Well, I was at it again. If you have read this site for some time you have followed some of my ups and downs when it comes to long distance triathlons. I had success in my first Ironman and have not been able to replicate it since. Failed attempts at two Ironman’s and the Leadman Bend Race have been hard to take. After much discussion with my wife, I decided to give it one more go, this was going to be my make or break race. I know Ironman’s are supposed to be hard, but it is pretty discouraging having to DNF for one particular reason or another. First was Ironman Canada in 2009 where I had breathing problems around mile 19 of the run and eventually pulled out at mile 21. Silverman and Leadman Bend where similar stories even though they were two years apart from each other. In both races, I struggled with my nutrition and in both cases became very dehydrated and unable to continue. At Silverman, I lost 9 pounds during the race according to the measurements they take pre race and in the medical tent. I had to get two IV’s just to be able to get out of the tent.
All this leads to this year’s version of Ironman CdA. I talked Melissa into letting me sign up for it and set out to figure out not only my nutrition but also some of the breathing problems I have been experiencing off and on over the years. Over the last couple years, I have talked to several doctors about the shortness of breath I feel after long workouts but we never really got anywhere. It is hard to describe exactly what I felt as it would mainly occur on the bike and only after three hours or so. I do not do too many 3+ hour rides so this is a bit tough to test. Knowing that this may be my last Ironman, I had a bit more of a resolve to finally get some answers. After a bunch of research on the Internet, I finally felt confident that it was a lesser form of Exercise-Induced Asthma. After talking to a doctor he felt like that sounded very plausible, and he would prescribe me an inhaler to see if it helped my symptoms. Of course, all this did not occur until less than a month out from the race, but better late than never. As a quick summary of my results leading up to the race, I had one long ride before race day and I was only able to feel a slight improvement.
For my nutritional issues, I once again tried several different products in the market and did a bunch of reading on the subject. I know there are athletes who can eat nearly anything during a race and be fine. I wish I was one of those. I can do it when I bike tour at a lower level of exertion, but it was a different story when going hard. One of the books that really resonated with me was Allen Lim’s “Feedzone Cookbook.” I really liked the idea of fueling myself with real food. IF you are not familiar with Allen Lim, he is a sport scientist who started the company Skratch Labs using his knowledge from school and real-world practice with some of the best cycling teams around the world. He teamed up with Chef Biju Thomas to write this cookbook, and another book called “Feedzone Portables.” I actually tested Skratch Labs drink mixes for the site a while back and decided to make some of the “portables” to test on my rides to see if this may be a good fit more me. It is hard to replicate the needs of a full Ironman Race but in my workouts, everything went smooth, so I felt ready to give it a shot.
No Ironman is an easy endeavor and for most athletes, they have to juggle the rest of life to get there. Like most, I had to sign up for the race about a year ahead of time and trained for five months leading up to the race. The only problem I had is that life decided to get into the way. In the first month of my training, Melissa and I moved from Bend, Oregon to Broomfield, Colorado just between of Denver and Boulder. While not a bad place to train, it is a bit difficult when moving, starting a new job, and finding your way around. The move essentially cost me a month of my training at some level, but I was not as worried since I had done the distance before so at least I had a base. Training went fairly well once settled in, with only a couple of injuries to deal with along the way. Nothing major, just a sore shoulder from time to time that limited my swimming a bit. The big kicker came in my taper where I got really sick just 2 ½ weeks out from the race. I almost never get sick and think that this was the first time in 3+ years. It ended up costing me about ten workouts, including my last two longer rides where I was going to test my new inhaler. Fortunately, all my fitness gains were behind me, so I was losing only a bit of the familiarity and confidence leading up to the race.
For the race, we decided to drive from Denver to Coeur d’Alene on the Wednesday before the race. It was much cheaper than flying but meant about 16 hours on the road. We rented a house since my family is not too far away, and we had some of them, and some friends come up to be part of the festivities. The lead-up to race day is always a fun time. After doing several non-branded races it was fun to be a part of a full-blown Ironman again. If you have done one, you know what I mean with 2500-3000 athletes competing, it really is something. I had to laugh as we arrived in CdA it was pouring rain. It continued to do so for another day and a half, and even though they said it would clear up for race day; it was hard to be optimistic. The days leading up to the race are filled with going to the expo, and a couple of quick workouts and just hanging around not trying to burn too much energy. It really is perfect for catching up with my family and friends who are also what makes the race so great.
