The Swim (2.4 Miles):
John and I's plan all week was to not over stress our bodies during the race by really watching our pace, and taking some "stretch breaks" on the bike course. This meant not killing ourselves early on the swim (which I've done), so I planned a 1:30 swim based on the fact I usually do between 1:15 and 1:20. So we seeded ourselves in the front of the 1:30-1:45 swim wave corral after a quick immersion in the water to get the shock of cold out of the way (which, by the way, wasn't too bad as Lake Coeur d'Alene warmed up nicely this year. I'd guess the water was in the 64 degree neighborhood, and felt PERFECT!).
Slowly we inched forward as racers in front of us shot through the arch and into the water. In our final moments before our turn, I gave John the customary high five and quote, "Remember this day, John, for it will be yours for all time!", then we were over the timing mat and off.
As I had just previously mentioned, after diving into the lake I immediately had uncrowded water to swim in. It was nice. In my second Ironman race back in 2011, I remember having to get physical with surrounding racers for pretty much the entire swim portion of the race. It was stressful. Not today. I fell into my comfortable, easy paced stroking right off the bat, with little worry of other swimmers. I also noted how calm and clean the lake was. Absolutely no outside influences to challenge us this morning, just pure swimming.
The swim at IM CdA is a two loop course of the same 1.2 mile rectangle with a very short beach run in between. My first loop went great, and as I exited the water to start my second loop I glanced at my watch: 37 minutes! Holy smokes that's fast for me, and I wasn't really even trying hard. I didn't feel taxed at all, so I decided to just keep the exact effort for part two. As I began my second loop, my mind started going to a possible IM swim PR of 1:14. Well, wouldn't you know it, I come up onto three slower side by side swimmers that bunged me up for a bit, until I just decided to go to the outside and pass them. That and a small sighting issue at the second loop's turn around (which was directly into the sun by that point of the morning) brought an end to a possible PR. Oh well. It still went great, and I came out of the water in a respectable one hour and nineteen minutes. But more importantly, I didn't feel tired or dizzy (OK. OK. In my initial run strides out of the lake, I didn't give enough time for my legs to wake up after being horizontal for so long, and I may have stumbled into one of the Ironman photographers, knocking him over into the sand. Hey, during an Ironman shit happens. What can I say?)
Once the wetsuit strippers took care of me, I went through the rows of T1 bags and found mine. Off to my left, I heard, "Hey, T.J.! Woo Hoo!". It was John's girlfriend, Penny, his mom, John's son and daughter, and Penny's son. Always very cool to have a cheering section.
I opted to do all of my changing outside of the tent for a few reasons. First of all, prior to the race I took John into it just so he could be familiar with it's layout, and it was already HOT in there. So because it was a gorgeous morning, outside was just fine. Also, it was very dark in there, so staying outside was a good call for a quick, orderly change into bike clothes.
After stuffing my T1 bag with my wetsuit, goggles, and cap, I dropped it off with a volunteer, then went over to the sunscreen ladies for an application of lotion. OUCH! This was my first burning sting on the raw cut I got on the back of my neck from my wetsuit rubbing during the whole swim. No big deal because honestly it only hurt during the day when I got sunscreen put on me.
Into the bike racking area to get "The Fly", a little jog to the mount line, and we were off!
The Bike (112 Miles):
The bike course at IM CdA is also a two loop affair, with each loop broken up into a shorter roughly 14 mile out-and-back along the eastern side of Lake Coeur d'Alene, and a longer roughly 42 mile out-and back along the western side of the lake. So John and I referred to these sections as the "short loop" and the "long loop".
After mounting my bike, we had to weave around some of the downtown streets a bit to get out to the main road. I'm not joking when I say every inch of that first mile was covered with screaming fans. I soak all of that in when I'm racing, and loved every second of it.
The first section doing the small loop was nice because it was the section that included our exact road we would do the run on, it just went out a bit further to the turn around. The small loop really only had a few short climbs to challenge us with, and at the top of the steepest of these, a group of bagpipers serenaded us as we ground our way up the incline. Very cool stuff! Also, it was during this loop I saw John zip by going the other way, and was happy he looked so strong on "Big Red". His swim went very well too.
