Monday, July 4, 2011

IMCdA 2011 - Race Report

Event: Ford Ironman Coeur d'Alene
Date: June 26, 2011
Last time I wrote an Ironman race report, I split it up into a few different posts.  This is just one loooong post, so you may want to split up your reading into a few different sessions.  Thank you to all of my beyond amazing family, friends, and blog readers.  This journey would not have been the same without all of you.

I was up at 3:00 am to start feeding the calories down the hatch.  High protein Ensure and coffee were first.  Half a bagel and 2 eggs were next.  A banana a bit later.  Then sipping on a bottle of Perform until heading out of transition towards the water.  One last PowerGel before the cannon went off.
Ken was volunteering in the water as a kayaker, so we dropped him off at the boat launch and said our goodbyes.  Mom was volunteering in the women's change tent, so she was able to go into transition with me.  Bodymarking, nutrition on bike, air up tires, porta-potty lines, and then finally getting into the wetsuit, lubing up, and then filing towards the water like cattle.
Since the water temp on race morning was a balmy 54 degrees, I wore old socks on my hands and feet that I could ditch to the side before entering the water.
After getting through the cattle call, I walked down to the shore and just sort of stopped where there was room.  I looked around and realized I had seeded myself smack dab in the middle of the masses.  Shrug.  I'm a middle-of-the-pack swimmer, so I might as well start there.
The national anthem was sung and echoed across the the quiet lake.  Mike Reilly boomed over the sound system "TODAY, you WILL become an Ironman!".  U2's It's a Beautiful Day started playing.  The cannon went off.  And the crowd cheered as everyone filed into the water and we started our Ironman day.

It is impossible to convey the chaos that is an Ironman swim to anyone who has not experienced it themselves.  Imagine 2500 type-A athletes, fully tapered, anxious to race, all trying to get to (and then turn around) the same 2-foot buoy less than 1000 meters away.  I was punched, groped, dunked, crawled over, swam under, and I even ended up with someone else's toes in my mouth.  The first 5 minutes were spent with my head mostly out of the water, trying to protect my face and teeth.  The turn buoys were so congested that instead of swimming, we all had to bob in the water and let the blob of people carry us around the turn.  Lap 2 was slightly less brutal.  I alternated between plenty of open water to swim freely, to fighting for space with 30 others.  Over and over again.  Finally the exit chute started getting closer and closer, and I was standing up and climbing out of the water.

One note about the water conditions on race morning.  The lake temp was measured at 54.7 degrees.  Someone from the med tent said that over 100 athletes were either pulled out of the water or didn't exit the warming yurt by the cutoff time.  I wasn't bothered by the cold too much on lap 1 - adrenaline and panic tends to make you not feel things like that for at least a short while.  But by lap 2 I was trying to pee in my wetsuit to generate heat, I was having difficulty moving my fingers, and an ice cream headache was developing.  I was only in the water for 84 minutes.  For those in the water close to the allotted 140 minutes - major props to you.  Just making it to the bike was a major accomplishment that day.

I ran up the beach to the wetsuit strippers, pointed to the biggest set of guys I could see, flew to the ground, got stripped, was yanked back to my feet, and ran to the changing tent grabbing my transition bag along the way.  This part happens so fast.  Bam bam bam bam bam.  It's a complete blur.
Once in the tent I spotted my Mom immediately.  She was volunteering in the tent and was able to help me swap gear and get out the door within a few minutes.  Shoes on.  Lube up.  Belt on.  Arm warmers on.  Helmet on.  Buckled helmet and donned sunglasses while running out to the bike.  As I was nearing the bike racks, I spotted my little brother JoshyPoo, who was volunteering as a bike handler.  Quick hug, grabbed my bike, and headed on out for 112 miles of fun!

The first few minutes on the bike are PACKED with crazy screaming enthusiastic spectators.  Cowbells and clappers and pompoms and whistles.  The crowds ease up at bit as the course turns away from town along the lake towards Higgins Point.  I began to settle into my pace, start my nutrition and hydration schedule, and mentally prepare for the long day ahead.  The first hill was long and slow and steady, then back down the other side to the turnaround.  Back up, down the other side, and through town again before heading out to the hills by Hayden Lake.  At mile 20 I started to get nervous with anticipation.  I had only driven the course just two days earlier, and was anxious to see what the hills felt like on two wheels.

