bike, I focused on eating, drinking, going easy, and enjoying the scenery. It’s easy to forget about nutrition while getting wrapped up in the excitement of the day. To keep myself on track, I set an alarm on my bike computer to remind me to eat and drink every 10 minutes.

When faced with headwinds and hills, I just slowed down and kept spinning in an easy gear. I did most of my training on hilly roads with strong winds so I was well prepared, mentally and physically, for this course. There were some tense moments when the crosswinds would gust and throw my bike around but I was in my happy place the rest of the time.

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“Blue Steel” or “I just hit a pothole and destroyed my lady bits”?

Bike time – 7:53:17. I was stopped for about 20 minutes total between a pit stop at one of the aid stations and bike special needs. Total moving time ~7:35.

T2

I opted to run in my tri kit so T2 was slightly faster than T1. After exiting the change tent, I stopped to chat with the BF for a few minutes, said “I guess I’m going to run a marathon now”, then ran out of T2.

T2 time – 9:29

Run

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Run course map

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Run course elevation

Just like the swim and bike, the run course is two loops. It’s mostly flat except for one big hill that you have to run up and over before turning around and running back up and over in the other direction.

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Starting the run

I was amazed at how fresh my legs felt coming off the bike. The first few miles ticked away in a flash and I didn’t have any signs of leg cramping or GI distress, issues that plagued me in the past. I decided to be conservative and walk the uphill sections of the first loop. 10 miles into the run, I was still feeling great, nothing hurt and my stomach was calm. I was running better off the bike than I had in any Olympic or 70.3. No matter what happened later in the race, I already reached a huge accomplishment that I could be proud of.

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Synchronized shuffling

After about 11 miles, I started to feel a little nauseous. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of vomiting, so walked the next couple miles to settle my stomach. The rest of my body still felt great and I kept my spirits high despite having to slow down. Coming back through town at the end of the first loop, I saw all of my supporters and let them know it was probably going to be a long night.

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13 miles to go. Let’s take another selfie.

One of the highlights of the day was getting to run special needs. My mom was volunteering there and delivered my bag with a big hug. Even at age 31, nothing beats a hug and kiss from mommy.

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The most special of special needs

As many people were finishing their race, I headed out on the second lap of the run. My stomach felt fine when I walked, but I couldn’t eat anything and even struggled to drink water. I had enough time to walk the rest of the way and still make the cutoff so I planned to walk most of the second lap.

You would think that walking the last 13 miles of an Ironman would be miserable experience, but I found the opposite to be true. Slowing down gave me more time to take in the beauty of Coeur d’Alene. The view of the lake at sunset is an image I’ll always remember. I started chatting with some other people that were walking. It’s amazing what people will discuss with complete strangers at the end of a long day of racing. Chafing of the lady bits appeared to be a common ailment among the ladies at Coeur d’Alene 🙂 My favorite quote of the day came from a woman that was running in the opposite direction and randomly exclaimed “MY VAGINA HURTS SO MUCH!”

Even when walking, the miles seemed to fly by. I found Carin and Ryan waiting for me about half a mile from the finish. They took the stuff I didn’t want to have in my finish photos and ran the last few blocks before the chute with me. As we turned on Sherman Ave., I completely lost my shit and started crying like a baby. I tried my hardest to recompose myself, but it’s obvious from the following pictures that I failed 🙂

Run time – 6:00:50

Finish

The culmination of a long, amazing day!

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Finish time – 16:02:02
Finishing around 11:00pm is a great experience. You fall into this sweet spot where you’re fast enough that you’re never alone and not in danger of missing cutoffs but late enough that the crowds are huge at the finish. Eventually, I’d love to be fast enough to finish before sunset, but there’s something magical about emerging from the darkness at the end of the run to see the bright lights of the finish waiting for you.

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IMCdA Pre-Race Preparation

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the companies listed in this post. Brand/product names are provided for strictly informational purposes. 

The days leading up to an Ironman are very busy. With proper preparation and a strong support system, it can be a fun and stress-free experience.

I planned every detail of the trip with comfort in mind.

Air travel makes me cranky so the BF and I road-tripped from San Jose to Coeur d’Alene. By driving, I didn’t have to worry about bike transport, baggage restrictions, or flight delays. We split the 17 hour drive up over two days and spent a night in Bend, OR. The drive would’ve been a bit shorter if I wasn’t trying so hard to stay hydrated. I needed to use the bathroom every hundred miles 🙂

Instead of staying at a hotel in Coeur d’Alene, we rented a house from airbnb. This turned out to be a great decision. I had a fully stocked kitchen to prepare meals and didn’t have to deal with carrying my gear from a parking lot to a hotel room.  The house was about 4 miles from the Ironman Village; close enough to be convenient yet far enough to be removed from the commotion.