The first small loop went by quickly, and soon I was back in town going through the streets of loudly cheering crowds to get to the long loop.
Boy, was the long loop different from the short loop. And by different, I mean really frickin' tough! Right away, once we got onto Highway 95 (which was the road for the entire loop) there was a little bit of hills, then BOOM, the monster climb we'd have to do twice today. Not that it was super steep, but it was just a very long trudge up 6-7 percent grades. The road kept winding, and each time we'd make a turn I'd look ahead and only see more climbing. Eventually that climb ended, and we had a bit more hill sections to pedal, but each of those meant a fast descent going the other way. Down the monster climb on the return trip, I hit 49mph! When biking hills, you take the good with the bad. I did stop once on this loop to stretch out a bit, use a porta-potty, and mix up a nutrition bottle (which were going perfectly, for any of you who read my very unpleasant Ironman Texas race report from last year).
After another shot through town with crowd induced enthusiasm, we started the second loop. All exactly the same, except maybe a little tougher with muscle exhaustion setting in. That steep climb was a bit tougher on the second go around, and I really appreciated the bagpipers this time. Also, bike special needs was at the turnaround for the second short loop at mile 63, so I grabbed my bag, made up one of the bottles I had readied with powder, got more sunscreen on, did a bit of stretching, and was off.
The second long loop was very tough for me by this point in the race. When I think back, everything before this was a blur. All I really remember was that last 42 miles. It was now getting hot out, and the toll of the day made those climbs way harder than just a few hours earlier. But, there are only two ways off that bike: quit or finish. So grind along I did, making one last stop at about mile 90 to stretch and make up my last nutrition bottle.
Oh, here's where I want to shout out to the IM CdA volunteers. Top notch! Great, caring, enthusiastic people who took really good care of us, tending to anything we needed. At this mile 90 aid station, for example, when I dismounted, a volunteer was right there to hold my bike, while another saw I needed water to mix my drink so he went running off to get me a cold bottle. I didn't have to move an inch. Joe and Max. I asked their names to thank them properly, and high fived them before taking off.
That last 20 miles were pretty fun as its mostly downhill into town. Coming around the lake and seeing the resort near IM transition about three miles away brought a smile to my face, as this part of the day was almost done.
I zoomed up to bike dismount, gave my bike a "well done" slap, and handed her off to a bike handler. Gingerly I jogged through the T2 bags to grab mine (my legs were a bit rubbery), and into the tent I went.
With the tent vented out and shady, it was much cooler inside, and it felt great to sit down to get my running gear on. I stole a glance at my Garmin and saw that I was at 9:07 race time, which meant that if I could pull together a little over a five hour marathon, I'd have an Ironman PR.
All set, I headed out of the tent, got sunscreened again (OUCH!), made up another nutrition bottle, and hit the run course.
The Run (26.2 Miles)
Good Lord, I felt great! Could this possibly be happening? The elusive comfortable Ironman run I've been searching for? I don't know if it was real, or just the energy from the huge crowds in town, but I settled into a nice pace and kept going for about three miles.
Then that all ended.
I had been sipping on my nutrition bottle from my fuel belt, and at aid station #2 got a little water to take a salt tablet with. Well, I didn't get twenty steps from that aid station before I suddenly experienced a pre-vomit wretch, followed shortly by a full blown vomit attack. Anything in my stomach was gone. I still felt OK, so I kept jogging on. But like a car running out of gas, I kept slowing down until I was barely able to maintain walking speed. All of this before Mile 3 of the marathon. Bye bye, PR dreams!
I tried a bunch more times in that first loop to get some calories in me, but each time ended with the same vomit attack, and no energy getting to my already depleted muscles. Not a fun way to spend the first 13.1 mile loop.
What was fun was when John caught up to me around mile 12. He looked very strong, but was cool enough to walk with me until the turn around in town. It was just nice to have some company for a little while, and had I asked, I'm positive John would have stayed with me until the end. But he had a great race going, so I told him I was fine, and urged him to finish his epic day strong. So with a high five, John took off at the turn around.
