Event: Ford Ironman Coeur d'Alene
Date: June 26, 2011
Date: June 26, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).