2.4 Mile Swim | 112 Mile Bike | 26.2 Run | 17 Hours
The days leading up to the race were generally cloudy and very windy. The one practice swim early Friday morning proved to be more of a hindrance than a help. The water was sooooo cold (56-58 degrees) that I could not keep from dwelling on how I would cope with “the swim”. Yes I could do the distance. Yes I had done the training. But … I was very nervous given how much time I expected to be in the water. Friday and Saturday passed with plenty of rest, lots of eating and drinking, and far too much time thinking. I watched as many others spent time on their bikes, running and even swimming. Oh how I wanted to go, but I needed to relax. There was nothing more I could do except get to the start line.
Sunday – Race day
The day started at 4:00am. Well it started earlier because sleep was something that was very sporadic Saturday evening. 4:45 Everyone fell into the car and headed to “transition” – the place where all the equipment and clothing changes would take place, swim to bike, bike to run. After arriving and loading the bike with water bottles, the tire valve stem snapped while I was pumping air into the front tire. ARRRRG! Thankfully there were several bike mechanics in transition that graciously put in a new tube. (I did not need the stress). With the bike set, I now set out to place my special needs bag (I only chose to place one bag for the run – mile 14) in the drop zone. These bags would be taken out on the course and made available later in the day. Now, with nothing else to do but to keep hydrating, stay warm, and wait for the pro’s to start. As the pro’s were getting settled it was time to don the wetsuit. With the morning temp at 46 you did not want to spend too much time without clothes. A quick entry into the wetsuit, and a final check for all items, goggles, timing chip, neoprene cap and race swim cap. CHECK.
The gun went off at 6:25 for the field of Pro’s, 22 men and women. As the rest of the age groupers (2400) watched, they disappeared into the lake. Thirty minutes later only a few of the pro’s had made the first loop. As the gun sounded at 7:00 am for the main field, several of the pro’s were caught in the washing machine of thousands of age group swimmers.
Did I mention the water was COLD? It was freezing. The only way I could imagine training for this would have been sitting in ice baths for several weeks leading up to the race. Too late, swim fast and get it done. The swim was crowded. It was tough finding a steady stream of clean water to get into a stroke rhythm for the first 10 minutes. As the better swimmers went out front, things calmed down. As we approached the first turn buoy, about ½ mile out in the lake, things really tightened up. With the number of athletes trying to get around without swimming extra, it was just about an all stop. After the turn you were heading directly into the sun making siting the next turn buoy a real challenge. Once again the turn was congested. For the first time in the lake I was bit panicked and rolled to my back as I settled down my heart rate. Rolling back over after 10 seconds I began the swim back to shore for lap one. As I approached the beach, about a ¼ mile out, you could hear the crowds cheering, and the music rockin’. Great motivation! Everyone was required to exit the water and run through the timing arch to begin lap two. The beach section was about 15 feet. 40 minutes – done, back into the water. By this time I could feel my legs starting to cramp from the cold. My hands and feet had been numb for a while. Gloves were not allowed and I did not have any swim booties. Counting the bouys I headed back out. I made it around the turns much easier the second time, knowing what to expect. Making the final turn to home was a relief. The cold water was taking effect. My legs were cramped and I knew I needed to get into the beach as quickly as possible. My swimming stroke and form was sloppy. Each stroke was a challenge. All I wanted to do at this point was to get out of the water.
The swim was clearly my weakest skill and the one discipline I could not stop thinking about especially after the practice swim three days earlier. Saturday night was spent praying and asking for the strength and ability to survive the water. As I lay in bed, pondering the day ahead, I was reassured that yes, God would be with me throughout the whole swim. It would be okay. Trust, believe, and act accordingly. Throughout the whole swim, I knew people were praying for me. I knew God was right there in the water. I was at peace more than I had ever been in any swim in any other race. Thank God! As I exited the water I struggled to stand.
Did I mention that the water was COLD?
I proceeded into transition and had my wetsuit ripped off of me by the volunteer “Strippers”. It was a good thing because my hands forgot how to function. In fact, I needed help putting on my bike jersey, and was barely able to put on my socks. I was told the temperature had risen already to 68 degrees by 8:45 – YEAH. Seventeen minutes later I headed out to the bike with my standard bike gear, plus gloves and arm warmers.