Remember, in town, and especially the turn around, the crowds were plentiful. So I found it very humbling to trudge past them in my condition. The crowds, however, showed a level of admiring encouragement like I've never seen. Hundreds (and I really mean hundreds) of people shouted pure encouragement my way. With our names on our race bibs, they could get personal. All the way through town I heard things like, "Way to go, TJ", "Looking good, TJ", and "That's it, TJ, keep moving forward, you got this". Every single comment helped lift my spirits a bit, and made me smile.
The second run loop was much worse for me physically. Not only were my leg muscles now cramping up from lack of fuel, but also because my shoes are built for running, not walking, a blister on my left foot formed and started to sting (later at home, when I finally undressed, I'd find a bloodied sock that looked straight out of a horror movie). Dehydration was setting in big time, as my mouth felt bone dry. I eventually got so fed up with my dry mouth that at each aid station from about mile 16 to mile 23, I'd just chug three cups of water to enjoy the feeling of it wetting my mouth and throat before puking it up a few minutes later (which also felt good, because it was just pure water coming out the other way).
Going up the big hill at Mile 18, I saw John coming down the other way on his way back into town. This brought out a huge smile from me as I opened up and gave him a big hug saying, "You got this, John. Go get it, Ironman!" With a pat on the back, he was off to finish his epic day and enjoy that finish line.
It then occurred to me that I've never been this close to missing a time cut off. When this happens, you start doing a lot of math using time, distance, and pace. I kept coming up with having 45 minutes to spare. Turns out I needed it, because I had a nasty muscle spasm attack in my quads around mile 22 that I needed to stop to stretch out.
I did a bunch of thinking about my wife and kids in those dark, lonely miles coming back in. Their sacrifice for this race was incredible, and I'd be damned if I wasn't bringing that medal back home to them.
Also, I thought a lot about last year's defeat at Ironman Texas. After I officially DNF'ed and Susie missed the run time cut off, we dejectedly made it back to our hotel room to crash. Well, that room overlooked the finish line there in the Woodlands, so for a couple hours we laid there trying to sleep while just outside Mike Reilly was welcoming racers into the finish line while the crowd cheered. It tore me up. I was so jealous of those Ironmen outside getting to that line before midnight, and there was no freaking way I wasn't going to be one of them this year.
I did feel sorry for some of the racers who were still going out as I was around the 23 mile marker. The sag wagon went by with a guy calling out to them, "You have an hour to get to the turnaround". These people looked worse than I did. I hope they made it.
My worst temptation came as I made my way through the neighborhoods near town in those last miles. With my body completely out of fuel, my legs and blister on fire, and total exhaustion closing in on me, all I wanted to do was sprawl out in someone's yard on top of their fluffy grass and lay down. Just for a minute. I had to slap my own face to clear my head of this thought....it would have been a huge mistake. I'd have fallen asleep like I did during my race last year, and for sure would have missed the seventeen hour cut off. Thankfully, the closer to town I got, the less tired and tempted I became as the noise at the finish line celebration grew louder and louder.
Well, take enough steps and you'll get to where you're going. After passing many spectators saying, "Almost there", I was there. IM CdA has a really cool final quarter mile downhill on Sherman Street straight into the finishers chute. I made the left hand turn onto Sherman, saw the finish line in the distance, and fed off of all the spectators lining the street. The body is an incredible machine when fed on adrenaline. I actually started to run, acknowledging everyone cheering from the sides by clapping my hands and giving some thumbs up. Once in the chute, I gave a huge jumping fist pump to fire up everyone in the bleachers, went side to side for some high fives, and crossed that glorious finish line with a victorious roar! Thirty six minutes to spare.
My Ironman Coeur d'Alene, though not completely sexy, was a success.
I actually got my medal awarded to me by the men's pro winner, Ben Hoffman, who was really cool to chat with me a bit before my finish line handlers took me to get my finishers shirt and hat, get my finishers photo, and take me to the food. I was instantly met by a very happy new Ironman, my buddy John, and our group. We all just sat down in the grass while John and I relaxed. I guess because I finished so late, the pizza was pretty old tasting (even for my hungry body), but the Sprite tasted like liquid gold to me, so I quickly drank two cans (keeping it down as I was sitting now). Penny got some good pictures of our group, then we all made it back to our house.