My favorite Coeur d'Alene landmark

My favorite Coeur d’Alene landmark

Being an Ironman rookie, I was very fortunate to have a teammate, Amy, with me that had completed IMCdA in the past. She guided me through everything on race weekend.  Friday, we met up early for a practice swim and shakeout run before getting in line for packet pickup. My to-do list for the day was complete by 10:30 and I had the rest of the day to relax back at the house.

Preparing of takeoff!

Preparing for takeoff!

Saturday morning, Amy and I rode our bikes on the run course before meeting up with our coach to drive the bike course. Then we checked in our bikes and gear bags and waited for the race to start the next day.

Bidding farewell to the White Knight

Bidding farewell to the White Knight


You may have noticed that I love to make lists of everything. Here’s the breakdown of what I packed in my gear/special needs bags for the race. My goal was to be comfortable as possible so I did a full change in T1 and I packed my bags for a variety of contingencies.

Double-bag everything, especially if rain is possible the night before the race.

The volunteer helping me in the changing tent gave me a good piece of advice that I’ll use for my next Ironman.   Sprinkle powder inside all your clothes before packing them in your bike gear bag.  This will make it easier to put on tight clothes when your skin is wet.

Bike Gear Bag

Bike Special Needs

Run Gear Bag

Run Special Needs

  • Headlamp
  • Plantain chips
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich  *didn’t use

Strains, Sprains, and Fractures!

It looks like the trend of sporadic blog updates continues but this time, there’s a legitimate reason.  Typing is a challenge when your hands look like this:

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First, let me break the suspense by announcing that I did complete IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene on June 29, 2014! Stay tuned for a race report.

Now, let me review the incidents that had me on the verge of withdrawing from the race.

More baby cow drama

Shortly after returning to outdoor running, my calf started whining again. My coach suggested trying Hokas to reduce impact of running with my full body weight. Thanks to free overnight shipping from Zappos, these hideous clown shoes arrived at my door the next day. Much to my delight, they kept my calf happy and it hasn’t bothered me since.  Crisis #1 averted!

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What goes up, must come down

The day after my first run in my Hokas, hope soon turned to horror as our group rolled out for a Saturday ride up Mt. Hamilton. Within seconds of pushing off, my front wheel got caught in some train tracks and I crashed.   My left side felt a little sore, but I decided to keep riding and see if it got any better. Within a few minutes, my left knee and hip calmed down and didn’t bother me any more but my right thumb started to hurt like hell. Gripping the handlebars was excruciating so I started climbing with my right hand elevated, determined to make it to the summit and then hitch a ride in my coach’s truck for the descent. The pain became unbearable and it seemed dangerous to continue as I couldn’t brake with my right hand so I bailed after only 12 miles.

A few days later, I decided to have my thumb checked by a doctor.  Urgent care took some x-rays, concluded there was a tiny fracture, and referred me to a hand specialist in orthopedics. The hand specialist reviewed my x-rays and told me my thumb wasn’t broken but he was very concerned that I may have torn my ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) which would require surgery.  The exam involves many crazy manipulations of the thumb that were very painful at the time so the doctor recommended that we wait a week and try again.

When you’re two months out from an Ironman, a week is a long time to wait to find out if you need surgery.  I cried many times because I assumed I wouldn’t make it to the starting line at Coeur d’Alene.  I kept trying to remind myself that there are much greater tragedies in life than dropping out of a race but the pity party raged on.

The next week, I headed to the doctor’s office expecting the worst.  The exam was much less painful on the second try and the doctor was very pleased with the progress my thumb made.  My UCL was sprained, but didn’t need surgery.  I had to wear a splint full time for six weeks but I was cleared resume training.

Another day, another hand injury

A month after spraining my thumb, I broke my finger on the pool wall during Masters. W.T.F.

Feeling like a stalker, I went back to the hand specialist (my last thumb appointment was only three days before).  Fortunately, it was a minor fracture and I was back in the pool the next day with my finger splinted and taped.

All of these obstacles seemed huge catastrophes at the time, but in hindsight they now feel like minor inconveniences.  Well, except for the medical bills.  Clumsiness is an expensive habit!

Stay safe and happy training!