A Bike Ride In The Hills
It was easy to find my bike from the numbered racks. It sat solo on my rack. Most everyone in my row/age group was out ahead of me. I was okay with that, I was finally out of the water and ready to warm up. The bike course started with a trip through downtown CDA, where the crowds lined the street screaming and shouting all the participants onward. As we left the downtown area we preceded through a few residential streets. Again many people just parked on the side of the rode as if to watch a fourth of July parade. No candy, no sirens, just men and women flying past them on a bike. Next the course took us out along Lake Coeur d’Alene.
We traveled about 5.5 miles winding along the lake until we turned around at Higgins point. We returned through the same residential and city streets until we turned north and headed for Hayden Lake. The first fifteen miles was full of energy. The crowds, the music, and pure adrenaline from the race, and the warmth of the sun felt great. However, I was not ready to peel the arm-warmers and gloves because my feet were just starting to get some feeling. All I could think about on the ride out town was what God had said to me the evening before. “Relax! You will be fine during the swim.” I thanked Him for His peace and for all the people I knew were praying for me, even if they did not know why. Prayer made a difference. Now that I turned north the crowds began to thin quickly. The road north was a busy artery which was only partially closed, that is to say one of two lanes were dedicated to the bike course. The other allowed traffic to flow. At every intersection there were Police directing and controlling traffic. The course was well marked. You would have had to have your eyes closed to miss a turn on this one. Alas, Thursday morning Lisa-Marie and I drove the bike course and scouted the turns and hills. I was not going to make the same mistake as Knoxville.
Around Hayden Lake the roads transformed from flats to hills in a very short time. The views were amazing, the rolling hills, winding past a private golf course, through more residential lakefront homes. This reminded me of biking around the north side of Houghton and Higgins Lake in North/Central Michigan. By this time the athletes had spread way out. There was clear pacing and not the congested areas on the out and back of downtown. The roads in this section were completely shut off from all vehicle traffic. This helped when it came to navigating some of the speedy, technical downhills. Finally around mile twenty-five I had enough of the gloves and arm-warmers, so off they came. After several more short rollers came what they in CDA deemed “The Wall”. This was a short half mile climb with three false flats with approximately a 10% grade. This was a piece of cake compared to the East Jordan, Michigan hill called “The Wall” ( a 3 mile climb that starts slow and gradually gets steeper. The final stretch starts at 12% and shoots straight to 18%) Those who have gone through East Jordon know what I’m talking about. Once at the top we were treated with a long downhill to fly down. These hills were not finished. Still heading north we entered the farmlands. This is where several of the downhill’s ended with an abrupt 90 degree turn into another uphill . Oh well we paid for this fun. By this time we had joined roads where bikers were seen going both ways. Those coming at you were clearly better swimmers and stronger riders. Once again there was a great long steady downhill right into the second bike turn-around at mile 34 (bike split 1). Soooo, coming from almost a complete stop you now had the privilege to climb for three miles. Remember I could have picked Florida (The bike course is flat as a pancake). No complaints, I was going to get to repeat this on lap two. This was just a recon mission. As I moved around the course, through several aid stations where the volunteers were all very friendly and helpful, I gathered additional supplies i.e. water, perform (similar to Gatorade, but much less sugar), gu, bananas. Keeping fueled for this adventure was key during the bike ride. This was my time to take in calories. Every water bottle I had contained about 275 calories. I started with 40oz of Gatorade mounted in a speedfil bottle, 2 Gu’s, and 1 Cliff bar, which I had started eating about mile six. By the time I had reached mile forty I was feeling really good. As I looked behind me there came a motorcade with flashing lights.
Behind the police escort, was a second motor bike with a cameraman hanging off the back. No he wasn’t coming to take pictures of me, this was the race leader passing me at mile forty. He was on his second loop and at almost mile ninty-six (he came by me on an uphill like I was standing still. I was thinking this would be a tough way to make a living. And it was a good thing I wasn’t. As the pro disappeared into the distance, I came to a long straight section which was now headed back towards town. A couple of turns later I was cheered on by my race support crew, Lisa-Marie, Michael, and David. They had waited patiently at this corner for about an hour, only to see me for a brief second. No stopping to talk that would come later. With a shot of adrenaline from seeing the family, I was now cruising towards the last aid station on the bike when things got ugly. As I grabbed for a water bottle with only one hand on the bike, someone pulled in front of me at decided to stop for their supplies.
@#$%^&()! SUPERMAN #$%^&
My impression of the super hero was less than accurate. I flew through the air and over the handlebars trying to stop my momentum. I slammed into the ground with my head and shoulders leading the way. I tried rolling and bouncing up like a baseball player sliding into second base. No luck. Just hard skidding – rubber side up. NOT GOOD. Everyone knows when your on a bike – its rubber side down.