After the adrenaline of finishing the race wore off, I was glad to be home, because I crashed hard on the couch, while John hit the recliner. It was cool to sit there and recount our race experience to each other until the day's toll on our bodies took over. We slept like babies that night.
Unfortunately, I had to be up early to fly home the next day, but John and his mom got up to have some coffee with me, then we said our goodbyes, wrapping up one of the best weekends of my life (the only thing that could have been better is having my family there with me). I'm confident we'll experience another weekend like this, though, because John was already asking which Ironman race I'd want to meet him at in the future. You know someone has caught the Ironman Bug when they're talking about the next one not nine hours after finishing their last one. Ha!
Great great great race venue!
Last updated: 2013-06-28 12:00 AM
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Travel to Coeur d'Alene was smooth and uneventful, as I was able to make it in time to see John's kids run the Ironkids One Miler event on that Thursday afternoon. Pretty cool to watch all of those kids get excited during the race and at the finish line.
Coeur d'Alene is about thirty miles east of Spokane, WA, just inside of Idaho. This whole part of the country is gorgeous, and CdA is no different. We've got great sights in Georgia, but nothing like this. I was constantly just looking off into the distance, admiring the view. Even during the race, I stole glances when I could.
The people of CdA make this race special. I thought the town of St George, Utah had the best race support, but no, that title now goes to CdA. From traffic cops wishing me "good luck" as I crossed the street in the days leading up to the race, to TSA agents high fiving me in the security line as I left Spokane (CdA's sister city) when they saw my finishers shirt, race participants felt completely backed by everybody.
This being my fifth attempt at an Ironman, I'd like to think I've got race week down pat, so it was pretty cool to be there while John was experiencing his first. I've done these races alone, and it's no fun. Having John and his family there to help out (btw, Mrs Hallos makes a kick ass banana bread that paired nicely with my coffee), and to be there for John to bounce questions off of while helping him through the logistics of race check in/prep was nice. I think that made for a much less stressful experience for both of us.
We ate very well in the days leading up to the race (John's girlfriend made a phenomenal salmon salad the night before the event), we packed our gear and special needs bags properly, bike check in was smooth, and plenty of sleep in the days leading up to the start meant very little stress for us.
Up at 3am for some yogurt, oatmeal, coffee, and Gatorade. I actually woke up hungry, so it all went down nicely. Dressed for the race, final special needs bags checked, and John and I were out the door at 4:45am for the ten minute walk to transition.
**** I'd like to note here that IM CdA has the absolute best race logistics ever! Everything was close and in one area. There were no buses to get shuttled on. No long walk to swim start. Nothing like that. Absolutely my recommendation for a logistically stress free race.*****
After getting bags dropped off, we got our nutrition on our bikes, pumped tires, and found a spot on the grass to just chill until we'd need to get into our wetsuits and over to swim start. Here's where I'd like to comment on how cool John stayed all week. For a first Ironman event, John showed no signs of stress or worry. Even on this race morning, we stayed loose and jovial, unlike many of the people around us. They started the pro men and women very early so that they'd be able to finish their first swim loop prior to the age groupers starting.
Also, this event marked the first time Ironman was trying out a rolling swim start for the age groupers. This means that they had an inflatable arch with a timing mat that they herded us through in a stream of athletes rather than the classic mass swim start Ironman is associated with. So that started at 6:35 am, and we got into the water based in seeded groups you put yourself into depending on your estimated personal swim time in increments of 15 minutes.
OK, here's what I liked and didn't like about this new method of Ironman swim starts:
I didn't like losing the "sexy" canon shot induced mass swim start. There's something to be said about that being part of the Ironman experience. However, I liked that right off the bat, even though they pushed a lot of racers over the timing mat at one time, you were never really crowded in a stressful bunch of swimmers with flailing arms and legs. I had pretty good water for my entire 2.4 mile swim.
A lot of complaints have been made about this switch by Ironman, but honestly, I think it's mostly coming from the hard core age groupers. My thinking for them is, hey, start way in front with the other hard cores and get over it. They'd still have to swim around slower swimmers on their second loop (though, yes, there'd now be more of them), and let's face it, for all other racers it made for a more stress-free, comfortable swim.