Ironman Coeur d’Alene marked a long and challenging day, but also one of the most rewarding! It might be impossible for me to avoid clichés in this ‘report’, since thousands and thousands of people have previously competed or participated in IM events and we all share similar experiences of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 and running 26.2. However, this is my little corner of the universe where I get to navel-gaze, so here’s my Ironman CDA story!
(It's going to take a while and I decided to break it up, but I'll try to be some what succinct)
One of the many reasons that I chose IMCDA was for the location and the timing, both of which meant that we could include this event as a part of a great summer road trip. I loved that idea - not making the race the only focus of a trip but rolling it into something else. That said, when we left Pasadena fairly early Tuesday morning and drove up I-5, my thoughts were squarely focused on Ironman and that experience. The drive up to Coeur d'Alene was not speedy as we stopped along the way - in Klamath Falls, OR and then Leavenworth, WA (the former was along the way but we did make a diversion to visit family friends in Leavenworth).
Scenes from the road in Klamath Falls, somewhere in Oregon, and Gus, clearly enjoying the trip.
We finally rolled into Coeur d'Alene on Thursday night, but could not fully appreciate the Ironman "scene" until Friday. There were tons of pre-race activities, processes and requirements, and I was glad that we arrived Thursday night. Even with that somewhat early arrival, I wouldn’t describe Friday and Saturday as “relaxing”, but I did try to take it easy and avoid too much unnecessary activity. A friend gave me good advice beforehand – “Go to the expo on Friday and then avoid all the alpha-types for the rest of the weekend”. I say that this was good advice because every time I saw some really bad-ass looking person with an I-dot tattoo, I would freak out a bit and question my sanity AND my ability.
At the same time, I was so excited about the fact that this was finally, really happening - HOLY CRAP - this was it! While much of the experience still felt (and feels) a bit dreamlike to me, there were moments of sharp clarity. One of my major check-in moments was a practice swim on Friday morning. It was grey, overcast, chilly and a bit damp, but I told myself that I *had* to get into the lake on Friday to test out the waters. Signing up for this race, the swim leg made me pretty anxious because I knew that it could cold and rough. I didn't spend tons of time in the water on Friday morning, but once I stepped into the lake, I knew that I could handle the water temps and that was a huge relief. It was a choppy swim, but I still felt comfortable in the lake. Okay, practice swim on Friday - check!
After that, much of the day seemed to be hurry-up-and-wait, but it gave us time to drink some coffee, check out the expo, for me to get some free ART (active release therapy), to check out the expo again, and finally to check into the race!
Ah - Ironman Village - like Disneyland for triathletes!
Gus - Looking a bit grumpy about everything.
Downtown Coeur d'Alene!
Obviously I can't compare this race venue to others, but I loved that the entire focus of the town, for this particular weekend, was Ironman. We stayed at the Day's Inn which was very convenient, and it seemed as though the entire hotel was geared to Ironman participants and/or spectators, which I'm sure was true of other hotels too.
Saturday morning was more of the same - wake up, go for a short run, go for a short swim (choppy again), then do a short bike ride and then try to rest and relax for most of the day. My parents also arrived on Saturday, and it was all new for them - they'd never experienced any triathlon before, and suddenly they found themselves in pre-Ironman race frenzy/craziness. It was definitely an education for them (what's a transition? Body marking? A gu? How much do some of these bikes cost?!). With some anxiety, I dropped off my bike and my transition bags on Saturday afternoon. I worried that I had forgotten something, but I also felt lighter - mentally and physically - once I had taken SO MUCH GEAR to check in. After an early dinner, I was in bed by 9:30 and excited about Sunday.
Race Day - The swim:
In the previous days, I latched onto the idea that I would sleep through my alarm and arrive at the race too late to participate, but that did not happen on Sunday morning - fortunately! I did keep thinking to myself that it was so strange to be as calm as I was, but I decided that I'd just embrace the fact that I felt okay about tackling this event. It was a gorgeous morning, which really helped my nerves, and having dropped most of my gear on Saturday, it was one of the easiest mornings I've experienced in my triathlon "career".
Michael, my parents and I drove to town together, but I had to deal with a few things, so I went to the transition area on my own. At that moment, entering that sea of bikes, I tried to take in the scene: the people who were milling around, the volunteers, the participants waiting in line, getting ready, talking, being quiet... It was the moment when everything came into focus, and I felt a bit emotional, but in a really great way. In my little transition area, the women were so positive - giving each other support, laughing and joking, talking about whether it was our first time or not (there were a lot of us first-timers!), and I did what I could to help out by letting someone borrow my bike pump. I was out of the transition area well before the pros took off, meeting up with my parents and Michael to wait and wait and wait.
In the cage - Transition!
Lake Coeur d'Alene
The calm before the suiting up.
Before the Male Pro start, we found a little patch where we could see the pro men and pro women start at 6:00 and 6:05. It was fun to focus on something else and I even stayed around to watch Andy Potts exit the water from his first lap - jeez he's fast, but I finally suited up (wetsuit, earplugs, goggles, caps, not nearly enough body glide on my neck…), hugged everyone and headed to the swim start!
As people familiar with Ironman know, last year brought a new “swim start initiative” to some of the IM races, IMCDA 2013 being the inaugural event. Instead of the mass, washing-machine start, it’s a wave start. Everyone has his/her own opinion about this change, but after Sunday, I am a fan of the start. In my opinion, the swim start was nearly as rough as some others that I’ve experienced, and I’m fine with that! Yes, there was some contact, I did get kicked in the face once and hit on the head and grabbed, but there seemed to be plenty of room to maneuver. Also, the CdA swim is one of the most straight-forward swims I’ve done – it’s a rectangle and, also as part of the swim initiative (I think), they have TONS of buoys which helps with sighting.
In an ideal world, I had hoped for a sub-1:20 swim. I knew that this was possible, but that it would depend on many things, mainly on the conditions of the swim. Let’s just say that the lake conditions were less than ideal. The lake was ‘warm’ in comparison to other years, but it was choppy, just like my Friday and Saturday practice swims were. Thanks to these, the chop didn’t come as a surprise, fortunately, but whoa it was rough! As I swam along, I figured that I could toss my “goal” time out the window, but I told myself that it was a long day and that this was only the beginning of that day, so I shouldn’t worry too much about it. I kept these thoughts in mind as I swam along, sometimes passing people, finding that plenty of people passed me, but also cruising along behind people on occasion as I tried to save some energy by drafting a bit. While the swim was rough and the waves knocked me around a bit, I felt comfortable in the water, even though I didn't feel fast. I did, at one point, think to myself: “If I ever do another one of these [you know, an ironman race], I will be a stronger swimmer because this sucks!” As I finished the second loop and exited, I glanced at the clock and realized that I'd come in just under 1:30 - 1:27:35, to be exact.
A bit off my 'goal time' but I decided that I would look at the bright side - it could have been worse. I had survived the swim, I didn’t feel exhausted, and I had a new open water swim distance record for myself! These were all positives, so now I'd move on to the bike!