I heard the volunteers wince and ask “are you okay? Another said “I don’t think so he hit his shoulder pretty hard” I picked myself of the pavement, and started doing a body check. Helmet – Check. Arms – Check. Hands, a little blood – Check. Legs – Check. Shoulder – yep it hurts, I don’t think it’s broken but we’ll find out later because I am not stopping now – Check. Oh yeah – “How is the bike?” Tell me its okay – Check. As the station aids asked to help and wanted me to sit down I took some water and told them I was only going to sit on my bike. I still had a long way to go. And at this point I was not really sure how bad my shoulder was. Mile 49 – This was too early to be done, and far to distant to carry the bike and complete the race. In a triathlon you are not allowed to make forward progress during the bike section without your bike. Makes sense. That means if your bike is damaged you can only advance as long as you are carrying your steed. No running on the bike course without the bike. Had my bike been damaged my race would have been over at this point. There would have been no way to complete another loop while holding the bike. Second loop, maybe. With only seven miles left, I was back on the bike and trying to access where I was in terms of nutrient, and health. This was not in the plan to crash on the bike. That was the last thing that I thought would happen. With a splitting headache and the temperature rising, I would have to wait until T2 to find the ibuprofen I had packed for the run. Onward, back into town, past transition, through the crowds ringing their cowbells, out along the lake, to face lap two.
Lap two came off without a hitch. Again the only crazy part was watching the two men battle out for first place, on the run, while I was only just beginning my second lap of the bike. They would clearly finish the whole event prior to me getting off my bike. Scary how fast and fit they were. Forget checking for steroids I would check for bionic prosthetics, they can’t be human.
The hills seemed a bit larger the second time around. The steady stream of riders ahead provided plenty of motivation to keep on truckin’. Coming into town for the final time was very interesting. I knew I was about to complete my longest ride of the year. I tried to remember the last time I had actually rode 112 miles. I couldn’t. I felt really good. Too good? Two disciplines down, one to go. How would the run feel? How far could I actually run before the pain set in? Would I hit the wall and run out of gas? Did I train enough? There was only one way to find out. As I entered the bike finish area of transition, there were volunteers waiting for us to dismount our bikes. As we did so, they would take our bikes and place them back in the numbered racks for everyone to retrieve later. More volunteers provided water and perform, and help getting your T2 (bike to run gear) bag. Only a few athletes were changing this time compared to the mass people struggling to get onto the bike course. Again, I needed help from the staff to change shirts. My shoulder had clearly stiffened up. Upward motion was a challenge, and strength to pull off a hot sweaty jersey wasn’t happening. The staff helped do a quick clean of the shoulder wound and provided some water so I could down my vitamin I. Eleven minutes later I was out onto the run course.
Just a Sunday run in the Park
The run course began parallel with the beach, where hours ago everyone was lined up looking like a seal convention with colored caps. The swim buoys had all be removed, and many of the families and locals were now braving the cold water on what was turning out to be the best day of Coeur d’Alene’s short summer. Winter had lingered in the northwest much like Michigan. Snow flurries had occurred only three weeks prior to the race. The locals were more than ready to get outside and enjoy the sun. We could not have asked for a better day. Partly cloudy or mostly sunny depending on which weather forecast you viewed. Either way the day was beautiful.
Back out through town were people were propped up along the barriers. The restaurants were filled and the town overflowed with locals, tourists, and plenty of energy. Heading out, I began to hear the announcer calling individuals who were already making their way across the finish line.