English Point marked the start of the climbing section.  Followed by a few more big ones, followed by some rollers, followed by a few more big ones, and then the flat section back into town.  Each hill required me to gradually shift into my granny gear, and then slowly grind to the top.  I tried to push down the hills, gaining as much free speed as possible in order to help get me up the next hill.  I repeated several mantras along the way.  To the beat of each pedal stroke.  I will dig.  I won't quit.  I will dig.  I won't quit.  And lots of counting to 50 over and over again.  Every 30 minutes I took a hit off my gel flask, 10 minutes later a sip of Perform, 10 minutes later a Powerbar Energy Blast.  Sprinkled with water and thermalytes.  Repeated over a dozen times.
I stopped on lap 2 at the special needs station to pick up my treats (pop tart and uncrustable) and check my rear tire (I'm a flat tire hypochondriac).  I rolled back through town and out to Hayden while trying to psych myself up for another round of climbing.  I will dig.  I won't quit.  OUCH DAMN OUCH MO*&ER FU&%ER!!!  At mile 80, while part way up English Point, a wasp flew at me, landed on my leg, and stung the hell out of it.  Nothing to do but keep climbing and hope that I didn't have a bad reaction.  I kept an eye on my breathing and heart rate, while watching my leg swell and bruise and turn a few ugly shades of red.  At this point the sun was starting to beat down and heat things up.  My stomach was unhappy and not being quiet about it.  The back and knees were joining my stomach.  My pace was starting to slow a bit.  I started failing to keep up with my nutrition and hydration strategy.  I will dig.  I won't quit.  Grind grind grind.  Oh dang, extremely necessary bathroom stop.  Only 22 miles left.  I will dig.  I won't quit.  Only 12 miles left.  Nice and easy back to town.  I stayed aero as much as possible to duck under the head wind.  A little wind ain't no thang!  I was making the cutoff today!  A smile plastered across my face because I knew that no matter what, I was going to be an Ironman today.

The crowds that lined the streets on the way out of town had grown even bigger by the time I was getting off the bike.  More cowbells and screaming and signs.  I dismounted, tossed the bike to a volunteer, grabbed my bag, and ran to the change tent for the last and final time.

My Mom and JoshyPoo were able to get into transition and were waiting for me at the entrance to the tent.  We had a little celebration, hugs all around, and then I went inside to prep for the last 26.2 miles of the day.  Shorts off, shorts on.  Shirt off, shirt on.  Compression socks on.  Shoes on.  Deodorant (hey, a girls gotta feel fresh) and body glide applied.  Ice water over the head and out the door with visor and sunglasses in hand.  I was a few steps from the transition exit when I realized I had left my Garmin on the bike.  Doh!  Thankfully little bro was able to retrieve it for me and pass it off later in the run.
First 60 seconds - Sweet I feel GOOD.  Next 60 seconds - Oooh, oooow, calf cramps.  Next 60 seconds - Ow ow ow ow, I want to walk, but there are so many people.  Don't walk.  Don't walk.  Don't walk.  Next 60 seconds - F*^k it.  I'm walking.  I did a run/walk off and on the for the first 6 miles, but as the calf cramps worsened and the blisters formed, I started to do a lot more walking than running.  Eventually my lower back joined the party and just staying upright became a challenge.  At about mile 9 my stomach had enough and decided it was done with Ironman.  And the death march was underway!  Each aid station was a bathroom stop, swap out the cold sponges, sip of water, ice in the bra, chips or pretzels if the tummy concurred, sip of water, and on to the next aid station.
Around mile 12, right before the downtown turnaround, I entered a dark dark place.  Pain, despair, disappointment, dread, self pity.  I had been here before in Arizona of 2009, but not this deep.  The cheers from the crowds seemed to push me further down, rather than lift me up.  Each step jarred my back, shook my swollen leg, and ground sand into the wounds on my feet.  Acid burned the back of my throat, my lips were parched and sunburned, my head throbbed in time with my heart beat.  About this time I saw my family and friends.  They were doing what awesome supporters do - standing out in the hot sun, over 12 hours into the day, cheering and smiling and trying to build me up.  I was ashamed that I couldn't reciprocate the excitement.  After passing them, I did the one thing I wish I could take back from the day.  I walked back through town balling my eyes out.  Tears rolled out from under my sunglasses, my head hung down staring at the pavement.  My body shook with sobs.  But the spectators still clapped and encouraged me to just keep moving forward.  Little by little I climbed out of that hole.  My head rose a bit higher.  My arms swung a little harder.  I pulled out my mantra from the bike.  I will dig.  I won't quit.  I reminded myself how lucky I am to be at the Ironman.  I thought of the names I was racing in honor and memory of.  It was time to end the pity party and get on with the marathon.