I have done the Coeur d’Alene Ironman once before in 2007. It was my first Ironman and a great experience. Melissa also raced that year and ended up beating me, a fact I have not lived down since. Since that year, the race has changed slightly with a new bike course a small change to the run course. The raced is based out of City Park in Downtown Coeur d’Alene. The swim is a two loop rectangular course that swims directly out from the park. After the transition, the new course still uses the out and back along the lake but instead of going up into Hayden Lake, the course turns onto Highway 95 heading South and does an out and back along the ridgeline West of the lake. The bike course like all the others is a two loop course and besides starting and stopping at the park, it goes by another three times, which is great for spectators. This bike course has a couple of larger hills rather than the small ups and downs of the older course. The run course had also been changed but only slightly. Instead of having a small out and back to the west of the park, that section was removed and added in the section on E. Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive. Essentially this removes a flat section and adds a bit of hills.
Race morning I woke at 4:30 after an okay night’s sleep. This year I decided not to get up as early as races past. I got up and took a quick shower to wake up, which I really did not need other than it just feeling good. Even at 4:30 the adrenaline is already going. I got a couple of things together and had a Kate’s Food Bar for breakfast. Once Melissa was ready we talked a bit with the family and friends who were up early and headed off to the race. Having done this once before makes everything a much calmer experience. We found a parking spot at the local college and headed into transition. I was amazed how early it gets light out. The sun was already up when I got out of bed. There was a little fog over the lake, but it was looking like a great day. Heading into transition the first thing I was excited to see was the lake was nice and smooth. There were no whitecaps like last time. I got body marked and went in to drop off a couple of items on my bike and in my bags. After going through all the last minute checks, I was ready to head out and find my fans. It was about 6:15 by this point, and the pro waves had already started.
This year the pros started much earlier due to the new swim start for Ironman races. The Rolling Swim Start as it is called was going to be used for the first time at Ironman CdA. Previously, this was a mass start which was chaotic but pretty cool to watch. I personally did not mind it as I would seed myself towards the back to avoid the melee. With the new Rolling Swim Start, there would be a steady stream of swimmers starting with about 100 per minute going through the chute. Each swimmer would cross over the timing mat as they entered the water and their time would begin then. Everyone was supposed to self-seed based on estimated swim times. Since I was in the race, I was not watching it, but I heard it still was pretty cool.
I got my wetsuit on and said a couple last minute “good luck’s” before heading down to the swim start. I figured I would be around 80 minutes for the swim, so I seeded myself accordingly. I do not think I was as nervous this time around compared to my other races. Not entirely sure why but I actually felt ready, even if I was maybe not as prepared as I was for Ironman Canada and Silverman. The swim start was not as climatic as before since it had been changed. I cued up in line and slowly made my way to the swim start arch. After about 7 minutes from when the first age-groupers started I made my way onto the course. The start was a bit easier than the typical mass start, but it was still plenty crowded. Through the whole swim I was almost always surrounded by other swimmers but not so much that I got hit or swam over. I tried to stay a bit out from the buoy line and established a good tempo that was not too hard. I had enough to do for the rest of the day that I did not need to tire myself out on the swim. What a difference a couple of years of practice makes. Unlike last time I did CdA, I was able to sight, swam straighter, and did not drink half of the lake. It also helps that there were no white caps. After the first loop, you need to run through a timing mat and back into the water. When I did this, I looked at the clock and did a quick calculation. It was my best swim yet, and I still was feeling good going out on the second loop.
I had been battling a shoulder injury all spring, and I could feel that and just overall strength diminishing slightly on the second loop. I also think that as I tired I was a little more crooked as I had to correct my line a little more. The second loop actually felt faster than the first but when I came into the beach, I saw the clock and realized it was a little slower. I was not sure, but I thought I may have beaten my wife Melissa’s time, and if I did that would be huge. Either way I knew it was my best swim to date, and I was very thrilled about that. Swim time was 1:16:33 and no, I did not beat Melissa. =( The wetsuit strippers are always fun, and I grabbed my bag as I headed into the tent to change. I generally take my time in the transition tent of these longer races as I am not racing for a spot and due to my past issues, finishing would just be great. Heading out on the bike, I was feeling good and ready to see the new course. I made sure to start out on the easier side to help my body transition from swimming to cycling. The first section heads out along the lake and has a small hill that you go over the top of and then come back over on your way back into town. This out and back is only 15 miles. Once I reached the turnaround I started to push a bit harder and established a rhythm that I was planning on using throughout the rest of the ride. Well, as long as I could. At the first aid station I got my first chance to try my idea of filling bottles on the go. I was able to do it, but it was far from ideal, so I decided that I would just stop when I needed a bottle from now on.