Obviously the pro’s and soon to be age-group Kona qualifiers. Focusing on what lie ahead, I decided only to listen to the crowds. My shoulder for the first two miles was stiff. I held my right arm as if it were in a sling. That was the only position I could get comfortable. I was just waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in. The run course also included several residential streets before heading out along the lakeshore. By this time there was steady two way traffic. It was impossible to tell who was on their first loop or who was into the second. None of that really mattered. I still had twenty-six one mile runs to complete. One, two, three, just twentythree more to go. As I came to each aid station the plan was to walk through each. I was told this by more than one person. Seeing as this was my first Marathon, I had no reference and was just trying to keep the pain portion as close to the finish line as possible. Aid stations were placed every mile. This made the miles easy to track. As I walked through I was taking in fluids and periodically eating something. Each station was filled with Perform, water, cola, bananas, orange slices, chocolate chip cookies, pretzels, chips, Gu , Power bars, and my favorite chicken broth. Many times I would stop to drink several cups of this magic elixir. It was warm, salt filled, and a welcome change from the sport drinks. As mile six approached there was the largest hill of the run. The race director for CDA Ironman decided to modify the run not only to include this one mile uphill, but also extend the run for an additional mile down the backside. Just like the bike course the turnaround was at the bottom of a hill. About-face and back up and down. The year before the turn-around was at the top of the hill. He traded a flat section along the lake, west of transition, and included the up and down of Bennett Hill. He did mention at the athletes briefing that we did sign up for an Ironman event. It wasn’t supposed to be easy. NICE, what are friends for? The aid stations along the hill were quite amusing. Each one had a different theme. At one, pirate maidens and swashbucklers served the racers as they went by. Another was more California beach attire, complete with tunes blaring and volunteers just having a fun time. This reminded me of the Virgina Beach Rock N Roll ½ Marathon. More than one station had music and different people practicing there play by play skills and motivation techniques. Coming back towards town, there was a section were the race coordinators had placed a semi-truck trailer with a large message board on the back. Twenty-five yards or so before the board I stepped through a timing mat, which obviously would trigger some sort of message. Would there be anything for me? I still had only seen my race support crew once on the bike. I wondered where they might be. Were they looking for me or had they fallen asleep back at the hotel since they too had been up since 4:00am. As the board drew closer there it was, my race number and message from the family. Yeah, someone had found the kiosk back near the ironman village and sent a message. I later found out it was “Little D” or David who had typed in the message for Dad. Way to go David! other uphill and down towards the residential section again. The trail out along the lake was the paved North Idaho Centennial Trail. The trail extended fifteen miles east and northwest of Coeur d’Alene. It also crossed the West Idaho Centennial Trail which went into Spokane
Washington, approximately thirty-six miles west (dah). During the days leading up to race this trail was filled with runners, cyclists, rollerblades, and walkers taking in the lakefront views while darting in and out of the shade trees which lined the trail. In all the reading about the CDA race course, every article stated how much the local community embraced the race. Many went on to say the run course support was some of the best on the circuit. This proved to be accurate. There were very few small sections without some sort of crowd support. Winding back through the town past all the people and parties I was approaching the completion of lap 1 of the run. With about a mile to go before the turn around there was a definite split in the run course. A women with a megaphone stood in the center of the street directing traffic. To the right for lap two, to the left to the finish line. It was clear now who was on their second lap and who was headed back out for more fun along the lake. The parties in the residential sections were diverse. Some had full blown bar-b-que with 100 of their closest friends. Others just sat in lounge chairs and coolers between them rooting all the athletes on. Again several of the parties included loud music and more often than not people who; if they did not pace themselves properly with all the alcohol, darkness would come long before the 9:30pm hour. I saw two individuals straddling a picnic table with at least 15 empty bottles between them. Leaving town I came to the point in the race where it was time to retrieve the special needs bag for the run. This I expected I might need. I had placed some dry socks, some Band-Aids and a bottle of Endurox powder. This stuff was meant for the end of the race and recovery of tired muscles. The night before as I sat praying about the journey, I felt compelled to place this in my special needs run bag. Filled with carbs, protein, antioxidants, and electrolytes, it sure wasn’t going to hurt. And by this time I was expecting pain anytime soon. Hopefully close to the finish line. Stopping at the next aid station to fill the bottle with water and mix the recovery drink, I was on my way out onto the trail again for the final lap of the day. Again along the lake winding under the shade trees, the day was coming close to the end. As I looked to my watch to see how my heart rate was and to steal a glance at y run pace, I was surprise to find I was moving at a nine minute mile. I was still feeling really good. Could this be? Feeling confident and with excitement brewing I passed the eighteen mile marker and then … BOOM!