I came across another who was climbing out of where I just was.  We walked together until he was in a better place.  And then we came across another.  One by one our group grew as we helped each other along, and then shrunk as some picked up the pace and moved ahead...or dropped back but still moving forward.  We shared stories and secrets with each other, complete strangers, while walking along in the dark.  Even though this is when the body hurts the most, this is maybe my favorite part of the Ironman.  Overcoming the hurt, making friends, moving forward.  The pain became more manageable as we got closer to town.  It's as if the energy from the finish line spreads out on the course, pulling you in.  I waved goodbye to each aid station, knowing that it meant one more mile closer to the finish line.  I started running again.  Soon, sounds from the finish line drifted through the woods onto the course.  Just a few more turns until the final turn onto Sherman Avenue.  My steps got lighter, my head picked up, the smile was plastered onto my face again.

FINALLY the last left hand turn to home.  Almost half a mile of straight road, downhill to the finish line party.  Crowds lined the streets, screaming louder than they had all day.  Music blared from the stores and cars and portable speakers.  People rang cowbells while running next to me, clapping and yelling and just as excited as I was to be finishing.  Kids jumped up and down, stretching out to slap my hand.  Flood lights beamed up the street, illuminating the path to the finish line.  Block after block after block of the loudest, warmest, most awesome welcome I have ever received.  I had a hard time holding back the tears here, but happy ones this time.
By the time I got to the finishers chute, every single trace of pain was gone.  You really do float here.  It's unreal.  I looked up through the crowd, silently thanking everyone for being there to make this one of the most amazing moments of my life.  Mike Reilly said my name, a few words about my finish (the last one before 16 hours), and then...

Post Race:
I was caught by two awesome ladies, who held me upright and walked me through the finish line process.  Medal over head, collect hat and shirt, and pose for one last photo.  Once they were convinced that I was okay to walk on my own, I was released to the food tent for pizza.  I was able to down a piece of super greasy pepperoni while walking around looking for my family.  Lots of hugs and smiles and celebration!
I really wanted to stay and cheer on the final finishers until midnight.  So my family graciously agreed to help me climb into the bleachers, where we danced and screamed and cheered for another hour, watching dozens of other athletes become Ironmen.
On the walk back to the car, we saw one final woman running down Sherman Ave towards the finish line.  About 2 minutes after midnight.  Everyone on the street stopped to cheer and applaud.  Some of us cried.  It was gut wrenching.  Friends and volunteers ran behind her as she completed the entire 140.6 miles.  Even though she didn't receive an official time or a medal, I hope she knows that she is a true Ironman.

The crew got me home, into an ice bath, showered and changed, and then settled into bed with the one thing I had been craving all year but wouldn't eat until I was an Ironman...a Big Mac!  Hahaha.  (Hopefully my coach has stopped reading this by now).
Again, because I don't think I can say it enough, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.  This experience was made a million times better because of all of you.


Molly said...

WAY TO GO!!!!! It was so exciting to track you and it's even better to hear your story of how it went down (LOL at the flat tire hypochondriac, that's totally me too). Enjoy all your rest and recovery because WOOHOO Arizona is next for us!!!!

jtrimom said...

Sarah, you are such an inspiration. I have followed your journey for a couple years now, and your honesty and openness are so inviting. I LOVED your race report. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in your training and racing. I did IMAZ last year and just signed up for IMCdA 2012.

Jeff - DangleTheCarrot said...

Congrats! Excellent report, thanks for sharing your day!

Jessica said...

So amazing and inspiring. I had some other friends there and their swim was exactly as you described. I can't believe about the wasp. I would have been crying the entire bike ride and the run. Way to dig deep!!!! Congratulations on such an amazing achievement!!!

Unknown said...

Sarah, I will take you and your story with me to IM Canada in a few weeks where I know you and my other training partners, friends, and family will be with me too.

Ara said...

Way to go Sarah!!! That is fantastic!!! Your race report was so awesome to read. On one hand, it scares the crap outta me, but on the other hand, it makes me excited to compete in 2013. I hope I can do it!

Paige said...

Way to tough it out, Sarah! Thank you for sharing your race experience. I'm headed to IMCDA '12. It will be my first full IM and I can't wait to get there!