I’m very thankful to have finished and the experience was incredible. I learned far more from this race than I have in other races that I was actually able to “race.” I learned that we are really able to accomplish more than we think we can. I also learned that we are capable of going from feelings of total despair to optimism in a matter of minutes…if you are just willing to endure a little.
This is my third Ironman finish, and not my fastest time but I am actually most of proud of this result. A few weeks ago I didn’t even think I’d be able to race. I was just planning on doing the swim. However, a couple of weeks ago I decided to give it a shot after my doctor told me that my knee wouldn’t have any permanent damage to it if I decided to race.
The inflammation in my knee might “hurt like hell” but it wouldn’t cause any tears or breaks….so I got the green light. Mentally, this made all the difference as it just became a game of pacing and seeing how I could manage my energy during the day and keep the pressure off my left knee.
It was also great to have over a dozen people from my team, VO2 Multisport, racing and spectating. It makes all the difference to know people who will be out on the course. It can provide motivation that keeps you going for miles and miles, just knowing someone will be there expecting to see you.
Here’s how it all went down:
I arrived at in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on Thursday around 5pm. My accommodations were SUPER DELUXE. I mean that. They were THE BEST ACCOMMODATIONS EVERY. You see, I am a Product Planning Lead at Microsoft by day, but by night in my personal life I do practically no planning WHATSOEVER. The week before the race I still hadn’t sorted out where I would stay. Browsing the interwebs I came across a nondescript ad with no photo mentioning an “RV” trailer available. I gave the guy a call and he seemed super nice and sent me some photos. SCORE! The place was awesome, cheap and located on an acre of lawn less than 1/2 mile from the race start! The perfect spot. The owner also had this super cool golden lab that I got to play around with.
I dropped my bike and gear off in the RV and went down to the race start area, which is a beach right in downtown. Immediately I saw at least 30-40 triathletes swimming or hanging around the beach or lawn. Many had just gotten done swimming and everyone was talking about how cold and choppy the water was.
I threw on my wetsuit and dropped in for a 20 minute swim. It was frigid! Even coming from swimming Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish it was cold. The chop was also very bad. I got out of the water and definitely feeling like the swim would NOT be the cake-walk I was expecting.
My original race plan called for an hour-long bike ride, but given that it was getting late, I went to get some dinner and hit the sack early for the night after sorting out my gear.
I did a short 30 minute bike ride along and out and back section to Higgins Point along the edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene. I was very cold at 8am, and I was biking in toe-covers, a warm jacket and leg warmers. I was thinking that I should re-assess my race uniform and wear a long sleeve shirt on the bike. I went out and bought a cheap one at a local sporting goods store for $15. I planned on wearing it for 20-30 miles on race day until it warmed up and them taking it off.
The rest of the day entailed registering for the race and walking around the Race Expo. The were all kinds of interesting bikes on display and other gadgetry.
In the evening I headed out to a VO2 Multisport member’s home for a dinner with a bunch of people. It was nice to catch up with people and gorge on pasta, salad and cookies! For those of you thinking of racing a marathon or triathlon, remember that the key carbo-load dinner is NOT the night before the race…it is two nights before! This given the food time to digest and get into your muscles.
Saturday morning starting with a mini race-rehearsal with the VO2 Team. We all met at 9am and did (more or less) a 10-20 minute swim, 30-45 min ride and 10-20 minute run. My workout was on the low-end of the scale. The water was feeling a little warmer and it wasn’t very choppy.
After the rehearsal I ate some lunch and gathered my gear bags to check-in. At an Ironman race, you check in your Bike and Swim-Bike and Bike-Run bags the day before the race. You can put other things in them on race morning but this ensures that there are no lines/bottlenecks on race-day.
- Swim: Tyr Hurricane Wetsuit, Aquasphere goggles and two swim caps. I wore two caps for extra warmth. I wore a Timex Ironman Watch during the entire race as well.
- Swim/Bike Bag: Bike shoes with toe covers (I kept these on the whole ride), helmet, sunglasses, 2 packs of GU Chomps, 1 gel flask with 500 calories of gel, 1 tube of endurolytes tablets for electrolytes.
- Bike: 2010 Cervelo P3 w/ Williams Aero Wheels (80 MM deep wheels) + PowerTap. I used an XLAB bottle cage off the pack and XLAB food pouch near the head tube to store my endurolytes and GU Chomps.
- Bike special needs bag: 2 packs of GU Chomps, 1 gel flask, 1 GU packet
- Bike/Run Bag: Brooks Racer shoes, gel flask with 500 calories (I didn’t use it), visor
- Run special needs bag: 2 GU Chomps, 2 GU gel packets (I didn’t use any of this stuff)
- Other Run Gear: I used my watch to take splits for the first half-marathon at every mile. After that, I stopped caring about time and just focused on finishing :) .
As per my race plan, my fueling strategy was simple and focused on pure sugar (no protein consumption) and plenty of water:
- Consume 300 calories per hour on the bike. Use a mix of Hammer Gel and GU Chomps.
- Consume 2 Hammer Endurolytes per hour on the bike (more if it was getting hot).