Did I just step on something? It happened, a blister on the bottom of my foot exploded – OUCH. Unable to run, I walked for the next ¼ mile hoping I could get running again. I looked back at my pace and computed if I had to walk in from here it would be much longer than I wanted but it was doable. I did not want to walk in. I found a bench and dismantled my sock and shoe. Pulling out the band-aides I wrapped the toe knew there was nothing more I could do. Keep going, keep moving. I spent the next mile walking up the Bennett Hill. As I approached the top, my foot started to feel better. I could run. By this time I had figured I would probably have to walk in and I was not thrilled. As I started running I decided I was done walking and I would run. Through the turn- around, back to the top, and down the opposite side. It was almost all downhill from here. I crossed through the message board for the final time. The same encouraging words came up again. Yeah Team! Throughout the run my Michigan jersey caused quite the stir. Comments abounded. This jersey had a way of getting others to speak. Go Green, Go Bucs, were often heard, but mostly Go Blue! and Go Michigan! One of the highlights was chasing down the lone Ohio State Buckeye to pass him with about five miles to go. I had passed him earlier prior to mile eighteen, but he had gone by during my ride along the bench. Running through the final aid stations, I was gaining speed. By this time no one had passed me for a while. It was fun but yet humbling as you passed others. Ages were clearly marked on the left calf for all to see. Twenty-Two, Fifty-Six, Sixty-Eight, Thirty-Three, you see all sorts of shapes and sizes, some of which you, judging by the book cover, thought “how can they be doing this?” Great job – they were. Finally someone shouted, 1.2 miles to go! Wow, was I that close already? Then I saw that same volunteer shouting into her mega-phone, right for lap two, left for the finish. I was almost home. The day had been long, but the weather had been perfect. Each discipline had its challenges. I made it through the frigid swim, and survived a crash during the bike ride. The run was far better than I had expected. I was feeling great. I had not cramped, I only had to walk a small portion. I had now run in for the last six miles. I was running towards the finish, the final leg. As I turned onto Sherman street the crowds where aligned on both sides. There was only five blocks to go. I slowed down trying to take in the moment. I had almost accomplished my goal set several years ago. This Trek had taken several years to build up my fitness. I had done a few smaller races to learn and see just where I was in terms of fitness and endurance. I felt better at this point than I had back in 2007 at the completion of my first triathlon, the ½ Tinman held in Tupper Lake, New York. This was a .6 mile swim, 28.8 mile bike and a 6.2 mile run. Things had definitely improved. Prior to that race, about a year and half earlier, I could not swim a lap in a pool, run a block without stopping to catch my breath, and a twenty mile bike ride was a long way. The sight to the finish line was awesome. Everyone was cheering. As I slowed to enjoy the finish I began scanning the crowd for my family. Where had they positioned themselves? Closer, closer the finishing arch came. No sprinting, time was not a factor and all the prize money had long been taken. I was hoping the crowd would start singing the Michigan fight song, but we were far too west to have that happen. Three blocks, two blocks, it was almost done, then right before the finish line there was the support crew, Lisa-Marie, Michael and David. They were all leaning over the wall shouting as I crossed the finish.
It was finished. I had just completed 140.6 miles, and I felt good. Swim, Bike, Run, Done!
After a couple of photo’s it was off to the medical tent to have the shoulder looked at, followed by a ten minute massage to start the recovery process. As I waited my turn for the massage I was pointed to the pizza table where I quickly inhaled several pieces. Funny, at different times throughout the day I was looking for a phone to call in for a pizza or a sub delivery out on course. Maybe that’s what I should have placed in my special needs bags on the bike and the run. That will be something to consider for another time.
Leaving the restricted athlete area the race was over, the journey complete. By my trusty watches calculation I had burned over 11,000 calories that day. I guessed I had taken in about 4000. After reuniting with the family I was ready for more food and so were they. This was the conclusion of what started just eleven months prior when I entered this ironman race. I really had no idea what to expect. What I did know was that training was a requirement. This was something you could not blow off, or you could be hurt. Training officially began at the end of October.
My Training Plan – FREE
I want to express a heartfelt thank you to all the different people who have helped and encouraged me during training and have provided their expertise and advice to see me finish. THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! As I said before, I much prefer the group runs and rides, versus all the hours of solo training. Several of you have offered to join me in the pool to provide resistance training and even to punch me to simulate the open water race conditions. Let me say NO THANKS! rather, sign up and join the fun.
The family and I all sat outside along the finish line and had a fabulous diner. Everyone was hungry. It had been a long day for all, even if they had taken a nap back in the hotel room while some of us enjoyed a bike ride in the country. After dinner we headed over to the finishing chute where race organizers had assembled bleachers for the last fifty yards. We would stand and cheer as the last competitors were to cross the finish line just prior to the Midnight cutoff. What a great experience.
Nothing but FUN
1 Corinthians 9:24-26
Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step.
I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Motivation & Inspiration
For those of you who say “I CAN’T.” I hope these links will prove that “YOU CAN.” Nothing is impossible for those who believe.
And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Never Give Up – You can Do It!