Heading through town after the first out and back I saw my family and was feeling great. The course now headed out on Highway 95 for a 41 mile out and back with some descent hills. I was cruising pretty well and had plenty of people around me. Since I am a middle of the pack swimmer and middle of the pack cyclist, I really was never without plenty of athletes around, many that I would leapfrog with throughout the day. I generally would pass a lot of people on the climbs only to get passed by them when I stopped to fill my bottle and use the bathroom. I am not one of those that go on the move; I would rather take a couple of minutes and use the Port-o-Potty. I can see why they do it if they are trying to qualify or win as I had 17 minutes of stopped time according to my computer. As I was heading back into town to start my second loop, I was stilling feeling great and well ahead of my projected pace. In fact, some of my family even missed me coming back trough as I was so early. The second loop continued to feel good, but I could feel some strength leaving me, especially as I headed out for the final 41 mile out and back on Highway 95. Climbing the Mica grade, I was definitely slower than my first time. I was still passing people but not nearly as many. The same can be said about really all the hills. My legs were tiring, my wrists were hurting, and my neck was getting sore. All things I expected especially as I missed lots of time on the bike over the last couple weeks before the race.
While not as fast over the last 41 miles, I still felt fairly good about my performance. The last hill at mile 103 was a pain, but I knew that from the top, it was nearly all downhill to T2. It felt really good heading into T2 knowing I had a good ride and for the first time in a long-distance triathlon, my stomach was not bothering me. My bike took 6:37:26. Once again, I took my time a bit on the transition. I would not say I went slowly, but I also was not trying to go super fast either. I decided to go with a handheld bottle so I could make sure my nutrition was dialed in. It did not take long for this to become annoying. While I started the run really well, I could feel the accumulated fatigue of the day. I think this is also where I was feeling a bit of the missed trainings down the stretch. The first couple miles I was able to keep an 8:30 pace but around mile 3, I needed to slow it down a bit. I had the strategy of walking the aid stations and running between them. This strategy worked well for the first half, but then I started to slow. I was walking through town when I saw my family. I took a moment to stop and talk to them as well as drop off my bottle and nearly everything else I was carrying. At that point, my stomach was feeling good, so I figured I would eat and drink whatever sounded good at that moment.
The second half of the race was definitely on the painful side. It was not so much my stomach as in previous races, this time everything else was hurting for good reasons. I kept on plugging along the best I could; I actually had a good pace during the times I ran and in between them I tried to walk as fast as I could. Eventually, I made it to the turn around and met up with another racer who was having about the same thoughts as me. We ran some sections and walked others. This strategy worked well until we got within reach of the finish line. He was ready to run a bit more than me, so he took off about a mile out. I waited a little more and ran the last half mile. I always like to finish strong so I ran the last quarter mile really hard. It definitely is easier with it being slightly downhill and with such a great crowd. I have to admit that finishing this time felt very sweet. After several failures it really was special. I finished the run in 5:23:23 for a total time of 13:32:02. This was almost a 2 hour improvement on my first time doing this race.
Afterward, I was feeling much better than last time. After taking a short seat and having some chocolate milk, I headed out to see my family and friends. I took a seat and talked with them for a while and after a bit of sweet tea, I was ready to go again. Well not race, but to go gather my things and head back to the house. All in all, it was nice to finally have a good race and feel like I got things figured out. Now I feel much better taking a year off, and I will not be giving up on doing more. I am excited about that. If you have ever thought of doing an Ironman, the Coeur d’Alene is a great one. It has a beautiful course and excellent town support. As always, Your Mileage May Vary.
Gear Used (of note)
- Camaro X-Pulsor Overall Wetsuit – Wow this suit is stretchy. I had plenty of warmth and buoyancy even though the suit is a bit thinner. And did you see my swim time!
- Catlike Mixino Helmet – This helmet fits really well. Not an aero helmet but it vents well.
- Louis Garneau Tri-Lite Shoes – Still feel slightly big. Had to tighten a bit much but liked the breathability.
- Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool SL Jersey – Liked the jersey’s fit and the pockets. Only right under my arms rubbed a bit.
- Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool Tri Short – Opted for the long model for more coverage which I prefer. Was comfortable for the whole ride which says something.
- Smith Optics Pivlock V2 Sunglasses – Wore these for the bike. Like the lack of frame for the aero position. Clarity is excellent with all Smith’s.
- Gregory Tempo HH Bottle – Must say I like the bottle for training but I was too tired to carry anything for the race.
- Pearl Izumi EM Tri N1 Shoes – My foot was hurting from my cycling shoes so the hurt a bit. Do like the transition for a quick turnover. At least when I was running.
- Serfas Force 5 Sunglasses – Wore these for the run as they are smaller and fit well under my hat. I love their fit. Did not need them for the second half of the run as the clouds rolled in.