- Consume 1-2 bottles per hour on bike (1 if cool, 2 if hot – I ended up consuming 1 bottle/hr).
- Consume 2-4oz of Coke and few sips of water/ice at every aid station on the run.
Sunday: Race Day!
I slept surprisingly well in the RV, and the three alarms I had set assured a swift 4am wake-up. I ate a cliff bar and drank a bottle of water (with Nuun) and laid around until 5am. I gathered my things and walked the 1/2 mile to a coffeshop for a small Americano, and was at the transition area by 6am.
I went to my transition bags and put some more stuff in them, then found a spot on the grass and did some light stretching. It was funny to see people already wearing their wetsuits at 6:15am! 45 minutes is a long time to be sitting around in neoprene.
I did some push-ups and yoga to warm up, and donned my wetsuit by 6:40am and joined the masses on the beach. It was a HUGE swim start. 2500 people is a lot of people! My last ironman had 1600 people and this felt far bigger I decided to position myself towards the front and in the middle of the crowd. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck behind a bunch of slower swimmers.
The Swim: …a Combat Sport
Promptly at 7am the gun went off and all hell broke loose. People were incredibly aggressive in the swim, which amazed me given how long a day it would be. I was punched by a half-dozen different people, grabbed by several and dunked by one – all in the first 500 yards. I swam fairly conservative and at one point actually swam to the outer edge of the pack to find some calmer water.
In retrospect I should have placed myself more towards the far side of the beach, and stood a few rows further back.
The swim course was two loops around a big rectangle, making all left turns. The first left turn was nuts since you had a very wide pack of swimmers all attempting to converge and make a tight corner.
I kept my pace controlled, and aside from worrying about getting kicked or pulled, stayed calm and my breathing was controlled the entire time.
I emerged from the first lap in 35 minutes, did a short run on the beach and jumped back in for my second lap.
The second lap was far calmer, and I focused on drafting and staying relaxed. Coming out of the water, there was a short run along the beach into the transition area.
Time = 1:16:35. I expected my swim to be 1:05-10 and my last swim at IMCDA in 2003 was 1:01. 1:16 was surprisingly slow but the day was long and I wasn’t worried too much about it.
I ran into transition and had my wetsuit stripped (yes, they have wetsuit strippers at these races! You sit on the ground and they yank it off), grabbed my transition bag and headed into the changing tent. One mistake I made was to not wear my racing uniform (a 1 piece DeSoto triathlon uniform) under my wetsuit. Putting this on took FOREVER and it kept getting stuck on my arms and legs. At least 5 minutes were lost here. Amazing how slow you move when your body is freezing. My total T1 time was 8 minutes or so….which is a LOT of time.
The Bike: Staying Relaxed
The bike was the biggest wildcard of this entire race. I knew deep down that if I could make if through the bike I would finish the race. I know how to gut out a marathon even if it means power walking it. My knee was the biggest factor. I hadn’t tested it with a ride over a few hours in several months, and really didn’t know what would happen.I had an amazing knee tape job (with kineseo-tape) by a PT before the race. This ended up being a huge help.
My strategy was to race with my powermeter as a guide. This device basically measure wattage produced and with appropriate testing during training, can give an indication of how hard or easy you should it. During an Ironman race, the goal for me is to ride steadily at 70-75% of the watts that I could hold for 1 hour during a time trial (this is 175 watts). Based on previous testing I had done, this meant I needed to keep my power between 122-132 watts for the entire race. On uphills this means I need to spin in an easy gear and take it easy, and push hard on the downhills and flats instead of coasting. Given the issues with my knee, I decided to go even easier, and stay between 118-125 watts. If I felt good, I would pick it up for the second loop of the 2 loop bike course. WISHFUL THINKING as this didn’t end up happening.
Starting the ride I felt quite good. A little cold, but it warmed up quickly and I didn’t need to wear arm-warmers or a long sleeve shirt, but was glad I had my toe-covers on. There were so many athletes on the course that everyone was pretty much riding in a single ginormous pack for the first 30 miles or so! Since my bike ride is comparatively slower than my swim, people were passing me almost the entire time on the bike course.
After about 90 minutes of riding, my fueling strategy was working well. Gel and chomps with water. I took 2 endurolytes per hour. It wasn’t very hot but since Hammer Gel doesn’t have sodium, I took the endurolytes anyway.
After about two hours I started feeling my knee. It was a dull ache and I intentionally slowed to keep it from flaring up. After three hours, the pain got worse, almost like a stabbing pain on the medial side of my knee. It was really worried at this point. I tried adjusting my bike position and stretching while riding by it wouldn’t go away.
After 50 miles of riding, on my way back into town to start the second loop of the race, I was certain that I would need to drop out. I couldn’t fathom riding another 56 miles with this kind of pain.
Riding by the transition area, for some reason I don’t really know….I decided to just keep pedaling for another 10 miles to see what happened.
One think I have learned from racing a few ultra-marathons over the past year, is just when you think things cannot possibly get any worse….they don’t….and they actually start getting better!
Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn -Harriet Beecher Stowe
The road was pretty flat and I focused on pedaling more with my right leg (which felt fine) instead of my left. I kept riding in this way and eventually (after 70 miles) the pain subsided almost completely!
