As I have reported before, and as many of you know, an Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 marathon run all in one shot. It is the hardest "mainstream" endurance event that is actually a race and not just a matter of survival (although some would dispute both points!). Ironman Coeur d'Alene (CDA) is one of the longest running ironman-brand ironmans in the United States, with 2014 as its 12th continuous year, or something like that. It's held in a beautiful area in Northern Idaho. I had built my training schedule towards a peak for this ironman, having run a 50K, a marathon, a few half marathons, completed a half ironman, and several minor triathlons in the build-up. In mid-June I left Riverside for Seattle, which would be my home-base for part of the summer. Sarah and I left Seattle the Thursday night before the event, and checked into the race the next morning.
The weather was spotty the few days leading up to the race, and indeed this was the theme of the weekend. Occasional showers, quite chilly, then a bit of sun mixed in. On race morning, we woke up at about 3:30am at our campground (here's to hoping I was the only person hardcore enough to camp the night before), ate some breakfast, and then drove the 30 minutes into CDA. Everyone was jittery, but for the most part all the small details were handled the day before (bike racking, putting stuff in transition bags, etc.). I got my bike tires pumped up, made a few small tweaks to my setup, and then eventually put on my wetsuit.
The swim is a two loop course with a small run around in between. Thus, the male pros began at 6:00am and age-groupers at 6:40am -- which gave enough time for the male and female pros to swim around twice. I watched the pros begin and by the start of the second loop Andy Potts had a nice lead. I then moved into the swim corral and onto the beach. I hung around for a few minutes and around 6:25 went for a warm-up swim. The water was really choppy as the day was indeed very windy. I lined up in the 1 hour - 1 hour 15 minutes group and entered the water perhaps two minutes behind the first age-groupers. The anxiety was high, as it always is, and you can definitely feel the energy in the air. I made my way through the starting line and dove into the water and began swimming. With all the waves I knew it would be a rough swim and certainly not my fastest. I did the first loop in 34 minutes, which was about what I expected. Coming out of the water my watch said 1:10, although the official time was 1:11. As I was running up the sand to transition, this huge (not the prototypical triathlete) guy turned around and barreled into me. Miraculously I did not fall over but I had some choice words for him. My guess is that he had forgotten to do the second lap and was returning to the water, or he had thought the run loop was wider.
I made my way into the changing tent, with a volunteer in tow. Nothing too much to report, except that my T-1 time was in the three minute range. Good, but not fantastic. I hit the bike pretty hard from the get-go, and it was not until about 30 miles until my heart rate settled down into the 140 bpm zone. Riding on heart rate and not power can be problematic though as I likely gunned it too hard the first 40 miles what with all the wind and climbs. This would not have happened riding with power. The ride was definitely windy, and my target time of 5:15 was shot, but by half way I was on pace for a low 5:20s time, which was acceptable to me. Then, by about mile 60 my legs started to tire, and a few guys started to pass me. This is always depressing so I continued to remind myself to stay positive. The best part was that I did not really have stomach problems at all on the bike. A little burping here and there, but in general, my nutrition plan was solid. It seems that my training at least prepared me well for that aspect. The wind was taking it's toll on me, as it disadvantages smaller riders (me) relative to larger riders. What should have been an advantageous course for me (fair amount of climbing) turned into a disadvantageous course for me, and likely set me back 4-6 positions in my age group (here's to hoping). Mile 90 was the final turnaround on Highway 95 South, to which I made it in a struggle. But I told myself I needed to pick up the pace and use the wind to my advantage. Also, my trend in riding centuries is to struggle a bit in the middle but then I usually finish strong. So that's what I did and for the most part my heart rate did not drop below my target zone. I even passed a few guys on the way back, which improved my confidence.
About a half mile out of transition I took my shoes and rode the last few hundred meters into transition. I posted a 5:38 bike split; pretty disappointing but not too bad given the situation. I jumped off my bike easily, grabbed my bike-to-run bag, and ran into the changing tent. I swapped out my gel bottle for a new one, got some more salt pills and Tums, put on my socks and shoes, and off I went. My left hamstring (an old injury) was struggling from the ride so I monitored it for the first mile but eventually it shook out and was no problem. I had decided I would run with a small gel bottle as I felt this would speed up time at the aid stations. This proved to be an excellent plan. My initial pace, as is usual, was quite fast. I had a hard time keeping the pace above 7:10, so I just kept it there for the first two miles or so. Interestingly a few guys passed me in the first two miles, which surprised me. Eventually my pace settled into a 7:15 - 7:30/mile rhythm, as I monitored my heart rate. I wanted to keep the bpm between 140-144, which is what I was able to do most of the race. Around mile 5 or so, there is a sustained and steep incline, so obviously there I had to muscle up it but didn't go nuts and try to keep my same pace. I then picked up the pace on the decline to the turn-around. I got a good look at the leaders here, Andy Potts and Ben Hoffman were looking strong. Truly amazing to see these guys plowing along. By mile 8 I caught one of the guys who passed me, and then other guy I caught around mile 16 or so on the second loop. On my way back in on the second loop I saw one of the initial guys who had passed me keeled over throwing up. Unfortunately, this did bring me some joy, and I used this momentum to propel me the last 5 miles. Compared to previous ironmans, my run was the best. I did not once stop at an aide station, and my pace only slowed a bit between miles 14 - 22 (in the past I had always wanted to blow my head off around that time). My general strategy was to take a swig of gel and maybe prepare a salt pill just before the station then hit water in the mouth, next water down the back, hit a Perform, another water on the front, then maybe a cola and another Perform upon exiting. I realized that aide stations are poorly designed. Each station should have the different items more spread out so you don't have to skip certain beverages/food items because you are busy taking down the previous item. I kept waiting for cramps to come, but did not really feel anything so just kept plugging away.
Running by the library I passed a few guys and then saw Sarah, who was very excited to see me turning the corner onto the final stretch. I saw a few more guys ahead of me so pushed the pace into the low 6:00s as I came down the downhill straightaway. It hurt so good and believe me that .2 mile of 26.2 is always the worst. But it felt good to pass those guys knowing full well there was nothing they could do about it and that it was good for their character. I pulled a 3:18 marathon split -- a little slower than I hoped but within the realm of satisfaction -- and finished with a 10:14 overall, a 7 minute PR, 12th in my 30-34 year old age group, and 60th overall. I think the winner of my age group notched 9:15 and won the age group race, what a beast, but he is a silver medalist Olympian in Crew, so what are you going to do. The next day I woke up early and took Sarah to the airport. I then hit the road to Glacier National Park/Waterton National Park for a few days of easy sight seeing in Montana and Canada.
By day I am a political scientist studying campaigns, public opinion, and race and ethnic politics. By early morning and/or night I am an endurance athlete.