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.
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:
- Finish, and in a minimal amount of pain
- Avoid shitting my pants
- Thank as many volunteers as possible
- 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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The culmination of a long, amazing day!
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.