I really cannot explain why this happened, but my knee basically felt numb (like I had iced it) and the pain was gone. I continued to ride and aside from some stiffness in my lower back and neck, felt OK through the remainder of the 112 mile course. Every 20 minutes I would stand and do some “cat and cow” yoga poses while riding to loosen up my back.
My second lap was much slower, not much I could do about that. On the plus-side my nutrition was spot-on and I came off the bike feeling totally fine. Measurements from my power meter:
- My first lap took 3:12 @ 120 average watts (140 normalized)
- My second lap took 3:32 @ 108 average watts (126 normalized)
- Total bike time was ~6:45 @ 114 average watts (133 normalized)
The Run: more like a “shuffle”
My transition was pretty quick, and I walked out of transition (intentionally) for about 200 yards and then started a slow jog. I felt very good and came through the first mile in 8:50 – which was far too fast. I was planning to hit 10 minutes miles for the first half of the run (including walking every aid station) and then run 9 min/miles for the second half.
The next few miles also came through around 9 min/mile pace and I forced myself to slow down to around 9:30-10min/mile pace with brief walk breaks at each aid station.
Here’s how the run went down (2 loops of a 13.1 mile course):
- Miles 1-3: Felt really great and ended up going out a little too fast.
- Miles 3-10: Felt good still, fueled completely on Coke (at each aid station) with a little water. Pace slowed a little to 10 min miles. Coke is amazing and I’m glad I started drinking it right away on the run.
- Miles 10-13.1: Starting to feel more tired, but still able to jog and took short walk-breaks between aid stations.By the time I hit the half-way point I knew I would finish the race no matter what which was a huge relief.
- Miles 13.1-20: Painful! I ended up walking 2/3’s of this section. It was really tough. My knee didn’t bother me at all really, my legs were just totally dead and the bottoms of my feet were super sore from all the pounding. I never knew it was possible to run so slow…it’s called the “Ironman Shuffle”…I was barely picking my feet of the ground…but still moving faster than a walk – so it counts as running! The pic below is photographic evidence of what a “shuffle” looks like.
- Miles 20-26.2: I ended up seeing some team-mates, and also a friend that was competing. This gave me a big boost and I ran about half of this stretch. It was slow but at least I ran!
The last few miles of the run were impossibly hard. You’d think having run 50 miles just a few months ago I could at least jog the last 5K in, but it was impossible. I jogged about 400 yards and walked for 30 seconds….repeat, repeat, repeat. I ran the last half-mile, and took the time to make sure noone was around me so I could get a good finish picture :)
The marathon ended up being an over 5 hour affair, not the 4 hours I planned. Whatever, I finished and am happy with that!
|1259||32||Bellevue WA USA||Management|
|TOTAL SWIM||2.4 mi. (1:16:35)||2:00/100m||825||112|
|BIKE SPLIT 1: 34.2 mi||34.2 mi (1:56:07)||17.67 mi/h|
|BIKE SPLIT 2: 90.2 mi||56 mi (3:27:22)||16.20 mi/h|
|BIKE SPLIT 3: 112 mi||21.8 mi (1:20:36)||16.23 mi/h|
|TOTAL BIKE||112 mi (6:44:05)||16.63 mi/h||1272||157|
|RUN SPLIT 1: 6.6 mi||6.6 mi (1:02:51)||9:31/mi|
|RUN SPLIT 2: 13.4 mi||6.8 mi (1:14:25)||10:56/mi|
|RUN SPLIT 3: 19.5 mi||6.1 mi (1:29:43)||14:42/mi|
|RUN SPLIT 4: 26.2 mi||6.7 mi (1:25:41)||12:47/mi|
|TOTAL RUN||26.2 mi (5:12:40)||11:56/mi||1268||166|
After finishing, I spent some time talking with a friend who also just finished, got a post-race massage, grabbed pizza and found grass to lay in. I stayed in that spot for a good 30 minutes – totally catatonic! I felt surprisingly good but didn’t want to move. Eventually I got up, got my bags and bike, and headed back to my RV where I showered, took a short nap and then headed back to the race finish to cheer on the final athletes who finished between 11pm and midnight. The energy during the last hour of an Ironman is ABSOLUTELY INSANE! It is inspiring to see what people are able to do and all walks of life crossed that line…old, young and all shapes and sizes.
I am convinced that the key to racing Ironman (or any endurance race) is STAYING HEALTHY!
All the fancy gear and training is worthless unless you are healthy enough to race comfortably. Nutrition and pacing strategies also matter but I’m really coming away from this race experience with a new appreciation for how important it is to be healthy come race day. In the future if I have to decide between training more and doing some PT/therapy/yoga or self-care to heal my body…I know what I am going to choose. There is also a whole bunch of exercises I’ll be doing to strengthen my joints/soft tissue to prevent future injury.
First priority is to get my knee 100% healthy and also remedy the plantar fascia issues that I’ve had since the Copper Canyon race in March. I want to do another Iron-distance race this year to take advantage of the fitness I’ve built up and there are a few events I have my eye on, more to come on that.